Where Do We Go From Here?

March 31, 2008

With so many social networks, mashups and social aggregators popping up nearly every day, it seems as if we are running out of new and innovative ways to connect and share ideas. Of course I don’t believe that social networks in general are going to fade away, but I do think that the way we use them are going to change. I also believe that newcomers to the industry are going to have to find new ways of gaining users and monetizing their ideas. Here are some things I have been thinking about lately.

Target markets will become more specific. What is Facebook’s target demographic? Is it internet users in general? Are they marketing toward a specific age group? There must be an answer, but it is unclear what their strategy really is in relation to their market. I think that since there are now so many different networks that it will become much harder to gain a user base because people already belong to the ones they like. Instead of relying on users to find you and join, new sites are going to have to market to a very specific demographic in order to gain users.

People will start charging for their services. It seems like a silly thing to have to say, but it’s just going to get harder and harder for people who are not charging for their products and services. Ever since money was invented, people have charged others if they wanted to buy something. Why have we drifted away from that practice? Yes, it is easier to gain a user base when you give something away for free, but it just doesn’t make any business sense. Especially in a time where the economy is faltering, revenue from advertising may just not be enough.

Social networks will be targeted towards “new” markets. Does anyone know why the Baby Boomers and the older generations have been largely ignored by social networks? Me either. They are one of the largest segments of the population and they are about to become the wealthiest generation in the history of the country. So why aren’t people targeting this market? There is the misconception that they do not use the internet. This just simply is not true. Seniors and boomers with internet access go online daily 15% more than all other segments of the population, and 94% of them use email compared to only 91% of everyone else.

Mobile technology will take off. This is becoming very apparent in today’s market. With the iPhone and its SDK, the possibilities of mobile online browsing has become commonplace. Now there are GPS enabled phones that tell your friends where you are (which I’ll admit is a little bit too “transparent” for my liking). This market is going to become the next big thing.

Where do you think the web 2.0 wave will take us next? Let me know!


Does Failing Really Bring On Success?

March 28, 2008

Everyone has heard the old cliche that in order to succeed, you must fail first. But is that really true? I hate to admit it, but I think it is.

I’ll start with this: failure sucks. No one likes to do it, no one likes to admit it. I will admit, though, that I have failed at many things – tests, sports, trying to fly out of a tree fort – and most recently, two business plan competitions (one for school and one for the states). The Quinnipiac University business plan competition was my first submission into a contest, and luckily I made it to the finals. I ended up coming in second, a formidable showing considering past experience – none. Everyone told me how great it was to come in second … but everyone wants to come in first. The second attempt was on a grander scale, the CT state competition. This time my plan made it to the final four and once again, no win. So what was the problem? Did the plan not measure up? No. It was that I had no experience  so I didn’t know what to expect.

In the field of business, how are you supposed to know what works well when you have never done something wrong? This is where the old adage really holds true.  Of course, it is always possible to just copy what everyone else is doing, but how do you think they got there? Most likely by trying new things (and realizing they didn’t work).  Now that I have had some more experience with business plans and had some mentoring from professors and business professionals, I feel much more confident. More importantly, I know what it takes to make it to the finals and win – hopefully.

Do you have any stories about failure leading to success? Let me know!

How Will We Be Remembered?

March 28, 2008

Anthony LaFauce wrote a compelling article for the Social Times called “History Will Not Judge Social Media”. Just to sum it up, Anthony believes that since we have become such a digital culture, we have nothing analog to store everything we do, thus our identities will be lost forever. The internet and digital information are a bit like thoughts: you can create them and share them with others, and they can even be recalled … but they are not tangible things that can be stored for someone else to look at. For me, this article brought up the question that many people ask themselves, “How will I be remembered?”

Nobody knows how long the internet or culture as we know it will last, that much is obvious. When the technology changes, what will happen to everything that we have created in our digital worlds? All of the blog posts, pictures, comments, etc. could be like the ideas of past generations that were never acted upon or written down. This seems like a heavy subject, but I decided that I won’t let it weigh me down.

I don’t think that everything we have achieved will be lost at all. If you think about it, not many things are ever truly or fully erased. Many people have found that it is actually quite easy to find lost or deleted files on their hard drives. You can even go back days, months and years to see a comment that someone posted on the internet. Everything is stored somewhere. Short of nuclear devastation or a direct asteroid hit, that should not change. If one really were paranoid that their contributions to the world could be lost forever, start creating backups. As Anthony states, print out your posts, comments and pictures so you can have something to show your kids when the internet is gone (is that even possible at this point?).

I think the main point here is that if you have enough faith in yourself and your message is broadcast to the world, it will be remembered – either by you or others. No one wants to be forgotten, but I don’t believe that anyone – or anything – ever truly is gone. So don’t worry about how people 140 years from now will discover and watch your video blog. Chances are it will still be around in one form or another.

UPDATE: Just saw this video and thought it had a lot to do with how everyone will be remembered. Thanks Gary!

The Twitter Phenomenon

March 26, 2008

Twitter has become an interesting obsession of mine, I will admit it. No, not an obsession like being addicted to it or anything, but I think it has become a very interesting phenomenon in the social networking industry. Unveiled at SXSW last year, it has enjoyed steady growth since. Here are some of the reasons I think that it is such a hit, and some reasons why I like it so much.

1) Twitter has allowed me to hear ideas that I otherwise would not have had a chance to be a part of. It is a constant stream of many people’s thoughts on the internet, business, and life in general. I think that it’s a great idea to be able to broadcast yourself in almost real-time. I saw a great example of idea generation today when one of my contacts responded to a tweet from another contact, and it prompted said contact to write a blog about the difference between “Followers” and “Friends”. Genius!

2) I am following industry giants (and some are following me too!). I now have the ability to interact directly with people such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Robert Scoble, a feat that would have been nearly impossible without Twitter.

3) It is a constant news and information stream. I have read more blog posts and come up with more ideas for my own posts on Twitter than any other source. Once again, it allows people to share interesting and (mostly) meaningful things with each other.

4) You can either add value to a conversation, or talk to yourself. I have fallen into both categories. For example, Chris Brogan asks his followers several questions a day, and I have added my two cents every once in a while. But on the other hand, I’ll broadcast what I ate for breakfast that morning.

Twitter can be either a powerful social tool, or just give you an outlet to share your thoughts and feelings. Either way, it adds great value to the internet and I hope that it stays around for a while. Who knows what else I will learn? What are your thoughts on the matter? Have you seen something cool on Twitter lately? Feel free to follow my Twitter feed as well!

Being True to Yourself

March 25, 2008

Just watched an awesome clip from Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV about the transparency of the internet and how it will affect the people who use it. The basic message is to be the same person all the time. There are so many people out there who, in Gary’s words, have different personalities for women, business, parties, etc … but since the web 2.0 boom, you can’t pretend to be something that you are not anymore. Everything we do is being caught in the web, from pictures to videos, blog posts to twitter posts … everyone can see the real you. No more hiding folks. Hear what Gary has to say …

The Art of the Business Plan

March 23, 2008

I like to think that I am a pretty good writer of business plans. So far, I have written three: one was for fun, one was for a university business plan competition, and the third was for the Connecticut state competition. The university plan came in second in the competition, and the state plan was good enough for top four in the state. After all this writing, I figured writing a business plan to actually start a company would be the same gig. Wow, was I wrong!

I traveled down to New York City on Friday with my partner to meet with the founders of a new media marketing firm, Carrot Creative. They were kind enough to take time out of their day to look over our plan with us and give us some input on what we should add/change/remove. It turned out that pretty much everything that we had was either changed or removed. The problems that we faced was that our concept was not specific enough, and our market research was shoddy at best. They told us that to really convince a panel of judges (or a VC) that your idea is worth investing in, you have to have data to back it up.

With all that said, we dove into the market research and spent the majority of our time researching the market. At that point I realized that this was where my other plans went awry. They had tons of information about the problem and the concept of the product/company, but little information about the market. Why had I left that out of my other plans? I think it was mainly because I am an idea person.  When I come up with an idea for a company or product I get so caught up in the idea of how I’m going to revolutionize the world that I forget the most important thing … my customers. After all, they are the reason that any concept becomes successful.

Overall, it was a great day in the city with some great guys helping us out. I really learned a ton about business plans and the internet industry in general, and also started to form some great relationships. But now I know: if you have a great concept, great, run with it, but don’t forget about your market. They are the people that will either make or break your idea. Research, research, research because that is how you sell your business.

Has your business or idea been affected by a lack of research? Let me know!

Is this a Bad Time to start a company?

March 20, 2008

As I continue on my journey to become an internet entrepreneur, I continue to face decisions that will affect if I continue on my current path or not. At a time when the economy is faltering and the dollar is losing its value, it is not easy to be running a startup company. I continually ask myself whether or not I am entering the ballgame at the wrong time. I keep convincing myself that, yes, I will be able to do this and be successful.

I keep hearing that Web 2.0 has reached the high-water mark and that investors are starting to shy away from internet startups, but I hear from other people in or close to the industry that are saying the exact opposite. The same holds true with internet advertising. I read an article yesterday that stated online ads were going to decrease by billions of dollars, yet I heard from a professor that a major car manufacturer is taking money away from TV advertising and putting it into online ads. So what gives? I really just think that there is so much confusion and speculation because of the economy. No one is sure what to be doing because the future is so unsure.

Reading Melissa Chang’s article “Five reasons why a recession is a good time to start a company” gave me some inspiration and confidence to know that I may just be able to pull through and do well. Just to paraphrase, the five reasons are: 1) A recession forces founders to be frugal, 2) Recessions force entrepreneurs to take a closer look at their ideas, 3) Recessions lead to committed startup teams, 4) Startups get a head start, and 5) Recessions toughen up companies.

Hopefully all this holds to be true as I continue planning my startup. Let me know what you think.