Category Archives: Internet & Web X.0

Why These Frothy Times for Angel Investing are Actually Good

I’m going to play contrarian for a post.  There is so much talk right now of the angel investment scene going bananas from venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs, journalists, academics, and even lolcats.  I agree that it’s going bananas, but where I don’t agree with many people (and many people who I respect) is that it’s a terrible thing.

I believe it’s actually a good thing.

I’m an occasional angel investor.  Back in ’00-’01, I lost a lot of money in early stage investments.  Too much money.  I vowed never to do early stage financing again.  But I’ve had enough toes in the water over the past 7 years here in New York to understand where we were and where we are now.

If you are an entrepreneur, this is a great time to raise capital.  There is a ton of capital for many different reasons and access to it has never been easier.  It used to be that you had to have a top lawyer who knew people, or was asked to pitch at an angel group.  The web has fundamentally changed this.  I receive 3-4 deals a day on AngelList of companies I’ve never heard of but have demonstrable traction and already have hundreds of thousands committed.

Since there is a capital supply glut, simple economics say that it’s in favor of the entrepreneur.  Valuations are higher than a few years ago which is not in favor of the investor.  You need to put more money to work from an investment standpoint to have the same ownership percentages than just 365 days ago.

So as an entrepreneur, times are great.  If you are on the fence about raising capital, go and do it.  Cost of capital is cheap so take advantage of the opportunity.

As for angel investors, it sucks to be us.  But then again, it’s great to be us.

I spent a few hours in a board meeting today with angel investor and friend Jerry Neumann and he mentioned that the best part of being an angel means that you don’t have to do deals that you don’t want to do.  So lets use some simple logic:  if the deal terms are atrocious right now yet money is getting poured into early stage investments, then who is being ridiculous?  Us, – the angels!  No one is forcing us to put money to work in angel investing.  If the deal terms are so ridiculous, shouldn’t we be looking at other investment vehicles to generate wealth?

So why isn’t the well running dry in the angel investing ecosystem?

These frothy times will weed out the morons, or more importantly, the people who deserve to be weeded out.  Maybe the term moron is way too harsh, but it’ll weed out angels who are either a) way too green, b) investing on ego (I see quite a bit of this), c) people with no sense of simple math.  Is that a bad thing for the angel ecosystem?  Not if you ask me.

So, in 365 days from now, hopefully the froth has died down, angels who have no business being angels run out of capital earmarked for angel investments (but hopefully they saved for their children’s 529s), and more entrepreneurs than ever have startups and are dominating the world.

Price and Value

This post is inspired by Fred Wilson’s recent post entitled, Does Price Matter.  When you purchase a product or service, it has a price tag associated with it.  That price tag is based on what the seller wants to make (cost + profit) based on what they think they could sell to their anticipated target market.

Traditional “price” for products/services though in itself is flawed, IMHO.  It only takes into account one side of the equation:  the seller.  There are a few promotions such as the recent one done by apparel seller Uniqlo but most [private] pricing is determined by the seller. And for financial instruments, an open market determines the cost:  NASDAQ and NYSE are examples for that.

There were a few websites back in the day such as Mercata (shut down in 2001) that allowed groups of users to purchase based on the demand that they have and almost dictate market pricing.   I’d imagine this type of service is coming back in some form or another:  the more people buy, the lower the price becomes.

I’d argue that price does not always reflect value.  Value is generally what you will receive once you actually buy something:  and that value should be at or better than the price that you paid for it or you will most likely look at your transaction with negative taste.

People say that paying >$4 for a cup of coffee is expensive.  While pricing sounds expensive, what is the value to me?  If that $4 cup of coffee allows me to sit at a table, read the NY Times or WSJ and answer emails early in the AM, the valued delivered is much more… at least to me.

Video Search: A Big Opportunity

Excite
Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a startup idea that I think is ripe.  Time is now.

Lets try and learn from the past and apply it to the future. Alta Vista, Excite, Yahoo!, Overture, Dogpile, InfoSpace, Metacrawler, Gopher, Ask Jeeves, Webcrawler, Bing, Google (and many others) all evolved the way that we search for information.  Gone are the ways of card catalogs (I actually learned how to use one in grade school) and in are digital search boxes.

These search engines in varying degrees have been helpful to us when looking up textual based content and in some capacities, are helping us pull social, graphic, and video content.

As digital becomes less of a standalone channel and more of a backbone, I’d have to think that Video Search is going to be a huge business in the mid-future.  I don’t know the exact statistic, but X out of 10 televisions are being sold with either direct-to-Internet capabilities or STB’s that plug into a wireless routers which enables your big shiny new television as a portal to all the content on the web.  That “X” number will increase over time.

Since I find it hard to think I’m going to use my 70″ LCD TV to write Powerpoint documents from my bed, I’d have to think that the primary use will still be to view video content.

If Fred is correct, which I certainly believe, we should get together to build some beautiful video search apps for Android that will be positioned to deliver video search capabilities with potential for social interactions.

I’d have to imagine that the current big (and small) search engines were not created with video search capabilities as the technical infrastructure is fairly robust so either they will eventually come knocking.

My Tuesday morning thoughts.

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Why I've Unsubscribed from Deal a Day Services

Image representing Groupon as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

This post shouldn’t come across as another “I’ve quit [replace with service] because [xyz].”  There have been way too many of those type of posts and I don’t want to be another log on the fire.

I’m in the process of unsubscribing from the Groupons of this world because in aggregate they send me way too many offers that are not relevant to me and the value they do deliver to me does not outweigh the disservice of cleaning out my inbox.

Note: by Groupons of this world, I mean LivingSocial, BuywithMe, SocialSteals, DealOn, and others.

In a world of customization and personalization, you would think that these services would employ Hunch-like personalization.  Currently, they are no different than old school offers delivered thru digital vehicles.  As a consumer, I almost expect customized coupons in 2010.  I’d rather not receive a coupon if it’s not relevant to me.   Heck, even the television commercials on ESPN are more relevant.

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Quantitative Analysis: Fantasy Football

As most of you know, I’m a huge fantasy football junkie.  I spend a disproportionate amount of my time on Sunday mornings getting my lineups ready based on research I’ve done during the week thru various forms:  XM Radio Fantasy Football Channel, FFLibrarian, Rotowire (Subscription), The Huddle (Subscription), and even simply talking to players.

I stumbled across Numberfire (I hate the name) from a friend of mine and did some research and saw that they were recently written up on TechCrunch.  Numberfire applies data mining and statistical analysis to determine which fantasy football players to sit and/or start each week… they accomplish this by looking at many different data points that affect a players outcome such as the player itself, his team, his competition, and other factors.

They just released their Week 1 analysis of performance and it turns out:

The two key metrics are that I beat both ESPN (59%) and Yahoo! (77%). There’s not much analysis that needs to be derived from that statistic. All of made projections; I was right more often and in the case of Yahoo!, almost embarrassingly so.

The smaller, but equally interesting metrics are the deltas, or the difference between a projection and the actual result. My deltas were lower than both (ie: were more accurate), and the difference between the projections themselves would have caused a 10.8 point difference over Yahoo! and a staggering 16.2 point difference over ESPN.

Not bad.  I’m thinking of converting one of my teams (out of 3) to be based on the numberfire analysis system and seeing how I perform this season.

What I don’t like about numberfire (maybe because I haven’t found it) is that the algorithm they use to score the players is a black box.  I hate black boxes.  Maybe this will change over time.

Needless to say, quantitative analysis can help make decisions, especially when there are lots of data points.  We obviously used this thesis when creating Varick Media Management and we’re seeing similar awesome results.

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My Recent Bookshelf

One of my guaranteed impulse buy categories are books.  I’m a sucker.  If there is a book that I think might want to read, I’ll buy it; even if I’m half way thru a current book and still have 5 new ones sitting on the table.

99.9% of my books are paperback/hardcover (non-digital) and 90% of those are within business, strategy, marketing, and biography categories.  I admit I have a one track mind.

Here are some recent books I’ve read:

The Facebook Effect (David Kirkpatrick):  I really enjoyed this book.  I think I enjoyed it because it was a biography of how Facebook started, the people, and the drama.  It was less about the actual business in itself, and not at all about “social media‘ and “social” marketing.   I felt like parts of this book could be made into an HBO show… oh wait, there’s a movie coming out about Zuck.  This was a VERY fast read for me (and I’m slow!) despite it’s voluminous appearance.

Open Leadership (Charlene Li):  I totally respect Charlene Li but I found this book to be a dud.  Note:  I’m engrossed in social technologies on a daily basis but found most of this book to be very elementary to what I do and what we talk about inside of our agency.   For people who are leaders in non-marketing services organizations who are not early adopters, this book might serve them much better than it served me.

Here are some books I’ve recently ordered (but not read):

What’s Mine is Yours:  The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (Botsman, Rogers):  I got introduced to this book thru an Umair Haque tweet.  I highly respect Umair and generally follow along with his ramblings.  Once I read the description of the book, I instantly 1-click ordered it from Amazon.  Should be here later this week.

Everything I Know About Marketing, I Learned from Google (Aaron Goldman):  I actually forgot how I heard about this book but I do remember reading a review about it on someone’s blog.  I’m very curious to see what angle this book takes about Google as I think Google has failed in marketing quite a few of their projects (almost everything but Search).  The book actually arrived this past Friday and hope to start it over the coming weeks.

Are there any books I should be concentrating on?  Anyone care to share their reading list?

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Fantasy Football 2010

NFL KickoffIt’s that time of year again; time to devote your late morning weekends to setting and locking your fantasy football rosters in order to win the weekend’s matchups.  I write this post each year at the beginning of the season and it’s fun to go back to see previous posts and see how things have changed.

I’m in 3 leagues this year, which is 1 more than I’m used to.  I’ve found that 2 leagues can sometimes be bullish to manage but I may be totally in over my head with 3 leagues especially with a 22 month old and a new baby being born any second.

I’ve had a hard time this year figuring out which research I’m subscribing to:  last year I subscribed to Rotowire and The Huddle but this year, I’ve only subscribed to Rotowire.  I certainly think there is an opportunity to help people select which research they want to subscribe to as it’s all confusing to me. (que for entrepreneurs)  Back in 2008, I tried to visualize the statistics with a project I called GoalLine.tv but realized quickly that I didn’t have the time (though could easily bring it back with some Mechanical Turks – anyone want to help?)

What’s exciting me about this season is the amount of national TV advertisers that have taken to adding fantasy football into their creative strategy.  Brands are now recognizing that there are millions of fantasy sports fans and that the opportunity to bond with us is a big and often missed opportunity.

Lastly, I still don’t see enough innovation within the fantasy football space.  While there are a few more companies doing casual mini-games this year, I still don’t see the dominant players emerging.   Would love to hear about new companies tackling the space…as this is an area that I’ve been passionate about for some time.

Oh – and make sure you tune into tonight’s Minnesota/New Orleans game… the Dave Matthews Band is performing!

Early Stage Areas/Companies I'm Watching

I have really enjoyed watching all of the innovation over the past few years and wanted to highlight a few areas that I think are really interesting for 2010/2011.  In some cases, I may use company names as examples;  unless otherwise noted, I am not an investor in any of these companies and this is not a sponsored post (cmp.ly disclosure).

Video
I think 2010-2020 is going to be the decade of digital video.  Analog video will become digital and it will become indexable, optimizable, and interactive.  For many reasons outlined in this previous post, I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight, but I do think that video is going to grow significantly.  Many of my clients in the agency are asking for video (either to complement their digital plan or to substitute for their traditional TV efforts) for 2011.

One of the companies that I’m watching today is Milabra (Crunchbase Profile).  The reason why Milabra is interesting to me is because they help us index what is in the actual video content.  This is extremely important when we want to target, customize and index content.

Social Networking
CollegeOnlyIt’s 2004 all over again.  I wrote back in the day that social networks are like hot clubs – while they are all the rage now, there will be another hot one in the next year or two.  Facebook has obviously dominated but there becomes a point where Fb will not have 100% marketshare.

One of the companies I’m watching is CollegeOnly (Crunchbase Profile). What I like about them is that their value proposition is easily understood and their media kit does a great job describing who and what they do… and I believe it.

Automated Advice
If we all had access to a lot of data, we can have it tell us things based on certain criteria we tell it to look for.   In an age of large amounts of data, companies are going to emerge that weed out the middleman of giving advice/consultations for the opportunity to automate actionable decisions.

PlantlyI’m specifically tracking two companies in this area:  Plant.ly (Crunchbase Profile) and Profitably (Crunchbase Profile).  There is no coincidence that they both start with “P” and end in “ly.”  Plant.ly has access to a huge database of investment risk and returns over a few decades.  Based on your risk tolerance and expected return, they can recommend the right fund/etf/etc for you.  No need to pay a middleman to set that up for you.

Profitably is another startup that is innovating in the automated advice area.  You give it access to your Quickbooks business information and it helps you decide where you can either trim costs or grow profits for our business.  For someone who isn’t numbers adept, this could be very valuable.

Because both of these companies use technology to disintermediate humans, the can significantly reduce the transaction cost and still make boku dollars based off of scale.

Content Consumption
This is an area that I’m currently very active in.  I’m a formal advisor to Fast Society which is launching in a couple of weeks, and I’m about to launch a project called Tomzy (currently the sole investor) that helps the world visualize vast amounts of information.  I’m on a content consumption kick because in it’s current form, it’s broken.  I have a whole post coming out on this upon the launch of Tomzy but essentially we cannot manage our current content stream and we’ve not even digitized the majority of our content yet… so how can we expect to keep up with it in the future?

While Tomzy is all about processing and filtering content based on its relevance to YOU, Fast Society creates a bbm (blackberry messenger) like service across any platform for a small group of people for a defined period of time.  I can’t give too much away about Fast Society but it’s different than GroupMe (Crunchbase Profile).

Based on what you have read here, if there are companies who you think should be on my radar screen, I’m certainly willing to engage.  Please contact me thru this form, comment below, or tweet me @dherman76.

Talent Needs: Job Opportunities

One of the most amazing things about starting a business is being able to provide career opportunities for people at all stages of their life.  I’ve listed a few opportunities below and if  you or someone you know is interested in one of these, please do not hesitate to reach out.  The company is Varick Media Management which is the demand side platform and infrastructure for MDC Partners agencies and brands directly.  The team is located at 160 Varick Street in New York City.  I will refer all qualified candidates to the HR coordinator and the respective designee at VMM.

Investment Manager (Top Line Revenue Growth Driver):  Looking for someone with 1-3 years of experience to evangelize and drive top line growth of VMM to agencies and brands.  We are looking for someone who has experience in making the complex very simple; someone who is extremely personable; and who can present themselves well to a group.  Compensation is based off of a package of competitive base salary + performance + benefits.  If you are interested, please contact me.

Chief Marketing Officer (Strategic Sales):  We are looking for someone with 10-25 years in the business who has sold into strategic accounts ($10MM+/yr) for the past 5+ years.  Will be responsible for driving the direction of the Strategic Accounts as well, as, overall company marketing and identity.  Candidate may have an immediate open-to-hire for junior marketing coordinator to help with internal and external marketing efforts.  Responsibilities will be to drive top line revenue growth for the direct to brand channel and will have a new client goal quota.  Re-iterating that this person will be responsible for targeting specific clients (directly) and signing a specific number each year. Compensation is based off of a package of competitive base salary + performance + benefits.  If you are interested, please contact me.  Looking for someone who has played a similar role at former ad agencies, research firms, ad networks, and top tier publishers.

Infographer: We are looking for someone who is a master of data manipulation and visualization.  We’d like to bring someone on board who can tell stories once given a data set.  The ideal candidate will be able to recognize patterns within data, illustrate complex scenarios in simplistic forms, and create visuals that are easy to comprehend.  Visuals will be used both internally and also sent to clients to illustrate a particular problem or solution.  This role with support marketing, account, trading, and investment management.  Compensation is based off of a package of competitive base salary + performance + benefits.  If you are interested, please contact me.   Ideal background would be a mathematician + design.

VP Client Services (title to be figured out): We are looking for someone who wants to run the Client Services team and work closely with Investment Management.  Should have 10+ years experience within market research firms, agency brand planning or account management, or account management at complex advertising technology solution houses (ad networks, exchanges, etc).  Must be unbelievably personable, academic curiosity, a born leader, and detail oriented. If you are interested, please contact me.