All major and semi-major online and app companies offer some sort of API layer. This offering is usually free and, at some point, these companies will want to charge for this service. For instance, Facebook could theoretically charge per-download of anybody’s’ profile via FacebookConnect. Now, for the most part, API access is free. However, Google Maps started charging a while ago, and Bing Search now charges $20 a month for 20k downloads max per month on the Azure Marketplace.
Fast forward 3-5 years from now: the web of access to critical customer information and database data across companies will be staggering in size and complexity. I envision that this web will have no transparency, similar to the Credit Default Swap market that nearly took down the global economy in 2007. I am not comparing CDS to API usage risk in terms of scale but to its systemic risk within its ecosystem.
With Credit Default Swaps, companies are essentially trading risk. The problem with CDS trading was that nobody knew who was holding what risk. A large default (bankruptcy or inability to pay a loan) event could trigger a domino effect, and since nobody knew who was holding the bag(s), investors threw up their hands and didn’t want to take the chance, sucking liquidity from the markets.
If nobody knows which companies are using mission critical data from other companies via an API, then the risk is undefined. If FacebookConnect, which is used by millions of companies, started charging $1 per download, how many user businesses would freeze? Some of the companies dependent on Facebook would in turn have to start charging other businesses for access to their data. This could spark a domino effect, change the industry norm, and put a lot of organizations out to pasture. Simply looking around the Silicon Valley landscape, most companies DO NOT produce cash flows and would have to begin to charge to cover the cost of API access.
I am painting a dreary picture. I am sure things will not be so binary, but will happen gradually. Then again, the CDS scare, which nearly collapsed the world economy, happened overnight. Certainly this is something to think about, especially when starting a company and executing on a plan.
Who is your company dependent on?
David Luk became the CEO of Quewey on April 2, 2012. Prior to joining Quewey, David was a founding member and vice president of Fairmount Partners (an investment bank), co-founder of DocAsap (a web service helping patients make doctor’s appointments online) and a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. David is also a founding partner of SixtyEight Advisory, which provides emerging companies with corporate and business development services. David holds an MBA from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a BA from Yale University. In addition to his passion for harnessing the Web to solve business problems, David enjoys running, basketball and hanging at the dog park with his dog, Casey. Oh, and did I mention he thinks he has an answer for everything?
David knows the difficulty of getting reputable, expert information first hand. Having worked in investment banking and with investors while at McKinsey, he’s taken advantage of the different avenues for getting accurate, citable answers to business questions. “I’ve used the big expert networks, I’ve tried LinkedIn and I’ve pinged my alumni network email lists to find information. It’s pricey, manually intensive, unreliable, or all three.” David saw Quewey as a viable alternative that would make information exchange more efficient and that would give professionals a way to monetize their excess time. He added, “Quewey’s vision is simple: expanding the rolodex that you can tap into when you need to.” David is looking forward to making an impact on both the Quewey team and the business community at large.
Employers asking for Facebook passwords or asking to be shown the potential employees Facebook account will give employers unforeseen liabilities. If the potential employer sees something illegal in the Facebook account, will they have to tell the authorities? If they say nothing and it is illegal, would the potential employer be liable? What if its a grey area where they are not sure if it is illegal? Not good.
Right now, I see three big trends in the internet:
1. Identifying Relevant Content
2. The Power of Many
3. Monetizing Excess Capacity
To be fair, the first trend enables the later two. In this blog post, I’ll briefly explain what each trend means in a bit more detail. After, I’ll focus on what “monetizing excess capacity” is, and how it’s being shown in some of today’s hottest internet companies.
Identifying the Relevant
As I mentioned, this first trend is the glue between the second and third. Any site from Facebook to Quewey (yes, Quewey) uses this tool. It’s the ability to use a persons social profile information (demographics, connections, Likes, clicks, tags, searches, background…) to serve up relevant information (pictures, questions, users, cars…you name it!). For the most part, this is nothing new; companies have been using targeted advertising to make money for quite a while. The main example of this trend was shown in the large amount of investments going towards serving up relevant advertisements to web users. However, as technology has advanced, the pendulum has swung. Now, the goal is to have not only the most users, but also the most engaged users. So, identifying relevant content is being used to make users more engaged, and by doing so these sites are becoming more efficient and useful. After all, it’s hard to squeeze out gains in advertising conversion rates. I think now it’s more important to put investment dollars into not only getting the users but keeping them engaged. Using peoples social profiles we can —by ‘Identifying the Relevant.’
The Power of Many
Many new companies business models rely on the ‘Power of Many.’ These models make an action happen that couldn’t be done better by an individual alone. Lets say you want a car but can’t afford it. Zipcar allows you to, in essence, share a car with other people who are in your same position. Crowd sourcing decision making is another example of the ‘Power of Many.’ For example, Kickstarter allows many people seed a startup idea. Groupon allows for many people to group purchase to score a deal (in theory). All of these models rely on the ‘Power of Many.’ This model has been around for a while, too. Group purchasing is is no way new, but now with ‘Identifying the Relevant’ the Internet is pooling together like minded people more efficiently than would be possible offline. Still, there is a chicken and egg paradigm that’s not easy to solve. Luckily though, viral functionality via Twitter/Facebook/Etc make it easier to find users.
Monetizing Excess Capacity
Robert Stevens, founder of GeekSquad, said that “A new frontier of the internet is to solve ‘excess capacity,’ such as AirBnb, UberCab, OpenTable, Groupon, etc.” (I saw this in a RT by Bill Gross). AirBnb enables anyone to rent out their home or apartment if they’re not using it. DogVacay allows anybody to turn their home into a dog kennel, if they have enough space. If you manufactured too much of a certain product there are countless daily deal sites you could sell your product on. Another very pertinent example is Quewey; we know that professionals have extra time on the side, and taking that time to make a little extra income is always an attractive option.
A bit more about how the idea of Quewey came about: We knew that professionals have extra time and making more income is always attractive. So, why not give people an option to monetize their professional excess time. Answering a question on Quewey has the potential of lead to a consulting engagement = making money! The problem we had to solve was how we connect the right people —the people who are ASKING a question with the people who can ANSWER that question. To do this we decided to use a LinkedIn API, which would provide us with a users resume information and would set the tone for Quewey being a professional business site. Our acquisition of Zebek, a graph search OEM technology, provided us with sophisticated backend capabilities —to analyze professionals profiles to create a smart matching and recommendation engine. Our CTO’s roots are in search (all the way back to the Inktomi days).
So: Quewey User Growth + More Activity on Quewey = Smarter Quewey Backend = Constantly Improving Quewey!
-Stuff Saf Said
It is true that the increased access to both true and false information and to each of us to the other is vastly facilitated by the resource of the internet. Whether this increase in reach is a liability or an asset has been recently debated. It has been noted that the power of social networking to disseminate information and in networking between group members has enabled the development of profoundly impactful movements of the ‘Occupy” sort to develop, mature and evolve out of what arguably would otherwise probably have remained nothing more than insignificant splinter groups or lunatic fringe associations. This begs the question of utility versus liability and, as a corollary, the question of control.
The development of the internet and subsequent evolution of social networking can be considered a 21st century analogue to the development and improvement of the printing press or the telephone and telegraph. The ability to disseminate large amount of data and information widely and rapidly changed forever both the capacity of the citizenry to assimilate and integrate information but also the ability to formulate a public response to each other but, more importantly to and against their government. It us unlikely that, without print medium, the American Revolution ever could have occurred. After World War II, the infrastructure of telephone lines and regional telephone and telegraph companies virtually ensured persistent communication amongst the American people and a network, like the printed piece, developed impervious to government control.
Although this progressively increasing evolution toward rapid large scale communication has spawned or, at the least assisted, movements that have been less than desirable or even frankly subversive of the American effort (ex., The Ku Klux Klan, The American Communist Party, and The American Nazi Party, to name a few), it is undeniable that this resource has had the very same nurturing effect on organizations and movements that have had immeasurably beneficial effect on our governance and culture (Ex. The Civil Right Movement). In addition, the increased ability to pool resource and to provide wide exposure of data to expert scrutiny has led to the expose of fraud or deceit in the government or in the press that otherwise could never have been detected (Ex. George Bush’s War Record and The Pentagon Papers). It is difficult to imagine a conspiracy or government encroachment that could not be detected, exposed, and made public . In addition, should an American Revolution type of discussion at some point be required, it is infinitely easier to initiate and to maintain even to the displeasure of our government using present resource. As in the early days of the republic and throughout our history, freedom of speech and communication remains the prime mover for all of the other freedoms that we enjoy. When we protect the right of some abhorrent speaker have his say or some destructive radical group to speak its piece or even to exist we are , in reality, not protecting their rights but rather we are protecting ours. By ensuring that everyone can speak we are securing our right to be heard and never silenced. Curtailment of anyone’s right of free speech (short of the proverbial cry of “fire “ in a crowded theater), of necessity, diminishes our own. That is why we must maintain the internet, the ‘new printing press’ as a free and unrestricted avenue for communication and free speech. Criminal acts such as using the internet for child pornography must be prevented but we must never criminalize the exchange of information or ideas, regardless of how disruptive they may seem.
So then, what is the real problem with the internet and social networks? As the new form of information exchange, it is so much better and so much more efficient than regional landline resources or the printed page. It does have one flaw, however, that these less organized and more disseminated resources do not: because of its very nature, social networking is inherently vulnerable to the very control being discussed. Never before in history could all forms of mass communication be suddenly disconnected as easily as shutting a light switch or pulling a plug. Just as with free speech in the town square, the power to silence one is the power to silence all. At the dawn of the 21st Century we find that at an instant we could be deprived of our reliable news sources, our social networking connections, our VOIP and cellular telephone, our texting, and all other forms of communication. As a nation, we could be rendered citizens without any ready form of communication at the whim of those with their fingers on the switch.
So, it seems that the real problem with social networking is not its accessibility but rather its vulnerability. If we are to rely on social media and the internet in the way previous generations depended upon the printed word and regional telephone, we must ensure that it will always be there for us. We must be thinking not of laws that will limit use but rather laws that severely limit or - better – expressly prohibit our government from ever limiting public access to any internet function especially social media for any reasons. There are very few reason for change to our Constitution but a clarification of the First Amendment to limit government control of social media and electronic exchange of information might just be one.
-Dr. Charles Calabrese
After being in the private equity world for nearly a decade I’ve done my share of interviewing, on both the job seeker and recruiter end.
Not only have I spent countless hours prepping for interviews myself, but I’ve also advised peers, friends, and family on how to get into growth equity and private equity positions.
Recently, I’ve been exposed to startup hiring through Quewey. I’ve noticed distinct differences in what to look for in hiring in the startup world versus growth equity, which I’ve found rather interesting.
There are certain critical personality factors to look for in startup hiring that don’t necessarily exist in the heavily weighted pedigree world of growth equity:
1. Ability to adapt to different positions is critical.
In a startup, attitude is critical. There are a number of different positions that need to be filled and decisions that need to be made on a daily basis.
Everyone in a startup team needs to feel comfortable making critical decisions and taking initiative on different projects that might be out of their comfort zone.
That includes completing projects that might be above or below a self-perceived skill level.
In startup hiring a candidate must have a positive attitude, and be flexible with the work they will be expected to complete.
In contrast, in growth equity hiring, job positions and the work involved is rather predictable.
Being a hard-working, quick, detail oriented worker is valued over being able to adapt to different positions.
Typically, entry-level positions are an extension of work completed in previous job (i.e. banking), or a natural progression of business school.
2. Lively, team-oriented behavior.
Many people thrive under competition. In a startup you need to have a team-oriented mindset— that means working well with everyone to improve the team as a whole.
This includes being sensitive to others needs. After all, in a startup you are expected to work tirelessly with your peers, so you better be a team player!
Having a goal in mind for yourself that furthers the entire teams progress is essential. Even more so, being an enthusiastic individual who has the ability to positively promote the company is critical.
Harvesting a lively atmosphere inside and outside of the office reflects positively on the company image and office environment.
Yes, the rumors are true. Getting into the finance world takes persistence, and once your there you will soon realize it’s a predominately male, aggressive, and sometimes cut-throat world.
To be fair, this stereotype lends itself more to banking, which is the typical prerequisite for PE and growth equity.
To succeed in banking and find yourself in growth equity, you don’t necessarily need to be concerned with others on your team, rather, you need to be able to put your head down and play to the best of your ability. I’m not saying be a selfish lone soldier, nobody succeeds in business like that, except if you work at an environment like a trading securities desk. In a transactional environment like growth equity, you need to maintain a strong connection with all team members in order to close a deal and perform as an individual. In a startup you want to focus on small wins with your team over a course of time.
3. Thrive off of (or at least feel comfortable with) taking risks.
Working for a startup requires taking a risk. We all know the metrics for startup success, and they’re not high.
Before joining a startup you need to do your homework, which should include researching the companies competition, management team/founders, and size of the market.
Taking risks is a natural part of any business, and most successful business men have this personality trait. However, when hiring, “risk tolerance” isn’t what makes the cut.
Generally speaking (not taking into account the volatile market), finance is a well-renowned path to job-security… In a principle investing position you need to make investment decisions suited to your own risk thresholds. Just as my roommate from business school once said, “You got to risk it to get the biscuit.” This is true to REAL wealth, but at the same time even if you’re ‘risking it,’ you’re still making a better than average salary guaranteed. On the flip side, startups come and go, the pay is nowhere compared to finance, and the job security is relative as well.
4. Personal and Professional.
The startup environment is a delicate mix of a personal and professional atmosphere. Hires need to be willing to present themselves professionally, yet they need to think about their job from a more personal point of view. You need to see if the companies goals and overall strategy resonate with you, and get you excited.
This will ensure that you feel fulfilled and are proud of your work. Regardless of working at a startup or not though, this is important. In the finance world, very similar to any corporate job, you find people that just want to work for a big name and will do so tirelessly just to move up the ranks, regardless of happiness or personal attachment.
No matter what your job is, you need to have a personal attachment to it, even if it is just the brand name you want. The craving for wealth, solely, will not get you there!
In more established companies values and teams have already been established, and so you can attach to a company for the brand name - you can’t say the same for startups. This makes hiring a bit easier, you can weed through candidates by predicting if they embody particular values.
In a startup, you are building a company from the bottom-up. You have to look for people that fit the personal and professional feel of the company you envision.
5. Abstract-thinking and imaginative.
Free thinking, experimental (yet practical) individuals thrive in startups.
Given the saturation of startups that are looking for funding, companies have to differentiate themselves. If you can provide original ideas in addition to the previous qualities, you are an ideal hire for a startup. At the end of the day, the ability to think outside the box and suggest new initiatives shows engagement, dedication, and interest in a company.
Growth equity is more of a cookie-cutter job; you need to ensure that you are intelligent, quick, and that you have the drive to keep your head down and work hard.
In a startup, these are all positive attributes, but more than those qualities you also need to have the ability to think out of the box at the same time.
It’s hard to find all qualities in one person. In fact, finding a quality individual that embodies intelligence and work ethic is much more common than finding a free-thinking, driven individual.
6. Pedigrees and Experiences.
There are certain milestones that you have to meet before entering the world of growth equity. That means you usually have to know early on if that’s the road you want to head down. The typical prerequisites are banking experience, and graduating from a top business school (that is not to say that these are essential factors, rather, they make your chances more likely).
Although it always helps to have experience and have graduated from a top university with a great GPA, a stellar personality exemplified by the discussed traits will always trump another bullet point on your resume in the startup world. I have a difficult time hiring in startups. In PE it’s easy; High GPA, good school, generic transactional or consulting background, a good personality and positive references. In a startup, anything goes. In fact, a perfect pedigree might be a negative. An ivy leaguer might feel above some menial tasks needed to be done at a start up.
To summarize the differences between hiring for a startup and growth equity; in a startup you need to be an adaptive, team-oriented, risk-taking, sensitive professional who can think out of the box in contrast to growth equity, which requires many similar traits however you need to be more focused on your career from early on. To be fair, that’s not to say a successful startup hire cannot be successful in a growth equity positions (or vice versa), rather, they typically lend themselves to different personality traits.
-Stuff Saf Said
Prior to interaction via social networks, URLs were the stakeholders of power. URLs wielded power in a number of different ways, the two most popular being SEO tactics and tricks. If a site had good SEO tactics, it was likely to be visited because of their high ranking in search engines. During this time, a popular SEO tactic included shortening URLs that would describe the content on their page (there are many other SEO tactics). The tricks that sites used to generate traffic included giving their site a generic name such as ‘computer.com‘ or a misspelling of a common corporation i.e. ‘Generelelectric.com,’ instead of ‘Generalelectric.com’ - all for the sole purpose of generating high traffic.
In the early 2000’s, ‘content farm’ companies such as DemandMedia (NYSE: DMD)* partook in this ’domain name’ grabbing, and made millions doing so. Within the past decade we have seen a shift away from this ‘domain name’ grab, and have ventured into the ‘community grab’ era. The most visited sites drive users to them not because of their rank in Google or by trickery, rather, they provide users with a sense of community, which has revolutionized the way internet companies have sprouted up, and is a direct correlation between their ability to succeed. Instead of relying solely upon SEO, a companies success (or failure) is dependent upon their visibility in social (networking) communities on the web.
The abrupt shift away from the ‘domain name’ era occurred when search engines began abandoning their traditional means of operation; for example, Google’s ‘Panda’ update. The ‘Panda’ update effected a small category of ‘low quality’ sites by lowering their rank in Google’s search engine. This was good for Google’s users by putting the most relevant sites towards the top, but not so good for companies like DemandMedia that thrived during the days of the ‘domain name’ grab.
Today, we are experiencing something similar to the early 2000’s, except instead of a ‘domain grab’ it’s a ‘community grab.’ Open APIs from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter allow any website to tap huge social graphs for free, with the upside of scaling rather quickly. These APIs provide users of new social networks the benefits of quick, seamless registration into new communities. Importing information and enabling word to spread quickly amongst connections on Facebook and the like provide massive upside for new companies. In the coming years, this ‘community grab’ will escalate.
The new stakeholder of power is the company that will allow for seamless integration of their API; that means enabling new companies to have access to their large social graph and allowing that new companies users to ‘share’ what they are doing with the company allowing the API.
Right now, Facebook has the power. Facebook has the ability to stop any wall posts, and completely cutoff access to their 800m users. In fact, they could charge for access to their API. At this point, they won’t do anything too drastic, since Facebook still has potential (real) competitors. Right now, Facebook feels pretty confident about their stickiness, but would feel a lot more confident if they had millions of communities and businesses tapping into their social graph, in other words, depending upon them for viral growth.
This is the wild wild west for online communities (very similar to domain names in the early to mid 2000’s) and is a chance for sites that don’t have a community presence to latch onto Facebook (and the like) to gain visibility, which equates to users. In that vein, the success of Instagram and Quora have proven that with this open (API) access, there is an opportunity to create valuable companies over night. Entrepreneurs with good ideas, and the potential to create savvy products, should take advantage of this massive (and fleeting) opportunity, as it’s unclear how long it will last.
*DemandMedia (NYSE: DMD), Inc. is an online media company that is well known for creating media based on an algorithm that measures consumer demand and predicted ROI.
I recently raised funding for the startup I founded, Quewey. It is a business only Q&A sites (a lot of other ways to describe it due to some cool functionality, but thats the easiest way to describe). It’s about to launch in beta. Go to the landing page — WWW.QUEWEY.COM — and sign up please. Through the funding process the Quewey team received many questions, but one constant was- “Why the valuation? How did you come up with that number?” Most of our investors were hedge fund, private equity, investment bankers…or other professionals in the investment world. They are used to numbers, multiples, comps and metrics to determine a definitive valuation. Unfortunately, this is not the case in startup land.
Like all markets, price is based upon supply and demand.
Supply is the money out in the market ready to invest.
Currently, there is a lot of capital being invested in tech related startups due to the media frenzy of the likes of Facebook and Groupon, high valuations begetting even higher valuations, and the relatively recent phenomenon of lean startups gaining traction, size and cash flow rather quickly. Angel or early stage investing has been predominantly a lottery ticket game. You are in it for a home run or a goose egg. A recent emergence of super angels and institutional angel investors have changed the game a bit. They are trying to create a repeatable process to eek out double and triples from their overall fund (assuming high IRR’s). The cost of capital for these institutions is usually much different then your average, everyday neighborhood investor. All of this is good for startups, but bad for early stage investors.
Demand is based on the company and what investors think of the deal. I see demand based largely on four variables. There are definitely others, but this is how I see it…
1. Size of market. In the n-th state of the market will the number 15 player in the sector be able to command a decent return from the investment? If the startup is in a niche of a niche of a space…it inherently can’t be large even if it’s the most successful iteration. You can’t aggressively extrapolate a few data points into something larger than the market itself.
2. Competitive analysis. Not so much about what competitors there are now, but what will it look like in years to come. And if there are competitors, is there a barrier to entry? Are the customers sticky? Is your product or service mission critical? Competitive analysis goes hand in hand with the size of the market. For example, people don’t care that Groupon (if it can ever get profitable) has thousands of clones due to the overall size of the market. Groupon essentially covers all commerce excluding most healthcare and government spend.
3. Management team/Founders. This is probably the most important determinant. Is the team i. Experienced, ii. Networked in the space they are attacking, iii. Enthusiastic/high energy, iv. Honest? Intelligence is table stakes.
4. The idea. Is this a good idea? Is it a novel idea or a twist on something out there already? Eventually cash flow generative? Fills a void in the market? Does the startup already have data points to show traction?
I’m sure people can find other variables, but I think these are the most important and…
Stuff Saf Said