Live Blogging: AlwaysOn On DC: Henry Fisker keynote (new automotive company)

He left BMW to start a next-generation car company, with high-end design and eco-friendly. He worked in the car industry for 20 years. He realized a new business model was needed to get cost of development down. Fisker Automotive has taken the time to development to be less than 5 years and $1 billion. Usually hundreds of millions are spent on building a factory before the cars are produced. They decided to spend all their money on the design, not on a factory. So their development costs are low, capex costs are low.

They have assembled a startup team with major talent from the automotive industry. Core management team has more than 100 years of experience. Director of Powertrain Engineering worked on Ford EV1. He mentioned several other board members and senior management team members with significant industry experience.

They are producing a Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle. First 50 miles are battery only. Total range is 300 miles.

  • 100+ mpg equivalent
  • Over 300 miles range
  • 400 horsepower
  • Top speed of 125 miles per hour
  • Can choose driving option: Stealth and Sport Drive Modes plus Hill Descent (Regenerative Braking)

They have about 50 patents on the vehicle. If you drive less than 50 miles, you can go completely in electric mode. We have the only luxury vehicle where you can drive into an emission-free zone (he mentioned Berlin). Driver can choose which mode to drive in.

In a normal hybrid, the gasoline engine drives the wheels. In ours, the gasoline engine only charges the battery. So in the sub-50 mile range, our car uses no gasoline. 79% of US drivers on weekdays drive less than 50 miles per day.

Kleiner Perkins is our largest investor.

Goverment support. We applied for a loan from the Federal Government. We got approval for $528 million loan.

Plug-in hybrid market looks like it will be the fastest growing.

Consumer incentives to buy a plug-in hybrid. $7500 federal tax credit if the battery is big enough. In the rest of the world, there are a lot of incentives as well, such as the elimination of car taxes based on our low level of CO2 emissions. In Beijing, you can only drive electric scooters in the city — no fuel vehicles allowed.

Our Karma, we hope will take about 3% of the plug-in hybrid market. Our car will be delivered started next June. We have pre-sold 1,500 cars so far. Our customers come from premium brands mainly — 60%. Mainly BMW and Mercedes. 3% are former Prius owners.

Our vehicle competes with BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Audi. Eco-Standard is $80,400. Eco-Sport is $87,400. Eco-Chic is $98,900.

Some customers have asked for animal-free auto. What that meant was no leather. So they have a model that is based on Italian design that doesn’t use any leather.

He believes the only way we will get more people into eco-friendly cars is to create a beautiful vehicle that buyers will be passionate about.

We have created the world’s largest solar roof. It can cool down the interior while you are gone, or recharge the battery while you are gone. You can get a couple free miles per day on a sunny day. We use reclaimed wood trim, world’s first automotive 10.5% multifunction touchscreen. We can add new functionality by reprogramming this.

We have selected 45 premium retailers in the U.S. market to sell this vehicle. Our dealers all own multiple dealerships. He showed a map of the dealers in the U.S. Plans to expand to 100. (There were several in California and one in Las Vegas.)

For a small company like us, we need media attention. Fortunately there is a lot of coverage of plug-in hybrids. We believe in putting vehicles into films and other alternative ads, rather than traditional ad campaigns.

The majority of the US loan ($360 million) will go to the creation of a smaller, affordable vehicle by 2012. Factory will be in the U.S. It will be retooled. Goal will be to manufacture 100,000 vehicles per year. We plan to export more than 50% of these vehicles. This will leverage 62% of the design and engineering of the initial Karma K1 platform. Targeted price point is $39,900 USD net of $7,500 tax credit.

We are starting with a $80,000 car, going down to a $40,000 model, but hopefully we will go down more than that in the future eventually. We hope to become a large and significant player in the world as we build a brand that is a pure green brand. In a few years we expect competition from Lexus and BMW, but we want to build a brand that is only delivering green cars.

Prediction: Facebook will be the largest social network in the world

I saw history in the making today.

For some reason, I was lucky enough to be in San Francisco for the Facebook f8 Platform launch event. This announcement was at least an 8.0 on the Richter scale. It was a whopper.

In fact, I haven’t come away from an event so excited since September 21, 1995, after attending the Online Developers II conference, also in San Francisco, when it hit me that my CD ROM publishing days were ending, and that I would soon become an internet entrepreneur. In the next five years, our team quickly shifted from publishing to online, launched Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com, and then went on to raise $90 million, acquire Rootsweb (and later Family Tree Maker / Genealogy.com) starting what has since become the largest genealogy company in the world. (Note: I left the company in Feb 2002 and have recently started a competing firm, with two properties: WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilyLink.com)

For me, that journey all started at Online Developers II.

That story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending for any of the company’s founders or even its early employees or investors. Like Ray Noorda used to say, “Finders Keepers, Founders Weepers.” Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore explains why pioneers (company founders and innovators) don’t often do well in the end, while settlers (who are usually better are operations) do. I’m actually fine with that, and reading that in Moore’s book was one of a dozen things that helped me move on emotionally.

Today felt just like September 1995 to me.

And it makes me wonder what the next 10 years might bring.

I sat on the third row and drank deeply of the kool-aid as Mark Zuckerberg, who turned 23 years old just 11 days ago, presented what may be the best business opportunity for internet entrepreneurs in the past ten years.

A huge new opportunity was presented to the few hundred people in the room, including 65 companies that have spent the last few weeks developing applications for the launch of Facebook Platform.

Facebook is inviting anyone to develop applications for their users on top of what Mark calls their “social graph”–the core of their service which basically keeps track of real people and their real connections to each other.

Facebook has 24 million active users (meaning they’ve used the site in the last 30 days–I like how they aren’t overstating numbers like SecondLife) and 50% of them login each day. Mark says the next most active social network is not more than 15%.

Last fall as I taught Internet Marketing at BYU we learned that a UCLA survey showed that 50% of college age females said Facebook was their #1 most important web site (even more than Google, Wikipedia, or anything else) and that 1/3 of college age males said it was their #1.

Look how many “addicts” Facebook has, according to Quantcast. 63% of visits are from addicts. eBay is only 56%.

Facebook is adding 100,000 new users per day. That’s 3% growth per month. And the fastest growing segment is over age 25. At this rate, they’ll have 50 million users by the end of this year, and 75% of them will be out of college. I read just on paidcontent.org that Facebook is the fastest growing social network in the UK, and today Mark said that 10% of Canada’s population is using it.

With 40 billion pages view per month, Facebook has passed eBay in page views, and is now in 6th place, just behind Google.

So this is no small thing for a 3 year old web site. Facebook is absolutely for real. I like Facebook a lot; while I can’t stand MySpace. Facebook is clean and nicely designed and architected. MySpace in my opinion is messy and mostly full of garbage. Facebook is a real social network for real people. And it is really, really popular.

And it’s growth will be dramatically accelerated by the Platform announcement. If Facebook is adding 100,000 new users per day with its own few simple applications (like its photo sharing, a very simple service that has given Facebook twice as many photos as all other photo sharing sites combined), what will happen when thousands or tens of thousands of developers start building apps in Facebook and marketing them to more users?

Facebook will reach 50 million, then 100 million, then 200 million users, and beyond.

Rather than continue to try to develop features within its own proprietary, closed network, basically keeping all of its users to itself (and kicking out widgets they don’t like, like MySpace does), Facebook intuitively gets the concepts that are so brilliantly discussed in Wikinomics (which are so non-intuitive to old school business types), and has chosen to open up its network for all to participate in. Because they embrace the winning philosophy, they will win.

Application developers can now have access to core Facebook features, such as user profiles and user connections, and even publishing to the News Feed, all with the control and permission of Facebook users. So if a Facebook user chooses your app, it will show up on their profile for all their friends to see, and they can enable that app with a single click, and so your application can spread virally to the 24 million other users.

When Facebook has 100 million users, in the not too distant future, having the ability to develop an App in their system will almost be like being able to get a link on Google’s own home page.

Can you imagine Google ever doing that? No way. They have too much at stake. Their $147 billion market cap couldn’t take it. Google’s philosophy was to not be evil. But I think Facebook’s philosophy is a decade fresher and even more in line with where things need to go than even Google–a company that I admire more than any other.

When Clayton Christenson spoke at the first Open Source Business Conference (again in San Francisco) about three years ago, he spoke about how the LAMP stack has provided a powerful low-cost platform for companies to develop applications on top of. Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP enable companies to develop applications that used to cost millions, but by building on top of all these projects, companies could move “up the stack” and focus on providing unique value that wasn’t in the stack already.

There are more and more free layers being added to the stack all the time, powerful services that can be embedded in your own new applications, like Skype, Maps from Google or Microsoft, storage and utility computing from Amazon, and video layers like YouTube and Google Video.

When anyone develops an application on top of the LAMP stack, like a CRM system for example, they always risk being disrupted by someone who provides that for free on top of the already existing stack.

Any new open source application or creative commons layer can be added to the stack, which might commoditize that application and put some companies out of business, but then that enables everyone else to again add more value on top of the stack.

This process continues, and all the while the consumer benefits greatly, and developers can continue developing innovative and valuable services on top of the ever-growing application stack.

The way I view the Facebook Platform announcement is this: the LAMP stack has just been extended by the huge and growing “social graph” that Facebook is opening up to the world. (It’s not completely open, because you have to develop apps within Facebook, but it’s a start in the right direction.)

Now, instead of application developers having to each build their own web site and try to get people to find it and use it and share it, the viral marketing of any good application site will come right from the Facebook interface itself. As users adopt new apps, they will spread quickly through the network.

Mark made three big announcements. 1) Applications can be deeply integrated with Facebook 2) Distribution of the applications will occur through the network, and 3) The business opportunity Facebook is providing will give 100% of advertising revenue (for third party applications) and 100% of transaction revenue to the application developers.

Now that is the true spirit of Wikinomics.

VPs from Microsoft and Amazon were present to express their support for the Facebook Platform. Microsoft will enable application develop with Silverlight and Popfly, and Amazon discussed how its web services enable Facebook Platform apps.

The CEO of Slide mentioned that the Platform developer wins big, but that applications developers also have a huge business opportunity here.

Microsoft’s market cap is $280 billion. But the top three application developers on Microsoft’s platform have a combined market cap of $40 billion.

I don’t think Facebook’s market cap vs it’s application developers will be nearly that lopsided. In fact, the way they are treating their own applications versus Platform applications makes it a pretty level playing field. Facebook users can deselect apps they don’t want to use–even Facebook’s own apps–and sign up to any other.

The core asset Facebook wants to own, extend, and leverage, is the social graph–who is connected to whom.

It is even possible that some future Facebook app developers could end up with a greater market cap than Facebook–if they permanently maintain the 100% of revenue going to the partner model. For example, a MMORP game built into Facebook might someday have 10 million users paying $10 per month, or $1 billion in revenue, when Facebook might at that point have $500 million in advertising revenue. (Reportedly it will make $150 million this year.)

Okay, not likely, but maybe possible.

The cool thing is that the marketing costs for these application developers will be basically nothing. All viral. All courtesy of Facebook’s users.

One of the self-serving reasons why companies like Google and Amazon create so many APIs and web services is to get a vast community of developers doing R&D for them and prototyping applications to see what works best. Then, they acquire the ones the like best.

Facebook will certainly be in a strong position, once it has a liquid currency, to acquire some of the most interesting application developers using its Platform.

If you haven’t read it recently, read Chapter 7 of Wikinomics, “Platforms for Participation” in the context of today’s announcement.

Here are a couple quotes.

“The winners in this evolution will be companies that can create the most comprehensive incentive frameworks to adequately reward all stakeholders.” (p. 207)

How about letting them keep 100% of their ad and transaction revenue? That’s quite an incentive.

“Winning in a world of cocreation and combinatorial innovation is all about building a loyal base of innovators that make your ecosystem stronger.” (p. 210)

Like I said at the beginning, I felt very lucky to be invited to this event. I got the invitation because we invested in YackPack last year, which is one of the companies that is launching its application within Facebook.

I didn’t see anyone else from Utah there, partly because every internet entrepreneur and marketer in the state was probably attending Seth Godin’s speech in Salt Lake City, which was probably very good.

If you are from Utah and went to the Facebook f8 event, please comment here or email me. I really want to connect. I think we need a Facebook Platform Developer Community here in Utah.

I searched LinkedIn tonight and found 140 Facebook employees, board members, etc, on LinkedIn. I’m 2 degrees away from many of them. But then I searched for “facebook api” to see how many people in my 2 million + network have any experience developing for Facebook and only 1 person came up.

Hopefully there will be some developer forums that emerge quickly so that more people can get guidance on how to proceed.

So here is my final thought. I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career to kind of see the big waves and trends coming and to get positioned to take advantage of them. I think I have pretty good instincts, because my brother Curt taught me to read everything (and he buys me new books from Amazon almost every month) and to go to conferences all the time. I already mentioned the transition from CD ROM publisher to Internet Publisher. After reading Net.Gain in 1998, we created Ancestry.com’s user generated content strategy (it became our most popular database) and launched MyFamily.com which was really an early social network for families. At our peak we were adding 20-30,000 new users per day. Unfortunately, our investors stopped supporting that free site because it wasn’t making money. Doh.

After reading an article in Industry Standard in 1998, I decided to attend the first ever affiliate summit held in New York City, where Commission Junction, Be Free, and LinkShare all presented. We chose Be Free, launched our affiliate program, and over the next few years, affiliate marketing was our #1 source of new customers at Ancestry.com.

In the last few years, I blogged before Google’s IPO that it would disrupt Microsoft by offering free software (including Office apps) and said it will one day pass Microsoft in market cap. And, more recently, in my latest example of prescience, I blogged about Lindsay Campbell of Wallstrip after her first day as anchor, and suggested that she might one day rank up there with Soledad O’Brian and Diana Sawyer, and now CBS paid $5 million for Wallstrip, and Lindsay’s career will soar. Way to go, Lindsay!

The only reason I’m reciting these past predictions is to try to lend a little weight to my next prediction: that Facebook will become the #1 social network worldwide (and the first to get 1 billion users–I love Facebook mobile, by the way) and that thousands of entrepreneurs will become extremely successful by developing to this new platform.

I hope that Facebook won’t be acquired. I hope it will go public and become the next major Internet company along with Google, Yahoo, Amazon and eBay. Another hugely profitable company that can potentially acquire lots of other great smaller companies.

I like Mark Zuckerberg a lot. I met him tonight as he was just visiting with lots of the individual companies supporting the launch event, and thanking them for their support. He was very genuine. I can see him in 10 years with the influence of the Google founders and in 20 years with the influence of Bill Gates. He is just getting started. At the recent Startup School, he advised startups to hire coders — even in the marketing department — and he talked about time he spends thinking about philosophies and how at this young age his life is not cluttered with things and family responsibilities.

Can you imagine in a couple years when Facebook has 200 million users worldwide, with half of them logging in every day, and a 25 year old will be CEO of this company? I can’t think of a parallel in world history where someone this young had this much influence. Oh wait. Alexander the Great.

Ok. I’ll stop now. It’s 2:40 am. And my post is going on and on and on, and all over the place.

But I’m serious about this Facebook Platform. Check it out. Mark’s philosophy of openness is an open invitation to co-create something remarkable with him and his 24 million users.

Bambi on Geni (with video of David Sacks)

Bambi Francisco has been my favorite columnist covering the internet for several years. (Read her Netsense columns on CBS Marketwatch.) Today she blogged about Geni.com’s approach to social networking, and features a video clip of Geni COO David Sacks talking about how he hopes to enable everyone in the world to map themselves to the networked family tree that they have developed.

Hey does anyone know if you pronounce this company like “genie” or “jenny?” I’ve heard supposedly in-the-know people pronouncing it either way.

News Discussed at Today’s Live Friday Session (Mostly from Business 2.0)

Normally I get my news for Live Friday from 100+ RSS feeds, but this week I found that a deep dive into Business 2.0 (my favorite internet publication–it took the place of Industry Standard which went away years ago) gave us much more interesting topics that the kinds of PR and brand new announcements that hit the blogosphere. Business 2.0 tends to cover companies that are getting real traction, so you can avoid wasting time on all the hype that is out there. I think I’ll use Business 2.0 a lot more in the future when planning Provo Labs Academy events.

  • This month’s issue of Business 2.0 lists the 12 Influential Investors that every Web 2.0 Entrepreneur Needs to Know.
  • 2007 is shaping up to be a better year for IPOs, according to Business2.0. I always love when a great company files to go public and you get to read the S1 for the first time. I rarely met a first time entrepreneur that has any idea how much information they can learn from public filings, including S1s. One place to see who is has just filed to go public is Hoovers.com. Hoover’s also has a calendar of when the IPOs are scheduled to occur. I hadn’t noticed that Glu Mobile, run by Greg Ballard (former CEO of MyFamily.com) went public about 10 days ago and raised $84 million. (See Glu’s Google Chart.)

    When entrepreneurs write business plans, they can get all the market research and statistics they need for their plan from public filings of companies in a similar sector.

  • We demonstrated chacha.com, the Jeff Bezos funded ($6.5 million) human assisted online search engine that reportedly had 30,000 guides working from home by January and is aiming for 300,000 guides by June. The founder wants to replace 411 calls (an $8.7 billion industry) which human assisted searches using his group of guides. He is planning for voice activated searches from mobile phones. The online strategy seems secondary, but he is hoping to have a million consistent users per month by June. Chacha intersperses sponsored links among the natural search results, but in my tests, I found the human guides actually found some great sites for me. I did have to wait several minutes in one case, but I could do other work while I was waiting for the guide to help me. The business model includes improving the natural search results by what the guides find for searchers–an interesting but possibly expensive model. But the founder thinks he can generate $12 million next year while paying his guides about 20% of that revenue. The Business 2.0 article says his long term vision is “instant access to guides on near-invisible Bluetooth earpiece.” Imagine that: being seconds away from free human help from trained internet searchers, at any time, from any place. Let’s hope chacha.com gets some traction, because this is a cool vision.
  • We discussed how Spot Runner (which was founded by the folks behind Firefly and PeoplePC and has already raised $40 million in VC) is aiming to make local, targeted television advertising available to virtually any small business. They have divided businesses into 4,000 categories, and are producing generic TV spots for each type of business, that can be customized (new voice over, logo, phone number, address, and etc, I suppose) for any company, and then run on cable TV stations targeting local audiences. The founder rebuts the “TV is too expensive myth” because they sell these customizeable video spots for $500 and then help you place the ads for cheap: “You can buy 30 seconds of prime time on a premium network in almost any local market in the country for less than $200. Outside the top 10-15 markets, it’s less than $100. Outside prime time, it’s less than $50.” Google will certainly be competing soon with Spot Runner, so this space will become very exciting to watch.
  • RightMedia.com did $150m in auction-based online advertising sales last year and expects to triple it this year. Yahoo recently paid $45 m for 20% of the company, and offers billions of impressions on its web sites for sale via RightMedia.com. I haven’t tried this site yet, but encourage people to try this and see how well it works for them.
  • We discussed how PayScale used public domain data from the federal government to attract search engines and go from 10,000 monthly visitors to 1.2 million, primarily through natural search traffic (and word of mouth) without spending any money on advertising. And now, it has wage data on 5.5 million US employees, nearly 5 times as much data as the leading traditional wage consulting firm. Using public domain data to attract initial customers, and user generated content to keep people coming back and signing up for your free salary comparison reports, so you can upsell them to your $19.95 for six months subscripton to more detailed reports that can help someone get a pay raise, is a brilliant business plan. I’m very impressed with this company and its model. It generated $5 million last year.
  • We also looked at Mojopages and Yelp both of which are yellow pages sites trying to supplement their data with user reviews. Mojopages expects $500k in revenue during the next 12 months, while Yelp already has a great Alexa ranking of 1,744 and a nice three year chart.
  • Finally, we looked at Meebo.com, a VC backed company that lets you put IM windows on your blog or webpage (kind of interesting), and Pickspal.com, which facilitates office pool betting, and has attracted 200,000 registered users since October and has 1 million monthly unique visitors. I dislike gambling and anything gambling related. I simply showed this site because it has a novel viral marketing approach. The founder “created an incentive for users to invite their sports-obsesses buddies to the site: if they win a prize, so do you. ‘I’m going to be giving away two of a lot of things.’”
  • Finally we looked at Dogster, a profitable (since July 2005) social networking site for dog lovers, which had $1.1 million in revenue last year and doubled the number of users. We highlighted their iterative and rapid approach to web development, which I wholeheartedly agree with: “Instead of working on a feature for months trying to get it perfect, we’ll work on something for two weeks and then spend two or three days listening to users and fine-tuning it.”

Ancestry.com “Thrilled” With New Genealogy Startups

The Salt Lake Tribune published this interesting article two days ago:

Utah-based Ancestry.com, with 900,000 subscribers the reigning king of commercial Internet genealogy services, welcomes Geni.com and a spate of other online family history newcomers to its world.
“For years, we were the only ones driving growth in this category,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of Generations, which owns Ancestry.com, MyFamily.com and related sites.
“So when we see Geni or any number of new genealogy upstarts, we’re thrilled,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan maintains that once someone gets interested on online family study, “they eventually will make their way to Ancestry.com” and its 23,000 online databases of births, deaths, baptisms, military service, censuses and more.
The 9-year-old Ancestry.com family also offers a number of free services to Web visitors, among them its One World Tree.
More than 1 million user-generated pedigrees have been uploaded to Ancestry.com in the past month, and 170 million names and 500,000 photos have been added to online records over the past six months.
“People can go to Ancestry.com and build family trees, invite their family members to upload photos and precious stories and documents – and all of those experiences are free,” Sullivan added.

I share Tim’s opinion that new online family tree building sites will lift the whole genealogy industry. I’ve made the same argument as CEO of World Vital Records.

You build a tree with help from other family members and pretty soon you’ve entered all the names you can from memory and now you need to start doing more in-depth research. That’s where genealogy research sites like Ancestry.com and WorldVitalRecords.com are needed.

But I wonder how thrilled anyone at Ancestry.com really is that Geni.com has done a better job of making it easy to build a family tree and invite everyone to collaborate on it.

Back in 1999 we launched our OFT (online family tree) tool at Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com and started getting tons of usage. Billions of records were uploaded or added over the next few years. But when MyFamily.com bought the #1 genealogy software product, Family Tree Maker in 2003 (a year after I left the company), it stopped pushing its free download software, Ancestry Family Tree, and stopped promoting its free online family tree building tools as much as it had before. Because now, instead of cannabilizing its competitors software revenue, it was now cannabilizing its own revenue.

With Geni’s launch, and with several other online family tree tools/social networks available now or launching soon (such as SharedTree.com, Amiglia, Famster, FamilyTreeGuide.com, Cozi, FamilyLearn.com and OurStory.com) The Generations Network (parent of Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com) has a ton of new competitors. By not pushing its free online tree tools for the last 4 years, it has really created this vacuum and invited all this new competition.

If anyone is thrilled with what is going on in the family history world, I think it should be consumers, who are going to find that competition leads to better and more affordable tools.

And of course, I am thrilled to be involved with World Vital Records, one of the “spate of other online family history newcomers” that Ancestry.com is welcoming to “its world.”

We’re weeks away from launching our new flagship website and hopefully getting a specific mention by name in the next “Ancestry.com welcomes….” press release.

This is going to be a very fun year.

Allegiance acquires National Hotline Services, Inc.

My friend Adam sent me this press release about Allegiance this morning. I have watched the last few years while SilentWhistle, which won 2nd place in a Utah Business Plan Competition a couple years ago, acquired Allegiance Technologies and changed its name to Allegiance, and now has acquired another company. They have grow from a few customers to more than 1,500 now are “the strongest ethics reporting company” in the industry.

It is appropriate that this company came out of the BYU Marriott School of Business, which ranks #1 in the country according to Business Week for both accounting and ethics.

This has been a great case study in how to startup a company, get some funding from business plan competitions, develop intellectual property, create a powerful advisory board (the best one I’ve ever seen for a startup company) and a strong management team, focus on sales and marketing, raise capital from angel investors, utilize the internet to generate leads (Allegiance presented this year at the MarketingSherpa B2B Lead Generation Summit), and to also grow through carefully selected acquisitions.

If you ever get a chance to hear Adam tell this story, take advantage of it. He has done so many things right. You will hear a lot more about this company in the future.

Online Retail Grows by 20% This Year to $211 Billion

Shop.org just released its ninth annual ecommerce study. It projects $211 billion in ecommerce revenue this year, up from $176 last year.

The forecast $211.4 billion includes travel, a category valued with revenues of $73.4 billion in 2006. The top non-travel categories include computer hardware and software ($16.8 billion); autos and auto parts ($15.9 billion); and apparel, accessories and footwear ($13.8 billion). Cosmetics and fragrances ($800 million) and pet supplies ($500 million) are expected to experience over 30 percent growth in 2006, more than any other categories. Pet supplies is a new category tracked in this year’s report.

Integration between online and offline activity is key for retailers who report 22 percent of offline sales are influenced by the Web. Retail Web sites are also a viable channel to reach new customers; 38 percent of online customers are first-time buyers.

Amazing.

Speaking of online retail, I just saw an Inc. Magazine profile of the largest internet shoe retailer. It turns out the entrepreneur running Zappos.com, is Tony Hseih, who sold LinkExchange to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million (I was a huge user of LinkExchange–it was one of our best sources of traffic in the early days of Ancestry.com). Zappos.com had $252 million in online shoe sales last year, and they are obsessive about great customer service.

I love this quote:

We have to untrain employees’ bad habits from previous call centers, where they’re trying to be more efficient by minimizing the time they talk to the customer. If someone is looking for a specific shoe and we happen to be out of stock, we have employees direct those people to competitors’ sites.

Another Inc. Magazine profile describes how Utah entrepreneur Morgan Lynch built Logoworks into a successful online business. Revenue last year was $7.3 million.

Team Formation Summit for Worldhistory.com

Last year I wrote in Connect magazine that I would be trying a grand experiment in team building. I would be trying an idea I got from The Entrepreneur’s Manual, a very popular book for entrepreneurs published in 1997. I would hold a 2-day retreat with a couple dozen executives to brainstorm, network, plan, and then vote on the Founders Team for Worldhistory.com.

Sometimes I have too many ideas, so I can’t get around to all of them. Sometimes ideas just go away. They stop bothering me. I almost always write every idea down, so that I won’t forget them forever, but they stop getting current brainshare.

But this team formation idea has been popping up its head every month or so. So I’ve decided to go ahead with it. Instead of a 2-day summit, we’re going to try a 1-day retreat to a local cabin. The date will be Friday, October 20th. I’m going to invite 15-20 friends developers, marketers, consultants, strategists, and entrepreneurs to meet for a day (probably from 9 am to 4 pm) to determine the future of Worldhistory.com.

So far, I have invited several individuals who know about the Worldhistory.com mobile subscription business model and love it. 100% of the people invited so far have said they will come.

But since I don’t know everyone (yet), I thought I should also blog about this Summit and invite others to apply to attend it. Even if you aren’t looking for a new job, consider coming. We need advisory board members as well as a group of founders who can make this company happen.

If you are interested in being invited, please contact Pat Sheranian at 373-6565, our Provo Labs office manager, talk with her about your background and interest, and email her your resume. Or, email me your resume if you want. (paul “AT” provolabs.com)

This will be a great networking event, and you’ll meet some fantastic people and hear some very interesting discussions about the future of mobile location-based services, the delivery of text, audio and video content to cell phones and other mobile devices, and see the very beginning of what I hope turns into another Utah business success story.

The first half of the day will be devoted to Corporate Alliance type networking, where you will have a chance to meet every other attendee and connect with them on a personal level. After lunch, which will be provided, we’ll break into teams and do some planning and brainstorming.

Finally, there will be some sharing of the best ideas and plans of the day, and we’ll have a discussion about how to form and fund a new corporation with all the assets that Provo Labs currently owns in the history space (including data, web sites, and software code).

I don’t know if we’ll actually hold a vote on who the Founding Team should be; but if the attendees want to this, we will.

I’m excited about this summit. Read the Connect article about team formation, and get your hands on a copy of the original team formation ideas in The Entrepreneur Manual. You can buy it used on Amazon for as little as $5.74.

I really believe this idea is a big one. I believe that millions of people worldwide will one day subscribe to a mobile history content subscription service, so that whereever they travel in the world they will be able to pull up text, audio, and video clips that describe or explain the history of that location. If we get the right team in place, and can get the right content and design the right interface and market this service through the right carriers (or “off portal” if necessary) I think we can pull this off right here in Utah.

I guess that makes us a Four Domino business model, right Josh?

But if we get the right team together, then we’ll be down to Three.

I also think that “history” is way down the list of the content types that all the biggest players have on their radar, and so it won’t be immediately launched by the larger players. History is kind of like genealogy–it’s not a multi-billion dollar category like travel or finance or real estate–so it’s not at the top of the list for the carriers or internet media companies.

Like I said in Connect, I promise to write an article about this experiment and what we learn from it.

Let me know if you want to come. We can only take a few more people, but if you think you are qualified and have a lot to offer here, please apply, and we’ll let you know.

MyFamily.com Alexa Chart

It is interesting to look at the 5-year Alexa chart of MyFamily.com–a web site that was a high-flying pioneer in user generated content, photo sharing, free voice chat, and viral marketing; but which has been neglected in both development and marketing for nearly 5 years. Now that MyFamily.com has opened an office in Seattle and is recruiting web 2.0 developers and experienced internet marketers, you wonder if this web site will make a resurgence.

While we’re at it, here is the chart for Ancestry.com, the chart for Rootsweb.com, the chart for genealogy.com, and the chart for familysearch.org from the LDS (Mormon) Church.

It would seem that people are losing interest in genealogy. ;)

I hope not, because WorldVitalRecords.com launched its subscription web site today. Starting with several dozen databases, WorldVitalRecords.com is seeking to become a significant player in the genealogy industry over the new few years. We add at least one new database to our web site every day. The subscription fee is only $49.95 per year; but since we are just getting started, we are offering a 2-year subscription for $49.95 during the month of October.

We have a wonderful content acquisition team and advisors who are finding databases around the world that we can digitize or license. We also have on our team the two engineers that wrote the original search engine at Ancestry.com and prepared the first 3 billion records that Ancestry.com has online. We are excited to re-introduce many of the original ideas and practices of Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com to see if we can help people worldwide connect with their families.

Our current effort is small, but with the support of customers who believe in what we are trying to do, and of partners who want to provide access to their content to our customers, we hope we can make a mark.

We will be starting our search engine marketing and affiliate marketing programs in the coming weeks, and launching some incredible new databases and features — so stay tuned.

Please check out our vital records databases, tell us how you like the online mapping features that we have associated with most of our databases, and let us know what you’d like to see us do next. We have hundreds of ideas that we hope to implement in the future, but your input matters most to us. So please tell us what you want to see!

Note: I have not been associated with MyFamily.com in any official capacity since leaving the company in February 2002.

Company and Product Launch Events

Startup companies with finished products need publicity, media and blogger coverage, and analysts and reviewers to take note of what they are doing. They also often need investor interest. Since investors often flock to the same hot deals, it can be good to have a large number of investors exposed to your deal at the same time.

Some launch events give startups a chance to reach all these audiences at the same time.

DEMO is a semi-annual event that has featured pitches from some of the remarkable technology companies of our time. Investors and the media pay a lot of attention to the companies that get selected to present at DEMO. At every DEMO, conference organizer Chris Shipley chooses a number of DEMOgods that are worthy of special attention.

Yesterday and today, about 70 hot companies have been introducing their products at DEMOfall 2006, including Pluggd, a Seattle startup with a podcast search engine that I am very interested in, whose video presentation you can watch here.

At Demo, your presentation will be recorded and stored in the Demo Video Archives permanently. So there will be a long tail of publicity and potential interest in your company.

I wish I were at DEMO, but at least I get to watch videos on all the companies that I’m interested in.

Besides DEMO, what other launch events are possible for high tech startups?

Someone ought to do a directory or Wiki of launch events, if one doesn’t exist already. I know of a few.

FundingUniverse.com offers speedpitching events in several states. They aren’t so much a public launch event, but they are a great way to reach local angel investors.

Where can you find a way to reach a group of early stage VCs all at once, rather than making the trek to Sandhill Road in the heart of Silicon Valley or hanging out at Buck’s Woodside Restaurant, where more venture deals have been done than anywhere else on earth?

The VC Forum brings a number of Silicon Valley venture firms to cities around the country to meet local entrepreneurs and look at potential deals. One Provo Labs company is actually presenting on September 28th at VC Forum in Salt Lake City.

Another option is the Silcon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs. I received an email yesterday from Jennifer, who represents SVASE, and she asked me to publicize one of their upcoming events. So here it is:

SVASE is hosting an event called Launch: Silicon Valley (www.launchsiliconvalley.org) occurring on November 8, 2006 at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View, CA. The event will bring together the Top 30 best and brightest A and B round startups and will provide these start ups with a chance to showcase their products in front of an audience of leading Silicon Valley VCs looking for their next investment, and companies seeking to leverage business models and technologies as customers, strategic partnerships and potentially acquirers.

As an advocate for entrepreneurs I was hoping you could spread the word about this great opportunity that many of your readers might appreciate. If so here