Archive: success

TV still the lead medium?

In a recent post, emarketer quoted a study by Deloitte stating that TV was still the lead influencer of purchasing decisions by consumers, even in the US.

I beg to differ.

Studies on the share of TV in media consumption do not differentiate enough as to the level of attention that the medium is consumed with. So many households have TV running virtually all day with a minimum of attention as opposed to an online usage that is still predominantly active, targeted (in the sense of the user pursuing a search or e-commerce activity), or socially interactive, that the two types of consumption cannot be equated – it’s comparing apples and pears.

The is all the more true if we consider the demographics, with a larger portion of low-income households letting the TV running indiscriminately. Besides, if you discount the number of TVs running 12 hours a day in Bars and Restaurants, I would wager that in terms of full attention media consumption, online has already overtaken TV.

We lack a study that compares – from the vantage point of an advertiser – conversion rates on campaigns running on TV and non-display-ads online.

The trend will increase with the further roll-out of online video.

sevenload is Top 100 Global Startup (Red Herring)!!!

I am very proud that we won this Award (after winning ETRE 100 as one of Europe’s best Startups). Red Herring hands out this Award after a year-long selection process and winning a regional Award is a prerequisite. Red Herring is known to most as the chronicler of the tech industry, and has picked the global 100 from industries as diverse as biotech, optical technology, energy, cleantech and even pasteurized Eggs.

sevenload was one of two media companies selected and one of only a dozen IT / Internet / Software related business. So it is fair to say that Red Herring thinks we are one of the two hottest internet /media companies in the world!

We were also the only Social Media company to get the award!

Past award winners include Google, Yahoo!, Skype, Netscape, Salesforce.com, and YouTube.

Here is the official picture of me with Alex Vieux, Founder of Red Herring!

red herring
Thanks to Jeff Braverman (click picture for site)

And this was my reaction to the award ;-)

rh_global_yeah_as

What makes good leadership?

A lot is being said and has been written about how strategies and market mechanics determine the success or failure of ventures and large companies. But any entrepreneur will confirm that it usually is execution which decides the fate of the company, especially in venture companies. Thus, leadership capabilities may be the most important skill set of venture management.

Leadership, management, and the principles which guide how employees are motivated and directed in their tasks are usually treated either as a self help topic in management books or as the HR side of company organization.

It might be time to focus on leadership and HR capabilities in the strategic dimension they have for the company. This means to recognize that the best company strategy can be killed by the wrong leadership methods. Good leadership is not only an important requirement for management. It is the necessary condition for company success!

In the region of North Germany where part of my family comes from we say that a fish always stinks from the head, which in my opinion puts in a nutshell the essence of leadership. If your venture team is not motivated or doesn’t excel, start at the head.

Ted Levitt once said that

organizations exist to enable ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things,

which I believe is only a way to say that things happen only if people do them. The success of a company is only achieved if the employees and the managers of that company willingly take the necessary actions to enable that success.

That is certainly first and foremost a question of deciding which of the actions that are available in a given situation is chosen, but it is equally importantly a question of ensuring that every employee executes that strategy in the way that best ensures success, including feedback and adaptation of the strategy when problems arise.

Achieving this, however, is a question of leadership.

Since all dictatorships eventually fail, leadership cannot be reduced to the ability to bark orders. All great historic figures acclaimed for their leadership, from Julius Cesar to Napoleon, from Spartacus to Martin Luther King, are all admired for their ability to inspire, to motivate, and to convey a sense of purpose to a large number of people, i.e. to the organization that they led.

Inspiration however, is nothing without credibility. Credibility, in turn, is only achieved through authenticity. Authenticity is only achieved through honesty. Applied to the world of the 21st century and the context of leadership in business organizations, this means that a truly successful leader needs to combine the ability to inspire others with a set of skills and principles that are tenets of credibility as a leader:

1. An inspiring sense of purpose.

2. A clear set of unflinching values. Shifty leaders command no respect.

3. Honesty at all costs.

4. The ability to communicate necessities and convey a sense of urgency to a team.

5. The ability to define the organization as a community serving a common goal.

6. The ability to honestly admit own mistakes and address the weaknesses of the organization.

7. Relentless commitment to the company goal, including the necessary ability to “punish underperformance”, without humiliating anyone in the organization.

8. The ability to lead by example, including in personal matters such as health or respect for others.

9. The discipline to pursue a strategy and tactics that belong to that strategy and to adapt these whenever necessary, not only “acting from the gut”.

10. The intelligence to always overestimate competition and underestimate your own position.

Most of these traits require a certain level of self-assurance, respect for others, and clear view of your own shortcomings that is incompatible with most managerial egos. But while there are enough cases of at least temporarily successful egomaniacs, in the long run only those entrepreneurs intelligent enough to value, respect, and reward their performing team members, and self-critical enough to recognize their own mistakes become truly great.

Discussion: Monetization or Reach [English]

Frank Huber recently tackled my post about Monetization in his Blog

http://blog.firstmedia.de/?p=763 (in German)

and contradicted my views of the subject based on 2 reasons: in his opinion, YouTube has shown that “size does matter” and sevenload hasn’t followed my recommended strategy at all. Here’s my reply to his post:

1) It’s undeniable that the “natural market leader”, who’s the one that goes for reach first, is the one who can win the rat race for size. I did point this out myself in my own post. However, it would be wrong to believe that the YouTube strategy and more specifically the YouTube exit is something that can be replicated. Ex post, Google’s investment in YouTube makes a lot of sense for a company that gave up a fraction of it’s shares. But there is exactly one buyer fitting that profile, and that is Google. There’s always exactly one worldwide or www-wide dominant company per segment that can be successful with a sheer “reach” priorization and with such an Exit strategy – so it’s hardly good advice for startups to emulate that model unless the startup is entirely sure of being the first one in its category.

My argument wasn’t that reach or the number of users/clients won is irrelevant- in fact, it’s the opposite. I just think that it is healthier to achieve this reach or customer base with a working and efficient business model than without one. And XING is a good example of this: From its first day back in 2003, Lars Hinrichs (Founder of XING) was already charging 5- € in monthly membership fees, even though at the time subscription models were still widely perceived as unfeasable in the German internet market.

2) sevenload’s strategy is NOT that of gaining a gross increase in our reach at all costs. We’re following an approach of pure, organic growth (up to now we haven’t spent a single € for advertising) which allows us to best offer a differentiated platform and cover the “Long Tail” of content. This allows us to offer advertisers rates that are up to a factor of 10 greater than those of normal video portals – and of most most conventional internet portals as well. Because of this difference, we are the market leader as measured in:

- Unique Visitors (> 10 Mil real unique visitors per month),
- active registered users (> 300,000),
- average visit duration (> 25 min. per visit and registered users > 45 min),
- content volume and
- revenue (we will be the Web 2.0 company with the highest turnover in Germany this year and most likely the only one that will be profitable). We achieve all this thanks to a revolutionary advertising model that is highly effective for advertisers.

Interestingly, though gross reach was not a primary target, this strategy has led to an sustained increase in precisely our gross reach and has put us in second place in the German market in terms of gross reach, right ahead of Clipfish, despite Clipfish’s massive cross-media subsidisation by the leading German TV Channel, RTL, and a full integration in DSDS, Germany’s “American Idol” Format.

In my opinion this once again proves the wisdom of Al Ries’s main marketing theorem:

Create a new category, then dominate it

My post on monetization does nothing more than offer a methodic approach to defining the category a startup strives to dominate in business model terms rather than in media terms.

IPTV, Digital TV, and Web 2.0: Power to the Audience [English]

Technical, economic and social developments, which are only inadequately described by IPTV, Web TV, Digital Special Interest Channels, and Web 2.0, are leading a fundamental structural change in the relationship between consumers/viewers and providers.

Until now, the value creation of television was geared towards offering content in order to gain the highest viewer attention percentage possible and to market a portion of this attention through advertising formats (e.g. TV commercials). As long as there were only a few TV stations available, this was a successful business model.

Today however, the viewer has the power to decide when and which media content he “consumes”. He/she can actively suppress advertising, zap or click to any media environment he prefers. At the same time, technology enables active navigation of media content, empowering the user even more:

- search,

- On-Demand streaming and download,

- and interactivity of content

These navigation tools offer viewers and consumers a completely new dimension of content relevance. The future belongs to

“Long Tail” specific, on-demand offerings, with context-relevant services and interactive ad formats that are targeted and relevant

These enhanced “program formats” are increasingly determined and – even outside the context of User Generated Content – “coproduced” by the users in increasingly differentiated clusters. This is the priciple that unifies the various new approaches from YouTube to Joost to sevenload.

It’s a People’s Business – HR is Key

After 15 years of entrepreneurship the realization I come back to more and more, and in these hyped times even more strongly, is that finding the right people is the one determining factor that will decide whether you will have success or not.

On the one hand that seems like a trivial statement and on the other implementing that realization is a continuous challenge. It starts of course, with a founding team – where anyone who has started up a company knows that what seems to be a perfect team at the phase of imagining the product/the service or wrapping up the prototype, may turn out in effect in the next 6 months not to be the right set of talents and personalities. However, the HR topic becomes even more relevant when you’re hiring your first 20 employees- often finding the right person can be very crucial, even in seemingly less decisive functions such as finance or organization, or even some parts of marketing.

In that critical phase where the company is not yet known, and it is hard to find people who are at all willing to work for the company, management often makes a compromise. In essence you may have no choice, but that compromise can be more costly than not hiring a person at all – and it is always much harder and much less fair to get rid of a person who is in the wrong position, perhaps without fault, than to make the necessary effort to take the right decision in the beginning.

I at least have made this mistake over and over again and I still do not feel much smarter. At the same time, having to go through the process of selection and de-selection of the right team can be very critical for the company culture as well, because issues of fairness and the relationship between the HR consequences and your own management mistakes becomes a predominant topic, especially if you have to let people go. This is all the more relevant because in the initial phases of a company, management is bound to make many mistakes, so the issue of fairness becomes even more dominant.

For employees to understand that the fact that management makes mistakes (and will as shareholding/entrepreneurial management, very probably not be ousted), and at the same time accept that co-workers who were hired on a risky job in a company with an uncertain future, are fired, makes it even more apparently unfair.

There are only 2 ways of avoiding that:

1) be as intransigent (if not more intransigent) with lacking performance on the entrepreneurial or the management’s part (start there). As we say in German “A stairway is always swept from the top”.

2) Secondly, make objectives clear, understandable, quantifiable, but also adjustable and communicate continuously around these objectives, so that the standard of performance is understandable for every employee. This also means that objectives have to relate to the company mission and to the overall goal in a way that every employee understands, shares, commits to and identifies with.

Hiring the right people and finding the right balance between clear objectives, clear leadership, strong enthusiasm and group identification is probably the hardest challenge in setting up a company – this is where companies fail, all other mistakes can often be corrected or adjusted, if need be with fresh capital, but once a company’s corporate culture or the mix of talents and resources is poisoned it’s very hard for a company to overcome that stage, and to then regain enthusiasm, regain momentum and catch up with a market that has probably moved on.

To put it simply, at the end of the day, every company is just a group of people trying to achieve something, set up their own rules and gain success. For that and for the entrepreneur endeavoring to achieve success there is no easy way out, there is no toolbox and there are no simple solutions. It is probably the area where he or she most needs to continuously revise (on a daily basis) what he or she is doing, by which principles and with which success. It is the prime area of self-improvement for an entrepreneur, alongside self-management.

What Makes You A Superfounder ?

I had the pleasure to be a speaker at an OpenBC Event in Brussels, on a panel with Eric Archembeau, serial entrepreneur turned VC. The tune I was to play was the answer of the Founder to the VCs – after ING and Eric described requirements for getting a funding. Well, here goes what I said (click on Image to run the presentation).

What is a “Superfounder”?

I have been musing about what a recently befriended VC told me about his firm investing in a few “Superfounders” every year, while discarding thousands of Business Plans. First I felt flattered, assuming of course to be meant. When i asked him how he recognized a Superfounder, he said: “well, you know one when you see one”. Aha.

There is of course a very valid point in that a VC Partner known to have invested in some of the great successes in their realm of action does have the experience to recognize success in the budding. But maybe that’s just the point, “when it is [already] budding”.

Picture this:

955916_693acd2284_m.jpeg

Niklas Zenström spent some three years being laughed at for Skypester before moving to an unlikely Baltic State to rename it Skype and get rich.

When we got to know the Sevenload team, by all classic criteria of the business and VC scene I know, there was no way their imminent (and yet to be brought to full fruition) success was discernible. But i felt:

- Passion
- Nonconformism
- A dedication to User Value
- Borderless thinking
- and the proven will to bite the bullet in the face of adversity
- very low bullshit factor
- and a keen sense for the value of every single €
- and the ambition to shoot for the moon (even if you miss it, you’ll land among the stars)

…all proven in the biography, especially of Ibrahim Evsan, the Key founder – and as i know see as an observer of http://www.codingnight.de

It’s either viral or another proof that A class people attract A class people, because the whole team shows that dedication. In the myths of our time, it’s the Googleyness of Sevenload.

Which brings me back to “What is a Superfounder?”. I’m not sure there isn’t a fat danger of having a kind of simplistic Belief in the Strong Man. Where I come from,

http://www.denkwerk.com

which we founded as the idea of “A Company of Brilliant People”, dedicated to the above, to innovation, to having the guts to start new things, it is TEAMS that created the greatest success. And Team means that secret combination of personalities, talents, and experiences, that combine to bring the spice and the reality to any Grand Idea. So if being a Superfounder means dreaming that dream and creating that kind of environment, then maybe yes, I do feel like a Superfounder, Ibo certainly is, and Bill Gates, who said success is never achieved alone, damn sure is. [wow, me and Bill in one sentence]

But maybe the lesson of the picture in this blog is different: it is the teams that matter. And the less loud, less salesmany, less obvious secret toilers, the Wozniaks, the Myhrvolds, the Substance Makers are the ones that really count at least as much. In one word:

the Supernerds.

Is the Tide turning?

Exit phantasies, commercialisation discussion, is blogging worth the trouble – there are many signs that euphoria and passion, the web 2.0 sense of mission etc.. are giving way to the same kind of frenetic and less frenetic division of the spoils that we had in 2000.

That holds an important lesson for all entrepreneurs, especially since this time around, there will be no big bust – just failures and successes distributed along the bell curve.

Lesson #1:
Even if everyone is focussing on other metrics, make sure you’re earning money. It’s better to be smaller and profitable, i.e. independent, than growing and growing and going nowhere in terms of being a viable business.

MIT’s secret formula for success is CFIMITYM (Cash Flow is More Important Than Your Mother) – brutal, but to the point.

Lesson #2:
Focus on proving the business model, or, more likely, finding it in the first place. chances are, that gets you more and stickier users than pure play community building. Business Models tend to evolve where there is long term value.

Lesson #3:
Try to identify the basic need you are adressing – the more basic it is, the more chances you have. Poeple have eaten, slept, mated, vyed for attention and recognition, thirsted for knowledge etc.. for centuries… that’s where the money is.

Lesson #4
Look for the right people. Rotten Ideas have made it because of world class teams. And be honest to yourself about your won ability. Your abilities do not expand as you grow older, they diminish and gnarl like old roots. That makes you experienced and savvy in your field of expertise – and less and less of a generalist in others. Get Good people. Kennedy did (“A good manager hires better staff than he is”).

When the going gets tough, the tough get going…

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