Category Archives: Business

Thoughts on Greenlight Greater Portland

Thanks to the generosity of Rick Turoczy, I recently attended the Greenlight Greater Portland luncheon.

I waited a little while before posting my thoughts because I wanted to read through the materials to get a better sense of what the organization was about before commenting. I went into the luncheon knowing nothing about the organization.

Thankfully my delay gave me a chance to read some of the thoughts from David Abramowski about how Greenlight Greater Portland is no place for startups.

Ostensibly I was at the event to provide a startup perspective. However, the luncheon didn’t really touch on that so David’s write up will have to suffice if you are interested in that perspective.

Instead, I want to talk about two things:

  • What a great speaker Tom Szaky of Terracycle was. What an exceptional story.
  • What a shame it is that the best part of the luncheon had to be imported from New Jersey.

First, Terracycle is an amazing and inspiring story. Even if Terracycle wasn’t making a difference by dealing with waste, the business story and innovation alone would be noteworthy.

If you ever have a chance to see Tom speak, do it!

Unfortunately, Tom’s speech was preceded by two different individuals from Greenlight Greater Portland who read off scripts, droned on, and bored the audience.

One of the speakers tried to engage the audience in a gimmick where the audience would have a single clap after each talking point. This was attempted at the same time our food was served creating a dilemna for the audience between eating our meal and acknowledging the speakers pleas for single claps.

(Blah blah. Put down fork. Single clap. Pick up fork. Eat quickly. Put down fork. Single clap. Repeat.)

I normally avoid criticizing public speaking. It takes a lot to get on stage and not everyone was fortunate enough to have had a traumatic high school experience that eliminated the fear of public speaking.

However, in this case it detracted from what otherwise is really interesting information. The data gathered by Greenlight Greater Portland in their 2009 Greater Portland Prosperity Index is great stuff.

The printed version of the report is well designed, easy to read, and full of interesting notes on why Portland is well positioned for growth.

(You can also download the report from the Greenlight Greater Portland web site, but you apparently need to register to download it and the registration form does not say why they require you to register nor why they need your email. Consequently, I’m not linking to it.)

As far as the policies are concerned, they seem to be basing their work on policy and programs that worked in Austin. They sound reasonable enough, but consistent with what David wrote, I doubt it will have any direct impact on our business. If they succeed, then I’m sure the overall economic prosperity will help our business.

I did have a good time at the event and was inspired by the end. It’s just unfortunate that the promotion of what makes Portland special wasn’t inspirational. In fact, it was pretty boring. And that part that was inspirational came from New Jersey of all places.

Thanks again to Rick for the invitation and to my table mates for the good conversation. And despite my comments about the presentations during the luncheon, I wish Greenlight Greater Portland tremendous success.

More on iPhone App Store Pricing

The conversations about the App Store and the drive towards 99-cent applications continues. Here are some more thoughtful posts:

And from 37Signals:

Ok, I lied. That last one isn’t about the App Store—at least not directly. ;-)

Concerns Surface About iPhone App Market

In case you missed it, there’s been some great discussion lately about the iPhone App Store and the drive towards 99 cent applications. In particular, whether or not this pressure for lower prices will allow developers to make enough money off of more complex applications.

I’m happy to see this discussion starting. More than a few of the conversations I’ve had recently have been with people who seem to have unrealistic expectations about the iPhone App Store. I’ve talked to many people who must have an iPhone app without a real business case or logic for it.

That’s not to say that people can’t be successful with the App Store nor that there aren’t really interesting and exciting things happening in the market. It just feels a little out of balance.

I’m going to write more about this in much more detail later and am planning on making this part of my presentation topics for the coming year. However, I wanted to make sure people were following this conversation. So here are some of the better articles on the topic:

Need Google Adwords Assistance

A few months ago I moved our beach house web site from a server in my house running Zope to WordPress at Media Temple. In the process, I screwed up my Adwords account.

In particular, I forgot that I had a special landing page that tracked the referring url and then redirected to the home page. After the move, the url for that landing page was returning a page not found error.

Now my ads won’t run no matter what I do. I’ve pointed the ads at the home page, the about page, the features page, etc. I’ve tried domain aliases. No matter what I do, Google Adwords never seems to budge from its opinion that the landing page is of poor quality and not relevant.

I don’t believe my changes to the landing page are having any effect. I’ve been battling this for a couple of weeks now. I’ve sought from the Adwords help forum and from Google’s support (which thus far has only sent me back borderline insulting template emails).

Has anyone encountered anything like this? Any ideas on how to fix it?

Finally, any SEO/SEM experts interested in trading some assistance for some free time at the beach?

Details on the problem are in this Adwords Help Forum Thread.

German Interview with Google’s Eric Schmidt

Google CEO Eric Schmidt sat down with the Frantfurter Allgemeine (FAZ.net) to discuss things mobile and social networks among other things.

On mobile:

Just take the success of the iPhone: It has the first really powerful web browser on a mobile device – and many more are still coming. Nokia has one coming, Blackberry has one and Motorola has one. They are all supposed to be released this year. By these products, the advertising gets more targeted because phones are personal. So targeted ads are possible. And that means the value of the ads will grow. The next big wave in advertising is the mobile internet.

On social networks:

MySpace did not monetize as well as we thought. We have a lot of traffic, a lot of page views, but it is harder than we thought to get our ad network to work with social networks. When you are in social network, it is not likely that you´ll buy a washing machine.

Some good stuff in there. I recommend the full article.

Tricia Starts New Portland Catering Business

My former co-worker Tricia Butler has reduced her hours at her job and started her new catering business Sassafras Catering. I’m so happy for her.

I remember a couple of years ago during one of her performance reviews, Tricia felt like she had to break bad news to me. She talked about her love of her job, her respect for her co-workers, and her thankfulness at being given the opportunity and responsibility of her position.

BUT, she had to let me know that she was eventually going to start a catering business. Owning a catering business was a life-long dream of hers. She was sorry that her path and the company’s path might not be the same in the long term.

To which I replied, “Where is the bad news?”

Too many people spend their lives in fear of their own aspirations. For all of our talk about people in America having the freedom to chase their dreams, most people are afraid to really do so.

So from that day forward I’ve known Tricia as a caterer who happens to work in technology instead of a technologist who happens to love cooking. That’s why I’m so pleased to see her make the jump and get her business going.

I’m also pleased because I can unequivocally vouch for both her ability to cater events and the food that she has provided. Since that meeting, I’ve both attended and helped organize events that she has catered. Combine that with her business’s commitment to sustainability, and you have an amazing combination for the Portland market.

So congratulations to Tricia for following through on her dreams. If you are in the Portland area, I highly recommend hiring Sassafras Catering for your next event.

Page Load Time Means Money

One of the arguments I made in my presentation on site performance last year was that making small changes to your site to speed it up can make a big difference in your revenue. This was based on bandwidth savings.

However, now marketers using Google Adwords have an additional incentive to make their pages load quickly. Google is incorporating landing page load time as one of the factors for evaluating the quality ranking of an ad:

“Users value ads that bring them to the information they want as efficiently as possible. A high-quality landing page should load quickly as well as feature unique, relevant content. Fast load times benefit advertisers as well, since users are less likely to abandon a site that loads quickly.”

For companies that are spending thousands of dollars on text ads, ignoring their landing page load time could be spendy.

How to Evaluate a New Product Idea

Evan Williams has a very useful post describing a different matrix to use when evaluating ideas for new businesses–particularly technology companies.

Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of people about what their business ideas. Many of the ideas fail to pass more than a couple of the criteria that Evan describes.

During these casual conversations, I’ve struggled to figure out how to help people see the same picture I did about the likelihood of their ideas being successful. I don’t want to discourage them from pursuing their dreams—there are far too many people already discouraging people from taking risks. At the same time, I want to help people understand where the limits of their idea are and help them have a realistic picture of the challenges they face.

The next time I find myself in one of these conversations, I’m going to point them to Evan’s post to help them evaluate their own idea. Maybe this will help us develop a common language to use when discussing how the viability of the idea.

Amazon Sees Mobile Web as Opportunity

Amazon recently shut TXTReview out of their e-commerce web services. TXTReview provides book and movie reviews via test messaging on mobile devices.

The interesting thing about this story is the clarification that Amazon gave for why they had stopped allowing TXTReview to use their APIs:

We do limit access by some mobile-focused companies to just that service. Its says in our license agreement for that service that developers must first get permission from Amazon Web Services prior to using Amazon ECS in connection with any handheld, mobile, or mobile phone application (see 5.1.4 here) . The reason is that it’s very early days in the mobile space and Amazon.com is still thinking through how to best serve customers who want to use mobile devices to shop on Amazon.com. At this point, we’re being cautious about exposing our catalog data for use in the mobile space.

So unlike most people who take mobile devices for granted, Amazon believes the mobile space is in its infancy. They see opportunity there and are being cautious to not lock themselves in. They see so much possibility there, that they’ve codified this perspective in their terms of service.

This shows more foresight than most companies have on where technology is going and is further evidence that the mobile web is likely to take off in the near future.

Facebook: The First Level 2 Platform

A quick follow up to my previous post on platforms. In Marc Andreessen’s article on The three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet, he writes:

  • In the Internet realm, the first Level 2 platform that I’m aware of is the Facebook platform.

Marc defines a Level 2 platform as a platform that lets “developers build new functions that can be injected, or ‘plug in’, to the core system and its user interface.”

Is Facebook really the first to do this? Does anyone have an example of a company that was doing this before Facebook?