Pinterest gets into the ad “Real Estate” Business

AdTech, CEO Succession, photography, PHP, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora

Pinterest as we know it could be a thing of the past. Beginning January 1, 2015, Pinterest will start putting ads on its site. Real ads in the form of promoted pins. I have mixed feelings about this – I respect their right to do this and I’m happy for them to be able to get a piece of the enormous revenue stream that Google and Facebook dominate, but it will also take away the purity of Pinterest and lessen the experience a bit.

Overall, I say congratulations, you’ve earned it, Pinterest! They will now move up the food chain significantly as Fortune 500 companies can develop more formal relationships with them and build “serious” ad campaigns. All other ad industry professionals and component niches will also take a big step closer to Pinterest. This is like opening up a whole new giant beautiful piece of the web to advertisers.

But there is a cost to this for users. Pinterest is one of my favorite places to go on the Internet, one of my favorite apps. It’s an oasis in the ad strewn desert of social media. There are many indirect ads there already, especially clothing sold by affiliates, but not very intrusive to the experience.

Pinterest is a constant river of pictures, and mostly very high quality pictures, undistracted by ad text or flashing lights. It’s a respite from the rest of the web, with its rectangular boxes of advertising or the sidebar of Google ads – the high value real estate of the web that is rented to the highest bidder.

As a major fan of photography and imagery I like to go over to Pinterest to get away from all that. It’s almost like a relaxation lounge on the web. I’ve slowly built and curated my collection of pins over the past 3 years, with a bit of an eye towards social validation, but mostly to see cool photos. I’ve been pleasantly surprised thousands of times by images I’ve seen. How many products can claim that?

One of the best parts of Pinterest is that it’s participatory, a gamification of looking at photos (and memes and infographics). As you browse build and organize your collection and it shows running totals of several statistics. And there’s minimal social interaction, almost like a library where people tend to be quiet and leave each other alone. A relaxing experience. I even have a board called zen relaxation that I can go to for quiet inspiration.

Pinterest no doubt developed one of the most fascinating products of the last decade, almost as powerful as Google, facebook, and Twitter. It’s addictive, stimulating and makes you smile. Hopefully that won’t change but it could.

The best part of the product is its design. Pinterest pioneered a new type of web page, now referred by everyone as a “Pinterest style”. It’s hard to remember now, but 3 years ago it was revolutionary. That single innovation was more influential than almost anything prior on the web.

Pinterest will do this with a lot of style – use a native ad approach with the Promoted Pin, but it could change them if they’re not careful. They are playing with the big boys now. Giants corporations will have a more formal dedicated part of their ad budget and marketing team focused on Pinterest, like they do now with Google ads and Facebook. Giant corporations will want to “help” Pinterest figure out how to change. Giant corporations will want to acquire Pinterest.  Let’s hope they keep their independence as long as possible.

Billions of dollars will be diverted from other ad channels to Pinterest. It could easily tarnish the brand. The fact that they have waited this long to monetize in this way and have built such great brand equity is quite encouraging.

It will also be a great opportunity for advertisers of all sizes, even the little guys. Buying real estate on Pinterest? Awesome!

No matter what happens, I’ll always be a big Pinterest supporter (is there a name for that? Pinterevist?) I hope they don’t hire a thousand lawyers or get acquired, but I trust them to handle this change with the same style they apply to everything.

@tomnora

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LinkedIn Recommendations and Endorsements

Angel Investor, Business Development, photography, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup CEO, Tom Nora

Yesterday I was checking my LinkedIn and ran across an old colleague/friends bio – Teo Yatman. It made me decide to spontaneously write an unsolicited recommendation for him (see below). I’ve only written recommendations on request in the past so this felt really fun, and a little strange to do.

I think the LinkedIn one-click endorsements are awesome, one of the best social media tools in a long time – they are so easy to do and eventually you crowd-vote someones list of skills, so it’s pretty accurate in most cases.

But the recommendations are still valuable – I recommend (no pun intended) that you try this – write a spontaneous recommendation for someone you’re linked to from your past. It will surprise them and cause good will.

Here’s the exchange between Teo and me…
LINKEDIN RECOMMENDATIONS
Tom Nora has recommended your work as Silicon Valley Sales and Sales Management at Mentor Graphics.

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

Details of the Recommendation: “Teo and I worked together for a brief time in Silicon Valley in 1987-88 and I’ve told this story many times over the past 20+ years:

I was managing a few account managers at Mentor Graphics, a fast growing high flyer in the EDA/CAE industry, we were #1 against several tough competitors – Daisy, Valid, the brand new Cadence, etc.

The problem was that in Silicon Valley we were losing to local favorites. In the middle of all this, Teo was amazing to watch – he exceeded his quotas every month and could predict almost to the dollar how much he would sell every month. Nobody else, including me, could even come close, or would want to make that commitment. He would get in his car and drive away then come back with a p.o. time after time. I still don’t know how he did it.

I learned a lot watching his positive disposition and his confidence – he always had a big smile. I haven’t seen Teo in over 20 years, but I’ve thought of him often when I lose confidence about closing a deal – “What would Teo do?” And usually it works! Thanks, Teo.”

Response from TEO:
Hi Tom!
Thanks so much for an awesome recommendation! I was surprised and amazed when I saw this. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you in any way. I honestly enjoyed working with you back in the day. Hope you and your family are doing well. Do you live in SoCal? If I head down that way I’d love to connect with you – maybe a lunch in honor of the good ole days!
Heartfelt thanks!
Teo
@tomnora
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Is #NewYork the Next Startup Land of Oz?

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

A few things have happened recently to cause me to look a little closer at NY for the next amazing companies in Internet technology. First, a friend announced that they were moving their startup geo-lo based company from L.A. to New York; Second, I caught the recent live stream of the Disrupt NYC Hackathon; Third, A New York Times article about how NYC’s “allure” is increasing.

I know, it’s a very expensive place to live and do business, lots of traffic, etc. I’ve done it before. But if a Tipping Point could be created there it could over come the costs. Here are some of the factors:

(1) Amazing Engineering Skills – Let’s just start with the big one. There is a highly under-known fact in the software engineering world – many of the best developers and architects are not in Silicon Valley, but in the New York metro area. Between AT&T, the Financial houses and all the great local engineering schools they’re not only the best but there are a lot of them. C++ and Object Oriented design were invented at AT&T, and there are many more examples. New York developers have less attitude, more performance. They’re expensive , but a very large and strong group.

(2) Long Term Scalability – See #4 below – Over time, s a comapny tries to get into a rhythm of continuous growth, they need to develop a reliable growth model. To do this you need human resources beyond techo-nerds – sales, marketing, strategy, bus dev. These people abound in New York. You also need infrastructure and friendly government. Again, New York blows California away here.

(3) Mentor Network – Retired Fortune 500 executives, Harvard/Princeton/Yale scholars, Financial Industry experts, many successful entrepreneurs.

(4) Respect for BUSINESS – Sales, Marketing, Advertising, Strategy were all practically invented in NYC.

(5) Diversified Portfolio of Industries – The best startups draw from several disparate industries around them to be able to grow and learn and diversify. New York is the Fashion, Financial, Art, … (fill in the blank) capital of the world.

(6) Spirit – Nobody has has the same type of spirit as New Yorkers; you know this if you’ve ever been there, especially if you’ve done business there. It has some kind of magic in the air.

(7) Night Life – Many budding high technology centers aren’t the best in terms of top cultural options and the best restaurants. Well, New York… no need to explain.

I could go on, but the combination above is plenty for a startup tipping point. Just watch the Disrupt videos, they’ll give you a glimpse. I’vealways loved New York and doing business there, even though I’m a born and bred Californian. Now they’re heading toward my niche, very exciting. Maybe Zuckerberg should’ve put Facebook there instead of Silicon Valley. Maybe FB stock would be going up instead of down right now.

[Facebook Stock Could Fall Twice as Far Before It Hits Bottom]

@tomnora

Shout Out to Seth Levine, or the In-N-Out burger startup

Angel Investor, Business Development, early stage, Launch, photography, Revenue Growth, Scalability, Tom Nora, Uncategorized, venture

Shout Out to Seth Levine – Seth Levine’s VC Adventure – “I’m getting sick of the bull$%!^”

http://www.sethlevine.com/wp/

Seth Levine, a successful VC with the Foundry Group, wrote a great blog entry about all the hype going on currently in the startup world. Worth the read. His focus is on people bragging about how amazing they and their startup are when they usually have close to  n o t h i n g, which goes against the karma good business and screw it up for those really trying to build strong long lasting companies. If more people like Seth step up with their qualified voice, they could help save us from or lessen the big crash coming.

I’ve been harping about this a lot (too much?) for over a year:

http://j.mp/yyqNQc

http://wp.me/pKMex-1m

http://wp.me/pKMex-2e

Currently Los Angeles is in what could be a startup renaissance or an apocalypse, dependent on how long the hype goes on. Based on Seth’s article, I realize it must be happening everywhere. The signal to noise ratio continues to degrade, but it’s actually moving into the next phase. Investor groups are cutting out the management, bus dev, sales, and marketing professionals, trying to get raw, young engineering teams that have never negotiated a term sheet to give away their IP rights and equity for next to nothing.

Some of these projects will produce amazing companies. But most participants (young developers) will raise their hopes, fail and get spit back out into the cruel world within 2-3 months(!) and become a jaded unemployed 25 year old. Or realize down the road that they gave away a lot for a little. Many investors now advertise that want only developers, they will cover all business/marketing/etc. needs. Don’t put real business people on the actual team. To reuse an overused term – Wait what? They offer them zero to a few thousand dollars and office space. I call it harvesting youth.

Recently there was a developer only coding party where, in a few hours, you form a team, think of an idea, then design, develop, deploy a website. The compensation? All the alcohol you could drink and In-N-Out burgers. Now don’t get me wrong, I love In-N-Out burgers, some of the best in the world. My favorite is the Double Double animal style (see photo). But the sad thing here is that after that party many of the participants think they have a startup.

The word startup used to be about very unique technologies being deployed in very unique ways, creating new markets and capabilities in the world. Having knowledge and experience had value and a balanced team was required. Balance, humility, hard work. Facebook and Google had plenty of business people deeply involved. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg is a great salesman, and a pretty mediocre programmer. Now almost anything is a “startup”, and almost everyone is “doing” a startup. And bragging about it before it happens. We’re spreading resources over way too many businesses, knowing most have no change. I know it’s a risk game, I’ve been in it 25 years, but there should be some intelligence invested in the outset. One VC recently told me that his investors don’t care if he does no due diligence, as long as he “brings them another Facebook”.

Real startup successes are measured by growth, revenue, shareholder value, making something from nothing, ROI, longevity. Not just this weeks buzz or a $25,000 seed round. They devised with strategy, ingenuity, an ecosystem. Long term employment, new jobs.

The good news is that this hype period will end, probably soon. Then the remaining companies will be much easier to watch and enhance and benefit from.  @tomnora

d e s i g n

Business Development, early stage, founder, photography, startup, startup CEO, Uncategorized

The other day I met with a startup in Santa Monica, and noticed a giant etch of the word d e s i g n on the ceo’s glass office wall. Their company isn’t about design per say, but it was refreshing to see the discipline given such prominence. The word design is being kicked around in the startup world a lot more these days, and I think this is a good thing.

Design is the exercise of creating or adding elements of appearance to something. It is defined as “The shape or appearance given to an object, especially one that is intended to make it more attractive”. In the startup world it can make the difference between success or failure if combined properly with great business strategies. There are many examples of great design alone in a failing startup, but great design plus great engineering and business strategies often win. Also, many startups with bad/weak design but great strategies and engineering have been winners. But that seems to be changing.

To say that someone is a visual person is a little silly – everyone is visual. Colors and Shapes and beautiful Movement attract any human, often on a subconscious level. A simple attractive Design for a website or product will change its fate from yet another to the best in a category.

Beautiful design exudes success and confidence, care about details. And most importantly – originality. great design comes from within a person or organization, not copied from outside and implemented. It’s more difficult, but imperative for long term success. Simple beautiful design is proliferating on the web – lots of white space, a small number of large font words, big open boxes for interactivity, cool icons. All of these things enhance the user experience and make them want more.

A recent great experience for me was trying out Codecademy. It has quite thoughtful design elements, many of them not actually visible, but so important to its almost seamless usability.

Style, similar but different than design, is more the process of following great designs, using existing aesthetics. Sometimes this works fine, but it’s not the same as amazing original design. Just look at the continuous march of Apple over the past 34 years. Great design plus engineering plus strategy. Accessibility, simplicity, completeness. They created the template for many other products’ style and design.

UX/IA is also an important part of all digital design now. First introduced in the late 1990s, it’s replaced and expanded on UI as the critical relationship people have when using products. Often it’s a pre-design process, trying to guess how people are going to use things, then use design to optimize the experience.

The new biography on Steve Jobs is a must read for any startup founder. It has the added benefit for readers of discussing in great detail Apple and NeXT design processes, justifications and investments. It also reveals that most of the design ideas were not Steve Jobs, but rather came from several design and marketing gurus he surrounded himself with.

Like I said, it’s great that Design is becoming central to the engineering-heavy world of tech startups, because ugly design sucks. @tomnora