Online Review Management – A Synopsis of my project with a review management startup.

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, Revenue Growth, SaaS, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

I recently completed a short term project with ReviewInc (RI), an online review management platform for businesses to mange and enhance their review process. RI is a small Los Angeles are company that’s been in business for about 3 years with a couple of major pivots under their belt.

My role was to analyze all aspects of the company and then find their unique opportunities to “take it to the next level”. It opened my eyes to the fascinating ( never thought I’d say that about reviews) details of this market segment and its ubiquity in all important Online Marketing.

RI primarily needs to accelerate revenue growth and market share in order to build new products, increase salaries to market rate and defend their position against a large number of competitors. I found several areas of excellence as well as several more that need enhancement. In the 90 period of my consulting they made many positive changes in a short time period with their minimal budget.

> The Larger Market:

The Online Review infrastructure industry is highly under exposed in the overall Internet marketing world. When most people think of reviews, they think of negative reviews people write when they’re unhappy about their service at a restaurant or tire dealership. Even expert Internet marketers are pretty unaware of the market and its details. Until recently I was fairly unaware of this market, more focused on social, dat analytics, seo, superior web development, content management and CMS design as my priorities for Online Marketing projects and conversion. But now I realize “the review piece” should be considered in any Online Marketing strategy and execution. It’s content, social, seo enhancing and is impacting a vast majority of online purchasing.

Yelp pioneered 2.0 of this industry over 10 years ago and should be given credit for that. Now the market is estimated at over $10 billion revenue per year, probably a lot more if you include all the sub-markets and service agencies using it for their business development and product lines. It’s a lot more than restaurant reviews.

Online review management systems are an established part of the web for both consumer and B2B. In the consumer markets, 86% of all customers rely on online reviews when they buy something, and 72% of all people say online reviews are their top reason for choosing a local business. For B2B, online reviews and testimonials and becoming a requirement in healthcare, automotive, government and other industries. And there’s a ton of overlap, making the line pretty fuzzy.

No matter the segment, reviews directly impact sales, market position and business health. Yelp is the giant in the industry at a $4 billion market cap, but there are over 1,000 other review companies in all segments of business and consumer markets.  Other heavy hitters are Trip Advisor, Glassdoor, Angie’s List, Edmunds.com, NewEgg.com, La Fourchette, Menu Pages, Doctor.com, Best Buy, Michelin, Cityvox Avvo, IMDB, Call a Plumber, Brad’s Deals, HotFrog Gayot.com, Rotten Tomatoes, Ripoff Report and Zagat.

It is a quickly evolving market that will continuously challenge current players, as Yelp has seen as it has lost almost 50% of its market value in the past 12 months.

> Market Segments:

Online Reviews, Review Management, Restaurant Reviews, Employer Reviews, Movie Reviews, Social Analytics, Reputation Management, Customer Service Feedback, Review Aggregation.

> Company Summary:

Saas Product launched, several Fortune 1000 customers, currently growing. Self funded to date, 10-20 employees.

> The Bottom Line:

ReviewInc. is doing a lot of things right in product innovation R&D efficiency and anticipating user needs. They will have to continue to innovate and adapt to the market and win big deals to grow to a sufficient size to be a factor in this market; they have many direct competitors. They need to be sufficiently afraid of this ruthless market and use it for motivation. As Andy Grove says “Only the paranoid survive.”

If RI wants to grow faster they will need to take the company through the chasm and make critical changes to their management team, product line and UX. Not all companies want this; they would prefer to fly under the radar, so 2015 will determine which path RI takes.

The first 6 months at Envato

Business Development, early stage, founder, Interview with founder of Envato, Launch, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the WorPress as a development platform world lately. I’m finding many business advantagesb in this world for a group of websites I am building to bootstrap a few “baby startups” in areas I’m already interested in – #travel, #classic-cars, #SaaS #Art sales, #techjobs, etc.

What this has done for me is vastly increase my interest in tactical data driven marketing on the web – #growthhacking, #contentmanagement, #agile iterative web development and marketing, and yes, even SEO.

The process is actually fascinating and lots of fun, full of soloprenuers, bootstrap peers, hackers, marketeers and doers. It’s a somewhat different world than the VC funded startup world that is my day job.

The link below is one of the best interviews I’ve seen, from Collis Ta’eed, a very humble and honest guy who started Envato, a marketplace for web dev themes and many other creative resources. In a very short time he covers to first 6 months of his company, unafraid to discuss failures, missteps and instances of pure luck. This is the opposite of many startup interviews where the founder claims brilliance and a smooth path and takes credit for everything.

Very inspiring, check it out…

http://wptavern.com/ceo-and-envato-co-founder-collis-taeed-on-the-first-6-months-of-envato

“Creativity takes courage.” Learning from Matisse

Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, Tom Nora, venture

“Creativity takes courage.” –Henri Matisse

This is one of my favorite quotes about innovation, by an innovator who is still revered 100 years later; it’s the first thing you’ll see if you go to my personal website http://tomnora.com/ . Matisse was an amazing innovator, and his innovation and originality

Innovation, Originality, Creativity – why are these things so important in the tech startup world? And what do they have to do with art or painting?

I have the opportunity to visit many secondary and tertiary startup markets in my travels, meaning not Silicon Valley or New York, and one of the things that always strikes me is the lack of originality in almost every company pitch I see or hear.

I can see that the entrepreneurs I meet are sincere, have usually put a ton of work and pride ion their invention or product. Often they have put a fair amount of personal or family capital into the venture (these days that’s usually their parents money).

The major flaws in their planning process are denial and ego fortification – they don’t do enough homework to see how many are already doing something similar because they don’t really want to know; and they highly overrate themselves as amazing entrepreneurs.  This is a bad combination for success, but I see it daily.

I get it; I know it’s more difficult than ever to build a real career and easier than ever to start a company. But the very core of creating an interesting and new business should be the concept of originality. Some originality, enough to be different, unique, without being too weird.

Real originality comes from within, because it is inspired, comes from adrenaline and emotion, not from a spreadsheet or desire to merely make money. Finding the mid point between originality and capitalism is what I define as business innovation.

There’s nothing new under the sun, so you must critically modify, hack, or turn sideways existing systems with a truly new vision. Instead of just copying or slightly modifying something you see, try to take it a few steps further.

One of the quite innovative methods Matisse and his peers used was finding inspiration from other skills they already knew, leveraging their expertise as craftsmen. Matisse was a draftsman, a printmaker and a sculptor, and you can see these influences in his paintings.

Part of the magic of great business innovations is knowing which rules to break. Matisse broke some of the rules, but kept many intact. The rules about the way business processes flow are too often just accepted, but if you can analyze them, find an achilles heel, then innovate a better answer. Get rid of the obsolete rules without breaking the good ones, and great things will happen. It’s about where to hack and where not to.

I went to a pitch fest in one of those secondary markets the other day. Most of the presentations were weak delivery, boring, been done before and uninspiring. But there was one that was pretty amazing, by an 18 year old who had become deaf at 12. He has developed an exercise system for handicapped people; you tell by his excitement and thought process that he was inspired, and created true innovation. He wasn’t polluted by how corporations work or the rules of business – he was still in high school.

Another Matisse quote is There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” Look carefully, take the extra time and find the uniqueness in any idea you want to realize – it’s there.  Find me on twitter at @tomnora

 

Common traits of Successful Startup Entrepreneurs.

AdTech, Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Launch, SaaS, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

Here are a few traits to try to emulate if you want to be a successful startup guru. Success may be financial, fulfillment of a life goal or even altruistic. Success will begin to create itself if your heart is in the right place…

Take a look at the 9 things below and send me feedback on your thoughts.

1… Genuineness, honesty.

2… Humble openness to feedback. When I returned to LA in 2011 after being away for many years, I was smacked in the face by the volume of young startups that were in their first stages; and many of them sought me out. After a bit I noticed a dangerous trait in many of them – a false confidence and no ability to hear constructive criticism. The attitude was “just give us funding” even though I could see several fatal flaws that they couldn’t.

Being closed to feedback in itself is a sign of bad health, a fatal flaw. You don’t take all advice given to you of course, but you listen to it, calibrate it, mix it in with everything else you know that they don’t. You also have to know whom to spend your time with, many of the wrong people will want to offer advice, mostly for the wrong reasons.

3… A set of doctrines. It’s almost corny to see in many companies; they’ve worked out an internal lexicon, code words, project names to make things more unique and understandable. It speeds up communication. It

4… Taking everything from 90% to 110%. This is one I often see in looking under the hood of successful startups. It’s like a beautiful restored car that has every detail perfected when you inspect it further. The wiring, the upholstry, the under carriage – all the little details that most never see. In startups there is a beauty when you see these little things. I can think of many startup companies

5… Belief in the Idea. Belief that you have something unique, that the world, or part of the world, really does need this new thing/method/service. This is a key factor in many of the successful kickstarter products.

6… The journey is the reward. The #1 request I get from would be entrepreneurs startups is ” how do you do it, what does it take to build a successful startup, what should I do differently? They want all of these answers in one sitting, over lunch, and then want to go off and pour them on top of their startup like syrup. Great questions, but it doesn’t work like that. My answer is this… Get up every morning, work very hard (see 3. 90 to 110) make the best decisions you can, cry a little bit, then do it again the next day. Do that for several months continuously. Enjoy the process with its imperfections, if nothing else you’ll create a rhythm for yourself and your team.

7…Self Confidence. This is the most important trait of all. Unyielding confidence, an authentic, real confidence that comes from deep down inside is what takes you through the bumps and setbacks. Think of a topic you know that you have down cold. Nobody can tell you you don’t know this.

Not false confidence, that will do the opposite and cause failure.

8… Location. Being located in the right ecosystem helps foster self confidence; you know it can be done there, there’s success in the ether, those ahead of you help you make things happen, critique you,

9… 5 Best Friends. You want 5 people in your business-sphere that you can go to, brainstorm with, respect, and drive your progress. They must be influential, cognizant, and you must reciprocate, pay it forward. Don’t compromise here. If you don’t have 5 then go find them.

Contact me at t@tomnora.com

The Power of Connection

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Launch, SaaS, Uncategorized

Last week I witnessed again the difference between 2 people meeting in person compared all other forms of communication we currently employ.

It’s amazing to see the power of the connection between 2 people in proximity to each other. In the startup world, it seems to be winning over the bits and bytes style. I’ve discounted the value of face to face recently as much as anyone, leaning heavily on asynchronous electronic communication for much of my business and personal life, and even using broadcast communication (twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, email, …) to replace individual communications. But we all should rededicate ourselves to the face-to-face – the random, the first time, the networking, the required, the “have a good weekend”. Connecting on LinkedIn or FB is great but usually leads to few subsequent actual interactions. Apple’s face time is bridging the gap nicely, but still isn’t the same. Meetup.com and Eventbrite, founded on this principle of meeting in person as a response to too much Internet meeting, has helped to spawn, grow and change thousands of startups.

So, back to last week – at a startup mixer I was walking past someone headed to my seat, and we kind of got stuck in the crowd face-to-face. He had on a name tag, I didn’t. We couldn’t move. So he stuck his hand out to say hello, and we wound up talking for 10 minutes and definitely made a bit of a connection. We found several things we had in common, most people do. Since then we have met and emailed and referred business to each other, all from a semi-random meeting.

We never would have connected otherwise. If we saw each other on the street or lived on the same block we probably would just walk on by. So get out there, go to things that you like and are interested in. Barriers will melt.    @tomnora

Silicon Valley Uber Alles? I think so… Some of their Secret Weapons.

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, Drupal, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Jobs, Launch, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, Uncategorized, venture

Can any other region “catch up” to Silicon Valley, or be the next Silicon Valley? Statistics show that it’s probably kind of futile to even try. Many have tried, but must be content with their small market shares. How can other regions will ever match the MACHINE: Stanford, Andreesen, Draper, Valentine, Doerr, Facebook/Apple/Google Millionaires, 4 Generation VC firms, Hardware/Software partnerships, over 100 Billon $ market cap cos.

svfundingshares

Because high tech and software industries are now being seen as lucrative, job creating, imperative and oh so sexy, many regions are trying as never before to get in on this – mobilizing their governments, old school industries, universities and grandmas to unite to be the next Silicon Valley, calling themselves Silicon- Beach, Forest, Plains, Alley, Prairie, Coast, etc. These towns are setting their expectations way too high while the real Silicon Valley giggles at the sight.

Here are some of the secret weapons that make Silicon Valley stronger than any other “region” and act as its barriers to entry:

1. Silicon – Uh, yeah, that word? It’s what started all this. Silicon Valley launched and was launched by the mainstreaming of the Silicon chip over 50 years ago, which is now part of everything. There was no other part of the planet where anything close in innovation, design manufacturing, equipment, marketing and sale of semiconductors has emanated from. This foundation still drives the area and the world, even thought it gets less attention now than the software side.

2. 100 Years of Growth – It all began with military electronics, low cost housing, lots of empty land and Stanford University. It has spread way beyond to the east bay. San Francisco, over 50 universities and trillions of dollars in revenue. The growth has had bumps but over time has increased more steadily than any other economy in history.

3. Recruitment – Most of the leaders in SV are from elsewhere because Silicon Valley aggressively acquires the best from all over the world. Why not? Via Stanford, Berkeley, Facebook, Google, recruiting Harvard and MIT undergrads, their wonderful PR machine, advertising free meals, free car washes, free dry cleaning, free day care. $150,000 salary right out of college. Unlimited vacation. Where else can you gat all this?

4. Stanford – Not sure this even needs explaining, but Stanford has been a wole new entity in the past 20 years, beyond anyones imagination in wealth creation, funding, computer science, a recruiting engine into SV then on to local companies, pride, confidence, location.

5. Money, money, money – There are so many giant sources of money in SV that it’s staggering. VCs of course, Angels, they invented the term Super Angel, San Francisco, Real Estate leverage, IPO millionaires, corporate funding, Asian and European money, and on and on.

6. Tolerance for Weak Links – Here’s one most people don’t know – most people in SV aren’t stellar; I know several weak players who fake it well and are millionaires or millionaires-to-be just because they’re in the right zip code. The public tagline is everybody has a high IQ, but in reality there are lots of dwebes running around – I know, I’ve managed plenty of them. SVs leaders smartly realize the win ratio can be pretty low if you have a few enormous winners. Most SV projects die, most SV companies die, but if you build the algorithm to plan for this you’ll put more possible winners in play. So what if a few totally unqualified employees that snuck in make a few million. Like any organization, there are several who skate by or get by on good politics. That’s OK if you plan for it, “engineer” for it.

That’s just 6, there are plenty more reasons why there will only be 1 Silicon Valley for along time to come. The best answer for any other local economy is to just make the most of who you are, embrace your own identity, partner with Silicon Valley. And don’t use the word “silicon” in your name. Take Boulder, Colorado as a model, they’ve successfully created their own very strong economy for startups. There’s a startup for every 50 or so people there. They have all the pieces and they are heavily connected to Silicon Valley without envying them.

@tomnora

“Recommendation Swapping” on Linkedin

Angel Investor, Business Development, early stage, founder, instagram, Jobs, Launch, Revenue Growth, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

153411951-art-addiction-typewriter-center
This has organically happened a couple of times for me – someone I’ve worked with in the past asks me to write them a recommendation and then spontaneously returns the favor. It’s a very cool gesture and it reinforces the relationship for the future.

Below is an example for a startup entrepreneur I just went through a short mentoring process with, Greg Weinstein. Greg will do very well with his company, I could’ve written a lot more about his attributes.

I recommend (get it?) you try this – swap a recommendation with close present or past colleagues; it will enhance both of your social business circles and create new connections.

It’s hard to derive extra value on linkedin, rise above the fray – this will help you do it.

#networking #linkedin #social_marketing

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Gregory A Weinstein has recommended you on LinkedIn

Gregory A Weinstein
Gregory A Weinstein Founder and CEO, One Fulfilling Life
To: Tom Nora
Date: August 22, 2013
Gregory A Weinstein has recommended your work as Founder, Marketing, Community Development at Startup Workshops.

Dear Tom,
I’ve written this recommendation of your work to share with other LinkedIn users.

Details of the Recommendation: “During the early and critical stages of the conception and start up of One Fulfilling Life, Tom provided us with thoughtful, wise and nurturing insight and guidance. He was our “Board of Directors” and the fit seemed very natural and intuitive.

It was an awesome opportunity and I relish the experience. His guidance saved us a lot of time and money and more importantly kept our momentum moving forward in the face of what could have been crippling obstacles. If your a tech start up and especially if this is your first business venture Tom’s your man. Catch him if you can!!!!!

Thanks Tom”
Service Category: Business Consultant
Year first hired: 2013
Top Qualities: Expert, Praxis High Integrity Systems

What is Drupal? or, My retraining in Software Development

Angel Investor, Business Development, Hiring, Jobs, PHP, SaaS, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

Confessions of a Drupalvangelist

Anyone who’s been around me for the past 6-12 months has been inundated with my evangelism of eCommerce in general and Drupal + PHP. This is actually a bit strange for me, as a 20+ year software industry professional, I’ve spent most of my time in the world of extremely sophisticated software tools and languages – several of the startups I’ve worked at and/or launched were based on software tools to build software, so I’ve been in the middle earth of software for awhile.

The So Cal engineering gap?  I’ve been able to study the Southern Cal software dev scene as an insider for over 2 years now. As a native LA person, I’m gratified to see so much code and code talk flying around my town. But, there is a serious gap in the discipline, number of developers and community around real software development here.  Also lot’s of fake, wanna be CTOs here. (So L.A.) This imbalance keeps L.A. from catching up with Silicon Valley and New York as a stronger startup region. In my career I’ve seen many times the positive effect of a rich software development discipline, full life cycle, QE vs. QA, test driven development, all the “other” parts of SW dev.

The strongest impact on improving this situation is Silicon Valley and Seattle companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and others are making enormous investments in building So Cal as a software town. They bring with them confidence, tools, brilliant people and believe it or not, Drupal and PHP.

Drupal has a worldwide engine of real software discipline. The So Cal Drupal scene is highly regarded and has several free meetings every week to teach advanced software life cycle issues. The Getty, USC, The Grammys, MTV, and many more giant websites built in L.A. are built on Drupal.

What is Drupal?  Drupal works at all levels of software development. Drupal and PHP were tools I’ve acknowledged for a decade but never studied much. Then last year I decided to re-educate myself in software development, but this time as a regular ol’ coder. Although I have an EE and CS education, my best contribution to technology businesses has been in strategy/sales/marketing/leadership. I’ve had 7 jobs in Silicon Valley in software development companies, but 6 of the 7 were in business development.

When I dove into development with a focus on the future and e-commerce I quickly saw that Drupal and thereby PHP are taking over the scene. Sure you have Ruby, Python, many others, but PHP is winning because it’s so accessible to newbies, and it manipulates the server side continuously, allowing e-commerce, social, geolocation and other apps. Big boy applications.

The world has changed – software development, app dev, and software engineering are taking over the center of the conversation, and Drupal/PHP is taking over the lead. You can actually have a successful startup now with just developers, with just one (although I don’t recommend this), if they’re savvy and humble enough.

What is Drupal?  Drupal is prevalent in the Silicon Valley ecosystem? In the birthplace of Java, BSD, SQL and many other critical software technologies, Drupal and PHP are spreading like a California wildfire. Drupal has recently permeated places like Stanford; there are over 1,000 sites on campus now. Ther are 20+ major Drupal dev shops up there, they have BAD Camp every year, one of the top Drupal camps in the world.

What is Drupal?  Drupal can make a non-developer earn $60-100,000 per year within a year of study. A Drupal or PHP developer here can make from $50 to $200 per hour; I see it all the time. The problem in So Cal is that the discipline part is weak; we’re just not steeped in the cmplete range of what full cycle development, test, etc. are as a region. PHP and Drupal are partly at fault for this – people who never attended Engineering school can learn these tools in less than year without learning formal computer sciense discipline.

What is Drupal?  Drupal is an overly friendly community of helpful people and ample free training and coaching.  Drupal is also free open source software with functionality for every possible web application. When I moved back to L.A. in 2010, I gradually saw that among our weaknesses we were very strong in E-Commerce, Fashion Commerce, Mobile Commerce, Content Communities, dynamic sexy websites and it was all based on varieties of PHP/LAMP. Drupal’s weaknesses as a software language tool (push button programming, configuring, too easy, more IT than software dev) are actually its strengths. Even the best software hackers should hack less and use that time to build more functionality and usability.

What next?

1. Go to drupal.org, join up for free, find me there I’m tomn  

And contact me if you want my help on anything Drupal or PHP…

Why “Job Boards” and applying online do not work

Angel Investor, Business Development, early stage, Hawaii, Hiring, Jobs, Scalability

I’m building my own job hunting tool to try to fix the broken inefficient systems currently out there. I was interviewed by Forbes recently and asked to comment on the job hunting process and my opinion of applying online to jobs. Here’s an excerpt of my answers…

Great topic. The market has shifted in several ways – automation, obsession with young malleable low cost employees and the current bad economy – these factors have rendered the online job boards obsolete. Remember, job boards and online hiring were invented almost 20 years ago and popularized by Monster. Machines took over the process and proved to be a weak substitute for humans. The only major innocations since then are automatic resume reders which harm as much as they help.

Many article point out that networking and referrals are the most effective ways to get hired, and I tend to agree. There are many human emotions, loyalties, friendships, favors, proximities, etc. that have more weight than what resonator tells an HR person. There is also a lot of campaigning – with a weak economy and ineffective government help people want to help others that they know to get hired and survive all this. They for their cousin or friend or roommate for that job paying 80K plus benefits.

Online job systems assume the most important factor in hiring is qualifications, and that is far from the truth. The top factors are familiarity, recommendations, in-person meetings, personal prejudices and empathy. Many under-qualified get hired every day over better candidates. The bad economy amplifies that. Just look at acqi-hiring or the San Francisco tech ecosystem.

The way computers and social media and machine learning are used to streamline the hiring process must change and augment reality as it is today, not try to alter it. @tomnora