Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Can Politicians Help Entrepreneurs? My article in Gannett

Here is an article I published in the Gannett papers. It is a formula - a policy proposal that changes the way Start-Ups grow in this economy.  Based on current trends, the next election seems to be focusing on job-creation so this could become a really big topic!

"County Executive Rob Astorino did a great outreach to the voters of Westchester with his recent phone conference "town hall" meeting, yet he stumbled when he took questions about developing new business in Westchester. The best he could say was: "We need Pepsi . . . and 900 jobs."

He is not alone. As the head of a national start-up forum called the iBreakfast, which has helped thousands of start-ups meet investors, I can say with some authority that most politicians — in fact, most corporate executives — have no idea how to create new businesses. Corporations may know how to grow the businesses they already have; they certainly know how to negotiate better tax deals for locating their headquarters. But when it comes to creating new business, they usually buy someone else's start-up.

Yet start-ups are where the new jobs really come from. At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which has more than 90 start-ups, each one generates an average of seven full-time jobs and four student jobs according to the director, Jerry Creighton. In this new economy, where factories tend to be in China, logistics are king and everyone is online, we have to think way beyond fostering the growth of sweetened-liquid companies. The question is how?

What we need is a new business ecosystem
Read the rest by clicking here:   Brody on Innovation and Politicians in Gannett

Saturday, April 9, 2011

iBreakfast Controversy - Can You Beat SEO?

Report from "Google Changes the Rules" iBreakfast
It is not often that the staid world of Search Optimization erupts in controversy but it did at the last iBreakfast on Google's "Farmer" and "Panda" Updates. One of the speakers, Steve Arnold, claimed to override traditional SEO and boost the rankings or even silence offending sites by a method that sounded both intriguing but also like a storyline out of the "Wag the Dog."

This iBreakfast was designed to cover the key issues of Google's revamping of its ranking algorithm supposedly to reward quality providers and to ditch the questionable "content farms." These are the sites that fill the vast underbelly of the net with just enough text to attract high value Adsense ads or raising the rankings of a particular site

What we got was a challenge to go beyond the SEO model and think about creating a kind of transcendent awareness that enables sites to be seen via social media and mobile search.

While Google has framed the update in terms of refinements it is quite likely to be more profound than that. Silicon Alley Reporter noted that upwards of 12% of sites would see their rankings change. Some dramatically. The ever pugnacious Jason Calacanis found his Maholo website at the wrong end of the "update." This resulted in him drastically changing the business model from a kind of "Yahoo Answers" to "better" eHow. Good luck.

Google has grown on the backs of these content farmers since they boosted their ability to monetize high value keywords. After all, Google let everyone know what the high value keywords were and by encouraging the content farms they wound up with more inventory to sell.

When the New York Times ran its famous expose on the JC Penny that prompted Google's change - it seemed well, just a little too convenient. Perhaps there was more than meets the eye. While we can't say we saw the smoking we can suggest the bigger picture here - at least according to Arnold. Google would rather sell paid placements than let SEO's artificially boost the rankings of well-heeled but unworthy players. Not only that, but they are seeing real competition in Facebook which is becoming the home of more and more searches that are powered by Microsoft's Bing. The situation can be more drastic overseas while mobile too, is becoming more of a challenge since it is less and less web-oriented.
Matt Robson of Hachette talked about some of the key attributes of the Google upgrades that would qualify sites for a "Trust Ranking" - meaning it has been reviewed and tagged as a "quality" site for better rankings. The other side of this is being tagged with an "adversarial classification." The big issue facing traditional publishers online is their expense in creating deep original content is often challenged if not undermined, by the likes of Gawker or Mahalo which follows high value keywords and writes just enough fresh text to appear as a quality site before linking to the underlying video or story. They industry term for this is "Churnalism" and it is a behind-the-scenes battleground. At the end of the day though, Google values the user experience, rewards the originator and in his view they are moving to wards more techniques that harness forms of crowdsourcing to filter or improve their algorithm. 
Hamlet Batistsa's Altruik is known for automating SEO techniques. In his view, the major area of concern for websites is that prior to the updates their rankings were based on individual pages. Today, the entire site is taken into account. That endangers sites which used lots of filler pages loaded with keywords. On the other hand Google gives higher rankings to sites that are updated frequently.

For those looking to improve rankings these are key lessons.

For those looking to step up the game, we will be taking a deeper look at Steve Arnold's end game around SEO with his "Content with Purpose" seminars.

  Want to know more about "Content with Intent" Seminars?   

Report: Entrepreneur iEvening

VC Panel led by:  
Stephen Brotman, GSA Venture Partners  
Mike Segal, Joshua Capital
John Ason, Angel Investor
Frank Garland, Investor
Dorothy Price Hill, Mid-Market Capital  

The Entrepreneurs: Fahim Mahir, Allan Pincus, Tanjila Islam, Farhan Memon, Steve Naidich, Richard Radoccia & Alan Brody  - Photo by Seitu Oronde
Herrick, Feinstein, LLP hosted the now quarterly event for Start-Ups at their fine auditorium on 32nd & Park. All attendees are invited to the Entrepreneur workshop beforehand - this is unique forum variously titled: "The Pivot Workshop" the "Positioning Panel" or even just the "Start-Up Shop." The purpose is to get your peers to give you completely unbiased feedback on how your plan is perceived. It is the skill of the facilitator to help you understand the following: are you hiding your real idea (much more common than you'd think) are you seen as investible and what can you do about that? Most of all, since businessplans change, can you identify the "Soul of your idea?" When you have to reposition a plan for different kinds of investors - this is what you need to know. It is also a place where execs can throw their resume into the panel and see how entrepreneurs would reinvent them.

Some of the issues that came up were:  

· How would you increase value for a world news digest (find high value readers such as investor or government analysts)?

· Math site for kids - will parents respond to claims of a superior algorithm, or do the kids need to be lured somehow?

· When it came to the pitching, the feedback we elicit from our panel of four judges is often worth its weight in gold - even at today's commodity prices. Not all the startups will get the gold but hearing from in the investors can totally change the life of their plans. Just listening in can help you go for the gold!

Steve Naidich & winner, Farhan Memon - Photo by Seitu Oronde
The Winner of the Start-Up evening gets a meeting with investors and a ticket to the high-value Private Equity Forum at the Yale Club in May. Last weeks winner was Farhan Memon of WikiOrgCharts - a site that combines the best features of LinkedIn and Jigsaw by using a core database and crowdsourcing to fill in all the organization linkages between government and corporate personnel. It's a great resource but I'd probably not want to see Al Qaida using it either!

The other Start-ups were:
TigerTrade presented by Tanjila Islam, who made an impressive presentation on a world trade site that offered to do what Ali Baba does - but for South East Asia which is now competing as a lower cost alternative to China. The challenge, for often foreign-averse investors, is convincing them of the value of this marketplace.

The Language Chef, polylinguist Robert Auidi's site is based on the theory that you only want to learn a foreign language so you can understand their menu. The judges didn't bite.

GigBlast Ed Johnson's site came with a room-rousing presentation and a warm recognition from the judges of the value professionals have in developing a career presence online. Making this a scalable business is another challenge though.

John Rogers, Alan Brody & Steven Greene  - Photo by Seitu Oronde
ClipboardMD is one of those services of the future for the medical world - all your incoming data is entered through their notepad and patients lives are eased while doctors profoundly improve their ability to get reimbursed by the insurance companies. The issue is adoption and competition. Will doctors pay for this? (Clipboard already claims to have too many customers.) How do you avoid the 500-pound gorillas?

CarNova - this is a car buyer referral site that promises to offer better info for the buyer in order to attract a high price per lead from the dealer. Judges were interested but the money was sought for marketing: Adword arbitrage, linking, advertising and so on.  Check my upcoming "Prayerbook for Entrepreneurs" for tip #26 VCs hate to invest in marketing.

eGenomics, Inc Steve Naidich made a great presentation on identifying the problem - locating the origin of nasty hospital bacterial breakouts. But, from an investors point of view it came undone for lacking a cure itself. While the identifying the source is worthwhile and hospitals might pay for it - the real money is in an eradication product. That would put a bug in VC ears!

ComfortMouse by Allan Pincus is a product that has identified a problem - people with serious hand issues who cannot use a regular mouse. The solution, however, is not exactly a sight for sore eyes. While it is true there is money in custom fit and medically prescribed solutions, investors hate products that require gatekeepers and reimbursement. But at $500 a pop people might prefer iPads and motion sensitive technologies. Perhaps 10 years ago, at the height of PC adoption. Now we're all mobile.
Joy Wai with investor, John Ason   - Photo by Seitu Oronde

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The Next iEvening
May 19 - iBreakfast/iEvening NJ presents Mayor Cory Booker
June 14 - visit www.ibreakfast.com
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