links for 2009-05-29
When I was a venture capitalist there were lots of reasons why we did not make investments in particular startups. My goal was to try to provide some honest feedback/guidance as to the reason for passing on the opportunity. Given the deep deal flow at my fund, this was not always possible, but if I had used up more than a few minutes of the executives’ time learning about their company I tried to give a little bit of the color behind the rejection. This ranged from “the end market is too small” or “you need more user traction” or “it is too competitive of a market” or “we are not comfortable with this particular technology.” But the fact of the matter was, sometimes there were not great reasons for passing on a company. Many times these were just excuses hiding the real reason:
The Time Warner board has approved the spinoff of AOL as an independent, publicly traded company, undoing the disastrous merger between the two in 2001, which came to be a symbol of failed synergy between content and web distribution. It also positions Time Warner for a return to its roots: as a dedicated content company. The spinoff is targeted for the end of the year, after Time Warner buys back the 5% stake in AOL it doesn’t own from Google, which it says it will do in the third quarter of 2009. The deal follows Time Warner’s spinoff of Time Warner Cable earlier this year.
Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) is revamping its search engine to counter the dominance of Google Inc (GOOG.O) in the Web search and related advertising business. The world’s largest software company, which is still in talks with Yahoo Inc (YHOO.O) over a potential partnership, has long been determined to play a major role in the lucrative Web search market after watching upstart Google take a stranglehold. Microsoft, which has been testing the search engine internally under the name Kumo for several months, plans to introduce the new service, re-christened “Bing,” over the next few days, with a full launch next Wednesday. The service will be available at http://www.bing.com.
To stand out in an environment where it seems that everyone is talking but no one is listening, forward-thinking Fortune 500 companies are trying a new tack: They’re tapping into the personal brands of their most inspiring, effusive and public executives. In fact, rather than being viewed as renegade moonlighters, motivational speakers at companies such as Deloitte, Nike and Pitney Bowes have become their company’s most coveted brand ambassadors. Personal brands can bring to life an organization’s culture as no print or digital image can, especially for a professional-services firm. Deloitte, an organization known for having several authors and renowned speakers, touts employees Brian Dzingai, a 2008 Beijing Olympics 200-meter finalist, and Tiffaney Florentine, a former participant on the hit TV show “American Gladiators.”
But just as Apple’s iPhone obviates the need to carry both a phone and a music player by combining both functions in the same device, Wave’s competence with multiple modes of communication seems likely to doom tools with more focused functionality that don’t add unique value. Wave represents an attempt to imagine “what might e-mail look like if it were invented today,” according to Rasmussen.
The nine-year marriage is over: Yesterday, media company Time Warner announced that it will spin off its AOL subsidiary. “We believe AOL will . . . have a better opportunity to achieve its full potential as a leading independent Internet company,” Jeffrey L. Bewkes, Time Warner chairman and chief executive, said in announcing that his company will unload the former dial-up giant around the end of the year. “The separations will also provide both companies with greater operational and strategic flexibility.” Tech pundits had been saying as much for years.
Android fans will soon have plenty of handsets to choose from, as Google expects there to be at least 18 Android-powered smartphones by the end of the year. At the Google I/O conference, Andy Rubin, senior director for mobile platforms for Google, said that number could creep up to 20 handsets. Rubin said these devices will be made by eight or nine different manufacturers, although he did not name the companies.
Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) on Thursday stepped up efforts to close the gap with rival Google in the lucrative online search business. As expected, the software maker formally unveiled its Bing search engine, which the company said offers “a new approach to Internet search.” Bing, according to Microsoft, delivers a more functional experience than existing search engines, including Google’s. That is, queries entered into Bing yield not only information related to the search term, but also links to sites where users can make purchases and engage in other related activities.
At first glance, Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing, doesn’t look all that different from Google. There’s a search bar across the top; a list of results down the middle of the page, flanked above and to the right by ads; and a smattering of categories to the left that will refine the listings. But for certain types of queries, the site trumps its competitors — specifically market leader Google.
Venture capitalist Tim Draper gave entrepreneurs a pep talk, mixed with some politics, at the WTIA Fast Pitch Forum today. Draper, founder and managing director of Silicon Valley venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, called for less regulation and protectionism and more bold entrepreneurs. His hit investments include Hotmail, Skype, Baidu and Overture and he’s credited with introducing the concept of viral marketing via Web email to advance Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. He also regaled the Bell Harbor crowd of 150 with the “Riskmaster” song he performs at tech events. “This is an opportunity, it’s an opportunity to change the way you do things, change the way your customers do things, change your teams — these are great opportunities for you as entrepreneurs,” he said.