An important lesson in business success: Use your product

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[Note: I am going to start doing more small business related posts here. When I do, I’m going to add relevant links to the wiki-model resource SmallBusiness.com, which, as a matter of disclosure, is owned by Hammock Inc.]

TechCrunch posted a Q&A transcript in which Twitter founder Biz Stone said the following:

Q: What was the original motivation behind Twitter?

Biz: We should start with Odeo. We were working at Odeo, we weren’t as passionate about the podcasting service as we should have been. We weren’t using it, and that was a problem. Twitter got started because Ev gave us some freedom to think along different lines.

In one of my occasional posts called, “Thoughts on Twitter“, I wrote an essay called “If the creators of Twitter don’t always get Twitter, why should you?” In it, I wrote the following:

“They simply set up (Twitter). And this time, they actually started playing around with it themselves. Unlike their apparent disinterest in podcasting (with Odeo), they seemed to enjoy tweeting.”

As an observer of (and participant in) a constant flow of business startups, product launches, marketing efforts, etc., I have discovered something that’s a universal truth:

1. If you aren’t actually passionate — on a personal level — about your product (or new feature, new marketing program, new blog you’ve launched), it will fail.

In a later post, I’ll explain why such failure is probably a good thing, but in the mean time, read that earlier post post about the creators of Twitter not getting Twitter.


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Help create the web’s largest wiki-model free small business resource. If you know something about Twitter, add it here.


Help for Joe the Plumber

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Last night on Twitter, much fun erupted when the name Joe the Plumber started being used repeatedly during the Presidential debate. While first referencing one individual, the tag soon came to represent all small business owners and those who’d like to start a small business. For a few hours, at least, I even designated SmallBusiness.com the official website of Joe the Plumber.

Today, however, I awoke to learn that the term Joe the Plumber is now being used as a synonym for Joe Six-pack — the middle America guy. And the poor real Joe guy is getting all sorts of flak from everywhere. So while SmallBusiness.com is no longer the official website of Joe the Plumber, Joe would find some good advice there on the How to start a plumbing business page.

Later: Wow. When I wrote this post, Joe the Plumber was still just a metaphor. Now (24-hours later), he has become a symbol of how modern Presidential campaigns are waged. The war-rooms of both campaigns have been spinning Joe so much, I’m dizzy. So, for the record, this post is strictly focused on how to start a plumbing business.

I hope Google Sites will help people “get” wikis

BusinessWeek’s Rob Hof is reporting that Google is launching a new “app” tonight called Google Sites. As I write this, it is not yet live, however, according to Rob, it uses the “Jotspot” wiki platform Google acquired in late 2006. Previously, it has been reported that Google Sites will replace another Google App called Google Page Creator which is currently be used by a grand total of 23 people — all employees of Google. (But don’t quote me on that.)

There are already several great free, easy-to-use, wiki-apps available, but I still find that most people I know in the real world (i.e., people who don’t read this blog), have no idea what a “wiki” is beyond the website Wikipedia. (Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that uses a wiki platform and approaches. But thinking that all wikis are encyclopedias is a bit like thinking all books are encyclopedias.)

Maybe repositioning Jotspot as “Google Sites” will help people get over their aversion, fear or misunderstanding of what wikis can be.

I’ve been “hosting” the wiki SmallBusiness.com for almost two years and my appreciation of the read/write approach, the communities they foster and the versatility of the platform grows continuously.

About six months ago, I finally realized (in a duh moment) how much working on a wiki reminded me of using Hypercard, the Mac program from 1980s that was my first hands-on involvement with “hypermedia.” The little program — and it was little — used the metaphor of a stack of blank cards on which you could write anything and connect words (link) them to text on other cards: hypertext. It was a very simple concept to understand and, more importantly, the only programming necessary was the ability to type and link. I credit using it as a way to organize notes on my Mac with why I found it so easy to grasp immediately what the web was about.

It didn’t surprise me later when I ran across some interviews in which the creator of the wiki concept, Ward Cunningham, said he conceived of it first as a web equivalent of Hypercard.

It will be interesting to see if Google can help a more general audience grasp what they can do when they break away from thinking a wiki is “Wikipedia” and realize it’s just an endless stack of blank pages that you can use to organize a bake sale — or create your own company’s encyclopedia. Or anything in-between.

Later: Allen Stern (CenterNeworks) says he “hopes people never get caught up on lingo – as long as it does what they need it to, who cares what it’s called.” While I agree that it’s more important for people to use it than know what it’s called, I think a tech platform can go mainstream quicker if those who provide alternative services that do the same thing can at least all agree what to call the platform category. I can remember when companies were launching blogging platforms right- and left, but calling them things like “spaces” and “web journals.” We have a category name for e-mail. We have a category name for spread-sheets. (I could go on, but you get my drift.) Why shouldn’t the same be true for the category of wiki creation applications.

Thursday morning: Google luanched sites overnight with this explanatory video. Allen will be happy. The word “wiki” is never mentioned:

Fan us on Facebook

The white-coat gang at Hammock Labs are playing with Facebook pages. If you’re a Facebookian (Facebooker?) and care to play along, please “fan” Hammock or SmallBusiness.com (or both). As the lab rats have already discovered there’s no button that says, “fan,” here’s their first discovered recommendation: “Tell someone to add your page to their list of product and services — don’t tell them to “fan you.”

Also: I can assure you that no animals were harmed and no lead was used in the creation of the still rather wet-paint (and sparse) pages.

It’s not just the URL, Business.com, that’s ‘on the block’ for $300-$400 million

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

“The company that grew out of business.com — a search engine used by businesses to find products and services — is now on the auction block, and could fetch anywhere between $300 million and $400 million, according to people familiar with the matter. Closely held business.com is expected to attract a host of interest from the likes of media companies such as Dow Jones & Co. and New York Times Co., these people said. Requests for comment from Business.com and the New York Times were not returned yesterday evening. Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, declined to comment.

While the coverage today is focusing on the domain name and the search-engine, it should be noted the company recently launched a “user-generated-content” component of the site called “work.com” — a very wiki-like platform. I might add, work.com seems very influenced, to the point of flattery, by an approach and ethos of the first iteration of SmallBusiness.com — an iteration that was retired in 2002. (I’m in no way suggesting work.com is a knock-off, merely that it follows much of the same spirit and approach of the 2000-2002 version of SmallBusiness.com*.)

The “work.com” part of business.com is, to me at least, the most compelling aspect of the site. Almost everything else you can find on business.com is standard data licensed and aggregated from third-parties. And while the search functions are impressive and have been honed through years of work — while most people thought they were out of business — the site’s business model has appeared to depend greatly on a form of advertising arbitrage that buys traffic from other search engines and resells that traffic to advertisers — at a higher rate. (Note: I am not implying that “arbitrage” is in any way an inappropriate business model in this case. It can be in other cases, i.e., splogs that carry Google ads. However, in their case, Business.com is adding value to the search by narrowing its focus to business-related websites, resources and products. Also, if someone from Business.com wants to challenge my suggestion that advertising arbitrage is the key to a significant portion of their revenue, I will be glad to add that clarification to this post.)

[Update & Clarification: As the coverage of this news on the tech-blogosphere has been heavily dominated by the suggestion that what is in play here is a domain name for $300+ million, I feel more compelled to point out that, despite it’s snarkiness, Nick Denton at least understands what the business value of the strategy the folks at business.com have followed. As I noted, the arbitrage business is scalable and profitable. The “user-generated-content” portion of the strategy — work.com — adds a component of “social” and “user-generated-content” to the site that is, no doubt, contributing greatly to the SEO, link-pulling mojo of the site. In other words, like it or not, there’s a business at business.com — not just a domain name. Also, Om Malik explains other assets that go far beyond the URL that Business.com represents, primarily the affiliate relationships, etc.]

My main point is this: It’s not a URL they are trying to sell for $300-$400 million. It’s technology, traffic and a proven and scalable business model that is currently generating (according to the report) $15 million in profit — and some traction in showing they have a model that will attract engaged “participants,” not just one-off “users” or “searchers.”

That said, I will note it’s an incredible brand/URL for the right purchaser — and I hope Jake and Sky receive a massive boat-load of cash for everything they’ve put into it.

*Background and disclosure: Hammock Publishing today owns SmallBusiness.com, so one might assume I’d like to perpetuate the myth that the news today is all about the value of a URL. (Granted, it has quite a bit of intrinsic value, as a Google search for the term “small business” will display.) From 2000-2002, SmallBusiness.com was owned by another venture that I and others invested in. That venture failed. Its failure was a classic, poster-child dot.com bust story. It sucked. It was, without a doubt, the worst experience of my professional — and in many ways, personal, life. After archiving the content of that earlier iteration of SmallBusiness.com for three years, I launched a wiki-platform small-business knowledge base on SmallBusiness.com last year. The site is an avocation, passion and laboratory at this time. But, hey, I’m an entrepreneur, so go figure. Another disclosure: I’m a long-time fan of Business.com founder Jake Winebaum, from his magazine entrepreneurship days and of Work.com and Business.com editor Daniel Kehrer, who I knew in his magazine-editing days and later. (More about the history of SmallBusiness.com here.)

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