May 312012

What Kind of Entrepreneur Are You?

What Kind of Entrepreneur Are You?

I think there are two kinds of entrepreneurs, and sometimes, you can be both.  There is the kind that starts businesses, and there is the kind that builds businesses.

The kind of entrepreneur who starts businesses but usually doesn’t like running or building them are typically serial entrepreneurs.  How can you spot one?  They:

  • Have an idea a minute and a bit of ADD – they are attracted to bright shiny objects – they can’t focus
    • Would rather generate 1 good and idea and 19 bad ones than just 1 good one
    • Are always thinking about the next thing, only excited by the possibility of what could be, not by what is
    • Are more philosophical and theoretical than practical
    • Probably shouldn’t run businesses for more than a few months
    • Are likely to frustrate everyone around them and get bored themselves
    • Are really fun at cocktail parties
    • Say things like “I thought of auctions online way before eBay!”

The second kind of entrepreneur is the kind of person who can run businesses but may or may not come up with the idea.  Typically, these people:

  • Care about success, not about having the idea
  • Love to make things work
  • Would rather generate 1 idea and execute it well than 2 ideas
  • Are problem solvers
  • Are great with people
  • May be less fun at cocktail parties, but you’d want them on your team in a game of paintball or laser tag

It’s the rare one who can do both of these things well.  But you know them when you see them.  Think Dell or Microsoft…or even Apple in a roundabout way if you consider the fact that Jobs hired Cook (and others) to partner with them to run the business.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship

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Jul 192007

Everything That is New is Old

Everything That is New is Old

With a full nod to my colleague Jack Sinclair for the title and concept here…we were having a little debate over email this morning about the value of web applications vs. Microsoft (perhaps inspired by Fred, Brad, and Andy’s comments lately around Microsoft vs. Apple).

Jack and his inner-CFO is looking for a less expensive way of running the business than having to buy full packages of Office for every employee to have many of them use 3% of the functionality.  He is also even more of a geek than I am.

I am concerned about being able to work effectively offline, which is something I do a lot.  So I worry about web applications as the basis for everything we do here.  We just launched a new internal web app last week for our 360 review process, and while it’s great, I couldn’t work on it on a plane recently as I’d wanted to.

Anyway, the net of the debate is that Jack pointed me to Google Gears, in beta for only a month now, as a way of enabling offline work on web applications.  It clearly has a way to go, and it’s unclear to me from a quick scan of what’s up on the web site whether or not the web app has to enable Gears or it’s purely user-driven, but in any case, it’s a great and very needed piece of functionality as we move towards a web-centric world.

But it reminded of me of an application that I used probably 10-12 years ago called WebWhacker (which still exists, now part of Blue Squirrel) that enables offline reading of static web pages and even knows how to go to different layers of depth in terms of following links.  I used to use it to download content sites before going on a plane.  And while I’m sure Google Gears will get it 1000x better and make it free and integrated, there’s our theme — Everything That is New is Old.

The iPhone?  Look at Fred’s picture of his decade old Newton (and marvel at how big it is).

Facebook?  Anyone remember

MySpace?  Geocities/Tripod.

LinkedIn?  GoodContacts.  Siebel meets Goldmine/Act.

Google Spreadsheets?  Where to begin…Excel…Lotus 123…Quattro Pro…Visicalc/Supercalc.

RSS feeds?  Pointcast was the push precursor.

Or as Brad frequently says, derive your online business model (or at least explain it to investors) as the analog analog.  How does what you are trying to online compare to a similar process or problem/solution pair in the offline world?

There are, of course, lots of bold, new business ideas out there.  But many successful products in life aren’t version 1 or even version 3 — they’re a new and better adaptation of something that some other visionary has tried and failed at for whatever reason years before (technology not ready, market not ready, etc.).

Jun 182006

A Good Laugh at Microsoft’s Expense, Part II

A Good Laugh at Microsoft’s Expense, Part II

Three minutes of quick video entertainment awaits you.  What if Microsoft redesigned the iPod packaging?  Watch here.  This could be any big company, not Microsoft.

Makes you really realize how much “less is more” in terms of product design and packaging.  Like Google.

Thanks to Frank Addante from StrongMail for turning me on to this clip.  See Part I if you want another quick clip about punishing developers for buggy code.

Jan 252006

Spam is Dead. Long Live Spam!

Spam is Dead.  Long Live Spam!

As pointed out in The Register yesterday (and picked up by Whit in his feed), it’s now been exactly two years since Bill Gates declared that Microsoft would eliminate spam in two years.

Hmmm.  Let’s think about that.  Filters do keep getting better, which Gates predicted.  But challenge/response filtering seems to be dead in the water, and the notion that we’re all going to pay for email stamps seems to be toast as well.

So where are we?  Spam is certainly more of a nuisance than a true crisis these days, which is even more true than when I wrote about here 15 months ago.  But it still consumes massive amounts of time, bandwidth, computing power, and mental energy to deal with the problem and reduce its visible impact on end users.  And even then, the problems of too much spam and too many false positives (emails which aren’t spam that get filtered by mistake) are still very real.  Bottom line — it’s still a business problem with a real, growing market and sub-markets and after-markets for solutions.

With apologies to my many friends and business partners at Microsoft, maybe as is the case with the occasional piece of software, Gates needs to release version 3.0 of his comment before it sticks.

Filed under: Email

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Dec 082005

Counter Cliche: How Much Paranoia is Too Much Paranoia?

Counter Cliche:  How Much Paranoia is Too Much Paranoia?

Fred’s VC cliche of the week this week, Opening the Kimono, is a good one.  He talks about how much entrepreneurs should and should not disclose when talking to VCs and big partners — companies like Microsoft or Google, for example.

In response to another of Fred’s weekly cliche postings back in April, I addressed the issue of opening the kimono with VCs in this posting entitled Promiscuity.  But today’s topic is the opposite of promiscuity, it’s paranoia.

I was talking with a friend a few months back who’s a friend and fellow CEO of a high profile, larger company in a similar space to Return Path.  He was obsessing about the secrecy surrounding the size of his business and wouldn’t tell me (a friend) how much revenue his company had, even within a $20mm band.

He pursued this secrecy pretty far.  He never shared financials with his employees.  He never told anyone the metrics, not even his close friends and family.  He even withdrew his company from consideration for a high-profile award for growth companies which it had entered into and won in prior years since someone might be able to string together enough years of data to compute their size.

Why?  Because he didn’t want any venture capitalists to figure out how big they had gotten and decide to throw money at upstart competitors.  Talk about a closed kimono!

I’m much more open book than that with Return Path, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for this guy, so I gave the matter some thought.  There are certainly some situations which call for discretion, but I couldn’t come up with too many that would drive my guiding principle to be secrecy.

1. Being “open book” with employees is essential.  Your people need to know where the business stands and how their efforts are contributing to the whole.  More important, they need to know that you trust them.

2. Using some key metrics to promote your company can be very helpful.  I challenge you to show me a marketing person who doesn’t want to brag about how big you are, how many customers you have, what market share you have.

3. There’s no reason to worry about Venture Capitalists.  Sure, they can fund a competitor, but they’ll do that without knowing exactly how much revenue you have, how quickly.  The good ones are good at sniffing out market opporunities ahead of time.  The bad ones, you care about less anyway.

4. All that said, you can never be paranoid enough about the competition.  Assume they’re all out to get you at every turn, that they’re smarter, richer, quicker, and better looking than you are.  Live in fear of them eating your lunch.

Paranoia is healthy (just ask Andy Grove), but it does have its limits around the basics of your business, and around how you treat employees.

Nov 032005

A Good Laugh at Microsoft’s Expense

A Good Laugh at Microsoft’s Expense

Anyone who has ever had a frustrating moment with any Microsoft product (um, that probably means everyone) must watch this 4 minute video.  Thanks to my colleague Carly Brantz for turning me on to this gem.

Update:  new link for this video as of June 18, 2006 here.

Filed under: Uncategorized


Jun 222005

Why We Love Email Authentication, But Why It Won’t Stop Spam

Why We Love Email Authentication, But Why It Won’t Stop Spam

Microsoft made a big announcement today that they’re taking email authentication, in the form of Sender ID, very seriously.  They’re using a stick, not a carrot.  Emailers who do not publish a proper Sender ID record are now going to (a) find themselves in the bulk mail folder at Hotmail and MSN, and (b) have a big fat disclaimer thrown on top of their emails from Microsoft warning users that the email’s source can’t be authenticated.

At Return Path, we’re big fans of authentication, and we’re sponsoring the upcoming Email Authentication Summit in a couple of weeks in New York as one way of supporting the effort — encouraging our clients to get on the ball with authentication is another one.  Here’s what we think it will (and won’t) do:

– It WILL make a big dent in spoofing, phishing, and fraud, right away.  Why?  Because those particular elements of the Internet Axis of Evil are identity-based…therefore, identity authentication will either stop those things, make it easier for consumers to steer clear of them, or make it easier for law enforcement to go after them.

– It WILL NOT make a big dent in spam right away.  Why?  Because spam is much more nuanced than fraud.  If I’m Microsoft, and I know that you are the particular sender of an email into my network, that’s all good and well, but I might not have any idea if I want to accept that mail or not.  Another way of saying this is that spammers can publish Sender ID records, too.

– It WILL lay the foundation for longer-term spam solutions.  Why?  Because it’s important to understand exactly who is sending mail into a network in order to answer that next question of “do I want to accept your mail or not?”  We think the answers to that question lie with accreditation and reputation services.

Obviously, I have my biases.  Return Path owns Bonded Sender, the leading accreditation service, which answers that question by saying “yes – you want to accept this mail, because Return Path and TRUSTe have examined me thoroughly and are vouching for my integrity, they’re measuring how many people are complaining about my mail, and if I get too many complaints, they fine me and kick me out of the program.”

Look for another announcement from us soon about what we’re up to in the reputation space, which is a more complex cousin to accreditation in answering that same question.

Apr 112005

You Heard It Here First, Part II

You Heard It Here First, Part II

Tomorrow, Return Path is going to announce that we have acquired the Bonded Sender Program from IronPort Systems (the release is here).  As usual, I’m happy to pre-announce M&A activity on my blog in exchange for a moment of self-promotion.

Bonded Sender is the industry’s oldest, best known, and most effective whitelist/accreditation program.  In a nutshell, it’s a bitch for mailers to qualify for it — they have to demonstrate that they’re a super high quality mailer and get certified by our partner TrustE — but once they do, they have relatively guaranteed safe passage and default images into the inbox at Microsoft (Hotmail and MSN), Roadrunner, and a number of smaller ISPs plus over 35,000 corporate domains who use SpamAssassin or who have Ironport’s email appliances installed at their gateway.  BUT — and this is a big but — they have to keep clean in order to stay on the list, and if they receive more than a tiny number of spam complaints against them, they get fined (hence, the Bond) and ultimately kicked out of the program.

Why is this big news for us and for our customers?  We pioneered the delivery assurance business starting back in 2003.  That business is really hitting its stride now.  The things we already do for clients — monitor their deliverability, analyze and resolve their most pressing problems, and manage their reputations — are critical and raise companies’ deliverability rates from 78% to 95% on average, after six months.  Bonded Sender will automate much of this process for the best clients at the biggest ISPs, and raise that number to 100% in the process.  Look for other announcements in the coming weeks about the expansion of the program in terms of major ISPs who use it.

Why is the Bonded Sender program so great?  Well, ultimately, I think it’s a big part of the solution to spam.  Legislation will do its piece, as will authentication technologies.  But reputation/accreditation systems are a critical component to solving spam as well, and what we love about Bonded Sender is that it attacks one of spam’s biggest root causes, which is that sending an email is free.  The world can’t continue to operate on the principle of exclusion (e.g., I’ll filter out everyone I don’t like), because exclusion leads to too many errors when carried out at an extreme level.  Whitelists like Bonded Sender operate on an inclusion basis, meaning that mailers who are squeaky clean and who are willing to put their money where their mouth is are allowed in.  Those mailers SHOULD BE allowed in and don’t mind paying a modest fee to guarantee or virtually guarantee inclusion.  So the program does exactly what it’s supposed to do.

I blogged about Bonded Sender last May when they came out with their initial announcement that Microsoft had decided to use the Bonded Sender whitelist (well before our deal was in the works with IronPort).  That posting still holds today, although there’s a fourth misconception as well, which is that it’s too expensive for smaller or non-profit or educational institutions (not true – it’s actually free for non-profits and extremely affordable for small companies, relative to what they pay to send their email in the first place).

Anyway, we’re excited to partner with IronPort and to add Bonded Sender to our Delivery Assurance product portfolio…and a big welcome to Scott Weiss and his team from IronPort (especially Peter Macdonald and Josh Barrack, who will be joining us full-time) to the Return Path family.

Mar 242005

From Blog to Book – Beyond Bullets

From Blog to Book – Beyond Bullets

Hats off to fellow blogger Cliff Atkinson, who has just published a book called Beyond Bullet Points.  Cliff and his company, Sociable Media, consult on PowerPoint and presentations and have a great theory about how to do great presentations.

They follow the “clear, simple, and please God not so boring” guidelines espoused by a number of us in the business world, including Brad and of course Seth.  (BTW, if you haven’t read Seth’s e-book/treatise on Really Bad PowerPoint, you should do that as well, although I can’t find a link to it at the moment.)

One of the coolest parts of the book is that it really started out as Cliff’s blog, Beyond Bullets, then got Microsoft’s attention, then became a book.  What a great demonstration of old and new media reinforcing each other!

Feb 012005

Doing its Part

Doing its Part

Fred had a good posting on spam today, riffing on a New York Times article that  is very “doom and gloom” on spam and how it’s taking over the world.  I’ll buy the Times’ argument that there’s an increasing amount of spam out there these days, but as with Fred, I still maintain, as I did in this earlier posting, that we’re out of crisis mode and are on the path to resolution as improved filtering technology and false-positive identification services trickle down to broader usage.

What I think is interesting, though is the amount of criticism that the CAN-SPAM legislation is getting, including in this article from the Times.  It’s not a perfect law — what law, exactly, is perfect? — but it’s starting to do its part.  People in the industry joke that CAN-SPAM means “you can spam,” meaning that the law makes it easier for people to spam legally.

But the reality is that you can’t regulate something until you’ve legalized it, and CAN-SPAM is a good first step in the process.  In the Times article is yet another example of how the legislation is starting to work — Microsoft’s latest law suit (one of many filed by Microsoft and others in the past 12 months) against a known spammer.

No one ever said solving the spam problem was going to be easy.  And no one ever thought there would be any silver bullet — certainly not a legislative one!  But I argue that CAN-SPAM is doing its part through the enforcement mechanism if nothing else.  And while I certainly hope the next step in the legislation around spam IS NOT a do-not email list, I do hope that there is a successor piece of legislation after another 6-12 months of observing the spam situation and the impact, strengths, and weaknesses of CAN-SPAM.

In the meantime, let’s use the tools at our disposal and keep suing spammers…as well as working on industry-based solutions to spam that bring the problem further under control, from filters to authentication to reputation to accreditation.

Filed under: Email

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