This Week's Clue: Teacher's Pets
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
Problems are Opportunities in Disguise
The Rest of the Story
The Good News About eCommerce
Lessons from MindLink
Our daughter has a problem with reading. Letters and their order will sometimes reverse as they travel from her eye to her brain. Vowel and consonant combinations can give her trouble. It's not unusual - she's very bright and charming. In many ways she is much smarter than I am - she's better with people, better at art, and far more honest with herself (to cite just three examples).
Teachers work hard with her, and express great joy when she seems to "get" it. The techniques that work best involve getting her hands on the subject, rather than telling or showing as I do. In time she will read well, however, and the job will be done. Her teachers will go on to other students and their individual problems, often taking additional coursework to keep up with the state of the art.
I have felt much like those teachers these last few weeks, as I've found more and more sites and companies that really understand the Internet. Not everyone is Clueless, and many who were do learn. It's gratifying, although I wonder what I'll do when (soon) the lessons are learned, and e-commerce becomes the gracious way-of-life we all know it can be.
In doing stories for the Chicago Tribune (they'll come out in about a month) I've met several people who really understand this business, who know what needs to be done and who have set out to do it. One of the more exciting is LifeServ of Chicago, which has taken "permission marketing" to new heights in the neglected area of consumer products.
CEO Rob Reynolds says LifeServ specializes in serving people during life-changing events, like weddings, the birth of children, and the making of a home. In addition to advertising in magazines and online, they get their prospects from old-line marketers like Johnson & Johnson. They send these people CD-ROMs and offers for free home pages, based on the marketers' databases.
Dan Sellers also gets it. He's chief information officer for The Hub Group in Lombard, Illinois. This is no high-tech operation, just an outfit that handles shipments from manufacturers and distributors to department stores, food stores, and grocery stores. He organizes the work of "draymen," short-haul truckers with maybe a dozen rigs each. And now he's using the Internet to do it. Instead of calling or faxing the draymen, he sends e-mails and posts requests on his extranet. Coincidentally, he's just a mile from the offices of the National Transportation Exchange, which is building a "stock exchange" for trucks and their loads. NTE also "gets it."
Steve Larsen, senior vice president at NetPerceptions Inc. has always gotten it, and says that even in the area of Internet technology you need new mechanisms to move things forward. So he's supporting Personalization.com, a news and discussion site run by Chris Locke, late of the Cluetrain . "If you have 200,000 customers, you need 200,000 Web sites, or one site that takes on a unique personality for each of your customers," he says. It takes lots of technologies to do that. So the new site, and its accompanying conference , will be neutral ground, an assurance based on Chris Locke's good name (which means something to everyone in the space).
I have many other examples in mind, but this business runs on Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), and I don't want to break any press release or launch dates, either. I don't have to - the Clue by now is clear. Not everyone remains Clueless forever. So professors must always be students, and the best teachers must always be learners. The best teachers, like my daughter's best teachers, already know this and practice this. You should, too.
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This week we begin our adventure at Voxcap.Com, discussing how next year's elections might impact the future of the Internet. I hope to see you there. And on October 8, at 10 AM, you can see me, live and in person, in a one-hour session at Internet World in New York. See you there.
I write daily for ClickZ, and appear every Saturday at 6 Eastern on TechEdge Radio in Phoenix, Arizona. I write monthly columns for NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and Intellectual Capital. Watch for my series soon on VoxCap. The lead item here is also the Monday e-commerce column of Andover.News. You can still buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.
Remember that it's still journalism -- checking the news, calling people, listening carefully and writing on deadline -- which keeps the Clues coming. If you're looking for excellent work, give me a call at 404-373-7634. Now back to the show...
A few weeks ago I wrote about corporate travel agents' anger over the "bargains" people were getting over the Internet, and the fact that airlines were keeping them away from those bargains.
IXATA.Com, a unit of SecurFone America, has turned this problem into an opportunity through an agreement with XTRA On-Line covering their PowerTrip.Com . The deal is that IXATA.Com's RFT Express will be marketed through PowerTrip.Com, so corporate travel managers will at least be able to connect their preferred hotel programs to online bookings.
Now if someone could do this for air fares...
The Rest of the Story
Last week I criticized Jay Fenello, who was trying to press Congress' buttons on a charge that ICANN.Org was biased against him. I noted that he was a player in this game, and if anyone should be accused of bias, the finger should point his way.
I didn't really know the roots of his feeling, and I apologize for that. In fact, he was trying to save his Iperdome.com, an outfit he formed in January, 1997 to manage a proposed domain called .per, for personal. He registered thousands of names, but never achieved the authority he needed to perform the necessary function, and that's something ICANN.Org has seized for itself. To make a sad story short, Iperdome suspended operations September 24, just as you were receiving last week's a-clue.com.
The real mistake was that an entrepreneur was trying to do his own PR and lobbying, and no entrepreneur - not even Bill Gates - will ever be confused with a diplomat. That mistake, in Jay's case, was driven by a lack of cash, and so his impatience should be excused. I'd like to offer him my personal apology for any pain last week's piece may have caused him.
The Good News About eCommerce
Most small businesses fail. But according to ActivMedia, 42% of business-to-business sites are profitable, and 27% are profitable in less than a year. We're not talking about small successes, either - the ActivMedia study said the average three year old b2b site took in nearly $30 million.
There's a lot to learn here. Most b2b sites are fairly invisible to the general market - so much for the need to be at the top of a search engine. Most b2b sites are the outgrowth of an existing business, not a raw start-up - so much for this story of brick-and-mortar businesses being Clueless.
If you look closely at your business, you may find you're really a b2b, too. If you represent artists, or authors, if you're working at a law firm or architect, even if you're an ad agency, you're basically a b2b outfit. You know who your clients are - you don't need a search engine to find them. If you serve them, they will come.
Lessons from MindLink
A lot has been written in the week since EarthLink and Mindspring agreed to merge. We now know, for instance, that Garry Betty never sold his house in Atlanta, and the EarthLink leader will be coming home to be CEO of the merged entity.
There's a more important lesson here about Internet valuations. Before this deal, Dell was sniffing around MindSpring's hind end, and Gateway was trying to seduce EarthLink. Both deals fell apart, probably over questions about price, but more importantly over questions of brand. Michael Dell could never understand that Mindspring.Net is a more valuable brand than Dell.Net.
Don't expect Dell, Gateway, H-P, IBM or Compaq to give up. Compaq already has an affiliation with a free ISP. Microsoft is cutting prices for a co-branded version of its service , even while it raises prices for everyone else.
There are lots of other brand names who'll want their own ISP service, and while the new EarthLink (that's the brand they'll go under - I preferred MindLink) may get its share of these third-party deals, that won't further the interests of its brand. Besides, there are lots of companies you can outsource your own ISP brand to, even if you're as small as A-Clue.Com.
The question is what will it cost for Dell, or Gateway, or H-P for that matter, to put in its own POPs, and contract with backbone providers to do the service. The betting here is the cost will be lower than the cost of either side of the new EarthLink. In the end this was a make or buy decision, and the choice will be to make.
Clued-in is Personalization.Com, managed by Christopher Locke and backed by vendor NetPerceptions. The problem in the personalization space today is a lack of understanding and knowledge, not a lack of technology. This kind of site can bridge that gap. We'll know whether this new business model works either when Locke hammers NetPerceptions in virtual print (and gets away with it) or the site becomes financially viable (and continues to keep Locke from the equity trough).
Clueless is Excite. In their desperation to catch Yahoo and grow their bottom line, they've replaced their current contracts with an open auction model (it might work, but the risk to goodwill is extreme and their current relationships deserved more massaging than they got). They also launched 115 Kb mailings called "Excite Deals and Dreams" with large third party ads included. (That throws over modem-based users.) When your bosses insist you throw over both your users and customers, what's left?
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