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Joshua Baer (@joshuabaer), founder of OtherInbox, was nice enough to sit down with us this weekend at SXSW Interactive and go over what's new with his company's product. OtherInbox was developed out of a need to intelligently manage the rest of your mail. That is to say, the mail that you might get from mailing lists, shopping sites, and other services but may not actually be from another human. We all get this mail, and to a greater or lesser extent have develope
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d strategies to manage it, but OtherInbox provides a comprehensive and stylish solution. The big news is that the core service is now free of cost.
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The basic premise of OtherInbox (or OIB) is that it will identify and organize all the mail that you wouldn't categorize as critical to read right away, such as receipts, subscription updates, mailing list emails, and so on. For those people who have a single Gmail account (currently OtherInbox only works with Gmail or IMAP accounts) this would represent a drop-in solution to moving all the clutter mail out of the immediate inbox, but still available in case you want to peruse any of it later.



OtherInbox attempts to have as light a touch as possible when it comes to your Gmail account. Mainly, all you will see after it has done its initial pass through your mail is a new otherinbox label that you can use to archive or delete that mail. If you happen to have more than one incoming email address pointing to Gmail, OtherInbox will also automatically create labels for them as well.



Once in your OIB mailbox, the story is different. Here, all the mail that you agreed that OIB could import is listed by category (or what OIB calls mailboxes), which you can quickly step through and perform mass actions on, such as marking as read or deleting. The mailboxes can be created manually (there is a new mailbox button at the bottom of the page) or automatically, simply by sending email directly to your custom OtherInbox email domain directly. For example, if your OIB account name was johndoe, you could fill out an online form for some free stuff with the email address [email protected]. This would create the new mailbox freestuff in your OIB inbox containing any mail that is sent to you from that site. If a spammer gets a hold of that address, simply click on the block mailbox button and you will never see any email in that
mailbox again.



We have been using OIB for a few days now, just trying to get a feel for the product as a whole. Some folks may only be interested in using the service primarily for its disposable email address ability, but we think that OIB is looking further and is trying to become the primary repository for all your other mail. You know -- the stuff you don't want but can't quite get rid of. Toward that end, OIB is also planning to support other online mail services such as Yahoo! Mail.

Finally we should mention that the free service, while offering everything OtherInbox's features without limitation, is restricted to only showing the last 30 days of email that has been introduced into your OIB account. If you stay on top of your OtherInbox mail, this should be no problem. However, if you do want to see everything, you can sign up for the premium service for $19.99 a year.
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28
The Sunlight Foundation, one of the coolest geek organizations on the Internet, announced today that it has added $4 million to its budget compliments of the Omidyar Foundation, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar's group. Sunlight works with government information made publicly available to turn it into websites and services that anyone can find useful.

At the start of what could be the most open US Presidential administrations in decades, the Sunlight Foundation's work should be more potent, interesting a
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nd useful in fostering accountability than ever before.
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We've written about the group's work on multiple occaisions and would suggest checking out the OpenCongress.org project first if Sunlight is new to you. That site puts congressional data into a full-featured and strikingly usable interface for tracking policies, politicians and issues.

After eight years of Bush era secrecy, an Obama era Sunlight should have far more fodder to work with. The group's work should be just as important as ever; the new administration is just as in need of accountability around things like corporate influence and human rights policies as any other before it.

The Omidyar Foundation has a long history of funding experimental new projects on the web, from nonprofit grants like this one for Sunlight to investments in ground-breaking private companies like Digg, Seesmic, Wikia and Linden Labs.

Today's is the second round of funding Omidyar has provided Sunlight, bringing the Foundation's total support for the group to $8 million.
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14
This is the first in a weekly series of interviews with venture capitalists. We chose True Ventures to kick off the series because it closed a Series A deal for Syncplicity in the dark days of October 2008, earning it a spot on our A-Team. When it closed a second Series A with Loopfuse in February 2009, it joined a very small contingent of VCs that hav
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e done two Series A deals since the financial meltdown.
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Listen to the Interview



Download the MP3.

True Ventures is a VC startup. It is small, scrappy, and willing to take on the big guys and question the status quo. You can listen below to the whole 24-minute interview with Phil Black (Partner) or just read the abstract here. If you plan on meeting with True Ventures (or indeed pitch to any VC), listening to the whole interview may be a good investment. Most of his points are well known; what is different is how True Ventures is acting on them.

The Changing VC Model

Question: As the VC model changes -- more singles, less out-of-the-park home runs -- does that mean earlier profitability and that VCs must fund all the way to profitability?

Phil pointed out that 85% to 90% of exits are trade sales, which has always been the case, and that the majority of companies exit between a range of $25 and $75 million. The outliers get all the press, but the bell curve is pretty standard. Exiting between $25 and $75 million is decent as long as you have not invested $40 million to do it. So the right formula is to invest less money in more capital-efficient ventures. Doing this is possible because of the lower costs of startups today, as a result of better platforms, outsourcing, and a capital-efficient mindset and management toolkit.

As Phil put it, "It is possible that the VC model is geared towards the big, big wins, and that's not the mainstream of what most entrepreneurs want today". He stressed that entrepreneurs need to find a VC that will enable them to "raise the amount that he or she wants to raise based on the needs of their business, not on what the VC's needs are".

Question: What is the exit for a smaller but profitable venture?

Phil described two different types of exit valuations:


Type A, based on a financial metric, such as a multiple of revenue or profit, where the acquisition can be accretive to earnings.

Type B, based on the price at which the acquirer "does not want to lose the company" for some strategic reason. Current profit is neither necessary nor a primary consideration in this type of valuation.


Type B valuations are higher, but buyers are scarcer, whereas Type A valuations always attract plenty of buyers. So it depends on your appetite for risk, which makes the answer to our next question interesting.

Question: For a long time, there has been a difference in risk tolerance between the entrepreneur, who has only a few shots at success, and the VC, which has many shots. The entrepreneur probably has had to borrow money to get Series A funding, while the VC typically has less of its own money at stake. So the VC may have a higher appetite for risk than the entrepreneur. Do you see this changing, and how?

True Ventures has clearly thought about this carefully. As Phil put it, "Alignment of interest is critical." The VC does not want an early strong performer to exit too soon just because the entrepreneur needs some cash and security. The really big returns still come from the outliers and not the middle of the bell curve. But for the entrepreneur who has struggled for years and is not financially secure, a "few million dollars" is life-changing.

When an entrepreneur is faced with an opportunity to exit, the decision is often between certainty (an acquisition offer) and uncertainty (the possibility of building a bigger business over time and getting more money later). Phil said that True Ventures' aim is to offer both certainty and the opportunity to build a bigger business over time.

"We have countered every acquisition offer with a term sheet for that entrepreneur, so that they have a firm alternative," said Phil, adding, "By no means is it a requirement that they take it."

Scale First, Monetize Later

We also asked Phil for his opinion of "scale first, monetize later" ventures such as Twitter. He pointed out that that model was "all the rage 10 years ago and had disastrous effects for a lot of the companies," but that the model is okay as long as you "have some kind of framework with which you are going to monetize."

He quoted Toni Schneider, a Partner at True Ventures and CEO of Automaticc, "You have to be able to exercise that muscle." Getting revenue early will lead you to more revenue opportunities, and you will get better at it.

The example of forgoing early revenue that everybody cites nowadays is of Google resisting the temptation to put advertising on its home page. The lesson from that is not to delay revenue, but rather to choose the optimal revenue model for your business.

Talking Their Book

VCs have to hustle like the rest of us, and we want to give them a chance to promote one or two of their portfolio companies at the end of our interviews. The two that Phil chose to highlight are:


TextDigger: feed your site into TextDigger and it will highlight the words you should be using to better promote your business online.

LoopFuse: marketing automation using open source, from a team that includes both former JBoss and BEA executives.


Listen to the Interview



Download the MP3.
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