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A bi-weekly column with timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the BC technology industry.

Something Ventured:
January 26th, 2007

By Brent Holliday
Greenstone Venture Partners

Will You Get The Pass?

“Nobody give me trouble
 ‘Cause they know I got it made.
 I'm bad, I'm nationwide” - ZZ Top, I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide

This column’s date marks the 46th birthday of Wayne Gretzky.  For those of you Canadians looking for another 3 day weekend in the winter, it could possibly be a national holiday someday.  Maybe we can start a web site up and get a groundswell of support for Gretzky Day, a long weekend in January where we celebrate all things Wayne.  The whole web thing is easy these days.  We get a little money to do an Adwords campaign.  We tag and bookmark and religiously link to all hockey fan sites, Canadiana blogs and search engines.  Within a few weeks, we could see thousands of visitors, get a petition signed and voila, a late January vacation.

Hey, it almost worked for Rory Fitzpatrick… until the NHL fixed the results of the All-Star vote, but I digress.

Gretzky famously once said, or is alleged to have said, “I don’t skate to where the puck is, I skate to where it’s going to be.”  This quote has been latched onto by many a business seminar or self-help pundit to illustrate the need to find a unique place in the market and/or be prepared for what will happen next.  I’ll use it today to help me illustrate where you should already be in web marketing and brand building. 

Getting a technology company started is hard.  It used to be harder.  Before the Web, and even before Web 2.0, it was extremely difficult to get your start-up noticed in the gigantic screaming frenzy of a technology market.  Without spending many, many dollars on semi-effective PR firms or (in extreme dotcom craziness) on super bowl ads, your message was lost in a loud buzzing mess.  Good for you if you had only a few key customers to reach and could target them effectively without huge costs.  But many start-ups find themselves in the missionary position (hold on, I’ll explain…) because of their unique product or service offering.  Educating the market is the missionary position and it is brutally expensive… or at least it used to be. 

When you have a new way of doing something, you have a lot of explaining to do to convince customers to buy.  If you are ahead of the curve (say going to where the puck will be), you likely have a customer base that wants to understand how the product will help them before they care about cost.  So now we can do that a lot cheaper.  Thanks to the vastly more connected web, we have wikis, podcasts, blogs and tagging to help people find us and find out more about us.  You have all heard about this web 2.0 thing ad nauseum, but are you actually applying any of it to your own business? 

It seems that all things web related start out as a consumer or individual phenomenon and then eventually the corporations start to see how it works for them.  The first big web revelation for corporations was selling stuff on-line.  Around the same time the second big revelation was intranets, the ability to find and push information to your own staff and supply chain.  So, a good two years after trailblazers in the Internet space started talking about Web 2.0, the corporate world is catching on, slowly.  As usual, the technology companies are leading. 

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have corporate blogs, but you would expect that from the Internet related companies.  Microsoft had Richard Scoble as a very popular blog host, but he became so popular, he left to create his own company.  I’m sure he was tired as he was often an apologist for some of the things Microsoft was doing or not doing.  Locally, as I perused the 2007 Ready To Rocket List, I found only a few technology companies with associated corporate blogs: Abebooks, ActiveState, Elastic Path and of course Sxip, with Vancouver’s own Dick Hardt.  That is surprisingly little among up and coming companies, but a corporate blog is tough to do.  It requires a lot of time, commitment and someone that can actually write.

At a minimum, your company needs to monitor what is being said out there in the blogosphere.  While you can’t usually get things removed, you can counter opinions and try and get balance for potential viewers.  My favourite is employee blogs, which are much more prevalent in technology.  Watch out for what employees are saying to the masses… it might not be all great.  Site like Alexa can tell you if the page views of a given critical or downright libelous web site are meaningful enough for you to respond.  But remember, even the most obscure sites can be found by searches.

Let’s get back to the effectiveness of the new web for getting your message out there.  Sxip and Elastic Path are excellent examples of missionary work being done using new techniques.  Sxip has to educate the world about identity management.  Dick is doing his best through innovative presentation formats and clever use of links and tagging.  It is a tough battle to win the hearts and minds of the big Internet companies while at the same time letting the consumer know what identity management means to them.  Today, Sxip can do this a heck of a lot more cost effectively than even five years ago.  Elastic Path is not educating the world about their product, per se, but is using the blog and podcasts to educate the customer about getting more web savvy and therefore require some of their products.  By getting retailers to adopt blogging basics, they are indirectly looking to position their company as the e-commerce 2.0 toolshop for their target market, the retailer.  Brilliant!

There are some great resources out there to help you adapt to the new web.  Get your company noticed for less money… it’s a simple value proposition and it is working.

Here’s some that I have noticed:

Beginner’s Guide to Digg
Make Your Content Delicious
Beginner’s Guide to Podcast Creation
13 Tips To Get Your Blog Noticed

With over 50,000 active blogs, millions of web sites and no time for anyone to do anything, how can this way of marketing and branding actually work?  Is anyone really reading/listening? I used to think we were creating content for the very, very few with the explosion of blogging and that information would coalesce around a few mega bloggers, much the way the web 1.0 web sites did.  But the sheer volume of the crowds and the ability to find things a lot easier than in 1999, an audience is out there.  So get going and get your customers engaged and informed and try and be like Wayne, get to where the puck is going.

What Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday

Something Ventured
is a bi-weekly column designed to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the industry. I hope to share some of the perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC. The column is always followed by feedback (if its positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to myself, thanks).

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