The future of StackOverflow?

March 21, 2010

What happens when you have a great knowledge-sharing site, where people can freely ask questions and other people are willing to answer them?

Let me ask again, what if you have “pioneered a unique web service that offers its members fast, qualified answers to questions … from a network of qualified technology experts”? And not just that, you also have a “patented knowledge-sharing process, combined with the advantages of the Internet”? And if it’s not enough, let’s imagine for a moment that you “received a $5 million first round investment commitment from  <drum-roll> J.P. Morgan Capital“?

Well, mostly likely you end up being www.experts-exchange.com. The text in bold above is quoted from the site and from a Business Wire article.

The company is 14 years old now. It’s an eternity by the internet standards. The site was once the largest network of qualified technology experts, or so they claim. What lessons can we learn from its fate?

First, a few observations:

1. Is its traffic going up or down?

2. How does it compare to competition?

3. Was there an IPO or sale to a strategic investor?

I couldn’t find any traces of it in the internet. OK, this is certainly not a hard fact, and if you send me a link about the event, I’ll update the post accordingly.

What can we learn? Perhaps, that Q & A sites are too easy to build (say hi to StackExchange!). That the competition in the area is too fierce. That even patented IP and “smart money” from the investors won’t let you scale the business enough. You may be the leader one day, and a new kid on the block leaves you biting the dust the next day.

 

Update: despite struggling traffic, Experts Exchange is running well, apparently with enough revenue to support itself. See comments to this post for more details.

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Raise more money, it’s never enough

January 19, 2010

I enjoy reading about dubious startups raising more and more money on TechCrunch every day. How about a startup to burn through $6M to develop a customer support forum software? Basically, it’s the same thing you can achieve with free and open sourced phpBB or dozens of other forum packages like that. Noone will pay you for this guys.

Or how about burning $34M to develop software that lets you “monitor your brand on Facebook and Twitter” and “engage with consumers around conversations regarding a brand”? You really can’t make this stuff up…


Evernote just got $10m more to burn

November 18, 2009

It’s all over the high-tech news, so I guess I can’t ignore this one. Evernote is kind of our competitor. Not exactly a competitor, because we are tiny (yet) and Evernote is probably #1 online note-taking software. Indeed, the main competitor for Evernote is Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is huge, but it’s totally locked into Windows platform. Even their upcoming clouded Office 2010 release won’t change that much. Microsoft stuff just doesn’t run well in other browsers. Sharepoint pages still don’t render anywhere except for MSIE. And when we take mobile devices, the browsers is not the best choice for good user experience. iPhone proves that – everyone creates native apps, because browser experience just isn’t that good.

So what we are going to do is to ride on the back of OneNote’s success and expand its reach into all other platforms that are not Windows. We are going to stick to this strategy and eventually displace Evernote as the #1 mobile and online note-taking software. What we don’t want to do is to burn money to embrace the platforms that are past their prime or just never going to be there, like Palm Pre. I won’t name some others to avoid controversy. So good luck to Evernote with burning more cash on the obscure platforms.

I will be posting more about Evernote and other competitors. Let’s consider this post as a disclaimer: we develop MobileNoter, which is a competitor to Evernote and other note-taking software. Thus, whenever I write on the topic, don’t forget that I’m biased.

 


Is Amazon.com a good business?

November 12, 2009

Our OneNote on iPhone software is doing very well for its first day of sales and it got me thinking about who else is doing very well. Amazon.com? Everyone knows this company. I personally have been buying from Amazon and I really admire it, just like millions of people out there. It must be a good business. They are the biggest online retailer, the 900-pound gorilla. So I took a look at their annual reports. They are available from their site, go to the bottom link “Investor Relations”. It’s not very easy to find the most important figures, but it’s not very hard either.  I won’t tease you, here is the table of their annual profits (or should I say losses) for the years I was able to find: 

1996 -6
1997 -28
1998 -125
1999 -720
2000 -1411
2001 -567
2002 -149
2003 35
2004 588
2005 359
2006 190
2007 476
2008 645

Total: -$713,000,000.

As you can see, the great company had a glorious result for last 13 years. It has spent much more money than it earned. I won’t even go into stock prices and P/Es.  Is Amazon.com a good business? I don’t think so.

 


Virtual phone numbers are accepted by registrators

August 20, 2009

If you are a startup, you are more than likely not to have an office. You are also very likely to have a Skype online phone number or Google Voice phone number. These virtual numbers are extemely easy to manage, forward to your mobile, etc. – all for just pennies. Everybody knows the benefits of global VoIP operators.

However, sometimes you need to register your company and the phone number for some useful services. For example, when you want to receive a code signing certificate, or register with a payment processing service, they would ask you to send a proof of your company identity (like Articles of Incorporation) and also a proof for your phone number – a phone bill to either your or your company. They used to demand a landline phone number, then they started accepting mobile numbers, and just recently they started accepting virtual phone numbers.

I was able to register with our Skype online phone number recently. Moreover, because Skype.com has so poor order/bill history management, I ended up simply sending screenshots of a few webpages with the Skype account details and payments. After some arguments they accepted that proof. Of course, they did call the number a couple of times. This exact trick didn’t work last year. So, it’s really cool that you can get by a virtual phone number, sending a virtual bill, and they are still happy.


Cease and Desist Letter from some lawyers

August 8, 2009

While working on our product, we just received a scary letter from Richard Law Group. They are unhappy that we describe our software as “iPhone client for OneNote”, saying that we are confusing customers, making them think that our software is somehow coming from Microsoft. They also demanded some of our web domains, saying we are violating Microsoft’s trademarks. I won’t give much more details about their statements and demands at this time, because the story might not be over just yet. However, while finding out how domain name disputes are resolved, I came across a wonderful site of the National Arbitration Forum: Domain Name Disputes.

It gives a lot of information: rules, polices, etc about how these domain name disputes are resolved. If you haven’t gotten into a dispute with anyone, you should still check it out. It clearly shows that you should be careful when picking a name and domain for your new wonderful product or service. If it is even remotely similar to anyone’s trademark, you might expect that they will go after your domain eventually. Especially so if you are successful. It will also give you a pretty good idea about what arguments and reasoning work during the disputes. You may read it here about how that Richard Law Group actually won the case about zunehd.net, which was then transferred to Microsoft. “Respondent asserts that Complainant is a large corporation which is used to getting its way” – this is a hilarious argument, but it’s not working.


Stock split in startups

July 15, 2009

I am interested in information about typical stock compensation in startups. I did some research and put a few useful links below. When I find more good info, I will create a summary. If you happen to know a good article and send me a link, your help will be greatly appreciated!

A Newbie’s Guide to Startup Compensation  by Tony Wright.

Stock Compensation At Startups by Piaw.

Startup Salary Data from Private Company Compensation Survey by Dharmesh Shah.

Good piece on Yahoo! Small Business by Susan Schreter – basic, but still very useful.