Monday, September 25, 2006

Sort of a MySpace for start-ups, site creates entrepreneur network

Andrew Johnson
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 23, 2006 12:00 AM

Greg Baskin said he was too immersed in the minutiae of running the online portion of his family's Anthem jewelry store to think about what he could do to improve the business.

That was before he discovered, an online clearinghouse of articles, tip sheets and other resources geared toward entrepreneurs.

In May, the site's founders introduced a discussion portal that lets business owners create a profile and communicate with other users. It is similar to how social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook work.

Since then, the number of individual visitors to the site has increased more than 45 percent and the number of page views has leaped more than 200 percent, according to Rich Sloan, co-founder and head coach of

"It's definitely an active community, one that seems to be growing while you watch it," said Baskin, director of e-commerce for Gold Mountain Mining Co., which sells jewelry and leather goods. "Honestly, I'm impressed with the quality of the members who seem to sign up on there. It's not a lot of garbage. There seems to be a lot of thought behind the responses that I received to my specific questions."

Sloan and his brother, Jeff, formed in Birmingham, Mich., in 2002 after years of running start-up companies and their own venture capital firm.

The brothers, who wrote a book on entrepreneurship and record a weekly AM radio talk show on the subject, plan to move the business' headquarters to Scottsdale as early as June. The radio show airs in about 50 markets but not in the Valley, though the podcasts are available on the Web site.

In addition to having family in the Valley, the owners consider Scottsdale an attractive business location because it has "young, dynamic, high-energy professional people, who are exactly the culture that StartupNation lives by," Rich Sloan said.

The company employs 18 people, and Sloan said he expects that number to increase to 20 in the next two months. Sloan said the company likely would hire more employees after its move.

He and his brother got the idea for the company after starting the Sloan Fund, a small-seed venture-capital fund. The more entrepreneurs they came in contact with, the more they realized they could help others with lessons they learned from their own endeavors.

"We started to recognize that one of our most valuable forms of currency . . . was our knowledge as entrepreneurs and our passion for entrepreneurship," he said.

Visitors and registered users can access all information on for free, something Rich Sloan said he and his brother were adamant about.

"The core concept was to keep the barriers as low as possible" for potential users, Sloan said. The site makes most of its money from advertisers.

Like many of the business owners, their site aims to help, the Sloan brothers have financed their business primarily through angel investors, or people who invest in a company to help business owners get to the stage of being ready for venture capitalists.

Sloan would not say how much money investors have provided.

"Angel investors provide a perfect combination of qualities to us for the kind of money we need at this stage in our growth," he said.

Robert Sussman, a Paradise Valley resident who is president of New York City-based hedge fund company Bentley Capital Management, has invested more than $500,000 in in the past six months.

Sussman said he was attracted to because of its potential to tap a niche market.

"There's less and less loyalty to big companies, and more and more people want to control their own destiny," he said.

The site's community portal differentiates it from other sites geared toward entrepreneurs, Sussman said.

Sherry Azzarella, vice president of communications for the Arizona Small Business Association in Phoenix, said new entrepreneurs often are so busy trying to get money in the pipeline that they neglect to devise long-term growth strategies.

A site such as can serve as a sounding board for business owners who need an outside perspective.

"There's lots of different scenarios in there for (entrepreneurs) to consider," she said. "I think the thing I appreciate the most as an educator . . . is the details in here and that the examples are so thorough."

"The thing is, when you're swimming in your details and (facing) constant interruptions eight hours a day, sometimes you just need a reality check - someone to wave a white flag in front of you and say, 'Did you think about this?' " Baskin said.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8280.


From the Denver Post this morning:

Podcast: Word of year, but a misnomer

By Kim Komando
Gannett News Service

Imagine listening to network news or a fantasy football show without your radio.

You can with podcasts, radiolike programs you download from the Web. You can listen to them whenever and wherever you wish.

Podcast was named the "Word of the Year" in 2005 by New Oxford American Dictionary. Nonetheless, many people haven't a clue about podcasts. The dictionary defines podcast as a "digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player." The word "podcast" is a contraction of iPod and broadcast. Podcasts were originally downloaded to Apple's iPod media player. Today, the name is a misnomer. You don't need an iPod, or any other music player.

You can listen to a podcast on your computer. And the programs aren't broadcast.

Podcasts are typically MP3 files. Technically, they are like music files, which you also can listen to on the computer. They can be transferred to and played on virtually any music player. Or they can be burned to a CD.

File sizes are generally small, even for programs with long running times. It usually takes less than a minute for someone with a broadband connection to download an hour-long program.

Thousands of podcasts are free. They run anywhere from a few minutes to more than an hour. New episodes are created hourly, daily, weekly - depending on who creates them.

They are amazingly diverse in both quality and content. You can listen to movie reviews by famous Chicagoans Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper. Or listen to movie reviews by not-so-famous Chicagoans Adam Kempenaar and Sam Hallgren.

Some podcasts are professional. They cover just about any subject.

Others are amateur. You'll recognize these right away. Then, some podcasts are nothing other than infomercials.

Not all podcasts are intended for young ears. Some are explicit. There is no rating system, but explicit podcasts generally are identified as such.

Checking websites daily for new episodes would be tedious. That's why aficionados use podcatchers.

Podcatchers automatically check for new episodes of subscribed podcasts. If a new episode is available, it downloads it.

To use a podcatcher, you must subscribe to a podcast. Subscription instructions are typically on the podcast area of the site. You may download and listen to a podcast without subscribing to it.

Subscribing merely ensures that each episode is automatically downloaded.

Some common podcatchers are iTunes (, Yahoo Music Engine ( and Winpodder ( All are free. Check your favorite website for podcasts. Unfortunately, there's no standard area to look. lists them in the Technology area, in the Extras. Some require a nominal fee, but many are free.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet.

Battle lines drawn on gift ban
Opposition group says ballot item would bar kids from scholarships. Backers of Amendment 41 dispute that the $50 limit extends to the activities of public officials' children.
By Chris Frates
Denver Post Staff Writer

A proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit gifts to public officials could affect everything from little league uniforms to college scholarships for government workers' children, an opposition group said Wednesday.

Proponents, however, called the claims bogus distractions, previewing what promises to become a heated debate over just how much the measure would ban.

Amendment 41 would prohibit cash and gifts of more than $50 to government employees, state elected politicians, other officials and their families.

"It will impact hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who certainly are not corrupt and are certainly not in the position to do favors for lobbyists," said Katy Atkinson, director of the No on 41 campaign that launched Wednesday.

For example, children of government employees probably could not accept college scholarships because it would be considered a gift of more than $50, Atkinson said.

The measure could also prevent businesses from sponsoring little league teams if a government employee's child plays on the team because the purchase of a child's uniform could be viewed as a gift, the group says.

Jenny Flanagan of Colorado Common Cause, an author of the measure, said, "We're not going after people's abilities to go live their lives."

"The opposition are coming up with bogus claims to distract from the real issues of the campaign," Flanagan said, adding that the measure is trying to prevent personal financial gain from public positions.

Atkinson also took aim at the ethics commission the measure would create, saying it would give individual members of the five-member panel subpoena power.

It also would not prevent lobbyists or lawmakers from sitting on the panel, she said, creating "real potential for a kangaroo court."

Shepard Nevel, an Amendment 41 proponent, said the ethics commission would be governed by the amendment and administrative procedures.

"It's simply not true that the commission could act in the manner they say it could," Nevel said. "They are fabricating concerns."

Staff writer Chris Frates can be reached at 303-954-1633 or

From today's

Young Internet Producers, Bankrolled, Are Seeking Act II
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 24 — Silicon Valley is awash in serial entrepreneurs, those who start a company, run it for a while, and then after success, failure or something in between, move on and start again.

Jay Adelson, 36, and Kevin Rose, 29, are parallel entrepreneurs — starting a second company just as the first one is taking off.

In 2004, the two started Digg, a fast-growing Web site that allows users to play editor by submitting links to news accounts around the Internet and collectively deciding which deserve top billing.

Now, while they are still very much involved with Digg, Mr. Adelson and Mr. Rose are preparing to announce that they have turned the Revision3 Corporation, an Internet video production firm they have been running on the side, into a full-fledged company.

Revision3 has close to $1 million in financing from a group of investors that includes Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, and Greylock Partners, a venture capital firm that has backed the start-ups Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as Digg.

It is trying to capitalize on the rapid growth of Internet video, and its founders hope that their programming formula, a hybrid of the polished shows created for the networks and the amateur videos that populate sites like YouTube, will be the path to commercial success in this medium.

The company is built around a series of Internet television shows, or video podcasts, aimed at a young, technologically savvy audience, one steeped in “geek culture,” as Mr. Adelson, the chief executive of both Digg and Revision3, put it.

The most popular show so far is “Diggnation,” which is already in its 64th weekly episode. Each installment features Mr. Rose and a co-host, Alex Albrecht, 30, sitting on a couch, drinking beer and talking about some of the most popular stories that have turned up on that week. Invariably, most of these are technology-related.

The core audience for “Diggnation” consists of users of Digg, which has more than half a million members and attracted 8.5 million visitors last month, up from 2.3 million in August 2005, according to Mr. Adelson. (That is much higher than the 1.2 million visitors reported for August by comScore Media Metrix, a widely used source of Web traffic data, but it shows a similar growth rate. Mr. Adelson argues that the service does not properly measure the site’s niche audience.)

Digg’s success has made Mr. Rose, 29, an exemplar of sorts in user-generated media, the phenomenon behind the startling growth of YouTube and the popularity of MySpace and Facebook, among other recently minted Internet companies.

The “Diggnation” shows, which are frequently photographed in Mr. Rose’s walk-up apartment in San Francisco, last 45 minutes to an hour and involve a fair amount of banter, off-color jokes and digressions on topics like skateboarding and beer-bottle openers. “A lot of geeks do that, but don’t have a camera,” Mr. Rose said, in explaining what he does and its appeal to fans.

The show is not for everyone, but Digg fans appear to be loyal. Mr. Adelson said that each episode of “Diggnation” was downloaded about 250,000 times, and that all Revision3 shows, including one about hacker culture and a cooking program called “Ctrl-Alt-Chicken,” were downloaded a total of about 1.5 million times each month.

Exact audiences are difficult to measure, especially since video podcast viewers often use software that automatically downloads episodes onto their PC’s, and may not watch all of them.

But “Diggnation” routinely ranks among the most popular shows in the Apple iTunes podcast directory. It is also distributed on its own Web site and through YouTube and other services. By way of comparison, when ABC ran a two-month test and offered free episodes from four hit series on its Web site, including “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Alias,” it reported 5.7 million online requests for the shows.

Many of Revision3’s performers and producers, including Mr. Rose and Mr. Albrecht, gained experience on the cable television channel TechTV, so they come to the shows with production skills.

That puts the company on the leading edge of a shift in Internet video from user-generated clips to “a more controlled environment,” said Allen Weiner, a research director at the market research firm Gartner.

Mr. Weiner predicted that the popularity of this kind of programming would surge in the next few months. Whether it will turn into an enduring form of entertainment, let alone a profitable one, is an open question. “Let’s face it, this is an experiment in progress,” Mr. Weiner said.

Indeed, Revision3’s technologically hungry audience represents a subset of MySpace enthusiasts, but it is not clear how large a subset it is. The company has broadened its lineup of shows to embrace alternative music, cooking and comedy. But in doing so, Revision3 may run into the kind of challenges faced by Digg.

In June, Digg expanded beyond technology to include world news, business and other topics. Mr. Adelson said more than half the site was now made up of links to nontechnology news. But on a recent afternoon, the top link in the “world and business” section was an item about whether the movie character Napoleon Dynamite was a nerd or a geek. The six most popular items on the site were technology-related.

“It’s a niche,” said George Zachary, an experienced veteran Silicon Valley investor who is a partner in Charles River Ventures of Waltham, Mass., and Menlo Park, Calif.

Most Internet users have much broader interests, Mr. Zachary said, adding, “If you look at the top search terms of Yahoo and Google, it’s not tech products.”

David Sze of Greylock Partners is bullish about Revision3’s prospects but acknowledges that the appeal beyond its core technology audience is unknown. “How new programs will extend the user base remains to be seen,” Mr. Sze said.

Mr. Zachary applauds the company, saying: “One of the most important things going on in media is that people want an authentic point of view. That’s why things like ‘Diggnation’ are popular.”

At a taping of the show last week in San Francisco, Mr. Rose and Mr. Albrecht settled on a couch — each with a laptop, unshaven and in jeans and a T-shirt. As a camera rolled, they spent five minutes chatting about each of seven top items on Digg that week, including one titled “How Paris Hilton Can Help Your Web Development (seriously).”

Everything about the show, including the ads, is unscripted. It is basically up to Mr. Rose and Mr. Albrecht to say whatever they feel like about their sponsors, which include the Internet domain company and CacheFly, which helps Web sites transmit video.

“It was a bit scary out of the gate,” said Barbara Rechterman, executive vice president for marketing at GoDaddy, which is known for its racy Super Bowl ads. But she added, “It has worked really well for us.”

Mr. Adelson said Revision3 was already profitable and had monthly revenue from “Diggnation” alone ranging from $50,000 to $100,000. While that is modest, it happened without much effort. Advertisers, he said, called him asking to be on “Diggnation.”

With the new funds, Revision3 will be able to put together an advertising sales team, give regular contracts to performers, lease office and studio space and spruce up its Web site.


Thursday: I'm going to start publishing a weekly summary of what I've posted here and a Denver When & Where calendar (email me if you have events you'd like me to include on my calendar and attend.)

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