Archive for September, 2008

Social Butterflies

Last night, BluePoint in conjunction with North Bridge Venture Partners hosted an intimate round-table discussion with experts and up-and-comers in the social media and social networking space to discuss what’s worked and what challenges they are having trouble overcoming. The event was held at Tavern in the Square in Cambridge.

Sam Clemens, VP of Audience Retention from BzzAgent, and Dries Buytaert, original creator of open source social publishing system Drupal and co-founder/CTO of a Drupal professional services vendor Acquia, headed up the panel.

In attendance were BluePoint clients PeopleAhead – an intelligent career advancement network – and soon-to-be launched Currensee – a global decision making platform and community for foreign exchange (FX) traders. Also in attendance were folks from:

  • HubSpot – An inbound marketing system to increase traffic
  • InnoCentive – An online think-tank for R&D collaboration
  • Mobicious – Mobile content, services and applications
  • MyPerfectGig – Recruiting and career tools for engineers
  • Sermo – Online community created for physicians
  • SpringPartners – Launching an online notepad organizational system
  • StyleFeeder – Personal shopping engine and social shopping community

Some common challenges that were discussed included:

  • Getting pass the gatekeepers – whether that’s parents, administrators, etc. – and getting them to endorse the community to their constituents
  • Figuring out what the right incentive/motivational system is
  • Keeping members engaged and active on the site after they join

Some best practices and tips that emerged included:

  • Community members are motivated by competition
  • Focus on one core niche first; if it takes off, then explore other areas
  • Highlight exciting things that are already happening in the community, and communicate that out to prospects or inactive users to increase engagement
  • Don’t be surprised if your “power” user ends up being someone totally different than you originally thought
  • Build the community piece by piece, keeping the big goals in mind but testing and revising all along the way

While there was an ongoing conversation about where and how to start, whether PR drives more traffic than direct marketing, just how much trial and error is normal (answer: a lot!) – one common theme kept emerging. For those that have lived – and struggled – through launching a successful online community, it’s all about that magic mix of transparency, waiting and luck. Each had a similar piece of advice: don’t force it – get out of the way and let the community flourish at the rate it’s meant to. As long as you’re “feeding” the audience the kind of “food” they want, the site should and will grow organically.

Nothing Ventured

Live blogging …..I am sitting in on an interesting (and brutally honest) panel discussion among venture capitalists at DEMO which is being moderated by Matt Marshall, Editor & CEO of Venture Beat called The Changing Venture Model: Making VC Work for Investors and Entrepreneurs. Matt is joined by Chris Greendale, General Partner, Kodiak Venture Partners, Krishna ‘Kittu’ Kolluri, General Partner, New Enterprise Associates, Eric Tilenius, Partner, Maveron.

Matt kicks things off by stating the pretty obvious – we are in the worst IPO draught in 32 years and then proceeds to grill the group about everything from rising salaries for VCs (16.6 percent this year) to whether the “built to flip” mantra is an anathema to long term growth strategies for entrepreneurs.
Kodiak’s Greendale is doing the best job at telling entrepreneurs how they can ride out the current storm and giving really honest, practical advice that many of them need. He acknowledges that valuations “are down a half to two times…. that VC firms’ reserves are in trouble and that entrepreneurs have to be patient.” He goes on to say that while it is a tough time to raise money and concurs that exits are down, he gives some hope. “The time required to raise money will be double what you expect. You will have to jump through hoops much more so than even a year or two ago. But you will get funded if you have the right team, the right idea and the right approach.”

He urges entrepreneurs to take their time when evaluating VCs. VCs can be “god like” and they don’t like to answer questions, he jokes. “But this is like getting married. The term sheet process can be painful, but that pain will go away. If a VC is ornery or defensive, get up and leave.”

What should you ask them? – where are they in the lifecycle of the fund? Are they fund raising? What kind of returns are they getting?

Greendale points to SaaS and digital media as two of the most promising sectors and identifies, Workday, Eloquent as the hottest SaaS plays. He notes that his firm will continue to look to make more smaller bets and they will be quick “to pull the plug” if CEOS and their companies are not meeting objectives and reaching milestones.

Other interesting tidbits:

Kittu does not see much disruptive technology in the IT area but surprising says one of the hotter areas is hardware – including flash technologies as hard drive replacements and cloud computing.

Chris using a baseball analogy – singles, doubles and triples are great. An IPO would be a home run obviously.

Growing-Up with Facebook

The first time I heard of Facebook I was still a Sophomore in college running back in forth between classes, swimming practice and participating in … ahem … other activities. Facebook opened a whole new world to me as well as other students to re-connect with old friends from high school, middle school, elementary school and in some cases even pre-school. I, like many of my fellow students could spend hours upon hours viewing profiles all day with the comfort of knowing that this was a protected website away from the “real world.” At the time, Facebook was “Collegebook” and that was how we liked it. During the early days on Facebook no one was worried if a picture was up-loaded that a potential employer would find it and base their opinion on that single image. Never once did we think our parents (or grandparents) would become interested in joining and keeping tabs on us. Not once did we think our small guilty pleasure would become accessible to the whole entire world. My how times have changed…

When Facebook first started I could spend up to three-four hours looking at pictures and learning new thing about friends I had known for years. Now the time I spend on the website has significantly dropped. The only time I really go on Facebook is when I get a new notification in my email box. I sign-in see what is new and lose interest fairly quickly and sign-out.

To pin-point the exact reason why I have lost interest in Facebook is hard to say because I think it was because of many factors. The first sign of the Facebook change happened when high school students were allowed access, then anyone with a valid email could join. Another major change in Facebook was the addition of all the widgets. In the past when I signed-in I did not have to worry about being attacked by a vampire or ninja, I did not have to dig through multiple applications to find the information I was looking for. Facebook has become a zoo of bumperstickers, fish tanks and advertisements.

But then I think maybe Facebook is going through the same technology adoption life-cycle like any other popular product. Could it be that for once I am an early adopter and now that everyone has jumped on the bandwagon I am getting off at the next stop?

Paging the next Michael Zuckerberg please….

A Stronger Link

Most people in my social networks (myself included) with seem to be riding the fence when it comes to LinkedIn and Facebook. We actively participate in both and for different reasons. LinkedIn is more “professional” and for the most part, better for making introductions for recruiting candidates, making introductions or re-introductions to potential business partners and prospects . Facebook is more visually appealing, more dynamic and frankly, more fun. Most people if they are being honest, will admit to spending a lot more time on Facebook than LinkedIn. And, Facebook membership dwarfs LinkedIn – north of 100 million for Facebook versus 27 million or so for LinkedIn. Today’s news from LinkedIn might change the time spent factor, however. LinkedIn makes a great strategic move by partnering with CNBC. This “alliance” will manifest itself in a few ways:

1) CNBC will provide articles, blogs, financial data and video across the LinkedIn network.

2) LinkedIn’s community and networking functionality integrated on (such as sharing CNBC articles with your LinkedIn friends and colleagues or finding out who in your network connects you to the companies you read about).

3) Community-generated content from LinkedIn will also be broadcast on CNBC programs. These include survey results and on-air Q&A with CNBC anchors, reporters and guests.

See the Reuters piece running on the New York Times’ (which also recently announced a deal with LinkedIn web site.

How will this all pay off for LinkedIn? Well that remains to be seen, but one potentially good sign for them is that while crafting this post I was poking around on my profile and looking at some of the links only to be booted off the site with the dreaded “network timeout” warning. Too much traffic can sometimes be a good thing!

Every Silver Lining has a Touch of Grey’s

Time for my annual “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” post. I’m not talking about the end of the summer, the beginning of the school year or the impending elections. I am talking about the new fall TV season, with new pilots and episodes of my favorites finally returning and saving me from the stress of my NetFlix queue or one more night of Locked Up Abroad.

I’ll set aside my usual rant about how excited I was for the Gossip Girl premier (what have S and B been up to all summer?!) and the disappointing “re-launch” of 90210. I instead want to comment on an NPR story I heard last night that got me thinking more about my favorite shows. There’s a theory called the Bechdel Rule which states that women on screen should talk about all aspects of their lives, not just relationships with men – that women on screen should not be clichés. The same concept is applied to race and sexual preference in addition to gender, and some judge TV shows as to whether they meet the “Bechdel Rule” (if they do, then they’re worth watching). With the average American watching 5 hours of television programming per day, the segment called out two of my favorites (Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy) for breaking the Bechdel Rule, and therefore not meeting the standards as shows that one – especially younger generations – should watch. I respectfully disagree.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree as much as the next woman that we shouldn’t be portrayed as boy crazy, life-messed-up clichés, and but rather as diverse, complex, balanced role-models. But, if you want serious, deep television that addresses the most pressing issues in today’s society, does one really need to look any further than either of those shows? Take Grey’s for example. Name me one other non-reality or news show on TV which takes such an honest (yet light) look at gender, race and sexuality issues – not to mention religion, family, health and mental illness, and of course dating.

Case in point: T.R. Knight, an openly gay actor, is one of the main characters. The script flirts with homosexuality between two women (one white, one Hispanic), and the bartender of the local watering hole is in a committed relationship with another man. And let’s not forget about Christina, a Jewish Asian American woman, and her intense romance with Burke, a privileged African American man. And the two most senior people at Seattle Grace? Dr. Miranda Baily and Chief Webber – both African American. In the first season alone, main characters were touched personally by mental illness, alcoholism and death. Miranda battles balancing work with her young son and stay-at-home-dad. And although there is plenty of sex, at least it’s not the men who are “playing” the women in this show. This show is the epitome of overtly, politically-correct programming.

Sure, Grey’s Anatomy is by no means reality, and Seattle Grace is a narrow scope by which to base one’s values on. But for NPR to call this show a poor standard just because some of the scripts focus on women’s relationships with men is not fair. I realize I’m being a bit frivolous, but I tune in to these shows as an escape. If I wanted something serious, I’d tune into CNN not MTV, watch documentaries instead of dramanticomedies. I don’t think any woman intends on modeling her life after TV characters, but is Grey’s really such a bad place to start? Successful, intelligent doctors with close friends dealing with the kinds of every-day issues we all do – I know I’ll be tuning in with millions of others on the 25th for the premier.

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