Bothsides of the Table


I live in LA and fund startups. So you can imagine that I see a lot of video startups. Most will fail.

I repeat the same mantra to every one I see.

“You can’t build a large online video company. You have to build a large online tech company that distributes video.”

I try to explain this to every team I see and I’m not being flippant. What most people never understood about Maker Studios is that much of their growth came through technology innovation and advantages on our back-end the most people didn’t even know about. There’s a reason that Maker pulled away while most online video companies did not. And it’s not about aggregating traffic better.

Online technology company that distributes video.

I have seen every form of former Discovery or Nat Geo producer who has access to a few famous people with whom they will partner and create online videos. They will partner with every producer of online video software. In my mind they are building the same business as their offline counterparts just with lower CPMs and margins.

I’ve written before about why I believe most Hollywood online video startups don’t get the future (and why most Silicon Valley startups don’t get online video). The former thinks it’s all about the content and the latter thinks it’s all about the tech.

So my advice to many is to study online companies that understand how to use technology for audience development, engagement, viral distribution and subscriptions. Usually I tell them to study Upworthy & Buzzfeed.

Here is an example.

This morning I logged into Facebook. I saw a post from Upworthy about a video showing a dance troop in Australia for large-sized people.

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My long-time friend Jason Lemkin is on the verge of launching a spectacular SaaS conference called SaaStr this week. What Jason has achieved in no time flat in VC is astounding. Without inventing the browser he has single-handedly created a personal VC brand on a shoestring.

And as I’ve written about before – building a personal brand is extremely important in today’s competitive job market. Here’s how he did it.

Oh, but the weird trick first. Jason is a master of communications and that’s what this post is about. I recently saw him Tweet this so I thought it would be a great title for my post on his spectacular early success in building his VC profile and bona fides

I’m gonna to start all SaaStr posts with “One Weird Trick To …” from now on and see how much better they perform

— Jason M. Lemkin (@jasonlk)

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What is the role of a VC for entrepreneurs?

I suppose it can be different for every founder and for different VCs but I’d like to offer you some context on what I think it is and it isn’t. I was recently contacted by an entrepreneur who was consider a few different business models for his company. I barely know the guy (or his markets) but he wanted me to weigh in one “which market I thought he should pursue.” I responded

“I can’t tell you that one approach is surely better than the other. If I said so I’d be disingenuous.

My job isn’t to predict markets but rather to find entrepreneurs who want to create markets through insight and conviction.”

And that’s the simplest way I view my job. It’s to find great entrepreneurs who are passionate about solving a problem. They become obsessed with why the problem exists and they start chipping away at ideas for solving the problem. The develop so much conviction that they can solve it that they do the most difficult thing one can do with one’s ego. They tell the world publicly that they not only are going to solve the problem but they’re going to do it better than anybody else in the market.

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Not everybody likes the NY Times. I happen to be a long-time fan and paid subscriber. I mostly read the op eds and have for years. I count amongst my favorite people to read from the left & the right as David Brooks, Thomas Friedman & Paul Krugman (and was a big fan of the late William Safire). I also read almost every Maureen Dowd post even though I don’t always agree with her politics or viewpoints I find it interesting to get other perspectives than my own.

So it’s a disappointment to me that these esteemed journalists haven’t adapted to the modern media – to social media. I think they would all hone their craft if they spent a bit more time engaging in online discussions, reading perspectives of others and occasionally commenting publicly with others. Rupert Murdoch is nearly 84 and he seems to have figured out how to be authentic on Twitter and even engage a bit as you can see if you follow his amusing Tweet stream. That’s why I follow Rupert and none of the journalists. Shame.

Here’s an example from nobel-prize economist Paul Krugman.

He can write well about economics but dude can’t Tweet.

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And edited version of this article first appeared on TechCrunch.

Startups in a world of massive markets can be confusing. The law of large numbers, platforms that can make your company blow up unexpectedly and the trendy nature of tech markets can be deceiving.

Success for many is ephemeral.

I have written about the deceiving nature of early successes before – in particular in the SaaS or B2B world leading to a phenomenon called “shelfware.” If you didn’t read it I recommend it. It’s important to understand.

This is why I loved Brad Feld’s recent post about the “illusion of product / market fit.” This, too, is a must read for any entrepreneur.

I am obsessed with a topic because it has literally become my job.

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