Living in Silicon Valley, running a software company with big ambitions I hear the question a lot. Is this another tech bubble? Isn’t is going to burst again?
The short answer is no.
Pundits covering tech tend to confuse valuation with long term value. We may well be in a valuation bubble but unlike the 2000 tech bubble the companies in question have deep, sustainable revenue models.
There are certainly some high valuations – per Fred Wilson’s view of frothy valuations in April – and these are driven by investor demand. As Father Guido Sarducci so wisely said in the 5 minute university, Economics is about supply and demand. When a few companies have sky high valuations in the public and private markets VCs are chasing good ideas with too much money again and so the early stage and later stage valuations may be getting silly for most companies, but some will be worth it.
Valuation is very different than long term value. Technology, and in particular software, is where long term sustainable value is being built. And when I say long term I am thinking hundreds of years. Marc Andreesen wrote very eloquently about this in the WSJ on Saturday in his essay Why Software Is Eating the World. We are at the beginning of a long era in which technology will reshape every aspect of our lives in ways we are just now beginning to see.
Just as the Industrial Revolution developed over more than 150 years in the 18th and 19th centuries and reshaped machines, industry, transport and the very nature of where people chose to live and work, technology is now reshaping the way we communicate, are entertained, where we live and work and shop and it is rewiring our kids brains for a new world. I’ve believed this for 20 years and the ups and downs of the tech world over that period have done nothing to dissuade me from that belief because technology is steadily, consistently and dramatically changing our lives. (Want to get some perspective on the 150 year change last time around – spend a day in Ironbridge in Shropshire, England.)
It’s happening right now because the pieces are now in place. As Marc writes “Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.”
The cost structure is right, the technology base is ready. In FirstRain’s case we have built a highly disruptive technology that changes the way business people use the web for their critical decision making. As Roger McNamee says in his thought provoking talk “Everything is Changing”, Google’s approach to indexing has peaked. People want apps designed for their specific need (he cites his investments like Facebook and Yelp), not one app for all needs, and they want it on their device of choice – which is a smartphone or an iPad. In our case the business need is even more specific than that. Our users want a business web app so they can tap into the breadth, currency and power of the web as a data source, but they want it tailored to their specific business and role, and they want it in a cost effective way.
Marc and Roger are just two rockstars in Silicon Valley but most people here agree with them (and not just because we are all drinking the same Kool-Aid). Yes we are dealing with some higher valuations, maybe that is a bubble, but the long term value being built in technology is real, and software is where it’s at. And what makes it even better is it a continuously exciting place to build a career, or even a company.
Over the past few weeks the blogosphere has been buzzing with predictions on the impact of Google+ in the business world, adding to the growing focus on the benefits of social media for business. Currently, most businesses use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter as tools to promote their brands and many are now asking whether Google+ will become the next big player in the world of social media marketing. It’s kind of overwhelming to think about adding yet another social media tool to one’s marketing arsenal when we’re still discovering how to use the ones we already have. And yes, it may be too early to start casting Justin Timberlake for a Google+ movie, but I think it’s a safe bet that—sooner or later—this platform is going to be BIG. The days where people say “Facebook me” may be coming to an end sooner than you may think, to be replaced by people asking you to join their “circle.”
For the rock-dwellers this last month, Google+ is the newest social network on the scene. Introduced by Google in late June, it combines the ideas of Twitter, Facebook and Skype into one jumbo social media sandwich. Already, Google+ has reported 25 million users during the last month. Of course, this number is small in comparison to the hundreds of millions of users on Facebook or Twitter, but the trend is significant. So what exactly is making Google+ gain traction so quickly? There have been plenty of other social networks (including platforms launched by Google, remember Google Buzz or Google Wave? No? me either) that haven’t even come close to attracting as many users as Google+. Intrigued and curious to see what this fuss was all about, I searched around and asked a co-worker to send me an invite to their Google+ circle.
And guess what? It turns out that Google+ seems to live up to its hype. Not only does it remind me of the social platforms I already use, but it has removed the kinks that I couldn’t stand and made the platform simpler, better and overall, more fun. For example, Facebook is known for having mega problems within their privacy system. I find their privacy control settings confusing and almost impossible to understand, consequently I am not sure what information I am sharing with the public. Google+ on the other hand, had privacy and filter settings that I found relatively easy to use. I enjoyed being able to see what a person sees when each one clicked on my profile. I could also reduce the chance of a person seeing an embarrassing picture of me (note to my employer: there are no embarrassing pictures of me on the internet …) by restricting what information could be shared within specific circles.
Another major problem I have had with Facebook is the overwhelming amount of noise on the site. Like most people, I am not interested in half the information other users are sharing with me. Google+ allowed me to filter information I read, received and shared. In many ways, it’s similar to the way FirstRain helps its users. FirstRain filters out the junk in the consumer Web for busy professionals the same way Google+ gets rid of the noise of social media. As a result, I didn’t feel as if I was wasting my time scrolling through unnecessary information such as what people ate for breakfast. Potentially, Google+ will enable me to establish a circle solely for business acquaintances and share information that only relates to my company.
There are other appealing features as well, such as their ability to microblog more than either the 140-character Twitter limit or the 400-character Facebook limit. Plus, by combining Google+ with Gmail & YouTube, you get an enormous social media powerhouse, allowing business professionals to access all aspects of social media at once, without having to change websites and without having to rely on multiple platforms.
Although, ultimately, the jury is still out on success and Google+ and what it means for Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, my advice to businesses is that it’s a good time now to become familiar with the Google+ interface and begin thinking about integrating Google+ into future marketing strategies. Business pages are currently prohibited from the site, because according to Google, they want to wait until they can implement it right. And since it’s likely to be a few months before they’re ready, business marketers like us have been given the gift of time to formulate a Google+ game plan … and hopefully one that lives up to the all the excitement.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a CEO is when you can see the hard work put in by you and your team really paying off.
For the last several weeks, everyone here at FirstRain has been putting in long hours in order to launch the next phase of FirstRain intelligence solutions to market, and so now I am extremely delighted to announce the release of the third generation of the FirstRain Web Application and our new FirstRain mobile apps for iPhone and Android (now available in the iTunes App Store and the Android Marketplace) today.
This important new release represents the third major step forward in FirstRain solution development, and provides our customers a truly unique and effective, role-based way of monitoring the critical developments impacting their business, industry, customers or competitors. In addition to these workflow enhancements and the new mobile apps, we’ve also now optimized FirstRain for use on tablet devices, all of which means that critical business intelligence can now be delivered to any place or time our customers most need to see it: whether it’s over their morning coffee, at their desk, on their company portal or out on the road.
The product also has also had a bit of a make-over, with a fresh-new look and a streamlined design which our non-professional-searcher customers will find even easier to navigate—making it simple to get in, find what you need, and get on with your work.
All in all, we think it’s a big step forward in an already great product, and seeing this really sharp new iteration of FirstRain come to life has been extremely gratifying for me and everyone involved. And for all of you who are FirstRain customers, try out the new role-based monitor setup, download the new mobile apps, and please, let us know what you think!
I’ve mentioned before what an exciting time it is to be a part of FirstRain. We’re building momentum every day as our fantastic sales team helps more and more customers in Marketing and Sales roles use FirstRain to monitor and act on the critical events that impact their business, industry and competitors.
But for an increasing number of professionals, the real need is efficiently getting high-quality, Business Web content out to the rest of their organization. This was the challenge we helped solve with Mark Heindselman, Manager Knowledge Network & Info Services at Emerson Process Management. As Mark described,
“We were looking for a better solution to find business relevant content from the web and found FirstRain to be superior to others in this space at delivering highly relevant content. FirstRain allows us to automate the collection of business content and distribute it across the company. We can now put in our users email box or RSS reader the web based news they are looking for and no more. The FirstRain Support team has been very responsive to our requests in setting up and rolling out our service.”
It’s always gratifying when you hear how you’re helping real-world users solve real-world business challenges, and we look forward to solving those challenges for many more!
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite pastime in our current age of agile developed, game changing, paradigm shifts: remembering how things used to be.
In this case let’s remember those days of when most people consumed news via one medium: Newspapers. Newspapers, which have existed to serve various objectives (news reporting, editorializing, political agitation), all had three, seemingly inextricable attributes: the content (the news or opinion you created), the medium (content printed on paper and distributed to readers) and the container (or format, such as pamphlets, newsletters, tabloids or broadsheets). For any given publication, these three attributes were all of a piece. One couldn’t imagine extricating the news from the method of delivering it. Why produce news if you don’t have a way to get that news to people? And attempting to separate your content into multiple, simultaneous containers was unheard of.
But as broadcasting emerged as a new medium naturally suited to news distribution, people began looking to multiple mediums to suit their news consumption needs. And while some would only select one preferred medium for news consumption, most would leverage both mediums for various aspects of their day (e.g., reading the paper in the morning, hearing radio news in the car or during their workday, watching the evening TV news. Still, most producers of news content would specialize in just one medium and container (apart from an occasional marketing partnership, or vestigial business, e.g. CBS radio news) and only really competed with other content producers within their medium.
Fast-forwarding to today, a new medium has emerged (Internet) and become dominant, multiple consumption containers now exist, ranging from devices (PCs, smartphones, tablets) to programs within those devices (browsers, content-specific apps) to services within those programs within those devices (news Web sites, Twitter, social networks, aggregators). And as traditional content producers from print and broadcast mediums rush to find sustainable plays in the Internet medium, the traditional competitive landscape has exploded: The New York Times now competes with The Huffington Post who competes with Fox News Channel who competes with the Associated Press.
And in my opinion, this is a great development. In one sense, medium and container are fundamentally artificial. One should create great content that serves a need and provides value, and then offer it via whatever medium suits your target consumers best. But at the same time, this also implies how much the container does matter. Various containers help us consume the content we care about when we want it (on your smartphone during some down-time), where we want it (in our social network, where we may spend a substantial amount of our online time) and how we want it (through innovative readers like Flipboard, which allow you to consume your real-time news and social media feeds on a tablet in a magazine-like format). And just as importantly, these use-cases are usually not mutually exclusive.
And that’s what makes the latest discussion about the threat Flipboard represents to publishers so interesting. Although this analysis by Frederic Filloux is a good one, I think its problem is that it makes the same fundamental assumption that everyone seems to be making: that controlling the containers, as well as the content, is an attainable goal for a content brand.
Today, there are simply too many platforms, technologies, formats and use cases to expect anyone—much less a firm who’s specialty is content creation—to be able to own and control every outlet. To seriously expect to do so is naiveté at best, ignorance and hubris at worst. And worst of all, it seriously limits your ability to effectively execute on the thing you actually do best: create content that lots of people want and are willing to let you monetize in some way (monetization is actually the 4th fundamental attribute here that I haven’t yet mentioned, but as oceans of ink have already been spilled on the changing nature of content monetization, I’m going to steer around it while acknowledging that it’s a fundamentally related issue).
This doesn’t mean that content brands won’t be really effective at owning or creating certain containers. A content producer’s Web site is by definition their own space, and they’ll offer different ways to offer and monetize their content in that space (free, ad-supported, subscription, metering). And some will come up with a kick-ass smartphone or tablet app here and there. And for some users, just that one content site or app may be the only news source they use in their daily life. But for most of us (and here’s the point of that history lesson …) we’ll continue to want a variety of content sources, mediums and containers to fill different use cases within our lives. As content sources that were once separated by differing mediums now compete with each other across mediums, they often seem to forget that they were always part of a content ecosystem in our lives.
Implying that content or news sources should have invented Flipboard misses the point because they not only would have been highly unlikely to do so (i.e., the Innovator’s Dilemma), but even if so, would have more likely to have been a costly distraction or outright failure to in the end. The NYT isn’t going to want to be pumped into Huff Po’s consumption tool, and WSJ won’t have any interest in ceding that space to MSNBC. Instead, Flipboard succeeds BECAUSE it’s not a content creator. It’s only about giving consumers a great consumption experience. And conversely, technology companies (are you hearing me @Google?) fall flat when they try to own content creation (anyone remember Microsoft’s attempts to become an original content creator in the late-90s?).
‘Interrelators’ like FirstRain also play an important role in this ecosystem. We’re creating real added value for thousands of business users around the globe by connecting them with original business content that, too often, they would not otherwise find—and then driving those users back to those content producers for monetization. And we’re doing it through multiple containers as well (Web, mobile apps, intranet widgets).
Overall, it’s an incredible playground in which we’re all now playing, and our content lives are much richer for it, as long as we can remember that it’s been the emerging diversity of containers—not the attempt by any one content creator to fully control their own distribution—that has made it all possible.
Guest author Ryan Warren, FirstRain VP of Marketing
Do you create, or do you aggregate? That, it seems, is the pressing content question of the day. Pennyposted on Tuesday about the seismic shift happening in the media space as news aggregators like The Huffington Post begin to assume market pre-eiminence over more traditional content creator/distributors like The New York Times. Even NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller‘s expressions of aggravation, have now had to be moderated as I’m sure his somewhat snarky commentary triggered a wave of exasperation and irritation amongst the New Media community.
In reality, of course, a forced choice between content creation and aggregation is a false dichotomy. The explosion of innovative content consumption platforms has simultaneously sharpened people’s hunger for more quality content and for technology to improve the efficiency and efficacy of consumption. Content creation and aggregation are like conjoined twins with a passive-aggressive relationship. They may share the same heart, lungs and kidney, but that doesn’t mean they have to like each other.
In addition to the NYT/HuffPo challenge that Penny points out, this shift is also well represented by LinkedIn’s recent entry into news aggregation space. In fact, their new feature LinkedIn Today is a great example of several emergent forces coming together, including Web news aggregation, social networking and real-time news. It allows business-focused users to consume an aggregated feed of linked and posted news stories that people within your identified LinkedIn industry are sharing on Twitter or LinkedIn, and lets you further customize by identifying additional industries or incorporating the twitter feeds of a range of news sources from Ad Age to Bloomberg News to Harvard Business Review.
It’s a smart play, because despite Twitter’s protestations, to date they haven’t provided a very robust platform for business users to consume an aggregated real-time news experience (a la TweetDeck). LinkedIn’s move steps in and intercepts that need by leveraging an existing social network that many of us in the business world are increasingly invested in, while also providing a whole new entrée into real-time news for those who haven’t yet jumped onto the Twitter bandwagon.
But with all this focus on the schism between the forces that ‘Create’ and ‘Aggregate’, there’s another critical element out there that’s just as powerful but sometimes is overlooked: let’s call it ‘Interrelate’. It means the unique and powerful value that business monitoring applications like FirstRain bring to the table. Although we do bring together vast amounts of news and other business content from the Web, what we can do that others can’t is interrelate that content through our (unique and patented) semantic categorization, deliver you some really targeted results, and then show you emerging trends through some pretty nice visualization analytics. What this means to business users in practical terms is quite effectively filtering out Web noise. It makes the time they spend getting up to speed on, or monitoring on an ongoing basis, an industry, market, company or subject, much for efficient and effective.
And not only is this more efficient, but through this type of interrelating of content a new kind value is generated (one that should be of great interest to content creators): the ability to make useful connections between content that may not have been anticipated by the creators themselves. This allows solutions like FirstRain to drive even more high-value traffic back to content creators than conventional news aggregators (or more general-purpose search engines), since we’re making connections for users that others simply can’t.
So as we look at the evolving relationship between content creators and aggregators, let’s resist the temptation to think of this relationship as twin poles between which we must navigate. The key role that ‘interrelators’, like FirstRain, play may emerge as an equally significant link in that chain.