Brad Feld

Month: March 2007

The Boulder County Business Reporter has a good summary of TechStars, synthesizing some of the stuff we are trying to do.  The application deadline is coming up (3/31/07) – there is still time to apply if you are interested.

Here’s another one.  What a view.  Floor number please (hint > 50).

Dick Costolo, the CEO of FeedBurner, has another awesome post up titled Too Many Companies?? 

He starts with the observation:

“There aren’t “too many companies in the market right now”. Even if there are 90,000 more companies, there still aren’t too many companies. Neither is there too much capital or too little capital or not enough engineers in this market. There are only specific market forces that you should weigh vis-a-vis your specific company.”

and ends with the conclusion:

“The key is to just get on the bike, and the key to getting on the bike is not the confidence in knowing you will be successful if you do x,y,z. The key to getting on the bike is to stop thinking about “there are a bunch of reasons i might fall off” and just hop on and peddle the damned thing. You can pick up a map, a tire pump, and better footwear along the way.”

If you’ve got a Blackberry, you can now get your RSS feeds on it via NewsGator Go! for Blackberry.  There’s also a new version of NewsGator Go! for Java that joins NewsGator Go! for Windows Mobile.  Get your feeds, anywhere, anytime.  All automagically synced wherever you are for your reading pleasure.

While the SXSW crowd is a-twitter, I’m still thinking about the range of private emails I’ve gotten about my widget post.  While some of the comments were assertions that I’m an idiot, there were a few that caused me to think harder about the opportunities (or non-opportunities) to build real businesses around the construct of widgets.  In addition, Mike Hirshland wrote a post challenging several people (including me) to debate whether or not someone could build a company around “widget management systems” that could generate venture returns and one of Mike’s partner at Polaris – Sim Simeonov – wrote an extensive post titled Widgets, Widgets, Everywhere on his view of this.

In the emails I got, several people misinterpreted my point of view so I figured I’d start with a quick summary.  I think widgets are an incredible distribution mechanism for web-based functionality.  I love widgets – and love the widgetization of the web.  However, I’m struggling to see where the real business opportunities are in “wrangling widgets” (or – more simply – “widget management systems and infrastructure.”)

Whenever I think of something like this, I start with the assumption that there are no fundamentally new business models.  In my experience, almost every business I’ve ever seen on the Internet either has a non-Internet real world analogy (an analog analogue), a non-Internet software analogy, or a previous incarnation on the Internet in some previous phase (Web 2.0 anyone?)  While the technology, implementation, distribution, user-interface, and infrastructure dynamics change, the business models rarely do.

To me, widgets are application packagers that enable you to embed specific functionality from a web site (or web service) into another web site.  Sim provided a similar view from a slightly different angle in Widgets, Widgets, Everywhere by saying “widgets are the next step in the trend towards disaggregation of content at the production end and aggregation of content by the consumer.”  My view of widgets today is that they are tightly coupled with the long tail – adoption seems exciting (and pageview (widgetview?) ramps seem huge) because of the long tail effect (vs. moving up the curve to mainstream media.)

When I stare at this and think about the different ways to build businesses to support this, I come up with four business models:

  1. a new form of ad network: analogous to DoubleClick
  2. a widget management system (WMS): analogous to CMS’s
  3. a content distribution network (CDN): analogous to Akamai
  4. an analytics business (Stats): analogous to pick-your-analytics package

I don’t buy that #1 (ad networks) is a big moneymaker.  Several people hit me over the head with a brick and have said “widgets will generate 10 zillion ad unit page views per day.”  I’m struggling with this – you’ve got issues around form factor, content rights, revenue share, long tail critical mass, and many incumbent ad networks that are dealing with different approaches to widgets.  Maybe there’s room for one new one to emerge – the way FeedBurner emerged around feed-based advertising, but that begs another question which I’ll leave for you to ponder.

#2 (WMS) is great and helpful to me as a publisher, but I don’t know how to monetize it.  I’d love a single WMS / widget container for all my widgets.  If I’m a Typepad user, I’ve already got this and I assume will nail this also.  I expect the CMS platforms can and should quickly integrate this – it’s not technically difficult and continues to improve the value of their CMS.  As a blogger, I’d be hard pressed to pay an incremental fee to a widget CMS company (I’d do a rev share on #1, but I don’t know where the ads would go!)  Most of the stuff I’ve seen fits in this category and I’m impressed with what a few of them are doing functionally, but I’m still struggling with “turn the money on.”

#3 (CDN) seems like there should be something interesting there.  I’m already having periodic performance issues with some of my widgets and if you’ve been following along with Fred “the king of blog bling” Wilson’s performance issues, you will appreciate that a real CDN could be helpful.  However, the long tail bites (or “tangles”) again – the only people that will pay for this are at the head of it so the real network effect doesn’t pay off big here. 

#4 (Stats) just won’t work.  Google commoditized the long tail stats market when they bought Urchin and made it free.  We already saw this with feed stats – the vast majority of them are now free. I believe long tail stats – like Wikipedia (and – according to the FSF – software) – really want to be free.

If you think I’m missing something – obvious or otherwise – I’m all ears.  And – if you think I’m really wrong, please keep hitting me over the head with a brick.

As you may know, Denver is hosting the 2008 Democratic Convention.  I recently met with a major media company that is looking to do a specialized political information site built around the 2008 election with an initial highlight on the Democratic Convention.  I’m interested in talking to people that have unique software approaches to building out content and community in the political vertical.

I am not looking for content providers, bloggers, or generic software vendors (unless you have a specific focus on the political vertical.)  I am looking for new, exciting, and unique approaches to this vertical, especially if you can easily integrate into an existing web framework.

In 1995 I made an investment in a company called Net.Capitol.  It was one of the very first online politics sites.  While it was mostly a directory and email list for various national politicians, it evolved in some interesting ways and had some community aspects that were way ahead of its time.  It was bought in 1997 by a public company and was a successful exit for everyone, but it more or less disappeared by the 2000 election cycle.  But – I remember tucking away the idea that politics was a great vertical market if you time it right and execute well.

Please leave comments here with links if you’re working on something relevant and/or know of people or companies playing in this sandbox.

Jason is getting riled up about patents over on AsktheVC. I figured it’d be a good time to finish up the set of posts from John Funk suggesting an empirical way to evaluate whether software patents are bad (or good). If you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2, take a look at them first (they are both short.) Part 3 follows.

But I think there may be another interesting angle. It may be able to be answered with just interviewing software companies or it may require a broader context. Here’s how I’m thinking about it. Map a three-dimensional grid with X-axis being economic value of a patent (or even a software patent portfolio); Y-axis being form of value (e.g., consensual/collaborative money payment, consensual/collaborative cross-license [note: this would appear to be an end-run around the system as it is a forced equality of unequal assets], litigation inspired royalty payments, a successful cease-and-desist/block against competitors, etc.), and Z-axis being number of years since issuance.

I think the X-axis is axiomatic. Y-axis exists to try to document how different forms of “value” represent “clean” vs. “bastardized” forms of value (I would argue consensual payments and successful “blocks” are clean forms of value; litigation inspired payments and cross-licensing are bastardized forms, with cross-licensing being the most dramatic bastardization as I think it’s very rare outside of software patents.) The Z-axis exists to bring some texture to whether software patents in particular are x% of the time irrelevant by the time they actually issue since the business moves so fast.

Now, it may take some other industries like pharma/biotech, consumer products, chemical/mech tech, etc. to show how different the industries and categories are, or it may be evident from the first map how screwed up software patents are vs. the public policy. But I would think that in the absence of some compelling evidence of substantial, “clean” value transfer across the full 20-year horizon, one could disprove the social policy hypothesis of “if we take away patents, innovation will be chilled” since there is little meaningful GDP add without clean value transfer.

Anyone in academia interested in patents should feel free to refine this and do a real study on it. We promise we won’t claim any ownership of it.

I’ve never understood daylight savings time.  My run this morning was borked as a result of my lack of comprehension of how it works, my 7am conference call with someone in Europe didn’t happen because I’m sure he (rationally) thought it was an hour later and – while most of my computers are set to the correct time because of the incredibly diligent efforts of Ross-the-IT-guy – my Cisco IP phone at home still says DST+1 (I’m sure the one in the office is set to DST.)  I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of GDP that was just wasted preparing for this and the lost GDP that will occur today due to missed / rescheduled meetings.  It sounds like Yahoo Mail also had a tough weekend – maybe they can blame it on daylight savings time.

Tags: daily+savings+time

NewWest.Net recently announced a new conference, the New West Summit on Transformation in the Rockies, which will be held June 6-8 at Big Sky, Montana. It’s an interdisciplinary event focused on the New West themes of growth and change in the Rocky Mountain West, with a special focus on four areas: political change, growth and development, energy, and entrepreneurship and the new economy. New West has put together a great line-up of speakers and an excellent schedule for this event.

Some of the speakers include Patty Limerick of the Center for the American West; Rick Holley, CEO of Plum Creek Timber Co.; Jean-Pierre Boespflug, founder and CEO of Idaho’s new Tamarack Resort; John Battelle; John O’Donnell of TechRanch; Maury Povich, talk show host and proprietor of a forthcoming Montana newspaper; and Bill Kittredge, the acclaimed writer. Among the special features are the Innovation Showcase, which will highlight great companies and initiatives form around the region and is now accepting entries.

As New West founder Jonathan Weber puts it, “The New West Summit will provide a unique opportunity to hear, meet and connect with the people who are shaping the future of the most dynamic region in the United States.” Anyone interested in supporting in positive growth and change in the Rocky Mountain Region, be it via financial investment, personal commitment, or otherwise will want to be there. Registration is currently open – I hope to see you there.

Tags: new+west, conferences, rocky+mountain, entrepreneurship