User Generated eCommerce / eCommerce 2.0 / We-Commerce

Whatever you want to call it, eCommerce online is due for an upgrade. Marketplaces such as eBay created an easy place for people to trade and PayPal made it easy for merchants to accept payment and for consumers to pay each other. Yahoo Stores allowed any small business to setup a website and trade online. It all seems so complete – so then why do 72% of small businesses in the US still not have a website? What are we missing? For the tech savvy small business owner or individual, setting up an eCommerce presence online is relatively easy – but what about the scores of individuals and SME’s out there that can’t either can’t afford or don’t trust the Internet enough to move forward and setup a presence online?

People have been conducting peer to peer transactions online since the very early days of the Internet and sites like eBay & Craigslist have really made connecting with individuals much easier. My definition for “We-Commerce” is the point at which consumers coming online, do so with the intention of setting up their own web presence in order to become a commercial entity. This succeeds the current paradigm of just User Generated Content – it’s the next step forward.

User Generated eCommerce (We-Commerce) is really about consumers interacting and trading with each other using their own personal websites. Social networks are now creating the foundation for trust, and for a trusted community around prosumer ecommerce on the Internet. It’s easy to argue that people will much rather trade with people in their social network, than outside it. As Google & Facebook dabble in the realms of Google’s Friend Connect & Facebook Connect – it’s going to make it easy for website owners to create social networks around their businesses. Individuals will wield the power that trusted websites currently enjoy.

I’ve often argued the intrinsic value of Social Networks does not lay in the in the walled gardens that they have, but instead in the value of the data that they collect – no one has really figured out how to monetize that data, with respect to privacy. The default is to run advertising and turn a profit – the true monetization will come in time.

There is much to be said about the walled gardens of social networks – and in my opinion, they have their place. Much of the personal information that is collected by a social network is private and should remain as such – but surely the number of friends and connections that an individual has should be indicative of their integration and trust within society. Maybe I’m reaching here – but given that I have over 1,000 friends on Facebook – I’m pretty sure that if I was offering something for sale on this blog and that information was available, that it would infer some level of trust with me, especially for small transactions.

If we’re solving the problem of trust with SME’s & personal users – how do we get them online? We need to make it dead simple. Most SME’s won’t spend the money to build a website – and they will most likely to it themselves – this is what Microsoft Office Live, Google Sites (& SynthaSite :-) ) are banking on.

Ok, so let’s assume that we’ve made it easy to get a web presence and now social network users and other less initiated Internet users have their own websites – what does that mean?

For many people, buying and selling through sites such as eBay is a way of life and the liquidity in the eBay marketplace really justifies being there – and I won’t argue that point. There are some issues around having to be a power seller before you really become trusted in that network. As a new eBay user, although I have thousands of friends on Facebook & LinkedIn – I am not a trusted entity on eBay – so I would much prefer to have my own site, which is validated by the strength of my network – so that people looking to transact with me can look at my LinkedIn recommendations, for instance. Trust on the Internet has to got to reach the point where it’s transferable from one site to another. There are many companies working in this space on this problem at the moment.

My point really is that commerce on the web is and needs to evolve. The argument that consumers are Prosumers is now truer than ever. CafePress does a fantastic job of allowing consumers to become producers, and effectively retailers.

However, the web is growing so rapidly that as search evolves, so will content. As users search for you on the web – how do you want to be seen? Do you want an old article from high school being discovered at first position in the search engine results – or is it your own presence on the web?

Can you imagine a world where everyone has their own website which they use for content, collaboration & commerce? I can too…

Update (3 June 08): Michael Arrington wrote a nice piece today on where Social Media is heading. He refers back to his previous piece where he describes the “The Centralized me“. As much as I understand, and consumer services such as FriendFeed, I truly believe that the centralized me is about “One man, One Website!”. My blog is my central place for sharing my photos ( I have used FlickR), thoughts, Digg links etc – and for many people, owning their own personal website would fulfill all the requirements they would have for a centralized me. By using API’s and site builders that can easily call 3rd party data (yes, yes – Data Portability plays a part in this) – we are able to create websites which are essentially mashups. Personal websites are more likely going to fulfill the mass user’s requiredment for the “Centralized Me”. It will also fulfill Fred Wilson’s comment that “every single human being posting their thoughts and experiences in any number of ways to the Internet.”

Further Update Wed 25th June 2008: Another good post from TechCrunch on how commerce will move from firms to individuals.

Looking for the next billion dollar opportunities

This it the title of the session at TiECon that I’m in right now.

In this Panel discussion we take a look at current technology investing trends from a panel of blue chip VCs. If you are thinking of starting your company then this is a must attend seminar for you.

Come and hear VCs from Silicon Valley’s premier firms provided their insight on hot areas of investment both locally and globally.

Key Discussion points:

– What are the Hot trends?
– Cleantech – Lasting trend or passing fad?
– Virtualization – What is next?
– Web2.0 and beyond: Will the next killer social application have to be built on Facebook or Google?
– Software – SAAS or Enterprise?
– Wireless – What is a bigger disruptor iPhone or WiMax??

TiE Host(s):
Waheed Qureshi, Zenprise

Moderator(s):
Packy Kelly, KPMG LLP

Panelist(s):
Shawn Carolan, Menlo Ventures
Navin Chaddha, Mayfield Fund
Ken Elefant, Opus Capital
Deepak Kamra, Canaan Partners
Mark Sherman, Battery Ventures

Hot investments right now: Green tech, Software as a Service, Financial technologies, computer services, digital media & software, virtualization, gaming.

$17bn gaming market is now bigger than Hollywood! Navin Chaddha from the Mayfield Fund made the point that about 1,500 companies year are getting funded – how many of these will succeed?

Enterprise 2.0 best practice, according to Navin, is to look at the new generation needs of Internet 500 companies and start catering your produce to companies that have large amounts of scale. Companies need to start focusing on countries outside the USA. The mindset has to change to earn lower ARPU (Average Revenue per User) but with large scale.

Focus on SEO so that you don’t have to spend money with Google on CPC’s – especially as a startup – great advice! He used Fixya, as an example.

Nice piece from Navin.

Deepak is looking at social networks and video, enterprise software & sofware aka platform as a service.

Shawn sees opportunity in the premium sms market for mobile and the iPhone as a big area of innovation with the new iPhone SDK. Skeptical of consumer oriented mobile plays in the US – but sees huge opportunity in India and other emerging markets.

Navin outlines that India only has 2m broadband users – and 300m mobile users!! Mobile payments in India will be big – but not locally in the US. 10 million SME’s in India that will not purchase a payment terminal – and 300m Indians who will not get a credit card. The mobile phone will become the new transaction terminal (as a South Africa – I’ve heard this all before – so it’s nothing new. We have companies like Fundamo & MTN who have been doing this for years).

Question: When is the right time for an Entrepreneur to approach a Venture Capital firm?

Right approach: Experienced team, big markets, enough details to support, competitive analysis and research, all venture bets are contrarian bets (there’s that contrarian approach again).

Understand your strengths and weaknesses before approaching. If they’re a seed firm – it’s fine to be two guys with an idea – if they are a bigger firm, you need to be a bit more established. Founders of previous companies who are getting involved with new companies in a space where they have some expertise receive bonus points for domain expertise.

Question: Are Facebook apps hot or not?

Ken Elefant: Not hot. Facebook related companies that provide an infrastructure (pick axes to gold miners are good thought).
Deepak: Some are hot, other are not. Huge volumes – not supportable by advertising. Sponsorship will probably work. Subscription models are interesting – but the vast majority of Facebook apps will not be financially viable.

SaaS is the biggest theme among the venture capital community at the moment, according to Mark.

Question : Will server virtualization lead to desktop virtualization? What is the future?

Ken: Desktop virtualization is an interesting space. Ken recently had a company in that space acquired by Microsoft. Security around these environments is a concern – the question is how much value can be extracted.

That’s pretty much the end of the session.

TIECon 2008

I’m spending the next two days at TIECon 2008, which is an Entrepreneurs conference that happens once a year in Silicon Valley.

I had the pleasure of sitting through a great keynote address, by Peter Thiel (former CEO of Paypal, and the venture capitalist behind Facebook). The jist of his talk was really that entrepreneurs have to take the road less traveled. Most of the time people are not going to agree with you and you need to have a bit of stubbornness and drive in order to be successful. An interesting point he made was that that contrarian views are often what the successful businesses are built on. And to further strengthen that point, he used the analogy that if the consensus view is right 80% of the time – the value of an idea that parallels the consensus view is worth relatively little, however if the contrarian view turns out to be correct – it has a multiple of far, far greater than 4x the consensus – which really means that by and large, the contrarian business views are then usually a good bet.

He made an interesting comment that the jury was still out on Facebook – which is a very practical view he is taking. He earned a lot of respect from me with that comment, because many other VC’s would be be a lot more comfortable with their investment in Facebook being a success – and it seems that he still approaching the investment with some trepidation, even given it’s recent success. He realizes that here is a very long road ahead still, for Facebook. Very pragmatic and smart on his part.

Ron Conway (legendary SV Angel investor) & Bill Campbell (Chairman of Intuit) took the stage next for the second part of the keynote. Bill is highly recognized as a coach of senior executives, and young CEO’s. He had a lot of anecdotes to share on his experiences with this. He is also not a consensus person – so he looks to the best ideas – regardless of consensus – this really has been a common theme in the talks this morning. He also said that you cannot be contrarian all the time or your colleagues and peers will not take the contrarian view as seriously, so pick your battles.

Bill Cambel: Greatest values that an entrepreneur can have is stubbornness around an idea, and the ability to assemble a team that has the same belief in that idea, and that can make it happen.

7 Steps to increasing email productivity by using Gmail only!

GMail Logo

Have you ever been frustrated with that 1GB stability limit on Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail (it’s that point where everything starts slowing down incredibly, as your mailbox grows). It’s not just limited to those two – it’s something that desktop email clients are just not equipped to handle. Over the years, I’ve been forced to constantly (every 3-6 months) archive all my emails and empty my inbox and quite frankly, it’s been the biggest pain in the ass, especially when you’re looking for an old email in a stack of PST’s or MBox files. I consider myself an email power user – I can receive and send about 500 emails on a good day – which can add up very quickly. My current GMail account is pushing over 100,000 emails (and it’s marginally slower than a fresh Gmail account with 1000 emails – such is the scale that Google’s infrastructure can offer!).

I originally thought that it was an Outlook problem, but when I switched to a MacBook Pro 3 years ago, the problem persisted with Apple Mail and created a very slow email client that took forever to load, and even longer to search for emails. So I then decided to switch full time to just using GMail for about the past 18 months, without a desktop client – and it works great – but I’ve had to really spend a lot of time refining a process that makes it all manageable.

I’ve been able to develop my own system for managing emails, just on the back of Google Mail which works great even if you still need to have offline access to your emails on your desktop as well as access it via your phone, PDA.

I also wanted to access all my old emails (usernames, passwords, old photos emailed to me, work emails, etc) that have been archived into about 25 different files, spanning 8 years and 10GB’s.

Luckily, GMail Apps for your domain offers me a 25GB account – so space was not a problem. The best thing is that by being a web application, Gmail does not suffer from the constraints that a desktop app has, and does not slow down my MacBook or take up a lot of memory and other system resources. I’m also able to search my emails dating back to 2000 in an instant, as Google’s search technology is utilized within GMail.

I finally believe that the time is right to move all your emails into the cloud, and not have to rely on desktop based email anymore, unless you want to. I believe strongly that applications are moving away from the desktop and into virtual world and GMail in particular offers a very strong alternative that I swear by. This is my system, and it works perfectly for me, and I hope it works for you too!

1. Firstly, reroute ALL your emails from all your various email accounts and aliases to your central GMail account. If you have any email accounts that you cannot forward, use Gmail’s POP fetcher to retrieve the emails. If you have GMail or a premium “GMail Apps for your domain” account – you should consolidate everything into your GMail account by using the POP fetcher – it might take a few days, but it’s worth it. If your desktop client still has your POP settings in your accounts, you may want to disable or remove them at this stage. You only want your emails going into GMail going forward.

2. Next, you need to upload your most current PST file into GMail. For that, you’re going to need the Google Email Uploader. Now this only works on Windows, so I had to use Parallels to make it work, but it works really well. You need to shut down Outlook or whichever email client you’re using before doing the upload. Also, make sure that you flag any and all emails that you still need to work through. In the settings for Google Email Uploader – make sure the tickboxes for “convert folders into labels”, and “archive everything” is ticked. The uploader may take some time so make sure that you only do this over a weekend if you have a large PST (over 100MB). All new emails should continue to go into your GMail inbox, if you did step 1 correctly.

3. Once your emails are uploaded – it may take a day or two to reflect in the account. You need to go to the starred emails folder – this is where all the emails that you flagged will be. Select All and move all the starred emails into your Inbox.

Now you should be operational in terms of your Desktop emails being in GMail and all new emails flowing into Gmail.

4. Now, the goal for you to manage your emails, should be to constantly archive (using Gmail’s archive button) emails that you are done with, and have a very lean inbox (mine is currently 350ish). As emails come in, deal with them and archive them. If people respond to an archive email – it will head back to the top of your inbox. And don’t worry – you can always search for them. Once you’ve pruned your emails in your inbox, by using filters, labels, etc, you will really have a handle on things – and be patient – this takes time.

5. So now, for Desktop access… Before you go any further, make sure that you are no longer using the PST/MBox file that you just uploaded to Google. You should have a clean inbox and no big files slowing down your email client.

Now, you need to setup IMAP – which basically synchronizes your mail with GMail. Make sure that you do not download All Mail – just mail that’s in the Inbox Label in Google. Your various email clients should support this (I’m using Apple Mail and I know that Office 2007 supports it too). This will really allow your inbox to work with Gmail whilst keeping the size of your PST or MBox file down, and your email client working much, much faster. All the emails you send will also flow into your Gmail Account.

By using IMAP, what you’re really doing is allowing your Desktop client to access only the most important emails to you and not the gigabytes of archives that you don’t need on a daily basis. You still need to be using the web interface to archive your mails, but you can at least work offline when you need to.

6. If you want to access your emails on your cellphone, PDA, iPhone, etc – use the GMail Mobile Application or your phone’s browser. If you’re savvy enough, you can even configure it to work with your blackberry!

7. Once you’re fully up and running, and can feel the vibe of being fully in synch – now it’s time to start dusting off those old PST’s and uploading them. Using the Google Email Uploader again, start uploading those emails straight into your GMail Archives, and they’ll be there forever more. Be carefull though – any flagged emails that you didn’t deal with way back when will be in your starred email folder – but it’s quite easy to get rid of them – just unstar them and they’ll go away.

That’s it – now I’m fully up and running without having to worry with being out of sync with my emails regardless of whether I access it from a cellphone, desktop or laptop. Also, I have 8 years with of emails at my beck and call, and everything works quickly and smoothly.

The trick really is to archive mails once you’ve dealt with them, star them if you need to remember something important and follow up sooner, and leave the rest of the “to do’s” hanging around in your inbox. You can also get fancy with labels and filters to deal with newsletters & regular emails. Basically, once you archive – you can forget about it, unless someone responds to that mail. It’s very important to keep a well managed inbox with this system – that’s one caveat I must emphasize!

That’s it from me – I hope this helps you become more efficient at managing your emails! It’s certainly made my life easier!

Disclaimer: I’m not an email expert. I don’t have any ties with GMail. I can’t help you with your email problems. I don’t have time to answer specific email client questions. I cannot and will not be held liable for anything goes wrong with importing emails into Google. Please backup all your emails and settings before attempting to use my system for managing your emails. Transitioning to this system takes time and energy – it will not happen overnight, but once it does, even then I can’t guarantee you that you will be more efficient! :-)

Update: I forgot to mention that to only access your inbox from Apple Mail, you need to set the IMAP Path Prefix to “Inbox/”

How not to write a business plan!

I found this hilarious blog post, by Rick Segal – courtesy of Greg Durst about some idiot who sent Rick Segal (a well known Venture Capitalist) who writes the Post Money Value blog, a business plan without remove the comments (Tracking/Accept Changes stuff in word). I just had to share it!

Twitter Roundup

Many people still don’t know what Twitter is. For those who don’t – think of it as Peer to Peer IRC (Internet Relay Chat – the stuff that chat rooms ran on years ago). It basically allows users to speak to each other in public view (if they want). It’s like SMS’ing for the web, but it all gets logged. Twitter is really becoming a protocol for short messaging online – and many companies are now integrating it into 3rd party applications. Here are some helpful articles on how to improve your Twitter experience!

Beginners Guide to Using Twitter

5 Tip to grow our Twitter presence

Voice to Text on Twitter

How to find friends on Twitter

Living in the valley…

I’ve been here for nearly two weeks now – and it’s been really unbelievable how well things work around here!

I’ve bought a car, shoes, groceries, electronics and just about anything else you can imagine online. With my car, I selected the vehicle through Edmunds – received 4 quotes, selected one and the dealer delivered my car to my front door (literally!), without me even meeting him – within 48 hours – complete with insurance. And I bought it on a Sunday!

Shopping online also resulted in the most savings for products that I’ve been purchasing. I’ve been using FatWallet to take advantage of affiliate discounts and coupons, without having to go through the hassle of applying to each merchant program, etc.

I met with a recruiter on Friday to start getting resumes in for the positions that we have to fill in San Fran – and this morning I received 8 resumes for highly technical positions as well – it’s amazing how large the skills pool here is!

We’ve met with about 3 PR agencies here, and all 3 were impressive – some very tough choices ahead in this category. I’ve also had the time to mingle with a couple of valley CEO’s – and the network effect is already starting to happen as I get introductions to new people.

That’s probably the single biggest value that you get out of living and working in San Francisco – the tech circle is humongous and the ability to network with fellow tech startups is probably second to none. I’m also struggling to keep track of all the various activities around here, but it seems that Yelp is very popular!

My apartment is across the road from our offices, and down the road from AT&T park – in South Beach – it’s really a great place to be and I even get to walk to work for like 2 whole minutes :-).

We have a total of 8 people now working out of San Francisco and trying to hire aggressively, so check out the SynthaSite Careers page. We also recently made the following local San Francisco hires:

Chief Financial Officer: Trevor Harries-Jones (Joining us from OpenTV, previously PWC)
Vice President of Marketing: Randy Almond (Joining us from Walmart.com, previously Accenture)
Vice President of Product Development: Sean Crotty (Joining us from Mpire, previously eBay)

And here is a pic of our new offices (yup – looks like a startup office!)

Things are really beginning to move over here – we just got Internet access installed at the office – that was probably the most frustrating thing – AT&T have proved to be utterly useless – it’s taken 3 weeks and we don’t have a T1 line installed yet – and we are using a DSL. Comcast took me one phone call and 48 hours to have it installed – 16mb line – blistering!

One of the nicest services I discovered by OpenDNS – which doesn’t really work well outside the USA or Europe. OpenDNS basically gives the public a very quick DNS lookup server (the server that allows you to find a website on the Internet) – and anyone can use it – it’s very easy to setup. I HIGHLY recommend it for people living in EU & North America.

All in all, living here has been great so far and aside from missing family & friends, I’m loving it!