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Jason Calacanis

Jason Calacanis Announces Launch of Open Angel Forum

Alongside Michael Arrington and TechCrunch, Jason Calacanis has done a great job with the TechCrunch 50 conference - a launchpad for 50 start-ups amid a collection of great roundtable sessions. I have attended each of the last two years and I consider it one of the most productive events of the year. Calacanis is expanding the effort with a new venture: the Open Angel Forum. Formally announced today, the first event will be held January 14th in Los Angeles (with other regions to follow):

OAF-Logo-Med-300x155

The Open Angel Forum is designed to bring together bring together 15-20 high quality angel investors and five companies looking to raise capital. Unlike pay-to-play angel groups like Keiretsu Forum (which charges $6,000 to pitch their four San Francisco chapters!), the Open Angel Forum is free to startups and angel investors. The only people who pay to attend the event are a limited number of service providers (i.e. lawyers, recruiters, etc).

I'm inviting the angel investors I've developed personal relationships with over the years (many of whom have invested in Weblogs, Inc. or Mahalo.com). Think folks like Sky Dayton, Matt Coffin, Elon Musk, Kevin Rose, Ryan Scott, Mark Cuban, Fred Wilson and Ted Leonsis. I've also started angel investing as you probably know.

You can learn more at OpenAngelForum.com. Tied to this announcement, Jason stated his intent to invest as an angel in 5-10 startups a year:

"My first two investments are www.gdgt.com and www.challengepost.com. I'll be announcing two more angel investments in December. My goal is to do 5-10 a year."

Selfishly, I'm Glad Jason Calacanis 'Retired' From Blogging

About a week ago, web 2.0 celebrity / guru Jason Calacanis "officially" announced his retirement from blogging. Most of the blogosphere reaction was that the supposed retirement was either a hoax or a ploy to generate Mahalo buzz:

Starting today all of my thoughts will be reserved for a new medium. Something smaller, something more intimate, and something very personal: an email list. Today the email list has about 600 members, I'm going to cut it off when it reaches 750. Frankly, that's enough more than enough people to have a conversation with. I'm going to try and build a deeper relationship with fewer people--try to get back to my roots.

I found it a little strange that Jason would retire from blogging (despite remaining so active via Twitter, FriendFeed, email and so forth)... but he's really wow'ed me with the quality of content that he's published via the email DL. In a few days, he's delivered rich, thoughtful analysis and news:

- The Fallout (from the load out - How to Generate Feedback for Your Startup (three simple ideas) - How to host an amazing conference - The Dark Knight Reviewed - Quick hits: Party tonight in Santa Monica

If Jason retired in part from blogging to lighten his work load (blogging is hard work)... I think he may have to slow down on the emails. He's now delivered an article a day and each is very good and very lengthy - so he's setting some high expectations!

The "How to generate feedback for your startup" newsletter is nearly 2,000 words (though 1,000 or so are selected user comments) and there aren't many better people to learn scrappy, web 2.0 marketing tips from.

I enjoyed reading Jason's blog... but I'm selfishly enjoying these emails (and the user responses) more.

Mahalo Opens Up; Recognizes the Power of Transparency

In what Jason Calacanis bills as "Wikipedia 3.0", Mahalo has just taken a very major step forward by opening their platform to all registered users. Until now, Mahalo has crafted each of their 50,000 pages by hand (hence the tagline "human powered search"). But by enabling users to directly contribute, create and edit pages - Mahalo is becoming a "human powered portal" or "directory".

What's particularly important about Mahalo's move is their focus on transparency. I am a firm believer that websites and communities work only as well as the users' incentives are aligned. Digg is a terrific example: publishers are incented to submit content; diggers are incented to vote, befriend and share; and everyone is incented to digg as much (and as fairly) as possible.

Jason recognizes that fully opening Mahalo can be noisy or even turbulent ("it's not going to be as freewheeling as Wikipedia day one"). So they have two solutions.

The first isn't scalable over the long term, but important for helping define community interactions and demonstrate proper behaviors: "[Mahalo's] staff is going to check every edit made and confirm it is correct. We have three full-time folks on this right now and our expectation is we will only get 10-50 editors per day."

The second solution is to make activity fully transparent and consequently establish self-imposed community guidelines and incentives. Mahalo has made their User Activity Dashboard public. It's the same dashboard that their staff follows internally. By publishing this content and making the community's behavior fully transparent - there is an incentive to behave properly and frequently (attention and reputation!) and there is a consequence for misbehaving (your actions are public and tied to an account).

Most importantly, it establishes accountability. Users are accountable for their actions. Vertical specialists are accountable for the changes in their verticals. Readers become accountable for validating the quality (or lack thereof) of an article. And Mahalo staffers become accountable for either enabling or disabling content, users and topics.

Available data in the Dashboard: - Recommended Links - Declined Recommended Links - Note Edits - Message Board Posts

Twitter - Experiencing Windows 7 Via Twitter (Rather than Blogs)

Techmeme is filled with major tech sources covering Microsoft's Windows 7 debut (TechCrunch, D6 Highlights, WebWare, Engadget, and many more). But the action is also being covered actively (perhaps even more actively) on Twitter. In the last two minutes, John Battelle, Jason Calacanis, Loic Lemeur and others have tweeted updates, insights and analysis... starting conversations and valuable dialog.

It's well known that Twitter is as much a short-form of blogging as it is an instant source of news. In fact, one of the first users I followed was @redsoxcast - a user that broadcasts nearly every Red Sox pitch. I pay for MLB.com's service - but actually prefer following @redsoxcast because it is portable and always accessible.

What I am struck by, however, is that this is the first robust, instant dialog I have followed on Twitter. I have followed one-person updates before (like the Oscars or Red Sox games... but I haven't yet seen this level of interaction. Of course it's covering a tech event... but if Twitter can amass this sort of activity across multiple, they will be a major player in news and a major competitor to bloggers.

A Twitter search for "Ballmer" on Twhirl:

My live Twitter feed - notice the updates are all Microsoft and Red Sox

Bootstrapping Your Startup – 12 Rules of Bootstrapping

One of the memes I’ve enjoyed following this past week started with Jason Calacanis’s How to Save Money Running a Start Up article (later followed by Michael Arrington, Mark Cuban, Duncan Riley, Signal vs Noise). All great read. In a similar style - here’s my take, based on my experience with beRecruited (and now sfEntrepreneurs), on bootstrapping your start up. 1. Love the idea. Mark Cuban started his list this way, and he’s absolutely right. You’ll be pouring time and energy into it – if you don’t love the concept and the product two things will happen: You’ll lose the passion required to run it and you’ll be an ineffective salesperson.

A friend of mine made his living selling Herbal Life and required all of his salespeople to use the products before selling them. They typically only sold the products they enjoyed / used regularly - and that made them excited, knowledgeable and effective salespeople.

2. Make sure the idea solves a problem / fills a need. There are a lot of ‘me too’ sites and ideas. Make sure there is a real need / calling for yours. Even when beRecruited was very young and very small, it was easy to communicate with potential users and partners because the value statement was simple and obvious: connect high school athletes with NCAA coaches. It also helped that we were the only players in this space.

3. Release and innovate. I am a firm believer that small companies are best served by continually releasing and innovating. I think it’s different if you’re building at high-touch product for Google or MSN – but as a bootstrapped startup, it enables you to build a user-base and learn from them. It also makes product releases more efficient (having major product launches undoubtedly takes longer than intended and consumers more resources than expected).

4. Know your users. Who are your users? What are their needs? Who are you marketing to? Understand this upfront – but capture all of the data to actually identify your users, their onsite behaviors, and where/when you can target them. I guarantee that your definition of a ‘user’ will change from the first business plan… capturing the data enables you to understand how and why.

5. Promote, promote, promote. Sell, sell, sell. As a bootstrapped startup, it’s all grass roots marketing. I must have passed out 100,000+ fliers at local sporting events (and employed my sisters to do the same). I wore beRecruited swim caps at national meets. I wrote articles (for free) for major industry publications like Swimming World. I always carried 50 business cards in my pocket (which didn’t even have my name on them, just the company’s and a coupon code) and kept a box of 500 VistaPrint promotional fliers in my glovebox. Hell, the back of my SUV has a “beRecruited.com, Free NCAA Recruiting” decal on it.

The beRecruited Mobile

I used every free moment to talk about the site. Don’t be embarrassed – be proud.

Use the web to market. Get on Twitter and follow JasonCalacanis, LoicLemur, and Scoble to see how it’s done. The web makes marketing cheap and easy. Vistaprint, blogs, forums, Linked In, Twitter, etc.

6. ABG: Always be growing. One of the great movie lines is Alec Baldwin’s “always be closing” rant. For bootstrappers, I believe that it’s “ABG: Always Be Growing.” It’s easy to chase revenue to offset costs - but those are often short-term revenues that ultimately will be insignificant and are potentially distracting (from an operational perspective).

As a small startup, your traffic probably isn’t significant enough to make substantial money from AdSense. Is it worth interfering with the user-experience for <$1,000 / month? Grow the users and the pageviews. Use your time to release new features… chase revenues after you’ve solidified the product and secured a strong user-base.

7. Be efficient. Sounds obvious. Sounds easy.

But it’s neither. As a bootstrapper, you’re short on time and money. That means that efficiency is key. Before engaging in any single task, ask yourself (and/or your team) if this is worthwhile and priority #1.

8. Set partner expectations. Again – it sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked. I’ve been on both sides of this – as the bootstrapped company working with large organizations and as part of eBay working with two-person start ups.

Set expectations about needs, constraints, timing, etc. I’ve worked with moonlighting developers who have said not to contact them between normal business hours. Great – by declaring that up front, I was a more effective partner and managed my time (and his) far better.

9. Attract great people – but not too many. Build a tight, smart and energetic team. Understand everyone’s skills and roles – and be very clear about responsibilities. Having too many people can be distracting and inefficient. The goal with any team is to achieve greatness, collaborate and move quickly - avoiding headaches, redundancies and wasted time is equally important.

Be sure that your partners are invested in the idea and the company.

10. Get great at email. This is particularly important for moonlight entrepreneurs who run their business and communications after hours… Email then becomes your communication medium with the team, your partners and your users. Realize that partners will likely read your email first thing in the morning (along with dozens of others) - so your message needs to be focused and clear. Email exchanges in normal business operations are often inefficient: lots of back-and-forth exchanges. When moonlighting, you normally have one exchange a day – so you either have to make it worthwhile or waste a day’s progress.

Email is also particularly important when the team lives in different locations (or is without a home office). Don’t litter inboxes because staying organized is critical - and everyone knows that organization is already near-impossible with a light mail flow.

11. Use a management system like Google Docs or Trac. Management platforms like Google Docs and Trac are lifesavers. We use Trac for sfEntrepreneurs and it’s an effective way to communicate between the business and development teams. It also is useful for managing documents, bugs and product roadmaps. We use Google Docs at beRecruited and it’s effective at managing content and data.

Find one that works for you and make sure that everyone uses it routinely. Make sure that the team is receiving all system updates and subscribes to the RSS alerts. These products don’t work if not actively used.

12. Buy your team Blackberries. The efficiency gain of having everyone connected will pay off the cost instantly.

12A. Drink a lot of coffee. Jason Calacanis’s point about espresso… dead on. Learn to enjoy it!

Mark Cuban Chimes in on Jason Calacanis's Start Up Rules

Great blog dialog this weekend that started when Jascon Calacanis wrote his rules for running a start up. Mark Cuban then chimed in and I love his commentary - particularly his advice about only hiring people who are passionate and love the company.

But this was my favorite part of Cuban's post as it references one of my favorite movies: Glengarry Glen Ross. Coffee is for closers is one of the great lines ever. I will forgive Mark though for spelling espresso incorrectly!

"6. An expresso machine? Are you kidding me ? Shoot yourself before you spend money on an expresso machine. Coffee is for closers. Sodas are free. Lunch is a chance to get out of the office and talk. There are 24 hours in a day, and if people like their jobs, they will find ways to use as much of it as possible to do their jobs."

Always be closing!