Web-based businesses circa 2004

I met with Dave Panos and Andrew Busey of Pluck yesterday to learn more about their product and their company. Rather than go into the software (which I really like btw, combination RSS reader, bookmark manager, and simple collaboration tool), I wanted to share some of our thoughts about consumer-based web businesses circa 2004. We had a nice discussion about why it was different to launch a web-based business in today’s world versus the bubble period. It was even more interesting considering that Dave and Andrew were on their third or fourth startups, depending on how you count. Our conclusion was that it is so much easier and cheaper to build a web-based business today than in the early days of the Internet. OK, I am being master of the obvious, but I am interested to see what else you can add to the list below.

1. Critical Mass
During the bubble period, the promise and potential of the Internet was all around us. However, the critical mass was not there. Today, we have critical mass, a number of users that are experienced with the web. We have real broadband penetration (although not as high as Korea, for example). This obviously allows any new company to actually build a real business with real users that can throw off cash flow.

2. Technology/Experience
In the early years, people did not have off-the-shelf components and open standards like XML/SOAP to build web-based applications. If you wanted to build a chat program, you had to build the whole thing from scratch. In today’s world, you can pull an off-the-shelf component from an ISV or from the open source community, Jabber for example, and have chat instantly integrated in your product. Additionally, the developers 8 years ago were pioneering new applications and a new language. If you combine that same developer who is now seasoned with better technology, you get a great headstart in building new products. What used to take months now takes weeks to build. What used to cost millions now now costs a fraction of that. We have more capability built into the browser. Pluck and Onfolio, for example, are built and integrated into IE instead of being a separate application. We have toolbars galore built into IE. It works.

3. Business models
Andrew stressed the other main point which is that we know what business models work today versus yesterday. Paid search didn’t exist years ago. Today it is a multi-billion market. Portals were nowhere close to profitable and today they are. Companies like Yahoo, Google, Amazon, and EBay have become big enough to build a business around-they have an ecosystem-they are the gorillas of the web and entrepreneurs can launch products around them. Additionally, we know how to reach users better and measure success. We are not throwing money away on stupid advertising campaigns. The smart and seasoned entrepreneurs now have more outlets for guerilla marketing (blogger community is a new and great one).

Remember the old adage that pioneers get arrows in their backs? Well, many early entrepreneurs did fail. Luckily, today’s entrepreneurs have the hindsight and ability to soak in all of the expensive lessons learned from the past. Now that is a tremendous advantage, one that will only get better with time.

Published by Ed Sim

founder boldstart ventures, over 20 years experience seeding and leading first rounds in enterprise startups, @boldstartvc, googlization of IT, SaaS 3.0, security, smart data; cherish family time + enjoy lacrosse + hockey

5 comments on “Web-based businesses circa 2004”

  1. Another asset of internet business today is humility. In the boom years, so many investments and decisions were driven by hype. Investors (and to some extent, customers) all thought they had to have some internet thing, but nobody understood what they really needed or why. So a lot of businesses that now seem obviously idiotic ran for a while without many critical eyes.

    This is better today partly because we have more experience with business models. But we also have license to actually think about business decisions. Hopefully, we can preserve a startup culture that supports experimentation. Just not really, really dumb experimentation.

  2. The key, b2c, is to run marketing as a profit center, a la Trump via The Apprentice, Rocco Whoever via The Restaurant, etc.

    Why else would Friendster hire Scott Sassa to be CEO?

    (Friendster has a TV show in development.)

    Of course, we at ‘Better MySpace TV’ already knew marketing would have to be run this way…


  3. I totally agree with you, especially point #2.

    What’s more, the pace at which technology is advancing is dizzying. Each 6 months brings a level of improvement that could only have been dreamed of 5 years ago.

  4. I was recently researching a competitor and came across your site. We are a software company in
    Boston MA called Viapoint. We have a product in the desktop search space you might not be aware of but is focused on organization rather than just search. The concept is that people have lots of information in desktop applications like Outlook that can automatically create meta-data to build views of desktop data that meet the needs of their roles and can eliminate the distractions and frustration of finding the perfect search criteria. We released version 1 in October and are releasing a version that integrates with Google Desktop Search in late February. If you are interested in taking a look at it early or to stay tuned to our progress I’d be happy to set-up time to chat with our CEO and to provide evaluation software.

    Dan Housman
    VP Marketing
    Viapoint Software

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