Zuck is learning Mandarin–are you?

I read this morning that Mark Zuckerberg spends an hour a day studying Mandarin. I’m very impressed.

What a great investment of his time!

I’ve been considering doing this for several years now. Imagine how fluency in this language and familiarity with the Chinese culture might impact Facebook’s value and reach in the coming years. It has the potential to help Facebook open some doors to government or business relationships that may be extremely important down the road. I think this is a brilliant move by Mark.

I got a university degree in Russian a million years ago, and studied Spanish for 3 years also, but my skills in both languages have really declined. Inspired by Google Translate for iPhone, which I use daily, and with access to such interesting and timely content as President Dmitry Medvedev’s video blog, I am trying to study Russian daily. My current plan is to get my Russian and Spanish groove back, and then find a way to learn Mandarin. I’m almost 20 years older than Zuck, so I’ll have a lot less time to get a return on investment from learning Mandarin, but I still really, really want to do this.

I just hope my entrepreneurial life settles down to the point where I’ll be able to make this investment of time. That basically means ¬†after FamilyLink gets solidly profitable.

Being from Utah where many entrepreneurs served a church mission to a foreign country when they were young, learning another language and culture really well, I have seen how beneficial this has been in many careers. What is your experience as an entrepreneur? What languages do you know and how has that helped you succeed in your business?

“World Collection” from WorldVitalRecords.com

The worldwide reach of the internet never ceases to amaze me. Earlier this week, after the announcement of our World Collection, containing genealogical data from more than 30 countries, I received an internal company email that said:

We now have subscribers from 48 countries. We increased our country count by 5 in January.
The bolded countries are new in January.

Afghanistan, Algeria, American Samoa, Angola, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, East Timor, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States, Wallis and Futuna Islands

$100 laptops, $2500 cars

In this morning’s post I mentioned low cost cars coming from India. Today Business Week reported that Ratan Tata’s new $2,500 car, called the Nano, is being met with “extreme enthusiasm” and is going to put India on the map in the auto world. CrunchGear indicates that Tata plans to introduce the Nano to other low income areas like Africa and South America in the next four years.

Maybe they should bundle the $100 laptop from OLPC foundation with the vehicle, so the kids can have something to do in the back seat? (I know it’s more like $199 in quantities of 10,000 right now, but I’m sure prices will drop over time.)

Imagine how fun it would be for kids to play multi-users games over the XO mesh network in the back seat of the Nano while racing down India’s highways. Someone could build some great software for that.

Seriously, could Tata be the Henry Ford of the 21st Century? Will the Nano, the world’s least expensive car, sell more units than any other car in this century. India is poised to become the world’s most populous nation after all.

“The Model T was a great commercial success, and by the time Henry made his 10 millionth car, 9 out of 10 of all cars in the entire world were Fords. In fact, it was so successful that Ford did not purchase any advertising between 1917 and 1923; in total, more than 15 million Model Ts were manufactured, more than any other model of automobile for almost a century.” (Wikipedia)

The model T Ford cost $850 in 1909 and prices dropped over time as the assembly line lower manufacturing costs. (According to Wikipedia, “The assembly line was introduced to Ford by William C. Klann upon his return from visiting a slaughterhouse at Chicago’s Union Stock Yards and viewing what was referred to the “disassembly line” where animals were butchered as they moved along a conveyor. The efficiency of one person removing the same piece over and over caught his attention.”)

By 1915, Model T Ford’s cost only $440, and Ford was paying his workers $5.00 per day. He hoped that any of his factory workers could afford a car. “In 1914, an assembly line worker could buy a Model T with four months’ pay.” (Wikipedia)

Ford sold 15 million Model Ts from 1907 to 1927. The U.S. Population reached 123 million by 1930, so Ford sold to about 8% of the U.S. population. (I don’t know how many were sold outside of the U.S.)

India’s population will hit 1.3 billion by 2020. And the Nano costs less than the Model T did by the 1920s, adjusted for inflation. Wikipedia says: “By the 1920s, the price had fallen to $300 (about $3,400 in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars) because of increasing efficiencies of assembly line technique and volume.”

If Tata can sell to 8% of the Indian population over the next 20 years, it would sell about 104 million units. Those numbers are staggering.

According to the Guardian, the Indian middle class will grow from 50 million now to 583 million by 2025, so anything is possible. But Tata projects selling up to a million Nanos per year. The initial manufacturing capacity is only 250,000 units per year from a factory near Calcutta.

After low cost laptops and cars, what industry do you think will be revolutionized next by a legitimate low-cost manufacturer that is building products for the poor in developing nations?

Genealogy in India

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that World Vital Records’ India page ranks #3 in MSN for "india genealogy." I’m still trying to convince FundingUniverse.com to roll out 6 regional web sites in India, as suggested by an Indian entrepreneur who explained to me how startup funding might naturally happen in that country. I don’t know if I’ve blogged about it, but 3 years ago I read "India Unbound" by the first venture capitalist in India, Gurcharan Das. It is an absolutely incredible look at the economic revolution that has been occuring in India since 1991. I am very optimistic about the future of India, which will be the world’s most populated country by about 2030.

Sweden opens embassy in Second Life

http://www.thelocal.se/6219/. This article says Second Life is approaching 3 million users, a third of them having joined in the last 60 days. A lot of companies are jumping on the Second Life bandwagon, but this is even more interesting.

Imagine being an embassy employee assigned to interact with people in Second Life. Embassies are so large, imposing, and intimidating–they don’t welcome visitors to come in and just chat. This virtual Swedish embassy may be the best opportunity in world history for an embassy to “get to know its customer” through casual conversations with potentially hundreds or thousands of people each day.

Next headline to look for: 2008 Presidential Campaign for _________ opens office in Second Life, welcomes all visitors to come and meet the candidate.

Google is rumored to be building their own immersive world and may be buying AdScape to become a player in in-game advertising.

I’m not a fan of Second Life yet (although Jeff Barr is helping me realize how real business can actually be conducted in the virtual world, not by just wandering around, but by planning events or attending planned events). But as these kinds of online worlds start attracting businesses and governments and millions of new users, there will definitely be business opportunities opening up left and right for savvy entrepreneurs.

As a former Dungeons & Dragons player (I quit cold turkey at age 13 or 14 after a full year addiction) I can see the appeal of games like World of Warcraft, Everquest, and now SecondLife, which some people don’t call a game, but which certainly has a lot of appeal for gamers. As an entrepreneur, I see huge opportunities emerging here. In business, you need to go where the eyeballs are, and if million join immersive 3D worlds, then you better find a way to play there.

I think a Google immersive world built on Google Earth will be far more interesting than Second Life, and I hope the rumors are true.

International Genealogy Search Engines

Our World Vital Records team has launched international genealogy search engines for 11 countries, with 18 more in the pipeline already.

Our intial list includes a search engine for genealogy in China and a search engine for genealogy in India. Other countries include Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Kenya, the Philippines, Tonga, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Also this week, we are uploading 200 electronic back-issues of the famous genealogy magazine, Everton Genealogical Helper. We have indexed more than 10,000 pages dating from 1947-2006. That’s 60 years of content from the magazine that is the most interactive of all genealogical publications. For decades, readers have been writing in their queries, which would get published, and other readers would then connect with each other. The Helper was a genealogy bulletin board before the internet was even invented.

We are currently designing and building the interactive features of our new family history web site. If we can engage the Helper audience in using our new web based tools, then we’ll be able to take interactive genealogy to an entirely new level.

Family history is a global phenomenon

In December our web analytics showed that Worldvitalrecords.com had visitors from 117 countries. Now we are up to 141 countries. The web is truly a global phenomenon. So is family history. World Vital Records is helping people all over the world find their ancestors. Stay tuned for some exciting announcements in the coming months.

I remember a few years ago a Roper Starch Worldwide survey found that “protecting the family” was the key driving value in the lives of most consumers from most countries. In fact, I believe it was ranked #1 in 22 of the 35 countries that were surveyed.

“Respecting your elders” was also in the top 5 values. These values were ranked ahead of health, money, and other things that we normally think of as driving consumer behaviors. (Now of course our values and our behaviors are not necessarily always in sync!)

The family still is the most fundamental unit of society, even though 44% of adult Americans are single (I saw that factoid on the news the other day), they all still belong to at least one family. Everyone is connected. If families ties can become stronger, society benefits a great deal, as families take more responsibility for each other’s well-being.

Goal for 2007 — focus on one thing!

After some wonderful time off with my family, I regretfully went back to work yesterday with one of those feelings of being completely overwhelmed — there are so many hundreds of things on my to-do list and so many dozens of things to blog about. I know I’ll never catch up so I won’t even try.

One of my main New Year’s Resolutions is to not get behind on email. Last year I ended the year with about 1,700 "unread" messages in my inbox. The problem is that I had read many (maybe even most) of them on my Blackberry, but they didn’t show up in gmail as having been read.

It is frustrating to occasionally use my Desktop email only and to see so many unread messages that you know you can’t even make a dent in them. And trying to remember which ones you’ve already read is also frustrating.

So a couple weeks ago I downloaded a bunch of Google software onto my blackberry, so instead of using the Blackberry email interface (which is actually far better than gmail) I am now using the Gmail interface which gives me one huge advantage–all the messages I read on my blackberry show up as read in my inbox. Plus, I can easily archive any messages or star the ones that I need to do something about.

And I archived all of last year’s emails so I’m starting the year fresh. It feels good to be caught up!

Now, if I can just find a way to have fewer people emailing me ….

Does anyone have any ideas? How have you reduced the number of incoming emails and voice mail messages?

I know one CEO of a huge company that has an auto-responder that says, "due to the high volume of email that I receive, don’t expect a reply…" or something to that effect. Another CEO says he doesn’t even try to respond to all his messages.

I would welcome any suggestions.

Okay, so now for today’s topic: Goals for 2007.

Last year on January 3rd I blogged about my 2006 goals. At the time I thought I was being overly ambitious and I admitted that. It turns out that I had way too many goals and not enough bandwidth to achieve them all.

While last year I worked on the Book of Mormon in Russian, this year one of my spiritual goals is to study the Koran and to try to understand the beliefs of Islam, with an estimated 1.4 billion adherents. (See Wikipedia article on Islam.) I have great respect for the Muslims whom I have personally met and I believe that understanding the religious beliefs of others can lead to more respect and peaceful co-existence. In fact, I have been wishing that the leaders of our nation would use the "bully pulpit" to encourage all Americans to learn foreign languages (whether it be Arabic, Mandarin, or Spanish) and to study cultures and countries in a determined effort to gain more respect and admiration for other peoples. I think the "ugly American" image could be overturned if we made a concerted national effort to do so.

2007 will be a very different year for me. I’ve made the big decision to focus on a single company this year.

During 2006 I ran the Provo Labs incubator and seed fund. We invested in nearly a dozen startup companies. Some of the companies are doing well and will continue to prosper. They will only need occasional help from me. Some of the companies are borderline; perhaps a few will not survive at all. But in a portfolio theory, as I have been reassured by other experienced investors, all of this is okay. It really only takes 1 big hit to provide a positive return to our investors.

During the last few months one company has emerged from the pack as the one that I want to spend almost all of my time on during the coming year. It happens to be in a field that I love; we are creating a vision that is big and bold. We have a desire to have a positive impact on millions of people in the coming year.

The company I’m going to focus on this year is World Vital Records, our next generation family history company.

I have told people for years that I would have stayed with MyFamily.com for the rest of my life if that company had stayed true to the vision that we created for it in the early years.

But I left nearly five years ago because I felt the company had no room for my ideas and was no longer favorable towards innovation. It has been painful for me to watch as Web 2.0 has swept the world with its emphasis on user generated content and social networks, and to continually wonder what MyFamily.com could have been. In fact, I blogged in 2005 about what MyFamily.com might have been.

With a reported $150 million in revenue this year, the company formerly called MyFamily.com and now known as The Generations Network, is a formidable and very dominating company in the genealogy industry.

I am favorably impressed with what the company is doing in many respects, including customer service. I often get emails from people who think I’m still involved with the company. The number of complaints has dropped dramatically. I think the company’s policies are kinder and gentler than they used to be. I’m excited about all the data the company is putting online and it’s greater use of PR this past year. I’m looking forward to the upcoming "relaunch" of MyFamily.com. I know the company was advertising on HotJobs for Web 2.0 developers and savvy internet marketers up in Seattle where the MyFamily business unit is located. I can’t tell you how exciting this is for me, to see a new commitment to private web sites for families.

(Note: I am not involved in the company, except as a minor shareholder.)

But our new company, currently called World Vital Records, and soon to be renamed when we launch our flagship genealogy web site, definitely has a place in the world.

We will soon have 5,000 paying subscribers. (We launched our paid service in October.) Our traffic is growing, our Alexa ranking is increasing and our momentum is building. We exceeded our Q4 forecast by 33%.

We have subscribers from all 50 states and 8 countries, and we have already had visitors to our web site from 117 different countries. And this is just the beginning.

Our team is incredible. We have the original search engine developer at Ancestry.com, Richard Stauffer, and the lead data engineeer, John Ivie, who prepped the first 3 billion records that Ancestry.com put on its web site. Our President, David Lifferth, was also a data engineer at MyFamily.com, but he is learning web analytics, marketing, and is an excellent manager. He was part of the team that helped Infobases (my first company) launch its first genealogy CD ROM product back in 1995. So he has a lot of experience in this field. We also have Brad Pace, who was the lead developer of the MyFamily.com web site when it launched back in 1998. In fact, our team probably knows more about the early days of Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com than all the employees at The Generations Network combined, since almost none of the original folks are left there.

We also have a great content acquisition team and advisory board members are helping us license and create databases from all over the world. We’ll have some great announcements in the coming months.

We know we can build tools and provide content that will appeal to millions of people who are interested in their family history. And we can co-exist with The Generations Network and dozens of other companies with important family history web sites. In fact, we will send our members to all other web sites, including Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com, and Rootsweb.com, if that is where the answers exist that they are looking for. Our mission is to help our customers find the answers they are seeking.

This year, since I want to focus on one thing (and all my advisors and mentors have been telling me this for months!) I want to publicly blog about my 2007 goals for World Vital Records.

1. We want to end this year with at least 30,000 paying members.

2. We hope to have 3 million registered users on our soon-to-be-launched flagship web site. It will be much more mainstream than Worldvitalrecords.com.

3. We intend to have search engines built and data available in dozens of countries and several languages. We are working on our Poland genealogy search engine, for example.

It is exciting to focus again on an industry that I love. The people in the genealogy industry are among the best people I have ever met. They are so dedicated and passionate to finding and preserving family stories. They are smart and kind and willing to share.

I truly hope that our team can provide value for millions of family historians. As we talk with family historians every day and learn more about their unmet needs, you will see a continual stream of new content and features on our web sites.

We are small, but we have big dreams for this company.

I’ve been telling people that I’m going to focus on one thing this year, and people who know me are highly skeptical. I’ve been doing so many different things in the past 3 years they don’t think I really can focus.

And they are mostly right. I won’t give 100% to anything, because I am involved in many things. But I think I can give 80% of my time and effort to one thing.

I will continue to lecture weekly at the Provo Labs Academy and bring guests in regularly to provide excellent training to the entrepreneurs who are members there. I will continue to do this because it helps me stay sharp on what’s going on in internet marketing and it also gives me a great opportunity to bring employees from my portfolio companies together for training. I’ve been requiring their attendance at many events. And I love the energy and insights that all the PLA members bring to the meetings.

Yesterday Brock Blake from FundingUniverse.com gave a great lecture about what entrepreneurs need to know about angel investors.

Today I’m lecturing on Search Engine Optimization and the Google Algorithm. With many employees from my own companies attending, I can meet their training needs all at once. And when all our portfolio companies are generating a great deal of traffic from natural search engine traffic and are using web analytics, pay-per-click and email marketing effectively, then this ongoing commitment to internet marketing training will really pay off.

Our Provo Labs Academy members pay $200 to be able to attend up to 4 lectures and networking events per week and to get some access to our office space, library and conference rooms in Provo. Call Pat Sheranian at 801-373-6565 if you are interested in learning more.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year!

I hope that you don’t hold it against me if you are one of the hundreds of people whose emails and voice mails I didn’t return last year. I assure you, those messages are safely in my archive. :)

As you know, I plan to do better this year.

Annual Report from China

The economic growth in China continues to be high, 9.9% according to Premier Wen Jiabao’s 2005 report. The goal for GDP growth in 2006 is 8%.

It is interesting for me to read a document like this that is so full of Soviet style language and formality but the news that is being reported in that language is so positive. Most of the Soviet era documents that I read while a Russian major in the 1980s were attempts to make a really bad situation sound great.

But the Chinese reality is a fast-growing economy and unprecedented global competitiveness. So to see that couched in government language like this is really strange for me. It still doesn’t quite compute for me (a conservative free marketeer) to see Five Year Plans actually working. Are they working because all the Chinese leaders are engineers (and not lawyers like here) and because information technology enables central planning to somehow work; or is the Chinese economy growing in spite of the Five Year Plans from the central government?