First day at Future of Web Apps

Todays conference

Here are some summaries about todays sessions. They are in no way complete, but describe what we thought was most interesting.

Mike Arrington – TechCrunch

Mike Arrington was speaking about how to be a successful entrepreneur. He also pointed out that what he said is not the universal truth, and that good entrepreneurs ignore advice and do as they like anyway.
Mike raises the question whether we are getting into a new it-bubble? He says no, because the people who are investing now are more professional, this time its Google and similar investing and not old grandma investing in Nasdaq because someone said she should. Also companies now fail earlier if they fail, not as in the bubble when they could keep on for far too long.
He gave some points about what to focus on:

  1. Have a good idea
    1. Invent a market
    2. Destroy a market
    3. Remove friction
  2. Have a business plan
  3. Have a revenue model
    Make sure you have a plan to get money at some time.
  4. Build it cheap, test the waters
  5. Avoid high burn rate

Mike especially pressed his point about avoiding a high burn rate. This is getting a lot of investment money and then changing the way you spend your money. Keep on living like you did the first six months and your money will last far longer.
Still, YouTube did make it, even though they didn’t follow any of these advice. Which Mike says, again proves you shouldn’t listen to advice. Mike also listed some attributes for winners and losers:

Attributes for winners:

  • Passion for what they are doing
  • Doing something extraordinary
  • Removing serious friction
  • Great founder dynamics
  • Don’t take too much money
  • The buzz factor

Losers:

  • Poor founder/team choices
  • Lifestyle/Ego Entrepreneurs
  • Raising too much money
  • Spent to much money
  • Over business planned
  • Forget about scaling
  • Had to try too hard at marketing

Here he especially pressed the point that if the buzz is not happening you should rethink your product, not your marketing. The buzz should happen on its own.

Finally we were provided with some areas of opportunity:

  • Apollo will be incredibly important. This is a platform which removes the difference between a web application and a desktop application. Here there are a number of opportunities for new business.
  • Figure out how to handle the DRM jungle. The first who truly does will be very successful.
  • Portability of data and service.
  • Going mobile.

Edwin Aoki at AOL

Edwin Aoki was speaking about the importance of online communities. He listed some obvious and some less obvious communities and ways of communication online.
Obvious:

  • Webmail is the leading driver of page views.
  • Chat and instant messaging is becoming web based

Less obvious:

  • Wikipedia
  • Ebay
  • Amazon

He pointed out more then one time that interactivity and dialog is important to succeed on the web. When getting into the web business there are several things you have to think of, Edwin said.

First of all people are seeking what they are interested in, this is what builds communities. This also means that you as a entrepreneur lose control, which is both a challenge and a risk. Here he mentions youtube, flickr and photobucket.
Secondly a growing trend is embedded interaction on the site such as newspapers, not using a special application.
Third of all these communities goes more and more mobile. This changes the way people participate.
Forth the edge between offline and online life is becoming more and more blurred. For example in ‘second life’, in 24 h 203000 very real dollars was moved between the real world and this world. Also real world brands are entering the virtual world to make sure they are not left behind in the competition.
Finally he makes a point that with this power over these communities comes great responsibilities. Users don’t think safety, so you should.

Simon Wardley – Fotango

Simon was mainly doing a short speech to promote their product. He was talking about how novel and new with time becomes old, dull and expected. But the main point he was pushing was that there is no advantage in having your own infrastructure. The concept is called “Yak shaving”, and the meaning is that you should not do the same foundation work that has already been done before. Instead you should shave the Yak. Zimki, his product, offers pre-shaved yaks.
All this boils down to a JavaScript based environment where you can program any web application, frontend or backend. Everything is persistent by default and there is no need to work directly with databases or hosting arrangement. Charging is done on usage.

Danny Rimer – Index Ventures

Danny has a slightly different background than most other speakers. He works with venture capital and therefore held an interesting speech on that subject.
One of his main points was that there is a substantial risk involved for a VC company when investing: of all companies 1/2 lose money, 1/3 break even and only 1/6 makes lots of money.
The speech was very extensive, but a core point was when to use VC and when not to:
Good reasons for VC:

  • Unique Product or concept.
  • Excellent Development Capability.
  • Large potential market opportunity.
  • Intense competions likely, have to move fast.

But most of all you must believe in this yourself.
When not to use VC:

  • Application is a feature not a product.
  • The total market size is to small.
  • Your motivation is not financial.

The real danger here is that you actually manage to get VC money when you shouldn’t. This could destroy a good small business idea. When this happens you can no longer make the comparatively small win that might have been a large win for this single user, but must go for “a big exit”.

Matthew Ogle and Anil Bawa Cavia – Last.fm

Matthew Ogle and Anil Bawa Cavia from Last.fm were telling us about the building of a social music platform, which is not just online radio. Last.fm help the users to manage their musical life, it connect people to music they love, and can recommend music to users based on their interests.
Early growth factors that they have discovered are:

  • Don’t overextend
  • Make sure revenue sources scale with increased usage
  • Involve users in you story
  • Make growth a selfish aim for existing users
  • Be open!

In the beginning they had a cool service but no data, so to get data they allowed anyone to use their API to do plugins for all different kind of media players.
They believe it is important to involve non-technical users as well, to promote a community. Have a dialog with your users; even bad news is better than no news at all.
When getting a bit bigger it’s important to have a plan for growing global, including marketing and languages, not just technical issues. Harness critical mass; don’t behave like you only have ten users when you have thousands. Embed your service in other applications and web apps.
A final interesting point was there concept of ‘Attention’ and ‘Myware’. When you, as a user, pay attention to something (or don’t), data is created. They described it as a sort of spying on yourself. So it’s not spyware it’s ‘myware’.

TJ Kang – ThinkFree

TJ Kang gave a short speech about ThinkFree, a sort of webservice that allows you to embed word, excel and power point documents in your web page. The advantage being that the visitors don’t need to download the document to watch it, they don’t even have to have Microsoft Office installed in their computer. More info can be found at thinkfree.com

Werner Vogels – Amazon

Werner Vogels was speaking about Amazons services S3, EC2 and SQS. He was making a point that currently approximately 70% of the resources spent in an it-project is used on “heavy lifting”, that is constructing infrastructure and similar. Only 30% is spent on the actual product. The solution to the problem is to let someone else take care of these things for you. This way everyone can focus on what they do best.
This way you can get something that is:

  • Scalable
  • Cost-Effective
  • Reliable
  • Simple
  • Compatible

Needless to say, according to Werner, S3, EC2 and SQS provide all this.

Bradley Horowitz – Yahoo

Bradley’s first topic was how interesting data can be created by combining lower quality data from a large number of data providers. This way one can find data that wasn’t obviously in there from the beginning. He used analyzing geographical flickr tag data as an example: by collecting all photos that have been tagged as being about Route66 the outline of the road could be clearly mapped. In the future this will become a more common way to gather data.
His second topic was how new more advanced and useful service could be obtained by using something that has been around in the Unix community for very long – piping. This is to make it possible to take the result from one service (i.e. Google) and then pipe it into another (i.e. a map service). He demonstrated how he could get geographical mapping of daycare in a certain area by doing this. The technology is already developed by Yahoo, but is currently not working well since it turned out to be much more popular than expected.

Stephan Stokols – BT

Stephen Stokols spoke about online communication, and listed four points.

1. Traditional industry lines being blurred: online companies are expanding rapidly into telecommunication. AOL, yahoo voice etc.

2. P2P technology proliferating – may pose significant cost pressures on the network sides, but opportunities to those telecoms that embrace it.

3. Advertising is a viable mechanism to fund free models.

4. 1:1 voice communication is no longer sufficient as we move to 1:many collaboration.

This causes for deeper structural shift for telecom companies. BT contact, his company, is intended to be the users personal communication hub. It integrates with whatever you are using (skype, yahoo voice etc) and also does e-mail, mobile, texts etc.

Amit Kothari & Chris Garrett – QuotationsBook.com

These two guys has come up with the idea to map where all known quotes come from. They provide a service where you can search books by author, quote and other criteria.
They have the ambition to create a search engine for anything notable that anyone has written or said, and see themselves as completing the triad of videos (youtube), photos (flickr) and text (these guys). Read more at QuotationsBook.com

Soocial.com

This company aims at coordinating all contacts you have in your phone, computer, pda or other device. Their core objectives is to make this as easy as possible and to make it cover as many products as possible. They focus very hard on the core of the product – there should be no extra unnecessary stuff. The solution can be found at soocial.com and will be released as “invitational alpha” a week from now.

Kevin Rose – Digg

In this speech we were given some information about how Kevin thought when creating digg, what digg will be in the future and how digg is run.
He pointed out the problem with 900000 users in one big community not always getting along. Solving this issue, in a way in which the community is not governed from the outside, is one of the largest issues for digg.

Playing well is also something Kevin pointed out as important. The users should have access to their attention data and other information they have built, this since as Kevin puts it “it’s not really ours”. He also wants to be as open as is possible, using open API:s and similar.

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