Streaming The Real-Time Web

The MIT/Stanford Venture Lab hosted a fun session this week on Lifestreaming: The Real-Time Web. MC’d by Kara Swisher, who acknowledged to a somewhat flustered Jeff Clavier that she specializes in cheap shots, the session included Bret Taylor, a Friendfeed co-founder, and Loic Le Meur, Seesmic’s CEO.

The key question for me around the shift to the real-time web is how sites cater to different user tastes — some folks like drinking from the fire hydrant, getting a constant flow of information and responding to the trends, while others like to have the information archived (think of the way posts are represented on a blog) and they access it at their convenience.

I expect we will see a lot of innovation at this coal face to allow for the spectrum of usage.

Kara covers the event and includes some video – here.

Shaping Up: Top Tips For Getting And Staying There

I won’t profess to being at the top of my fitness game at present, but as a former professional lifeguard, lifelong surfer and record-breaking athlete I’ve both been there and aspire to be again.

So this morning, five minutes before going for a jog, I was overjoyed and enthused to read Loic Le Meur’s post on 13 tips for geeks to get in shape.

Like Loic I have used a Garmin Forerunner 305 – an awesome device for measuring and pushing your performance. I also believe in the power of music to inspire you and like to mountain bike with a pair of Oakley Thumps blasting U2 into my brain – geeks, this is off-road only and sure you can get that from an iPod too, but when you need to uncouple from your bike at high speed…the less cords around the better!

For me one of the most important aspects of getting going on the road to being in shape is to rip yourself out of your comfort zone. OK, so for me that meant moving half way around the world from Sydney to Palo Alto and moving into an unfurnished cottage.

No need to be so extreme, simply break from your current routines. Had a heavy day at the office and feel entitled to that beer or glass of wine to help you unwind. Bullshit! Get out your running shoes and burn through the day’s stress.

As I mentioned already, music can be a big influencing factor and another serial entrepreneur/venture person who is doing some great stuff in this area is Heidi Roizen. She used to run a billion dollar venture fund, but these days she is the founder of SkinnySongs, a startup that is helping women to lose weight through listening to motivational songs she writes herself.

Whatever you do to start down or keep on the shaping up path, be assured that doing so will lift your sense of well being and make you more effective at, well…everything.

Go to it!

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.

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

Angel Investing Rule No1: Communicate First, Broadcast Last – Lessons From Seesmic, Omnidrive

Earlier in the month I wrote a post about the Omnidrive situation in which an angel investor in the company, Clay Cook very publicly denounced the company’s founder Nik Cubrilovic. I’ve since spoken with Nik and heard his side of the story and also delved more deeply. There are definitely two sides to every story and this case is no exception.

As a brief aside, there is an interesting bacskstory at play. In addition to being a founder of Omnidrive, Nik was at the time writing for TechCrunch. This made him a magnet for people wanting to be “in” with the Atherton Web 2.0 camp, as personified by TechCrunch HQ – Michael Arrington’s place in the Silicon Valley suburb.

Sometime after Clay had invested in Omnidrive he moved with his family from Perth to Atherton. They quickly became a part of the scene, Clay bought himself a Hummer and they began to hit the Valley circuit of launches, parties and conferences. He made a follow on investment into Omnidrive, but soon after this things seemed to go pear-shaped.

He was unable to secure a visa to remain in the US and ended up back in Perth a few months later. During this time there was a breakdown of communication between Nik and Clay. In addition Nik fell completely off the TechCrunch radar. He stopped writing for them and Michael Arrington has not mentioned Omnidrive or Nik since then. Michael recently lauded Duncan Riley when he left the TechCrunch stable, and he pointed out that all his former staffers remain TechCrunch friends – Nik’s name was not included on this list.

It would seem that personal and business frustrations reached a boiling point and Clay made his public denouncement. At the time he was still a shareholder of the company.

This gives rise to certain legal and ethical obligations. While the strict black letter set of rights and obligations are crystallized in a company’s Shareholder Agreement, it can be argued that even if that document is silent on the matter there are two duties that emanate from the angel investor relationship.

The first is a synchronous duty of disclosure or communication. As an executive of a company, the CEO has a duty to maintain a regular channel of communication with shareholders. In my view this goes beyond providing regular reporting on the status of the business. Angel investing is largely personal and the communication should match that relationship. This duty also rests on the investor and it is not prudent to close that channel.

The second duty is a duty of care that the investor has, as a shareholder in the business, to not harm the company through their actions. Where that investor has a public channel of communication open to them, this duty suggests that channel should not be used to air grievances between the company, its executives and the investor.

As I said initially, I’m not taking sides in the Omnidrive situation, but looked at as a case study, it is clear that we can derive a key rule for angel investing: Communicate First, Broadcast Last.

This rule is directed at both the investors and investees in an angel transaction – both parties should communicate as much as possible and try not to broadcast their grievances.

Let’s now turn to a more recent case study that again illustrates this rule: Seesmic.

In February Seesmic’s CEO, Loic Le Meur, (seen here outside TechCrunch HQ) announced the company had raised a $6 million investment. The funding came from Atomico, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis’s private investment vehicle, as well as from a line-up of angel investors that included Steve Case, Ron Conway, Reid Hoffman, Michael Parekh and a few others including two people who have been involved with Omnidrive – Jeff Clavier and Michael Arrington.

I spoke with Loic recently and in our conversation we discussed how he was building Seesmic and also explored the nature of the relationship he had formulated with his investors. From this conversation I had the distinct feeling that he got this rule: Communicate First, Broadcast Last.

Loic told me that he is “building Seesmic a lot in the open”. He found his investors through networking around: “if Reid Hoffman invests then you have two more entrepreneurs who want to invest.”

And similarly he made it clear that he talks to his fourteen investors on a daily basis. “There is not a single day when I don’t talk to one of them.”

So it came as a big surprise when I read Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch post: Don’t Screw Your Partners Over A Marketing Promotion. Michael is a minority shareholder in Seesmic and yet here he was very publicly taking Seesmic to task over a lack of communication.

Again, I don’t want to take sides – I also have Seesmic’s video enabled in the comments on this blog, but it seems that the first part of the rule was not followed by either Loic or Michael – communicate first. Loic should have let all those parties who have the Seesmic plugin know that there was going to be a series of outages, but he should have told his investors about this as a priority.

At the same time, Michael would have been better off taking Loic to task privately and working collectively to ensure that the public issues management aspect was handled more appropriately. He clearly did not adhere to the second part of the rule: Broadcast Last.

In closing, I call on all parties involved in building early stage ventures to communicate more, no matter how busy you may get and when emotions run high try to exercise restraint, especially when you feel compelled to hit the broadcast button.