Beg, Borrow, or Steal (Okay, Maybe not) Your Way into O'Reilly (Pt. 2)

The SF O’Reilly Web 2.0 Expo was a defining moment for me, and for my startup. True, I was just a noob there. I thought I knew what I was doing with my social networking app.

But from the workshop sessions on the first day — the serious, four-hour kind (I chose ‘Strategies for Financing,’ which included startup CEOs telling their war stories) — to the evening ‘Launchpad’ startup pitch competitions, to the interviews with the likes of Max Levchin (ex PayPal, now Slide) and Marc Andreessen (him you should know) — to the Booth Crawl (a sort of ‘Weed & Feed’ where you walk around the exhibit floor sipping beers and margaritas) — it was positively giddy.

Now just so I don’t sound too much like a starry-eyed fanboy, the real stuff of O’Reilly is in the main sessions.

Pay attention. You will learn about viral acquisition (it’s about nuance, and testing — did you know that RockYou! (creators of Facebook’s SuperWall), with 100M monthly uniques across all its apps, sometimes does as many as 30 releases a day? That they A/B test samples for as few as five minutes? (Guess that makes sense, when you have 100M users.)

And you’ll learn about retention, cohort analysis, monetization. Those were just a few factoids, from a couple of sessions. Multiply that by four days, five sessions a day, and nine parallel tracks! (The worst part of it all: your inability to be in multiple places at once.) Sure, you can get the Cliff notes — a lot of the presentations are available — but seeing it, tasting it, discussing it at the parties (oh, yeah) . . . is indispensible.

There was much more than I can go into here. All I can say is, figure out which one makes the most sense, and find a way to get there.

And if you still can’t seem to justify it, maybe this will convince you . . .

End of the Booth Crawl, my last day at the conference, getting ready to board BART for the red-eye. Beers and blenders at every booth . . . but no one seemed to have any food. Until a nice young lady offered me an extra sandwich she had (I promise never again to refer to them as Booth Bunnies!). I sit down to eat it, and there’s all this commotion around a booth. Turns out, the Make people were doing free laser-etching of phones and laptops. (I’ve seen places charge upwards of $100 for it.) Two minutes before the show closed, thanks to a nice gentleman who offered me his place in line, I had annotated a little piece of history.

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On BART, I drunk-twittered the world that I had marked my virgin O’Reilly experience with a ‘tattoo.’ And it’s just as permanent — which means, for my startup, failure is not an option. I’m reminded of that every time I take out my MacBook Pro.

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The Art of the Mashup

The other day, I was talking to the CTO of a company that is working to build a web technology solution for a problem that exists due to the arcane infrastructure and systems already in place in the niche target industry. He was mourning the fact that, after spending gobs of time wireframing and re-wireframing a solution, the parties who initially expressed interest in licensing the technology, had decided to walk away from the table for a variety of reasons.

The big conglomerate that had decided to walk had expressed concern over the fact that they already had systems for billing and other management aspects of their company and didn’t want to invest in something unknown and untried over their long-standing, yet antiquated, solution.

Over the course of an hour or so, and even since then, we looked over his wireframes determining what the company should look like in order to make some sales, if not all the sales he wanted. I realized that his product was designed in such a way that dependencies were created everywhere. If a customer wanted just this one portion that does employee management but not the other part that does billing, there was no productive way to do this so he could make a sale without making the big sale.

In the web world, we talk about mashups. Take a google map and mash it up with Twitter and you have Twittervision. Mashup Basecamp with FreshBooks and tie in Salesforce and you’ve got a complete back-office CRM-Billing system to build your company on top of.

The strength of mashups is the distributed nature of the work. I no longer have to store my own video files because YouTube will do it for me and give me a means to access it, thus eliminating the overhead and cost of doing business associated with that video. I no longer have to worry about the development time and money needed to distribute a widget containing my content to other websites because Clearspring does that work for me. The trick is in APIs which allow others to innovate on top of the technologies created by others.

My advice to this entrepreneur was to create APIs between his various modules and build out-of-the-box products that he could sell that utilize those APIs. In fact the APIs can be open and still be paid access, which provides another stream of revenue – especially when his clients have the money to pay top dollar for those APIs if they consider the alternative cost of throwing out entire chunks of their existing infrastructure and using an out of the box solution that may not meet their unique needs.

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Age of Exploration 500 Years Later

In 1519, an explorer by the name of Ferdinand Magellan began a journey that would be the first of it’s kind. He would lead an expedition that would circle the globe for the first time. It would cost him his Portuguese citizenship, 219 crew members, 4 ships and even his own life. In the process, his expedition would sail through the southern tip of South America, Guam, the Philippines and throughout the Far East. It would be the first trip of its kind.

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on horseback from the small port town of St. Louis and headed west to explore the great unknown chunk of land gained from Napoleonic France in the controversial “Louisiana Purchase”. The Louisiana Purchase forgave millions of dollars in French debt as well as provided the critical port city of New Orleans to the United States. However, the territory came with millions of acres of unexplored land.

Notably, after two years of exploration along the Missouri River basin and eventually finding the Pacific Ocean, they returned bringing information and intelligence about the Natives they met and territory they explored. Further exploration would happen in subsequent years cementing the western territories as part of U.S. culture and history.

One hundred-fifty years later, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced to Congress that he wanted the U.S. to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, an ambitious goal that was itself controversial. As history tells us, Neil Armstrong became the first man to lay foot on the moon on July 16, 1969 stating that, “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Amazingly, we continue to explore in our innovation. Obviously, I’m one of these geeks that gets into all the new tools and gadgets that some new entrepreneur comes up with but not everybody is. The other night, I spoke at Social Media Club DC and I compared today’s internet with the internet of 10 years ago. Ten years ago, realtime online communication carried a connotation of creepy stalker-like chats on AOL. Today, we have real time communication instantly in so many forms and on so many platforms that the lines blur.

And we don’t really think twice about it.

When I think about the explorers who have gone before us, I see that they explored and discovered and brought something back for the rest of us. Magellan told us about peoples and nations and geography that we did not know existed before. Lewis & Clark showed us just how big the United States really is. Armstrong brought space, the final frontier, to us. Everyone of these explorers added something back to society through their discoveries.

Then they all came back (Well, except Magellan who died en route to coming back). Consolidation took place.

Today we are in another innovative age. I’m proud of my friend (disclaimer: he’s also done contract work for b5media) Keith Casey. When I met him several years ago, he was a die hard developer. He mocked me for using Twitter and now uses it religiously. Today, he is the CTO for WhyGoSolo an upstart company that suddenly has the eyes of the world on them. I feel like I watched somebody grow up in front of me (Keith, no offense, man. You were grown up already)

At this point, I’m thinking some consolidation takes place. Sure there’s the economic consolidation (recession) that people like to talk to. But I think I see consolidation being more of a maturation of what we have. “Now the Moon has been walked on, let’s build a Shuttle and put satellites up there.”

At least that’s me.

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