From The Mouths of Babes…

April 13th, 2010 by admin.

Kevin Rose, the 33-year old founder of social bookmarking phenomenon Digg, spoke recently at Webstock in Wellington, New Zealand and offered up some tips for entrepreneurs. Given that Rose himself founded and built his now ancient (6 years old!) company while working at another fulltime gig, he knows whereof he speaks. Web Marketing strategist Elyssa Pallai, a previous contributor to this blog, was in attendance and compiled the tips into a good old-fashioned “Top Ten” list.

I am especially enamored of number 3 below, and am available to chat with any brilliant innovator seeking my sort of “Grey Matter”!:

1: Just Build It: You don’t need anyone’s approval and in fact, you probably won’t get it, so don’t even try.

2: Iterate: Build, release and iterate. Make a list of the features you want to create over the next six months and get going! For small companies, once a week; for larger companies, maybe twice a month.

3: Hire Your Boss: Make sure you hire people that you would want to work for, who challenge you and you can learn from.

4: Demand Excellence: Ensure staff are committed to and understand your vision. Passionate, committed staff have a tendency to rub off on people. There is nothing like a new junior developer who runs circles around everyone to get people hyped up and raise the bar! Stay involved in the hiring process as long as you possibly can.

5: Raising Money: The higher your valuation is, the more equity you have to work with. Beg, borrow and steal. Be creative about finding ways to cut costs. For example, tell the bar you are having a “birthday party” instead of a corporate event (which they would charge you $5,000 for). Rent servers, don’t buy them. Don’t just take the cash, make sure your investors can add value. Stick with angel investment. Venture capital mean board meetings, which is a huge sap on time and resources.

6: Hack the Press: Hit up the lower-end bloggers at your favorite tech blog. They have just as much opportunity to write about your product as any other blogger on the team. Attend the after-event parties. The same crowd that attends the events also goes to the parties, but the parties are free.

7: Invest in Advisors: Give away a small amount of stock to advisors (which they can vest after a few years) who you can call on in a pickle or for general advice as issues arise. Set the ground rules so you and the advisor know how much time you have access to.

8: Connect With the Community: Hold a live town hall where you can collect feedback and get advice from your users.

9: Leverage Your User Base to Spread the Word: Facebook notifications is a great example of how to do this.

10: Analyze Your Traffic: Pay attention to how people are using your site, and then learn and evolve. Use Google Analytics to understand and track traffic sources and entrance and exit paths.

Elyssa Pallai is the Marketing and Experience Manager at ReadWriteWeb. Elyssa has been working on the web since 1997 in the USA, UK and New Zealand. This, and her other articles, can be found here.

The Problem With Civilians

April 8th, 2010 by admin.

Tim Gibbons is a multiple award-winning producer, director and writer. He recently “penned” an open letter to the neophytes in his industry, yet I felt the advice proffered applies beyond the celluloid walls and media moat that still comprise the “Entertainment World”. The wisdom offered will benefit any startup or new strategic alliance, despite the lofty images that may dance in our heads of multi-billion dollar IPOs and handsome buyouts:

Along the way in this business, I’ve partnered up with various people for various projects.  Most of them were already in the business, but occasionally I’ve found a project that involves someone outside the industry.  Generally, it’s an author or expert or someone with a real interesting life story.  I make a deal with them for their book/life rights/story/whatever, and then we work on it to develop a pitch.  Sometimes we agree up front that they will come on in some kind of producer role — this is generally when I feel they bring an authenticity or weight to the project that the network/studio/buyer can’t do without.  Now usually everything goes OK, we either sell the project or we don’t.

And then, sometimes it doesn’t work out.  It’s often the wannabe producer that upsets the applecart.  People seem to get it: the buyers don’t know them, they have no track record, they’ve never been in the business, they’ve never sold anything.  Oftentimes, the buyer doesn’t want anybody from the “outside” attached to a project.  It’s bad enough walking in with a partner or two, but it often seems like a really bad idea to attach someone who’s not in the business.  The buyers don’t know them, don’t know what thing bring to the party, as it were.

Everyone usually agrees upfront that they’ll take a back seat, go along for the ride, see what they can learn about the business, make a little cash along the way.  After all, it’s their first time at doing something in the business, and from my viewpoint, and they should be happy with just getting some interest in their project.  I explain that not everyone who comes to Hollywood for the first time ends up walking away on their first project with a million dollars in the bank and a three-picture deal.  I explain that it’s particularly hard to get the studio to agree to have them involved in a meaningful manner, as a writer or producer or director.  The studios don’t trust people they don’t know, and what they are buying when I walk in the room with a new project, is my track record of having delivered a lot of shows.  All that being said, I try to be honest and fair in making a deal.

Oftentimes, though, the trouble starts at the beginning.  The person, even though I suggest they find a reputable, experienced entertainment attorney, somehow ends up finding some attorney who doesn’t have much knowledge of the business, or used to be a player 2o years ago (and hasn’t kept up with current trends), or has nothing to do with entertainment law at all.  So then the dealmaking process becomes difficult.  I usually bail at this point, as this does not bode well for the future, if, we’re so lucky as to sell the project.

Anyway, we usually get past that stage and they have a contract, an established producer who can hopefully get their project sold and made (me) and someone who cares about the show (also me!).  And then we work on it, sometimes for many months (or several years), developing it, working it into something the studios or networks will want, sometimes attaching talent or directors, and then we go pitch it.  And pitch it and pitch it.  Although I have sold projects “in the room” as they say, meaning the buyer says they want it right now, before we go anywhere else, more often than not, we pitch and pitch — on one project I sold, we pitched it about 40 times before it got bought.  Oftentimes it doesn’t work out and the project eventually dies.

But sometimes, in that magical world of Hollywood, it all comes together and a buyer wants it and we move forward into dealmaking…  And this is when the most civilian problem usually occur — the civilian, in their six months in Hollywood, has talked with a lot of people and has heard all the stories (of the extremely rare events that do occasionally happen) — a million dollar script sale; the waitress who worked with a big producer and is now making (20 years later) $4 million a year as a writer; the unknown first-time director who held out and got to direct that big studio movie as his first film; the nanny who now makes $20 million a year… and all of this sounds astounding compared to the “bad” deal they now think they have with me.

Anyway, the call comes in, sometimes directly, most often from their lawyer to mine, that they are not happy with the current deal.  They’d like to renegotiate.  Or sometimes it happens in the negotiations with the network/studio… the civilians wants some outrageous amount of money or some unobtainable/unjustified credit and/or position.  And they continue to demand more and more and more… and eventually, even though I’ve talked with them, and my attorney and agents have talked with all of their people, the deal just falls apart because the network/studio does not like being held hostage — they’ve got 20 other projects they can switch their attention to.  And then the project is dead.  And it’s a shame, because ultimately, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere with a project I didn’t think was cool, sellable and amazing.  It could have been a good show.  And usually, later, the civilian who walked away from the deal because they thought they could do better, ends up getting nowhere with their project.

So a word of advice — if you’re new to the business, don’t expect to get rich and famous from your first show — be in it for the long haul.  Certainly take care of yourself — there are bad people out there — get a good lawyer, and feel comfortable about moving forward with whomever you’ve teamed up with.  But in the end, be reasonable and level-headed.  Trust me, you’ll get much farther along, and will no longer be a “civilian”.

To read more of Tim’s musings, visit his site here.

Tablet Computing: What Should You Do?

April 6th, 2010 by admin.

Now that everyone who couldn’t bear to wait is feverishly pawing their new iPad (or not), I want to take a few moments to explore the possibility of alternatives.

I’ve admired Apple for the longest time, largely for its design and brand marketing savvy. The company’s innovative techniques have forced the hardware and software industries alike to eschew complacency, at the risk of alienating a very demanding consumer-base. However, I believe that the iPad, while it will certainly not damage Apple’s bottom line (Apple  apparently sold more iPad units on its opening day than it sold iPhone units back in June 2007, when that device was launched*), may well contribute to some overdue redress of the perception of the brand, versus the reality of its product line value.

There’s no denying that Apple has made some innovative products, and its oligarchy has ensured that attention to detail and robust design standards have remained mainstays in the development of all hardware and software offerings. However, the company’s commitment to closed systems, proprietary elements, and “walled garden” disdain for open standards has served to goad competitors into an increasing frenzy of responsive innovation. The result has been that the gap between Apple innovation and mainstream industrial emulation has narrowed sufficiently these past few years, so as to position several competing brands almost neck and neck with Apple on this, their latest release.

Blackberry, HTC, Motorola, Palm, and Google have all come out with multitouch interfaces for their handheld devices, in the wake of the iPhone. While few of these brands offer a truly competitive alternative to the Apple iPhone OS, with respect to UI and application experience, this gap may no longer exist with the Tablet. Here below are a few possible competitors to the early bird iPad:

WePad

Neofonie’s 11.6” display has much going for it, and is *apparently* going to hit the European market in less than a week. however, the absence of any video footage of note makes one pause…Here are some pictures, at least:

To read the full product sheet, including a side-by-side comparison with the Apple iPad, click here.

Lenovo IdeaPad U1

For those who can’t decide between a netbook and a tablet…there’s an app a device for that:

HP Slate

Competitively priced, and with some of the features that lots of people are moaning are lacking in the iPad:

Microsoft Courier

If Ballmer is able to deliver on the promise held within these demos, things could get really exciting:

Dell Mini 5

Multitasking, small form factor, data AND phone AND camera…:

Dell Mini 5 walk thru

ExoPC Slate

They call this a “finger driven PC”, and it certainly has some interesting specs.

ICD Tablets

Innovative Converged Devices has created a full size (called the VEGA), and a mini tablet (the ULTRA), depending on your carrier preference (the VEGA will be sold via T-Mobile, while the Ultra will go to Verizon). The full size gets my motor running more so than the mini, but the mini is certainly worth a look, if portability is one of your top priorities:

Notion Ink Adam

Saving the best for last, Notion Ink has managed to accomplish what I have been dreaming was possible: to marry the text reading superiority of the Kindle (e-ink), the user flexibility of the iPad, and the multitasking capability of some of the the other tablets mentioned above:

So where does this leave Netbooks? Given that companies like MSI, best known as netbook manufacturers, are set to launch their own tablet devices later this year, I predict that with the rise of tablets, we will see a relative decline in netbook sales. It won’t happen overnight, and devices such as Lenovo’s IdeaPad will certainly cater to those of us who want a little bit from both worlds, but as Android and other mobile OS technologies evolve, and multi-touch and resistive interface technology refine themselves, I think netbooks and laptops will be left with greatly reduced market share.

Yet, just when we think that there are enough worthy alternatives out there to permit ourselves the luxury of making a choice, along comes Google (again!) to suggest they may be releasing their own Chrome OS-based tablet

I guess it’s like car-shopping these days: if you need one, get one. If you don’t need one, wait a bit.  Everything seems to change dramatically on a weekly basis, so whatever you buy this week will be trumped in no time. The firm of Amdahl, Nielsen and Moore is hard at work…