1994 Knight Ridder video / The future of newspapers

Posted April 30, 2011 by Anthony Hess
Categories: Information Technology

I’ve seen this video floating around the technology blogosphere:

It’s not perfect – the tablet is clearly too big (even in the video it looks huge and unwieldy), and nobody likes a stylus, they talk about two way communication but completely miss that they don’t need a flash drive.  Still, this was more than 15 years ago!

And the amazing thing to me is how the newspapers completely failed to capitalize on their own research.  Had they used their dominant position as a print news provider in 1994 certainly they could have been information gatekeepers, like say Google.  Instead they failed to realize the threat the internet represented both to their news operations and to their classified ads and at best just put their content online without thinking of clever ways to make money from it.  In context ads, for example .. or even better, the “everything is local” trend that we are seeing today with the GroupOns of the world.

I guess it’s a perfect example of disruptive innovation, and it’s not surprising – but just imagine if even one of the large newspaper conglomerates of the 90s had the vision to attack new media with a vengeance … they had every advantage as an existing information provider with a well skilled, global staff of writers.  I guess it’s a lesson for all of us.

Tech Startups: Final Thoughts and DealBoss

Posted April 27, 2011 by Anthony Hess
Categories: DealBoss, IETechstartup

I wanted to go ahead and post my final thoughts on IE Tech Startups and talk about our new business here as well (taken from the paper I wrote on the topic):

Introduction and Thoughts
As an aspiring entrepreneur, IE Tech Startups was one of the most useful classes that I have had during my time in the MBA.  I am a co-founder of a Spain based startup called Deal Boss, SL (www.dealbossapp.com is the English language web site – the Spanish version is coming soon) and I found a lot of the material applicable.  For example, when we were talking about Todotaladros.com with Alberto Torrón I kept thinking about the possibility of funding our startup from a normal corporate type position and then transitioning to full time as the business grew.  It was also interesting to see how some of the lessons around staffing and outsourcing portions of your business as a launch strategy aligned with our near term concerns.

Product
Our smartphone application (currently in the submission process with Apple) is currently focused on using the iPhone to make it easier to find and use the discounts offered from the “daily deal” sites (such as Groupon) coming into existence around Europe.  In terms of features, the application aggregates Groupon, Groupalia, and Offerum into a single stream of deals.  Users can easily browse Spain based deals by map, list and cover flow, with sorting by date, price and category. Deals are displayed automatically for the user’s city (detected using location services in the mobile), but the app also allows viewing other supported cities. The app also allows users to buy, save, set a calendar/reminder, and share deals on Facebook, Twitter, and through email.

In the short term we would like to continue to improve the user interface, include more deal vendors, and focus on getting the app into the hands of as many users as possible so we can get feedback to improve.

In the long term we hope to find ways to improve the application to provide greater deal management functionality, such as email alerts to users, customized searches for specific deal types, following specific businesses and any deals from them, and easier to use calendaring of deals.  We also want to move quickly to work with the deal vendors on their plans to offer instant deals and hopefully provide an avenue for consumers to pull out their mobile, see any instant deals near them, then walk in and redeem those offers.  In addition, we plan on adding the Android platform to the existing iPhone support.

Business
In terms of the business, the initial revenue stream comes from the commissions provided by the deal vendors to DealBoss when a sale is made.  In March 2011 we signed an agreement with Groupon for 10% of sales, although we expect other vendors will offer less.  As soon as the application is approved by Apple, the DealBoss team is going to continue negotiations with other deal vendors in order to obtain funding streams.  In addition to more deal vendors, DealBoss is planning (starting in 2012) to provide subscription based marketing analytics to businesses looking for additional information about their customers.

Currently DealBoss is trying to raise approximately €250,000 in order to fund development for the rest of 2011.  As a result, I especially found the classes with investors to be particularly useful – in terms of how investors viewed potential companies (Rodolfo Carpintier) and how different VC deals can be structured (Roberto Saint-Malo).

Although the explosive growth rate of deal sites should offer an excellent market opportunity in the near term for a high level of profitability (I’m not including the chart on this blog post), there is a long term risk that the market will consolidate into a very small number of deal vendors, making the product less useful.  We can mitigate this by providing other deal sources outside of simply daily deals, but it may also provide an exit opportunity for an interested buyer who wants to compete in mobile.

Near Term Future
In the next few weeks DealBoss will be launching a Spanish language web site including a product video (the current product video is in English), finishing the approval process with Apple in the iTunes store, adding content providers, and making small improvements to the application in response to customer feedback and additional beta testing.  We will also begin the transition from a team of six to a team of two plus four part time advisors and attempt to maintain a functioning business with a minimal staff.

Final Thoughts on Course
I absolutely loved the way we got to meet with real entrepreneurs and investors and learn about their challenges and viewpoints.  I think the only challenge is deciding when a course like this would be best to take, by term five we were all either immersed in our own startups or looking for employment.  However, any earlier and it wouldn’t have been as “real” and useful for us as we are working on our businesses.  Either way, this was one of the best and most useful courses I took during my time in the MBA and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tech Startups: Rodolfo Carpintier, Internet Investor

Posted April 18, 2011 by Anthony Hess
Categories: IETechstartup

Today, April 15th 2011 was the last class in IE Tech Startups.  We learned even more about what investors value in a startup and how they view things.  The class started an hour and a half earlier than the previous classes, resulting in more than half the class missing the session.  Unfortunately, I was feeling a bit under the weather so my ability to focus was highly varied … but it was still an excellent class, just like all the others.

Instead of going through a PowerPoint deck, the speaker, Rodolfo Carpintier of Digital Assets Deployment led us through how an investor would look at a business by having one of my classmates diagram her business, Watchfit, on the board.  Going through such things as expected valuation, equity distributed between equity and partners, and the expected sales it was a thought provoking exercise and I wish I had it on video to replay as I am sure it would be useful in understanding the thought process of investors.

Something that I thought was especially significant for me as a co-founder of DealBoss in Spain is the impact that the country of operation has on valuation and obtaining investment.  For example, because Spain is a relatively small market the valuation of startup companies here tends to be about half of that in the UK.  In addition, there are less angels here in Spain which reduces the choices you have for investment.

Lastly, here are some additional points I noted:

  • In a business plan, have no more than 15% percent of revenue come from advertising.  This is because you need a lot of users to make revenue from ads, in the hundreds of thousands.  So if you are Google or Facebook, I guess you can make some money this way but otherwise it’s tough sailing.
  • You should know who are your competitors, who has invested in them, the number of people needed after 5 years. etc.  I guess I had better get to work on this point – I generally just know how the competitors software works. :)  Perhaps that’s OK for handling the technical side of the business?
  • There is a great potential for bubbles in social network type of things.

A reference below that I didn’t get the chance to see until now:

http://www.dad.es/en/information/business-model-video – describes how the DAD process works when considering an investment.

Tech Startups: Pablo Larguía, serial entrepreneur, founder of Bumeran

Posted April 17, 2011 by Anthony Hess
Categories: IETechstartup

On Wednesday, April 13th we had the opportunity to hear from Pablo Larguía, serial entrepreneur, founder of Bumeran.com.  Bumeran.com was a job web site, but focused on Latin America (sort of a Latin Monster.com) – which was a small market at the time.  Pablo was a fantastic and entertaining speaker, and he took the opportunity to talk about his previous ventures as well as his current one – La Red Innova.  La Red Innova is a conference focused “on innovation, internet and entrepreneurship where Spain, Portugal and Latin America meet the World”.

In contrast to many other speakers, Pablo advised us to get as much money as possible.  In contrast to the common “lean startup” concept, it was interesting to see someone recommend we get as much money as possible.  In my opinion, a lot of money is almost always better than not enough money, but there are some arguments for taking out less.  For example, you may want to maintain more control of your company.

Along the same lines, in contrast to the advice to “pick your VC carefully” Pablo recommended that we go to any VCs that you can get an audience with.  The reason is that at this stage we are unlikely to have much of a track record or choice in who funds us – but we know we need the money.  In my opinion if the choice is between going out of business and getting a bad VC, at this point I may go with the latter, but in general I do admit that the whole thought of giving up control of the business is a little scary.  Isn’t that why we became entrepreneurs?  Someone should have warned us about that😉

Another piece of entrepreneurial advice was to learn to deal with uncertainty.  In Pablo’s career he’s been faced with no knowing where next year’s money was going to come from and looking at laying off all of his employees, yet somehow he kept the confidence to keep on going.  I can certainly relate to this feeling, not knowing where next month’s DealBoss funding might come from (along with my rent!).

Find a girlfriend before you do a startup because you won’t have time to find one.  This is an interesting contrast to the many speakers who talked about their relationships going south as a result of the long hours faced by an entrepreneur.  I guess the life of an entrepreneur is going to hurt your dating life either way, unfortunately.  I don’t think I like the sound of this🙂

Be very confident, especially with VCs.  Even if your business is hanging by a thread, keep your confidence level up!

One other takeaway that I found interesting was the discussion of using an equity swap to move into a new market, in this case Venezuela. Pablo traded a small amount of equity in the larger company to take over the small one and move into a new market with Bumeran.

Tech Startups: Minube.com

Posted April 17, 2011 by Anthony Hess
Categories: IETechstartup

Monday, April 4ths session was with Pedro Jareño from Minube.com, a social travel website.

In order to come up with their business idea, Minube started with an analysis of how people use the internet to get travel.  At the time, sites were focused on the booking component of the trip, yet there is quite a bit that happens before that.  The process looks something like:

Inspiration > Planning > Comparing > Booking > Traveling > Sharing Memories

Yet at the time there was no focus on inspiration, the beginning of the travel process.  Minube focused on gaining a strong understanding of the people using their site, and how they used it, and has turned that into their competitive advantage.  As we have often seen in this course, focusing on the user and their needs can bring you great competitive advantage.  In addition, Minube also noted that people like to share their experiences and help others, so by tapping this instinct to generate more content Minube.com works much like open source software.

One way in which Minube.com earns revenue is by operating a “metasearch” that allows user to find trips.  However, as everything in travel depends on Google and search engine position, they feel it will be some time before they can be well established in this area (because they earn a relatively small amount per transaction they need scale to make this generate a lot of revenue).  Minube also earns revenue via commission from sponsored content from both public and private sources.

Another interesting thing to note about Minube, is that they did not launch in English.  As a Spanish speaking group, they wanted to focus on their strengths and also where the competition was less likely to be (in Spain, and in Spanish).  Now that they have gained size, they feel that now is the right time for an English language launch.  Also, in terms of launching in Latin America they lack the local connections there, even though the language is the same, and this has prevented that expansion.

Getting users is key because of the user generated content that drives the site.  They use contests to attract travelers, and inventiveness to have a friendly brand.

I think Minube was educational in a few different areas.  The lessons I took away were:

  • Be creative in how you raise revenue
  • Focus on the user’s needs
  • Be clever in how you attract users
  • Focus on your strengths along with your competitor’s weaknesses
  • The product is the key!

Tech Startups: Ronald Friedlander of ReviewPro

Posted April 17, 2011 by Anthony Hess
Categories: IETechstartup

April 6, 2011: Today’s talk is from Ronald J. Friedlander, founder and CEO of ReviewPRO, a startup dealing with social media monitoring and reputation management for hotels. (see image at left to see how it works).

Ronald first came to Spain in 1999 – and was hired because he knew how to send an email.  Spain was definitely behind the United States in terms of the internet business.

Back in 2005-2006, no hotels were really monitoring their online reputation.  Ronald looked at trends and saw how user generating content was exploding (and thus, harder to track and keep on top of).  He founded the company in October 2008, based in Barcelona.  In contrast to what we have often been advised, to have deep industry knowledge, his sales guy has never worked in a hotel.

Some lessons:

1) If you get rejected, don’t do exactly the same thing and expect a different result.  When some folks in the class questioned this as lacking persistence, the point was clarified to mean that you have to be flexible and adjust your technique to fit your audience.

2) Product is key.  Clients are key.  This is a common theme that we have seen in the MBA and in Tech Startups.  In particular, in order to be successful as a business you have to have a good product and a great relationship with your customers.  Take care of them both!

3) Sometimes its good to not have industry experience – fresh perspectives.  In a greater sense I took this advice to also mean that you can find ways of turning a perceived weakness into a strength.

Ronald discussed some ways of capturing potential clients:

  • Buying attention (advertising).  Varies in price.
  • Beg for media (public relations).
  • Bug people one at a time (sales).  Expensive!
  • Earn attention by creating interesting and valuable content and publishing it online for free.  If you have the ability to create the content, in my opinion this is an extremely effective way of generating interest in your product.

Some additional closing lessons that we were given were:

  1. Do things differently and build stuff people value.  In other words, have a unique selling proposition.
    Everything you achieve will be determined by the relationships you have with others. In other words, relationships are key in business).
    It is critical to measure closely all the key areas of your business, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.  On the other hand, I would argue that there are some very important things to keep in mind here.  Measuring the wrong things is distracting, and measuring the right things the wrong way will lead to wrong decisions.
    Pick your partners very carefully – it is easier to get a divorce than get rid of a partner.  Take your time to pick the right partners, and do your due diligence.
    There are risks in taking VC funding, and you may end up essentially having options in a company that you don’t control.  The shareholder agreement is key to understanding the dynamics here.  This is something that we heard many times over the course of this course and is clearly very very important to understand.  Just getting VC funding does not mean it’s a “win” – be very careful.

A year in Madrid …

Posted April 17, 2011 by Anthony Hess
Categories: Madrid Experiences

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here a year.  It feels like I don’t even remember life before the MBA – it’s been an intense ride.  Even the relatively easy 4th and 5th terms are pretty time consuming because of the time spent on job hunting and Venture Lab (where I am the co-founder of a new business – DealBoss).

So, I’ve definitely adapted to living here in Madrid.  My Spanish is certainly not at the level I thought it would be by this point, but its much much higher than when I arrived.  I may not have the best grammar, and sometimes get lost hearing new people, but it’s a great feeling to actually be able to have conversations in another language.  I will certainly miss the city and wonder where I might end up next.  As a student of history and the classics I love Europe – its like a living history book.  I can walk down the street and see some of the most amazing artwork in human history, or take a short train ride to see ancient Roman constructions.

So what have I done in the last year besides an MBA?  Well, last May I went to Valencia, Spain – which is very underrated as a place to visit.  They have a first class museum complex, nice beaches, and a pretty “old town”.  I definitely enjoyed the trip.  Later on in the summer my girlfriend arrived and we went on our summer trip – Barcelona (including the can’t miss Gaudi buildings), Paris (the Louvre is the most amazing museum ever), Firenze / Florence (the churches there are stunning), Venezia / Venice (lived up to expectations), and finally Lisbon.  We didn’t spent much time in Lisbon, but I think it had pretty fantastic beaches, great food, and was very cheap.

In September we went to Gibraltar, which is a fascinating place.  The people speak an interesting mix of Spanish and English, and switch back and forth between both languages.  In English, they sound pretty much like they are British to my ears, and in Spanish they sound like Andalucians.  And of course the monkeys are a can’t miss tourist site (just be careful that they don’t steal your things).  I don’t think I would recommend longer than a two day trip, but it’s a great weekend trip if you can get there easily enough (the travel to it is the hard part as no planes fly from Madrid to Gibraltar).

In October I went to Tunisia, then under the now deposed Ben Ali.  It was also a very interesting country with a fascinating mix of both French and Arabic everywhere.  We went to the famous Golbis Hot Springs, which have been used as a bath since Roman times.  Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to see the ruins of Carthage (basically in Tunis), but the Romans didn’t leave much there.

My girlfriend was supposed to return in December, but unfortunately her student visa didn’t arrive until January so I spent my time in Madrid.  That wasn’t much fun, but I did get the opportunity to practice my Spanish with all the free time I had.🙂

In March another friend came out and I finally got the chance to make the trip to the south of Spain.  Toledo, Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada are all great places to visit.  I suggest taking a look at the wikipedia sites for those places, they really are impressive.

In a little over a month I will graduate with my MBA … and I have no idea what life looks like after that.  I wouldn’t call it any more stressful or exciting than jumping out of a plane without being sure you have a parachute.🙂