Sometimes startups we meet with (I've personally seen over 1,000 pitches in the last two years) talk about their network effect in a hopeful way. But most of the time it is just that - hope, and hope is not a strategy. But Bazaarvoice actually has a working network effect that benefits all participants: retailers, brands that sell through those retailers, consumers that shop at those brands and retailers, and Bazaarvoice and some of its partners. In other words, the more participants that are on the Bazaarvoice network, the great the effect of that network for the benefit of all. I wrote about this in detail in my first annual shareholders letter after Bazaarvoice became a public company.
Two days ago, Blockbuster announced that it will close all of its remaining approximately 300 U.S.-based stores (news link). This has been a long time in the making, and there is a lot you can learn from this. Prior to Netflix, Blockbuster thrived due to its use of "bad profits" (a term from Fred Reichheld's book, The Ultimate Question, which introduced the concept of the Net Promoter Score, NPS). Bad profits are a highly disruptive source of negative word of mouth. Blockbuster's bad profits were, of course, late fees. Everyone I know that was a Blockbuster customer - including myself and my wife - hated late fees. You knew Blockbuster "got you" and you felt that you "only had yourself to blame" because you were the one that was late on returning it. Sometimes you would plead with the in-store associate to have mercy on you. It became the primary source of Blockbuster's profits. Anytime bad profits are your primary source of profits, you are due for a hard-knock. That hard-knock came from Netflix. Their original ad campaign, "The end of late fees", was pretty much all they needed to say. Their business model was designed very differently - leveraging the Internet and network economic effects (a nod to another favorite book: Net Gainby John Hagel III). When Netflix said, "The end of late fees", word of mouth took care of the rest. This is why NPS has become so important to companies as a form of measurement for their most important external stakeholders - their customers. It is used by thousands of companies, including many Fortune 500 companies. Brad Smith, the CEO of Intuit, said, “Thank goodness for Net Promoter. It provided a framework for thinking about—and managing in this social media world… our teams call it the love metric”. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, said, "We use NPS every day to make sure we are wowing customers and employees."
I'm very proud to announce Hurt+Harbach, a seed-stage venture capital firm focused primarily on Austin investments.
I've enjoyed working at Austin Ventures since November of last year. I've had a long partnership with the good people there, dating back to August of 2005, when the firm invested in our Series A at Bazaarvoice and Chris Pacitti joined our Board of Directors. My last day at Austin Ventures was August 15.
I'm an entrepreneur, after all. I discovered that I really enjoy being a VC. Helping entrepreneurs is the next phase of my career, and this is a natural evolution for me. Co-founding a new venture capital firm is the ideal way to express my passion for building extraordinary companies.
Last Monday, I had the honor of keynoting the Texas MBA Class of 2015 Orientation. This is the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin's largest class to date - I believe around 270 students. Around 80 spouses were also present. Tina Mabley, Assistant Dean of the Full-time MBA Program, introduced me. She introduced me as the Vice Chairman and Co-founder of Bazaarvoice and also as the incoming Entrepreneur-in-Residence at McCombs, a position I'm glad to begin in September. My grandfather, James Mann Hurt, taught at U.T. Austin for his entire career and I'm proud to follow in his footsteps. I promised the students I would post my speech, complete with links, and that is what follows here:
We are at the tail-end of RISE week here in beautiful Austin. If I was an aspiring entrepreneur, I would take a vacation during RISE week and attend as many sessions as I could. I was happy to do my part and present on fundraising both Monday at Austin Ventures as well as Tuesday along with panelists from CTAN (the Central Texas Angel Network). And, overall, it has been another great week for Austin, with TechStars announcing their launch, which I wrote about in this Lucky7 post.
On Thursday, Consumer Reports named the Tesla Model S the best car they've ever tested. That is quite a statement considering they've been testing cars since 1936.
Josh Baer, founder of Capital Factory (and who invited me to be with The President and CTO of the United States on Thursday), was the first person in Austin to get one and he let me drive it the day it came in, back in November (or maybe it was December). I'm quite an auto nut, and I was stunned. It was like the first time I used the iPhone. I knew it would up the ante forever for the auto industry worldwide. I was also proud that it was happening here, with an American-born company (and the first new American auto company to have this good of financial results in 50 years).
SXSW has long come and gone in this beautiful city - that was, like, weeks ago! Like years past, it reached more epic heights this year and companies and investors were spending more on gaining attention than ever before. And with SXSW, the typical, "how is Austin doing at tech entrepreneurship?" question was asked again and again. But out of all of the articles written, the one that I personally heard the most about was this one by PandoDaily: "Will the Austin startup ecosystem ever live up to its promise?"". It stirred me up to read it, no doubt. And it lead me to write this post to share my own thoughts - as an insider - on the state of tech entrepreneurship in Austin.
It has been awhile since I've posted as I've had three conferences back to back, including the main TED conference in Long Beach, our own Bazaarvoice Summit in Austin, and then SXSWi. So it is perhaps ironic that I write this philosophical post about time.
Benjamin Franklin was famous for saying many things and one of them was "remember that time is money" (you can read his full quote here). In my new journey as an angel and VC investor and entrepreneurial coach, I've been having many conversations with those that have been in these fields for longer than I have. In the first half of my life, I've been singularly focused on changing the world through technology - as the entrepreneur myself versus through others. One of the more stirring conversations I had recently was with a successful investor that said, "what use is money with no time". He was frustrated in that he had a lot of money but that it had chained him to have little time and he was vigorously trying to change that.
On January 29, Marc Andreessen predicted the death of retail in favor of disruptive, pure-play etailers, such as Fab.com. A choice quote from the PandoDaily article:
“Retail chains are a fundamentally implausible economic structure if there’s a viable alternative,” he says. “You combine the fixed cost of real estate with inventory, and it puts every retailer in a highly leveraged position. Few can survive a decline of 20 to 30 percent in revenues. It just doesn’t make any sense for all this stuff to sit on shelves. There is fundamentally a better model.”
I've been studying retail ever since I can remember. My parents were retail entrepreneurs from the time I was born, as I wrote about in this Lucky7 post. I've been programming since I was seven-years old, as I wrote about in why I named this blog Lucky7 - in tribute to my mother. I leveraged these two experiences to start my own etailer in 1998 - programmed on an eCommerce platform that I created. And I've founded two large companies to help retailers - Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics. I've also served on the Board of Shop.org for three consecutive terms. So to say I've been thinking about this for awhile is an understatement.
This just cannot be good for Microsoft. I don't see how this turns around. Windows 8 and the Surface are just not getting the traction expected to maintain their monopoly. For entrepreneurs, though, this creates a lot of opportunity. It also does for Apple, Amazon, and Google, of course.
One of my favorite books is The Innovator's Dilemma and here it is in action again. I consider this a must read for entrepreneurs. It will give you the confidence to go from a perspective of "that's already been done before" to "that's already been done before and can be disrupted because of the dependency on the old order" (Who Moved My Cheese?).
Here is the full article.