Sep 282007

Child Prodigies, or Misspent Youths?

Child Prodigies, or Misspent Youths?

I just got an email from a reader of this blog with a subject line of "15 year-old entrepreneur" and a series of engaging questions around starting a business (and actually, quite a good idea for one as well).  It got me thinking about being a kid and being an entrepreneur at the same time.  The author of this email is impressively savvy and focused on the world of business and startups.

Ben Casnocha is another one.  Ben is 19, has already started two companies, and has written and published a book called My Startup Life

When I was 15, I actually did have an inkling that I was going to go into business someday, and probably even that I wanted to start a business someday.  After all, it’s what my dad did, and what both of my grandfathers did.  But the key words in that sentence are INKLING and SOMEDAY.  I’m not sure it would have occurred to me in a million years to actually start a real business.  I suppose I could have figured out how.  But I wasn’t interested in doing it, or I didn’t have a good peer network of business-minded teens, or something.

It’s interesting to think about whether or not I’d be a better entrepreneur or CEO today if I’d started entrepreneurial pursuits at age 15 instead of age ~25.  Certainly, one makes a huge number of mistakes the first time one does anything, so perhaps better to get those out of the way early.  But I have to imagine that there are some things that one learns with age about dealing with other people that can’t be hurried up just because one starts businesses early.

Anyway, my hat is off to guys like Ben and the even younger guy who wrote into me…I just hope they’re making enough time for more standard teenage fun with their friends as well!

Filed under: Entrepreneurship

Sep 262007

Lighten Up!

Lighten Up!

As with Brad, I love a good rant, and Dave McClure’s wild one this week about how VCs and Lawyers Need to Simplify, Innovate, and Automate is fantastic.  I have a roughly 3 foot shelf in my office that has all the bound paper documentation for the financings and M&A we’ve done here over the years and have always felt like it’s an enormous waste on many levels.  The insanity of the faxes, zillions of signatures, original copies, and triplicates is overwhelming.

But the core of the rant is a beautiful and simple suggestion that those who invest in lightweight technology companies and automation platforms should learn how to use just those technologies in their own businesses.  I couldn’t agree more, and it reminds me of my least favorite answer EVER from a VC about why some piece of legal documentation had to be done a certain way:  “Because that’s the way we always do it.”  That argument doesn’t even work when a parent uses it on a 5 year old!

I think lawyers are particularly problematic to this cause, because even if an innovative VC wanted to do things easier and differently, the lawyers would probably throw up all over it.  But in the end, if the VC is the client, he or she can and should overrule and manage counsel.  The world is now moving at too quick a pace to keep deal paperwork in the stone ages.

Filed under: Email, Venture Capitalists

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Sep 252007

We’re Right Up (Down?) There With Lawyers Now

We’re Right Up (Down?) There With Lawyers Now

I remember reading somewhere a while ago that the least respected professions in America were used car salesmen, politicians, and lawyers.  Well, step aside everyone — according to a J. Walter Thompson study reported in DMNews, only 14% of Americans have respect for people in the advertising business.  I’m going to include that anyone who works in marketing services, by extension.

Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t have expected people in the advertising profession to join the upper echelons of the study with military personnel, doctors, and teachers.  But 14% is a pretty low number.  Beneath that single number, though, lie some conflicting data.  For example,

· 72 percent agree, “I get tired of people trying to grab my attention and sell me stuff,” and

· 52 percent agree, “There’s too much advertising — I would support stricter limits.”

And yet

· 82 percent indicate a positive engagement with media overall, and

· Two-thirds claimed, “Advertising is an important part of the American culture.”

My bottom line from these data is simple.  You know something is wrong with your industry when 52% of the general population wants to regulate it.  But with the dual movements towards more free content and more restrictions on data that could be used to target advertising…I’m afraid our profession will continue to do the things that consumers don’t like for years to come.

Filed under: Email

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Sep 192007

Clients at Different Levels

Clients at Different Levels

Recently, I’ve become more aware that we have a huge range of clients when it comes to the level of the person we interact with at the client organization.  I suppose this has always been true, but it’s struck me much more of late as we’ve really ramped up our client base in the social networking/web 2.0 arena, where most of our clients are CEOs and COOs as opposed to Email Marketing Managers.

Of course, we don’t care who our day-to-day client is, as long as the person is enough of a decision maker and subject matter expert to effectively partner with us, whether it’s on deliverability via Sender Score or on list management or advertising via the Postmaster Network.  There are two main differences I have seen between the levels of client.  I suppose neither one is an earth-shattering revelation in the end, though.

First, the CEO/COO as client tends to be a MUCH MORE ENGAGED and knowledgeable client.  Some of these people know far, far more about the ins and outs of micro details of their businesses (and in the case of deliverability, the micro details of how ISPs filter email) than our average client.  I’d expect this type of client to be in command of the macro details of his or her business, but the level of "in the weeds" knowledge is impressive.  These clients are thirsty for information that goes beyond the scope of our work together.

Second, the CEO/COO as client is MUCH MORE PASSIONATE about his or her business.  It pisses them off when their email doesn’t get delivered.  They care deeply that our Postmaster opt-in might impact their registration rates by 0.5%.  They get very animated in discussions and tend to nod and gesture a lot more than take notes in a notebook.

My main takeaway from this?  If you run a business — how do you make sure your front line people are as fired up as you are?  You may never be able to give people the same kind of macro view you have of the company or the industry (although you can certainly make a good effort at it), but keeping people excited about what they do and igniting their intellectual curiosity on a regular basis will almost certainly lead to more successful outcomes in the details of your company.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Sep 192007

The Wheels of Justice Move Slowly

The Wheels of Justice Move Slowly

I am on Jury Duty this week, or Jury Service, as it seems to have been renamed since the last time I did it.  Although it’s a pain and disruptive to my schedule, I never mind doing this — it’s all part of the social contract here, right? 

I have two main observations so far from my general view of the world:

1.  How on earth does the justice system actually function?  "Business hours" are basically 10-12 and then 2:30-4:00.  I assume that at least some work happens before and after, but yeesh.  If I ran my business that way…well, you know.  Could it be that our government might be a little more effective if people worked a little more?

2.  On a very impressive note, the courthouse now has free wi-fi in it.  You should have heard people applaud when the clerk announced that.  The processes and systems may be antiquated here, but at least they figured this one thing out!

Filed under: Email

Sep 122007

Unleashing the True Power of Email

Unleashing the True Power of Email

A recent Behavioral Insider column had a truly tantalizing quote from iPost’s Steve Webster:

"There is the presumption that when someone receives an email message they then click on the email go to the Web site and either make a purchase or not and then they are done interacting with your email. This turned out to be wrong. We discovered very quickly that the power of an email impression lasts for weeks after the customer has actually received the message. The particular interaction they will have with you later really depends more on their personal preferences than on your putting a new email in front of them."

The highlighted portion is a point we’ve been making here at Return Path for years now.  Emails are not perceived by recipients as distinct, one-off promotions.  But many marketers continue to view them that way and make both strategic and tactical errors because of that.  Here are a five things you need to start doing – right now – if you want to capitalize on the true power of email:

1. Stop analyzing each email in a vacuum.  The whole is worth more than the sum of the parts.  The deeper you can dive into your data and analyze the whole program and how recipients interact (or don’t) the better decisions you can make.  Be sure to read the entire Behavioral Insider column – some of the tests they describe around segmentation reveal how email does or doesn’t influence purchasing and how it can be used more effectively.

2. Sending ever more email isn’t the answer.  To the point above, more email seldom makes buyers buy more.  Marketers don’t quite believe this because every email blast they deploy results in revenue.  But the point this column makes is that you have to look at what is happening at the individual level.  It soon becomes clear that sending targeted, segmented email – less email per person – is more effective.

3. Look past the click. As a corollary to #1, many marketers believe if a subscriber doesn’t click, they haven’t interacted.  This clearly isn’t the case.  The smartest marketers segment their non-clickers into buckets.  For example, a retailer might look at non-clickers who are openers, online purchasers, site browsers or in-store purchasers.  If you have an email recipient who browses your website every other week and then purchases in store once per quarter, it is nutty to assume that the email isn’t influencing that just because they don’t click through.

4. Reliance on CPA is going to bite youYesterday my colleague Craig Swerdloff wrote about CPA versus CPM in list rental on the Return Path corporate blog.  Marketers believe that CPA is the best deal for them because they only pay for performance.  The problem is that CPA often requires a very high degree of volume to achieve success for both publisher and marketer.  All those extra emails don’t just self-destruct and wipe the memory of the recipient who doesn’t take your "action."  They’ve still made an impression – positive or negative.  Both CPA and CPM can be effective, but you need to work with an expert who understands that email is about more than clicks.

5. Permission + value = ROI. Steve Webster’s quote goes on to point out that "We thought the quality of the … creative made all the difference. It turns out that it does – but not nearly as much as the fact that [the email] made an impression on a customer who actually was interested in receiving an email from you."  Sending email without permission, as defined by the customer not by you, is a non-starter.  The first step is getting that person to proactively sign up, and then making sure they recognize your emails as desired.  Then the value piece kicks in.  Do you send what you promised?  Do your emails exceed their expectations?  Do you delight them?  The more yeses you rack up there, the more revenue your email will generate.

Filed under: Email

Sep 112007

A Dreary Day at Ground Zero

A Dreary Day at Ground Zero

I walked down to the World Trade Center site early this morning before work, which I usually do on September 11 if I’m not traveling.  It was raining and still dark out at the time, which made the scene a little more dreary and rushed (no one stopping as long to reflect) than usual.  But something felt different this year that went beyond the weather.

Obviously for those who lost friends or family six years ago, the day will always be one of mourning and memory, but for everyone else, though the day is still quite solemn, the vibe and focus seem to be more focused on “next steps” than in past years.  Between thinking about supplemental care and financial aid for first responders who are now ill, finally seeing the dismantling of the Deutsche Bank building (however challenging that process is) and seeing some real signs of new construction at Ground Zero, it feels like things are starting to move forward in the area.

Can you imagine what things would be like if the various insurance and government and corporate entities hadn’t been squabbling for the past six years about the site and we actually had the skeleton of the Freedom Tower already raised?

Filed under: Current Affairs

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Sep 062007

Personal Reputation

Personal Reputation

There was a recent New York Times article that covered a relatively new company called Rapleaf that aggregates publicly available and privately submitted data about individuals, mostly from social networks, and then resells that data in bulk to marketers to help them target advertising more effectively, supposedly to names they already have permission to mail.  I’m sure the company would think I butchered that description, but it’s close, anyway.

While there are a lot of comments and posts flying around about the ethics of that data collection, I won’t focus on that here.  Publicly available data is publicly available data.  This isn’t a lot different than banks swapping your data to create a FICO score, Abacus swapping your purchase data to cataloggers, or InfoUSA compiling tax and DMV records.

What I think is interesting is the notion of having a global online personal reputation, which, despite Rapleaf’s verbiage, isn’t exactly what they’re doing at scale just yet.  I have often wondered if such a thing would work, especially since Return Path has gotten big into the corporate reputation business through our Sender Score service that monitors companies’ email sending reputations.

Here’s why I think it’s a good idea: the world of peer production and user generated content means that everyone can publish any media at any time.  As a result, the amount of content that’s available out there has exploded to unmanageable proportions.  Lots of sites are and have been working on making it easier to find and discover stuff.  That’s a good start.  But how are we going to start figuring out what things we want to consume and who to trust when even the most efficient search and discovery mechanisms produce too many options?  Think about it like this — you’d never buy something on eBay from someone who had a crappy seller reputation as noted by other eBay buyers who had bought things from the same seller.  Would you watch a random YouTube video (even if you liked the subject) if the producer had a horrible rating?  Would you bother trying to get into that person’s blog?  Would you allow someone to introduce that person to you via LinkedIn?

Here’s why I think it will be difficult to make it work: I’m not convinced that there is such a thing as an accurate universal measure of someone’s reputation.  Yes,  you CAN certainly aggregate a lot of information about people from publicly available sources online.  And many of those sources do have data that point to someone’s reputation.  But do they translate well across sources and dimensions?  To go back to the prior example, if a person has a bad reputation as a seller on eBay…does that mean I don’t want to read his blog?  Or just that I don’t want to buy stuff from him sight unseen?  He might be a marvelous writer but a thief.  Or maybe he has a great credit score but is lousy at follow up.  Also, the notion that someone can lobby for and garner a whole slew of private recommendations from friends on the system, while a nice idea to complement and correct inaccuracies of public data, feels like a system ripe for gaming.

Anyway, it’s an interesting concept, and I look forward to seeing how it unfolds.

Filed under: Email

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Sep 042007

Back to Business?

Back to Business?

Today is the day every year that everyone keeps saying, "well, it’s back to school time."  Ignore for a moment the fact that half of the schools I hear about now start in the middle of August…it’s interesting to see how some things in the business world really slow down in the summer, especially in August as well as the school system.

People really disappear for vacations, short and long.  Even if we aren’t like our European counterparts who really have it figured out and can virtually shut down in August, it’s just harder to get things done.  People might not all be out at the same time or for as long, but having one or two key people out any given week just makes it harder to make progress on things.

So, it’s time to get Back to Business.  September and October are the busiest months of the year in our industry with a packed conference schedule, planning cycles for next year, and the ever-present "holiday season" for our retail clients, so it should be a crazy fall!

Filed under: Business

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