Austin Web CEO Best Practices meeting held

On Friday we had the second Austin Web CEO Best Practices meeting at River Place Country Club. The first meeting was held in April and we had 5 companies represented. The Friday meeting had 17 participants with 12 companies represented. A really great turnout. The nice thing about the meeting was that we had a really good group that was open and there was a lot of sharing of ideas and resources. Our goal for these meetings is to further support the development of successful web businesses in Austin by creating a forum and network of executives living the challenges and opportunities on a daily basis.

I wrote a blog early this year which got a lot of flack about the risk/value of starting a web-based company in Austin rather than in the Bay Area. The negative was that I got a lot of unpleasant mails about my choice of subject. The positive was that I heard from others in town who said that they were constantly asking the same question. That posting (and an initial get-to-meet others luncheon hosted by Rudy Garza of G-51 Capital) led to the formation of our Best Practices group.

A really nice recap of the meeting was written by Jeremy Bencken on his blog.

If you’d like more information about the Web CEO Best Practices group drop me an email at

Social Networking has value (and risk) for every business…

I’ve been working on a presentation recently about social networking and the application of it for all businesses. Many of my less web savvy business friends often see it as a toy for young people. What they often miss, and which I try to point out, is that Social Networking is a cultural phenomenon that has been occurring for as long as man (or woman) huddled around a campfire cooking meat and sharing learnings. The only thing that web-based Social Networking tools have done is accelerate the passing of the information and significantly broadened the reach. Think of it as the Telephone Game (I tell you something, you whisper to the person next to you, on and on until it no longer is the same something that you started with) on a global scale in hyper-fast time.

What does this have to do with businesses? ALL businesses depend on some social networking to grow their customer base – either word of mouth recommendations, public relations outreach, or referrals – to build their business. Web-based social networking platforms provide businesses with tools to accelerate these things and also broaden the reach.

Now this concept has been characterized and reported on by Gartner Group in a new study. It’s good reading for any business owner or manager. In addition, Forrester Research published a report about ‘Enterprise 2.0’ and highlighted the expected adoption of social networking tools by businesses by size:

Forrester Business 2.0 Graph

These trends can’t be ignored by traditional bricks and mortar companies. It isn’t about just protecting your reputation – it’s about accelerating the spreading of your reputation. If a business is good at what they do and proud of what they offer they should embrace the opportunity to have customers spread the good word. And be prepared to handle it when someone spreads bad news. Both can happen.

Being the Old Man in a Web 2.0 World

SXSW interactive was a great experience this week. I met quite a bit of press and got to see a lot of old friends that were in town for the show. We co-sponsored one of the official SXSW Happy Hour events and I participated as a panelist during the event. Our terrific PR firm, Porter Novelli (yes, that is a plug), took pity on me and included me in their dinner events two nights of the show. It was at one of the dinner events that a startling and painful realization hit me – I’ve become the old man in the room! People went around the room talking about their ages and I kept waiting for one of the other guys to be older than me. To my consternation (see, I use old man words), none of them were – I was the oldest. By far. Crap.

This realization brought on several reactions; 1) panic, and 2) a very strong sense of deja vu. I remember (not long ago) being the YOUNGEST at these types of events when I was at Ashton-Tate and then at Compaq and laughing at the old guys from the ancient kingdoms of IBM, Data General, and DEC trying to be cool in the PC world. How did it happen so fast that I became one of those old guys?

This swirling vortex of thoughts, emotions, and irrational mumbling led me to realize several things;

  • Just as there is barely any generation gap in music tastes between my generation and my kids (Van Halen, the Doors, and REM are all cool to the kids too), there is a very small generational gap in the web/technology space now. The gap between mainframe guys and the kids building Apple Computers and dBase software was huge. The gap between those creating Facebook and those that worked on dBase – not so much;
  • There is a lot of capability with today’s web development tools and that means lots of opportunity for wasted time. Having been around the block a few times our group knows the difference between a cool widget/feature and a cool business;
  • The casual business environment of my peer set is perfectly matched for working with the young people coming into the work force. The culture shock isn’t as great for the Apple IIgs guy working with the Facebook Widget kid. It’s actually fun for both sides;
  • The discovery of new processes and technology are shared, not passed down. I have my facebook account, I twitter, I google. Obviously I have my iTaggit account. But I was the one who told my kids about Chirpscreen (a cool social networking aggregation tool) so for that 5 minutes I was cool.

The idea behind a blog is to be able to rant and muse. I don’t have a point to this blog other than to state that I am now aware that I am the old guy in the game now and I’m watching to see what that means. As I learn and experience more I’ll let you know what I discover. Just realize that the posts will be shorter – I feel the arthritis starting in my hands all of a sudden…

Prioritizing development projects

One of the biggest challenges that we are dealing with right now is prioritizing development activities.  In a perfect (unlimited budget) world we’d have multiple development teams tackling the projects in parallel.   …but we’re not in a world of unlimited budgets.  We have development projects across four major buckets:

1) Revenue driving features – integrating affiliate stores from other partners has a direct impact on income for the company;

2) Enhanced capability – providing new features that provide additional functionality for attracting and retaining users;

3) Usability enhancements – changing/modifying user interface elements and simplifying select tasks;

4) System architecture updates – changes to improve the performance and or capabilities of the core product engine.

Selecting projects across these would seem to be easy – but it’s not.  For example; it’s important to drive revenue features, but if there isn’t enough ‘grabby’ traffic then no one will be online to use the features.  You could focus on usability to improve the site experience but if you do that at the detriment of new features or revenue driving features then your site gets stale.

What we are finding appears to work is to break the projects down into smaller project chunks and not allow the development team to get totally focused on one major project.  Additionally, we’re finding that writing good specs and providing graphic comps of what the pages should look like is cutting down on the back and forth between marketing and development and allowing for projects to be completed quicker.  We try to complete one revenue, UI, and feature project for every release cycle right now.

I’d be interested in comments from others about how projects are prioritized and managed.  Comments?

What’s the Value Proposition?

Distilling down the value proposition is always important, but it’s never as easy as it seems.  Creating a simple value proposition for iTaggit has been gnawing at me because the ‘value’ depends on who the user is.  For example, the value of iTaggit for an artist is to document their work and share it with potential buyers, the value for a dealer is to showcase items and assist with SEO, and for casual collectors it’s getting the value of their items.  So is the value Organize?  Showcase?  find the dollar value?  It can be all of those.

The problem is that the value is specific to the person hearing the value proposition.  I was struck by this today here at Demo as I listened to the executives on stage try to describe what their business is.  One executive talked about his site being a ‘mobile publishing platform for connecting social contacts and building a mobile social fabric’ or something like that….  The best one that I heard today was ‘the worlds easiest database for normal people to organize, publish, and distribute data’.   Pretty good.  I’m a semi-normal person.  The only thing missing is the ‘why’.

What we finally came up with for iTaggit is that we are ‘the online destination to organize, showcase, value, and monetize the things that you are passionate about’.

Why is this important?  In my experience (and borne out by watching multiple onstage demonstrations today) you get or lose the interest of the customer in the first two to three minutes.  If that’s what it’s like when there is a captive audience in a presentation forum, what’s it like when a potential customer is looking at passive ad content?  It’s critical to figure out what resonates to optimize the conversion of prospects to ‘interested’ prospects.

Helpful books for Web Marketing and Design

I’ve started a public collection on iTaggit of books that we are finding helpful in building our website and in assisting with Web Marketing.  The collection has the book information, our ratings and comments, and link to Amazon for those that want to purchase the books.  There is a great book on Google Analytics (it sheds some light on the black hole), homepage design, and SEO.

As we find more books that are relevant I will add them to the collection.   We are scouring and learning as fast as we can.  I will share what we find through the collection!