Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for the ‘web2.0’ Category

2014 – the battle of platforms continues

Posted by shannonclark on September 26, 2013

My wife and I are are a mixed couple.

Sure she’s Indian and I’m Irish-Jewish but that’s not what I meant. I meant that she’s on Android and I’m on iOS. Though we both also have iPads and share an older desktop iMac. I also have a MacBook Pro that is my primary computer.

We share a family Amazon Prime account though each use Kindle via apps not physical devices. We don’t, currently, have an Android tablet in the house.

As I look forward to 2014 I think we are an example of the looming battle of core platforms that a relatively small number of companies are waging. The companies that I would argue are battling this out are:

  • Amazon.com – especially with Kindle as their physical device but also with the growing features of Prime that have expanded well beyond free shipping. They are fighting for an increasing share of not just reading but all entertainment as well as all shopping for a growing number of families. And Amazon is powering a huge number of businesses via selling on Amazon.com and Amazon Web Services. Amazon payments is not as well known but is used by popular websites like Kickstarter.
  • Apple – obviously iOS is a massive platform and Apple is a platform for thousands (millions?) of app developers and companies that offer services to the huge and growing global iOS installed base (iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches) but Apple is also battling in the living room with Apple TV and their laptops and desktops are still very popular. While Apple is directly competing for entertainment time (iTunes Radio being their latest addition) and iBooks competes directly with Kindle, they are not competing for the eccommerce platform in the same way that Amazon or Google are.
  • Google – Android is their massive platform play on mobile phones and tablets and it is a huge success (if also a challenge in how many flavors of it our out in the wild). But Google’s platform plays don’t stop there. Chrome is a cross platform and important piece of their platform. Google+ is perhaps not a slam dunk success but it is an important piece of their puzzle and they have just recently announced a public roll out of their Google Shopping Express (currently limited to San Francisco and the Peninsula but presumably they plan on a larger scale rollout in the future) showing that they are looking for transactional solutions beyond advertising. If you can get what your family needs quickly, reliably and reasonably from local stores but delivered to you via Google they presumably see a way to make a lot of money offering that service.

There are many other companies that are also competing, though to a lesser degree.

  • Microsoft – hard to entirely rule out and their XBoxOne will likely be a huge hit this holiday season and gives them a footprint into many living rooms. But Bing is not as successful as Google, Surface is faring poorly against iOS and Android and while Windows 8 is big it is no longer as relevant of a platform as it once was as the focus for many consumers (and thus many companies and developers) has shifted very rapidly to mobile platforms. There while Windows Mobile / Phone (whatever they are calling it today) has some impressive phones from companies like Nokia, what it does not have is a large installed base or significant developer interest (there are applications and developers building for the platform but far fewer than for iOS or Android.
  • Ebay/Paypal – they have made some interesting acquisitions in the past year and have rolled out services like Ebay Now (that directly competes with Amazon Prime or Google Shopping Express for rapid fulfillment of ecommerce but they have lost their early community feeling and PayPal while still large and profitable has also made many people frustrated over the years as their anti-fraud systems have had many false positives. They remain a big online sales channel and PayPal is making inroads in other payments but they don’t have the same platform reach as other companies.
  • Comcast / Verizon / AT&T or other carriers/cable networks – this varies somewhat by region and is very different in other countries. but while Comcast certainly is competing for people’s entertainment dollars (directly with Apple/Microsoft/Amazon/Netflix for streaming/on-demand videos) and they have launched apps to expend to portable devices beyond TVs they don’t, yet, offer the other platforms of the companies above. But as the pipes upon which mobile phones, tablets, computers, consoles and entertainment devices like the Apple TV connect to the Internet and receive content they are certainly positioned to benefit from the success of other platform companies.

Are there any other companies I have missed? I know there are others outside of the US that are competing (and winning) as platforms. Companies like Alibaba in China (and indeed globally). Yahoo presumably wants to have a platform for consumers and businesses – who else?

Posted in customer service, Entrepreneurship, internet, microsoft, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Planning a new event

Posted by shannonclark on September 13, 2013

A year ago I started my most recent event – a weekly game night I host in San Francisco. It has been quite a nice small event – lots of fun, nearly 100 people on the mailing list for it and every week around 20 people gather in SOMA to play games (mostly Pathfinder Society but occasionally other games). All in all quite a nice event that I’m proud to have started and to continue to host and organize.

But it isn’t a professional event – though a few folks have found internships and made connections with others in the area it isn’t an event for professional networking.

I also recently moved out of San Francisco and down to East Palo Alto. Two months ago my wife gave birth to our son. So as I think about events that I attend and that I organize I have a new perspective.

Since moving to the Palo Alto area I haven’t gotten out to many industry events – I missed this year’s TechCrunch/August Capital summer party and I haven’t been going to meetups or networking events.

But this morning a thought occurred to me – what if I, once again, started my own event. An event I could invite the speakers I want to hear from to speak at and an event I could schedule for the time and place that would be most convenient for my wife and I (and our newborn).

My idea is to create a networking event that is designed to be parent friendly. An industry event that will accommodate kids of any age as well as their parents.

This means

  •  Kid and stroller friendly space – room to park strollers/wheel them, changing tables in the bathrooms, neither too bright nor too dark and definitely not too loud
  • A parent friendly time – breakfast, mid-morning, lunchtime or late-afternoon (after school) are all possibilities – I welcome feedback about the best time (after work/evening isn’t it)
  • Parking nearby (this is Silicon Valley so a necessary evil)
  • Great food that anyone of any age or dietary restrictions will enjoy – this means fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies from local producers etc.
  • Short talks (if any) with lots of time for Q&A – Demonstrations would also be excellent
  • Interactions – between people and with technology favored over dull slideshows or vapid chats.

The focus would be akin to many other technology events – getting smart people together to meet potential clients, partners, investors or employers. Topics might include marketing online, emerging technologies, new programming methods and languages, emerging technology and opportunities etc. But with a few specific focuses and goals.

  1. The people at the event are more important than the speakers (or the organizers) – the goal is very much to get people to talk with and interact with each other – and to talk about more than just their kids (but sure, their kids are a welcome topic here as well).
  2. Be open and encouraging to everyone – kids of any age (from newborn to teens), parents and non-parents, men and women. This isn’t intended to be a parents only group or a moms/dads group. The idea instead is to have amazing technology speakers and content – but just happen to be scheduled and designed to be kid friendly. Hopefully this means as well that this event draws a more diverse crowd (in all metrics of diversity) than most tech networking events tend to draw.
  3. Ideally it is a regular event not a one-time event and hopefully it builds a community around it as well as support of sponsors and venue(s).

Anyone want to help me with this? Especially if your company might want to sponsor or host (or speak) at this event! (Speakers won’t be from sponsors – though sponsors can suggest speakers they would like to hear from). Any friends who are parents want to offer suggestions for venues or times for an event like this?

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, personal, web2.0, working | 1 Comment »

Initial thoughts on Facebook Graph search

Posted by shannonclark on January 22, 2013

I’ve been playing around with the new Graph search which i just got this afternoon.

First impressions – BEST “tour” I’ve ever seen in a product – instead of canned searches & results the TOUR uses logical elements from your Facebook profile and actual live results (in my case “University of Chicago” then “my friends who attended the University of Chicago”)

Second impressions – very cool but the auto completion vs actual search is frustrating – and will be MUCH more so when (if) they allow searching in blobs of texts (i.e. updates, shares, posts etc) – much that I would want to actually search for won’t be possible.

For example something like “friends who are hiring” which would be awesome to get reasonable results for isn’t currently feasible.

And more playing with the searches also shows a lot about who is/isn’t keeping their profiles active and up-to-date. Definitely increases the value/importance of keeping elements of your FB profile accurate (companies you work/worked at for example). They also don’t quite get that distinction – i.e. Dave McClure showed up in a simple search I did for “friends who work at Paypal” (note that my search was in the present tense – of course I know Dave used to work there… )

This will also be useful but will suffer from the “when/how” do I use this? Will Graph search be available to me via the FB apps? Or just the website? Will it be a standalone mobile app (ala Messenger) What more complex use cases will this have beyond the obvious friend stalking/local restaurant suggestions types of things.

Seth Blank’s YourTrove.com is still FAR more useful for me – that lets me search stuff that has been shared with me (full text search of posts) – i.e. insanely useful in tracking down stuff I know someone shared with me at some point in the past but which I can’t recall the precise details (for example the private, friend’s only post where a friend shared the names of his newborn children)

Overall definitely going to be an interesting shift in how Facebook is used.

Posted in digital bedouin, internet, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

If I were the Yahoo! CEO (for a day…)

Posted by shannonclark on May 10, 2012

So many people around the tech world have been writing about the current  Yahoo CEO’s problems with honesty.

Which got me to thinking – what would I do as the Yahoo! CEO (even if just for a day – though really it will take years to revitalize Yahoo! if it is even possible to do so)?

First the full disclosures

1.  My resume is messy. I don’t have a college degree (I entered the University of Chicago in 1991 as part of the class of 1995, but in 1994 I took a year off  – I was 19, on track to graduate at the age of 20 and had just had a very rough year emotionally as my then girlfriend left me for another woman, that year off during which I wrote a play and parts of two novels, turned into many more years as I was able to first start a business selling collectibles that paid extremely well and then started a series of computer consulting jobs that just kept paying more and more, in 1998 and 1999 I returned to school while also working full time, wasn’t able to negotiate a leave of absence to finish my degree so quit but instead of finishing completely took a better job offer – after seeing my clients through the Y2K transition and after not getting paid commissions on the nearly $2M in renewals and new sales I had negotiated I left in early 2000 to start my own company. Since 2000 I’ve worn many different hats at various times – as an entrepreneur, consultant, conference organizer, writer/blogger, advisor to startups and more – none of my various startup ideas have resulted in big successes and at times have overlapped – so yes, my resume is “messy”).

2. At present I’m not a direct Yahoo! shareholder (though mutual funds my wife and I own likely hold some Yahoo! stock) but I have all kinds of personal conflicts of interest. Lots of friends who were at one time employees (and even senior leaders) at Yahoo!, plenty of friends across Silicon Valley (and indeed the world) who are investors in competitors to Yahoo! in one form or another, have sold companies in the past to Yahoo!, are building companies that compete with Yahoo! or who work at competitors to Yahoo! including Facebook. I also have a number of consulting clients, including some in whom I have small equity stakes that may compete with some division of Yahoo! now or in the future. For that matter I’ve personally tried ventures that would have competed with some part of Yahoo!.

But all that aside here is what I would if I were offered the chance to help Yahoo! turn around.

Step 1. Immediately halt the patent trolling lawsuits & apologize to the tech community for the lawsuits (including to former employees whose works were used as part of these lawsuit.

The lawsuits even if there is a chance of “winning” via a large settlement (or judgement if the case makes it to trial) of money from the flush with cash post-IPO Facebook would be at best a Pyrrhic victory – the cost in future trust, in diminished ability to hire the best and brightest or to retain those who remain at the company would be immense – making any future hope of innovating out of the current mess difficult to achieve (at best).

Step 2. Repair relationships with Alibaba and SoftBank. 

See this article from February to see what I’m referring to if you aren’t familiar. According to a more recent report a new deal without SoftBank may be in the works. Clearly this is one of the best remaining assets that Yahoo! has which could be divested to generate cash to fund reinvigoration efforts for the rest of Yahoo! However while taxes matter, Yahoo! also needs to repair the underlying relationships with two major Internet giants (Alibaba and SoftBank) if Yahoo! wants to remain a powerful and viable global Internet company. I don’t know what it would take to repair these relationships – but if I were CEO doing so would be a very high priority.

Step 3. Clean house with the Yahoo! board.

Somehow the Yahoo! board has presided over the long, painful to observe from the outside, decline of what was once one of the most innovative online companies to one that is while still important decreasingly relevant. The board has dickered, fought founders and shareholders alike and generally underperformed in a huge way. Of course, if I were appointed CEO (for that matter this is true of nearly any new CEO) I would likely “owe” the board for that appointment – but this is in part one of the problems. As the founders have departed there seems to be a big leadership and vision gap at Yahoo! Perhaps a smaller and newer board, refreshed by a mix of outsiders, former insiders and even a critic or two would be able to help guide the company into a new direction.

See http://specials.yahoo.com/forward/ for what the current board and revitalization effort looks like. Given the current scandal I don’t think it is working as intended.

Step 4. Define a clear vision for Yahoo!

Go read the new CEO’s Strategic Vision for Yahoo!. Don’t worry I’ll wait – though I do recommend you have a large shot of espresso first…

Can you summarize his vision? Not sure that I could.

And I think that’s the problem. Yahoo! sees itself as being so many different businesses (and has grown so large that it really is) that it no longer has a clear vision about what Yahoo! does (or should do) or what value Yahoo! offers to others. Is Yahoo! a technology company? A media property? An advertising platform? A search engine? A portfolio of Internet services and properties? Something else?

Yahoo! needs a clear, concise, simple vision that dictates everything that Yahoo! does – something that every employee, partner, client, customer or site visitor would get immediately and understand. This is HARD.

I can’t claim to have it fully – but I think it should be something like:

Yahoo! makes the web personal.

Okay perhaps that needs work – but listen to my logic. When Yahoo! launched years and years ago and as they grew the crown jewel of Yahoo! was not any specific website or part of Yahoo! – it was the user profiles that Yahoo! had for every user (and they had millions at a time when few sites had over 100k users) which they were able to extend to nearly every new property or site they launched. These user profiles meant that you could add a new service that Yahoo! created without needing to create a new username and password, user profile and more.

Now this seems like a minor achievement – Yahoo!’s profiles have been overtaken for more web users by their Facebook accounts (or their Twitter accounts) which are the login tool that millions of people use to access other services beyond Facebook or Twitter. But done well it is still an opportunity for Yahoo! – and one that starts to help inform what Yahoo! should focus on (and what they may want to forget about).

It is also a question of what is Yahoo!’s identity and offering to companies that will partner with Yahoo! or which will generate revenue for Yahoo! in some manner (most probably via purchasing advertising through Yahoo! in some capacity – currently limited mostly to Yahoo!’s own properties). If Yahoo! were to focus on making the web personal – making it relevant and interesting and useful to every user of Yahoo! – across whatever service(s) and platforms (including sites and services not created or owned by Yahoo! potentially) this would be challenging – and would require that Yahoo! take the side of the individual user over the advertiser – but in exchange the advertisers would get a more valuable placement and likely see far better results when they do (since Yahoo! would in theory only show ads when they were really targeted and of interest to a given user).

In today’s Internet this would also require that Yahoo! focus on building products and services that cross ALL platforms and forms – not just the web but mobile, touch, TV and more. Find ways to expose their services and properties that made them available on every platform – including making advertiser’s campaigns available and relevant to the given form factor. This would be hard, this would be challenging, this would require rewiring/rewriting/reinventing most of Yahoo! currently. It would also require renewed interest in building products and services for non-Yahoo! developers to leverage (Yahoo! just a few years ago was on the forefront of building open APIs and hosting Hackathons to encourage developers to build on top of Yahoo! platforms but I think they never fully committed to this and never made it a strategic priority). I would encourage Yahoo! to explore directions that included revenue sharing with outside developers – potentially putting Yahoo! in the middle of a vibrant mobile development future. Yahoo! would also need to explore lots of service offerings that instead of relying on advertising and mass scale rely instead on subscriptions and direct payments by users – again including pass through payments to outside developers in many cases.

Would this be enough to “fix” Yahoo!? 

I don’t know but it would be a start.

And there is, of course, “one more thing…”

Yahoo needs to streamline and eliminate as many layers of management and approval processes as possible. Likely this means a lot of transitions for current employees and a total rethinking of their current workforce. This might not be easy or painless but I would start by carving out small entrepreneurial teams within ALL of Yahoo!. Teams that would have full authority to spend a given budget in whatever manner they require – with encouragement to be creative – and few requirements that they wait for a committee to approve everything. This would of course work best if a unified, simple vision can be shared by every employee – something would make it easy to answer the question of “would this new …. further the big picture vision for Yahoo!?” – would it help make the web more personal (for example). As much as possible I would look at models from innovative firms such as Valve to attempt to flatten the structures of Yahoo! as much as possible. This is, of course, challenging in a global, large public company – but it isn’t impossible.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, internet, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cool ideas and links – coworking, cooking and more

Posted by shannonclark on April 4, 2011

I have been slow to blog in the past few months so my goal for April is starting today (April 4th) to post at least one blog post to one of my blogs at least 5-6 times a week. Besides my personal blog here the other places I likely will be blogging include Slow Brand and the blog for wwbll my new startup venture.

Cool ideas and links for today:

  • New office space for startups in SOMA- Storetek Building – this looks to be a very nice new space, not the best of locations (but not the worst), no idea what the price of rent in the space will be or how many startups will be there but it is good to hear about another large space and venue possibility in SF
  • Speaking of new venue spaces – Cookhouse SF recently opened here in SF. It is a brilliant business (one that I had thoughts about myself a while back) – it is a fully outfitted serious kitchen and entertaining space located in North Beach here in SF where you can rent the space by the house, get help stocking the kitchen if you need it, and cook for (or with) your guests and entertain in style. A perfect business for an urban environment where many people do not have big kitchens or space for a dinner party for 24 friends. They offer rates by the hour, auctions for busy times around the holidays and a membership program which offers discounts to events and other benefits. One link to them I read today mentioned that they may also be offering a co-working space/wifi cafe, something I will have to follow closely but in general I love this whole idea and will be following this carefully (and fully expect to host a dinner party there sometime later in 2011)

I have spent the day at the Data 2.0 Conference here in SF. Which has had a bunch of interesting announcements and product launches amongst great keynotes and panel discussions. Two in particular stood out as services and applications which I will be using in the future.

  • 3taps.com which is a venture from one of the early investors in Twitter is now live and the founder gave a great talk and presentation on stage. They are a service which is taking lots of websites with postings of some kind and by considering that they are facts and thus can be considered public domain knowledge (which I suspect may lead them to some legal challenges which I hope they eventually win) are aggregating postings from sites such as EBay, Craigslist and many other places across the web. Turning these into a firehouse of near realtime updates. As a demonstration of their capabilities they have created an iPhone app Craiggers which offers search across multiple geographies of all of Craigslist, something which the actual website does not allow you to do. They have also launched a self-branded app 3Taps which offers full access to all of the datasets they are collecting. Both are very cool and I’ve installed them on my iPhone today.
  • Twitter and MediaShift got up on stage after lunch to announce the launch of Datasift which offers curated and filtered access, on demand to the full Twitter firehouse (as well as other data but that last bit wasn’t mentioned on stage today). Exceptionally cool and looks to be something I’ll be using as soon as later this week.

Posted in banking, geeks, internet, iTunes, San Francisco, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Building a business vs. Raising money

Posted by shannonclark on June 30, 2010

It has been over 2 months since my last blog post (and yes that’s a deliberate echo of my early Catholic upbringing, the way you would start saying your confessions…). So why such a delay?

Mostly because for the past few weeks I have been heads down working on a new business idea, we aren’t quite yet ready to announce what the new business is, still lining up early customers, partners and we hope investors (contact me privately for more information and to discuss meeting with you if you are an angel/early stage investor or if you are involved in the games industry).

While I have been working on this I have also been thinking a whole lot about the differences between building a business and raising money and how even now 10+ years after the first bubble the difference between raising money and building a business is lost on many people and not helped by the tech press who have an obsession about writing about rounds of funding and only rarely writes about business milestones (the occasional PR driven post about a company hitting some numerical milestone – often one only marginally related to the actual business model of that company is perhaps an occasional exception).

In this past week a clear example of this is the press around the $20+M round of funding recently raised by FourSquare. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of FourSquare (though I think they have some major growing pains and need to get far more professional in their engagements with actual paying customers – i.e. how they engage with marketing agencies, Brands and companies big & small)

One of my favorite tech blogs has a post which is illustrative – http://www.readwriteweb.com/start/2010/06/investor-blogs-weigh-in-on-fou.php which summarizes the discussions across many investor’s blogs about the recent round of funding which FourSquare has raised. These posts have some great advice for the entrepreneur, specifically to meet with and cultivate relationships with investors early on, earlier than when you are “ready” to pitch those investors.

But the tone of the piece as well as the posts from the investors is very much a symptom of a the problem – it is as if having raised a large round of funding the is the end game, not as it actually is just the beginning. The hard work, the real work, of building a sustainable high growth valuable business is now ahead of FourSquare and their recent round of funding is just one of many steps which they have chosen to take that, I hope, will get them to being a great company – but I actually have some serious doubts.

Back in the early 90’s I interviewed at a very well funded, even for those times, startup outside of Chicago. The startup had spun out of another company, raised a ton of money and even as I was interviewing for an entry level position I walked past the offices of the multiple VP’s which the company, pre-launch mind you, already had. In seeing those VP’s offices I knew immediately that this wasn’t a company which was likely to survive and though I completed the interview I had already decided that my future would not be with this company. Indeed they failed not all that long later losing millions for their investors.

A large round of funding, even many large rounds of funding can hide serious underlying flaws in a company and can in many ways tune the actions of the company towards raising additional rounds over building the business. In the case of FourSquare while I am happy that they have gotten a nice office space in NYC and are growing rapidly, I have also observed that they have sub-par iPhone applications and in talking with friends at large agencies they have a limited imagination and at times less than professional way of engaging with even very large agencies, agencies who represent some of the largest Brands in the world (and who have large marketing budgets and creative talent to allocate towards creative campaigns).

And while relying on “one off” advertising/marketing campaigns may be a tough way to build a business if done well it can be very sustainable and the upper limit of revenues is quite high. Especially if a successful campaign can become a part of how various businesses do business over a one-off push for goodwill. But the relationship skills needed to build out such campaigns, to manage interactions between agencies and Brands are very different from the skills needed to raise money from early stage investors – and different again from those needed to engage with the technology press. Not unrelated skills but different ones.

More generally large funding rounds, while not in and of themselves a bad thing (though at times a very real argument can be made for the downsides) can often allow a company to get into bad habits early on. A company may hire too quickly, take on too large of a lease (space isn’t the problem – what can end up taking too much time and attention is finding, negotiating for and filling up a space with furniture, computers etc – and the people that then go with them).  Some of this “waste” is what investors intend when they fund a company – to give the founders financial room to make a few mistakes without putting the whole business at risk, to give them resources to toss money at some problems instead of time.

But too much of this leads to dangerous problems and it also leads to the very common situation of a core management team that when they close their first round find themselves almost immediately working on closing the next round and the next beyond that. As a friend and advisor to many entrepreneurs I have observed this situation first hand – friends who disappear from all social and professional engagements for months of pitching dozens (sometimes 100’s) of investors, of constant updates to their pitch deck and of work focused on developing the demonstration of their product (over at times actually building the product and the business around their products). Once they have raised money they often then find themselves deeply focused on numbers that can appear “sexy” to the tech press and/or to their investors (and future investors) often again over building out the business aspects of their startup.

By “business aspects” I mean actual revenues – whether from individuals or from other businesses.

Yes, there are a handful of seemingly successful counterexamples (Twitter may be the current favorite, though they have started to turn on revenue producing services finally) but there are far, far too many counter examples.

In my new business we are focused quite specifically on revenue production from the very early stages and while we plan on raising money our best and likely most reliable source of “funding” will be sales and repeat business from happy customers. If we get very good at selling to other businesses not just initially but on an ongoing and growing basis then we can be very strategic when it comes to raising money. We will probably still need to raise money but a solid business base will give us leverage and flexibility as we raise money and should also help my co-founder and me avoid the trap of focusing on our pitch to investors over our sales processes and products.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, internet, personal, venture capital, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Billion dollar ideas for the next decade

Posted by shannonclark on April 23, 2010

What will be the next set of Billion dollar industries?

In the past week one of the biggest angel investors in technology, Ron Conway, announced that he has closed a new venture fund and he spoke to TechCrunch about what he sees as the opportunities for the next few years, the opportunities he will be investing in with his new fund. He identified three “megatrends” – the real-time data, the social web and flash marketing.

I agree with Ron that these are big trends and that there are many companies already pursuing them but still many opportunities in these areas for new companies to be created and to succeed.

However I think there are a number of other very large opportunities which will be huge in the next decade, opportunities which will transform not just entire industries but how we (and by we I mean people around the globe) live. Some of these opportunities may require massive investments and infrastructure which means that the winners in these spaces will likely be existing large companies that navigate the transition to a new business model though there likely will be opportunities for large, venture backed (and eventually public IPO backed) companies to prosper in these spaces as well.

I’m sure there are other, very large opportunities, but here are a few which I have identified.

  1. Full lifecycle manufacturing – products which are designed to be recycled and reused. Yes, physical goods. As Moore’s Law continues to move forward the pace of technological change is rapidly increasing, manufacturing is increasingly global and nimble yet climate change concerns, the cost of transportation and energy and many other concerns suggests a need to reevaluate many products. My prediction is that across products from cars to toothpaste design for full-lifecycle use will inspire billions of dollars in new products and industry opportunities. Businesses designed to take products after the initial purchaser of the product is done with that good and reusing those products, at scale, to add value and reenter the value chain. This is much much more than just “recycling” it is an underlying shift in design. Done well this is highly “green” but will also be highly profitable with lower costs, multiple revenue streams and ongoing, engaged relationships with customers over the lifetime of the product – whether it is a car or toothpaste or a laptop computer.
  2. Renewal products to extend the usefulness and value of goods. Cars designed just two years ago have technology components which are already massively out of date and limited (20gb disks for the media players in the car). Laptops and desktop computers are typically out of date when you buy them and new models come out from most computer companies multiple times a year. And while the trend for the past few decades has been to replace our electronic devices (and indeed much of our consumer society) on a frequent basis, I think there is a huge opportunity for a new business of retrofitting and updating a wide array of devices. This opportunity is two-fold. The big but complicated part is retrofitting current products – such as cars made in the past decade with modernized electronics. The even bigger opportunity is when the design of products starts to shift to be designed for ongoing upgrades. This has happened in software in the past five years – both desktop and mobile applications (and to a degree server based applications) are almost all now designed to have ongoing and automatically checked for updates which allows these products to upgrade over time. My first generation iPhone is still useful over 3 years later as a result of having been designed to accept significant ongoing updates both for the core software of the device and for the dozens of applications I run upon it (which wasn’t even an option when I purchased the phone initially!)
  3. Many pieces loosely coupled. This is a trend which exists online and offline. In place of monolithic products whether software or hardware the next decade will see many more opportunities to integrate small discrete items together in ways they may have not been designed to be combined or expected to be used. In software the rise of widgets, such as Facebook’s recently announced Social Plugins is an example of this trend. In hardware this trend is a bit slower but there are examples of it in action in the home entertainment center changes of the past few years – the rise of Internet connected devices other than computers within many homes. Most Blue-ray players sold today, for example, come with wired or wireless Internet access and along with the ability to play Blue-Ray disks the ability to connect to Internet delivered services such as Pandora, NetFlix Streaming, Flickr and more. I predict that there are billion dollar opportunities for increasing the types of devices that can connect with each other and for more combinations of hardware and software working together. Specific short term opportunities I see are around Bluetooth devices that are more complex than keyboards, mice or headphones. Eye-fi’s line of wifi enabled SD cards is a great example of how a second part added to an existing device, say a basic digital camera, can transform the functionality of that device.
  4. Hyperlocal but global curated experiences. At first this may sound like a contradiction, how can an experience be both hyperlocal and global? What I mean by this is the emergence of new retail opportunities which combine deep connections and relationships with the local community around the retailer alongside of a global perspective and sourcing. The emergence of Third-wave coffee roasters over the past few years is one great case study. (here’s a list my favorite coffee places  in San Francisco). This trend is not limited to small, nimble entrepreneurs, even large corporations such as Walmart with their recent major switch to sourcing most of the fresh food they sell locally to each store is an example of this trend. But in the next decade I think there will be a major retailing shift & opportunity where hyperlocal smart retailers who deeply know the needs and interests of their local buyers connect to a global network and source parts of what they sell from across the globe, curate these elements carefully and present specific to their community goods and services. In many cases building and finishing these goods locally but sourcing parts and raw goods on a global scale. But increasingly not just sourcing from massive global businesses but buying nearly directly from global producers. Third Wave coffee roasters increasingly buy their green coffee directly from farmers across the globe. These small scale local retailers are able to afford to send buyers around the globe to source their beans and are building highly successful (and highly profitable businesses). Four Barrel Coffee here in San Francisco recently was quoted in a New York Times article on Coffee in San Francisco that their retail business alone is generating over $100,000 a month with a 45% profit margin. Add to that significant margin a large wholesale business and you have a highly successful new business. 45% margins in a retail business can sustain significant growth.
  5. Global brands, local products. New brands and businesses across the globe will with ever increasing frequency in the next decade expand outside of their initial “home” markets into a more competitive global market. The brands which will prosper in this new world will be ones which combine the best of global sourcing with local connections, resources and awareness. In the media space large media brands will emerge that translate media generated in one country & language into another. Viz Media in San Francisco, for example, translates highly successful Japanese media properties (Manga & Anima mostly) into English and has had great success. TOKYOPOP in LA is one of the most successful publishers (in any media) in the US with many of the bestsellers each year from their highly successful English language manga.

There are many other industries which are likely to generate new billion dollar businesses in the next decade but which I know a bit less about – a few of these are Cleantech, Biotechnology especially around drug design,  and Renewable energy.

What other Billion Dollar opportunities have I missed?

Which of these opportunities should I expand upon in future blog posts?

And yes, if you are a venture fund or investor and want to work with me on exploring these ideas in greater detail I’m available…

Posted in customer service, economics, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

What do you actually use your computers to do?

Posted by shannonclark on February 1, 2010

Last night I wrote about why I think the iPad will be a great device for content creation – and included a number of potential million dollar plus ideas.

Today as I read a bunch of blogs and articles covering the iPad I am struck by how many people who are objecting to the iPad or predicting that it will fail seem to have some idea of computer usage which differs, dramatically so, from how I have used my computers for the past decade and very much from how I use my computers today.

The image that people have of “using” a computer seems to involve lots of overlapping processes, deep customization of the system and a variety of applications running which all push the limits of the system.

My reality?

I usually have one application running on my computers – a browser. On my tablet I currently use Google Chrome as my primary browser (not least of which because it doesn’t have lots of extensions and thus loads quickly and smoothly).

Recently I have been using Mindjet’s MindManager (I have the old 7.0 version installed here) which I enjoy but really only barely use, mostly I use it to capture all my various ongoing projects, to-do lists and the like (in short as my electronic GTD system).

Occasionally I use an IM application, mostly Google gchat – which I could just about as easily just use from within the browser, though I do appreciate the occasional notifications that pop up about new messages in my primary inbox. Though since I have at least three main email addresses and only get notifications for one email address and then only for my inbox and not for the many important messages I get but autofilter into various labels, the utility of this notification service is minimal at best.

And when I sync my iPod and iPhone I fire up iTunes – but since my library is vastly larger than my laptop’s HD, doing so requires that I attach an external HD to my system for the syncing to work. I use a wide array of complex smart playlists to result in every device I own and sync getting exactly the content I want to reside on that particular device – which always includes the latest podcasts I have downloaded as well as any other new content I have recently added to my iTunes library (so if I buy new content, rip a CD or download legal digital content it will get onto my music player automatically and be added to the primary playlists I use to select what to listen to during my walks, waits for buses and other podcast listening opportunities during the day.

But that is about all the applications i use on a regular basis. Sure, I have some compilers installed on my laptop, the full MSFT Office suite and much more but the reality is that I almost never need to run any of these applications. And when I do other than looking up information in my browser from time to time, I rarely need to have multiple applications open at the same time – for one my screen resolution though good for a laptop is still so low that I almost always run every app I use in full window mode.

Perhaps I am missing something major about how people use their computers today – some suite of applications that everyone other than me uses – but I don’t think this is the case.

A few possibilities.

  1. Photo & Video editing. My digital camera died a few months ago and I have yet to replace it (need a camera but don’t have the spare funds to buy one at the moment) so I don’t do a lot of photo and no video editing. But there are some great online alternatives to applications such as Photoshop. Aviary is my personal favorite – they offer a wide range of image and vector art online editing tools along with even some music editing tools. Adobe even offers an iPhone application for Photo editing (limited but
  2. Games. I don’t have powerful enough video cards in either of my computers to do much gaming (definitely not in my tablet, my iMac could handle a bit more though there are far fewer MacOS games to select amongst). But PC gaming is and likely will remain a big deal. But so too is gaming on the iPhone and in the future on the iPad and I suspect very rapidly the iPad will attract games that may be better in many ways (or at least very uniquely different) than games not just on PC’s but even against games on any of the major game console systems. I predict that the iPad will be a gaming platform as big, perhaps bigger, than the current game consoles (not their portable game systems which the iPhone already is a potent competitor to but also the main game consoles – Wii, Playstation3 and Xbox360)
  3. Personal Finance. Here in the US we have started to shift into preparing for Tax season shortly. I know in the past many years I have used TurboTax in some form to help prepare my taxes and that many friends run software such as Quickbooks for their family finances or small business finances. That said, there is a reason why Intuit bought Mint last year. Finance software including tax preparation and small (and large) business bookkeeping is rapidly moving from local computers to web/cloud delivered products.
  4. Customized “run the business” applications. These vary by business but think the Point of Sale systems in a retail shop or restaurant. Even here, however, with the rise of platforms such as Square there are many opportunities for many retail transactions to move to the cloud & mobile applications.

So what uses of your personal or business computers have I missed?

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, mac, microsoft, mobile, networks, tablet pc, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

the state of my media diet in 2010

Posted by shannonclark on January 5, 2010

As 2010 begins I have been taking stock of the media I pay attention to and am looking to add to my current diet, I’m looking for new flavors and cuisines, new forms to replace stale old ones.

At the moment my media consumption looks like:

No daily newspapers, no TV news of any form, no Radio (either over the air or Internet). I catch a few TV series, mostly at my girlfriend’s house (or via various means online) but not too many (mostly SF series & a few Food Network shows)

Magazines

  • The New Yorker magazine – I have been a New Yorker subscriber since college in the early 1990’s, however as I write this I am nearly two months behind and all year have found myself increasingly disappointed in the quality of the writing and the point of view of most of the writers for the New Yorker (Malcolm Gladwell excepted).
  • occasional issues of Monocle and even less often The Atlantic Monthly – I may subscribe to both magazines in 2010 even though I am currently months behind on my Monocle reading

And that is it. Years ago I had a dozen of magazine subscriptions (including free technical publications) and would supplement those with local free weekly newspapers and often one or more magazines purchased from a newstand. But that is no longer the case, even when I’m in one of San Francisco’s many excellent newstands with literally 1000’s of magazines available to me I rarely see one I have to buy. I feel there are, I hope, magazines out there I really should be reading – but I do not know what they are!

Podcasts and video podcasts

Mostly a mix of music podcasts & some niche focused podcasts. Here’s the roughly complete list:

  • Accident Hash – CC Chapman’s long running podsafe music podcast, in 2009 this was fairly irregular but usually enjoyable
  • American Public Media’s Sound Opinions – One of my favorites, I have been a listener since an earlier version of this show was on commercial radio in Chicago
  • CO-OP – a video podcast from Revision3 covering video games
  • Critical Hit – a newer audio podcast from students in the Game Design program at Columbia College in Chicago
  • Critical Hit: A Dungeons & Dragons podcast – from the website MajorSpoilers.com a podcast of a group of players playing D&D 4th edition – a bit of a nostalgia trip for me – but also it has been catching me up on the new rules of a game I played years ago
  • Doctor Who podshock – for my occasional Dr. Who fan discusison
  • Dungeons & Dragons podcast – an occasional podcast from Wizards of the Coast, I subscribed for a series of episodes they did with Wil Wheaton & folks from Penny Arcade playing a series of D&D games. The website archive is a bit clunky – subscribe to this podcast via iTunes.
  • Games with Garfield – an occasional podcast from Richard Garfield on game design (inventor of many great games – including Magic the Gathering)
  • The Geekbox – a group of B ay Area geeks – fun even if I’m a bit older than many of them and have slightly different tastes
  • iFanboy – I subscribe to two audio and one video podcast by the iFanboy team (the video is with Revision3) these cover the Comics industry exceptionally well
  • KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic – one of the best music radio shows anywhere – live in studio sets of great music are what they include in their podcast, but every show is available for streaming on demand.
  • Major Spoilers – another comics (mostly) but also all things geek discussion podcast from a great comics review website
  • Monocle (videos & audio podcast) – great short videos and audio podcast series from one of my favorite magazines, Monocle
  • Murmur.com podcast – from the folks who do iFanboy an occasional podcast on movies & TV & other things geek
  • NPR All Songs Considered podcast – amazing music podcast from NPR – almost always stuff I really enjoy
  • NPR: Live Concerts from All Songs Considered – videos and audios of amazing live concerts
  • Only A Game – NPR’s sports weekly podcast
  • Radio Free Burrito – Wil Wheaton’s personal podcast which he has recently restarted after his recent Memories of the Futurecast series
  • This American Life – another series I started listening to on radio, when it was first broadcast but now catch (occasionally) via podcast

There are a handful of other podcasts I still subscribe to but which haven’t been updated in months so are mostly archives in my iTunes.

It is worth noting that I no longer subscribe to any tech industry podcasts – I’m sure there are some which are engaging & well edited enough to be worth subscribing to? What are they?

Online Blogs & websites

I mostly use Google Reader – currently I have 211 RSS feeds I subscribe to, but looking at Google’s stats, I mostly only read a very small number of feeds – a few customized feeds (Craigslist searches and the like). They break down as follows.

for Politics:

  • The Daily Dish – Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic Monthly blog along with a few other Atlantic Monthly political blogs
  • Jack and Jill Politics – an African American focused political blog friends of mine run

for Tech news:

  • Techcrunch – I subscribe the main, full feed but am annoyed by the partial feed elements from other TechCrunch sites
  • Mashable
  • The Next Web
  • Scobleizer – I have been reading Robert Scoble since before he joined Microsoft
  • Venturebeatfull disclosure – I wrote for Venturebeat in 2009
  • Boing Boing
  • and really that’s about it – I don’t get to or read many other blogs and of the above I average only about 25% at most of any one of them – and usually closer to 10% or less of their posts. I subscribe to many other tech industry blogs, but these are the ones I read the most frequently.

for Food

But again I have some 150+ other feeds I subscribe to yet rarely, if ever, get around to reading. If the feed isn’t a full text feed, even if from a very close personal friend, I will almost never, ever read that feed. Since I read on my iPhone over 50% of the time I’m reading RSS feeds, a non-full text feed requires a crapshoot of loading another site which is rarely well designed for an iPhone (or which breaks the links as far too many mobile site’s versions do) vs the easy navigation between stories when all full text and in Google Reader which has a great iPhone interface.

So clearly I am missing a great deal – what would people suggestion I add in 2010?

Please leave suggestions as comments below – for print publications, podcasts, video podcasts or other forms of media I should pay attention to on a regular basis  in 2010. Please include areas I am missing as well as media in fields I am already following (so suggestions for business/econ focused podcasts are welcome). Even media which is niche & seemingly not likely focused for me – but which is a great example would be welcome suggestions. I’ll listen to or read everything suggest – at least once on the web.

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, iTunes, music, personal, podcasts, politics, reading, San Francisco, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

first look to the future – my hopes for 2010

Posted by shannonclark on December 30, 2009

Over the next few days I will likely post a flurry of posts here and on Slow Brand (where I just posted 2500+ words on why 2010 is a great year for print). Some will be looking forward, others will be thinking about the past year (and decade) but to start here are my hopes for 2010.

These are not resolutions, nor are they in any particular order. Some are small, some are pretty major.

  • see my niece who was born in Dec. This will probably mean taking a trip to NYC early in 2010 and, I hope, getting in a habit of more frequent visits to one of my favorite cities. Though my niece is just recently born, I want to be an engaged and active uncle. As she grows up I hope I can be a great uncle (and spoil her just a bit)
  • travel outside of the US. In 2009 I didn’t travel all that much, a few trips early in the year, but not many after. In 2010 I hope to spend time outside of the US, see the changing world. Hopefully this will include many countries and many types of travel – professional and personal.
  • the return of Chuck to TV (well the Web in my case). My girlfriend’s “tv boyfriend” is Chuck. I’m okay with this. And yes, our shared love of this show says a great deal about our relationship. I’m a geek but so, in many ways, is she.
  • the end of David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who and the beginning of Matt Smith’s run. I’m a huge Doctor Who fan but never thought it would return to the TV, the past 5 years have been enhanced greatly by the return of Doctor Who to TV as well as the great spin-off series. I’ve loved David Tennant’s Doctor but I really look forward to what Steven Moffat does as the new show runner and I trust that I’ll love the new Doctor. My Decembers for the past few years have been made better by the Christmas Specials and this year my New Year’s Weekend as well.
  • SXSW. Every year since I moved out to the Bay Area I have attended SXSW staying for a few more days each year. In 2010 I hope to stay for even more of SXSW Music (and hope to convince my girlfriend to attend with me hopefully she will be working for a company by then which might send her to SXSW…)
  • A MeshWalk at Social Media Week San Francisco (Feb 1st). I will be organizing a MeshWalk here in San Francisco on Feb 1st as part of the larger Social Media Week activities in San Francisco. The format will be a Social Media Crawl – we will range between a number of businesses with offices in San Francisco in/around SOMA who will have open houses, demonstrations and drinks. Should be an amazing way to start a busy and great Social Media Week here in San Francisco.
  • MeshForum 2010. My hope is to pull together a full, multiple day MeshForum conference in 2010, probably in the late Spring in/around the Bay Area. It has been too many years since I last held a full MeshForum and the focus on the interdisciplinary study of Networks is even more important now than ever before.
  • Raising money for a new, social media related venture. I have been immersed in Social Media for a very long time, running an online game with 1000’s of players from my college dorm room in 1991, being active in USENET in the early 1990’s and on the web in many incarnations and forms ever since. As 2010 starts I am actively engaged in raising an early stage/angel round to fund a social media related venture. Watch my blogs for more details and updates but suffice it say that the focus will be on topics I have been writing about for years – the importance of Curation as the future of Media.

Of course if you are interested in supporting any of my ventures, especially the last three above contact me directly. Especially if your company is interested in sponsoring one or more of these events and online activities.

I also know a number of ventures, of many different scales, who are always looking for additional sponsors and creative advertisers, in 2010 I expect I will be connecting great advertisers and sponsors to amazing, unique and fantastic publishers online and offline.

Politically I have long been a strong supporter of Barack Obama and though some are disappointed in his 2009, I am not. He has achieved a great deal of what I expected and hoped he would, along with the support of his fantastic appointees. In 2010 I am eagerly awaiting still more achievements from the first great administration of my lifetime. Starting early in 2010 with, I hope, the passage of Health Care Reform which will have an immediate and important impact on the quality of my life.

I have a pre-existing condition (Asthma and related allergies and allergy caused conditions) which combined with looking at individual not group coverage would, currently, make getting high quality, affordable health insurance nearly impossible. With the passage of #HCR I should be able to get far more affordable coverage of a far higher quality w/o restrictions for my pre-existing conditions (which I should note are not expensive to treat and keep under control but do require annual expenditures for emergency inhalers and the like).

But more than any of these admittedly wide-ranging looks and hopes for 2010 my biggest one is stay worthy of the love of my girlfriend who has been, by leaps and bounds, the best part of 2009 by far.

I hope you have a great 2010 and look forward to reading about what you are looking forward to – whether big or small.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, politics, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »