30 Mar

SEOmoz on a $1M runrate?

If they really do have 2,000 Pro members at $49/mo or $399/year, that’s around $1M/year provided there’s not egregious churn and depending on the monthly vs. yearly mix (I suspect there’s a majority of monthly subscriptions). Those are their self-reported numbers but the service seems well executed and I have no reason to doubt their data. Impressive in just a year (here’s a post about their premium launch), as is the conversion rate out of their 70,000 member base. They do a good job at spelling out the value of their subscription product, in fact I might give it a shot. It’s refreshing to see people who don’t buy the hype about ad revenue trees growing to reach the sky. See also some notes on how they built up traffic those last couple of years.
07/01/10 update: SEOmoz’s Venture Capital Process

28 Mar

Consulting the People in a Benevolent Dictatorship

The fine people at EllisLab have a quite interesting post on how they see feature requests. Generally speaking, I like their voice. Unlike many web 2.0 companies, they’re not delivering the usual pandering bullshit: “it’s all about you the users and the comm-you-nih-tee.” Yeah right, like we can’t figure out the part about UGC economies of scale in your pitch to VCs.
EllisLab is saying, look we do appreciate your feedback, but it’s our job to maintain the product’s sense of purpose, stay the course and deliver. It’s refreshing, it’s honest, and it’s the right thing to do. You need the courage to say no to a lot of requests, whether externally or within a company with your internal users by the way. You also need to execute on some of those ideas, or people will just see the whole thing as an exercise in futility. Maintaining a transparent dialog about why feature requests make or don’t make the cut is key. Easier said than done as sometimes you’d rather just sit down and ship product.
Salesforce is doing a great job with its IdeaExchange (here’s their blog about it). There are ASPs (Oops, sorry for the 90’s wording, surely it’s more hip to say SaaS) such as BrightIdea too, and of course, a blog dedicated to idea management systems (what topic doesn’t have its blog this days, carrot juice fetishism maybe?). If you can educate internal and external users about trade-offs and cost/benefit decision making, I think given enough scale (i.e. you need the manpower to handle the firehose) these systems have real potential.

26 Mar

Blist Gets It

In August 2005 I wrote The Microsoft Office I Really Want. When I tried to engage Robert Scoble at the time on the topic, he showed he relied too much on speed reading to properly address my points and/or was quickly out of his depth (I’m betting on a combination of both factors). I don’t want to turn this entry into a personal attack, my point is the openness and dialog through corporate blogging act is hard to get right. Nonetheless the conversation at the time really pushed me to pay attention to Salesforce.com, which we finally adopted in December 2006 (we’ve been real happy customers ever since). SFDC recently added inline editing which speeds things up and helps deliver on the product vision I had outlined at the time.
There’s also a new generation of software companies that try to push the envelope when Microsoft is sleeping, such as Tableau, Blist, EditGrid or Proto. Watch the demo, I’m glad to see Blist delivering on my half-baked high level spec from 2 years and a half ago. I tend to think it’s not a coincidence that it’s led by a former Microsoftie who probably got tired of the lack of progress within the behemoth.
As an aside, two of these four companies are based in Seattle, one in New York and another in Hong Kong. Atlassian is kicking ass out of Australia. People who think you have to be in the Silicon Valley to innovate crack me up. The truth of the matter is that the Valley is currently producing a wave of useless crap almost as high as the one it delivered a decade ago. If Twitter is the best they can do… not that Twitter is necessarily a bad application, but I’ve been using it and I’m not overwhelmed by the value creation there (unlike Blogger, which I instantly liked). We’re past the time when people confused products with companies, we now see people confusing features with companies, and not very compelling features at that. Businesses start with customer problems and needs, end of story. I know Salesforce.com is in Nocal, but it’s also eight years old. Silicon Valley is a washed out whore with occasional flashes of brilliance (Splunk comes to mind). It’s too focused on consumer fads and reflects the extractive mentality California was build upon. You get 100 gold diggers for one builder. That’s fine. What’s tiring is said gold diggers self-portraying themselves are entrepreneurial geniuses. The only people you guys are fooling is your peers and the occasional gullible journalist.

12 Mar

WordPress, Don’t Touch My Content!

Lately we’ve been struggling with WordPress and its HTML shenanigans. Not that they are new but we’re more actively pursuing a number of bugs that have been open for a while. Even after you remove TinyMCE, WP will insert closing paragraph tags within an entry if the visual editor checkbox is selected in user settings. Not cool, WordPress. Then there’s the whole concept of the Loop, the way WP filters things in the background, and poor documentation. And don’t get me started on plugins or security.
Besides, and this is more important for us, Automattic is pulling a SixApart circa early 2007. It’s all about pageviews at WordPress.com and how they’re one of the biggest sites in the universe. Look, decide once and for all whether you want to be in the GeoCities business or the software business. It’s irritating when giants such as Microsoft or Google pretend to be everything to everyone, but it’s downright ridiculous from start-ups, even if they’re well funded (how can a company get so much funding when it doesn’t even know what it wants to be when it grows up boggles the mind). I thought we’d throw ten grand at Automattic for a support contract but got cold feet when I saw them starting to chase consumer social fads. At least SixApart divested LiveJournal, got a new CEO and seems to be tightening their focus a little bit these days.
We’re just starting to research options to complement WP for some projects, and maybe replace it altogether eventually (no, Anil, we’re not going back to MT!) On that front, I like the philosophy behind ExpressionEngine:

“This is really a philosophical issue. Should it happen when a page is rendered or when it is delivered into the database? I

04 Mar

Guaranteed Google Acquisition of the Year: Splunk

You read it first: Google is going to acquire Splunk in the next 18 months, and it’s going to cost them. They’ll ship it as an appliance for enterprise customers as well as give no-nag freebies to (geek) consumers. Well, I don’t know that they will, but they should. Splunk 3.2 just got released and looks quite promising. We started using 3.1 about a week ago and we’re just noobies so far, but it’s already obvious this is essential software for system administration, security and QA purposes. I can see ahead the same kind of learning journey I started with Google Analytics last year. GA by the way still resists me stubbornly in some areas, with campaign tracking and site overlay only partly working. OK we have some sites with three different GA profiles, goals, filters, transactions and whatnot, but we have relatively small sites and this shouldn’t be rocket science. The problem is, web analytics implementations are tedious and slow to debug, especially Google because it lags by several hours (last year it took 24 hours for anything to show in reports).
This type of software can be frustrating to master, but the level of visibility and understanding they bring is a key component to running an online business. I know you’re not supposed to build lasting competitive advantage on operational efficiency alone, but I do believe there are going to be winners and losers in this race. How well do you know what’s going on with your online business? How fast and how decisively can you act? Ourselves, we’re just getting started, but I’m sure it’s an effort that will be well worth sustaining. Right now I’m mainly assessing our level of non-quality, and it’s not a pretty picture. But at least I know what’s not running properly with a tool that scales (though from my limited experience, be careful with data exports with Splunk running on a production server).
PS for the Splunk team: please redirect the old Splunkbase links to their new URL.