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.

12 Comments

  1. Paul –
    Congratulations on the success you’re having with WVR (soon to be renamed). There’s plenty more opportunity out there in the “narrow” world of family history, with innovation – and now focus – like yours.

  2. I hope that you are investing in a good graphic artist for World Vital Records. Just going to that page wreaks of the 90s and poorly done web pages.

    I know your focus is on databases right now, but please spend some money on a good graphic artist. My cousin lives in Provo and does some pretty good work. You might try him if he has time to work with you: http://www.goddardhewett.com/

  3. Paul – I was just reading about the plan for a “web page” for every single person and location in the world through a Wiki. I love the idea and am interested to see this started. What would be neat is to connect it with something similar to MyBlogLog.com, where you can “see” who has been visiting there (look at my blog for example, scroll down on the sidebar) and you can send them a message through the private system. This would be interesting in genealogy “networking” and you don’t have to hand out any personal info.

    Great job on WVR and getting so many subscribers already, that is fantastic. What marketing route gave you the most subscribers would you say?

  4. jen

    Why is it that so many millionares in this country do all there giving in other countries. I understand Africa and other nations are desperately poverty stricken but what about the people here? I work my butt off everyday seeing my daughter for only a couple hours before her bedtime. I’ve made mistakes and now I have credit problems. I can’t get a loan I can’t work enough hours in the day to catch up on my bills and nobody will help even though I work so hard and would pay the money back and then be in a position where hopefully I could give back to others in my situation but there is no help. Why don’t the millionares of this country get together and help people like me, people living in desperate need in this country I’m not asking for a hand out just a hand up and it seems like you are in a position to help people like me yet nobody does. I wish my biggest problem was having to much e-mail to read. If you want a solution to that hire me I will spend every spare minute I have reading your e-mails and deleting the unimportant messages. It would serve us both you would get your e-mails read and I’d have another source of income to help myself get out of debt.

  5. M Adams

    In response to your question “How have you reduced the number of incoming emails . . .?”

    One company I receive coaching from gives customers a different specific subject line they provide Ex. PROVO LABS SEMINAR, when they are expecting replies from those of us who they are focusing on and want to hear from. This way, we do not get lost in the mass of email.

  6. You could start using MYVOPA (My Virtual Online Personal Assistant) It’s an AI program that watches you respond to e-mails and then after gathering eneough data begins to respond to some of the more basic ones. Before the message is sent out you proof it and make corrections. MYVOPA learns from those corrections and after you use it eneough the number of corrections drop down to virtually 0.

    MYVOPA can also perform all the other functions of a personal assistant from scheduling, to making reservations, researching, basically anything you do online or with your computer MYVOPA can learn to do for you as if you were doing it yourself. Plus MYVOPA is available to you 24/7 and you never have to deal with all the human hang ups. You never have to retrain MYVOPA or hire another one. MYVOPA is definitly the next big wave that will revolutionize how we live our lives.

  7. Regarding email, I do two things which work wonders. First, I give every company I deal with a different email address… so if I’m giving my address to apple in order to be able to download iTunes, I type in apple@colinjensen.com. Since I own the domain, any unrecognized email gets forwarded to colin@colinjensen.com. So the mail gets to me, normally in the same inbox, but if I want I can set a rule in Outlook or whatever to filter by incoming email address (which is so much easier than other methods of filtering.) Plus, if they ever give out my email address, I know instantly.

    Variations on this would be to have newsletters@paulallen.net, alerts@paulallen.net, etc. Or to give all legit people your secret address.

    The second idea, which I’ve used before, is to funnel as much as you can to a discussion board/wiki/faq. I mean to do that gracefully, but I get 10 emails a week from long-lost cousins who googled onto my family tree. Now I have taken most every reference to my address off my tree and linked them all to a phpBB board.

    Third, since this is apparently a better way to contact you: will you come speak at my school sometime? :) Anytime you’re free for an hour, I have an amazing group of students, who are largely passionate about entrepreneurship, generally Friedman-esque, and really spiritually sophisticated for their age. Plus I’d love some marketing or modeling advice pursuant to my being Principal of that company.

    Colin Jensen
    (801) 368-1623

  8. Jim Ericson

    Paul, it’s great to see you going back to “roots” to grow something big. I have no doubt about your abilities to succeed in this market you know so well and for which you have so much passion.

  9. M Adams

    Just received an invitation to try out the beta of myfamily.com 2.0. Have you had a chance to review it yet? Maybe it has some of the things you’d hope it would become. So far, I like the voice note and story telling, but hope many other features are coming.

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