Startup Grind 2014

I attended the 2014 Startup Grind event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California earlier this month.

Derek Andersen has started quite a movement here. It was the highest energy startup event I’ve attended in years–and the cast of speakers was spectacular. I particularly enjoyed listening to George Zachary, Reid Hoffman (founder LinkedIn, venture investor with Greylock), Ben Horowitz (Andreesen Horowitz), MC Hammer, Scott Cook (Intuit), Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator), Dave McClure (500 Startups), Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures), Danae Ringelmann (co-founder IndieGoGo), Elizabeth Gore (Resident Entrepreneur at the United Nations Foundation–reports to Ted Turner!).

I missed a bunch of talks that I wanted to hear, partly because Derek made me say a word about StrengthsFinder 2.0 (the product I champion for Gallup) on the first evening, and I was literally swarmed for the next 3 days. I could hardly move from one conference session to another without an entrepreneur or ten eagerly asking me about StrengthsFinder. But that’s also what made the conference incredibly fun and energizing for me–engaging with dozens of entrepreneurs, from many countries, who are all looking for tools, tactics, and advice that will help them emerge from their startup grind with a successful business.

Thankfully I can catch the interviews I missed on the Startup Grind YouTube channel.

What I love most about Startup Grind is its values and the kind of people it attracts as a result. Derek credited George Zachary for helping him grasp the importance early on of establishing and communicating the values of the Startup Grind community.

The name itself connotes that startups are hard work and success often takes time. There are more comfortable things to do than “eating glass and staring into the abyss of death” which is how Elon Musk has apparently described entrepreneurship.

Startup Grind is not for get-rich-quick schemers, but for those who want to make their mark on the world through building a new company, “however long and hard the road.”

These Startup Grind values were plastered everywhere:

1. It feels better to give than to receive
2. Give more than you take
3. Make friends not contacts
4. Never give up

Another awesome part of the Startup Grind culture–and I experienced this first hand when I spoke at a Washington DC event last year–is that when introducing a speaker, the audience gives a huge standing ovation right up front. Everyone feels good, fired up. And the speakers get that sincere thanks right up front, for volunteering their time.

And then often, at the end of a Startup Grind interview, the guest is given a fun gift–such as an artifact connected to their favorite superhero. When I was interviewed, I explained why my favorite superhero was “Bill and Ted” (I know that’s a stretch), because their music “put an end to war and poverty.  It align[ed] the planets and br[ought] them into universal harmony allowing meaningful contact with all forms of life from extraterrestrial beings to common household pets, and . . . it’s excellent for dancing.” What superheroes have ever had a better outcome than that!

So they presented me with an awesome Bill and Ted movie poster.

The Startup Grind culture is just fantastic.

Back in the 90s when I was building my first company with my best friend and business partner, it was a pretty solitary endeavor–mostly just us trying to figure things out. Not until I attended the Inc 500 awards conference in Philadelphia in 1996 did I realize that there were people (authors, advisors, mentors) out there helping entrepreneurs to succeed. But today, there are far more.

It’s like the difference between writing software code in the 80s and 90s, when you wrote every line yourself or with your team–compared to now, when there are bazillions of lines of code written by millions of coders, on github and elsewhere, some of it packaged into amazingly useful libraries. If you are a coder, you are not alone in the universe–and you don’t need to write applications from scratch. Much of what you are doing is finding and learning and stitching–building on the shoulders of others.

Same with entrepreneurship. Today, instead of figuring everything out on your own long and lonely path, there are dozens of amazing accelerators, incubators, and seed stage funds, there are Startup Weekends, business plan and business model competitions, meetups everywhere, and crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo which are increasingly being used by companies to validate and refine their product–not just to raise capital.

The startup failure rate is widely reported as being 80-90% or higher over a 5-year period–who knows what the actual number is?–but I remember hearing from an expert in franchising that 94% of all franchisees are still in business after 5 years. Why? I assume it is because the brand, product, processes, business model, advertising strategies, and all that have been worked out and proven to work in advance, usually in scores of markets.

Imagine a world–with all the support of Startup Grind and the other resources mentioned above–where the success rate of startups doubles or triples? The success rate of Y Combinator companies is already so high that each company accepted into the 3-month accelerator program has an automated $150,000 in startup capital waiting for it at the end of the program–not to mention all the built-in support from other Y Combinator mentors and alumni. As Steve Blank and Eric Ries spread the Lean Startup gospel worldwide, and as more accelerators and incubators build support infrastructure to help, I wonder if it will be possible to significantly increase the success rate of startups.

The most interesting facet of startup success for me right now is trying to understand how the talents of the team–and the team dynamics–can lead to failure or success.

Marc Andreesen (2007) wrote that of the major factors in a startup–market, product, and team–he thought market was the most important of the three. But Jessica Livingston of Y Combinator made it clear that her major roles as a non-technical operator at Y Combinator was to make a decision, on the basis of a 10 minute interview with applicants, whether they have what it takes. She must be very gifted at this, given the success rate, but at the same time she humbly admitted that she never knows who really will succeed and who won’t. She especially loves co-founders who went to school together, or were roommates, and who already have a strong relationship. (There’s even a father-son founding team in Y Combinator now, and I think she said a set of twins.) Because when you don’t have that kind of trust between founders, when things get tough–and they always do–things can go bad really fast.

In my role at Gallup as evangelist for StrengthsFinder 2.0, I’m planning to attend a lot of entrepreneurial and investor events this year. For years, StrengthsFinder has been a powerful tool used by thousands of large and small companies to boost productivity, revenue, and profits by making individuals and teams more engaged and more efficient. I’m very excited to see it can be, along with the newest Gallup product Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder, in helping boost the percentage of startups that survive and thrive. The economy needs a huge dose of the type of job-creating entrepreneurship that The Economist wrote about this week to create the millions of jobs that are so desperately needed today all over the world.

I personally want to thank Derek, Startup Grind, and all of its dedicated chapter leaders and volunteers for doing their part to make this happen. And to  tell everyone — I can’t wait till Startup Grind 2015!

 

Brainstorm Breakfast for Entrepreneurs in Rexburg, Idaho

I worked this week in Missoula, Montana where my brother and his family live. On my way home, through Idaho, I decided to stop in Rexburg, the home of BYU-Idaho, and do some networking with entrepreneurs here.

In the tradition of the old Provo Labs Brainstorm Lunches (nick-named Twinkie Talks because the restaurant we ate at gave us all twinkies) I am holding a Brainstorm Breakfast at Joe’s Filling Station (diner) at 727 North 2nd East in Rexburg.

So far, 4 entrepreneurs have RSVPd with a couple others who hope to come, but I think we can handle 8-10 without disturbing the restaurant too much.

The way it works is this: everyone gets a chance to talk about their business, and share their #1 problem that they want help with or advice about. Then each person at the table gets to make suggestions, if they have any, about that particular problem. So it’s a very open format. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve learned a ton, and had the chance to share some things I consider important too.

If I recall, the idea was originally inspired by the book, “Never Eat Alone.” I used to do these often when I was running the Provo Labs incubator, but since leaving that to focus 100% on FamilyLink.com I haven’t held any. But I think I’m ready to start them up again, partly because these always lead to possible hiring opportunities or business development opportunities.

So…if you are in Rexburg, and want to join us at 9 am, please RSVP by emailing me tonight or tomorrow. PAUL AT FAMILYLINK.COM or DM me on www.twitter.com/paulballen

Update from Washington, DC

I’m in Washington, DC for the American Library Association Annual Conference & Exhibition. I started an MLS program back in 1990 (Masters of Library Science), but had to drop out because my CD ROM publishing company needed my full attention. But I have the deepest admiration for librarians, particularly reference librarians, who are vastly underrated. They don’t know everything, but they know where to find the answers, probably better than any other profession.

So I’m hanging out with 30,000 librarians and service providers. (Someone told me normally 25,000 attend, but DC is a big draw, so they’re expecting more this year.) There are 1,600 exhibitors–pretty impressive. Yesterday I spent 5 hours at the National Archives listening to some of the premiere genealogists in the country talk about using the National Archives to find records of your ancestors.

I’ve been travelling a lot lately, and often getting cheap last minute fares, and I suppose because of that, my luggage was lost for the third consecutive time. What I’m learning is that if a travel site books one segment on one airline and then hands you off to another airline for the next segment, often you make the connection but your luggage does not. A few months back I used LinkedIn Answers to get about 40 wonderful suggestions on how to get cheap fairs with short notice for international flights. Now I think I need to use LI Answers to figure out ways to travel cheap without losing baggage. I used to travel with one carry on and my laptop bag, and I could go for a few days with just that, but since the ban on liquids and stuff, I just check my baggage and carry on my laptop bag. I suppose I could try the plastic bag approach and put my contact lens stuff in one of those and still carry it on. But it is such a pain.

If you wonder why I’m blogging about such mundane and personal things, check out Mark Cuban’s recent *very* personal blog post on getting a colonoscopy. (or you can just google “cuban and colon” and he ranks #1 in google. I think the Colon Cancer Testing Industry should adopt his “it’s easy and breezy” tag line for their advertising. He clearly doesn’t think personal fears should get in the way of having this important screening done.

I had my first physical exam in 20 years last year, and it was a bit uncomfortable and I never would have blogged the details–but then again, I’m not Mark Cuban, and I suppose I do still care what people think of me. I admire Mark in a lot of ways. I love the Mavs, and was sorry to see them lose in the first round of the playoffs this year.

Okay, so back to business.

This afternoon I get to hear a lecture from Google and five major libraries about how the Google Books Project is coming. I’m very excited to get a firsthand update. In various places I’ve read that it only costs Google about $10 per book to scan and OCR a book, they use some kind of modified open source OCR program. As a long time content publisher, I’m eager to know both how to keep costs down on scanning and indexing projects, as well as to see whether Google is just going to digitize all the world’s information and make it free, making it more difficult for anyone else to be an information provider.

But even if all the books in the world were free online (and they won’t be, because of copyright issues), there would still be a role for indexers, librarians, and organizers of that free information, and people would still pay for that added value, because it would save them time and make them more effective.

If open source applications commoditize some software, and force developers to work on top of the LAMP stack, then I think in the library industry, the open sourcing of the world’s books will force professional information workers to add value on top of the “stacks” of free books, as well. (There’s a pun in here somewhere with the open source “stack” and “stacks” of books.) Disruption always opens doors to new opportunities, and those who make the transition by gaining new skill sets and providing new services can do very well.

Yesterday I heard an industry leader in preservation say they now have technology to simultaneously digitize and microfilm the things they are scanning. That is cool.

This morning I hope to hear Ken Burns speak in one of the keynotes. But I’ll be late because I lost my blackberry recharger yesterday, and have to check with the hotel’s lost and found when they open at 9 am to see if they have it, and if they don’t, I have to go two blocks to a cell phone store when it opens and buy a new one. I am always losing laptop power cords and my phone rechargers. Can’t wait for wireless recharging, a technology that several companies are now working on.

Speaking of blackberries, it’s true that you see a ton of them in DC.

This week I’ve spoken with several decision makers about Facebook Platform. After my Paul Revere style midnight ride post–“Facebook is coming, Facebook is coming”–of four weeks ago, the night of the f8 launch event, one commenter called me the “hypiest” blogger he had ever read. I think the hype was legit.

In the last four weeks and one day, 945 applications have launched on Facebook, and it was reported this week that 1,000 developers per day are signing up to become Facebook Developers.

More impressive, 17 applications have more than a million users already, and six have more than 3 million users. Can you imagine getting that many users in a month, without spending a penny on advertising?

I finally signed up for Twitter last week, and hope to get in the habit of using it often. I think it will help me fill in the long (unfortunately) gaps in my blogging, because I don’t have nearly as much time to blog this year since I’m running World Vital Records. When I was in London two months ago, a little article on Twitter was on the front page of the Financial Times.

But the most interesting use, for me, of Twitter, is for parents and children to use it to stay in touch with each other. I think I’ll start experimenting with that. How often do you wonder what your kids are doing at any given time, who they are with, what their plans are? Not that kids will want to use Twitter to keep their parents up to the minute, but I think there might be some ways to pull that off. I’m all for finding ways to use technology to strengthen families, and a Family Twitter would go a long way.

Tim Russert has been promoting his book “Wisdom of our Fathers” and in an interview I saw this morning, he talked about his relationship to his father, and his relationship to his son. He told some wonderful stories (you can find the clip on Truveo) about his son, and expressed very well how family relationships are more important than anything else in life.

If you know any parents that use Twitter to keep up with their kids and vice versa, please let me know. I may write a Connect Magazine article about this in the next few months.

Predictably, my upcoming Connect Magazine article will be on how the Facebook Platform is changing everything in social networking.

I think I saw something yesterday about Ning enabling Facebook apps now.

I’m heading to London tonight and will be there for business meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

My airplane reading is a 600 page book on Germanic Genealogy that was just published this year. I have consumed books on genealogy sources in the UK, US, Germany, England, Sweden and Italy this year, and plan to do the same with every recently published sourcebook on genealogy for every country in the world, just as soon as I can.

Ten years ago, when running Ancestry.com, I had some wonderful subject matter experts to focus on acquiring genealogy records, and I focused on internet marketing and strategy. But this time around, I intend to do both, and to see what wonderful insights and product design ideas come from understanding the records of the world as well as trying to make them accessible to more people.

One more thing: two more entrants into the family social networking space, Famillion out of Israel, and Zooof out of the UK, both have funding, both are doing good things.

And finally, when I have an hour, I want to write a thoughtful post on genetic genealogy, with Google’s founder funding 23andme.com, and Ancestry.com rekindling an old business relationship with Sorenson Genomics, perhaps in response to what Google might do. More and more genealogists are talking about DNA testing these days, and I think it will become mainstream in the next few years. I’ve been interested in this subject since reading the Decode genetics S-1 back in 1999, and trying to acquire a DNA testing company for MyFamily.com shortly thereafter (I couldn’t convince others that it was strategic), so I have a lot of thoughts to share on the topic. Just not enough time.

Sundance: make room for the new family friendly film festival

My friend Brady Whittingham is a driven entrepreneur. He comes from a football family, and he played football in college. That intensity has stayed with him in business. We worked together years ago at MyFamily.com where he was our best product manager. Fast, smart, and completely results oriented. (Just like the BYU passing game.) He quickly realized that as companies get big they get slow–too slow for him (and later, for me) so he moved on, started his own internet business, and has achieve remarkable success.

He has begun doing some films. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Brady has decided to create a new venue for family friendly films to debut. The team he and his wife have put together to launch this festival is a good one.

Sundance Film Festival was started by Robert Redford just 29 years ago, and it has turned into a major international event.

I can’t wait to see what the Utah Family Film Festival becomes in the next decade or two.

Here’s how Brady describes the impetus for this festival and a little about the first year’s event:

There has always been some sort of draw for me to entertainment, and specifically film. . . .Having been exposed quite a bit to the industry through my passive role as Executive Producer for an newly completed independent film called “Take” (www.takethemovie.com), I’m more than just a little bit intrigued by the process of taking a movie from concept to finished product.

For years, my wife and I have attended the Sundance Film Festival. We have friends that fly in from NY and California every year and it’s always one of our most anticipated holidays (yes, we have made it a two week holiday around our house). As great as we think the Festival is, the film selection doesn’t cater well to the family (we have 3 little girls ages 6, 9, and 11), and we’ve been embarrassed more than a couple times after inviting friends and neighbors to a film without knowing exactly how graphic the material was going to be (there is no formal rating system for most of the independent films at film festivals). This past winter after one such experience, I told my wife that we are going to start a Family-Friendly Film Festival. She of course thought I was a little crazy for thinking that I have the know-how or the time to pull it off, but here we are, 1 week away from our first annual Utah Family Film Festival!

Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for much more than having the idea. My wife was right about at least two of three things…I don’t have the know-how nor the time to pull this off. I actually might be a little crazy too, so I guess she was 3 for 3. Referring back to my “job”, I am currently the President of a large division of a public company and spend a couple weeks each month on the road, and the rest of the time trying to catch up in the office. So to pull it off, I had no choice but to find great people and empower them to go out and make it happen. The initial stages of planning the event location, lining up vendors, notifying filmmakers of the festival, etc. were handled by none other than the 2006 Miss Utah International Brittany Bowden. She did a phenomenal job of setting this up. Once it was set up, we needed an industry pro to execute the plan, so I had to convince somebody both experienced in the Industry and crazy enough to take on the role of Festival Director with such a short time before the event. Tyler Measom was one of the Producers I met on the set of “Take”, and he was a perfect fit. Fortunately, he accepted the offer to become our Festival Director, and subsequently convinced his Partner Jennilyn Merton to join him as Festival Media Director. Add to that about two dozen close friends and family who have agreed to volunteer, and so far it looks like we are going to pull it off in a big way!

Now we just need people to come and enjoy some of the wonderful films that have been submitted by makers of Family Films all over the world. For movie descriptions and to purchase tickets, go to www.utahfamilyfilmfestival.com. See you at the movies!

When: Thursday through Saturday, June 7-9

Where: University Mall Theaters (Southeast of Costco), Orem, Utah

What: Independent Family Films, plus select retro films including Napoleon Dynamite (former Sundance film) and Goonies

Cost: $6 for adults, $3 for children

Info: www.utahfamilyfilmfestival.com

Please spread the word. Let’s make this first event a big success and set the stage for a future film festival that everyone can be proud of, and that everyone can attend without risk of embarrassment.

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.

World Vital Records Press Conference at 11 am EST

We will be holding a press conference in Richmond, Virginia at the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Annual Convention at 11 am today (Wednesday, May 16th).

If you are attending NGS, and would like to hear these announcements, just make your way to the VIP Suite of the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The VIP Suite is on the 2nd floor above the amphitheater and adjacent to the Ballrooms. For more details, check out the World Vital Records blog.

I will be at NGS on Friday and Saturday. If you’d like to meet with me there, please use the Contact Me page.

Biggest and best family history show ever

This morning at 3 am I got home from the best family history event I have ever attended.

The Who Do You Think You Are / National History Show ran May 5-7th in London.

The Society of Genealogists decided to combine their annual Family History Show, sponsored by Findmypast.com, with the National History Show, which turned out to be a very good idea.

The organizers hoped for 15,000 attendees during the three days, and I think they just about hit their goal.


Dick Eastman has a blog post
about his first day at the show. He obviously enjoyed the event. I have never felt so much enthusiasm and energy at a family history event. I can’t wait till next year. But next time, I’m sure we’ll have booths for WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilyLink.com.

The first genealogy conference I attended was the 150th anniversary of NEHGS back in 1995 in Boston. I have been to dozens of large and small events since. I have always enjoyed networking, attending classes, and I usually come away with some magazines and books as well from the vendors that are in attendance.

But I have never seen anything like the London National History Show.

There were live events going all the time in the historic National Hall in Olympia. The runaway hit TV show Who Do You Think You Are had celebrities there, and played clips from their TV show. I especially enjoyed Alex Graham’s (executive producer) discussion about how he stumbled into the family history angle for the show (it was originally going to be about telling history through the eyes of a few families) but when he saw Bill (in the original episode) holding a death certificate of a child in his hands, and saw the deep emotion of this moment, for the first time he realized how powerful it is for people to see family documents for the first time, and what powerful television it makes. Initially, he had argued that genealogy is boring and that there would be no traipsing through cemeteries or looking at old family papers. It all changed when he saw Bill with the birth certificate.

Now they have a formula that works, with potentially 3,000 more celebrities on their wish list for future episodes. The series gets about 6 million viewers per week, has switched from BBC2 to BBC1, and is now being licensed to other countries as well, including Canada, France, Germany, and potentially the US. The clips I saw were very engaging.

Of course it’s a simple formula. Any British show that wants to be a smash hit and be exported worldwide just needs to start with the word “Who” and be in the form of a question.

Who’s Line is it Anyway? Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? And now, Who Do You Think You Are? Brilliant. (And I’m saying “brilliant” in my best British accent.)

Speaking of British accents….I tried to call the National Archives to speak to a person there and they had a voice recognition system. I pronounced the person’s name and it said there was no one that matched the name. So I had to use my best English accent, and it actually found the right person. Kind of funny.

This “Who” idea reminds me of another marketing idea I had a few years ago. With the success of the “Chicken Soup” books (what, 90+ million copies sold) and the “For Dummies” series, with hit after hit after hit, I just realized that if I could publish a book called “Chicken Soup for Dummies” that it would be a best-seller in no time.

So back to the Family History Show.

The conference organizers were able to bring together various companies and organizations — not just genealogy lecturers and a few vendors, like we usually have in the states — but media companies (BBC, History Channel, Roots Television), government agencies, dozens of genealogy societies, travel companies, publishers, retailers, software companies, and many others.

There were medieval musicians, bagpipes on occasion, fencing demonstrations, and people in historic military uniforms.

There were theaters in the large open space for discussions and demonstrations by big companies like Ancestry.co.uk, Who Do You Think You Are, the BBC and The History Channel. There were “encounter sessions” on dozens of particular topics and some announcements made by vendors.

There were dozens of computers from FamilySearch.org, The National Archives, and others were visitors took turn searching through the hundreds of millions of records and images to find their ancestors. I found my 7 year old great-great grandfather in an 1851 British Census, living in a household with his grandfather. I felt the emotional impact of finding something out for the first time.

I also bought an authentic 1850 map of Shropshire, where my ancestors lived from a local vendor.

The atmosphere was historic and festive at the same time.

I spoke with a few others who wondered outloud why family history conferences in the states can’t be this exciting and energetic, bringing so many people together in a celebration of our search for heritage.

Obviously, geography makes it harder to pull off a national conference in the US that could get 10-15,000 people together for a family history show. But I don’t think that is the key issue.

I think it is about vision. The people who organize family history conferences would need to reach out, like they did in the UK, and get a variety of groups involved, so that the show would be about genealogy, history, music, culture, celebrity and more.

On the other hand, maybe it can’t be done here unless and until there is a national TV show on family history that is a real hit. I guess we’ll see. It will be fun to see if anyone will be inspired by the London show to try to pull off a really big show here in the states.

What do you think? Can it be done here? What would be the keys?

BYU-Idaho Entrepreneur Conference

I am excited to attend the BYU-Idaho Entrepreneur Conference this week, to help judge the entrepreneur of the year competition, and to talk to students there about entrepreneurship.

While I’m there, I may scout around for some office space in case we want to expand Provo Labs Academy, our academy for entrepreneurs, to Rexburg, Idaho. I’m going to do the same thing on my trip to BYU-Hawaii next week. (Although, I’m not sure how much available office space exists in Laie, Hawaii!)

Apparently the enrollment at BYU-Idaho jumped this year, somewhat unexpectedly, to 13,500 students. (See Wikipedia article on BYU-Idaho.)

Under the leadership of the Kim Clark, former dean of the Harvard Business School, I hear that some real innovation in education is happening at BYU-Idaho. I hope to learn about it on my visit.

Next 3 days: free online conference on internet marketing

If you can afford to stop working for part or all of the next three days, you can hear from dozens of the most successful online marketers in the industry–for free and from the convenience of your own home or office.

(Or you can sign up for $99.95 and get access to more than 175 online presentations–that’s one a day for the next 6 months.)

ecomXpo starts today (Oct. 24th), with free sessions over the next 3 days from key employees at Google, Yahoo, eBay, Microsoft AdCenter, LinkShare, Searchfeed, iHispanic, Performics, and MarketingSherpa, and many others.

Utah affiliate guru Jeremy Palmer (Quityourdayjob.com) will also be presenting, as will one of my favorite authors, John Battelle, who wrote “The Search” (how Google changed the search industry.) His SearchBlog is the best coverage of the search engine industry.

I highly recommend that you budget time every day to stay sharp in internet marketing. My own personal knowledge plan has included reading MarketingSherpa every week and all the daily newsletters that come from MarketingVOX. After learning about eComXpo from Brad Pace, internet marketing specialist at Provo Labs, I’m now planning to subscribe to ecomXpo University so that I can hear these presentations over the next several months.

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.