Most Popular Hobbies

I am helping a company create a list of the most popular hobbies in North America and am finding it extremely frustrating. I may have to visit a library and check out some back issues of American Demographics magazine to find some good data.

Here’s what I found so far online about just one hobby, coin collecting:

  • Newsmax.com: American Numismatic Association had estimated that there were between 7 and 10 million coin collectors in the United States.
  • Austincoins.com: Today, the US Mint reports there are 125 million coin collectors in the United States.
  • Davidhall.com: The US Mint has estimated that there are now 60 million coin collectors in this country.
  • Coinmaven.com: It’s estimated there are 20 million coin collectors in the US alone
  • unt.edu: In addition, the mint sees 600,000 tourists a year at its Philadelphia and Denver sites and has a customer mailing list of 2 million coin collectors.
  • cnbt.com: The Department of Commerce estimates there are 100 million coin collectors in the United States.

This is ridiculous. I wonder if everyone just makes up whatever statistics they want to make up. The only reliable and verifiable number might be the Mint mailing list of 2 million coin collectors.

This reminds me of the ridiculous information passed around (with no original source) about genealogy being the 2nd most popular hobby in the United States, second only to gardening. I have heard this fact tossed around for several years. No one has an original source. They just cite one publication after another who heard that this was the case.�Show me the original research on this. Otherwise, I don’t believe it for a second.

New LinkedIn Feature

Finally! I have been sending and receiving 100-200 emails per day for several years now, and it has always been frustrating for me that Outlook provides no easy way for me to turn incoming emails (or outgoing emails) into Contacts. LinkedIn.com is now offering a free Outlook plug-in tool that does just that. I just ran the "collecting contacts" feature on my current and archived email lists and it came back with several hundred old contacts with whom I am no longer in touch.

One thing all internet entrepreneurs need is a personal contact database that they keep current. They need to keep in touch with all the people they’ve worked with or worked for, and even people they hardly know but they’ve met and felt a connection to. There have always been cheap software packages for $10-20 that help you manage your own personal mailing list, but the LinkedIn.com solution is far superior and now with this new plug-in tool is even more powerful than before. I know that it won’t stay free forever, but I sure love getting so much value for free as long as it lasts.

EContent Magazine

My wife always laughs at me when I talk about my masters degree program in Library Science. She imagines me working in a library. (I LOVE libraries BTW). It only lasted for 1 semester because my CD-ROM publishing company really started taking off and needed my full-time attention. But I learned some valuable things while in the program. One of the main things was becoming familiar with a few of the major publishers and publications in the library market.

Information Today is one such company. It has many good publications. One that I love and read cover to cover is EContent. The readership is probably fairly small, but the articles are well written and I love the research. It’s all about search, content business models, content management, news feeds, subscription databases, search engines, RSS feeds, XML, digital rights, syndication, and more. I learn here about companies that rarely get covered in the main stream technology press.

Brightmail files for IPO

A 4-year old anti-spam company with only $26 million in fiscal 2004 revenue and very slight profits has decided to go public. This will really test how ready the markets are for smaller IPOs. This is a major growth industry, to be sure, but the company doesn’t have the revenues you expect these days.

Here is an excerpt from their S-1, filed today:

Brightmail is a leading provider of electronic messaging security software and services to enterprises and messaging service providers worldwide. We provide a comprehensive suite of products and services focused on securing the messaging infrastructure of businesses of all sizes and industries worldwide. Our proprietary products and services help customers protect their electronic messaging infrastructure by effectively identifying and disposing of unwanted or malicious messages while accurately allowing delivery of legitimate messages. These integrated products and services help our customers protect their systems from spam, viruses and fraudulent emails, as well as other security threats while allowing legitimate mail to be reliably and securely delivered.

We were founded in February 1998 and began offering our messaging security solutions in 1999. Our revenues have grown from $93,000 in fiscal 2000, the first full year in which we sold our products and services, to $26.0 million in fiscal 2004. We experienced our first profitable quarter in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2003, and we had net income of $1.2 million in fiscal 2004. Based on stock-based compensation we recorded as of January 31, 2004, we expect to amortize approximately $1.4 million in stock-based compensation over the next four years. Consequently, we expect these amortization charges to result in net losses on a quarterly and annual basis in fiscal 2005. In addition, we first achieved positive cash flows from operations in the third quarter of fiscal 2003, prior to which time we financed our operations primarily through equity financing. Since inception, we have raised a total of $53.2 million, primarily through issuances of convertible preferred stock. As of January 31, 2004, we had cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments totaling $26.8 million and an accumulated deficit of $38.8 million, and our customer base consisted of over 2,000 customers with an aggregate of over 300 million end-user mailboxes under subscription.

Open Source Business Conference 2004

I just returned from an amazing conference in San Francisco where I gained a much greater appreciation of the accelerating shift away from closed-source proprietary software to open source software and web services that provide value-add on top of a free technology stack, sometimes called the LAMP stack: Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PhP. I was impressed by many things about the conference, including its business tone and convincing statistics about adoption rates of open source, but two talks stood out for me.

Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor gave a brilliant talk about where future profits will lie in the software industry as fundamental layers of software become commoditized (including the operating system, web servers, databases, etc).

And Lawrence Lessig, Stanford professor, gave a powerful speech about how stifled innovation will be in the future, and the enormous opportunity cost that is represented by this slowing of innovation, if copyright and patent laws continue to give unfair competitive advantages to huge corporate interests without balancing what is for the public good. The US courts ruled in the 1800s that taking pictures of other people was legal and did not require their permission. So the photography industry exploded and hundreds of millions of people were able to unleash their creativity and add to our culture. Lawrence asked the question, what if the courts had ruled otherwise?

Fast forward to the 1970s-90s where the US courts have extended copyright length and have passed laws which make it very difficult for people to create derivative works and to build on common knowledge in ways that can add value to our business world and to our culture. He predicts that future innovation will be dramatically stifled by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other “legal” acts that throw out of�balance the consitutional idea of�promoting inventions and useful arts by protecting them for a short time, but that left so much in the public domain for the common good.�The most interesting fact�that I learned was that the US used to be a “pirate nation” because we didn’t begin recognizing international patent law until 1891. But now we force third world nations to accept modern intellectual property laws if they want to trade with us.

This seems to be something like�Civilized Economic Imperialism. Is our intellectual law policy so prohibitive and are we using our power to restrict other nations from innovating so that our corporations can dominate international commerce even in backward nations that really need a chance to catch up?

Now I’m going to get theological for a minute. If God is truly the source of all inventions and ideas which are truly useful to mankind (a paraphrase of Brigham Young) then how does He feel looking down on nations which want to hoard ideas and profit from them at the expense of the poorest nations on the earth? But then if we have become a secular nation that doesn’t�recognize God as the “Giver of all good gifts” then we won’t consider the consequences of our greed anyway. One of the consequences is that more and more people in the world hate the U.S. because of our power and prosperity. USA Today this week showed how unpopular the United States is becoming even among former allies.

I wonder what would happen if we exempted uncivilized and developing nations from our strict intellectual property laws and encouraged them to pirate our content and ideas freely until they begin to emerge out of poverty?

This is definite a thought that never crossed my mind until Lessig taught me a few things about the history of innovation, piracy, patent law, and copyright in the United States. Definitely deep stuff to ponder.

“Jump Start Your Business Brain” by Doug Hall

Doug Hall says you should focus on one "overt" benefit and not try to be all things to all people. The book states that "analysis of four thousand concepts indivdates that the greater the number of benefits promised, the lower your chances of success." People talk about writing marketing copy that emphasizes the benefits and not the features. But Hall goes one step farther: focus on a single, overt benefit. "The more you focus on doing one thing great, the greater your probability of success." He asks why people choose particular restaurants. Usually it’s because they are famous for one dish or specialty. Great restaurants don’t try to be all things to all people. In my case that’s true. The main reason I ever want to go to Ruby River is for their giant coconut shrimp with orange marmelade sause. But we choose these restaurants not just because we are in the mood for their speciality but because by being great in one area, "it sets in our mind a perception of excellence" for each restaurant.

As an entrepreneur, survey your employees and customers to determine what the strongest single perceived benefit you offer–something that really sets you apart. Then focus your marketing materials on that benefit.

Blue Nile files for IPO

Seattle-based Blue Nile, an e-commerce diamond seller, has filed for its IPO. The company had revenues of $129 million in 2003 and operating income of more than $11 million. Imagine that: another profitable e-commerce company, this one selling diamonds and jewelry, with an operating margin of more than 8%. The bubble burst because of over-investment, but the internet�works incredibly well for well conceived e-commerce, content, and advertising business models.

Terms Sheets & Valuations

I’m reading (it’s about time) a great 100 page book called “Terms Sheets & Valuations: An Inside Look at the Intricacies of Term Sheets & Valuations” by an east coast venture capitalist. It is outstanding. I wish I would have read this book five years ago before we (MyFamily.com) raised our first $12 million Series A round. I’m not sure it would have changed the subsequent events, but at least I would have had my eyes open going into business with venture capitalists. I agree with this quote by Murray B. Low at Columbia Business School: “This primer should be required reading for every entrepreneur. It is short, authoritative and worth its weight in gold.”

I also just bought “Innovator’s Solution” by Clayton Christensen and “Incubators” by Colin Barrow.�Incubators is a history and overview of the incubator/accelerator movement which corporations, entrepreneurs, local governments and academic institutions are increasingly involved with. There are now more than 4,000 business incubators/accelerators worldwide. Barrow offers “a realists guide” to the world of business acceleration.

Albertsons Suppliers Must Participate in RFID

Newsflash. Radio-frequency identification technology has yet another major backer. Albertsons Inc., the $36 billion food and drug retailer, said Friday that its top 100 suppliers must participate in its RFID program by April 2005. Source: Techweb

I’m very interested in doing a startup in the RFID space. If all suppliers to major retailers have to use RFID technology within just a few years, there is a very large opportunity in this space. I’m going to start looking around for startups in this space.

Marchex IPO

I’m watching with interest the planned IPO of Marchex, Inc., a Seattle-based company started by the Russ Horowitz gang�– the founders of Go2Net. These guys are excellent business aggregators. They make acquisitions and weave them�into a large, scalable business. Marchex is seeking $28 million (revised downward from their November S-1). Last year’s revenues were about $22 million. Most of it came from Ah-ha.com, a company that MyFamily.com once acquired and owned briefly. I served on its board of directors for some time. It’s�a great company led by Paul Brockband, a charismatic leader. Marchex will likely acquire several search engine related businesses, grow revenues dramatically, and get profitable soon. Go2Net specialized in buying online businesses that were scalable and required very few human resources, like meta-search engines and message board services. If this IPO succeeds, the company’s market cap will be over $100 million. Not bad for a 1 year old company whose first two acquisitions�will probably�end up costing less than $30-40 million (depending on earn-out levels).