As a 22 year veteran of the intersection of media and technology (going back to the interactive video disc days) I have many views on the subject. Having been doing this for as long as I have, I have a different perspective on it than many bloggers. This is where I opine.
Entries in Failure (9)
Satellite radio is in deep trouble. XM Sirius, after finally merging, has just filed for bankruptcy protection.
I'm here at the Radio Ink Convergence conference, the response to the news was a cheer.
A few thoughts...
Debt is what killed XM. Anything that involves spaceships to get up and running has some serious capital expenses.
But debt is what's killing terrestrial radio too, so terrestrial shouldn't get too smug.
Both of them have decent cash flow.
Audio media in trouble is bad for all audio media.
These are just my first thoughts. I'll write more later.
It's been a long slow death, but barring a miracle, today is Amp'ds final day.
Here's the core problem; People don't live in verticals. People aren't only music fans or sports fans or whatever. People live in horizontals. An individual has a breadth of interests. The affinity groups a successful MVNO has to appeal to cannot be vertical interest based. Vertical interest credit card affinity groups work because people carry more than one credit card. People generally don't have more than one cell phone.
While MVNO's are an intrinsically broken model, I can think of some cases where they could work well. Being a "hip cellular carrier" is not one of them.
Tracfone (an MVNO for people with poor/no credit) seems to be doing just fine. If WalMart had an MVNO, I bet it would do well too. They could regularly push SMS or MMS coupons to users. They could trigger custom messages on in-store displays via bluetooth. The mind boggles at what WalMart could do with an MVNO.
Update: Amp'd users get to live for another week
Jerry should rebuild the management team to focus on product and forget about hitting numbers for a year or two. The focus has to be on making better products than Google--not an easy task.Jason is totally correct. When I started at Yahoo! everything was about the product. Get it out, iterate it, and integrate it with the rest of the network. That was the mantra. Somewhere in late '98 or early '99 it stopped being all about the product. We had beaten Excite, Lycos and Infoseek and Y! was in cruise control. The focus turned inward. Y! built a campus. Office politics became rampant. They opened a Santa Monica campus. The focus was off product. People got scared to take product risks. Lots of new hires were in "vesting-in-peace" mode from day one.
And along came Google and they kicked Yahoo!'s ass. They did it by building a better product in an area that Y! had long been neglecting; search.
Now Jerry is back and his mandate is clear, take on Google.
I don't think taking Google on in search will be successful even if Yahoo! does search better than Google does, there's just too much momentum. Incremental improvements are not enough, you'd need an order of magnitude improvement. That won't happen unless Google eases up on search technology and rests on their laurels (unlikely in my view, there are lots of ex Y!'s at GOOG who know first hand what happens when you do that).
But Google is vulnerable in other areas. Mobile is one of them.
Right now mobile is where the web was in 1995. It's wide open with a huge market just opening up. Yahoo! can win in mobile using the same techniques they used to win online in '96-'98.
Yahoo! won online by addressing the big audience. Yahoo worked the same on every OS and every browser, no plug in needed. The pages were lightweight and loaded fast. They need to do the same in mobile. They need to be carrier and handset agnostic. They need to build apps that don't require 3G. It's not about distribution deals. You need to end-run the mobile carriers. Y! did countless distribution deals (MCI, HP and countless others long forgotten), I don't think combined they amounted to a hill of beans. Distribution is not their problem, good product is. If you build a good product that works consistently across all platforms you will win.
I'm pulling for you Jerry.
JFK was a mess. I spent 12 hours there yesterday.
JetBlue had a really bad day. They screwed up. The refreshing thing is that instead of getting defensive and making excuses, they readily admit they screwed up.
I finally get home to Maine this morning and the plows had plugged my driveway with a four foot deep snowbank. I get my shovel out to dig out the end of the driveway...
and my shovel handle breaks in two.
Off to the hardware store and then some meetings.
Way back at the dawn of time when I ran Yahoo Entertainment I had a mantra. Online entertainment has to be entertaining. Online entertainment has to engage you emotionally. Online entertainment has to be fun.
Do you know what is far and away the most successful Y! Entertainment property?
Do you know why?
Y! Games is entertaining. Y! Games is fun. Y! Games engages you emotionally.
Yahoo! Movies is not an entertainment site, it is a news and information service about movies. The movies are the entertainment. Yahoo! TV is not an entertainment site, it is news and information service about TV (it's barely that since the "improved" version was released).
Now Yahoo! is launching little branded worlds around popular culture icons. That is not entertainment. That is news, information and community wrapped around existing entertainment distribution channels. The Nintendo Wii is a device that delivers entertainment. The Yahoo! Wii site is a page about a device that delivers entertainment. These sites will do OK, but they won't be the home run entertainment product that Y! has been searching for. It's news, not entertainment.
ET is entertainment news.
The Office is entertainment
The key is emotional engagement.
The idea that your company is based upon is completely irrelevant without the ability to implement it. Your team is what gives your company the ability to do what they want to do.
What makes a good startup team member? A laser-like focus on the product, the end user, and the problems that the company is trying to solve. An appreciation of the elegance of your solution. What are the red flags? A focus on the exit. A focus on job titles and perks. Big talk with no tangible results.
Ideas are incredibly overrated. If it's a good idea, someone else is working on it too (how many companies are doing podcasting over the voice channel now?). Your company's value is found in the ability of the team to execute on the basics, to totally nail the details, and in its ability to adjust to misassumptions, the unknown, and the unpredicted.
You cannot afford to carry what one of our advisors once called a "dud founder." A dud founder is someone who, for any number of reasons, cannot execute on their responsibilities. Big companies can afford weak team members; startups cannot. Identifying startup team members can be difficult because big company success is not a reliable indicator for startup team suitability. The political office skills that are useful for getting ahead in a large organization are a destructive force in a startup. A sales or a biz dev person whose experience is solely at well known "hot" companies, may well have just been an order taker. Their impressive track records may not have been based on their skills, but merely on the company having a great brand. Your startup doesn't yet have a brand.
I once worked with a start-up that was based on exclusive, premium content -- a dumb idea on many levels, in retrospect, and the company failed. But I as an entrepreneur learned a lot. About new technologies. About building the right team for the project and what kinds of personalities are suited to a start-up. About timing the raising of capital. About recognizing the difference between true product-level failure and the normal challenges of building [or creating] something new.
But the most important piece of the experience was learning to quickly recognize when we had failed. From the time we realized we were doomed to the team's dissolution was six weeks.
Failing, while not optimal, is not terrible. But letting failure drag out saps the soul and dilutes the lessons of the failure. Get off the sinking ship. Salvage what lessons you can from the debris on the beach and get on with whatever comes next in your life.