Jun 042007

Google en Fuego

Google en Fuego

Google announced on Friday the acquisition of RSS publishing powerhouse FeedBurner (media coverage  here and here).  I was fortunate enough to be a member of FeedBurner’s Board of Directors for the past year and had a good window into the successes of the business as well as the deal with Google.  It was all very interesting and good learnings for me as an entrepreneur as well as a first time outside director.  My original post (the “fortunate enough” link above) contained all the things I love about FeedBurner in it, so I won’t rehash those here, but I will try to distill my top 3 learnings from my experience with the company:

  1. Creating value through focus is key in the early stages of a company. The FeedBurner team had a relentless focus on publishers.  That’s what produced the value in the company that Google acquired in the end — massive publisher distribution and great brand and technology behind it all.  Had the company gone on to do a couple more years independently, the team would have had to split focus between publishers and advertisers.  I have no doubt that they would have been able to do the job, but a dual focus is more complex to execute well and harder to balance in terms of priorities.
  2. Running a company is all about improv. As many people know, FeedBurner CEO Dick Costolo is a former, I’d argue current, stand-up comedian/improv actor (see his entertaining and informative interview on Wallstrip here).  Dick proved that those skills, while perhaps not as expensive to acquire as an MBA, are probably even more essential to running a company.  You have to be able to elegantly manage chaos with a smile…and you have to constantly be quick to think on your feet.
  3. Being an outside Board member was fun but had new challenges. It’s hard to know how much to be involved with a company when you’re neither management nor investor.  I was constantly worrying that I wasn’t doing enough for the company, but I was also trying to be very conscious of the fact that it wasn’t my company to run, only to advise.  I think Dick and I got the formula pretty close to right, but it wasn’t obvious.

Congratulations to Dick, Steve, Eric, Matt, and the rest of the team at FeedBurner for a job well done!

Jan 292007

ROI Radio Interview

ROI Radio Interview

Greg Cangialosi, CEO of Blue Sky Factory and a client of ours, runs a podcast series on his blog called ROI Radio.  Last week, he interviewed me.  It’s a bit long, but feel free to listen or download here.  We mostly cover things related to Return Path — our products and how we do things — but we also talk a bit about the growth and development RSS/feed technology and FeedBurner.

Oct 312006

The Good, The Board, and The Ugly, Part II

The Good, The Board, and The Ugly, Part II

Much has been written of late on various VC and entrepreneur blogs on effective management of a Board of Directors, Board materials, running good Board meetings, and the like.  A couple years ago, I even wrote out a few tips for those things myself.

But here’s one critical ingredient of a good Board you won’t find in all those posts:  have fun!  This picture was from today’s Halloween Board meeting at Feedburner…as one of Dick’s colleagues labeled it, The Dawn of the Living Costolos.

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Happy Halloween!

Jul 202006

Feedburner…They’re Real AND They’re Spectacular

Feedburner…They’re Real AND They’re Spectacular

Sometime in early 2004, I met Dick Costolo, the CEO of Feedburner.   We met about at the same time he also met Fred and Brad (I can’t remember who met who first), both of whom subsequently invested in the company.  We hit it off and had a number of informal and formal conversations over the past two and a half years about online media, the interplay of RSS and email and blogs, and entrepreneurship.  Feedburner and Return Path have developed a still-somewhat nascent partnership as well to bring ads in feeds and ads on blogs to Return Path’s Postmaster advertisers.

I was recently fortunate enough to be invited by Dick and his team to join Feedburner’s Board of Directors.  You can read the official note (as official as Feedburner gets!) on Feedburner’s blog here.  I am huge Feedburner fan and am jazzed to be part of their extended team.  The company is impressively leading its market of RSS publisher services and RSS advertising.  It’s all very reminiscent of the early days of email, and the early days of banner advertising before that.  More than that, though, I’ve been incredibly impressed with how the company operates.  They execute swiftly and flawlessly, they have a ton of fun doing it, and they have a very authentic voice and ethos for communicating with and handling their customers that I admire tremendously.  Very Cluetrain Manifesto.

In a much earlier posting, I wrote that entrepreneurs should join other boards as well to get more experience with how different organizations are run and how different board dynamics work, so I guess this means I’m following my own advice.  And so far, it’s all true — I’ve gotten a lot out of the first couple of meetings I’ve attended.  It’s a little weird for me to be the “old media” guy around the table (old meaning web and email, of course), so I’ll have to work hard to not be a Luddite and keep pace with all the new toys.

Sep 152005

RSS Advertising

RSS Advertising

This is two-day-old news by now, but in case you missed it, we just announced than we – Return Path – are partnering with Feedburner to take RSS advertising to the next level (coverage here, here, and here).

As you probably know if you receive my feed or other ones, Feedburner has been doing some experimenting with ad units at the bottom of feeds for months now, first using Amazon and more recently Google AdSense to serve up ads.  And as you may know if you look at ads closely, neither of those services has done a great job making the ads truly relevant.  I can’t tell you, for example, the number of times I write a posting about a book, and the ad has absolutely nothing to do with books, let alone the book or author I’m writing about.  My favorite one was a posting Fred wrote called “Why a Conservative Turns Liberal,” with an ad called “Meet Conservative Singles” — probably not Fred’s intent, although it certainly brought a smile to my face.

Anyway, what we’re doing with Feedburner is very simple.  Our Customer Acquisition Solutions group sells lead generation products to hundreds of advertisers each month in the form of either email list rental or web-based lead gen based on categories of interest expressed by consumers who sign up with our Postmaster Direct service.  Feedburner has categorized a number of the 100,000+ feeds they publish as “Consumer Electronics” or “Computing and Technology,” which are two of the strongest categories we have, both in terms of consumers and in terms of advertisers.

So our salesforce is going to add “RSS” as an option for our advertisers in those categories, and we will work with Feedburner to insert demo-targeted ads into select feeds.  We and Feedburner both acknowledge this is an experiment, but we’re very optimistic about the results: the demographics should line up perfectly and provide our advertisers with a new channel as part of their existing campaigns.  I’m sure Dick or someone else at Feedburner will blog about it as well at some point, and if we learn anything  truly interesting after the first few months, we’ll let the world know!

Filed under: Email

Tags: , ,

Sep 092005

It’s Easy to Feel Like a Luddite These Days, Part II

It’s Easy to Feel Like a Luddite These Days, Part II

In Part I, I talked about tagging and podcasting and how I felt pretty lame for someone who considers himself to be somewhat of an early adopter for not understanding them.  So now, 10 weeks later, I understand tagging and have a del.icio.us account, although I don’t use it all that often (quite frankly, I don’t have tons of surfing time to discover cool new content).  And I’ve even figured out how to integrate del.icio.us with Feedburner and with Typepad.

I’m still out of luck with Podcasting, mainly because my iPod and computer setup at home makes it really difficult to add/sync, so I haven’t given that a shot yet.

But today I had another two breakthroughs — I switched from AOL Instant Messenger to Trillian for my IM client, and I started using Skype.  Trillian is pretty cool and of course free.  I’ve never used MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger seriously, so the value for me is less in the aggregation of all three clients, and more in tabbed chatting.  Just like Firefox, the client lets you have all your chat windows displayed as tabs in a single window, which is much simpler and cleaner.  But better than Firefox, you can detach a chat window if you want to see it separately.

Skype is really cool.  I understand why the company will be sold for a good price, although I still don’t understand either $3 billion as a price or eBay as a buyer.  For those of you who don’t know what it is, Skype is voice Instant Messenger on steroids.  The basic functionality (for free) is that you can ping someone computer to computer, and have a real time voice chat if you are both online and accept the connection via your computer’s microphone.  If you decline the connection, it saves a voicemail for you.  The extras, which I haven’t tried yet, include SkypeOut (you can dial a real phone number from your computer for $0.02/minute, anywhere in the world) and SkypeIn (you get a phone number to give people so they can call your computer from a phone).  The quality was pretty good — certainly as good as or better than many cell phone connections, if not up to land line or VOIP standards.  Permission and usage/volume controls will be an issue here long-term since this is much more intrusive than regular test-based IM, but when it works, it is a beautiful thing.

Now, just like the vendor mayhem in the blog/RSS world (Typepad, Feedburner, Feedblitz, etc.), we need to get Trillian to incorporate Skype into its client so there’s a truly universal chat application.

Aug 112005

My RSS Feed

My RSS Feed

In an effort to manage my blog and RSS feed a little better, I’d like to request that anyone who gets my RSS feed NOT via Feedburner — that is, via the default Typepad feed — resubscribe to the Feedburner feed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/Onlyonce.  Thanks!

Filed under: Email

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Aug 082005

A Ball Bearing in the Wheels of E-Commerce

A Ball Bearing in the Wheels of E-Commerce

As an online marketing professional, I’ve long understood intellectually how e-commerce works, how affiliate networks function, and why the internet is such a powerful selling tool.  But I got an email the other day that drove this home more directly.

When I started my blog about a year and a half ago, I set myself up as an Amazon affiliate, meaning that any time someone clicks on a link to Amazon from one of my postings or on the blog sidebar, I get paid a roughly 4% commission on anything that person buys on Amazon on that session.

According to the email report I just got from Amazon on Q2 sales driven by my blog, I am responsible for driving traffic that buys about $2,500 worth of merchandise from Amazon every quarter, which yields about $100 to me in affiliate fees.  All I really link to are business books that I summarize in postings, although people who click from my blog to Amazon end up buying all sorts of random things (according to my report, last quarter’s purchases included a Kathy Smith workout DVD and a new socket wrench set in addition to lots of copies of Jim Collins’ Built to Last and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

This is a true win-win-win — Amazon gets traffic for a mere 4% of sales, a relatively low marketing cost; I get a small amount of money to cover the various fees associated with my blog (Typepad, Newsgator, Feedburner), and people who read my blog pay what they’re going to pay to Amazon anyway – and maybe get something they otherwise wouldn’t have gone out to get in the process.

My blog is certainly not a top 1,000 blog, or probably not even a top 10,000 blog in terms of size of audience.  This is merely a microcosm that proves the macro trends.  If I’m driving $10,000 per year of business to Amazon, now I REALLY understand how there are now approximately 500,000 people who make their LIVING by selling goods on eBay, and how probably another 500,000 people are making good side money or possibly even making their living by running offers and affiliate marketing programs from their web sites.  I’m like a little ball bearing in the finely tuned but explosively growing wheel of e-commerce.

If my quarterly affiliate fees keep growing, I’ll find something more productive or charitable to do with them than keep them for myself.  But for now, I am covering my costs and marveling on a personal level at how all this stuff works as well as it does.

Jun 202005

It’s Easy to Feel Like a Luddite These Days

It’s Easy to Feel Like a Luddite These Days

You know, I feel like I’m a pretty progressive, early adapter kind of guy.  I’m a technology entrepreneur.  We got the iPod for Windows the minute it came out.  TiVo Series I.  One of the very first wireless hubs to create our own wireless LAN at home.  I blog.  I have an RSS feed.  But it’s hard to stand still these days, even for a few months.

So here’s my big admission — I still don’t entirely “get” tagging or podcasting.  But I’m making a big push to try them out over the next couple of weeks and see where it goes.  I’ll try tagging first, using, of course, del.icio.us.  Fred and Brad have both posted extensively about del.icio.us and tagging, Fred as an investor in the company and both as users.  So look for the next posting to be a few things I read today on the web and tagged and should automatically become part of my RSS feed courtesy of my friends at Feedburner (but presumably not a blog posting).  We’ll see if this all actually works.

With apologies to all those progressive Luddites out there, of course.

Jun 022004

Prepping RSS for Prime Time

With all the hype in the world of blogs in the past few months about RSS taking over the world, I’ve been getting myself up to speed on the space by meeting with some of the companies in it and by publishing my own blog here.

Two of the CEO’s I’ve met with in the RSS business are super smart and are doing everything they can to get the technology ready for prime time. What do I mean by that? I mean:

Critical Mass: 10 million or more end users using RSS, not just the tech/finance/journalist axis that dominates usership today. Hundreds of mainstream publishers and marketers using RSS, not just a handful of businesses and loads of individuals or small sites.

Ease of Use:
Easy to get in the game as a consumer, easy to publish as a business. It is called Really Simple Syndication, after all, and it’s not even close yet, either in terms of technology or awareness.

Organization: Making sure RSS doesn’t quickly fall into the “information overload” bucket as the number of publishers proliferates and as the number of hours in people’s day remains constant.

Multi-Channel: Making it work with other channels the same way email has come to work with direct mail and banners have come to work with brand advertising.

Presentation: Giving publishers greater control over exactly how end users see feeds.

Revenue: Whether it’s ads in feeds, driving people to web sites, subscription revenue, or something else, the world has to figure out how RSS will contribute to the bottom line for it to be commercially viable.

Accountability: Good stats, reporting, and tracking. A pay-to-play function for marketers who use addressable media.

It will be interesting to see how this space unfolds, but my money’s on Dick Costolo of Feedburner, and Greg Reinacker of Newsgator, to be two of the pioneers who figure it all out.

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