Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

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Summer’s Ending

August 20, 2008

The last time I blogged here it was the start of 2008 and now we’re finishing up the summer. My kids are back in school Monday, so I consider “unofficial” summer to be done at that point, regardless of the solstice action or the temperature.

It’s been a productive year thus far, although I don’t think anyone ever gets as much done as they hoped they would when a year began. It can be a slog, especially if you’re trying to build something via bootstrapping, without the resources to do as much as fast as you’d like. In business, I’m talking about Bessed, but of course life in general is like that, too. You look back and see that the things you wanted to fix still haven’t gotten fixed because some things absolutely needed to get fixed. It’s the eternal struggle between getting things done and putting out fires all day.

This summer’s been a big one in our family, with kids learning to ride on two wheels, learning to read (and loving it as much as I did when I was a kid), and learning to do some other things for themselves so Mom and Dad aren’t in constant servitude. We also had a couple of big events, with back-to-back trips — a vacation to Kiawah Island, South Carolina and then a trip to Niagara Falls for someone’s big birthday (no numbers mentioned). There was much fun, but in some ways I’m looking forward to the structure that comes with school and cooler weather. (I’ve drank a lot this summer, too; scaling back on that wouldn’t be a bad thing.)

I’ll be 40 in about 16 months, and I’ve been spending a good amount of time trying to figure out where I want to be at that point, and what to do if I don’t get to where I want to be. Yes, 40 is just a number, but it doesn’t hurt to use it as a benchmark to take stock of where you are, where you’d like to be, how likely it is you’ll get there, what to do if you can’t get there, or even what you’ll do if you do get there. The “there” is different for everyone — for me, it’s to use this end of summer as the jumping off point for a concerted effort to fill a niche with Bessed and make it a worthwhile endeavor for myself and those who use it. Can I find the people, pay the people, and create the path that will make a somewhat amorphous blob into a useful, focused site, or will it be time to move on?

Well, summer’s not over yet. While I ponder, I think I’ll have a drink out in the sun.

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Scaling Versus Scoring

September 6, 2007

Jason Calacanis has a very interesting new post up that talks about the tension between building out infrastructure to scale a business and introducing features that make people want to use your product/service in the first place.  Calacanis discusses it as the CEO wanting to announce cool new stuff while the CTO is not sure the infrastructure can handle the crush of people wanting to use the new feature—he uses Twitter as a possible example.

But I think this could be a post about the tension in general when you run a business—how much you promise vs. what you can deliver right now.  On the tech side, the question is whether your software/hardware will hold up.  But think about very non-techie businesses and a similar theme emerges. For example, a small ad agency pitches a big client, gets the work and quickly realizes it doesn’t have enough people to do the job.  In addition to the problem of finding the people,  there will be the issue of paying them, as the new project might promise mounds of money in the future, but will completely drain cash flow today. From the outside you see an agency that just landed a big client and is going places. From the inside you see an agency that might go broke before it ever gets the work done that would catapult it to a higher level of success.

It’s sort of the classic entrepreneurial bootstrap story—overpromise and then stress out on how to deliver. If you deliver, you get the rewards. If you don’t deliver, you’ve disappointed users/clients, and you might destroy your reputation before you even have one.

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about being my own boss is that I no longer feel that dread on Sunday night that I have to work the next day.  I think the entrepreneurial tension is something that drives you to want to work, because it’s an exciting challenge, even if it’s more stress than might be healthy.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Bessed, Mahalo and Human-Powered Search

July 18, 2007

I’ve been asked about it several times, but have been tardy in writing about Mahalo, the new human-powered search engine that Jason Calacanis is spearheading. I did get a chance to talk about it a bit with the New York Times‘ Randall Stross, who wrote this piece on Bessed, Mahalo and other search competitors a few weeks back.

I’m grateful to Stross for including Bessed in his piece, as my initial fear about Mahalo was that people would think that Calacanis had thought this up all on his own, and had thought of it first, when in fact Bessed was launched in October of 2006, long before Mahalo. I was afraid people would think that we were the copycats.

To his credit, Stross did his homework. He realized that Bessed had launched this concept of a “human-powered search engine” before Calacanis came out beating his chest and talking up the VC money he has backing him up.

I’m not upset about Mahalo launching almost a carbon copy of what Bessed is doing—or, as a friend e-mailed to me, “Dude, they stole your idea!” (Although it was a litte disheartening to see them tout themselves as the “first human-powered search engine.”) That’s the nature of competition. Frankly, I’m jealous of the money Calacanis has behind Mahalo. It will be interesting to see what it gets them.

However, there are some differences between Mahalo’s game plan and that of Bessed, and I think those differences are what will ultimately doom Mahalo, or at the very least force it to change course from it’s currently-stated plan. I’m also afraid Mahalo might kill the idea that human-powered search can work, because its current offering doesn’t offer a ton of value. And if that happens, it could hurt Bessed over the long run. So, while I would not be unhappy to see Mahalo fail, how it fails matters to me 🙂

First, here’s what is good about Mahalo. (Generally it’s the same as what I think is good about Bessed.) Mahalo is having human editors find results, which is eliminating spam from its results. The site looks attractive. It’s allowing visitors to suggest new sites to add. And I think it offers good results for the topics it’s covering.

But Mahalo makes one big mistake. It is attempting to create results for only the most searched-for terms. The problem is, most people are perfectly happy with Google results for the more common searches. They aren’t looking for an alternative. Where Google and other engines often fall flat and and are susceptible to spam is in the “long tail” of searches—searches for specific people, products, facts, etc. These are the searches in which searchers come away dissatisfed and are open to an alternative that can solve their problem and save them time.

I don’t know if any human-powered effort can adequately cover the millions of potential searches that take place each day, but by simply ignoring them Mahalo has no compelling reason to exist. It does not solve a searcher’s problem, so beyond what Calacanis can drum up traffic-wise based on his own personal celebrity, it will fall flat.

Our goal with Bessed is to fill the holes in the long tail, sifting out the junk on those specific searches that so often are maddening—when you find one site selling the same thing on four different domains or you are lured to a site on false pretenses because the site has pasted your keyword (and a hundred others) on a page that is completely irrelevant. Those searches drive you crazy, and Google’s algorithm, which puts so much stock in the links between sites, has a hard time sifting the junk because there are so few links between sites in the long tail, thus making it hard to give any of the pages credibility over others. This is where the humans can and should be; this is where we can make a difference.

This doesn’t mean Bessed will ignore the “short tail,” but it means we know that we can create more value in attacking searches that robots have not yet mastered. If I had Calacanis’ money, this is where I would be spending it. Maybe he’d like to give it to us?

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Book Review: The Dip by Seth Godin

May 8, 2007

There are generally three phases that go into writing a book review.  In the first, I read a book. I like to read books, so it’s fun.  As I read I develop a few thoughts on what I might say about the book.  That’s fun, too.

In the second phase, I write the review.  That sucks.  Putting the ideas in a logical order, searching for the write phrases, trying not to write too much or too little.  Torture.

In the third phase, the review is done. I read it and feel satisfied with the work and proud of myself for the accomplishment. Except, of course, when the writing is bad, which makes me wonder if I wasted my energy.

Don’t worry, this is going somewhere.

In the words of Seth Godin’s new book, the actual writing of this review would be The Dip—the time where the fun and excitement of a new endeavor is over and you’re knee deep in hard work, with no guarantee of a satisfying conclusion.

Unless your company happens to be YouTube or you’re plucked off the sidewalk to star in a new movie opposite Jude Law, you will experience The Dip. It’s that time after people stop patting you on the back for starting a new company or getting accepted to medical school or deciding to run a marathon, when you actually have to do what it takes to get there.  If you’re strong enough, you suck it up and take the pain as your price of admission into the world of the high flyers, coming out on the other end smelling like roses, rolling around in piles of cash.

Except it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes you put in all the effort and you get pretty much nowhere. You get enough clients to keep your business going, but not enough to make you even remotely wealthy. Or you hit Organic Chemistry and think maybe being a doctor isn’t for you.  Or you realize you don’t have enough time to train for a marathon. And you quit.  Or you don’t quit because you’re not a quitter.  Or you go back and forth trying to decide if you should quit or not. Hey! This is not what you signed up for!

The Dip is Godin’s attempt to encourage you to fight through on the worthy goals, to quit the goals that you simply can’t accomplish, and to figure out which is which.

If you’re starting something new, here are the key questions Godin suggests you ask yourself:

  • Can I/we be the best in the world?
  • Do I/we have the resources to make it happen?
  • Is the reward worth the effort?

If you believe the answer is “yes” to all three, slog through The Dip, keeping your eyes on the prize. Because most of the others will quit.  (Or, if they couldn’t answer “yes” to the questions, they’ll keep on trucking but get nowhere.)

If you answer “no” to any of the questions, quitting is not just OK but smart.  Quitting when you can’t win frees up you or your company’s resources to go after something that you can win. Godin convincingly makes the case that the axiom “quitters never win and winners never quit” is wrong, as long as quitters keep searching for the things they can win.

One point that Godin makes is sure to fly over some people’s heads.  It’s the question of whether you can be the best in the world.  Godin uses the “world” to mean your world, the world you’re competing in.  If you run a flower shop, you don’t have to be the best flower shop on Earth, but you’d better run the best flower shop in your city.  To the victor go the spoils.  Those in second place get the runoff. Do you want to spend your life living from the runoff?

As always, Godin’s writing is crisp, making The Dip a pleasure to read.  And, at just 76 pages, the book quickly but successfully makes its point, leaving you plenty of time to decide if it’s time to get back to work or back to the drawing board.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Disney and the Details

April 26, 2007

My family went to Disney World as part of our spring break vacation.  I don’t particularly buy the whole “magic” of Disney—it’s an interesting enough place, an impressive business success, but I didn’t spend a lot of time oohing and aahing over anything.  Granted, my kids’ ages kept us completely in the Magic Kingdom, so I can’t speak to the place as a whole, and I did LOVE the Mickey’s Philharmagic 3-D movie. If you’ve never quite understood the hubbub over 3-D, that movie will show you, and I hear Disney has other 3-D movies in other parks that are pretty awesome too.

Anyway, since I wasn’t so taken with the magic of Disney, why am I wasting time writing about them? Because I was particulary impressed with one aspect of Disney, and it illustrated why parents shell out the big bucks to bring their kids there.

My son has certain food allergies that are often difficult to explain to restaurant waiters & waitresses. They don’t understand why his hamburger can’t touch the bun, for example. They’ll come to the table with the hamburger on the bun and when we tell them he can’t have it (which we already made clear when ordering), they often think they can just take the burger off the bun and everything’s hunky-dory, not understanding that the contamination has already occurred.

When we sat down at a Disney restaurant and looked over the menu to see what would be OK, a waiter came to our table. We explained our son has allergies, and he immediately said “I’ll have the chef come talk to you.”  Which is exactly what happened.  The chef showed up, made sure he understood the issues, offered some suggestions on dishes they could prepare that weren’t shown on the menu, and even came back a second time with a box to show us a gluten-free product we’d never heard of. It felt great to be taken care of, to not have to worry whether the food coming out was going to be OK.  And it also gave us a more nutritional option for our son than we usually have when eating out.

So, while I may not admire the magic, I admire the attention to detail.  And I understand why Disney succeeds in getting people to return repeatedly. It’s often the little things that make people return to you for business, and I think this one is a great example.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Book Review – Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company

April 18, 2007

For those of us who’ve known Hewlett-Packard mostly for top-of-the-line computer printers and recent corporate scandals, it’s somewhat mystifying to hear or read the almost religious zeal of an older generation that seems to regard the “old” HP as some sort of business utopia.  It’s just a company—could it really have been that great?

Michael S. Malone says yes, and his new book Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company sets out to show just how groundbreaking the company was. Its founders’ innovation in both new products and new ways of doing business created an environment in which customers wanted only HP products, employees reciprocated the loyalty HP showed to them, and future Silicon Valley generations tried and usually failed to follow in their footsteps.

Right off the bat, what makes Hewlett-Packard so noteworthy is Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard—their skills, their personalities, and the fact that for almost 50 years they partnered at the top of the organization they founded. It’s rare to see a business partnership last so long, and so seamlessly, especially in an era where CEOs prefer to have the spotlight shone squarely on them alone. Hewlett and Packard’s skills and demeanors were perfect complements to each other, and their lack of desire to put themselves on a pedestal is what helped create the family atmosphere that came to be known as “the HP Way.”

Malone writes Bill & Dave as a straightforward corporate history, but at the same time he wants you to read the book as a primer on how to run a business that not only turns a profit, but also takes care of its people and cares about the communities in which it does business.  To that end, throughout the book he notes particularly important lessons with an asterisk, then brings all of these lessons together at the end to create a roughly 10-page document that lays out a blueprint for entrepreneurial success. At first I thought the asterisk thing would annoy me, but once I’d finished the book I liked this short summary of how Hewlett and Packard made it all work.

The book begins by tracing Hewlett and Packard’s paths to their eventual meeting at Stanford, where Dave Packard was the tall, gregarious, can’t-miss golden boy sports star and Bill Hewlett was a short, dyslexic, somewhat reserved sort still getting over his father’s untimely death. Their shared interest in electronics would lead the two to eventually start Hewlett-Packard in the celebrated garage of Dave and Lucille Packard’s home on Addison Avenue in Palo Alto.

As with any corporate history, Bill & Dave is most interesting when tracing the early years, when Hewlett and Packard baked HP instrument panels in Packard’s oven and randomly priced their first product  in such a way that it was  impossible to make a profit.  They were quick studies, though, and it wasn’t long before the company was on its way.

Bill and Dave worked hard throughout HP’s ascendancy to create a family atmosphere, and this is perhaps their greatest legacy and why they are still so adored.  In the beginning, it was the founders handing out bonus checks to employees based on Hewlett-Packard performance and having Friday “beer busts” to let off steam.  Later on it was flex time and the Hewlett-Packard policy of avoiding mass layoffs by sacrificing revenue in favor of employees keeping their jobs—whether that meant sacrificing revenue by not hiring for short-term busy times or reassigning rather than firing employees whose skills no longer matched the positions they were filling.

An interesting aspect of HP’s history is that on two separate occasions one of the founders left the company to the control of the other.  In World War II, Bill Hewlett left to serve while Packard stayed behind to run the growing HP alone. (Hewlett-Packard equipment was being used by the U.S. military and thus the military wanted at least one founder back at HP to run the company.) During the Nixon administration, Dave Packard became Deputy Secreatary of Defense and helped revamp the United States’ procurement policy, leaving Hewlett to run the show in his three-year absence. In both cases, Hewlett-Packard hummed along, showing that while the founders preferred to be together, each could handle the job alone. Had they become so similar as to be interchangeable or had “the HP Way” become so ingrained that it no longer mattered?

Inevitably the book loses some steam as HP grows to be a massive international corporation and Bill & Dave grow old and eventually retire, but it’s amazing to read how they make the transition from that garage partnership to an incorporated small business to corporate behemoth so smoothly, always with an eye on profits, sentimental toward their employees but never sentimental toward products that no longer make the cut.

While author Malone can be a little too fawning in romanticizing Hewlett & Packard—they can’t possible have been as perfect as they are in these pages—overall Bill & Dave is a book worthy of the men whose remarkable lives it chronicles.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Looking for Cash, and How to Grow in the Meantime

March 8, 2007

In an ideal world, Bessed would grow its human-powered search engine as follows: hire roughly 80-100 editors who churn out more and more search results pages each day in order to reach a critical mass that makes Bessed a trusted resource for the vast majority of searches that people do.  (To reach that critical mass would take about three years by my  estimates.)

One of the great things about having this many editors devoted to search would be that Bessed could be timely on searches that change often due to frequent news, while also fleshing out the “long tail” of searches—those thousands of searches done each day on topics/companies/people that do not need frequent updates.  The combination of the two would create a tremendous mass of search results that are spam-free, timely, and accurate.

Unfortunately, to do it right requires a lot of money, much more than we have.  And my casual talks with investor types thus far have basically led to the same conclusion—no money until you show some traction, meaning a certain traffic and/or revenue level.  This is especially true in that Bessed does not have a management team with a home run under its belt.  Hit a home run and investors are more likely to back you next time, because, of course, they’ve seen you hit a home run.

So, toward that end, we at Bessed are going to shift our focus a bit.  Instead of trying to be all Bessed could be if done on a wider scale, we are going to focus on the reality of what we can actually accomplish on a smaller scale, with the intention of going bigger once we’ve proven ourselves.

How does that play out?  Less of a focus on timely events.  Less focus on entertainment, politics, etc. and more focus on the long search of what people actually “need.”  In other words, you might “want” to read about Britney Spears, but you “need” information on finding a job or what the explanation might be for that pain in your left ear.

We are going to spend much less time on updating the daily ephemeral “events” and more time on the timeless searches that mean long-term traffic and, most important, higher revenue potential. We need to show more progress on a small scale, and I believe this is the way to accomplish that. We’ll see how it goes.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.