Tuesday, April 15, 2008

From chaos toward (but not to) order

Since we announced Founders Co-op a few weeks ago my calendar and brain have been randomized way beyond historical norms. In addition to my usual advisory and consulting stuff I've been meeting with all kinds of folks across the local startup ecosytem: prospective investment candidates, fellow entrepreneurs, angel investors, mentors for our portfolio companies, etc. I've also been chasing a new business idea related to my "utility game" post back in January, which has me talking to conservation and demand-side management program managers at various public utilities, "green" entrepreneurs, alternative energy investors, etc. (Oh, and chasing my kids and trying to see my wife once in a while, too).

As fun and energizing as all these conversations have been, my brain is now stuffed with so many competing themes and ideas that I'm writing this post just to get some of them down where I can see them (and, if you're interested, you can react to them). If that's too random for you, skip this post and wait 'til I have my head screwed back on. Otherwise, here goes:

Digital Media Themes (more background here)
  • Content: Low-cost sourcing and aggregation strategies for digital images, video and other types of unique content.
  • Distribution: Avoiding/deferring the demand creation problem by leveraging existing marketplaces.
  • Monetization: Sponsored content creation for free distribution vs. low-cost aggregation for paid distribution (via subscription and/or per-item sale).
  • Video SEO: Unique/niche video content as the anchor of an SEO strategy.
Data & Analytics Themes
  • Mining the Web: Using smart crawling + statistical analysis to create business intelligence, either for paying clients or for your own account.
  • Hybrid Datasets: Merging "public" (i.e., crawled) and "private" (e.g., client-owned, manually aggregated, etc.) datasets to create unique value and more deeply embed an analytic offering into a client's operation.
  • Analytics vs. Execution: Delivering analytics only (but risking their value not being realized by the customer), vs. offering execution informed by analytics (with a risk of overextending yourself on features and delivery).
Lead Generation Themes
  • Metrics: Benchmarking and setting appropriate targets for specific gross margin variables, e.g., cost per lead, ratio of organic to paid, conversion rate, multiple sale rate, etc.
  • Market Selection: Assessing whether late entry in large markets can succeed with a lowest-cost strategy (vs. early entry in smaller niche verticals, typically as a premium player)
  • SEO / Domain Management: Pros and cons of Single domain + Subdomains vs. Multiple Domain strategies
Venture Formation Themes
  • Team Composition: Should the absence of a technical co-founder be an automatic red flag?
  • "Constructed" Teams: Related to the item above, are we creating or mitigating risk by pairing business founders with 'free agent' technical co-founders from our network?
  • First-Time Founders: Building a framework for assessing prospective founders with little or no entrepreneurial track record.
  • How Much Is Enough: Matching founders and their ideas with the "right" funding level (i.e., preserving a bootstrap mentality while making necessary investments in capacity).
"Utility Game" Themes
  • Public/Private Partnership: Feasibility (a.k.a., 'brain-damage quotient') of engaging public entities in a tech/entrepreneurial effort
  • Social Venturing: Relative merits of for-profit vs. not-for-profit structures for ventures with social aims.
  • Consumer / Enterprise Tension: Can a consumer Web application be created in direct partnership with a public enterprise, or is a private B2B intermediary required to address culture / risk profile / incentives misalignments?
  • Economics: Taken together, are utility demand-side management budgets and local lead generation sufficient economic foundation tu support a consumer conservation app?
Unfortunately there's more in there, but this was cathartic for me (and probably too cryptic to be useful or interesting to most of you). Thanks for your patience. We'll now return to our regular programming...