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A new business model for a new generation of consumers

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on PandoDaily.com. It is being republished with permission.

There’s a reason that healthcare and public education are the least functional parts of our economy. In neither is the person receiving the treatment the one actually paying the bill.

First off — calm down, crazy Libertarians — I’m not suggesting we abolish either. But it’s certainly a problem that in both healthcare and public education there’s inherent confusion over who the customer actually is.

Think about how much the battle over public education doesn’t revolve around the students. The fact that teachers aren’t able to be fired for poor performance, for instance. That has to do with political officials allocating money and making rules, and basing those rules on what messages well to parents and the unions that support their campaigns. The kids themselves literally and figuratively don’t get a vote.

Healthcare is even more convoluted. We have a system where the doctors sell treatments to patients who don’t pay for them. For people with generous insurance, doctors are economically incentivized to order excess tests and treatments a patient doesn’t need, and the patients have no economic incentive to push back. For those with lousy insurance, they frequently can’t get the care they need, because the system is priced for a deep pocketing third party to pay steep medical fees that few individuals can absorb and avoid bankruptcy.

British TV app Zeebox comes stateside

Are your Facebook friends or Twitter followers tired of your incessant posts about The Voice or Game of Thrones? Enter Zeebox, a new app available in the U.S. catered to the most avid TV watchers to keep the conversation going while a show is being aired.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company  and its entertainment unit, NBC Universal, are investing in a start-up called “Zeebox”, which makes an app meant to be a so-called “second screen” used by viewers while they are watching television.

The companies declined to provide financial details of Comcast’s stake. UK TV provider BSkyB invested a reported $15 million in the company in January. The free app has already gained some popularity in the UK, where it has 1.5 million users signed up.

from Paul Smalera:

Brad Feld’s four ingredients for thriving startup cities

BOULDER, Colo. -- One of the most resonant talks I heard at last week's Big Boulder conference was also one of the shortest. In about twenty minutes, Brad Feld, who is without exaggeration the godfather to the Boulder startup community, explained exactly why it is that Boulder feels like a town on the verge, and why it's teeming with startups. A lot of it has to do with Feld himself.

It's not just that Feld is a co-founder of Techstars, the nationwide startup incubator that got its start in Boulder, or that the college kids -- and lately, mid to late twenties startup veterans -- flock to Boulder in hopes of getting a few minutes of his time to discuss their ideas. It's not just that Feld's Foundry Group scored big with an exit on Zynga, though that credibility certainly helps. And it's not just that he picked Boulder as some magical perfect place to be a startup Mecca. In fact when I asked him why he moved there from Boston, he said, laughingly, it was because, "my wife told me she was moving to Boulder." He figured he had better go along.

"Happy warrior" is usually a phrase reserved for politicians on futile crusades, but the four principles that Feld talked about that make Boulder a burgeoning startup locale are ones that he seems to embody, not just talk about. And as to my earlier post, wondering where and whether Boulder needed a billion dollar startup (or founder) to justify itself, Feld more or less shrugged it off. If that outcome is a natural result of the principles Feld sees as key to keeping Boulder a great place to found a company, then great. If it's not, I get the sense no one, he least of all, would mind very much.

from Paul Smalera:

Startups are big in Boulder, but where are the tech billionaires?

"I'm not interested in working on this unless it's going to be a multi-billion dollar idea. If I thought this would be a hundred million dollar company -- what's the point?" - Anonymous entreprerneur discussing his startup. Overheard in front of Ozo Coffee, Boulder, CO.

I'm in Boulder, Colorado for a few days this week to attend Big Boulder, a conference devoted to the social side of "big data." Gnip, the company hosting the conference, is one I've written about before. They're doing the plumber's work of connecting all the firehoses of raw, public user data from social media companies like Twitter and Tumblr up to clients that want to derive insights from the wisdom of these online crowds.

A quick note on the definition of "big data." Generally speaking, it's the sort of data set that's so huge, even running a simple report on it won't tell you anything interesting. For example, if you could ask the IRS for a list of all the 25-30 year olds in the U.S. that paid taxes last year, you'd get back a list, alright. But what would be useful about it? On the other hand, if you could filter that list by several other factors: did they pay capital gains, did they owe over six figures in taxes, what is their self-reported job title, and so on, you might end up with a list highly correlated to young, dot-com millionaires and billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg. And you might cross reference that list against all the other data sets you can find on them: where they live, where they shop, where they travel, what they watch, eat and listen to. It's all out there.

Instagram’s Facebook filter

The startup had millions of users, but, from the beginning, just one customer.

The predominant way of interpreting Facebook’s billion-dollar purchase of Instagram, in light of the social-networking giant’s forthcoming IPO, is that Mark Zuckerberg had to pick up the photo-sharing app to boost his company’s mobile engagement. That would allow him to guard the mobile flank against incursions from Google, Twitter, and whatever other social-media tools might next arise.

That may be true – and it may even be the way Zuck thought about the deal when he swallowed hard and ponied up the purchase price. But that way of analyzing Facebook’s pickup, and the pickup of dozens of other startups, not just by Facebook but by Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, is probably not telling the whole story. Here’s a different theory, one that better describes the tech world that we, the users of the Internet, now inhabit: Instagram may have had millions of us as its users, but it was really built for just one customer: Facebook.

Silicon Valley, for too long, has confused the issue of what it means to be a user of a website, service or app, and what it means to be a customer of the app. Intuitively, you’d think they would be one and the same: The person using the app is the person consuming the app. But increasingly, apps are being made to grab the attention of the hegemonic companies in tech. Whatever it takes to get bought.

from Entrepreneurial:

Note to entrepreneurs: Your idea is not special

-- Brad Feld is a managing director at the Boulder, Colorado-based venture capital firm Foundry Group. He also co-founded TechStars and writes the popular blog, Feld Thoughts. The views expressed are his own. --

Every day I get numerous emails from software and Internet entrepreneurs describing their newest ideas.

Often these entrepreneurs think their idea is brand new – that no one has ever thought of it before. Other times they ask me to sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect their idea. Occasionally the emails mysteriously allude to the idea without really saying what it is.

from Entrepreneurial:

TechStars’ founder predicts accelerator implosion

Less than two months from launching its New York program, TechStars co-founder David Cohen is already anticipating a critical mass being achieved in the startup-mentoring space within the next five years.

Cohen said that when he and two friends first launched TechStars in Boulder, Colorado four years ago there were just a handful of these accelerator programs. Now he said there are upwards of 60 across the country and he expects that to triple before the bubble bursts.

"There will be a run up to a couple hundred and then we’ll probably see a run down to 10 would be my guess over the next five years," said Cohen, who has expanded TechStars to Boston and Seattle in recent years and has invested in more than 70 startups since launching the program. "There will certainly be a little mini accelerator bubble."

from DealZone:

Google’s buying binge

GOOGLE/One small acquisition a month, Google chief Eric Schmidt projected last fall when announcing the internet giant was back on the hunt for privately owned firms after a short recession-induced break from buying.

"There may be larger acquisitions, but they really are unpredictable," he told Reuters at the time.

Google has mostly stuck to its plan and even made of few of those riskier big buys. Since Schmidt's revelations, the Web search giant has scooped up everything from small start-ups to much-larger industry rivals such as mobile advertising firm AdMob, a $750 million acquisition that many thought would land Google in an antitrust court battle. Indeed, the company has outpaced itself, buying more than just one firm a month in a few instances.

from Entrepreneurial:

Young entrepreneurs to watch in the tech sector

Bill Gates was 19 when he came up with the idea for Microsoft. Michael Dell was the same age when he started selling computers out of his dorm room. Who are the teenagers and 20-somethings trying to hatch the big tech and media ideas of tomorrow?

paidContent.org has compiled a list of likely candidates under the age of 21, from web design impresarios to "pimp my MySpace" tycoons.  Taking advantage of the Web's low barriers to entry means that you often only need a really good idea. catherinecook_woCatherine Cook

Age: 19
Company: myYearbook

Some great ideas come from analysis and introspection. For siblings Catherine and David Cook, it was the result of a snarky comment. “My brother David and I were flipping through our high-school yearbook during my freshman year,” Catherine recalls. “We were looking for a girl in his class—I think he liked her—and he was trying to show me who she was. Once we finally got to the picture he was like, ‘She looks nothing like that.’”

from Entrepreneurial:

Learning from Rosetta Stone

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After its blockbuster debut on the New York Stock Exchange, language software maker Rosetta Stone is poised to teach more than just new languages -- it may also serve as a model for start-ups looking to go public in the midst of a recession.

In an interview with peHUB, Phil Clough of Rosetta Stone investor ABS Capital shared his thoughts on what made the company such a draw. The IPO earned ABS more than 6 times its initial investment.

What did Rosetta do right? For starters, it offered what ABS managing general partner Phil Clough calls "substance".  Its online business business model was attractive, and its content and size gave it clout amid a crowded education sector.