11.8.10

The Iron Law of Online Marketing: Why Your Ads (Almost Always) Can’t Be Your Competitive Advantage

There is only one interesting way to make money, in any field: develop and exploit a durable competitive advantage.1 Berkshire Hathaway wins because they are the buyer of first resort for good businesses that want to sell, and they can get cheap capital through superior underwriting; Facebook wins because to achieve parity with them, you have to recreate a 500 million-node social graph; the corner bodega turns a profit because that particular corner has a bodega and a half’s worth of foot traffic. In every one of these cases, it’s theoretically possible to compete with the incumbent, but there’s a better ROI in just letting them dominate the industry.

One thing these companies have in common is that their competitive advantage applies to the product or the process—either they can make the same thing for less money, or they can make something nobody else can make. What they don’t rely on is superior advertising. With good reason:

In the long term, the best advertising—the best creative, the best placement—will be sold to the high bidder. And the high bidder is whoever’s competitive advantage lets them earn more from a given customer. Read the rest of this entry »

09.7.10

A Challenge for Net Neutrality Supporters

The great thing about most critiques of Laissez-Faire economics is that they make great business plans. If “the market” can’t provide something, but that something is in demand, it’s a great opportunity!

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08.12.10

Demand Media’s IPO: Everything You Need to Know

Demand Media is the biggest pure-play SEO company in existence. And SEO is one of the fastest-growing marketing channels. So if you want to know what the marketing industry as a whole will look like, the best way to do it would be to take a look at Demand Media’s financial data. That information was available to investors and executives at the firm, but not to everyone else—until now.

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08.5.10

The Talent Acquisition “Put” Will Create More Startups and Better Startups

From the outside, a talent acquisition looks a little bit like a failure: a founding team got together, launched a product—and couldn’t get traction. The company was liquidated, and its most valuable asset turned out to be the founders’ resumes.

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08.4.10

How Platforms and APIs Debugged the Technology Labor Market

Every career has an “efficient frontier” of compensation. On one end, there’s a job that pays you what you’re worth; on the other end, there’s a job that you know will pay for next month’s rent. In some sectors, you can switch from one to the other at the same company (being a full-commission salesperson instead of a salaried “account manager”). In the technology industry, there’s not a strong tradition of pure incentive-based compensation; I don’t know any designers who will get 10% of the extra revenue from a successful A/B test.

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08.2.10

Higher Education: The Next Big, Bad Bubble

“Good afternoon, sir. I’m a broker with Churnham & Burnham, and I’d like a few moments of your time to discuss an extraordinary investment opportunity. It’s an asset that everyone is buying—your friends, your neighbors, teachers, firemen, doctors, lawyers, and even your humble broker.

“Not only that, but it’s an exceptionally long-lived asset. Once you own it, you’ll be getting dividends for your entire working life.

“While it’s not as cheap as it used to be—in fact, it’s going up in price at about twice the rate of inflation—it’s never been easier to get government-subsidized loans to purchase it. In fact, third parties may pay for some or all of it for you!

“The asset is, of course, a college education. Now, wouldn’t you like to review the prospectus?”

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07.28.10

The Phony Scalability of “Local,” and “Long-Tail.”

VCs throw money at startups because they’re scalable. With the right model, the thinking goes, you can double your revenue while your expenses rise 10%. Then, you can do it again.

This works pretty well for some companies. Facebook, for example, hit 100 million users in mid 2008, with “more than 600″ employees. Now they have 500 million users, and 1400+ employees. 400% growth in users; 130% growth in employees. That’s exactly the kind of math VCs like to see, and it’s why they were willing to fund Facebook generously in the early stages. Facebook will run into scalability barriers after a while. At some point, the limiting factor is not engineers (a scalable resource) but customer service reps and servers.

For many of the current crop of hot companies, the end of scalability is coming much faster.

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07.26.10

DuckDuckGo and Quora: Two Companies That Could Wreck Google Search

Online businesses compete by being the default. You want to connect with friends, so you default to Facebook; you want to waste five minutes, you default to Zynga; you want to talk about stocks, you default to Stocktwits.

Google is the Big Default. If you want to find something, but you’re not precisely sure what, Google is where you start. For about eight years, that’s where I’ve started, too. But recently, two sites have started to replace Google. And what’s especially dangerous about them is that they’re both encroaching on Google, starting at opposite ends of the spectrum of services that Google Search provides.

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06.9.10

Guest Post: Metrics That Matter For Social Gaming Investors

I have a guest post about social media gaming metrics on Secondshares, the blog about private company stocks.

Take a look!

05.11.10

A Better “Reply All”

Companies only grow when they can contain complexity, and email is the fastest way to produce uncontained complexity. This is because email is built around sending messages from one person to another, or from one group to another; anything in between is an ugly hack.

There’s a good reason most people choose to “Reply All”: all of the recipients of an email have to assume that, until they hear something about it, whatever the email says must be done still must be done. If you’ve ever replied directly to the sender of an email that was sent to ten people, you’ve gotten one of two responses: either ten minutes later you’re “Reply All”‘d on another email that makes yours redundant. At one minute per email times ten recipients, it’s easy to see how a simple task can take an hour or more total—and that’s ignoring the cost of disruptions.

I have a simple solution: “Reply All” should not allow you to compose an email reply; it should send a default answer like “It’s being taken care of.” To recipients who need to know more, you can elaborate; to everyone else, well, it’s being taken care of.

(In the meantime, you can start replying-all with that line. Hopefully it will catch on.)

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