Thursday, April 27, 2006

Next Gen Publishing System Needs Private Beta Members

Sign up for the Hubpages Private Beta

Hubpages is our new company that will be launching a private beta in May. Hubpages is a next generation publishing platform and website that combines many useful tools for creating webpages that allows you so share your expertise. You can create your own information or aggregate it from many sources, and even earn money by publishing links to affiliate partners or ads.

The pages you create, we call Hubs. Hubs can be about anything. After you're finished, you can publish your Hub to the Hubpages website.

We have over 600 people signed up for the beta and are looking to go over the 1000 mark. We would like to have 1000 Hubs created before we open up to the public. Thank you for participating.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Founding a Company vs. Working at Microsoft

I just found mini-Microsoft blog. Some things she says is right on. However, it feels like they want a startup like environment with the security of a large corporation. When we founded Hubpages we had to give up a few things to get others. I wonder how many MS employees would rather gripe about working at one of the best technology companies vs taking their own swings.

Here are a few tradeoffs if you are thinking about it.

Good Salary at MS vs. Living on your savings
Great Benefits vs Cobra ($1300+ per month for family of four)
Performance Reviews vs The ultimate performance review - Survival
Internal Politics vs Internal deliberation
Office with windows vs Office in garage in house under construction
Subsidized cafeteria vs Mehawks
Solid days of meetings vs Solid days and nights working on the product
Four hours a day of email vs 20 minutes of email
Drink fridge vs Costco runs
Ergonomic desk vs Card tables
Executive presentations vs VC presentations
Spending someone else's money vs Spending your own
401k match vs What's that
Stock grants vs Founders shares
Makes payroll vs Doesn't have one
MSN homepage for traffic vs Building something people want
Admins vs What's that
Raises vs Hmmm
MS Poll vs Funny, that will be the day
Promotions vs Ha, You're the boss
Gold Stars vs Aren't those great

Would I do it over again? You betcha.

One of the Coolest Things I've Seen From Microsoft

As a former employee who enjoyed my experience at MS, I was glad to see this from Microsoft today. Microsoft creates some amazing things in their labs, but like many large companies sometimes they have difficulty in commercializing all the IP. By making these technologies available to startups increases the chances that we will see more from MS in the marketplace via several creative companies.

I'd encourage people interested in research technologies to check out what MS has made available to startups and others.

Here are a few of my favorites that could be killer.
  1. I've read a lot about Riya. I thought it was pretty cool. I wonder if another company will leverage this to compete with them.
  2. I live in SF near Sanchez. Sometimes I pickup the Dirty Sanchez wifi signal. It's a little weak from my house. I'd like to see if this improves it.
  3. I can't wait for my IP devices and cell to do this.

Something Good Today

It's going to be a good day.
  1. My wife and I found a baby sitter to watch the kids Friday night. It will be the first time we have been out in SF since we moved here.
  2. I had a pleasant drive to work. Traffic across the bridge was moving. Ahhhh, nice.
  3. The Homemade Cafe had tasty pear crumb muffins. Yum.
  4. We moved the coffee maker to the garage. Caffeine.
  5. I completed a document...and a blog 11 am. Yes.

And I counted to 5 correctly, but who's counting?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Hubpages Garage

I like the garage. I like the costco card table desks. I like Berkeley. I like our whiteboard. I like it.

The beta is coming!

(Yes, that is everyone that works on Hubpages)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Making a Good Business Development Deal

Let's start with what is not...
  1. Where one party assumes all the risk. Examples include having a partner guarantee revenues that will materially hurt their business if your site doesn't deliver what they expect.
  2. Contracts with grey areas, especially around performance.
  3. Contracts where both sides don't have an out.

What are signs that a Business Development deal is good.

  1. It lasts. Not for a quarter, but for years. It grows, changes and endures.
  2. Its a win/win situation with risk, time and reward.

Hubpages is about a million business development relationships between authors and affiliates designed to last and be a win/win deal for everyone. We provide our partners a platform for free to create Hubs on anything. We make it simple for them to create a Hub. And provide tools so they can easily monetize their content by integrating the affiliate partners goods into the platform. Our risk is the time and money that goes into the building and support of the Hubpages platform. In exchange we get authors to provide content on a breadth of subjects that we could never cover.

Our Authors provide information that they incorporate in the Hubs they create. They offer subject matter expertise, and time. In return they get a free platform where they don't have to worry about the technical operations or pay to use the service, but they can actually earn money by programming links to affiliates so they can earn money.

The third piece to this interesting triangle are the affiliate relationships with partners like Google, eBay, and Amazon. All of these partners make their inventory of products and ads available to anyone. They offer commissions to people that refer them business. Their risk is similar to ours in that they invest time and money creating and supporting these systems. They win when authors program links to their products, auctions or ads.

Hubpages is one of the first companies to orchestrate this simple business development opportunity for three major stakeholders, and set it up so that everyone can win and hopefully create long term relationships between everyone.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Money, Energy and Thankfulness

Cash is always a huge consideration when starting a business. Questions like how much reserve do I have, how much will it cost, how long will everyone stay with the project without a salary and how soon will we start making money were always on my mind. I knew I needed to change these thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts or I wouldn't be placing my energy in places to improve the product and attracting the necessary outcome for our company Hubpages.

Here are my main two reasons, when you focus on a lack of money, it comes through in the product. Early and new products need to be great and in many cases growth is key. Stuffing a site full of ads, constant upselling, leave behinds, and pop overs can kill a good site. Also, shipping a product too soon with too many ads is a double whammy. The goal is a great product not compromised by trying to over monetize a site early.

Reason number two is energy. There is good energy and bad energy that goes into a startup. Worry, concern, and fear are all natural when it comes to money and a startup. Almost every entrepreneur I've talked to has described these feelings. I know I've felt them all, probably all at the same time. These thoughts I put in the bad energy category. When I catch myself with these thoughts, I do my best to change my thoughts. Instead I now choose to focus on the opportunity.

I'm thankful for Paul and Jay. The work and creativity is amazing. A year from now we will have the best platform to easily create a webpage integrated with resources from across the internet. In the next year thousands of people will use our platform to create a webpage and millions will consume the information.

I'm thankful for the competition. Lots of new companies. Some well funded and others bootstrapped like us are trying lots of things. It's kind of like a giant idea discussion where everyone can see what works and what doesn't. The best thing about all the innovation is customers are getting access to new technology at a speed never seen before that is all designed to serve their needs online. Whether it's shopping, news, finding a job or mate, the innovation in the last twelve months has been incredible. All of these new sites are helping eachother weave a pass to success.

And finally I'm thankful for the opportunity to pursue a dream. It's been my dream since I was a kid to start and run a company. This is my chance.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Lost Wallet and Releases

I lost my wallet nearly three weeks ago. My gut said it was in the house. This morning I decided to do a detailed search. The process reminded me of launching and tuning a new business where you have an idea where the money is, but you have to try a bunch of places to figure out what really works.

V1, I opened the drawers that my wife normally sticks the stuff I leave out in. Third time I checked these. Nada.

V2, I shuffled through my closet, removing all clothes in hope that it had fallen out. No luck.

V3. I go through the bathrooms. Nothing.

V4, I pick through the mail stack and desk. Not there.

V5, my daughters bedroom. Not in her top drawer, not under her dresser. Plop down on my knees to look under her bed and there it is. All my credit cards and cash. Whooooo. I'm very happy to find it.

When I came into the garage this morning, I held up my wallet to Jay and Paul and said, look what I found with a big smile. I can't wait for this to happen with Hubpages.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Why Are There So Many Bad Websites Built Around Good Business Opportunities

I have a few theories why

1. The people with the ideas lack the skills to build a decent site, but have just enough determination to slap a website together that serves a need, but is generally poor. Page weight, navigation, and browser compatibility never cross their minds. They are just happy to have a webpage online. Now, how do I setup a domain name?

2. The allure of the quick buck. Minimal effort to make money from from ads under the guise of evergreen content. This had it's day, but is mostly stomped out now. How many websites were slapped together with the least amount of work possible and left to rot in the cyber dump with individual pages of 500 word generic content in hopes of a decent Google ranking. Which leads me to....

3. Search Engines. As they grew in popularity, people realized that it was the least expensive way to get traffic. The game was on. No need to pay attention to users and repeat traffic, just figure out what it takes to rank well on MSN, Yahoo, and Google. Then watch the money pour in! Auto generated sites, scraping, link campaigns, and even ruthless content stealing became attractive to make a quick buck. When Larry and Sergey created link popularity, I wonder if they ever thought it would come to this.

eBay is a marvel to me. I think they got so many things right. Not sure if it was luck or skill. They made a platform that let the webmaster novices sell things online (took away the technical requirement to sell things online), then the incentive to create good content and descriptions enhanced a persons ability to sell. This aligned ebay's interest of quality with the sellers. Then the auction piece. Time based listings since so many people had decent products under a category it worked. Think if Google used time based listings. Wierd. Ever wonder what the percieved quality difference is between rankings on Google? Oh yeah, I'd always pick lucky over good. Ever here of Pierre Omidyar, I bet he is a little of both.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sage Advice from a VC

A well respected VC contacted me about Hubpages about a month ago. I had met them casually and they were intrigued by Hubpages and wanted to learn more.

I was excited for the opportunity and practiced and tuned my pitch. When we headed into the conference room they had gathered four people. More people than work on Hubpages. I usually attend pitches while Jay and Paul keep progressing on the product. Anyway, I start the pitch. We have one hour to get through ten slides. No problem. Then questions start pouring in from the group. Two of them understand the product and business and are diving in with questions. One is focused on the technology, and the other is trying to ask questions to clarify his understanding. With a one hour schedule, I think to myself, answer each question and don't rush. They know we only have one hour so just be patient and if we don't get through everything, we will have to schedule more time.

We get through four slides. They all understand the product, but we haven't gotten through all the details. I'm a little dissappointed since it's my job to explain the business clearly. I knew I could have done better. Then as we are walking out the the partner says, "Let me tell you one thing." I think, be positive and accept the feedback. See what you can learn from it. He says, "Don't sacrifice your family for your business. I did, and you'll never get the time back." Wow, not what I was expecting at all.

When it comes to balancing work, leisure, and family, I feel lucky in that my occupation is my vocation so I only need to balance work and leisure with family. It can be a little tricky, but at least I get great pictures all the time of my kids. Thanks Robin.

Monday, April 17, 2006

How to stomp your competitors in Web 2.0

The game has changed. Traditional marketing for web 2.0 means viral features and a huge dependency on word-of-mouth. Meaning, you better build a kick ass product that is unique enough to make the first page of You most likely won't get there on your first attempt so you better be ready to iterate.

With the dramatic explosion of web services, and an unleashing of creative efforts surely there will be huge successes and monumental failures. Giant bets are made every day on build it and they will come. The dream is herds of web surfers relentlessly punishing the servers with request after request, traffic builds so quickly that you have to stay up all night racking servers to keep up with demand, the network is saturated, and your nightmare is server too busy messages. Your systems architect smile widens as you seamlessly plug in server after server and the system scales. This is what we call a good problem in the web 2.0 space.

The problem with all the services launching everyday is rising above the noise. Most of us will make bets on what we think users want. The best and most agile web 2.0 companies will make several bets. The key to crushing competition and putting other companies so far in the review mirror is creating an architecture that allows for rapid releases, extending the platform, and iteration at a speed that you blow past your competitors as they are trying to figure out how to scale the backend and unjoin those last few tables...

The key is architecture. It starts at the beginning of development, and is built by engineers that are master at systems, extensibility, and understand that most features are bets that require flexibility because few get it right the first time. Some features will never get used and a few will make you great. You want to tune and tweak existing features, not redesign. You want to extend an existing platform, not redesign. You want to scale databases, not redesign. You want to scale web servers and application servers, not redesign.

I believe that several companies will crush their competitors before a single pixel of UI is displayed. These companies will have the site architecture that allows them to innovate at a speed their competitors will never reach and continue to innovate quickly as traffic grows. Rapid innovation, many failures and few successes will be the working plan of record for the most successful web 2.0 companies. Each tweak and new feature is a result of a great architecture. This allows for doing more of what is working and cutting losses on stuff that doesn't. The more time spent innovating vs scaling is directly proportionate to the distance of your competitor in your review mirror.

Get a great system architect is what you want to play in the big leagues of web 2.0.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Heading Home for Easter

Five of my six brothers, three kids, two wives, one great grand mother, one pair of in laws, one great grandmother, and a neighbor are coming to my parent's house for Easter.

Two things are for sure, we will break something and there will be plenty of food.

The one brother not coming home is heading to Vegas. We'll miss you Cam. Put $50 on black for me. Yes, one spin.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Web 2.0 Business Development Run By Software Engineers

(For Web Companies Only)

After working in large and small organizations I've seen how thousands of man hours could be saved. It's by having the software developer run the business development. Uhhh? Think about it.

1. Software Engineers can smell out if a deal can actually be done. This level of practicality saves negotiation and legal huge amounts of time. How many times have the Ts & Cs of a deal been hammered out just to find that the deal isn't technically feasible or compatible. All you have to show for it is a frustrated business development team that has just been alienated a little bit further from the product development.

2. The relationship is maintaned at a level that can make it work. It's not about having dinner and drinks together, its about instantly contacting the person that can help when the service is having trouble. Good Engineers will be much more patient when dealing with other Engineers vs running through a middle man. If you want a deal to have life, have the Engineers talk and get out of the way.

3. Nobody ever schedules well. The worse is when someone other than the developer drives it. Developers understand this so well they have even optimized development practices so that the furthest out they have to schedule is the next daily meeting. And don't be surprised if they miss that date. No matter what they will always hold quality over the head of time. Having the development team and not the manager give the estimate gives the team some accountability. Even though this is true, don't expect them to hit the schedule. It's just part of software development. Engineers will be happy with a schedule that says the deal is due when the integration has been developed, tested, and is determined to be supportable.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Reclusive, Hungry, Lazy, and Cheap Software Engineers Wanted

Hiring great engineers flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Many great engineers are available simply because they interview poorly by standards set by HR. HR and sororities have a lot in common. Both of them fit poorly with Engineers. I've been watching good and bad Engineers for a while and here are a few tips to find some gems.

Software Engineers should have the trade skills to do the job, but when it comes to the soft stuff, this is what matters.

1. Don't look for team work skills. If they can simply pass the airplane test, that's good enough. Meaning they won't annoy the crap out of you and everyone else. The key here is to find engineers with No Friends and that don't like people. The fewer friends is a good sign they spend more time at work.

2. Money and Engineers. Great Engineers save money and are frugal. The money they spend on extra stuff isn't on clothes unless it's a Bluetooth watch with GPS, but they don't buy the latest computers. They salvage, upgrade, and have a large war case of random computer parts. Give a strike to anyone that shows up in a designer suit for an interview, and a smile to anyone with mismatched socks. A key interview question for a developer is to ask them about their saving habits. Engineers that save are good and Engineers that know about the latest processors, but own a five year old PC at home are good as well.

3. Look for laziness. From my experience, the lazier the engineer the better. They do things like automate the build process and instrument it with tests that validate it. They don't like to spend effort on broken things or waste time. They build systems to import test data and automate the build out of development machines. They automate the stuff that has to be done more than one time. They frown on extra effort.

4. Have a passion for food. It doesn't matter if they show up at 11 AM and then eat at 11:30 AM. They eat at non traditional times because they are lazy (don't like waiting in lines) and don't like people (crowds bother them). The lunch hour will be their key hour of meeting for the day. They will congregate as a small group and talk just enough to figure out what they should be doing or if there is another dependency. *Side tip: Good managers know who eats together and places them on the same projects.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Business of Other Peoples Content

Google has made a fortune from algorythmic search. Taking websites created by other people and serving snippets to people that search for answers. In return the websites get traffic. Seems like a fair deal to me. The challenge for new search engines is to build an audience to serve other peoples content to that is large enough to make make the business work. Search engine CPMs are some of the best around, but the competition is fierce and unlike TV - where audiences are fragmented across a zillion channels, Google, Yahoo, and MSN already have channels in the Billions. Consider these search engines the remote control. It's going to be hard for other players to get users to turn on the TV so to speak with a different baby.

Next, you have the aggregators. These are folks like and memeorandum. These are sites that take snippets of content from other sites and organize it. The most successful have been the players that focus on hot trendy topics of the day. Some times so hot and new that search engines haven't indexed them so they really fill a need. People that want to be in the know hit the refresh button all day long. Is automated organization better than human submitted? I'm not sure. Maybe it doesn't matter. The challenge of these things is the business of matching ads doesn't work quite as well since the info is hot. It's not like searching for Las Vegas Hotels where many bidders line up to pay for the click. It's still a good deal for the content provider since they get the traffic for free, but I see these businesses as more challenging for two reasons. First the CPM's are lower than search, and secondly they send the user off their network.

The third play is platforms and tools. Challenges to these businesses tend to be keeping the tools relevant to the next adoption curve. Blogs today, wireless tomorrow. Each tools set is unique. There are two types of business models that have emerged for platforms. First is subscription. Outside of the enterprise, we think this will continue to be a smaller, but good business. The largest opportunity is advertising support platforms. Get as much content on a platform and match it with ads. In this sense, there is a double partnership. First, with authors. The tools have to be good and improve the content creation process. The second is with traffic partners like search engines and aggregators. These people will use the content in exchange for traffic. Again, this is a good deal.

The interesting thing is none of these actually create content. Search engines and aggregators organize it, and platforms enable creation. Several good and interesting businesses will be formed based on these models. Hubpages is a platform that allows for any type of stuff to be created. It also organizes the content like an aggregator. Our gut is that many other aggregators and search engines will supply the majority of the traffic. What Hubpages does really well, is it allows anyone to create a page in minutes. Collecting, and aggregating content from many sources. Some sources are purely informational, while others can be used for earning money. The key is it is very simple. In minutes anyone can create their first page. I'll let you know how the business is working out once we are live.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why Does Content Pay

I believe great content is one of the least expensive ways to aggregate an audience. There are three main types of traffic on the internet that are outside of purchasing clicks or advertising. These are supplied by search engines, links from other sites to yours, and type-in traffic where someone knows your domain and types it in.

Search engines are improving. SEO tricks work less and less. Search engines like great content that answer questions. Create great content and get more search engine love. Vote #1 for content.

People link to things that are interesting and provide comments. People read one piece and follow the links to see the reference. The better the content, the more other people will reference your content on their sites and blogs. Vote #2 for content.

Now that you have a sense of how traffic flows to sites - albeit a simple one, here's a simple analysis of why it pays to create content to reach a targeted audience.

Most content sites are supported with advertisements. Advertisers want to reach the audience the content creator has aggregated. So in this sense, the publisher and advertiser are competing for the same target customer. However, the publisher has to pay less for each user than the advertiser, or the publisher would never make any money. Assuming the content site is profitable, this means the advertiser is willing to pay the content creator a fee that supports the content creation. On top of this fee, there is often a middle man like Google Adsense that is taking a brokerage fee for bringing the advertiser to the publisher. Google's cut is roughly 30%.

If it's profitable for the content creator, profitable for the advertiser, and the middle man is taking 30% in the form of a transaction fee. Why doesn't the advertiser invest in content and save at least 30%.

Hubpages is creating a place where anyone can create content free. Create a piece that supports your business.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Food Culture

A couple weeks back I me with an investor. She brought up the importance of having a food culture. I never thought of it, but small companies can be like families where the most important time is meal time.