Moving on From Lijit

As the economy continues to spiral downward, and more companies are trying to extend their runways for as long as possible, we are hearing about an increasing number of layoffs. When you’re a contractor, you always sort of have it in the back of your mind that your number could be called at any time.

That time for me is now. Lijit has been my primary client since May and it has been a good run. I came into that role to learn the art of business development and I learned a lot. I can’t say it was my favorite role ever, but it added to my experience and gave me an opportunity to look at the web industry from a different side. No regrets.

Generally, my preference is to run a job or role until I get so good at it that I’m bored. Sometimes, things just don’t fall that way. My role will be changing in the next 45 days with Lijit. I am being offered a restructured contract that will be performance based and will allow me to expand myself back into tech. This is actually good for everyone as that will allow me to get into a role I excel in and can own in an economy where people are being laid off because they are expendable.

It also allows me to stay involved with the Boulder company and continue to extend the number of publishers who recognize the need for upgraded search capability and monetization of search content. At the same time, I can build my own pipeline and diversify enough to survive the next 18 months.

Of course, I am always open to discussions or job offers as well, so feel free to reach out as well at aaron@technosailor.com or 410-608-6620.

The Roadmap For Building a 21st Century Newspaper

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Yesterday, I weighed in on the Tribune Company bankruptcy filing, noting that where voids might be created by the disappearance of established newspaper brands, there was opportunity for those nimble enough and digitally savvy enough to adjust. In my mind, as I wrote that, I was thinking primarily of alternate newspapers, but had a dream somewhere in the recesses of my head that there would, or could be an answer from the blog world. That there were blogs with enough presence and notoriety that could fill the void left by a major daily. Of course, power players exist but are generally single vertical sites (i.e. Engadget operates in the tech gadgets space) that don’t have the wide-ranging appeal that a daily newspaper does.

However, since I wrote that piece, I’ve carried on a number of private conversations with folks inside the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. The questions seem to be, “Aaron, what do you think we can do better?”

Interesting question.

2125669268_6aa230b967_oOrlando Sentinel Newsroom. Photo by wcouch

I think the New York Times, as mentioned yesterday, has road mapped a lot of where the newspaper business needs to be in the digital age. All of their content is robustly tagged in a machine-readable way. It’s possible to find all content from Author D between the months of June and October in even-numbered years having to do with the auto industry.

The fine level of meta-data (data describing the stories) has been applied in such a way that the entirety of the Times is opened up to ambitious people who want to use their data and mash it up, re-apply it and, by nature, extend the New York Times readership.

The roadmap is there.

Interestingly, with a New York Times approach to metadata and the variety of Tribune Company properties (not just the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and LA Times, but also the Hartford Courant, WGN, Orlando Sentinel and more), it should be possible for users to create their own newspaper, and the newspaper to suggest content by behavior. Facebook is all over behavioral advertising and might be a willing partner.

If you provide a common sense approach to content discovery, across all Tribune properties, and allow readers to assemble and find content that is not only localized, but also relevant to their interests and concerns, with the understanding that the 21st century American is transient and not likely a loyalist to a metro area or a metro newspaper, then you have the basis for breaking the newspaper out of the early 1950s.

It is not simply good enough to provide a way to have external content (a la “Add an RSS feed”). That does not help the greater company to be coherent in the digital age. You must provide a way for Tribune Company content from all properties to be searched (Talk to me about Lijit – we can do a deal that works), discovered via meta-data analysis (NY Times approach) and user behavior feedback and offerings (a la Facebook).

There, my friends at the Tribune Company, is your road map to building a 21st Century newspaper business.

Internet 2.0, Suck it Up and Lead

The Valley, which has so far been most unaffected by the downturn in the economy, may be reaching the end of it’s golden thread. Sequoia Capital, one of the largest Venture Capital firms in the Valley, had a meeting with their portfolio companies advising them to “tighten their belts” according to Om Malik of GigaOm.

The message delivered to those in attendance was that things could get a lot worse than people think, and it will be a more protracted downturn. To give a historical perspective, Sequoia had a similar meeting back before the last bubble unraveled burst. We know how that turned out.

Hot on the heels of Sequoias meeting, angel investor Ron Conway sent an email to the CEOs of his potfolio companies advising them, in the words of Mike Arrington, of a bleak immediate future:

You should lower your “œburn rate” to raise at least 3-6 months or more of funding via cost reductions, even if it means staff reductions and reduced marketing and G&A expenses. This is the equivalent to “œraising an internal round” through cost reductions to buy you more time until you need to raise money again; hopefully when fund raising is more feasible. Letting go of staff is hard and often gut wrenching. A re-evaluation of timelines and re-focus on milestones with the eye of doing more with less will allow you to live many more days, and the name of the game in this environment in some respects is survival”“survival until conditions change.

Brad Feld, an investor in Lijit who I work for, echoes my sentiments from yesterday (or rather, I echoed his since he went first):

My recommendation to all of you entrepreneurs out there is to get off the negative sentiment treadmill, step up, and lead. The people working for your company are likely confused, concerned, and overwhelmed with all the noise in the system. In the near term, building your business will likely be more challenging on a number of dimensions. So what – that’s the normal cycle of business. You don’t need to be a blind optimist and spout happy talk, but you do need to have a clear sense of purpose and goals for your company. Leadership 101.

Times get tough. The people that approach the challenge with some clarity in their thoughts are the ones that will emerge on the other side stronger than ever and positioned to be the next generation of winners in this space.