Sunday, December 24, 2006

Greetings from India

So I didn't get that company profile up before I left. I apologize. Life between my final on Monday and the time the wheels on the 777 left the ground was ridiculously busy. In short, I will get that post up as soon as I can.

I'll also probably have a post soon about India and its economic prospects. This place has been getting a ton of media attention, and I've always wanted to voice some of my opinions on the development going on here. In short, the dichotomy here is stunning. I'll leave you with that and the promise that the piece should be one of my best.

And, of course, a sincere Merry Christmas to all of you. Hope the holiday season is a great one for you and yours.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Time's Person of the Year

Is You. That's right. Check out the CNN article on the story.

Confused? The magazine is honoring you, the empowered individual, in the wake of the re-emergence of the internet in our lives. The article quotes sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Wikipedia as examples of the growing influence each person has on the global online community.

I think it's great when the old media titans sit up and take notice of whats bubbling in Silicon Valley. Although, it's also usually humorous - apparently "Silicon Valley consultants call [today's internet] Web 2.0." Really? I didn't know we had consultants in the Valley, and that it was just them using the phrase...

The article is also a little creepy. When Time starts talking about the merits and beauty of Web 2.0, you know it's time to be scared that we're in a bubble. (I mean this is Time, not the Merc or Techcrunch or the rest.) Some proof:
America loves its solitary geniuses -- its Einsteins, its Edisons, its Jobses -- but those lonely dreamers may have to learn to play with others... We're looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it's just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get backhauled into the global intellectual economy.

The funny part is, while they spend most of the article spewing the kind of babble written above, toward the end they caution, " it's a mistake to romanticize all this." And they close by calling Web 2.0 "a massive social experiment."

Nice article, overall. Always interesting to see the old media attempt to explain the latest buzz in the Valley, even if it results sensational journalism.

Note: I promised the profile of company that recently came out of stealth mode, and it's coming. A draft is in the works, and it should be up by Wednesday. Also, the blog may not see any action the 20th-30th, as I'll be in India. Just giving the heads up.

Monday, December 11, 2006

East vs. West

"I do believe the monsignor's finally got the point."

Recognize the quote from Boondock Saints? This is like that, except the monsignor is the San Jose Mercury News.

I've often wrote about or referenced the differences in the VC and start up environments between the coasts, but this time the Merc joins in on the fun. The San Jose paper discusses the various reasons that Silicon Valley is head and shoulders above the Least Coast, including reputation, universities (Stanford and Berkeley), and infrastructure.

I'm not going to bore you with my take on all of this - you can read some of my previous posts on the subject here and here. But for all the grief I give the east coast, I must say that, at the end of the day, it's really just different and not necessarily worse. The tendency towards traditional businesses and security, the lack of innovation, the call for obedience over risk-taking, and the self-justification and toleration of abysmal weather are hardwired into the community and part of the culture. (I had to throw that last one in there. It boggles my mind when people out here tell me they enjoy "the seasons.")

Thus from an entrepreneurial and start up standpoint (that of this blog, for example), this place (Philly and generally this entire coast) is far less desirable than back West. This also explains my tone and language when referring to the East (although my homesickness probably also plays into it).

So when I speak of the derogatorily of the East coast, know that it is only because I think it's awful, not necessarily because it actually is. :)

(Stay tuned for my first "exclusive" profile, of sorts, of a Silicon Valley start up that recently came out of stealth mode. It's not really an exclusive, but at least I'll be blogging about them before any of the big names do.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Yahoo Reorg

This post would have went up on Tuesday when the news broke, but I figured I'd hold off to try to make sense of what happened so that I could write something coherent. Plus, I wanted to leave that last post on top of the blog for a bit, as it was, for some reason, garnering a little media attention.

(By the way, note on that last post: I got myself out of bed with the flu to see those presentations, and, needless to say, I was a little disappointed with their quality. The piece may have reflected some of the ire I felt at the time, resulting in harsher than intended language. Finally, between VentureVoice picking up my post and it, like all my posts, being plastered on the home page of the Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs website, there's almost no way my professor didn't read my rant. If you're reading this, Professor, I didn't so much think the problem was you, but rather the structure and content of the class. You obviously have a wide knowledge base, and you could really spice up the content by getting away from the textbook. That said, I understand if you fail me. I probably deserve it.:)

On to Yahoo! So what happened? The long-awaited reorg, of course, a celebrated Valley tradition. Much like Apple employees used to jest back in the day, Yahoo workers joke that having an awful boss isn't a big deal - in 3 months, you'll have a new one.

Ok, down to specifics. This reorg dwarfs those in recent history. Yahoo established 3 divisions - Audience, Advertiser & Publisher, and Technology - to refocus their efforts. COO Dan Rosensweig will be resigning in March. CFO Sue Decker will be running the Advertising Group and CTO Zod Nazem the Tech group, while the Audience group head will be found in the coming weeks and months. Topix has a nice AP article here if you're more interested in the nitty giritty.

My thoughts are basically... what? The typical Silicon Valley reorg involves a lot more heads rolling. Only Rosensweig is leaving, and by most reports only because he didn't want to play second fiddle to Sue Decker. And CEO Terry Semel said no layoffs are planned. I'm confused as to actually what the reorg is, then. It doesn't seem like much has changed. Maybe the company is more focused internally, but Yahoo hasn't gotten lean and mean to address their many problems. The coming months will tell what, if anything, has changed.

But what should Yahoo do differently? This covers only a small part of their business, but Robert Young voiced an interesting opinion on GigaOm - that Yahoo should start a Facebook clone. I've been thinking someone should do this for a while, and Yahoo would be a good fit. The Facebook clone would be closed (like the old Facebook), addressing the ire of being in an open social network that some students are feeling (though this sentiment has declined). Basically, a Facebook clone aimed at high school and college kids with a few perks (video uploading, for example, and possibly some smart classified functionality) has a good chance of seriously challenging Facebook.

Yahoo would probably want to build a separate brand but link it to the Yahoo name (to encourage visibility). Lastly, Yahoo is in a good position to launch it, as they have vast resources to design and ship the social network cheaply and efficiently. Anyone have some other good ideas to save Yahoo?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Where Entrepreneurship Comes to Die

Any guesses? That's right, my favorite place in the world: Wharton.

Why the ire? I just got out of Marketing 281, a class entitled Entrepreneurial Marketing, where a couple groups presented their business plans. Let me share their gems with you...

(Side note to the groups that presented: You didn't make us sign NDAs, but I will still respect your wishes if you'd like me to remove presentation material from my blog. Email me or leave a comment. I'm only writing about your ventures to make a point, and I'd like to think that, despite having screen shots in your presentations and names for your companies, you aren't actually planning on executing your brilliant ideas.)

The first company, called (they haven't launched yet, apparently), focused on providing tenants with a space to post residential openings for subletters. Ok. They dismiss craigslist as "not targeting the college market." Their presentation goes on. "Tenants looking for someone to sublet will pay a fee to post on the site." Really? And the kicker? Their financial statement. The team of 4 confidently believes that the rolling out of their site across campuses around the nation will allow them to make, by the 5th year, a whopping $70 grand. Investors, line up.

So these guys honestly believe that an increasingly tech savvy college population will shun the immensely popular craigslist and pay money (despite being cheap college kids) to the site to get their sublet ad looked at? And all this to accumulate an annual revenue that doesn't reach $70k till 5 years from now?

But the second presentation made the first look legit. Entitled (the URL is taken, but they may be launching under a different name...), it featured an "off campus meal plan." In reality, their idea was a bank account that could be used only for food. Seriously. Their only selling point was that "parents can deposit money."

Are you kidding me? First off, after claiming that a significant portion of Penn's students orders food online, they failed to mention those same students order from Campusfood or EatNow. Not only is their entire functionality already covered by someone who has his parent's credit card linked to his EatNow or Campusfood account, but they're also completely vulnerable to the two companies implementing their product. While eDough is out doing the time-consuming stuff (negotiating deals with individual restaurants, setting up the website, etc.), all either of the two competitors has to do is implement a "bank account" function on their site to render eDough useless. And why again do college students want a way to limit what they can spend their money on...?

And Penn wonders why their precious school doesn't churn out high profile start ups. So where's the problem? In this case, part of it is apparent: the class itself is atrocious. For half a semester, I've listened to our Professor use the same Marketing 101 buzzwords in an attempt to describe what is different about getting the word out for start ups. And, for that half a semester, he's really said nothing.

For starters, our class has a textbook. A textbook on how start ups should market. Isn't the point of the class that start ups have to think outside the box? Symbolically, a start up is like antsy chameleon, jumping around, not knowing what it is or what it's really doing, always changing and evolving. No textbook can begin to cover the tenants of how the lizard should get its name out to the world, and (even if a textbook could,) especially not this one.

The problem starts pretty high up. Culturally, Wharton is a finance-hub, priding itself on producing finance drones who will go on to work 100+ hour weeks and make $100 grand+ a year. Going against the grain, following your dreams, and being different are highly discouraged (unless, of course, you're a management-drone who will do the above with 30 hours and $30k subtracted from the respective totals above).

And Wharton's culture pretty much fits in with the (l)east coast. But I aim to be constructive, and not just a whinny SOB. So what can be done?

First off, the classes need to be revamped. Don't call something Entrepreneurial Marketing if it's not. And the faculty could do with an upgrade - hiring people with credentials in entrepreneurship could go a long ways in giving class a degree of legitimacy. I mean, wouldn't you sit up and take notice if it were Josh Kopelman teaching a class about Entrepreneurial Marketing? Maybe that's a little unreasonable, but a Professor who references their own experiences in a class, especially about this subject, is far more influential than one who is constantly referencing some text. And as a whole, the classes need to focus on actual issues that face start ups, and they need to be taught by people who know what they're talking about and understand what we want from the class (that is, an oasis from Wharton's "fall into our cookie-cutter" mentality). Out with the textbooks and trite buzzwords and in with real discussion and real lessons.

Of course, this will all probably never happen. So how to solve the problem? Looks like we may have to take things into our own hands...

(Oh, and as a side note to the "drones" I referenced: Please don't take me seriously. I love you guys. And I believe you; you do love I-banking and consulting, and it's definitely been your dream since you were a kid. And you're definitely not a douche bag. Hugs and kisses.;)