Waiting for iPhone Nano

July 25, 2008

My enthusiasm for Apple products is no secret.  Apple’s worldwide share of the personal computer market is still under 4%, but a shocking 28% of visitors to SchoolPulse are using Macs.  With the iPhone phenomenon accelerating, we’ve been testing the iPhone here at SchoolPulse.  Gotta be ahead of the wave if you’re gonna ride it, right?

There’s no question that the iPhone is a thing of beauty.  The hardware design and user interface are amazing and the device is really more computer than mobile phone.  I won’t bore you with our analysis since plenty of other bloggers are already writing about it, but I have decided to stick with my Blackberry Pearl.  Why?  Although it’s not nearly as sexy, it’s still smaller, lighter, and fits in my pocket more comfortably.

I’m waiting for the iPhone Nano which is rumored to be coming in October and is sure to accelerate the iPhone craze.

No Apple of Online Media?

June 10, 2008

With Apple’s WWDC in full swing this week, it’s hard not to have Apple on the brain. I posted previously about my love affair with LinkedIn. LinkedIn may provide great utility, but the Apple brand has a grip on me like no other.

I made my first visit to the Apple store in Boston yesterday, intending to upgrade to iLife ’08. I walked out with a rather expensive solution: I bought the latest iMac (pre-loaded with the latest version of iLife) and an Apple TV box to project photos onto my big screen TV. I suppose the streaming movie library might have had something to do with it, too.

The salesman booked my order on one of the demo machines in the store, indicating our precise location on the floor so my goodies could be delivered to us from inventory, and processed my credit card from a wireless device. I never went near a cash register. I never waited in line. In fact, my order was delivered so quickly that I barely had time to tell the story of my religious conversion from PC to Mac three Christmases earlier. And then the guy offered to help carry my parcels to my car!

When it comes to Apple, I am like a kid in a candy store. My heart races. My senses are in overdrive. I can smell the technology – and I love it. I want to talk about it – with a sales person, with fellow shoppers, with just about anybody who will listen. My kids share my enthusiasm as we experience the most incredible out-of-the-box experience going. Feel the rush of the expanding universe as we boot the machine for the first time. It’s not even a machine – it’s magic. I would love to share my passion with Steve Jobs. Am I out of my mind?

I don’t think I’m the only person with a passion for Apple and everything it stands for. So here’s the question: Why aren’t there any web sites that deliver a similar thrill? Are there any online media brands that inspire the same passion?

John Battelle talked about media brands recently. Two of my favorite quotes:

“Think of some of the best loved media brands – American Idol, Wired, Oprah, The New York Times. All places with a distinctly engaged audience. Consumer brands are drawn to these winners because they want to be associated with quality, sure, but also because they know that if they can just get their executions right, something magical can happen, and they can influence that space between our ears, and in the right context.”

“I believe we are at the beginning of an explosion in online media brands, akin to the explosion of consumer magazine brands in the 1940s and 50s, or the explosion of cable TV brands in the 1980s and 90s.”

Battelle cites a number of examples, including Boing Boing, ProTrade, Graffiti Wall, Dooce, Left Lane News, and TechCrunch. Why are they powerful? Because their users are deeply engaged – like I am with Apple.

That’s my vision for SchoolPulse: Deeply engaged members who can’t stop talking about us.

Lessons Learned at Yandex

May 21, 2008

I was part of the team that launched Yandex in Russia in 2000. A number of the lessons we learned in Russia are guiding the development of SchoolPulse. Can we pull of another success on that scale?

In April we launched SchoolPulse v1.0 to build some buzz in local school communities and test some of our ideas for bringing parents online. Our boilerplate describes us as a social media company — which makes sense for a business audience — but it implies that we’re more about technology than people. What we really want to be is an indispensable resource for parents that they can access from a variety of platforms — email, the web, even mobile. The value needs to be immediate and the technology should be invisible.

On Monday we kicked off our strategy process to synthesize what we have heard from the 2,000+ people who have visited the site (we’re preparing to launch our v2.0 site as part of our national launch this fall). Beyond working technology – that’s the ante – what else will it take for us to succeed in this endeavor? I want to share the recipe we cooked up over the last 8 years at Yandex.

  • Rising tide — A fast-growing market affords the opportunity to make some mistakes, which is inevitable.
  • Smart team — The more smart people, the better, including the extended advisory board.
  • Recognition that it’s not easy — It is never easy to create something amazing; as my mother always told me, “If it were easy to do, everybody would be doing it.”
  • Indispensable product/service — You cannot be successful until your users become addicted to your service. At Forrester we called this “habituating usage.”
  • Attractive and achievable business model — Ideas are great, but cash pays the bills. A strong monetization scheme is critical.
  • Strong execution — If you can’t execute on the vision, go home.
  • Runway to figure it out — Innovation doesn’t happen overnight, so be sure you have the cash to get to your vision.

I hope these nuggets will prove helpful to other entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out how to make their ideas real. Wouldn’t it be great if we can build another value creation engine like Yandex!

Gotta Brag a Bit…

May 2, 2008

I started my first company, Comptek International, in Russia in 1990.  Long story, but we eventually became the first and biggest distributor of Cisco gear in the former Soviet Union. Along the way, we developed some search technology as a skunk works project that debuted in 1997, right after Alta Vista made a big splash with its supposedly best-in-the-world search engine. We wanted to show that our search engine, called Yandex, was superior. We spun Yandex out of Comptek in 2000, convinced that we had world class technology but less certain how search monetization would work.  We figured it out, and yesterday Yandex was ranked #6 on Silicon Alley’s list of “the world’s most valuable digital startups,” comfortably sandwiched between Mozilla and Webkinz.  Not bad!

Check it out at http://www.yandex.ru.

My Love Affair with LinkedIn

April 29, 2008

While the world frets about social media monetization (certainly a long-term challenge for the industry), I am getting great, real world value out of a number of social sites. Here’s the history of my growing love affair with LinkedIn.

I set up my account on LinkedIn sometime in 2006 and paid very little attention for a long time. I wouldn’t even call it dating, just a casual connection. I have been very careful to only connect with people I know well. Around the time that my network eased through the 100 person threshold, our relationship really took off.

  • I found our VP of Community after spending $125 for a job posting. I received more than 70 qualified resumes in the space of two weeks. Who needs Monster?
  • I used the Q&A service to locate a free compensation study that has been incredibly helpful in structuring compensation policy at SchoolPulse.
  • My connections have provided helpful feedback as we have played with designs and features for our site. I was surprised to learn that Google is far and away the most popular online calendar with my network.
  • Just tonight I asked my network for introductions to reputable mailing list brokers and yet again, LinkedIn came through.

I’ve fallen in love with LinkedIn because she is making a my real life richer.  I now have 228 solid connections (and I look somewhat skeptically at those super users with 500+ contacts — can they really know them all?).  If I had to quantify the value I’ve gotten (for free, no less) it would easily be in the thousands of dollars. If LinkedIn came to me tomorrow and said I have to pay to maintain the relationship, I’d do it in an instant. Sad to think that I’d pay for love, but in this case, I would.