As a VC who has been blogging for a long time I’ve been fascinated by the VC Blogger phenomenon. I’ve been subscribing to, reading, forwarding, occasionally commenting, and setting up networks of feeds for a while.
With the relaunch of AsktheVC we’ve resurrected something we used to do periodically which is highlight a great VC post. However, we are taking a different tact this time around with our new motto.
“We read all the VC Bloggers so you don’t have to.”
It’s not quite the gray lady, but hey, we are just VCs and bloggers, not real journalists. Jason and I already have some great posts up from guys like Jeff Bussgang (Flybridge), Mark Suster (GRP), Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures), Roger Ehrenberg (IA Ventures), Charlie O’Donnell (First Round Capital) and 500 Startups. We’ll provide a little additional insight, or at least a pithy comment.
We’ve also got a full list of known VC bloggers (at least to us) on the sidebar of AsktheVC. If we are missing anyone (I’m sure we are), please email me and I’ll add them.
If you have an iPad, go look at Feld Thoughts in the browser on it right now. I’ll wait. If you don’t have an iPad, it looks like the following.
As someone who loves magic services that dramatically improve my content, Onswipe is the king of the iPad so far. The key for me is that it be trivial to set up and work flawlessly. In this category, Onswipe has nailed it. And it’s beautiful – way better than trying to read my blog in Safari on an iPad.
If you are a publisher and you want your site to be beautiful on the iPad in one minute, go sign up for the Onswipe beta now.
At the beginning of October, I wrote a post titled New Email Newsletter on Work-Life Balance where I decided to try a new email newsletter tool called Letter.ly to produce a paid email newsletter on work-life balance ($1.99 / month). I’ve decided to end this experiment and sent out the following letter to the email list tonight. Of course, because I didn’t tune the settings on Letter.ly it tweeted out the post, which recursively forced you to subscribe to read it. Oops. Here it is.
I’ve decided to end my experiment with Letter.ly (and – more importantly – “paid subscription content.”) I want to thank each of you for being part of this experiment.
I realize there was a cost to it (I think some of you have paid $1.99, others have paid $3.98 to date.) I tried to refund the money, but there wasn’t an easy way to do this. As a result, if I encounter any of you in the next year, I’m perfectly happy to reimburse you directly (just ask for the cash). If we don’t cross paths physically, please feel free to ask me for a favor via email (email@example.com) or, if you really want your money back, email me your Paypal account info and I’ll Paypal you $1.99 or $3.98 (depending on how much you paid.)
Now, on to why I decided to stop this experiment. Basically, I found it incredibly unsatisfying. As an almost-daily blogger since 2005 (and often more than once a day), I thought it would be interesting to explore paid content via an email newsletter approach. It was interesting – in that I feel a combination of “strange pressure to produce” combined with “discomfort with charging for the content.”
1. Strange Pressure to Produce: After five years of blogging, writing a post has no emotional content at this point. I just write. Sometimes my posts are insightful; often they are just words. I don’t feel the need to “produce valuable stuff” – I figure people will read the posts if they want. In contrast, every few days I thought about the idea of writing something for this newsletter. Ideas would cross my mind, but they were rarely compelling to me. Yet I felt pressure to write. Periodically, the following thought would cross my mind: “If I don’t write at least $1.99 worth of stuff a month, I’m going to be letting down my readers.” And then I’d contemplate this. $1.99? Seriously? Is this how I’m valuing things all of sudden? The mere fact that I was thinking about this, especially since there was no practical way that the amount of money I’d make from this would have any impact on my life, seemed like a waste of mental and emotional cycles.
2. Discomfort With Charging for the Content: This is related to the idea that the money isn’t material to me. Over the past 60 days, I’ve seen several tweets that said some version of “Seriously Feld, you are charging for your content?” of “Feld puts up a paywall.” While I don’t object to getting paid for content, this seemed like a really strange / retro way to do it. Whenever I pondered it, I was uncomfortable; whenever someone called me out on it I felt strange.
I learned what I wanted from this experiment – I don’t want to write a paid newsletter, nor do I want to charge subscribers directly for blog-like content that I produce. With that, the experiment is over. Going forward, I’ll be posting all of my Work-Life Balance writing to my blog at www.feld.com, regardless of whether or not this impacts my book publisher’s view on the content.
As there appears to be no way to delete this newsletter, please unsubscribe. In the mean time, I’ve lowered the monthly price to $0.10 (the lowest the system will let me charge.)
A few weeks ago I had my weekly mentor meeting with Ian and Adam from Gearbox. We messed around with the latest version of “the ball” on an Android phone and then talked about a bunch of things that were going on. I am totally amazed at the technical progress they are making this summer – these guys are magicians. But they’ve been shy about getting out there and showing off what they’ve been up to. My sense after talking to them is that their hesitancy was a combination of prioritization, focus, and “the need to get everything right.”
I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like “this stuff is so fucking cool – just start blogging about what you are doing, get the API out there, and get out in front of the world with this.” Two days later they sent me a note that their first blog post Gear What? was up and they’ve been blogging and talking up a storm ever since, including emerging on the bunker to play on the Pearl Street Mall and flying to Aspen in Paul Berberian‘s plane to spend the day at Mini Maker Faire Aspen.
Now they are having a Hackathon on the weekend of July 24th/25th. An early version of their API is out and I’ve seen some cool shit running on an Android phone so I know it’s hackable. If you are an Android developer, this is going to be fun, plus there’s the staple of every hackathon (free food, beer, and red bull.) If you want to play, send an email to ian [at] gearbox [dot] me.
Oh – and if you are into robots, go check out the 2010 Denver Robot Expo & Mini Maker Faire. Yup – the Gearbox guys will be there.
As you may have noticed, I’ve got a new blog design, as do my partners Jason Mendelson, Ryan McIntyre, and Seth Levine. Every year or so I get bored of my blog design and we go through a nice little upgrade. Our good friends at Slice of Lime do all the design work and Ross (our IT guy) wrangles everything.
We’re still changing some stuff, but if you have any suggestions or notice any bugs, please leave comments so I can tune things up.
A meme that regularly goes around the blogosphere is “full disclosure.” When someone blogs about something they have a financial interest in (e.g. an equity interest in a company) or something they benefit from financially (e.g. affiliate fees), should they include a “formal disclosure.”
I received the following email today:
“I appreciate all your book recommendations over the last several posts. It’s a great service. However, with full disclosure being the norm these days, you might want to mention that you benefit from book sales via your Amazon affiliate status. Pardon me if you have previously done this.”
So – for full disclosure, I benefit from book sales via my Amazon affiliate status. I don’t pay close attention to how much I get from this as I’m much more interested in the data underlying which books you dear reader actually buy and read as one of the features of the affiliate program is all the data I get from it.
My purpose of having an Amazon affiliate code is three fold:
- I want to understand how the Amazon affiliate program works (and evolves). This helps me with all of my investing activity.
- I am obsessed with the underlying data. All of the various affiliate / advertising programs I have on this blog provide me with a variety of data. I learn from this and can then help the companies I’m an investor in understand what appeals and doesn’t appeal to a publisher, using me as an example.
- I make enough money to get a discount from all of the books I buy at Amazon each year.
Summary: #1 and #2 help me as an investor. #3 generates a modest amount of money to me.
Let’s focus on #3 for a minute since this I think this is the core of the “full disclosure” email I received. In my case, I buy over 250 books / year at Amazon (I don’t know the exact number, but I’m estimating five a week which, based on what is on my Kindle along with the infinite pile of unread books, is low.) Since I’m buying a lot more on my Kindle these days, let’s use the average Kindle price of $10 which is also going to be low given the number of hardcover books in the infinite pile. That’s $2,500 per year of books. I expect that number is off by at least 100% – so I’m spending somewhere between $2,500 and $5,000 per year on books at Amazon.
I just ran my earnings report from Amazon for the past 12 months. Via my affiliate code, I’ve sold a net of 666 items (eek – subtle message in that – it’s actually 675 with returns of 7 and refunds of 2.) I’ve generated $16,247.89 for Amazon and received $1,072.89 in referral fees.
So – even if you take my $2,500 number, by buying books via my blog you’ve effectively helped me get a 40% discount from Amazon (20% if you take the $5,000 number, which I think is more realistic given my book buying habit.)
In either case, the financial beneficiary here is Amazon, not me, although I guess you could argue that I’m ahead by whatever my effective discount is. If my “book recommendations is a great service”, presumably this won’t really bother anyone (it might not have regardless). However, if every post I put up had an italicized “summary” of this post (or a link to it), that would probably get annoying over time!
I’m going to think more about what full disclosure actually means in the context of the evolving shift of purchasing, advertising, and content online. In the offline world, the construct of a reseller is well established (e.g. no one ever requires full disclosure from a bookstore when they sell – or promote – a book as it is well understand that they make a margin on every sale.) I get that there are different issues in the online world, especially around content, but as the creative destruction of the Internet starts to really take a toll on retail (and resellers), there may be new issues around the construct of full disclosure.
Finally, thanks to the blog reader who pointed this out to me. I hope this doesn’t come across as a gigantic rationalization on my part, or a defensive argument. Instead, my goal was to think through this out loud, in public, and in the spirit of full disclosure. If anyone out there has anything to add, or core principles that can help me define a forward looking view on this (e.g. what this should look like from 2010 forward), please weigh in with a comment.