Cool private companies: Growing…

As a software securities analyst for investment banking firm Canaccord Genuity, Richard Davis spends 200 days a year on the road visiting companies. He goes to public companies such as Oracle and, but he also visits up-and-coming software companies he thinks will go public in the near future.

ChannelAdvisor: Aiding online retailers

I’ve known this company for several years, and during that time I’ve watched the firm mature and evolve. Several years ago, ChannelAdvisor was tightly focused on the eBay eco-system. Since then, the firm has emerged as a global aid for online retailers, helping them efficiently reach prospects.

This means ChannelAdvisor helps firms manage multi-channel outreach, whether that is down the street or on the other side of the globe. In 2010, the firm managed $ 2.8 billion in gross merchandise value from leading retailers like Saks, Dell, and Brookstone, and 30 percent of Internet Retailer Magazine’s Top 500 online retailers. It seems to us that Channel Advisor is a company on the move. We plan to pay much closer attention to this firm over the next few years.

Approximate size: $ 50-100 million in revenues.

Chegg: Digital textbooks, book rentals, and more

Chegg is much more than textbook rentals. The firm offers e-textbooks, course information, reviews and in some instances notes from a few dozen colleges. In addition, the company offers homework help. Basically, the firm is emerging as a go-to source of content (books, notes, comments, grade distribution, etc.) and coursework help. That seems like a viable plan for a big business to me.

I caught up with a Chegg board member recently and we spoke a bit about how the firm is single-handedly saving students millions of dollars on egregious textbook costs. I know this is true from personal experience with my children at college; textbook prices are way too high for the amount of updating that occurs year to year.

Approximate size: >$ 100 million in revenues.

Gift Side Story: Helping guys buy gifts

I arrived at Buck’s in Woodside a few minutes early for my breakfast with a long-time friend. I saw another fellow advance to the door at the restaurant, which was locked. He circled back, came up, and said hello. “Hey, I’m meeting some VCs around here for the first time and I was wondering if I should be wearing a suit or not?” I said no, unless he was a financial services software firm or he was going up to San Francisco proper where some people wear sport coats. He thanked me and I asked him what the name of his company was. “Gift Side Story,” he said. His name was Ankur Jain.

Jain said his company was a website that helped guys figure out what gifts they should get for their wives or girlfriends. You fill out a brief questionnaire about your significant other’s preferences and the software provides you with recommendations. It has a self-learning component that is designed to formulate better results based upon the more information that is put into it in terms of questions and responses to actual orders. There is also a real-time chat function available if you get really stuck, which is a nice touch.

You pick an item from the recommendations and it takes you to the site’s checkout page. Input your credit card info and presto, the gift wrapped item is on its way! The prices looked good with discount banners indicating 10-50 percent off deals.

Richard Davis is managing director of enterprise software for the brokerage firm Canaccord Genuity. Before joinging Canaccord, he spent 10 years as a senior analyst at Needham & Company. Previously, Davis was at Tucker Anthony, where he launched the firm’s Internet and enterprise software coverage.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat
VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Richard Davis


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What’s in your startup’s…

Technology startups and political campaigns are roughly the same thing: smart, driven people get together to make something that they think is useful happen for the world.

Chances are that the campaign staffers for Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama all share that same frazzled look of spening a late night working hard to get a release out. It’s roughly the same thing.

The problem is, both of these work environments yield delusion.

When I was Howard Dean’s lead programmer in 2004, we all feasted on an information diet of news clips about Howard Dean, then wrote and read blog posts about Howard Dean in the afternoon, and watched the West Wing — which we thought was a documentary about Dean’s future presidency — in the evening. And while it was helpful for morale, it wasn’t useful for decisionmaking. After all, when our pollster came out and said Kerry would win Iowa two weeks before the caucuses, we were all taken by surprise.

A deliberate information diet would have been helpful, and I think such a diet needs to be a necessary part of a startup’s culture.

Now, I don’t mean that your startup needs to go and start planning out a prescribed reading list of things for employees to consume — and dicta that employees should consume only those things. That’s not an information diet; that’s fascism.

What I do mean is that your startup should consider making a more deliberate information consumption process happen as part of your corporate culture. Instead, it’s about creating a culture of deliberate consumption inside your organization.

How to start

First, ask yourself, what is your company’s current information diet? What are people reading? What is it that people are taking in? Just like with food, you’re always on an information diet of some kind, that diet just might not be very good. Taking a week, to keep a group journal of everyone’s intake either by using a service like RescueTime or by keeping an analog journal.

At the end of the week, have a meeting to share how much and what types of content everyone is consuming. I’ve found that, just like with a food journal, a lot of people are shocked by how much they’re consuming and how many hours of their life they’re spending on stuff that doesn’t matter. But this also gives everyone a chance to deliberately share resources, and knowing where good learning is coming from is important to share.

How to correct information diet imbalances

Second, think about what goes into a healthy information diet for your organization. In my book, I talk a lot about how it’s vital to default to local news and then grow to national news — and local news means really local: what’s going on in your house, at work, and in your neighborhood.

The same can be applied to your organization: is everybody tuned in to the political news, or is it comprised of news from far-away places that have little to do with the day-to-day business of things? Isn’t it odd that Reddit is better at communicating to people at your company than you are? Fix that.

Third, make sure to diversify your diet. Engaging yourself in constant affirmation about how great things are going, or even how great your industry is going, is a great way to pick up a disease called delusion. You’ve probably figured out that decisions ought to be made mostly on data with a little bit of intuition, but it’s important to empower both that data and that intuition with source material. Steve Jobs was great at his job not because he listened to what the customer had to say but because he knew what the customer wanted. Is your information diet giving you more insight on the former or the latter?

Finally, know that decompression time, time spent mindlessly cruising Facebook and the like, is actually good for you in limited doses. So just be conscious of the time you spend; don’t try to ban it outright. And don’t forget, part of a healthy information diet is a healthy sense of humor. Learn to laugh, especially at work.

There’s no way to design a universal information diet for every startup. Unlike food, information affects us all differently, and thus there isn’t really a generic prescription for every person or every startup. But a healthy information diet pays dividends. It creates a more open workplace that’s communicatative and responsive. Your business is already on an information diet, so why not make it a healthy one?

Clay Johnson is the author of The Information Diet, which provides a framework for consuming information in a healthy way, by showing you what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. The Information Diet was recently published by O’Reilly.

Image courtesy of Lightspring, Shutterstock

Filed under: Entrepreneur
VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Clay Johnson

12 Customer Dos & Don’ts

Use these quick and easy rules to make sure your customers keep coming back for more.

It's easier to sell to existing customers than to acquire new ones, so it's good sense to keep the customers you've already got.

Here are some simple rules to ensure that customers continue to come back for more.

DO put connection before content. Clients don’t want you to sell to them; they want you to genuinely care about them. Take the time to build a personal connection before you start talking business.

DON'T badmouth the competition. Only people who are insecure try to build themselves up at the expense of others. Show your competitors the same respect you'd want if the positions were reversed.

DO focus on individuals, not companies. You may be selling to an organization, but you’re doing it through an individual. Remember: ABC Inc. is not going to buy your offering; but Joe might.

DON'T give a sales pitch. Pitches are a great way to shut people down and pigeonhole you as a hustler. Even when speaking to a group, make the interchange a conversation, not a lecture.

  • Read more: Fix your elevator pitch

DO engage with customers as equals. The client conversation should contain a feeling of mutuality rather than talking down to or being subservient to your clients.

DON'T attempt an "end run." Bypassing a client or customer contact who is ambivalent or hostile will create an enemy for life. That person will constantly work against you ... from the inside. You don't want that.

DO keep the conversation mutual. Your goal is to earn your client’s trust by connecting with them, thereby creating a sense of safety. You can’t do that if you’re yakking away.

DON'T pull your punches. Never be afraid to tell clients what they need to know if you feel they might be making a mistake–especially if that mistake involves buying your product.

DO be willing to play “little league.” Even if you know there’s a huge (i.e. big league) opportunity, shove your own agenda aside and focus on whatever game this client wants to play right now.

DON'T play negotiation games. That stuff you read in the "How to Negotiate" books? Forget it. You're trying to forge a relationship, not win a zero-sum competition.

DO self-disclose when appropriate. Human beings buy from human beings. Rather than talking purely business, it's OK to occasionally bring up family, hobbies, or whatever will be of real interest to you and your clients.

DON'T mistake apathy for loyalty. The surest sign that a client is about to switch to another vendor is a lack of enthusiasm for you and your offering.

This above is loosely based on a conversation with Susan Scott, author of the best-sellers Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership. If you found this column helpful, click one of the "like" buttons or sign up for the free Sales Source "insider" newsletter.
Geoffrey James

Last chance to be a…

With less than six hours left on the clock, Double Fine is already celebrating more than $ 3M in Kickstarter funding for its Double Fine Adventure. Double Fine Adventure was the second Kickstarter campaign to ever reach $ 1M, though it did so considerably faster at just under 24 hours.

At 3pm PST today, Double Fine will be hosting a livestream counting down the final moments of the record-breaking campaign. An update was posted urging users to watch the livestream rather than repeatedly refreshing the Kickstarter page on their own computers, as there are concerns the site could crash (again).

To those of you who have backed the project, thank you so much! We’ll see you soon on the backer forums!

To those of you who haven’t yet backed the project, there’s still time! Many of these rewards will only be made available to backers, so act now if you don’t want to miss out. We’ve been hearing from a lot of folks that would like to back the project, but are unable to do so because they are outside of the US and do not have a credit card. Well, here’s Tim Schafer to the rescue with information on how to obtain a pre-paid credit card to back the project.

Interest in Kickstarter from game developers immediately surged as word of Double Fine’s success began to spread last month. Not coincidentally, Brian Fargo recently launched a campaign for Wasteland 2, a sequel nearly 15 years in the making, with a goal of $ 900,000.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat’s fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry’s latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: dev, Entrepreneur, games, VentureBeat, video
VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Sebastian Haley

America, keep rewarding your…

Ever since I became an academic six years ago, I have been one of the biggest critics of U.S. competitiveness policies. I documented, for example, that we had our data wrong when it came to India and China’s advantages in engineering education and R&D, that we didn’t understand how to build innovation centers, and that our assumptions about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship were wrong. I have been particularly vocal about America’s flawed immigration policies. I quantified the amazing contribution that skilled immigrants make in the technology industry and raised the alarm about the reverse brain drain that is in progress. I testified, assertively, to Congress, and have been badgering our political leaders to act on these important issues.

My father, a retired Indian diplomat, called me on several occasions to plead that I tone down my criticism. He worried that I would anger U.S. government officials and they would find some way to have me deported. Indeed, this would have been the case in many countries, where I could have ended up in a Gulag — or worse.

But what happens in America?

The Government gives me an official recognition — Outstanding American by Choice — for my “commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans.” When I received the call from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director, Alejandro Mayorkas, I had tears in my eyes. He told me that the government appreciated all of my efforts to make the country more competitive and that my criticisms of his department had motived his team to work harder to improve the system.

This is the greatness of America and why this country leads the world: Disagreement and debate are cherished. Challenging the norms, thinking outside the box, and questioning those in power is encouraged and celebrated. The louder you speak the more prominence and respect you are given. Society’s heroes aren’t merely revolutionaries or political figures, but opinionated, non-conformist entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

This is what distinguishes American children from others and why they grow up to be innovators. From childhood, they are encouraged to pursue their dreams and to challenge authority. So they challenge their parents, then their teachers, and then their government. And they learn to work with each other and compete. There are no barriers to success. If you work hard, think smart, and persevere, you achieve success. And this success is celebrated. Reaping fortunes through entrepreneurial success even has a special label: it’s called the American Dream.

America’s unique strength is that it also welcomes foreigners. Yes there is some discrimination and there are a few hurdles to leap over. But once you surmount these, you are treated like everyone else. You are given the same respect and have the same opportunities. You can compete in any field. And this is what has been happening through American history: wave after wave of immigrants has landed on American shores, embodied its values, and helped birthright citizens to work harder and think smarter.

Today, America is in a slump. The ups and downs of the economy and rise of new global competitors are discouraging and often cause American’s to lose hope. But, as someone who came to the U.S. by choice, and who has studied the warts of this country and its competitors, I have no doubt that the U.S. will continue to prosper and lead the world.

It has to — no other country has the ingredients for long-term success.

Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa is a visiting scholar at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, director of research for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, and senior research associate for the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.


Capital image via Blacknell/Flickr

012, WashingtonPost

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat
VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Vivek Wadhwa,

Anticipate Your Customer’s Next…

How to fine-tune your website to give your customers exactly what they're looking for.

Many e-commerce websites focus on the same thing: the homepage. They A/B test images and messaging and layout and tweak the user experience so it's clear and compelling.

There's one problem with that approach: There is no single user experience.

A quick look at any site's analytics will reveal that:


  • The majority of people coming to your site are landing on pages other than your home page.
  • Referral sources are varied: from search engines to social media shares to press articles and beyond.


Therefore, there are possibly endless combinations of how and why people come to your site. How on earth can you ever determine what messaging will suit their inquiries and fulfill their needs? The user experience was the topic of a panel at Inc.'s recent GrowCo conference in New Orleans where I spoke about what it means for e-commerce companies.

It's is very different challenge for a brick-and-mortar store. The other guest on the panel, Laura Thom of Fleurty Girl—a t-shirt and local goods store in New Orleans—makes sure her staff is trained to anticipate the needs of each customer as she walks in the door. With experience they learn how to read the look on a person's face (excited or exasperated?) or detect when a customer is about to leave because of the long line to the cash register. The staff can use this information to ensure customers are engaged and happy—and intervene if they're not.

You don't have body language or other physical cues to help you when a customer comes to your website. But there are a few simple things you can do to anticipate customer questions and needs.

Know your sources

Figure out where your traffic is coming from and why. Look at the search terms that sending people your way and then make sure you feed them back relevant information. At Buyosphere, for example, we know a lot of people find us by searching for "vintage Mad Men Style dress." Armed with that information, we can make sure that when they land on our site we show them 50′s-era vintage dresses that our customers have recommended. We also direct them to similar queries on the site. If all else fails, we always direct them to our search box: "Not what you are looking for? You can ask for search help here for free!" This has increased conversions from search engines quite a bit.

Create unique landing pages for special campaigns

Personalize these pages, if you can. For example, when a user hits your site from a tweet or a Facebook post, show them that their friends are using your site too. Of course, this only works if you have public social components to your site. If you don't, you can still show the friend but with a more generic message like, "Shanna is using Buyosphere to get help finding unique and interesting products from people like you and me. You looking for anything? Just ask. It's free."

Obviously this is easier said than done and, unlike a brick and mortar experience, you can't ask everyone why they are there and provide them with exactly what they want. But you can anticipate certain needs based on where the user comes from. Implementing personalized experiences isn't that difficult to do and will make a huge difference in the user experience. Or rather, the user experiences.
Tara Hunt