Moving To The Center: Loic Le Meur’s Take On Silicon Valley

Loic Le Meur is a French serial entrepreneur. After creating four companies in Europe, he became frustrated by one simple aspect: he was not at the centre.

The centre of the universe as far as Internet and social media is concerned is located in Silicon Valley.

Loic felt that not being based in the Valley meant being always a little bit behind. In San Francisco everybody is only a block away. If they are not a block away then they are half an hour away, so all the action takes place between San Francisco and San Jose.

Loic says that this strip has most of the companies he wants to do partnerships with. When I spoke to him he had done two partnerships with local companies that afternoon for his new venture, Seesmic. He believes that the geographical distance of Europe and Australia to Silicon Valley presents a paradox.

“We are in the Internet time sense so we should be able to do everything remotely, but honestly it’s wrong. Like the company I’m talking with this afternoon, I went to see them, when I could have done everything on the phone because nothing replaces a coffee together. I hope Seesmic replaces this a little bit.”

Besides the distance factor, he feels there is a lot more energy and positive attitude in Silicon Valley. While creating a social media venture is doable from Europe or Australia, for him the fact that everybody is in Silicon Valley changes a lot.

“There are two key differences to Europe – one is that people don’t complain here. They just move on. Even if they are in a bad shape, they just keep working, creating, doing and they don’t complain. Whereas in Europe, their first reaction is to complain. Then they try to get help. Whereas here they just do things.  And that is a big difference in terms of attitude.”

‘The other difference is trust. Here by default you have the trust of people. If you mess up, then you lose it. If you say you will do something they will believe you. It is super easy to get an appointment. Super easy to do a partnership. And then you have to just show that you can do it and do it. Whereas in Europe usually it takes years to get trust. They want to look who you are, they want to know what school you graduated from. The when you start it takes six months to get to a contract. It is very, very slow.”

Loic believes it is the combination of all these factors that does not make it impossible, just much slower. So when he was thinking about doing his fifth startup he moved with his wife and three children to San Francisco.

“Everything you can change, we changed. And we are superhappy so far.”

Loic began blogging in 2003, created the first blogging company in Europe and sold it to Six Apart. It was this experience which gave him the vision for Seesmic: the conversation we enjoy every day on blogs and social software in text, should happen in video.

“I still don’t see any reason why and I have not found anybody who can give me a valid reason why the conversation should not happen in video. There is nobody doing this. Youtube, DailyMotion, all the video platforms enable the long tail so you can forward videos, but there is no conversation, there is no social aspect.”

“Then there are the people who do live video, Yahoo Live, uStream, etc, are very interactive but this is limited to very few people because you cannot put more than 3 or 4 people talking together at the same time.”

Seesmic is creating video social software. They started with a simple video player and Loic tapped into his own blog community and asked this community to help him build Seesmic’s product suite.

Starting small with just fifty people, they had soon distributed 10,000 trial codes. And then they listened. They created a feature requests feed, which allowed these trial users to request features. They received more than a 1,000 feature requests.

This community has become a pivotal, collective, key influencer in deciding what Seesmic’s product is going to look like.

On top of the request list a weeks ago was being able to send direct or private video comments. They did not have this high on the priority list, but watched closely as this feature grew in popularity as a request. Listening to their users they added this feature and it has been used a lot since then. Loic’s belief is that they have a unique opportunity to build out all the social aspects of Seesmic’s product with the people who are using it.

He sees people wanting two things. Firstly, they want an application that is easy to use, which is not for the geeks. He finds this very interesting as it confirm his belief that video is much more accessible than writing.

“You press a record button and it is super easy – anybody can do it, even if they do not know how to write. We try to build it non geek.”

The second thing people want is for the product to be integrated into other social software, such as blogs, social networks and not having the conversation centred only on Seesmic.

Loic also believes very much in the classic Silicon Valley saying that the dog must eat its own dog food. He posts on average five videos a day. He also has his own daily show, loic.tv, which can be found on both Seesmic and Youtube. This show is seen by about 4,000 people a day and it has passed 700,000 views in total.

“This is my way of building the company, I tell people how I build it”, he says. “It is a commitment, but it is also great social feedback. I find it fantastic because the community gives a lot back to me in terms of features and improvements so I feel that treating them as partners in the company rather than users or customers makes a big difference.”

In February Seesmic raised an initial $6 million in seed funding from a veritable who’s who of Silicon Valley angels. The round was led by Atomico, an investment group founded by Kazaa and Skype founders, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis.

As a serial entrepreneur Loic has no shortage of interest in his fifth venture. In determining who to bring on as investors he focused on people who really wanted to help and were genuinely excited about the product. He found that the Skype founders clicked immediately and he essentially raised the bulk of this funding round from them over a dinner.

Corporate governance does not seem to be a big issue to Seesmic. Getting on with the task of building a viable product is more pressing.

“The board doesn’t matter in a formal sense. Right now it is Atomico and myself. It doesn’t really matter because I talk to the 14 investors on a daily basis. There is not a single day when I don’t talk to one of them. What matters is the daily conversations I have with them. For instance last week I was discussing with Reid Hoffman how he grew LinkedIn. He was explaining how he didn’t charge anything before reaching 3-5 million members.”

“This is very interesting, because a big difference with Europe as well is that here when you get investors on board they don’t care about the revenues at all. They really care about the size of the community and the traction you can get.”

He believes this is a complete flip around to what you’d see in Europe and Australia.

“In Europe all the investors start with what is your revenue model. In the Valley they start with how can you reach a community of millions of people.”

As we reported previously Seesmic has gone on to raise a Series B of $6 million from Omidyar Network and Wellington Partners and you can listen to my recent audio interview with Loic here.

To conclude, Loic sees Seesmic contributing to being a driver for people understanding each other better, regardless of where they are or their culture. In today’s crazy world that is a much needed tool and we wish him and the Seesmic team well in their quest to make a positive difference on the world around them.

Google Launches A Distributed Media Cavalcade

The entertainment industry has to date taken somewhat of a field of dreams approach to creating content – build it and they will come.

But Google, which up until this point has avowed not to be a content player, is taking a different approach that leverages its existing adsense infrastructure beautifully.

Rather than creating a new comedy series and hoping the audience will come, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane has teamed up with Google to distribute his new comedy series exclusively via the web.

Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy will be syndicated to sites that are determined by the Adsense system to be the right profile for the demographic the series is targeted at. Cavalcade video clips, with a variety of pre-roll, banner and other ad formats will be streamed instead of static Adsense ads.

This Google Content Network is both a brilliant way of leveraging an existing infrastructure and a great example of a distributed content model at work.

[via NY Times]

Social Media Apps: Showing the Way

In this piece I’ve written for Digital Ministry , I  discuss why developers should take an interest in social media apps and provide some key tips for building successful apps.

Why do social media apps matter?

RockYou, one of the leading app developers has over 150 million app views a day. Across their ad network they are receiving 2 billion pageviews a month.
To achieve such scale takes hard work, but it is achievable.

When BJ Fogg and Dave McClure decided to run a course on Persuasive Apps & Metrics at Stanford University the Facebook platform was already up and running. So they decided that students attending the course would use Facebook as a ‘petri dish’.

The result was over 50 apps created by 75 students with a total install base of 20 million and a total daily active user rate of 925,000. Five of the apps created by the students hit the Facebook Top 100 and almost $1 million in revenue was generated in 6 months. The course also led to 5 commercial projects, 3 companies being formed and 2 companies being acquired.

The key learnings that came out of the course were:
1. It’s never too late to create a winning app – when the course launched, over 6000 Facebook apps existed, 10 weeks later, students already had 5 apps in the top 100;
2. Simplicity and clarity are key to app success – apps need to be easily understood with a clear value proposition and they should be easy to use. Clever names and too many features are will stall user acceptance;
3. Speed and flexibility in both launch and iterations is key – many crummy trials beat deep thinking, flexibility beats quality. Don’t get too attached to one app idea;
4. Community cooperation leads to success – sharing code, tips, insights and listening to the community are great ways to leverage up your individual skill base;
5. Individual opinions about an app are worthless – don’t be swayed by one person’s opinion, just get the app out there and see what happens;
6. Copying success is a cheap/fast way to succeed – novelty isn’t the best approach to apps. The flipside – if your app is doing well, expect imitators; and
7. Metrics do matter, but today’s tools are too weak – instrument your apps to track viral aspects.

Over the past year a lot of action has taken place in the social media arena. Facebook launched its app platform in May 2007. A few months later Open Social arrived. Open Social is a common open set of APIs for building social applications across multiple sites. The MySpace Developer Platform has since emerged as the largest implementation of Open Social.

The stats over the past 12 months reveal that over 24,000 apps have been made, 95% of social network users have installed an app. One of the key successes to these social media platforms has been and continues to be the opportunities that developer have to monetise.

The company SocialMedia, which runs an advertising suite has paid out over $8 million to its network of 1,000 developers on Facebook and OpenSocial through May 2008. The company itself secured $4m in financing and has grown to have 25 staff and expects to generate revenue in the double digit millions for fiscal year 2008.

In short – social media apps matter, big time and web developers, strategists and marketers should sit up and taken notice.

The Web as Social Media

The Web is quickly changing from being purely informational to becoming more social. This can be seen by the rise in popularity of social networks, with their users becoming more and more engaged. These social networks are part of a growing fabric of social platforms, onto which apps are spreading.

Charlene Li, an analyst with Forrester, sees social networks becoming ‘like air’. Within this ubiquitous fabric, applications are an extremely effective way to micro-touch and communicate with users.

There are four points Li calls on developers to remember when considering what apps to build:
1. Create compelling social experiences, not social graph lock-in
2. Develop social apps that have meaning
3. Integrate into existing activities
4. Design business models that reflect the value created by people?s social networks

When designing apps developers need to find a balance between virality and engagement. Virality involves getting users to spread to others with one users causing at least one more user to install the app. Engagement on the other hand involved building individual user experience, increasing pageviews and loyalty.

Achieving viral engagement is the nirvana for app developers. RockYou identifies that there are four distinct audiences, all of whom require different approaches for increasing viral engagement.

The first group is new users. By building clean flows and focusing on linear, one-action flows developers can maximise new user activation. Requiring new users to register can severely diminish uptake.

The second group is direct friends. Apps need to communicate a clear value proposition to a new user for inviting their friend network to install that app. The invitation itself should be within one or two steps of a new user installing so as to maximise that user’s viral value.

The third group is indirect friends. With this group the focus needs to be on messaging –  friends of friends will be driven to install apps that communicate increasing and simply understood value via newsfeed or profile messages and notifications.

The fourth and final group is interested parties. Simple tools such as answers, comments and ratings allow for interaction without full engagement and can drive more universal use of an app.

There are a number of other factors to take into account when building apps – including genre and demographic targeting, creating viral loops and building in monetisation hooks. If you would like to learn more about the huge opportunity social media apps represent contact me at rand at metarand dot com.
In addition, I’m hosting a series of MySpace devJams during the month of July at which developers can learn more about building social media apps. For more details of these events check out: http://tinyurl.com/4qvkoj .

Is Nokia’s Symbian Acquisition A Dinosaurian Shudder?

Why would a mobile handset maker acquire a decade old mobile operating system developer and then let it go open source? We need but look for two pointers as to why Nokia would try to shore up its position in the market by acquiring Symbian: the iPhone and Android.

Om Malik does a great job of analysing the situation. It’s time the phone industry realized there is a ‘new mobile reality’ at hand.

VentureWrap: Twitter Takes On Amazon

Following on from Twitter‘s $15M Series B funding round at a pre-money of $80M last month, the South Park-based micro-blogging phenomenon has taken on board two further investors.

Joining the already impressive investor lineup of Union Square Ventures and Digital Garage, Spark Capital and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s investment vehicle, Bezos Expeditions, have bought equity in the business.

Spark’s Bijan Sabet will join Twitter’s board and Jeff will no doubt provide invaluable advice around scalability.

In fact, writing on the Twitter blog, Evan Williams points to the vision for the business, and it’s all good:

Twitter will become a sustainable business supported by a revenue model. However, our biggest opportunities will be worth pursuing only when we achieve our vision of Twitter as a global communication utility. To reach our goal, Twitter must be reliable and robust.

Private funding gives us the runway we need to stay focused on the infrastructure that will help our business take flight. We will continue hiring systems engineers, operators, and architects, as well as consultants, scientists, and other professionals to help us realize our vision.

Be sure to follow metarand on Twitter!

Announcing MySpace devJams across Australia

Following on from an awesome devJam in Sydney on June 5th, I’m pleased to announce that I’m going to be hosting a further three events in Australia in July.

These events are a must attend for everyone who codes and has an interest in building social media apps.

There will be door prizes and the opportunity to head over to San Francisco and/or Tokyo – read more about these opportunities and each of the events from the following links:

We are working on rolling out similar events in other major cities across Australia.

I’d like to thank the guys from Mitchellake for providing us with their uber cool offices for these events.

VentureWrap: Seesmic Raises $6M Series B From Omidyar

No wonder Loic Le Meur, Seesmic‘s CEO, was so excited on the call I did with him earlier in the week.

He was in the final stages of closing a $6M Series B round from Omidyar Network and Wellington Partners.

UPDATE: You can watch Loic explaining the rationale here.

[via TechCrunch]

Web 2 Downunder – Top 100 Startups

Ross Dawson’s Top 100 Web 2.0 Companies in Australia list has been released.

It is great to see that two of the top 3 were featured in the recent Metarand Top 3 Australian Social Media Companies – congrats to mig33 and RedBubble. I caught up with one of mig33’s team in downtown Burlingame this week and was blown away by their stats – growth has been huge.

Great initiative, Ross. Keep up the good work.

Metarand Unplugged: Seesmic’s Loic Le Meur On Platforms, Hollywood, Twhirl And Opening Up

Seesmic has quietly moved out of invite-only status as the video conversation startup has busied itself integrating its recent acquisition Twhirl into its platform play.

In this session of Metarand Unplugged we also explore the social media landscape with Loic Le Meur, Seesmic’s founder, and talk about open APIs, Hollywood and whether the G-spot exists.

Loic is pictured here on the right with Michael Arrington and Robert Scoble.

Stream the Session in Quicktime:

here

Stream the Session as an mp3:

here