Reid Hoffman has announced that his professional social networking tool, LinkedIn, has opened up its platform to third party developers. The current roll out includes a suite of, eight external and one internal, apps that are aimed at enhancing user productivity through file sharing, project management, arranging business trips etc.
Like venture guy Fred Wilson, I’ve spent a few years interacting with Boards of Directors – as Chairman, as Investor-appointed Director, as Founder, as Executive and as Legal Commentator. I’ve also interacted with Boards that presided over multinational conglomerates, public research institutes, venture firms and startups.
Perhaps this is why when I read Fred’s views on “Choosing Board Members” it really resonated. He sets out 10 thoughts on the topic and each and every one is worth repeating:
- Avoid “big names” For the most part, they are useless. [Hmm, Australian companies are particularly prone to this foible. There is a cabal of “names” that tend to crop up on so many boards – have a good look at the share price of Jumbuck and tell me if its ‘name’ has made a difference to its tumble. Similar situation over at Bluefreeway. Oh well, I’ve offered to help both companies but that’s not for this discussion.]
- Select people who will attend each and every meeting, who will pay close attention to the business [Totally agree – avoid pigeon directors who fly in, make a mess of the board papers and then fly out]
- Select people who have an affinity for your business, who understand your challenges and your opportunities [ Oh how true – a property investment banker is highly unlikely to add value to your high tech business]
- Avoid putting someone you can control on your board. In tough situations they will have a fiduciary duty to do what’s right and you won’t be able to control them when it matters most to you. [Besides the reason it may backfire, it will also get you into hot water with your corporate regulators and most likely get you sued – after your board has fired you, that is]
- Don’t let conflicts get in the way of selecting the ideal board member. Conflicts will be disclosed and can be managed. Many times the people who will understand your business best are conflicted in some way. There are ways to deal with this problem. [ this is true, but needs to be handled very delicately – I am currently watching a situation very closely where a board member of one company is also a formal adviser to a direct competitor…I’ll keep you in the loop as it unfolds]
- Make sure to have an experienced accountant/auditor on your board and have them run the audit committee. That is no place for amateurs. [Indeed, but don’t let the beancounters get in the way of the business, unless you are playing a complete numbers game]
- Make sure to have at least two or three CEOs of comparable companies on your board. Make sure they are on the comp committee. Compensation issues are best handled by people who understand the talent market. [Fred makes a good point here. They should also be of use when it comes time to discuss valuation multiples tied to a fundraising or exit]
- Select people who have the time to do the job right. Being a board member is a job. It’s not a retirement perk. If someone cannot commit to attend each and every meeting and to spend at least several hours a week on your company, they are not the right choice. [Umm, this is a repeat of point two, but its important so it bears repeating]
- Select people who will get along with each other. The very best boards I am on are friendly social active groups. Serious business doesn’t have to be stilted and formal. It can and should be fun. [Life is too short to seek acrimony. Friendly and social is good, but not at the expense of adding value to the business – remember, as CEO that is your core metric and reason for being – ask Jason Goldberg – see his first point on his learnings from being CEO at Jobster]
- Above all else, look for great judgment and ethics. [When times get tough and decisions are not black or white — these points are golden]
[Picture courtesy of Baboon]
The KeyPoint Credit Union is reported by Jim Bruene to be the first financial institution to launch full-fledged account access through Facebook.
The application, which was developed by MShift, Inc, provides one-click access to account balance information for KeyPoint CU users. The app stands at 6 daily active users, which is 40% of the Facebook members who have installed it – so it has a whopping 15 person install base.
Checking out your balance on the site you most frequent is useful, but it’s not a gobsmackingly good experience you want to evangelize to all your Facebook friends, nor is it an engaging utility you cannot do with out. Widgets are great – for example, Wesabe has launched an account balance Mac widget which streams real time balance updates.
However, banking and other enterprise applications on Facebook and other social networks need to go beyond replicating the experience of web solutions. They need to focus on their audience as users, not as banking customers — what engages them, why would they be excited by your app — think brand recognition, think deep engagement and then think again — are you putting up an app because you can or do you have a purpose in mind. In many respects the enterprise Facebook apptivity is analogous to the early corporate approach to virtual worlds – “Woohoo, board members, we have a presence in Second Life…errrm”.
I am sure that Facebook and similar platforms will be an awesome playground for business, but on their users terms.
A lot has already been written about Google’s Open Social initiative, which you can read elsewhere. Besides the boon for developers in general, the other big winners out of this write once, run anywhere approach will be enterprise. In many respects business has been lagging consumer adoption of the 2.0 phenomena, but no more.
Our application, which will be free, is meant for customer facing professionals to visualize how their organization has touched a given customer. All of the raw data is available in Salesforce.com but is generally only available through reports. More importantly it’s not very easy to figure out who knows the customer best. OpenSocial makes it possible to visualize and drill into the nature of customer relationships.
Using the OpenSocial APIs we’ve built a tag cloud representing interactions between a given customer (Salesforce.com Contact) and a given organization.
It will indeed be interesting to see how quickly other SaaS players pick up on this.