Saturday, May 9, 2009

What's in a name? A business by any other name...

Data or Presentation of the Data, that is the question. Whether it is nobler to be true to the data or to make it pretty and by beautification destroy the use of the data...

I understand the value of a clear and effective presentation of data. The work of Edward Tufte is a fabulous study in making effective presentation of data. The map of Napoleons march to Moscow is still an iconic diagram for me.

However, on a regular basis, I am confronted with the situation where people use spreadsheets as though they were pieces of paper. So they merge columns or they eliminate columns to make things print out nicely or worst of all, they alternate the meaning of data in a column from row to row. The spreadsheet is a simple form of a database. When you try to make it pretty, you break the database part of it. You remove the ability to sort and reorganize and plot the data. So this tension between the effective use of the data or the effective presentation of the data is a fundamental issue. For spreadsheets, it is worth the effort to have one set of sheets which represent the data and different sheets which represent the reports or views of the data.

When we are choosing the name of a project or a company, we look around for something that captures the business. This often boils down to the domain name. When we talk about the company we want to have the name of the company and the name of the website be the same. We want to be able to say the name or write the name of the company and the domain name is obvious to the casual observer. But even with this idea to guide us, there are other issues that arise.

The Google Test
After you select a name, the first thing that most folks do is to google the name to see how many hits you get. If you google for "google", you get 2,590,000,000 hits. I wonder how many hits they would have gotten before they started the company. Searching for googol, we 1,990,000 hits. The advantage of picking a name that has a low number of google hits becomes particularly appearant when you try to look up documentation about Ruby on Rails and you end up in the midst of train web pages.

Name Relevance
While selecting a name like Google does not initial imply search, it does imply large numbers of items and gets you into the right zone. To select a name like Johns Machining vs a name like ProtoMold leads your efforts in two different directions. In looking at business plans, and reviewing the business names, there are alot of names used which do not help the company. I have seen:
  •  Names which you can not write after hearing it
  •  Names you can't spell even if you heard it
  •  Names which have nothing to do with the business at hand
  •  Names that leave you with an impression of a different business
  •  Names that are too long to keep straight.

Each of these get you into trouble, but lets take the last one. There are many times when information is passing by and it has to be sliced and diced to fit into the screen space that is available. While Twitter has a 140 character limit, it is not the only place where space is at a premium or where titles are important. I have my gmail account set up to collect RSS feeds from different places that I care about. Some of these folks put up articles with titles like:

  •  Things to do this week
  •  Top posts of the week
  •  Good words
  •  Crime watch

And the sad thing is that these are the same from week to week, so they actually end up conveying no information and actually cause me not to follow the link.

As an alternative, some of the feeds that I watch put together pithy lists with punctuation:

Angel Conference + Beer and Blog + Cre8 Camp + OSU Expo

This lets you know what you are looking at.

In the same way, when I look at gmail, my screen has 30 characters for the user names and 70 characters for the subject and then a little bit of the message. If you are effective with you email, you try to make the subject be short, to the point, and clear. If you split the difference and have a subject of 35 charaters, then you should have the first 35 charaters of your message be meaningful. This pattern can help communicate what is in an email message.

In the same way, when companies are submitting business proposals to angel groups using the tool, they are put into folders where there is a directory showing the list of the companies. It shows the name of the company and then a limited number of characters. On my screen, 30 characters are shared between the name of the company and the beginning of the first description paragraph. Often when people are writing their first paragraph, they start out with the name of their company and it ends up looking something like:

    MyCompanyName - MyCompanyName is a .....

From this I conclude that it is best if you have :

  •  a name which is short
  •  a name which is pronouncable
  •  a name which is a clear reflection of what the company does

and that the paragraph that follows starts with the 3 words that are the core description of your business.

So instead of getting:

        MyLongCompanyName - MyLongComp

You end up getting

        ProtoMold - Fast Plastic proto
This idea of having short and effective names and clear focused carries on into the Angel pitches. When you get a Pitch Desk for an angel pitch, they suggest you start with the Problem, then tell the Solution and then go into the business structure.

We end up seeing business pitches, where the title of the page is "Problem", "Solution".... After dozens of pitches, these all run together. Don't spend that valuable large font title on "Problem", Tell me what the actual problem is... In Big Letters.

And when you pick a business name, make sure that it sticks with me in the same way.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

What is the Lemonade Stand of the Internet?

Everyone has done a lemonade stand or gotten a drink from one. It is the definative small business example and it is a cultural icon for the entrepreneur. So much so, that it is used in schools to teach business issues. But thinking in terms of current business reality, it makes me wonder:

What is the online equivilent for the lemonade stand?

If I look thru my list of Online Revenue Models I see that some are easier to implement. Some things which can generate revenue quickly as a small one person shop. These are different from those things that take some other large component to make it work quickly:

Short term opportunity or easier to do:

As opposed to Longer term harder to do things:

The great things about the lemondade stand is that the goals are clear, the process is clear and it ends up being all about execution.

Looking even closer at the list, it seems that ads and donations are the quickets and easiest.

  • 4. Ads -> Set up a Blog and turn on ads
  • 15. Donations - Ala NPR / Public Radio -> Put up a donate button

A little more work:
  • 5. Sell a product directly -> Requires fullfillment
  • 6. Sell a product Indirectly -> Sign up with Vendor to resell product
  • 7. Subscription -> set up a subscription, membership

While both Ads and Donations require you to create content that is valuable to the reader and then to attract an audience, it seems that ads generate more revenue for the level of work.

This Suggests that suggests that the Lemonade stand of the Internet is to create a Blog and put up ads on it.

The steps to this would be:
  1. Set up a bank account to keep all the revenue in, keeping money separate from the personal money.
  2. Sign up for Blog software - Let's use Google Blogspot -
  3. Sign up with Ad provider - this is a part of blogspot by clicking on monitize. Ads will be inserted into the blog.
  4. Write content that is valuable to an audience.
  5. Spread the word that you are writing and build an audience.

Does this seem like the simplest revenue and business model on the internet? Would this be the canidate for the "Online Lemonade Stand"?

What would your choice be?

How to make money on the Internet or What is you Revenue Model or Monetizing your web app business models.

What are the different meta models for generating revenue from a web page or an online business? I have been collecting a list. I have been planning to write about it in detail, but I just saw a post that makes it clear that I should just get the list out and then work on the additions later.

I was sent a link for this article:

Which is interesting, but more complex than I was working on. In double checking the list and comparing it to the list I was working on, I did not find any new models. They seperate out on other axises , and go into more details. For example, I consider "Licensing Content" to be "Selling Something directly". However, I am still looking for more large scale models to add to the list.

Here is the list of all the meta catagories that I have been able to identify:

When looking at various sites that are generating revenue, I think that each has a specific primary model for revenue, and several have secondary models. Some event get to three different pathways that generate revenue:

Company examples to understand the business model:

What websites do you go to and how are they generating revenue? What makes them sustainable in the long run?

Monday, March 2, 2009

[SeattleTech] Heading to Portland

Today, I saw a note on the Seattle Tech Startups email list about someone heading down to Portland, looking to make contacts. Here is what I sent him, it is an initial set of ideas off the top of my head, but Buzz suggested that I get it posted on a website. I am sure there are many more things worth putting on this list. Perhaps you have a suggestion?

I sent :
(remember this is from a Seattle to Portland point of view)

There are a lot of interesting things happening in Portland.

One of the things that Portland has which Seattle does not seem to have is funded incubators. I suggest that you take a moment to talk to Steve Morris at the Oregon Technology Business Center
And to talk to Carol Mason at the PSU accelerator

The Equivilent of the NWEN is the OEN. Linda Weston at is a good person to touch base with.

One of the projects that I find very interesting is the Calagator project. It is an open source effort to build an calendar agregator

the Calagator folks can help you find many of the technical Gathering places. Things like the Perl Users group, or the MYSQL users group or the Android programer gathering or .... The list is huge.

In addition, something that I see in Portland that I don't see in Seattle is the Legion of Tech folks
They run the Portland BarCamp and the Portland Ignite.
Getting time to visit with Todd Kenefsky or with Dawn Foster would be useful.

Todd ran a Startupalooza last year
It was very good. I hope they do it again this year. The website has not been updated for this year.

You might want to track down some of the folks who are part of Starve Ups -

They are a collection of folks who are working to help entrepreneurs, in a more focused way.

In addtion the folks at the POSSE -
They are a bunch of Open Source Entrepreneurs.

Brian Jameson at Open Sourcery might be an interesting person to visit with.

The local Software Association of Oregon is a good gathering place for people doing different kinds of businesses. You might talk to Harvey Matthews or Bryce Yonkers at

I hope this gives you a starting place for what you are looking for.
If you follow Dawn Foster on , You will find that Beer and Blog -  tends to happen at the Green Dragon  and you will see that the Linux Users Group tends to meet at the Lucky Lab

If there is any specific introduction that I can help with, please drop me a note.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

IPFUT - What it takes for an entrepreneur

A brand spanking new entrepeneur comes to the Business Facilitation meeting, looking for feedback and for investment from the potential investors in the room. As the investors look on the process, what things are they looking for? Certainly they are looking for information about the business and the potential plan. They are also looking for ways to evaluate the presenter. In early angel investing, the investment is as much (or more) in the founders as it is in the idea.

What traits of the founders are the investors looking for evidence of? As I have thought about this, I have come up with the following , in order. If these are not evident, the chances of angel investors engaging are greatly reduced:

I - Integrity
P - Passion
F - Focus
U - Urgency
T - Team

Without each of these, getting to the next part of the conversation will be hard. When presentations do not clearly represent a crisp picture of the business and a crips picture of the entrepreneur, it makes the next step difficult.

I have found that my mentoring conversations with entrepreneurs end up devolving into some kind of conversation about one of these topics.

These are the things that are important before the idea is going to get moving.

Are there other things that are common places that need attention for entrepreneurs?