Philosophical Musings

November 13, 2007

Content is King… Louis XVI

Filed under: business,Digital Culture,entrepreneurship,movies — Elad Kehat @ 9:47 pm

Marc Andreessen has a thesis that Holywood (where big studios rule) might become something more like Silicon Valley (where entrepreneurs usually remain stock holders in their creation). He describes it as:

“a shift of power from studios and conglomerates towards creators and talent”

And the very next day I found two interesting items that corroborate his thesis:

First, check out Killer Bean Forever – a full feature animation film apparently created single-handedly. Here’s how Jeff Lew, it’s creator describes his work:

“For the past 4 years, I’ve been working at my computer 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’ve spent my entire life savings and maxed out credit cards. After all this time and effort, my movie is almost done. I present to you a preview of my feature film directorial debut… Killer Bean Forever.”

Sounds just like a technology entrepreneur describing his startup.

Second, here’s yet another example for how marketing doesn’t need big budget – “Producer Thanks Pirates for Stealing His Film.”:

“Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and put the movie online for all to download. Most of the feedback from everyone who has downloaded “The Man From Earth” has been overwhelmingly positive. People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the net!”

Obviously, that wouldn’t work if the film sucks – then you’ll need a serious marketing budget to push it.

In any case, I’m banking on this trend to deliver some good movies instead of the crap that’s produced by Holywood studios today. I just watched Ocean’s 13 (yet another crappy sequel) on DVD, and one of the previews was for No Reservations – which seems like a crappy rip-off of a very good German film I watched a while back – Bella Martha. If content is king in Holywood then right now it’s King Louis XVI.

September 14, 2007

Wake Up and Smell the Medium

Filed under: ebooks,entrepreneurship,postmodernism — Elad Kehat @ 6:12 pm

Back in 1998 or 1999 – the good old days of the big internet bubble, I had a company that did web development projects for internet startups. That means I saw a lot of startups, 99 percent of which are long gone now. There are many reasons for startup failure, and having a stupid idea isn’t a prominent one. This post however, is on one of the stupidest ideas.
I don’t remember the startup’s name – all I ever saw was a demo of their product. They developed a product for ecommerce (remember, it was in the days of the big bubble), where you had a 3D, video-game-like environment that you moved through to do your shopping. Think Doom (which was the big name in first-person shooters back then) staged in a shopping mall. You walk through the virtual mall, looking at the shops’ signs, and hey, here’s a shoe store. You walk in. There are shelves with shoes on display. You get close enough to some shelf so you can see the shoes, but no, these are the ladies’ shoes, you want men’s. So you go to another shelf, and here are some nice men’s sneakers. You pick one up, look at it, check the price tag, put it back on the shelf, and move to the next one.
There were people from several other startups there, and a couple of VCs, and everybody was going Ooooh and Aaaah. I remember feeling strange at being the only one there thinking to myself, boy, this is stupid!
If I want to shop in a mall, I go out to the mall. Why on earth would I want to do that from my PC? Where’s the advantage? If you’re going to digitize the shopping experience, why don’t you give me a quick way to search through the merchandise for something I want instead of requiring me to “walk” through the “store”? How about reviews, recommendations, and all the other goodies that any decent ecommerce site offered even back then?

Didn’t they read Marshall McLuhan? (they probably did, but never understood what they read…)
The problem of course is that the common reaction to a new medium is “great, how do we make it more like the old medium?”. But old media almost never die (video didn’t kill TV, which didn’t kill radio, and cinema didn’t kill theater), and new media thrive by making use of unique new advantages that weren’t available to the old ones, not by merely copying the old formulae over.

And now we finally come to the thing that prompted this long rant: almost ten years later, with the internet hardly a new medium anymore, the same stupidity is still among us.
In this post on O’Reilly radar, a pretty good blog otherwise, Peter Brantley, whom, according to his CV, is rather experienced in libraries, technology, and library digitization, is all appalled by an “extremely clever, and intuitively appealing” idea:

“Imagine keyword searching through a book database, only the results come back as a picture of library stacks where the book is highlighted in context, where serendipity and browsing could happen.

You could setup the stacks image up so that you can “walk” along the shelves as if you were walking the stacks across your computer screen. If the mapping was done well, you could zoom up toward the stacks and view the book on the shelf. If you did this at several libraries, both public and academic, you could flip between your book at the public library and your book in an academic library setting, browsing across both shelves.”

That’s even more stupid than the shoestore I described above – with shoes at least you care how they look, but who cares what the book’s spine looks like?
Searching online through a book’s text is a great idea, and I hope that Google’s project is successful, but if anything, it makes the experience of physical libraries redundant. For 99.999% of books in the world (i.e. barring some beautifully illustrated old manuscripts) we only care about the text inside, and that can be delivered very efficiently online, as in Project Gutenberg. When online, books are just files. They’re not stacked on shelves, they don’t have spines, and there’s absolutely no reason to treat them like anything other than digital files. The Dewey Decimal System is a necessary evil – it’s damn hard to find the book that you want in a big physical library, so a librarian called Melvil Dewey came up with a notoriously hard to learn system to order all those books on the shelves. That was back in the 1870s! They didn’t know better. “Computer” back then meant a person who computes
Now why oh why would anyone think that it’s a good idea to reproduce the tedious experience of walking along the shelves of a library in order to find a computer file?

Anyway, since we’re discussing libraries and stupidity, here’s a nice video:

August 8, 2007

My two cents on Age and Entrepreneurship

Filed under: entrepreneurship,youth — Elad Kehat @ 12:34 pm

Mark Andreessen chose to weigh in on the age and entrepreneurship debate, but instead of just “mouthing off” on the subject, he’s brought forth some research data, which makes his post a great read.
He ends with a question:
“…is entrepreneurship more like poetry, pure mathematics, and theoretical physics — which exhibit a peak age in one’s late 20s or early 30s — or novel writing, history, philosophy, medicine, and general scholarship — which exhibit a peak age in one’s late 40s or early 50s?”

So here’s my small contribution to the debate, in the form of an answer to this question:
I think that Mr. Anreessen is wrong in looking at entrepreneurship as a single discipline. An internet entrepreneur, enterprise software or telecom equipment entrepreneur, an “old” business entrepreneur and a life sciences entrepreneur, while they all engage in the act of starting a business, and no doubt face some challenges that are the same across all fields, mostly take on very different endeavors, especially when viewed from the question of age. That is because age, as analyzed in the research data pointed out by Mr. Andreessen, pertains mostly to the question of creativity, i.e. its effects on the impetus to dream up a new business and the courage (or foolishness) required to go ahead and start one, age has far bigger effects on entrepreneurial success when it comes to the entrepreneur’s knowledge of the market, and the various barriers to entry that stand in his or her way there.
Let me explain:
Take for example an entrepreneur in the field of Life Sciences. This field is characterized by a long and costly R&D period, before a product can be brought to market, much of it due to regulatory hurdles. The result is that this enrepreneur must raise a large sum of money in order to have a chance. This is a barrier to entry, in which age plays a role, because venture capitalists are unlikely to give a young person this funding – the risk is too high. Funding usually goes to biology professors and MDs who did some research in academia (that’s the seed capital) and wrote a patent. For someone to head a lab in a university, or be in a position in some other way to be able to direct such research, first requires a slow processions through the echelons of of academia. Young entrepreneurs simply can’t enter this field.
Next, lets look at business software. Here the R&D period is also usually pretty long and costly, though not as long as in life sciences (no regulation…). Nevertheless, the need to raise a lot of money _before_ one can start selling a product creates a difficulty for the young (and therefore relatively inexperienced) entrepreneur to get VC money. Another barrier is the customer – CIOs are aren’t too enthusiastic to take a risk and make a bet on some software touted by a 25 year old. There are exceptions of course (Confluence is an interesting case), but still, age, in and of itself and regardless of talent, poses a problem.
So where is young age less of a hurdle? Naturally, where the cost of bringing a product to market is lower, and where the customer judges the product itself, rather than the person behind the product.
If you add to that a market where a majority of the customers are young, making a young entrepreneur more likely to understand their needs (or even realize that such needs exist in the first place) and young age becomes an advantage.
Classic examples of such businesses are pubs, dance bars and other places of entertainment that cater to a younger audience. From my experience the owners of such places are almost always young entrepreneurs.
And the best example of course is consumer internet start-ups. Successes such as ICQ, HotOrNot, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube etc. all share characteristics that made it possible to their young founders to succeed: customers of roughly their age (or lower), relatively low cost of building their service and low cost word-of-mouth marketing. These combined to allow the entrepreneurs to quickly get to what Mr. Andreessen calls “product/market fit”, i.e. prove that there are millions of customers out there who want their product. After that, raising money from VCs to scale the business is much easier.
Obviously, the same cannot be done in life sciences start-ups, where you can’t give your product to consumers before the FDA approves it (which costs many many millions), and is very hard to do with enterprise software, where the customer isn’t normally in an experimentative mood – it isn’t easy to get them to even try your product out, even if it’s free, and in any case, you expect them to pay you a lot of money for it, not just use it so you can show them ads.

In short, my opinion is that while age may or may not affect an entrepreneur’s creativity, correlation between age and success is far more likely to be the result of the peculiarities of the specific market that the entrepreneur is pursuing.

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