Google Reader for Blackberry

In my opinion, one of the most important things you can do to succeed in your chosen profession, is to invest time and effort into selecting the best blogs and news feeds in the world that will connect you with the thought leaders in your field. I agree with Tim Sanders that 80% of your time learning should be with the best books (source: Love is the Killer App), but then the 20% that is spent with media or online to stay current with breaking news and thought, should be the best sources anywhere.

When I taught internet marketing at BYU, I told the students that most of what I would teach them would be obsolete within months or years, but that if they learned how to find the most authoritative and helpful sources of new content, and develop a habit of studying that content regularly, that they could be world class marketers. Most people, I have found, do not invest the time upfront to create the flow of information that will help them the most.

I have been a huge fan of Google Reader for more than a year now, but several times I’ve looked for a download of Google Reader for the Blackberry, similar to what I downloaded for Google News.

But today, thankfully, I came across a blog post that simply says the mobile version of Google Reader is accessed simply by visiting www.google.com/reader/m/view.

I have a much better chance of staying current with my favorite feeds now that I have found this URL. It is now my #1 bookmark in my Google web browser.

Already this morning while walking around the house getting ready for work, I read a clip about Boston-based Eons.com (a social networking site for people over 50 that has raised more than $30 million in venture capital) laying off 1/3 to 1/2 of its staff (and possibly ditching the obits section), and a report by Leland Meitzler of last nights UGA Conference banquet — stuff I might have missed since I spend so little time at my desktop these days. I do almost all of my email on my blackberry, and now, I think, the vast majority of my Google Reader time will be on my blackberry.

When you don’t have time to blog, at least share what you are reading

My Google Reader (for RSS feeds–highly recommended!) now has a wonderful “share this” feature, which allows me to quickly tag the best news stories that I read each week, even when I don’t have time to blog about them.

Then, those shared items show up online for others to view. My shared items can be found here.

Soon, I hope to have my shared items incorporated into my own paulallen.net web site, but that will take a bit of development work. And my blog developer has 6 priorities ahead of this one.

Speaking of paulallen.net, I was happy to discover yesterday that Yahoo Denmark now ranks paulallen.net the #2 top result for the search “paul allen.” In fact, several Scandinavian sites did the same thing. (No wonder I get so much email from all over the world for the Microsoft billionaire!)

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.

#1 Need for Startups

In May 2005 Fraser Bullock, one of Utah’s brightest lights in the financial world (formerly with Bain Capital, now runs Sorenson Capital, helped with the 2002 Olympics turn-around), spoke at the Edison Conference in Salt Lake City.

Fortunately, I had my blackberry and I took extensive notes. Here are my notes from the middle part of his talk:

Management has to be adaptable. 1990 someone brought him into run home shopping network, pre-internet. Challenge was to get consumers to buy. They had a patent. Decided they had assets, what could they build that might be of worth. Built transaction processing engine for remote banking. Sold it to Visa International in 1994.

In fast moving tech environment, if I didn’t step back every 3-6 months to fundamentally re-assess our assets and the environment, I might be missing a paradigm shift. You need the discipline to step back.

We invested in a hardware company, but we saw the asset in the software they had developed. We invested in it, but are converting it to a software company.

Ultimately we have to produce revenue. That always comes down to distribution. Our 1990 company did deal with Visa, they distributed to thousands. For new companies, it’s distriution, distribution, distribution. Must be big, fast, easy. We always asked “Where is the money.”

Long term, to succeed, we needed to have a strategic competitive advantage. What makes you different? What will make people buy this? This is essential to any company we look at.

When you are looking at changing behavior (even if your product is twice as good), inertia is your worst enemy. Sometimes you have to be 10 times as good.

Looking at the handheld X-Ray system he said he’d like to use this on teenagers to find out what is going on in his life.

Utah more and more is coming of age. To our chagrin, most of the big tech companies we’ve built here have left. But we are getting more critical mass. And there is more capital now. The overhand is astonishing. If you have good management team and a distribution strategy, the money is out there.

We need companies here, and high paying jobs.

The key takeaway from Fraser Bullock’s talk that I have been thinking about lately is his strong emphasis on distribution as the key to revenue.

Without sales and marketing distribution channels, you cannot get to revenue.

I also have notes from a Greg Warnock UVEF speech last year where he said a recent survey of 400 Utah entrepreneurs showed that the average time to revenue for a startup company is 14 months.

I think that is WAY too long. I think that if entrepreneurs would focus on distribution, they could cut the time to revenue dramatically, and find much greater chances of success.

I have a friend who made the Inc. 500 list in the 1990s, with a couple million dollars per year in annual revenue. He told me once that his revenue was tiny until he found a new distribution channel: home school conventions. Once his company found success with home school conventions, they started going to all of them and the company’s revenues jumped dramatically. If he hadn’t found this channel, no doubt the company would have folded.

So it’s all about the channel.

At Infobases, the first company I founded and ran from 1990-1997, our two primary distribution channels were LDS bookstores that sold our CD ROM products, and then over time, our house mailing list, which eventually grew to nearly 150,000 customers.

There are different channels for different products and services. Each industry is unique. Entrepreneurs need to discover all the various channels and layers of influence that affect how decisions are made.

There are retail channels, network marketing channels, direct marketing, distributors and value-added resellers (VARs).

Since 1996 I have been focused primarily on the internet as a sales and marketing channel. My favorite “internet channel” is affiliate marketing, where thousands of motivated entrepreneurs and webmasters aggressively promote your products to all their site visitors or email list subscribers.

My next favorite channel is search engine marketing, a powerful channel where every keyword you purchase or get high natural rankings for becomes a sales person working for you 24-hours a day.

I don’t know if I’m abusing Fraser Bullock’s definition of a channel by describing the internet as a channel. But I do know that many if not most of the pureplay internet companies from the mid-90s have expanded over the years to become multi-channel retailers.

Except for potential channel conflict, which can damage a company, there is little reason for a company to stay purely within one channel. Companies want to expand, and finding new channels is a great way to grow your business.

But for startup companies, finding the first channel that gets you customers and revenue is the most important thing.

One unusual source that I rely on again and again to discover potential channels for companies that I am involved in is the Directories in Print, published by Gale. I own a 2003 edition. But local university libraries often have the latest edition on the shelves.

Directories in Print is like the yellow pages, which I also sometimes use for brainstorming potential channels and strategic partners. It covers hundreds of categories and topics. And within each topic, it lists industry organizations, associations, published guides, and all kinds of directories of members and companies. It’s a great starting place to get a feel for an industry.

Next, I like to research all the periodicals and publications that cover a particular topic. The Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media lists more than 11,000 periodicals, newspapers, radio, TV and cable stations. The 1994 edition listed more than 50 periodicals in the genealogy industry.

The Standard Periodical Directory lists more than 70,000 titles in 230 subject areas. Oxbridge publishes several titles including the Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters.

I don’t have copies of any of these, but I hope to get copies of many of these reference books for the Provo Labs Academy Library. For now, we’ll just prepare a directory of the most useful ones along with their call numbers in the BYU Library.

I’ve blogged before about the great need for entrepreneurs to write things down. Intellectual capital, even the name and email address of a single person whom you once met, might be the key to your finding the channel that will turn your company into a success.

The Apprentice episode a couple years ago that showed two teams competing to attract brides to a single day wedding gown sale in downtown New York City ended with one team failing miserably and the other team selling dozens of gowns to the crowd of brides-to-be that flocked to the sale. The difference? One team knew about theknot.com‘s bridal registry database; the other team did not.

The team with a channel wins over the team with no channel.

So what is the #1 need for startup companies? Find a channel that helps you find customers and generate sales. Of course as Fraser Bullock also pointed out, you have to have a great product to break into a channel, sometimes 10 times better than the competition that is already entrenched.

But some channels, like the internet, are great for new companies with new products. I encourage entrepreneurs to use sales channels like eBay to see if they can sell their product to the millions of people who shop there before investing thousands of dollars in building their own web site. I also advocate setting up stores on Yahoo and Amazon and not merely relying on your own single storefront. Take your products to where the customers are. Use all the available channels to reach the maximum number of people.

The ebook publishing company that Provo Labs recently invested in has some great online channels, including Handango and Mobipocket, with more coming soon, including a major web retailer.

The Deseret News has become a great partner for the LDS Media products. And mp3books.com is working with FranklinCovey to make its audio books more widely available to its customers.

FundingUniverse.com is using Sprout Marketing to help identify influencers in the angel investing world and also to find potential strategic partners. Strategic partners that bring you into contact with their constituents can also be considered channel partners in a broad sense — don’t just think retail channels.

So if you are a startup, think long and hard about the channels that you are going to use to get your company to profitability. Spend more time on that than you ever have before, and your chances for success will increase.

Google Alerts

One of my favorite free web services is Google Alerts. I have more than 200 keywords that I track now. I find more value in this than in RSS feeds, which subscribe me to lots of content that I don’t really want. Almost all of my Google Alerts give me content that I really do want.

One exception is the keyword “GPS”. More than half of the hits seem to be coming from the UK news where GPs seems to mean “General Practictioners” (there is even a magazine called GP), so most of the hits are false hits. I’m trying to track news about GPS (Global Positioning Satellite).

I’m asking every Provo Labs incubator employee (and as many portfolio company employees as possible) to take the time to set up Google alerts on every keyword they think they should track: publishers, competitors, top web sites, topics, people, partners, etc.

Next time we have a mixer, I’m going to ask every attendee to show me their Alerts keyword list, and the best one will win a $100 bill.

I’ve lectured many times to college students and I tell them that it may turn out over the course of their professional life that the single most important thing they can ever do if they want to be a world expert in something, if they want to succeed in their career, is to have the best possible Google keyword alert list, so that they never miss an important news story about anything they are interested in, from over 4,500 new sources around the world.

I say this because you are what you read and watch and hear — and if your information diet is purely random, broadcast-to-the-masses whatever, then you will consume a lot of fluff.

But if you focus on consuming content you’ve defined as important (based on topics) from all the world’s news sources, you can really get ahead in your field.

Plus, it takes seconds to add any new term to your Alerts.

Now imagine your Google Alert list when it can be applied to TV, Radio, magazines, blogs, and other media types, and when you can weight your keywords by importance.

Intelligent Alerts

I love Google Alerts and I get 50-100 per day on my blackberry.

But what I really want is an intelligent alerts system that cuts across all media types (including TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, blogs, business conferences, and podcasts) and prioritizes all of this media based on a profile that I build.

For example, I would set up a list of topics, people and companies that I am interested in. And I would create some rules about the kinds of content that I consider most authoritative: perhaps listing my favorite types of content, or publishers that I consider most credible.

Then, my intelligent agents would look in all media for matches. And all the matches would be added to my personal knowledge base (currently, I store all my alerts in gmail) so I could retrieve them at will.

But my daily diet of media content would be delivered to me based on pre-defined rules. So if there is an SEC filing or a free analyst report on a company I am tracking, that would be a top priority. Any MarketingSherpa case study on a topic or company of interest would be ranked high, because that content is invaluable. A Bambi Francisco column would come ahead of any other columnist. And blog posts by my favorite thinkers that match my topics would also come up first.

So if I’m going to maximize the use of my media time, I really need an agent to prioritize what I will be viewing, reading, or listening to in the hours that I devote to media.

But all this doesn’t take into account one of the most important things I’ve learned in the last 10 years — that the best use of my media time is in books. In Love is the Killer App, Tim Sanders argues that 80% of our learning time should be spent in books, since there is such a high concentration of lasting knowledge there.

So how does my intelligent agent handle books? Well, I suppose that with Amazon’s search within a book and Google Print, that my agent will start looking for keyword matches in lots of books — but I don’t want them all delivered at once — I somehow need these important matches to be turned into a steady daily stream.

But not all books are created equal. Some books become obsolete; others remain classics. Some new authors waste our time; but news appear on the scene with amazing new ideas.

Since I started using Tim Sander’s approach to marking up books (where on the inside back pages I write the page number and the “big idea” that I find on any page), that one of the best uses of my time is to review all my notes on books that I’ve already read and loved.

So my intelligent agent needs to realize how forgetful I am, and that I often need to have the very best content I’ve ever encountered to be recirculated into my daily intake somehow.

I am reminded that Alan Kay said that the best way to predict the future is by inventing it; and I probably won’t get the intelligent agent system that I really want unless I design it myself.

I hope I can make time to help design this kind of a personal knowledge management system.

In the end, for me, something like this would become even more valuable than Google’s index of everything, because all content is not of equal worth, I can only take in so much, and I want to be able to take in the best content and be reminded continually of the great content I’ve already taken in but that I’m not utilizing effectively in practice.

Once I have internalized what I have learned, and I have incorporated it into training or curriculum for my employees or in systems that my employees use, then I don’t need to be reminded of that stuff anymore.

John Battelle (author of “The Search”) talks about “search to discover” and “search to recover.” Of course we need both.

But perhaps in the future when there are literally trillions of web pages accessible to anyone on planet earth we will need something else even more. Maybe we should call it “search to cover.” Or maybe “unsearch.”

We’ll need to filter out the 99.99% of content that is worthless to us and expose only the content that can help us find worthwhile relationships, useful knowledge, and ultimately satifisfaction, peace, and happiness in life.

One of the greatest scholars I’ve ever known (Hugh Nibley) once said that the role of a teacher is to save time by telling students what not to read.

Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court Justice and current Mormon religious leader, said:

We have thousands of times more available information than Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. Yet which of us would think ourselves a thousand times more educated or more serviceable to our fellowmen than they? The sublime quality of what these two men gave to us—including the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address—was not attributable to their great resources of information, for their libraries were comparatively small by our standards. Theirs was the wise and inspired use of a limited amount of information.

Available information wisely used is far more valuable than multiplied information allowed to lie fallow. I had to learn this obvious lesson as a law student.

Over 45 years ago, I was introduced to a law library with hundreds of thousands of law books. (Today such a library would include millions of additional pages available by electronic data retrieval.) When I began to prepare an assigned paper, I spent many days searching in hundreds of books for the needed material. I soon learned the obvious truth (already familiar to experienced researchers) that I could never complete my assigned task within the available time unless I focused my research in the beginning and stopped that research soon enough to have time to analyze my findings and compose my conclusions.

(Source: “Focus and Priorities”, April 2001)

What an interesting challenge lies ahead. With the digitization of everything we run the risk of “ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)