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29
Yesterday, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 finally came out of beta, but according to the latest data from StatCounter's GlobalStats, users are not exactly in a rush to update their browsers to IE8 just yet. Even though IE8 had been in public beta testing for a year, its market share only rose from 1.3
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9% on its launch day to 1.56% today.
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In contrast, by the end of its beta testing period, Firefox 3 already had 7.8% market share, which then doubled to 18.9% over the next three days after the launch of the final version (though with the help of quite a bit of hype). Of course, Firefox users are probably a bit more willing to experiment with new browser versions than IE7 users. The numbers for IE8 could change very quickly if Microsoft decides to push it out as an update through the Windows Update service, but Microsoft has not announced whether it plans to do so anytime soon.




Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Browser Version Market Share


The fact that as of today almost 23% of all Internet surfers are still using IE6, however, leads us to believe that it will take a while before a larger number of IE7 and IE6 users will switch to IE8. While it's a major update, IE8 does not include a lot of new 'must-have' features for most users who just use their browser to get around on the net, and who probably don't care much about accelerators and web slices.
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40
Dave McClure has fingerprints all over the social media map, so you have probably seen him on his blog, his Twitter account (which has 15,880 followers as of this writing), or Facebook. Dave is an angel investor who recently joined a VC fund (the Founders Fund).The accepted wisdom today is that angels have b
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uried their wallets and run for the hills. So it seemed like a good time to interview an investor who is very active at the seed level.
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The bad news: we could not do this interview via Skype, so there is no MP3 audio. The good news: the reason we couldn't do it is that Dave is too busy running around town doing seed level investments. Good news trumps bad news.

Seed Stage Investing

You know that line, "Come back when you have more traction"? It is usually (but not always) VC code for, "We think you and/or your product and/or your market sucks, but in case we're wrong, we want you to come back when all the risk is off the table."

So who invests at this early stage? The answer is usually angels. Actually, there are two types of angels: amateur and professional. The amateur has a day job and puts small amounts into startups. You need a lot of them, and they are busy. When times are tough -- when their investable capital has been decimated by markets and Madoff and their own job might be at risk -- they bury their wallets. That is true today, and may be true for a while.

But as everyone knows, hard times are the best times to invest. Investing and building in hard times and then launching into a recovery and exiting in a boom is a well-proven cycle.

But, sadly, while lots of people talk this game, very few people walk it. When both angels and VCs run from early-stage risk, the wealth-creating engine of innovation stalls.

This is why the second type of angel, the professional angel, is so important. The professional angel is like a one-person VC fund. They do it for a living and love what they're doing. Think Mike Maples, Ron Conway, Paul Graham... and Dave McClure.

In this context, Dave's move to the Founders Fund is significant.

Seed at a VC Fund?

Dave has a mission to invest in the range $50,000 to $250,000 in about 10 deals. He is doing this with the Founders Fund, which has deep pockets for later rounds if needed.

Large VC funds have a problem. They have too much money. Sure, we all want that problem. But it is a real problem. If you have $1 billion to invest, you have to put it to work. That is what you are being paid 2% of funds under management to do; that is why the Limited Partners (LPs) invested in the fund. The General Partners (the guys who entrepreneurs meet with) can live quite well on that 2%. Ahem, 2% of $1 billion is $20 million, which should be enough for a coupla Partner Ferraris. Seriously, though, the next time a VC tells you that you need to pick up the legal tab on a deal, just remember it is because they want you to, not because they need you to.

But getting really big returns on a sum as big as $1 billion is pretty hard. It is the law of big numbers. A 30% return (the minimum needed to give LPs a return commensurate with venture risk after the GPs have taken a 20% performance cut) on $1 million is $300,000. A 30% return on $1 billion is $300 million. Basically, unless you land a Google-like winner, it is very, very hard to get a $300 million return.

Also, the really hot deals, the ones that give those outsized returns, often don't need a lot of money to get to the point where a lot of investors can see that they are hot. So an investor has to get in early, when the venture needs more money, to get a seat at the table.

That is why the Founders Fund has brought in Dave McClure: to do the early seed-stage deals. The Founders Fund is a mid-sized fund ($220 million) that already has a reputation for doing things differently and shaking up the VC status quo.

What is encouraging is seeing the competition for seed-stage deals. Last week we interviewed True Ventures, a small VC startup doing small Series A deals. We are seeing other VCs take different approaches to the same issue.

Dave's Takeaway from PayPal

Question: "You worked at PayPal, one of the all-time great startups. If you had to select one lesson you learned there to pass on to other entrepreneurs, what would it be?"

Dave: "That which does not kill you makes you stronger. Lots of entities wanted to kill PayPal because we threatened the status quo. Just don't give up, iterate, be resourceful."

Dave believes that the culture of PayPal was one reason it could do this: it was a meritocratic and diverse culture where the best ideas got executed. There was a "tolerance for strong voices," because it hired "off-center people" who did not all look at problems the same way.

Staying True to Consumer Markets?

Question: "The Founders Fund is clearly positioned in the consumer markets and has done very well there. But we are now in a deep consumer recession. Does this lead to any change in focus or approach?"

Dave: "This country and the whole world are in recession, but we don't see the Internet consumer market contracting." In Dave's view, more people are going online, and companies that play to that well, like Amazon, are doing well.

When I asked him about eBay's problems, which eBay attributes to the economy, Dave suggested these were execution problems and not market problems. "Look at how Craigslist is doing compared to eBay."

Aligning Investor and Founder Interests

Question: "The Founders Fund has a stated mission to give a better deal to founders and to better align investor and founder interests. Can you give some examples of this in practice?"

Dave: "Look at 'Series FF stock.' This is a new class of stock pioneered by Founders Fund (the 'FF' in Series FF) that sits in the middle between common and preferred. FF stock can convert into preferred under certain circumstances; for example, when the VC wants to take a more aggressive bet and turn down an acquisition offer."

Interestingly, True Ventures, which we interviewed earlier, takes a slightly different approach to the same issue. It is good to see creativity being applied to a problem that has been around for a while.

Talking the Book

Question: Finally, here is a chance to "talk up your book." What one or two ventures do you want to tell our readers about?

Dave told us that he has done four deals, but only one has been announced. Watch this space for news of the other three. The announced one, though, is Twilio. Check it out and tell us what you think. Has Dave got a winner here?

In the Founders Fund portfolio, Dave mentioned Quantcast. At ReadWriteWeb, we know Quantcast well, as does any online publisher that sells advertising.

Pirate, Then?

Question: Are you an angel, VC, or pirate?

Dave: "Pirate." And here is why.
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19
Microsoft Silverlight may not be the first solution you think of when considering how YouTube might stream live TV. But in fact that's exactly what CBS used on their NCAA March Madness On Demand YouTube channel. It appears that the player and feeds for audio and video are coming direct from CBS, and upon further examination the Silverlight-powered
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player is identical to the one offered on CBS' own March Madness site.  We first heard about this new offering from a post on NewTeeVee.
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The player lets you adjust the video quality in four discrete steps to best utilize your available bandwidth. It looks as though the source feed is high-definition, because if quality is bumped all the way up to maximum even the full-screen mode looks great. In fact, the player as a whole is easy to use, and free of hiccups or bugs.



When we went to TV.com and selected the March Madness link, it went to the CBS-hosted link mentioned above. It appears, at least in this case, that YouTube has perhaps a slightly tighter integration over CBS' own streaming video site offering. But there are a couple of perks that are also available no matter which path you choose. Going the YouTube route gives you quick access to CBSNCAATourney video clips. Choosing the CBS site offers a live Facebook status update stream similar to what CNN did during the presidential debates. So, either way, everybody wins.
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28
Last night, Nielsen Online reported that Twitter has now surpassed Facebook and others to become the fastest-growing site in the "Member Communities" category for the month of February. Although Facebook, the world's most popular social network, has more members than Twitter, that's not what this measurement is about - it's about growth. And Twitter is growing. It's growing like crazy.
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Twitter's Growth

According to
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http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/twitters-tweet-smell-of-success/">a post on Nielsen Wire, unique visitors to Twitter.com increased 1,382 percent year-over-year, from 475,000 unique visitors in February 2008 to 7 million in February 2009. This growth earned it the title of "fastest growing member community site," a term that encompasses not just social networks but any online community - even one such as online wiki community Wikia, which, incidentally, came in at number five on the list. Zimbio and Facebook followed Twitter, growing 240 percent and 228 percent, respectively.



Nielsen also reported that the largest age group on Twitter was not college students or teens, but adults from the ages of 35-49. This group comprises nearly 42% of the site's audience at 3 million unique visitors. Twitter is also a popular site for people to visit while at work, notes Nielsen's Michelle McGiboney, as 62% of the combo unique audience accesses Twitter.com from work versus only 35% from home.



Of course, visitor stats to Twitter.com from a traditional web browser don't show a complete picture since the service is also accessible from a number of desktop and mobile clients as well as SMS. In January, 735,000 unique visitors hit Twitter's mobile web site, averaging 14 visits per month and spending an average of 7 minutes per visit. Twitter also had 812,000 unique users sending and receiving text messages in the last quarter of 2008. However, this last stat only took into account AT&T and Verizon cell phones. Within that group, though, there were nearly 240 tweets per person for the quarter.

A Word About These Numbers

Before taking to these numbers to the bank, it's worth noting that they are being pulled from Nielsen NetView (U.S. Home & Work), so they're not representative of the service as a whole - they only give us a snapshot of what's occurring there. Also, the demographic chart is annotated with a note that reads "these demographics have insufficient sample sizes" in the 18-24 age group column, which may speak to the overall insufficient sample size of this particular survey, a number which was not reported.

That said, these numbers do seem to confirm what our gut instincts have been telling us for some time. Twitter is apparently not becoming the next big thing with teens and other members of Gen Y, despite rumors to the contrary. The hype surrounding Twitter's connection to the younger generation was even skewered hilariously by Jon Stewart not too long ago on "The Daily Show."

.cc_box a:hover .cc_home{background:url('http://www.comedycentral.com/comedycentral/video/assets/syndicated-logo-over.png') !important;}.cc_links a{color:#b9b9b9;text-decoration:none;}.cc_show a{color:#707070;text-decoration:none;}.cc_title a{color:#868686;text-decoration:none;}.cc_links a:hover{color:#67bee2;text-decoration:underline;}

It looks Twitter may be for "old people" after all. Just like Facebook.
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20
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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