Matt Blumberg – the CEO of Return Path – wrote a post on a meeting he hosted yesterday with some of the old-timers at Return Path – including one of the founders who is no longer at Return Path – to explore reinventing Return Path’s original business (ECOA – email change of address.)
Return Path – which was founded in 1999 (I invested in Veripost – the “other” early ECOA provider – in 2000 which was merged with Return Path in 2001) was originally based on being “the” ECOA provider. At the time, we convinced ourselves that this could be a very big business. We were wrong. ECOA is a small business that can be run profitably, but it’s not enough to build a VC-backed company. Fortunately, Matt and team determined this early on (in 2002) and started aggressively expanding Return Path’s footprint in the email services market – both through organic growth and acquisition. Today Return Path is a medium sized company (e.g. big enough to matter and be considered a real company), growing quickly, and a leader in several market segments (oh – including ECOA).
Matt and his team have demonstrated superb startup skills by recognizing the limitation of their business plan early, adjusting it to incorporate a steeper growth vector, taking action, and succeeding. Not everything they’ve tried has worked, but they’ve steadily built on each new thing they’ve done. As a result, they’ve now shifted into a mode where they are growing a substantial operating business and – as part of that – continually reevaluating (and reinventing) their existing products based on both the changing dynamics of the market and the things that have succeeded or failed in the past.
Good lessons for any entrepreneur or management team.
I don’t understand, but that’s nothing new. I saw the rapidly expanding buzz about Google Page Creator and went to check it out. We were investors in Geocities and this immediately reminded me of – Geocities. I logged in, went to change my template, and got the following message:
Thank some-diety that it’s “not because of anything I did.” What a trip down memory lane. I guess it’s beta, but I still don’t understand.
So – Jonathan Schwartz – Sun’s President – blogged about Sun’s offer to let people try a Niagra server free for 60 days. According to Jonathan:
The program started off slowly – partly due to internal disbelief (there’s a long story, there), but secondarily, our focus group feedback suggested no one believed we’d actually send them a free Niagara. So let me reiterate: go to sun.com, fill out the form, we’ll send you the fastest server on earth, absolutely free. If you don’t like it, we’ll send someone to pick it up.
We were also serious about the following: if you write a blog that fairly assesses the machine’s performance (positively or negatively), send us a pointer, we’re likely to let you keep the machine. (And before you ask, the marketing team makes the decision about what qualifies for the promotion, not I – although I know they love drama, charts, and compelling competitive analyses.)
Not surprisingly, I asked Ross (my IT guy) to get one and give it a good workout. Look for a review here in a month or so.
I woke up this morning feeling like brogging about a few of the companies I’ve invested in. It’s easy today since they are announcing meaningful customer implementations which are a very good thing for a young company. I already talked about NewsGator Enterprise Server and Law Firms; next up is Oxlo and GM.
Oxlo announced that its product has been implemented at six dealer service providers with integration in the GM Retail Inventory Management (RIM) implementation. This is a key integration for Oxlo as they are now “in production” with GM. RIM is a sophisticated bi-directional real-time integration between GM and their Dealers – this integration enables GM and their Dealers to more efficiently manage parts inventory at the Dealership – saving both GM and the Dealer inventory expense in the process.
If you’ve ever worked with a company that provided software to a major auto company, you’ll understand that this is a significant milestone. If you don’t, just take my word for it.
NewsGator announced that Dykema – a large midwest law firm – has implemented NewsGator Enterprise Server. Dykema has 10 offices and 800 users nationwide and they wanted integration with Microsoft Outlook. After considering several RSS aggregators that integrate directly with Outlook on the desktop (including NewsGator’s), Dykema determined that it was much more effective to use NewsGator’s Enterprise Server product and integrate with Microsoft Exchange (and correspondingly have seamless integration with Outlook, yet the benefits of centralized administration and no additional software on each desktop.) This is especially helpful in a multiple location (in this case – 10 site) implementation.
If you are at a law firm and you want RSS integrated into Outlook, you’ll no longer be one of the first adopters of this product. Drop the guys at NewsGator a line (or me if you want to make sure you get to the right person) if you are interested.
At dinner last night, Chris, Jason, and I were talking about ice over dinner last night (as we were drinking our glasses of water – with ice in them.) Chris had recently seen this CNN clip about the “Dirty Ice Problem in Restaurants.” My favorite quote: “Fecal matter in ice is a serious problem.” Yuck. Room temperature beverages for me going forward.
One of the neat things about having a blog is getting feedback that actually teaches me something. I got a note from Brad Hugg that explained some stuff on 911 after I posted about the struggle I was having with Vonage and 911. Following are Brad’s comments, which are worthy of posting if only that he has a great first name.
Back in 1995, I was one of two founding partners in a company called 911 Datamaster. We provided local PC/LAN based databases for 911 systems. Think of it this way, SCC Communications/Intrado provided data warehousing and database services for the Regional Bell Operating Companies (US West, PacBell, et al) and we provided the same service on a local basis to everyone else that wanted/needed to maintain local control over the 911 database….(an interesting side note for you is that a lot of Alaska landlines are actually covered by my old data base). Local phone companies, CLEC’s, military bases, nuclear facilities, etc. all were mandated by law to provide 911 services if they were going to provide local dial-tone. Before the Telecommunications Act of ’96, 911 services were farmed out to the Bell companies, and then eventually to Intrado. All we did was provide the same class of services to an entirely new market segment…nice opportunity!
Now fast forward to cell phones. Initially the entire industry was up in arms because all Automatic Location Identification (ALI) was based upon info sent to the appropriate router and database from a land line. There is an organization called the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) that attempts to set industry standards for hardware, software, and information exchanges. I was part of the committee that helped draft ALI database standards for wireless carriers and through the use of tower triangulation and geolocation, wireless 911 calls are all pretty much under control. I suspect (I’ve been out of this business since 1993) the same thing is happening with the Internet based providers. We were talking about the challenges Internet telephony would present in NENA as far back as 1998. It looks like an industry standard was just published this past December to work out all the kinks that new technologies have created in the 911 business. There are numerous links on NENA’s homepage that discuss the pains you’re going through right now. www.nena.org.
I got a note from Jim Moore this morning that he, members of the Berkman Center, and the Berkeley China Internet Project have started a blog to keep pressure on Google regarding China. There’s plenty of meaty (and some entertaining) stuff there if you are interested in this issue. Hopefully, by posting this, I’ll get my blog blocked in China.
After trying a few different address combinations, I finally figured out that Vonage’s 911 address database must suck. Here’s the deal.
I don’t actually have a legal physical address. I’ve mentioned this before in conjunction with issues I’ve had around the Patriot Act. I came up with a solution that solves the Patriot Act issue (that the USPS will accept without rejecting my mail). Occasionally it’s annoying (e.g. when someone tries to send a Fedex to my PO Box – yes – that still happens), but I generally ignore the fact that I’m theoretically off the grid since I have a T1 line coming into my house (thanks Qwest).
Whatever database Vonage is using for 911 doesn’t have my physical address. Now – this wasn’t a problem for Qwest as they likely mapped my address based on my wired telephone pairs and their own special address database. But presumably Vonage bought their database from someone and it depends on a database that – well – doesn’t include weirdos like me that don’t have a “legal physical address.”
Interestingly, when I check Yahoo Maps, Google Maps, and Google Earth, they nail it – both displaying my address and providing correct directions – even though I don’t have a “legal physical address.” I happen to know that Telcontar powers these services, so at least they are getting the correct data.
Presumably Vonage should give Telcontar a call. But – it gets trickier. In May, when I go to Paris, I’m going to bring my Vonage phone (and router) with me. I’m using a public IP address (yes – I’ve already checked to make sure I know the configuration in my apartment) so Vonage should be able to find me that way. Oh – 911 doesn’t work in Paris. Hmmm. Then – when I go to my place in Alaska this summer, we’ll have the same drill. If I forget to update my “current address” at Vonage, the police will show up somewhere (assuming Vonage figures out my Colorado address) when the axe murder shows up at my place in Alaska. Hey Vonage – there’s this thing called geolocation that can at least tell you when I’m not at the location you happen to think I’m at – at the minimum you could remind me to update my physical information.
I imagine this is going to get worse before it gets better as the regulated telco services (e.g. requirement for 911) intersects with new and exciting IP services. Quova’s been on the front end of this with territory rights and the Olympics and Live NBA Games in Brazil (it’s not just a US problem although Quova has been working with Major League Baseball on this issue since 2003.)
Geography + IP + Regulated Services = Mess.