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Olson’s Observations

Technology. Innovation. Science. VC. Media. :: by Eric Olson

Archive for September, 2006

VC-InsideOut Podcast Launches

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VC-IOI received a note today from Levensohn Venture Partners announcing their new podcast series called VC-InsideOut. It looks to be a great podcast and I think it will be very useful for many of us out there. Here is the synopsis from the note I received:

The first two episodes of VC-InsideOut, a podcast program on the Venture Capital industry developed and produced by the investment professionals at Levensohn Venture Partners, are available for streaming and downloads on the web at www.VC-IO.com.

VC-InsideOut opens a window into the venture capital industry through constructive dialogue and interviews with leading VCs, entrepreneurs, and other influential leaders involved with the VC world. VC-InsideOut episodes feature original content developed and produced by Pascal Levensohn, Keith Benjamin, Kip Sheeline, Steve Reale, and Jeff Karras on a range of subjects relevant to the venture capital industry.

Typical episodes run between 10 and 12 minutes. You can stream the content from our website, or download it to iTunes or your favorite media player. By clicking on Subscribe, you can be notified of new episodes when they are added to the VC-IO.com website.

VC-InsideOut kicks off with two separate series, the Governance Series and the Entrepreneur Series.

About the VC-InsideOut Governance Series

How and why are VC boards different from other boards? What are some of the common problems faced by VC-backed company boards? Are there early warning signs of trouble in the board room? What are some of the signs of effective and ineffective venture boards and directors? VC-InsideOut tackles these and other important governance questions head-on in this series of interviews and editorial commentary on the state of VC boards. Each episode makes clear recommendations about best practices that can be useful to VCs and entrepreneurs in the field.

Levensohn Venture Partners proactively advocates best practices in governance and has published groundbreaking articles on the subject since 1999. Two well known collaborative white papers on VC governance topics-”After the Term Sheet: How Venture Boards Impact the Success or Failure of Technology Companies” and “Rites of Passage: Managing CEO Transition in Venture Backed Technology Companies” are freely available for download on the Levensohn Venture Partners website at www.levp.com/news .

About the VC-InsideOut Entrepreneur Series

Is my idea good enough to attract VC funding? How do I make a real business plan out of inspiration? What should my pitch to VCs include? What are some common mistaken assumptions that entrepreneurs make about VCs? What do VCs need to know about entrepreneurs but are afraid to ask?

The VC-InsideOut Entrepreneur Series is focused on enabling entrepreneurs to gain access to the information, insights, and tools needed to build successful technology companies. Leading entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other service providers share their experiences on the “ins and outs” of creating an idea, business plans, hiring teams, raising capital, and building businesses that scale.

Pascal Levensohn has done some great work on Venture Capital boards so I know the Governance series will be very insightful for both entrepreneurs and even VCs. The entrepreneur series looks like it will add a lot of value as well. I hear entrepreneurs asking questions like the ones in the box above all the time so hearing a firm like Levensohn Venture Partners answer them should be a real treat.

If you guys take a listen please add comments here about what you thought of the shows. Well, I am off to board a flight to California for the Podcast and Portable Media Expo but before I do I’d like to welcome Levensohn Venture Partners into the podcast family. I am looking forward to the future of VC-InsideOut and to what I will learn as a result.

Written by Eric Olson

September 28th, 2006 at 11:46 am

Posted in Business, VC

Elevator Pitch: The Movie

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One of my readers pointed me to a video on YouTube today about elevator pitches that I wanted to share with all of you. It is an entertaining video and it is under two minutes long.

Elevator Pitch

The video points out a couple of questions all good elevator pitches need to answer:

  1. What pain is your company/product going to alleviate?
  2. How will your company/product alleviate this pain?

Elevator pitch or not, this is something all entrepreneurs should think about before starting their business. If you do not force yourself to answer these questions you may be stuck with a company/product no one ever asked for.

A couple other keys to a good pitch as seen in the video are:

  1. Save the Tech Vocab: As cool as the new acronyms are you must remember that your grandma and grandpa need to understand your elevator pitch. Good example of saving the vocab - at FeedBurner we says “Feeds” on our website and other materials as opposed to RSS or XML.
  2. Greed is Good: Make sure the investor can see how the company will make money and lots of it. They may like you and/or the idea but in the end they are accountable to their investors and they need to make a good amount of cash.

A good elevator pitch is also useful for many other things. Each and everyone one of us should have a 2 minute run down of who we are and what we can do. If you write a blog you should have a pitch for that. If you’re a drummer you should have a pitch for that. This could go on for a while but I think you get the idea. Perfecting the elevator pitch is crucial for a lot of things in life, especially this day in age where you are always in competition for someone’s attention.

Here is a quick example to get you guys thinking (and it even took place in an elevator!):

When I came to Chicago almost a year ago to interview with the FeedBurner team I arrived at my hotel and was asked by my elevator mate why I was here. I mentioned that I was in town for an interview with a hot (no pun intended) tech start-up. She then asked me about the start-up and I said the something akin to the following:

FeedBurner is a company that helps to make online content subscribable. You’re probably very busy but I am sure you check multiple websites everyday that you have bookmarked and find a lot of them do not have new content. What if I told you that you could create a page on the web of your very own where all of those sites were listed and only the new content you haven’t read yet was placed there? It would save you a lot of time and energy and time is money. We help to make this happen and we offer our services free to publishers to help them help you. How do we make money you ask? Well, we help content producers advertise in that content in much the same way as they advertise on their web sites and we work off of a revenue split with them.

The conversation then continued with, “I’m sure you’ve seen the orange button on a lot of websites that says XML (this was before the standard feed icon)…”

This pitch was tailored toward an end user of content but if I were talking to a publisher or advertiser (or investor, etc.) I would shift the pitch to speak to their wants and needs. I hope you are now inspired to work up an elevator pitch of your very own. Let me know how your next quick pitch goes!

Side note: The creator of the above video is actually working on a TV series for Canadian TV called The Dragons Den. Seems like a pretty cool show. Basically, entrepreneurs come in a pitch a panel on business folks on their ideas in the hopes of getting funded. It is similar to American Inventor which ran on US TV not too long ago but it seems a bit edgier and more interesting.

Written by Eric Olson

September 25th, 2006 at 8:28 pm

Posted in VC

We Want You - FeedBurner is Hiring

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Flame-o-conIf you’ve ever said to yourself, “Man, I would love to work at FeedBurner and have access to all the flame-o-con stickers my heart desires” now is your chance. Yup, that’s right, we are hiring and in a big way! We are currently looking to add a few world class java developers to our wicked awesome (yup, I am from Massachusetts) development staff as well as a junior marketeer (kind of like a muskateer but for marketing not swashbuckling) to help Traci spread the FeedBurner love across the globe and allow her to get some sleep for once.

For the java guys out there - our development team is top notch. They work very quickly, iterate even quicker and produce a lot of cool new features that never fail to amaze. Their pace reminds me of the Discovery Channel/U.S. Postal cycling teams of old during the team time trial in the tour except our guys write code and don’t ride bikes (well, Chris does ride a bike but that’s beside the point and he doesn’t ride while coding because that would be dangerous). If you want to work with a top notch group this is it.

The OfficeFor the junior marketeer - Traci has done an incredible job with her marketing efforts and she needs someone who can jump in and contribute on day 1 and someone who is not afraid to throw out new ideas and knows the feed/new media space. She also needs someone who will join her on her quest to make sure everyone knows that the “B” in FeedBurner should be capitalized. If you think you have the right stuff please apply.

See this post for more information and/or please send your resume and a nice note to [email protected].

Written by Eric Olson

September 20th, 2006 at 1:01 pm

Posted in FeedBurner

TECH cocktail 2 Date & Venue Set

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TECH cocktailTECH cocktail, a series of mixers for the technology community co-founded by Frank Gruber and I back in May, is ready for round 2. The second event will be held on Thursday, October 12, 2006 from 6:30 to 9pm CST. We have chosen a new venue this time around to shake things up. The Gramercy will be our host and Frank and I are sure you’ll love it. It is also incredibly easy to get to (right off the Fullerton el stop on Lincoln Ave). The first event was fantastic and it wasn’t because of anything we did. It was because we had a great crowd and we’re hoping to continue that tradition so please save the date and come on down to TECH cocktail 2.

The GramercyStill not convinced? Check out the pictures and the video of the last event to get a flavor for what TECH cocktail is like. In a word, it’s fun! More details on TECH cocktail 2 can be found at the official site. Please make sure to RSVP if you think you will be coming by commenting here. As always, the event is free (thanks midPhase!) and open to the public. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Written by Eric Olson

September 16th, 2006 at 10:26 pm

Video as an Application: Internet TV

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Old TVThe next media mogul will not be someone like Rupert Mudoch but will instead be someone that creates a TV station online. Advertisers will be able to target you as an individual making ads more relevant to your life. You will be able to find information about products you see on TV shows and buy them just by clicking on them. Sound crazy? To Jeff Pulver, it sounds like the future of television.

Jeff Pulver of Pulver Media and Vonage gave a great talk at PodCamp regarding the future of video. In specific, he spoke about video as an application and the power of that concept. While the things he said initially sounded a little out there I immediately began to realize that not only could they happen they could be made and released in the relatively near future. As someone who recently stopped their cable TV service and is looking to the internet to move to TV this is very exciting for all of the reasons I discussed in my post about leaving cable (buy only the channels/shows I want, etc.). However, I think internet based TV is potentially even more interesting to the advertising community.

The holy grail of advertising is engaging a customer that you know is looking to buy your product or service. Broadcasting provides a way to send a shotgun blast into the mix meaning that you hit a few key people but your message is wasted on the vast majority of folks. Then came the internet where things could be tracked and targeted so advertisers could get to a more concrete ROI on their advertising spends. The logical next step from there is to be able to target individual people when they are looking to buy. This can be done through TV on the internet.

This idea also plays into the idea of the database of intentions and John Battelle’s idea of the internet connecting with TV so advertisers can use your search data, TV watching habits and internet attention data to serve you a highly relevant ad. I’ll admit it sounds a bit creepy off the bat but this will allow advertisers to send you ads that are actually useful to you. No longer will you have to view random ads that are a waste of your time. You will get ads for things that you are actually looking for and the ads can actually help you with your purchasing research. There is also another kind of advertising that can happen within internet based TV that is particularly interesting - product placement.

Now, I know what you are thinking - product placement, that’s lame and has been done. Sure, we’ve all seen the Pepsi can that magically has its label facing the camera in the middle of a TV show or movie and some of us will even remember the Wayne’s World spoof where they have a barrage of shamelessly plugged products for a solid minute or two. This time, however, things will be different. The products in the show may not be showcased per see. They will just be in the show and you can click on, say, a character’s shirt and get info on it as well as buy it on the spot. Pretty cool, eh? I think so.

With all that said I still think that there is more to this idea than a simple internet TV station. I feel things could be more community oriented and personalized although I don’t know what that means yet. Anyhow, I know I am going to continue to think about this concept along with my new friends from PodCamp (including Justin Kownacki who already produces a great show called Something to be Desired - he’s already in the revolution). Some interesting things are coming so stay tuned to this space.

Written by Eric Olson

September 14th, 2006 at 9:43 pm

The Music Market

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Amie StreetHaving spent most of my formative years following the stock market I have a natural affinity for the market system. It is fascinating how markets work to find prices and it so exciting when you find that rare diamond in the rough that you know everyone else has undervalued. It should be said that I didn’t spend my childhood years only looking at stocks. I actually spent a lot of my time with friends and family and behind my drums.

I have learned a lot about the music business in my twelve plus years of drumming. It’s a tough business and it is very hard for artists to get discovered. Or maybe I should say was hard for artists to get discovered. With the advent of web services like MySpace artists that may never have been found are making good livings from their music and are even being offered deals from major labels. A worldwide market has been opened to musicians and they are leveraging their creativity to grab a piece of it.

However, why does it have to stop there? Why can’t there be a system that allows people to determine what a specific piece of music is worth? Why should people pay $1 per song regardless of the artist? It seems logical that artists with bigger names and followings should command more for their music than newer artists. Also, people may be more apt to try a new artist if the price per song were less. Well, it looks like the guys from Amie Street (a Providence, RI based company) were asking the same questions and they have, in effect, built a music market.

Amie Street allows prices for pieces of music to fluctuate based on artist interest and demand. The songs start at a great price, free, and can climb all the way to 98 cents. This application of market pricing to music is really interesting and makes a lot of sense. Artists, like stocks, have different statures the price of their music should fluctuate accordingly. If the market aspect of Amie Street wasn’t already cool enough, the guys have also built in a social network piece to the application that allows users to become friends and recommend music to one another. (I would recommend checking all of these features out for yourself as I am sure I am not doing Amie Street justice.) While Amie Street is very innovative and, to use the Boston vernacular, wicked awesome, their application is also very disruptive to the music industry as it stands today.

The disruptive power of Amie Street lies in the market pricing. Music labels may fear this type of pricing model because it throws some uncertainty into the mix. Specifically, it hampers their ability to determine how much they will make from a certain recording. Sure, there is uncertainty in the music business anyway and a lot of it to be sure but what the labels can be certain of is the price of their product (since the set it). They can then determine their profit assumptions based on how many of a certain recording they think they can sell. Enter market pricing. Now labels don’t know what their product will sell for let alone if the artists will even be well received.

In the end of the day I would argue that labels should give the market pricing model a try and the reason why is simple. People who would not have bought an artist’s song for $1 because they did not know them may try the artist out for 20 cents and, if they like them, they will tell their friends and the artist’s music price will begin to rise. Instead of having a good recording no one bought, the label has a hit and at no more risk to them than the traditional model (this risk to labels of the market pricing model is really just perceived risk - overall they will probably benefit).

The development of the music market by Amie Street is very exciting in that it has the potential to revolutionize how music is sold and how other products may be sold as well. Why couldn’t movies be sold through this model? Or how about books? The potential is endless. That said, I urge you to get off your butt and go check out Amie Street. I think you’ll enjoy it and it may cause you to think of other that could be sold via market pricing.

Written by Eric Olson

September 13th, 2006 at 10:18 pm

Podcasting & Education: Beyond the Lecture

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Bentley CollegeMark Frydenberg, a senior lecturer at Bentley College, is employing some innovative ways to use podcasting in the classroom beyond podcasting his lectures. After tracking the number of downloads he received from podcasting his lectures he realized that only a small percentage of his class was listening. This troubled Mark as he knew podcasting should be in the classroom. After thinking on this for a while he came up with what seems like an obvious solution for how to incorporate podcasting into the class in a more meaningful way - teach the students how to podcast and have them each create one. Surprisingly enough, no one was really doing this yet so Mark developed his curriculum from scratch.

The key thing that Mark did with the curriculum was make the content of the student produced podcasts the content of his lectures. Each group of two students would produce one video podcast on an assigned lecture. These podcasts were to be 6 - 10 minutes long (the amount of attention span the students said they had) and had to be produced within two days of the lecture. This is not only interesting from a content reinforcement perspective; it is also interesting because it forms a community within the classroom. Now students had to learn things well enough to teach their peers and students would look to other students and their podcasts for studying purposes.

Mark has done a great job of integrating podcasting into the classroom beyond his podcasting of lectures and review classes. He is on the forefront of a change in the classroom that will be very similar to the beginning of the web. In the beginning of the web all teachers wanted to have a website and now there are companies, like blackboard, that provide this service for educators while educators teach students how to set up websites and blogs. The same thing will happen with podcasting because voice and the combination of video and voice are powerful teaching tools that go beyond text and, if done right, can create community which will further learning outside the classroom.

Disclaimer: I am a Bentley alum and am incredibly proud of what the school is doing with new media in the classroom.

Written by Eric Olson

September 10th, 2006 at 2:40 pm