SaaS on my mind

I have had SaaS on my mind for quite awhile.  I have been slow to write my thoughts here, but after some recent conversations I thought I would pick things back up again.  You see, in going through my “sandbox projects” it was interesting to see that I have tried a few different business models in the past; consulting/development (Dogsly/TodaysKicks), advertising on DoBlu.com and Multiplayergames.comconsulting, and of course subscription (SubscribeToIt.com).  Yes the last one was a joke, but I still learned a lot!

For those that do not know, SaaS stands for Software As A Service – which is another way of saying a subscription web service.  Typically these services present some kind of utility via a web app or online software that is provided in a freemium model.  Many SaaS offerings have a monthly subscription plan behind them.

Since the early days of the Internet, charging a monthly subscription fee to users is a way to ensure revenue for a product or offering from the start.  Its also a way of quickly quantifying the value of a customer.  Some early stage companies shy away from charging, at least at first in favor of growing their network.

For me the appeal of these types of businesses are  very simple; you are either a customer or you are not.  

This is a binary outcome for every person.  The idea that someone can sign up for a trial, see if the service provides value, then decide if they want to pay a monthly subscription rate is a very clean way to measure the effectiveness of the product.  It is also a great way to quantify the value of customers you can send to the top of the conversion funnel (those that sign up for the trial).

Trying out a business model is of course not a reason to build something, but when I came across a recent problem that was being experienced by companies both big and small, I recognized a solution that I could provide that just happened to by in the form of a software as a service web app.  I became so passionate about solving this pain for early stage companies that I have spent the past few months figuring out the best solution.

Any project I have launched to date has been a challenge for me and allowed me to learn new things, and this one is definitely the most ambitious yet.  Exciting things ahead!

 

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Nestio – Solving Renting

As anyone who has spent time living in New York will tell you, renting an apartment can be one of the most complicated, confusing, and mentally painful processes you can go through.  Thats why two years ago when I started working with the NY Tech Stars program as a mentor, I immediately connected with the Nestio team.  Led by their CEO, Caren Maio, they are building a better way to get correct data from landlords and owners to brokers and renters.  Today, they launched a new service to better help brokers and owners manage listings.  The graphic below describes their offering best; solving the problem of incorrect information that exists between landlords and brokers and the renters.

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 10.39.58 AM

Instead of relying on poor source data for listings, such as email blasts, faxes, outdated spreadsheets and the like – Nestio provides a way for owners to enter their information directly into the Nestio platform.  This in turn gets the right information into the hands of brokers, which can then rent to consumers faster.  The ecosystem improvements that Nestio are bringing to market are exactly what the Manhattan rental market needs.  Today, trying to find an apartment can lead you down many paths where is difficult to find out if a place is even available.  Nestio.com is becoming the central database for all listing information, directly from the sources (owners!).

The best part about working with this team has been watching them execute.  Its one thing to say you are going to solve the NYC real estate markets problems, and quite another to deliver.  Over the past year I have watched Caren and co. systematically build up a huge database of owners, brokers, and renters creating the right ecosystem to thrive.  Now, owners are spreading the word about the time savings and headache avoidance Nestio is bringing them daily.

New York City represents the wild wild west of real estate and it has been a pleasure to watch Nestio tame it.

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Have a kitchen cabinet of advisors

Building a Kitchen Cabinet

In the early stages of of an idea, project, or Company it’s very helpful to form a set of people you can lean on and get feedback from. I have heard this called a “kitchen cabinet” of advisors, and I love the name.  I recommend everyone in this early stage form this core group.

I have had early discussions and feedback sessions with entrepreneurs, which sometimes leads to using an early alpha version of a product, service, or app. This leads to further discussions and hopefully I am helpful.  Communicating with real users early is essential to success, and having these discussions with this group is a great way to show progress and get an outside viewpoint.

These folks can lead to advisor roles (formerly), leads in the future, employees, investors, and many more things.  They can also make a great sounding board when you are in need of an outsiders opinion or even need to vent.

Post first demo/pitch/meeting

One of the missed opportunities I see after an initial chat with someone about their idea or prototype is the ability to stay in touch.  Its common curtesy to ask to email questions in the future, or follow up with new versions or information, but I recommend people take it a step further.

When you are done with your coffee meeting/feedback session/demo/pitch – ask if you can add folks to your “stay up to date” list.  This should be a no action item email that comes at most once a month with material changes to your business.  It could be a new version, it could be a new hire, it could be a new demo – something that the person who opted into would want to hear. This is a great way to keep people in the loop, let them unsubscribe if they want, and keep folks up to date on your progress.

There are lots of free ways to manage your list of interested folks such as mailchimp which is a free way to add folks to a subscribed email update list.

 

Both of the ideas listed above happen in the first few meetings with someone and can lead to much more in the future.  You only get one first impression and you also only get one first demo – make the follow up and time spent worth it for both of you by thinking about what happens next.

 

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Feedburner should retire to Google Analytics

FeedburnerShouldRetireThe writing seems to be on the wall that Feedburner may not continue as we know it today.  With the Feedburner API deprecated, continued feed troubles (twitter account abandoned!), Adsense for feeds gone, and more it seems the service needs to retire.  With the recent shutdown announcement of Google Reader I have no doubt that services like this are on the chopping block.

For the record I am a huge fan of Feedburner.  Back in 2006 I created a Marketing and Advertising blog network (monetized through Feedburner).  I even know that Google used it in pitches to sell into folks to buy ads against touting big subscriber numbers.  Heck, I even got excited when Feedburner crossed the 250,000 feeds mark! I loved this approach as it showed the market size of blogs and their capture of share.  Soon after it was sold to Google and I actually went to work for Union Square Ventures, the firm that invested in Feedburner.

I am not sure how many people actively use Feedburner dashboards, a common metric of success of services, but I doubt its usage numbers are growing.  There are no ways to monetize feeds any longer, and I don’t know of any monetization efforts that involve the Feedburner system (but I could be wrong).  The dashboards themselves and stats seem to be on auto-pilot and have not yet had the facelift that the rest of Google has underwent with the G+ changes and integration.  I also do not see a key integration point into the Google+ ecosystem.

Therefore, after reading the tea leaves here, I think that Google Feedburner should park the entire service under the Google Analytics team.  They are pioneering the way data is looked at, and are doing some very innovative thinking around external data sources.  Its a great home for a service that I am sure is still used by many and could even should some connection points between how people consume content through their RSS feeds.

Many sites still prominently use the Feedburner chicklets to show readership and other quick links.  In a world where Google is trying to get javascript on more pages, perhaps they can leverage their entrenched network of Feedburner users.  This might piss some people off, but being a free service they would have no choice.

I don’t have a G+ button on my site, but if my reader count became a “share” button I could not stop them.

Feedburner was a great web service.  It deserves a retirement under a service that will keep the system up and running.  That is unless web 3.0 is just a monetization wave that takes perfectly good non revenue driving services behind the shed and shoots them…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rich Snippets in Google

I recently came across information on how to include rich snippets in Google.  This is the art of including meta data or other informative information into the search results that help folks identify what is on a page.  Examples include star ratings, site links, an author image etc…  Here is the official verbiage right from Google on what rich snippets are and how you can work them into your site.  It may not seem like much, and a little vain, but I am learning about some new SEO methods by changing things on my own site which can help in diagnosing other URLs having issues and influencing how I setup my other projects.

I followed some of the steps above, specifically around pointing out my Google+ Eric Friedman profile to Google and after a few weeks finally got a new SERP for Eric Friedman which looks like this;

Eric Friedman

As you can see the SERP is now pulling in my profile pic from G+ alongside my blog and URL info.  Its a great way to semi control your results pages and link more meta data about you around the web together.

As far as I can tell I have not made any other changes, although my results for “Eric Friedman” have gone down dramatically in Google.  It could be because there are more Eric Friedmans out there, including some famous ones as well as some old sites with a lot more “authority” that rank much higher.  As mentioned all this is a little vain, but learning about controlling search results is a good way to keep up on ranking for things you actually care about in the future.

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Turning on 2-factor authentication for gmail

I recently turned on 2-factor authentication for my personal Gmail account. I have had it on for my foursquare account for quite some time for security purposes, but I never thought about turning it on for my personal account. After reading this account via Wired of Mat Honan losing almost everything – I decided to take the plunge.

Since I already had 2-factor on for work it was not that complicated to make the switch.

I highly advise getting the Google Authenticator app if you are going to do this as it makes having the codes necessary for logins much easier. The app also handles multiple logins very easily.

The biggest challenge is setting up apps that use your gmail authentication every day. For me these were;

iPhone mail + cal
Chat
Browser sync
Browser mail
And a handful of others

Each app that you have authed in the past or need ongoing access to needs an application specific password. This sounds complicated and google does not make the process easy, probably because once its done you never go back to this complex settings area. The benefit is that you can immediately control app specific access to your gmail account.

The truth is that my gmail is essentially a gateway into the rest of my identity. I was amazed at how long I went without two factor authentication for gmail. Along with the typical security controls in place which monitor your account in the background, this is a (in my opinion) a necessary step for anyone that has much of their identity tied to a gmail address.

The added security comes at some time cost as you need a 6 digit pin when you use a new machine to login for the first time. If you have your phone handy with the app you should be all set. You also get the option to print out a set of codes for backup. It’s kind of a nerdy set of your own special codes but worth it if you need them.

All Google related login products will require the 6 digit code – but again its worth it.

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Broadcasting my links and things I read

I recently started using BufferApp both on my phone and my browser to syndicate content to my other networks.  I currently have the free account and have connected Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and App.net.  I also use Buffer on my phone to send content (but mainly through the email function).

Buffer is a web service that takes content from you or others, and syndicates it via a shortened URL across multiple services.  You can “buffer” content to be sent instantly, or scheduled for some time in the future.

It has been very handy for me as I come across great links to share, and quickly want a way to send them out.

My buffer flow is as follows;

1. find great content
2. open in mobile safari and email link to buffer app (modifying subject which is the words in the post)
3. check stats/rinse and repeat

I started using my own Bit.ly account to track better stats across content which has been eye opening to see how things perform.  I continue to predict content that will flourish and am constantly surprised at how things do.  Links that I think are great sometimes fall flat, while linke I think are “meh” seem to get lots of traction. Overall people seem to enjoy the content which is a net win.

For the first time ever I am pushing content to LinkedIn.  I have been on the service forever, but never thought to share links there because its just too cumbersome.  Now with Buffer I share everything – and am getting a decent response rate.  My content is limited to my LinkedIn network which is inversely impacting my overall reach.  I don’t want to optimize for reach in LinkedIn as it would grow the network beyond people that I know – but strangely sharing content their make it almost the point.  As someone once said about linkedin “its like Pokemon, you just need to collect them all” which is to say you may as well try to connect with the world.  Whats the downside?

I am also for the first time sharing content with App.net – which has been a virtual graveyard for me that I am trying to resurrect.  I don’t participate in the network other than sending info, but all communities need the initial seeds to grow.  I feel I can spend time there for a future time when its had time to grow.

My primary network of “attention” is Twitter and Facebook which continue to grow.  My engagement seems “good” but I don’t have a decent proxy for what to expect.

I am very interested in determining the virality of my links and ability to read things first vs. catching them later.  I no longer use a news reader (like google reader) which as any long time reader of my blog know is a big deal as I used to be fixated on reading all my feeds.

I love sharing this content and wonder if I can keep up my momentum – I would love to hear feedback either way if you are on the receiving end of my links.

Where do you share your content?

 

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100 grams (Instagrams that is)

I noticed recently that I have posted 100+ Instagram photos since I started – http://instagram.com/ericfriedman. It’s been quite a ride for them and I will leave commentary on the Company up to others. On the personal side it’s been a fun ride as well and I thought I would take stock.

I find myself browsing and interacting (read “liking”) way more than I am posting. There is no aggregate place where I can see my likes, or likes I have “given” but I think it’s high. This might be available through the API.  Its been great getting Timehop emails reminding me of past photos though!

I have posted 100 photos (heavily skewed towards my dog!) and don’t see much rhyme or reason to my instagramming habits. I also have inverse prediction abilities when it comes to the traction of my photos. Some that I think are cool don’t get much attention, and others that I think are fleeting get a very high interaction rate.  I am reminded of what Fred Wilson wrote about service and user engagement “rules”  and I definitely find that I interact “lurk” more.  I believe I have hundreds of interactions, while only 100+ direct contributions of original content.  FWIW I have also connected my account to 9 other services (giving read/write options)

One of my primary use cases of Instagram is using it to post a photo and check in on Foursquare at the same time. No surprise here as I work at Foursquare, but it certainly serves a need I have. I love the ability to “snap once and cross post as I choose”.  I mainly share to Foursquare with almost every photo, as associating a real place has a lot of value to me.  Every now and again I push to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr too – no connection to Flickr yet.

When the world map opened up sometime last year I was at first a little amazed at all the places I took photos.  On the “open” side of the privacy debates I embraced the feature, but was definitely interested to see if I cared about sharing all photos.  I have since left sharing on, and shared almost all the photos on the map.  I have not gone back yet to look, but I am hoping the exif data becomes valuable to me in the future.

 

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Twitter hacked – reminder of connected Twitter apps

I was in the 250,000 or so users who “may” have had their Twitter account compromised last week.  There has been a lot of speculation about whether or not this is connected to other security breaches elsewhere.

I changed my password and actually audited where else I may have used this password – hopefully I am clear.

However during the process Twitter reminded me of all the other sites/apps/services I have OAuth’d with in the past few years.

WOW – ALMOST 200  APPS! (oops!)

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I don’t think I have visited the full list of apps (where can you do this) in years.  I methodically went through and disconnected many many services.  A ton of them have either; been acquired, gone out of business, are defunct, or just seem random.

It feels good to do this housekeeping, but its also a dangerous reminder of the sheer number of services that had rights to my account.

When I was looking at companies at USV I must have connected my Twitter account to services multiple times per day/week/month – and I never kept track of them.

Its a reminder to audit these connections every so often and make sure your machine to machine credentials are not in the wrong hands.

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The “No Update” Update

Thanks to Rob Wilk, VP of Sales at Foursquare, I have become a big fan of what he calls the “no update” update. Defined by rob its; “An effective way to make someone comfortable with a deliverable that you are working on that isn’t quite ready yet”. I have used it countless times without giving it a proper name, but now its great to be able to give someone direction on the team to provide the “no update” update.

You would think that its common sense to provide context into the project or deliverable, but that is not always the case. Sometimes you might get wrapped up in completing the task, that you do not alert the person who made the request. The fact is that getting back to someone that “work is happening” is a great way to keep someone in the loop and make them feel good about the current situation.

In a sales environment it’s also a great way to check in with folks even when things are not yet done. It can show a white glove treatment where normally it’s not expected and differentiate you from others very well. As sometimes on the client side, I can tell you that this type of communication can go a long way, especially at the beginning of a partnership.

Its been said that no news is good news, but in a world where you can never know if someone read your email or is going to follow up – this is a great way to ensure good communication.

The funny part is that it works in almost any context; a mechanic fixing your car, a contractor waiting for a part, a broker with a status update and so on…

Letting someone know you are “on it” is the best way to show you got the task and its a work in progress.

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