Blogging for the World

One of my primary career goals is to promote entrepreneurship in developing nations and all around the world. I love how entrepreneurs can change the world and I think the world needs more people who think positively about what they can do to make a difference and fewer people who sit back and wait for the government or for their company to provide something for them to do. It’s easier to “make meaning” (Guy Kawasaki) when you start your own enterprise.

I recently saw stats that indicated that about 12% of adult Americans would like to start their own business. I know New Zealand and some other countries have a high degree of entrepreneurship as well. I love to see this.

The Entrepreneur’s Manual (1977) suggests that before entrepreneurs start a company they should develop personal requirements including defining what they want from life. This is powerful stuff:

(1) Since your startup is nothing more than a vehicle which will allow you to meet your life’s requirements, your company must be in complete harmony with your personal life style needs.

(2) If you are going to attract strong individuals to join your founders’ team, these individuals will swiftly detect if you are directionless and will lose respect for you. Then they will walk all over you.

(3) If you wish to be an officer and a leader in your own startup, you’ll require a solid personal foundation to cope with the many pithy problems that will arise.

(4) When you go before the venture capitalists [or angel investors] for funding, you’ll discover that they are greatly interested in your motivations and will invest considerable time and efforts to determine what makes you “tick.” These people become greatly disturbed if instead of clear, clean, and well-thought-out replies, you give them weak or fuzzy answers.

(5) The biggest reason for understanding youself is that if you select a startup that is in total harmony with your inner self, then you’ll consider your work as the high point of your day. If you select a startup that is in friction with your real self (it’s easy to do), then your personal goals and objectives will be in discord with your company’s priorities and both you and your company will suffer.

Michael Gerber (E-Myth author) says most new company owners find that they are slaves to their company, rather than the company being a vehicle for their personal satisfaction and prosperity. He gives great advice on how to avoid this (work “on the company” not just “in the company.)

So why is the title of this post, “Blogging for the World” if all I’m doing is talking about entrepreneurship?

Because I have decided that my “inner self” is motivated to share ideas about entrepreneurship with more than just the English-speaking world. I want to blog and provide web resources for entrepreneurs in several languages.

I studied Spanish for several years, then majored in Russian in college. And I have a burning desire to learn Mandarin. But alas, I’m not capable at the present to blog in any of these languages.

So I’m looking for native speakers with business experience who are willing to translate my blog and resources pages into any of several languages, including the following languages:

SpanishRussianChinese (Mandarin)PortugueseFrenchJapaneseKoreanGermanItalian

This isn’t for the money. This is for the opportunity to connect with entrepreneurs worldwide, learn with them and from them, and find the satisfaction that comes from helping people, turning strangers into friends, etc.

Think about it. If you can do this or know someone who can, please let me know.

If you know of any multi-lingual entrepreneurial bloggers today, I’d love to know about them.

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Customers Help Define Business Model

I am fascinated by IT Conversations. This is an audio service using podcasting to deliver up to 140 megabytes of audio “conversations” daily with IT experts. The founder has a very useful service and apparently a large number of users.

Now he is asking for his customers to help him find a business model that will keep the service alive.

Using a Wiki, he posts his ideas about his business model (part advertising, part subscription or micropayment) and then asks for feedback. What he gets is hundreds (or at least dozens) of ideas freely contributed by his users–some of them avid users.

I love the idea of providing a free service which is widely adopted and then engaging your interested users in helping you create a sustainable business model. In this case, this approach is being taken by a highly technical company founder who has technical users (they’ve already embraced podcasting) and is capable of setting up a Wiki for feedback. Some of us can’t set up a Wiki, but we can easily create a Yahoo Group or Google Group and email our best customers so that they can talk to each other and to us about what they want most.

At MyFamily.com a private web site was created for hundreds of our top site administrators. One of our engineers visited the site every day. I visited it often. We received hundreds of excellent suggestions from our best customers, and in one case, one administrator created a spreadsheet of the top 100 enhancements they wanted on MyFamily.com. The value we received from our best customers was incredible. They loved our engineer because he truly cared about their opinions. He personally fixed problems they found and coded enhancements directly from their suggestions, without going through any product management layers. I loved this Rapid Development approach that brought the engineers and customers together onto the same team.

I think most companies don’t really care about their customers very much, don’t ask them questions, don’t engage them in discussions, and don’t create opportunities for them to discuss among themselves what should be done next.

Does you company have a way to continually be engaged with your customers? Do you personally? If so, tell me about it. If not, why not?

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Google: Serve First, Monetize Later

Guy Kawasaki says in business, before you think about money, you should think about “making meaning.” You should want to change the world and make it a better. I don’t know anyone who does this better than Google.

The Google founders continue to blow me away with their awesome moves: doubling the size of their index to 8 billion pages, scanning millions of pages in libraries, free desktop search engine, free photo editing and sharing tools, free blogging tools, free news and news alerts, free SMS query engine. I can’t wait to see what they do with Keyhole.

This USA Today article about Google shows how they create value first and then seek to monetize it later.

That is the philosophy that drives me. I’m in good company. I think in the long run, it’s the winning philosophy.

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Single Product E-Commerce Sites

Yesterday I spent time looking at internet marketing tools (I’ve purchased and used several over the years). I decided that Web Position Gold’s web site is perhaps the cleanest and crispest single product ecommerce site that I can ever remember visiting. The layout, design, formatting, and copy is so well done.

Question for readers: what other single product ecommerce sites do you think accomplish their purpose superbly? And why are so few web sites laid out so well?

As a side comment, I’ve always been biased towards the functionality and not the design of a web site. If you look at ICQ in the early days (here’s an ICQ snapshot from 1999) before AOL bought it for hundreds of millions, it gained millions of users with one of the ugliest text-based site designs you have ever seen. Because the functionality was hot. More recently, Craig’s List is succeeding in a huge way (including getting a minority investment from eBay) with a horribly ugly — but very functional — text-based site design.

Jakob Nielsen is still my authority on web usability (www.useit.com) and Google is still my favorite example of simple but functional web site design. Too many designers are artists. Too few designers think about the user experience and how it can be simplified.

I also love the book by Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. One of his objectives is to help designers cut out useless stuff from web pages, making them far clearer, more readable, and more usable. Most of the time you can eliminate half the copy, then eliminate half the copy again, and end up with a better web page.

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Using Credit.net for Sales Leads

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have a business partner, Dan Taggart, who is an expert salesman. In the early 90s, every computer and bookstore that he visited agreed to carry our products. As a telemarketer he is superb. Once when our in-house sales reps were only closing about 20% of incoming calls (to upgrade to our newest CD ROM product), to demonstrate how it should be done, he took 17 consecutive calls and closed 100% of them.

As a marketer, I focus my attention on generating leads for my sales teams. For consumers, this can easily be done on a web site by giving something away of value in exchange for contact information and permission to contact. For B2B sales I love Hoover’s service, although a subscription can be pricey for a startup.

I’ve recently seen a full page ad for Credit.net (from InfoUSA) that offers unlimited usage of 14 million business credit reports. I thought the ad said $50 per month. The web site says $75 per month and then $250 per month for unlimited “sales leads.” The sample data shows contact information, including key people, number of employees, revenue, SIC code, and competitors. It looks outstanding.

Question to my readers: has anyone used a Credit.net subscription to generate sales leads?

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The Game of Work

I ordered 5 copies of The Game of Work yesterday for CEOs on my Christmas list this year. It’s an easy, quick read that shows how every job in every company can be made more productive and more fun by using a “scorecard” approach that will help employees measure their own efforts and feel satisfied as they reach goals. Highly Recommended!

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Impressive Yahoo Moves

Yahoo has announced that it will be giving away a free version of X1, the desktop search engine from Idealab! starting next year.

This is a brilliant move. In May I blogged about Google’s free desktop search and what a threat it posed to Microsoft:

“When Google offers its free download, I’m not sure X1 will have a prayer, unless Microsoft buys X1 and starts giving its tool away for free to compete with Google.”

I paid $99 for X1 and have also tried Google’s desktop search and Copernic.com’s free desktop search. While Copernic has the best user interface, X1 is far faster and more reliable than Copernic. I don’t like Google’s attempt to integrate web searching with desktop searching. I like the dedicated desktop search programs much better.

So Yahoo did what I thought Microsoft should do.

Yahoo is leading in another key area: customizable home pages. My Yahoo is absolutely superb. It offers not only stock tracking but now has more than 150,000 data feeds (including blogs and major news sources) that you can select for your MyYahoo! home page.

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Overcoming the Waste of Human Inefficiency: A Challenge to Skype

I bought the book The Genius of China after Joseph Schoendorf from Accel Partners (who had just returned from China) recommended it at the AlwaysOn conference at Stanford University this summer.

I’m working my way through this fascinating history. In the section on Agriculture, author Robert Temple claims:

“The Chinese [agricultural] system was at least ten times as efficient as the European one, and could be up to thirty times as efficient, in terms of harvest yield. And this was the case for seventeen or eighteen hundred years. Through all those centuries, China was so far in advance of the West in terms of agricultural productivity that the contrast, if the two halves of the world had only been able to see it, was rather like the contrast today between what is called the ‘developed world’ and what is called the ‘developing world.'”

Imagine the wastefulness of hundreds of millions of Europeans farming for nearly two thousand years without the knowledge of such things as:

  • Growing crops in rows and weeding them carefully
  • Cast iron hoes and animal-drawn hoes
  • Iron plows
  • Efficient horse harnesses
  • Rotary winnowing fans
  • Seed drills

As the world becomes more connected to information through internet (1 billion users) and to each other through the cell phones (2 billion users) there is an unprecented opportunity to share knowledge and technology and best-practices across national borders so that one nation isn’t 10-30 times less efficient in production than the more advanced nations. All humanity will benefit if free people in all nations can gain more knowledge and tools and become productive enough to lift themselves out of poverty. Imagine how much better the world’s population could be supported if Russian, Indian, and Chinese agriculture could double or triple in its yield.

Shifting gears from agriculture to another major industry, telecommunications, there is some ubiquitous inefficiency that I believe will be solved by Skype or some other innovative new player, and I can’t wait for it to happen.

Imagine how many billions of people make phone calls every day to people who don’t answer their calls. Either they are not home, or are not at work, or are busy and not able to talk at the moment. This probably happens billions of times a day.

Voice mail helps turn what hoped to be a synchronous conversation into an asynchronous one. But there is a better way.

As a Skype user and promoter, one of the things I love about Skype is that like instant messaging, I know if my contact is online at the moment and taking calls. So I don’t waste time Skyping someone who is not available.

I love that about instant messaging too.

So why not save billions of people the wasted time (and in the U.S. wasted long distance fees) that comes from making calls that won’t be answered (except by an answering machine)?

I want to know if the person I am about to call is available to talk, before I dial the number.

I think Skype will find a way to do this on portable devices as well as on the desktop.

And the whole world will be better for it. In fact, I bet this single technological transformation would make almost every human being slightly more efficient than they are today, and would therefore increase the world economic output ever so slightly.

So let it be written; so let it be done.

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LDS Collectors Library 2005 Released

In 1997, Infobases Inc. (a company I founded with Dan Taggart) had more than 150,000 customers. Powered by search engine technology from Folio Corporation, we distributed libraries of valuable reference material (primarily religious and educational content) on CD ROM.

In 1997 we exited this CD ROM business to build Ancestry.com. Since that time, CD ROM sales overall seem to have been in a steep decline as more and more content and customers have turned to the web to access information.

But desktop search engines still have more powerful features than internet based search engines, and many of us wondered how popular a new LDS CD ROM library would be after many years without an update.

Earlier this year, LDS Media LLC formed a partnership with Deseret Book Company, raised more than $1 million from investors, and reassembled many key people from the Folio/Infobase era.

The result is the introduction of the 2005 edition of the LDS Collectors Library CD-ROM. With more than 15,000 orders to date, it appears that this new product will be adopted widely.

If you use this product and would like to help us improve it over time, please join our online group LDS Computer Users (hosted by Google Groups). Some of the ideas we hope to explore with you include:

  • What additional content should we add to the library?
  • How can we improve the usability and features of the product?
  • How shall we integrate audio clips, video clips, maps and images into the product.
  • What kinds of presentation tools should we design for teachers and parents so they can use gospel content in their talks and lessons?
  • When should we make portions of the library (and multimedia) accessible via portable devices and what devices should we support first (PDAs, Cell Phones, Smart Phones, Blackberries, Tablet PCs, etc.)?

Please consider joining our LDS Computer Users group and actively participating with us in designing our future versions.

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