Simply Seven: Seven Ways to Create a Sustainable Internet Business
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It is based on the idea that there are seven business building blocks - which form the foundation of all Internet business models. SimplySeven emphasizes constant experimentation in selecting and fine-tuning one's business model and encourages using models outside of the narrow range of today's "hyped" candidates. Chapter by chapter, the book guides the reader through the lessons learned by the flagship pioneers of each business model: Skype for services, Blizzard Entertainment for subscriptions, Amazon.
Regarding financial management, it is too early to tell which company will emerge as leader. However, Simply Seven does not just celebrate the successes; it also focuses on the biggest mistakes.
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This trend is evident in the numbers. Many other VCs try to diversify their portfolio and cover many different areas, from software to routers. This is a big statement in itself about the global diffusion of web-investing skills and entrepreneurial experience beyond Silicon Valley. Today, it has a portfolio that makes other VCs green with envy: Twitter, Foursquare, Zynga and many, many, more great companies, including one venture we feature in this book: Heyzap. On the web, completely new types of services are being launched at a rate unknown in the real world.
Charging for these services is much harder because expectations are not set by decades of experience.
Translating this into real-world terms, we are not talking about the challenges of opening a new hotel; we are talking about inventing a completely new way to buy a vacation. If you are offering such a completely new product or service, you need to find the right business model without any preexisting references to go by.
This can go awfully wrong, too.
Take, for example, MySpace. MySpace used to be more popular than Facebook. In fact, at a certain point in time, MySpace was the rising star of the Internet. Google wanted to sign an exclusive partnership agreement so badly that the Google founders purportedly flew to the MySpace headquarters in LA in a helicopter.
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Millions loved MySpace. The advertising business model probably was the right choice for the company; early on, there was an intense discussion about a subscription model instead. So far so good. The greatest mistake of MySpace was that they betrayed their own fans by applying the advertising business model wrongly. Management plastered the site full of banner ads to meet their revenue growth targets. These banners appeared on the very pages where people proudly featured themselves to their friends.
Content on a social network is created by the community, not by a media company — this makes a big difference. To top it all off, the quality of the ads was very low and featured things some people would rather not like to be directly associated with like cosmetic surgery or dietary pills.
MySpace was managed by smart people. They and their predecessors put a lot of love into building the service, but they disregarded the importance of getting their business model just right. The costs for building a web business have fallen and it may be reasonable to wait and think, rather than implement the wrong business model, as we have just seen.
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But falling costs for web business and the abundant Think outside the box, constantly experiment and evolve availability of data on the Internet provide a far better alternative to waiting and thinking: testing. For example, they measure so-called drop off rates in their funnel people that are lost while navigating through the site. This provides insight about possible problem areas, which can be improved. Far fewer web site owners use the same analytical approach to test out and improve their business model.
Very few Internet execs and entrepreneurs make systematic use of the data available to them. Your customers accept constant change, too. They even demand it. This expectation provides an opportunity usually not available in the offline world: the right business model can be found through testing and tweaking. Analytics and experimentation actually go together; the ability to measure and the ability to test are a powerful combination.
Obviously, even on the Internet, there are some things you cannot try out without risking your current business. But much more experimentation is possible than people realize. His whole career has revolved around analytics — but this is his dream job.
Imagine the possibilities to measure and test Zynga has with its more than million monthly players. Sometimes I think we are an analytics company masquerading as a gaming company. Everything is run by the numbers. Analysis will result in a little more insight, but in combination with experimentation it becomes very powerful. Feedback Driven Game Design actually is the combination of analysis and experimentation. In the meantime, Rudin and Zynga have moved beyond Feedback Driven Game Design to provide personalized gaming experiences, but we will discuss this development in the concluding chapter.
Take, for example, advertising. In the real world, it is difficult to offer advertising to one set of your customers and leave it out for the other — and then analyze the results after a month to see the impact. Even if you have the luxury of running your business in different locations and you can, say, run the advertising trial in Denver and not in Detroit, you will not come close to generating the amount of data that an Internet trial would provide you with.
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The length of time people spent on your web site, what they clicked at, what they avoided, what they bought. Instead, they create a solid first iteration of the game known as the Minimal Viable Product, or MVP , release it to the market, and then immediately analyze what people do in the game and what they like about the game, and then use that to drive further development and testing of new ideas. It is possible to benefit from the large million plus community of Zynga players to provide different players with small variations of games.
This is active experimentation within a game itself. In fact, Zynga carries out hundreds of active experiments within their existing, running games to provide analytical insight into improving each game further. This is not just some experimentation, this astounding scale of testing means that a Zynga online game is a living, learning, developing organism. Idealab — Running a business model laboratory Bill Gross, the Founder of Idealab, is one of the few serial entrepreneurs who has proven that he cannot only found companies in succession, but in parallel.
Successes include GoTo. Bill Gross is a fervent believer in the benefits of constant measuring and experimentation in business. His interest in this approach actually predated the web. When he was 14, Gross sold plans for constructing parabolic solar collectors.
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This business paid for his Caltech college fees. Since he had mentioned the business in his application, it perhaps even got him into the highly regarded engineering school in the first place. To optimize the sales of his product and his bottom line, Gross measured and improved his marketing approach continually. Bill Gross also optimized his business model, by experimenting with different approaches to selling the brochure and the plans themselves.
A small fee worked better than a free brochure. While less people ordered the brochure in the first place, those that did exhibited a higher rate of buying the plans. Idealab is not part of the famous mile radius Silicon Valley investors like to invest in, but has performed stunningly nonetheless.
He is, always has been, a disrupter. Idealab itself was started as a test. After the first year, the viability of Idealab was to be assessed. It was a huge success. Seven of the ten companies were able to attract external financing. After CitiSearch, the first of these companies, was merged into TicketMaster and then listed, it became evident that Idealab could be self-funded.
Idealab focuses today on two areas: Internet and energy.
It only invests in companies which radically disrupt their respective markets and have the promise to achieve significant size.