Shutterfly IPO?

While living in Silicon Valley in 1999-2000 and because MyFamily.com was in the photo-sharing space, I had the privilege of meeting with key people at most of the early photo-sharing sites. I remember one meeting in our Howard Street office with some folks from Shutterfly.com. Lots of companies wanted to partner with MyFamily.com because we had millions of photos (in private family websites) and they had ways of getting those photos into prints, calendars, mugs, and other products.)

Shutterfly had just launched. They didn’t really have a lot to talk about since they were brand new but I swear they used the name “Jim Clark” in our meeting at least a dozen times. (Not a bad strategy when your company founder/investor is the only person in history to have ever founded 3 companies that reached a $1 billion market cap.)

It’s interesting to fast forward to 2006. MyFamily.com is never even mentioned as a photo-sharing site, even though we probably one of the first sites to attract 10 million photos. (We did it by early 2001.)

Now Shutterfly is reportedly considering an IPO or potentially shopping for an acquisition deal in the $400-500 million range. Oh, how I wish MyFamily.com had stayed active in the photo sharing space!

If you want an interesting walk down internet memory lane, check out some of the site design changes at Shutterfly from 1999 to the present at archive.org. I well remember the 50 free prints offer for every new member. An expensive customer acquisition strategy (had to be funded by outside investment capital, of course.) But a very effective one. Today, the offer is 15 free prints for new members.

Note: I have not been involved with MyFamily.com as an employee since February 2002 or board member since December 2001. My blog simply contains personal opinions.

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Can’t Live Without Web Analytics

I’ve been using web analytics from Omniture this morning (Provo Labs uses it in our more mature portfolio companies) to discover some really interesting (and disturbing) customer usage patterns.

LDSMedia.com — our LDS search engine — has a new subscribe page. Using SiteCatalyst, I can run a report showing every visitor in June who hit the signup.php page, and using the Next Page Flow Report, see visually what each of them did next.

16.3% of our visitors who hit the signup.php page exited the site. Not good. 4.7% went to the home page (using the ClickMap I would be able to see if they clicked on the logo in the upper left corner of the landing page.) 2.1% went to the login page. The vast majority of visitors left the signup page and went back to the content page they were looking at. In the few seconds they take to look at our signup page, we lost almost all of them. Only 1.8% clicked through on one of the green “Sign Up Now” buttons.

1.8% would be an okay conversion rate for a content subscription web site. But this isn’t the site’s conversion rate. Only a small percentage of these people who clicked through actually completed the credit card process, so the overall site conversion rate is extremely low.

To me, this is a huge opportunity. Fortunately, we’re only a week into offering the subscription and this is the first landing page we’ve tested. The good news is that we are an internet company. We can make a few changes, test the results, make a few more changes, test again, and over a period of time optimize our subscription process so that the messaging is just right and the signup process is easy and appealing. I can’t wait to blog in a week or two about how our next landing page doubled or tripled our conversion rates!

With hundreds of thousands of people searching the internet for important LDS religious content, much of which is only available on this web site, our conversion rate should be (and will be) much higher.

By using web analytics, we have a starting point from which to measure our progress.

Web analytics is one of those essential ingredients to online marketing success that most people aren’t familiar with. There are a lot of free web stats packages out there that just don’t give you what you need. And more commonly, there is so much data available that it is nearly impossible for the untrained webmaster or marketer to know which web analytics reports are really important.

This morning I came across this excellent article about web analytics. I’ve been using web server log files and custom analytics reports since 1997 and SiteCatalyst since 2002, so I’m extremely familiar with hundreds of different reports.

But I love how this article focuses on six practical reports that online businesses should run regularly in order to understand their customers and how their web site is working (or is not working).

I think in all the years that I’ve been involved in online marketing, this is the best introductory article on web analytics that I’ve ever read. I’m definitely going to be using this in my BYU internet marketing class this fall.

I would like every Provo Labs employee to read this article and run each of these reports of one or more of our web sites.

We’re going to have some Omniture SiteCatalyst training in an upcoming meeting, but in the meantime, try to run each of these six reports and carefully review them to determine what we should do differently or what we should do next on our web sites.

Most importantly, if you’re on the LDS Media team, let’s put up a new landing page today or tomorrow that isn’t so complicated. The one we are using right now has Basic and Premium packages (too complicated) and has way too much text. It was patterned somewhat after a popular genealogy subscription web site’s signup page, but it is obviously not working for us.

I would like us to test a completely different page layout that is patterned after RealNetwork’s SuperPass 14-day free trial signup page.

What I love about this page is that it offers a 14-day free trial and captures an email address at the very beginning of the subscription process. Since growing our email database is a high priority, this approach makes a lot of sense.

We don’t have to try to convert a visitor into a paying customer on the first visit. If we can capture their email address and permission to contact them again, then we will have many opportunities to interest them in our premium content in the future.

Let’s launch this new 14-day trial email capture landing page and start reporting on how many new email addresses we get each day in addition to the number of daily subscribers.

Neal: I’d like an email or SMS every day with those two stats in them.

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Geek Dinner Thursday Night

Phil Burns’ DevUtah is putting on another Geek Dinner Thursday night, this time at Tucano’s with a movie afterwards. Click here to learn more and RSVP (and add your name to the Wiki).

We’ve got tons of talent in Utah. There is no question about that. The best way for us to become more like Silicon Vally (in good ways) is to have tons of networking events like this, where talented people with great ideas can start working on the new, new thing.

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MarketingSherpa Readers Choosing Best Blogs and Podcasts

My favorite content for internet marketers comes from MarketingSherpa. They publish incredibly valuable case studies. Their reporters interview the top marketers who reveal their secrets to success. I am a huge fan of Anne Holland and her wonderful team at MarketingSherpa. I sent three people to the Subscription Summit last month, and I buy quite a few of their reports, so I support them financially too.

A reader notified me this week that MarketingSherpa has asked its readers to rate the top blogs and podcasts in several categories. He pointed out that my Paul Allen (the lesser) blog is listed in the General Marketing category, right up there with Seth Godin!

While I’m thrilled to be included in this survey, I don’t necessarily think of my blog as a General Marketing blog. It’s more personal than that. I cover dozens of topics I’m interested in, particularly entrepreneurship, but I do cover a lot of marketing topics. (I think the best formula to blogging success (i.e. fame and fortune) is to focus on one topic and go very deep. But I blog for a lot of personal reasons, not for “blogging success” per se.)

But even more important than being included in this contest, I’m excited to see how MarketingSherpa readers rank all the other blogs, most of which I haven’t heard of. I’ve been good over the years at finding true experts on different subjects and taking the time to learn from them — at conferences, through their books and blogs, etc.

So out of this survey, I suspect I will end up with a list of “must read” blogs and some podcasts that will be more valuable to me than the ones I subscribe to currently.

In case you want to vote or see the list of candidate blogs/podcasts, here is the info:

June 22, 2006

An Apology from MarketingSherpa:

We’re sorry. Many of you who’ve been trying to cast your Vote for
Best Blog & Podcast have been bounced off our server.

Here’s a new link for folks who could not get in:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=803032287919

#1. If you’ve already voted, your vote is STILL ARCHIVED and SAFE.
You do *not* need to vote for the same blogs or podcasts again.

#2. We’re *extending* the deadline to Monday, June 26th, at
midnight ET because so many of you could not get in when you
wanted to.

Then our team of research statisticians will gather the data from
the old form and this new form and do their magic to tabulate the
final results as fairly as possible.

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Rural Broadband Penetration Too Low

A friend forwarded to me a good article from the Rural Policy Research Institute on the need for broadband availability in rural communities and the frustrating lack of private sector initiative to provide it.

I am spoiled by the fiber-to-the-home initiative where I live in Provo as many Utahns are with UTOPIA. Our state and communities will benefit enormously by low cost broadband access. As I met with rural economic development leaders and entrepreneurs, access to broadband is a big issue for rural communities.

As Jefferson couldn’t “live without books”, I can’t live without books or broadband. In fact, in 1995 when I first discovered that the internet would be my most important tool for business success, I bought a satellite dish (a DirecPC dish) from CompUSA and have had high speed internet ever since. This was way before DSL or Cable was available in Provo. DirecPC is now part of HughesNet, the largest satellite internet access provider.

So my advice to rural communities is to try to get your county and city planners to realize that the economic benefits of rural broadband are significant, and that investing in this can do a lot for economic growth. Have them study public and public/private initiatives. But at the same time, take personal initiative to make sure you can get broadband somehow or other to your workplace if not to your home.

Speaking of high speed internet, I’m just switching from my T-Mobile wireless card (I think it gives me about 150kbit access) to a Verizon 1MBit network, so that my laptop access can be several times faster. I had the T-Mobile Merlin card, which was really slow, then upgraded to the EDGE network, which is better, but I understand Verizon is now the fastest network.

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Entrepreneur Brainstorm Lunch

13 impressive entrepreneurs showed up for our Provo Labs Entrepreneur Brainstorm Lunch today. It was well worth it. Some of the entrepreneurs were seeking funding and needed ideas about who to talk to. Several good suggestions were made. Another entrepreneur with a good retail business idea is looking to recruit some management. A software company that just received significant funding from NSF needs a product manager.

I think every entrepreneur got some excellent advice from the others. I was impressed with the quality of the people that came. They are hungry to network, to make new contacts, and to learn how to make their businesses successful.

I learned a lot of things today. I was reminded of Josh Coates’ excellent approach to enterprise software development: how to interview potential customers (a lot of them) in order to design a product that they actually want. I met a man who is writing a dissertation on usability. He’s a fan of 37signals.com approach. I learned about a marketing agency in Maine called Imagocreative.com that markets exclusively to Baby Boomer women (who have the most buyer power). I met an entrepreneur with an RSS feed for daily scripture study (a chapter a day from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and potentially other scriptures from world religions).

I hope some of the advice and contacts that I shared were valuable. Next time I may bring a couple handouts that list my favorite books and experts on important business and marketing topics, just because in 5-10 minutes you can’t share all the free advice that you’d like to share.

It’s kind of cool to think that today I may have met a couple future finalists of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Competition. Give a couple of these entrepreneurs five years and I believe they will be ready for an award.

I am going to continue doing these lunches weekly, whenever I’m not travelling.

Our next Brainstorm Lunch will be next Thursday, June 29th. These events are free. You just pay for your own lunch. First priority will be given to those who haven’t attended one before.

If you want to meet some up-and-coming entrepreneurs (potential strategic partners) and brainstorm ideas for helping each other succeed in business, you should sign up. Contact Michael Eagar at Provo Labs to RSVP. (michaeleagar “AT” gmail.com)

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Famous Bloggers from History

Have you ever wondered what Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson might say if they were alive today?

Some of the great, wise leaders of the past are slowly being forgotten as their words get overshadowed by the proliferation of words in books, magazines and web sites, and as popular culture renders these figures less than heroic or overlooks them entirely.

I have believed for a long time that unless we learn lessons from history that we will find ourselves repeating mistakes of the past and end up in difficulties from which it may be impossible to escape. I actually think civilization is at risk for a lot of reasons, from the low birth rate in Europe (as pointed out in the book “The Death of the West” based on United Nations forecasts), to the addictions to gambling, pornography, and drugs that are becoming more prevalent, and the resulting breakdown of traditional families and family values, to the huge national debt and the looming economic problems that may occur when the ratio of workers to retired falls to 2:1 or even lower. (In 1950 there were 16 workers for every retiree receiving social security benefits.)

In the 2005 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting, Charlie Munger opined that “we are at or near the apex of a great civilization.” Coming from one of the smartest investors in world history, this is something to pay attention to.

Most of all, the hatred towards the United States and all it stands for in many regions around the world may lead to another “war to end all wars.” This time the outcome may be far worse because of the weaponry that may be used.

I think we are a target for hatred because of our prosperity and also because of misguided foreign policies, in some cases going back decades. We have too often been a bully. At other times we have been weak because of entangling alliances which make it difficult to take a stand.

But more than all of this, I believe the U. S. helps generates the most hatred for our nation and our way of life by by producing content that celebrates violence, sex, and wealth and broadcasting it without any restraint or sensitivity to societies all over the world (including poor nations and highly religious nations), thus creating both jealousy (for our prosperity) and hatred towards us for attacking the values that they hold most dear.

After watching some movies and TV shows, which glamorize evil, it’s no surprise that some fundamental religious societies think of the U. S. as the Great Satan.

But, under the banner of Freedom of Speech, which we rightly enjoy in this country, our media producers seem to utterly disregard the impact of their creative works on young minds and old in the Middle East and elsewhere, who come away with an image of America that is completely distorted. And it’s one that is easy to despise. Too bad the Andy Griffith show doesn’t get watched worldwide. Instead it’s Dallas, Baywatch, and every other pirated R-rated movie that young people can get their hands on. I was told that the first satellite TV broadcast in Afghanistan after the Taliban fell was something from MTV.

(It’s ironic that so many Hollywood producers and actors speak out against our foreign policies without acknowleding that their content leads to inaccurate stereotypes of the ugly American and all kinds of misperception about what kind of people we are.)

I’ve met many people from foreign countries who knew almost nothing about the United States except what they saw on television. They discovered that people in this country (at least in middle America) are totally different from what they had anticipated.

I’ve wanted to team up with Michael Medved or someone and publish a book about how the media we produce and distribute worldwide helps creates the anti-American hatred that threatens our civilization.

Okay, so what does this have to do with famous bloggers from history?

Well, one way to export a more favorable view of the United States and its original values is to proliferate the writings of all our greatest leaders and thinkers.

So Worldhistory.com is going to be recruiting bloggers who will each adopt a great historic figure and start blogging each day about what that person would say if he or she were alive today. We will start blogs for many of the founding fathers and early presidents, supreme court leaders, congressional leaders, as well as leading business figures, inventors, scientists, educators, and religious leaders.

Our bloggers won’t make stuff up. Instead, they will find current events or topics that are in the news, and then they will find actual quotes from the writings or speeches of the historic figure and try to find one or more statements that sheds light on the contemporary issue. And we won’t be limiting our history blogger network to American historical figures. Worldhistory.com is about world history, and the great ideas from thinkers and leaders all over the world are sorely needed to help us achieve balance, tolerance, and a sustainable future for our civilization.

We will provide bloggers with access to electronic libraries and search engines that will make it easy to find any quote and blog it.

Blake Snow will be organizing this new blogger network, so if you are interested, please contact him at blake “AT” griffio.com.

Oh, and the bloggers will keep the majority of the advertising revenue that they can generate from AdSense or other ads. We’ll host the blogs and promote them on our other sites, including worldhistory.com.

But it’s not the money, it’s the cause that really matters the most. It is really important, in my view, for all of us to ocassionally remember what Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill or Mother Theresa might say if they were with us today.

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Utah Entrepreneur of the Year Winners

Congratulations to the winners and finalists in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Competition for Utah. The Deseret News had a nice article about the black tie awards ceremony on Friday evening and listed the 15 winners.

The whole evening was inspiring for me. I especially liked seeing Greg Warnock honored for his incredible support of entrepreneurship in Utah. And presenting Will West with his Master Entrepreneur award for his unprecedented accomplishments in forming companies and attracting venture capital to them was a real honor.

I think the most memorable quote of the evening for me was in the video about one of the finalists who runs a distribution business to supply car wash equipment. His business is in a small community. Over the years, he has gained a profile in the community as a business owner, obviously, one who is doing well financially. In his interview he said the most satisfying thing for him is that he inspires others in his community to believe that they can be more than just a laborer, they can aspire to higher goals, because he proved that it could be done.

Perhaps the greatest contribution entrepreneurs make to the world is inspiring others to believe that they can make a difference too!

I love entrepreneurs. I love the mind set. I love the passion and the desire to succeed. It is definitely contagious.

I wish I could convince everyone who wants to start a business (recent surveys show that 12% of adult Americans would like to quit what they are doing now and start their own business) that they really can do it. And then I’d like to provide them with tools that will help them to succeed.

Most new businesses don’t succeed, for a variety of reasons. I really want to find a way to increase the chances of success by giving more startups better access to best practices, case studies, angel investors, and inspiring examples of never-say-die entrepreneurs. There are ways to overcome almost every business challenge.

Provo Labs Academy will be training local entrepreneurs every week. We’ll be offering lectures on internet marketing and recording guest lectures on other business topics. We will create a curriculum that we hope will help entrepreneurs worldwide find greater chances to succeed.

Let me know if you’d like more information about our upcoming incubator space and training classes.

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Entrepreneur Brainstorm Lunch on Thursday in Provo

We are restarting the Entrepreneur Brainstorm lunches again. Next one will be Thursday, June 22nd, at noon.

The first 15 entrepreneurs to sign up will be invited to join me for lunch at a local restaurant. (Everyone pays their own way.)

The format is informal. Each of us will introduce ourself and our business to the group and share with the group our biggest challenge or issue. Then the group will brainstorm with us to try to find solutions or possible answers to help us with our problem.

In the past these have been extremely interesting, with insights and good ideas coming from a diverse group of attendees.

Usually we give priority seating to people who have never attended before. But in this case, since it has been months since we’ve had one of these brainstorm lunches, we’ll invite anyone new or old to attend.

To RSVP, please contact Michael Eagar at Provo Labs. His email address is michaeleagar “AT” gmail.com. His phone number is 801-310-8255.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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