Bookhabit Acquisition Strengthens Web Venture Value Proposition

The reported acquisition of Wellington based Bookhabit by Los Gatos company Smashwords is an encouraging development. It demonstrates that we can incubate attractive, high value web-based ventures and get noticed globally.

About 18 months ago I was involved in some consulting at Bookhabit, working on building their user community. It was a great experience and a good lead in to my next project, which was of course, starting up ideegeo and then launching our domain registrar software platform iWantMyName. Perhaps the most useful lesson from that experience was observing just how much hard work is needed to to gain traction with a start-up business.

On that basis I’m tremendously pleased for Clare Tanner and her partners at Webfund, who I know put in a lot of hours to build their business. I’m also pleased to hear from Webfund that the company remains strongly committed to supporting the Wellington technology scene and that they are keen to work with Clare and others on future projects as they look to reinvest.

But, last week I was reading the painful story of a New Zealand biotech start-up that flushed tens of millions of dollars down the drain through mismanagement and bad luck. Why aren’t we playing to our strengths? The set-up cost for a web technology venture is a fraction of that for biotech and the innovation wavelength on the Web is a lot shorter. We can spread the risk by funding 50 Bookhabits for every single biotech punt. That is why ICT specifically needs to be back on the national economic development agenda.

Euro Doppleganger for iWantMyName Platform

Speaking of taking Kiwi tech global. It was with a huge amount of pride that that we announced the launch of two new registrar sites over at ideegeo this week. In conjunction with a great partner in the Netherlands we’ve created Ben ik Vrij a Dutch language version of our iWantMyName site. With all the functionality of our existing platform plus full Euro currency integration Ben ik Vrij allows us to enter one of the largest domain markets in Europe.

benikvrij

But we aren’t just stopping there. We’ve also opened a wholly owned and operated German language site and we called it simply Mein Name. The German site is a special achievement because ideegeo in part has its origins in an idea that began in Germany. Mein Name is a little bit like a return home for us.

meinname

The new sites demonstrate how ideegeo can powerfully leverage the underlying technology behind iWantMyName and how we can make other partnerships work in new markets. Expect to see further rollouts and cool new services in the future as we change the face of domain name management.

Four Rules for Capturing Hearts and Minds

I have sometimes been asked how a new web venture can grow itself from zero street credibility to a point where it can gain a place in consumer consciousness and secure a meaningful share of the marketplace. Here’s four approaches that we have taken at ideegeo as we grow iWantMyName into a global brand and attempt to differentiate our first product offering in an already mature and highly competitive market:

1. Cultivate a community of trust. Demonstrating industry knowledge,  showing moral and ethical leadership and delivering on product promises are fundamental keys to success.

2. Offer an exceptional user/customer/reader experience. Consumers have a lot of choice already. Why would you aim for mediocrity when you can have excellence?

3. Network. Connect in both the real world and online. Think – what can I learn from this person and how can I help them in return? What can our company do to help build communities?

4. Enjoy the journey. If you are looking toward the sky, you are more likely to find a rainbow. So find a project that you will enjoy doing.

If you follow these four rules and build a good team around such philosophies, you will have substantially improved your chances of success in going global. These are not the only rules of course, but it is a good starting point. Are there any other rules you would like to add?

 

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How Safe is Your Digital Identity?

iwantmyname_logo_50The ongoing saga around the threatened discontinuation of url shortener tr.im plus the recent DOS attacks on Twitter are chilling reminders that your personal data is far from secure on the Internet. It also raises philosophical questions about the transient nature of knowledge on the Web. So where should we turn?

It’s a little unclear whether or not the tr.im panic was reality or just a cleverly orchestrated publicity stunt, but it doesn’t matter. What this incident reminds us is that when it comes to Internet content, we are all at the whim of the service providers. Whether it be business data, webmail, blogs, images or short links, if your favourite free service tanks – it can cause a lot of disruption.

Much of the trust we place in hosted web services hinges on the assumption that they will remain in perpetuity. Furthermore, we like to believe that such services are secure and that our personal data will not be abused. Are those fair assumptions? Even the big guys have server downtime and most don’t publish monthly reports on their financial stability. How can we feel confident that the best interests of end users are being served?

Don’t get me wrong. I like using services in the cloud and I’m 99% happy with what they provide. I also think tr.im is a very neat and user-friendly product and I’m sure they will find a way forward. However, it is a fairly straightforward exercise to set up your own personal url shortener service within your own branded domain name. Over at iWantMyName we’ve come up with a list of providers who can help you set up your own url shortener service. In some cases these services offer link portability – but you must own your own domain to do this.

But what if the domain name system (DNS) itself gets taken down? Well never say never. What we do know is that, despite it’s failings, the DNS system keeps chugging along and has done so for many years. It also has a powerful and well resourced regulatory body. The strength of the domain registration industry business model should ensure its longevity, unlike some other service offerings on the Web. So if you want to properly protect and control your digital identity, find an ethical, user-centric and innovative domain registrar such as iWantMyName and secure the web domains that you need.

Update – here’s a great article from LifeHacker assessing risks in the cloud:

http://lifehacker.com/5325169/the-hidden-risks-of-cloud-computing

The Apprentice

Almost one year into my “apprenticeship” as a technology start-up CEO I found it was time to take stock of achievements, critically reassess my position and then plan for the next phase of growth. Balancing the capital requirements of the business has proven to be the biggest challenge.

I read somewhere recently a suggestion that there is “an inverse relationship between the amount of capital available and the level of creativity in a start-up.” To some extent this is true. With too much capital in the bank there is a lot less urgency to get your product built and consequently innovation happens at a much slower pace. But when a company needs to find the cash to pay for rent and employees each month, building a brand and growing revenue certainly come into much sharper focus.  However, bringing in an investor should not be a priority at an early stage because it may result in divesting too much control at a very low price. If possible, put your assumptions to the test first.

On the other hand, running a capital starved business is like flying an aircraft without enough fuel in the tanks. You won’t make it to your destination and you may well end up wrecked in some farmer’s turnip field. Hence, we train pilots to load sufficient fuel for the planned flight plus an additional fixed margin for safety. Most experienced pilots add a little extra on top of this, especially if the weather is inclement. When the economic climate is adverse, it is not the time to be short on financial fuel.

We’ve made huge progress since we launched iWantMyName last December and I’m very proud of what the guys have already achieved. The good news for ideegeo is that the site has growing revenues and is only the first of several spin-off projects as we build and test our internal capability. The bad news is that we have entered a mature market in a highly competitive industry with this first project. That means we have no choice but to offer the best user experience and market our product powerfully.

Something else I read recently. “Overnight success” can take years, especially in the technology sector. That is why I realised that it was time to sit down, readjust my self-imposed frame of reference and plan for more growth (and more hard work). If consumers see value in the product, cash will continue to flow into the business; if not then it will soon become an expensive hobby. The key will be to add smart services that differentiate iWantMyName from other offerings in the market.

2008 Round-Up and Festive Cheer

I’m pleased to report that (in stark contrast to 2007) this year was filled with achievements and a reaffirmed sense that our ideas on knowledge sharing and community building have even more relevance than ever before. This year also saw some big changes on the political landscape and darkening clouds of recession wrought by the purveyors of greed who suddenly found the debt taps had been turned off.

On a more positive note, with the mainstream embracing cloud computing and social media, there was mounting evidence of a paradigmatic shift towards conceptualising the Internet as an all encompassing virtual operating system. The hope is that creative digital enterprises that generate real value will survive beyond the nuclear winter.

Teaming up with some talented guys to form domain industry technology services provider ideegeo was certainly the highlight of the year and the fulfilment of a personal ambition of mine. The new company is an umbrella for a number of interesting spinoff projects, the first of which is iWantMyName our global domain registrar site. Strategising how we use this venture to leverage the aforementioned paradigm shift will occupy much of my time in 2009.

I was also invited to join the Unlimited Potential committee and was consequently able to put my organisational skills to good use helping another talented team to bring several key projects to fruition. UP is Wellington’s leading provider of live networking events to the technology community. I obtained a huge amount of satisfaction from project managing our wonderfully successful final event for the year – Wellington to the World and establishing a template for future advances.

But despite being rich with all this enthusiastic talent, New Zealand continues to suffer from being somewhat removed from the global epicentres of technology investment. Sometimes we are so busy even that we forget to chat to our neighbours and colleagues across the fence. We hope UP events in 2009 will continue to build a sense of community in the technology sector and catalyse new connections and creativity. We hope too that the change in government will result in the development of a truly inspirational national blueprint for innovation that retains incentives for research and development.

Most importantly, 2008 has been a year for many new friendships as a result of participating in the business and being actively engaged in community events and even social media channels like Twitter. Best wishes to all readers and their families. Keep safe and be well over the festive season.

iWantMyName Alive and Kicking

I’m grinning from ear to ear right now. We flipped the switch on ideegeo’s first online venture today. Not only that, we satisfied our first online customer and began earning export dollars for New Zealand. It’s a good feeling after many long hours of hard work.

iWantMyName is an international domain registrar site offering a wide range of domains for sale to the public. It’s a highly competitive industry to enter, hence we are differentiating ourselves from day one. Helpful functionality and friendly usability are hard to find amongst existing registrars, so we’ve gone the extra mile to make the site as clean, sharp and easy to navigate as possible.

We will also be progressively adding functionality that assists users to “personalise their experience of the Web”. So for example if you want to hang all your cloud hosted email, documents, work spaces and social networks under your own domain, we think you should be able to do exactly that without any fuss. Now iWantMyName can help you make that transition. With all the buzz around hosted solutions and portable universal IDs lately, we think this is where the digital world is headed already.

Check out the site and please do feel free to give us feedback.

The Final Countdown

Pretty boy rockers from the band Europe released a cult classic over twenty years ago with a triumphant keyboard riff that still thrills listeners today. Glam rock may now be confined to musical history, but we sure hope ideegeo’s new domain registrar site will roar up the sales charts and still be a number one hit in a couple of decades too.

It’s now only a few days to until we launch and I must say, it’s been most gratifying to see all the hard work evolve into something tangible. The smooth lines and easy functionality of the site belies the many hours of hard work that have gone into the project. Offering an iPhone interface for the site from day one has also proven to be a winning decision, as consumer recognition of the Apple platform grows by the day.

Our tech guys may not be as good looking as the band members from Europe, but they sure as hell work just as hard to satisfy their audience. We’ve had to overcome a few hurdles along the way, like banks who don’t want to know about start-up companies in the current economic climate and bureaucrats who don’t understand the pace of life in a fast moving new company and take two weeks to return your calls and emails. But with dogged determination we’ve pressed on.

Things move fast on the Web and online enterprises must continually reinvent themselves and reinvigorate their business model – especially when economies are faltering. That’s why we don’t want to be just another “me too” web venture. Differentiating our product is important, very much so. That’s why we are planning semantic search functionality and a whole host of value added services that other registrars do not offer.

ideegeo has a vision for the future that is both user-centric and grounded in the realities of cloud computing and hosted service offerings which are now coming of age and launching daily on a desktop or mobile platform near you. Web users of the near future will demand mobility and portability. Owning and managing your own personal domain will become as ubiquitous as owning a car or a refrigerator. In fact your car and fridge will probably soon be delivered complete with their own IP addresses! As our lives become increasingly web-centric and the domain industry opens up, individuals will want to personalise their web experiences. That’s when you will hear the people demand – “I want my name!”.

We’ll release more very soon, once we’ve signed off on our final testing phase. Stay tuned.