A start-up called Google

I know we profile startups, and Google is not a startup anymore, but I got all excited when I heard that Google had recently released the beta version of Google Analytics, an application that allows web owners and marketers to view the revenue and conversion trends on their websites.

I have to admit that I am a bit of a Google Analytics addict, and I wondered, what there was to improve upon on an almost perfect, and not to mention free, product (brought in through their acquisition of Urchin) that was already chewing up market share from all the other Web Analytics operators in large chunks. But sure enough, they had managed to work in an even more spiffy and useful graphical user interface. But more on that later.

So what was Google like, as a start-up? To find out I went to Google’s first web page archived in the shadowy recesses of Wayback Machine.

This is what the Google.com Home Page looked like on Nov 11, 2021

Behind that demure front page, was, of course the little search engine that could, and then some!

 

Since then Google has consistently spawned out innovative applications, “Googlets” if you will, each of which could be a company in its own right - Google Adwords, Google Images, Google Maps - the list is endless.

Google Analytics is one more of those “thank you for figuring out just what I needed” applications that, in terms of versatility and usefulness, is a generation beyond other apps in its class.

Their recent additions included:

1. A cleaner, more graphical interface that got the big thumbs up from me

2. Simpler way to compare data (like how your website did this month vs. last month)

3. A customizable dashboard that gives you an “at a glance” website report.

Besides that, they fixed a couple of bugs from the last system such as when you change the date range, the display does not go back to the default dashboard, but stays with the data and graphs that you are currently viewing.

Alas, I don’t think we shall be seeing any new companies get funded in the Web Analytics arena, in the near future - unless they can think up a really cool feature that Google has not gotten to - yet.


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TheFunded: VCs are getting in the act!

thefunded 2There is no ignoring TheFunded anymore - it has become the place for entrepreneurs to trade stories of their experiences with Venture Capital firms, causing many a ruffled feather in the investor community where people are not very appreciative about being criticized publicly.

We wrote about TheFunded in an earlier post. In the few short months that the startup has been around, they have managed to stir up a fair amount of controversy. Recently the site opened itself up to VCs. Venture Funds can now maintain a presence on TheFunded. They can create profiles and provide other information for entrepreneurs. But they cannot contribute to, or influence what is written about them on the site. Not directly anyway.

So many funds are rushing to set up shop on the funded. It is sort of like being on Second Life - its not that you will necessarily sell more widgets by being on the site, but its just that you need to have a booth there because everyone else in your neighborhood has one.

The site can be a good resource for entrepreneurs, but for VCs it is not all good. Comments on the site can be anonymous so there is nothing to stop someone, who got turned down for funding to really say what’s on their mind.

There is room for manipulating the system right now, as some smaller funds have risen to the top of the leader board (on the home page) with just one review. TheFunded needs to have get an algorithm in place where the order that the sites show up in on the front page is weighted by the number of reviews as well as the average ratings. Otherwise I see some large funds sinking to the bottom because of a few disgruntled customers. Many VCs have gotten proactive about getting their portfolio companies to weigh in.

The interesting conundrum that I see is the revenue model for such a site. Clearly this is not an “eyeball” generated model - this is a popular, but niche, site with startups as its main consumers. I can’t see many entrepreneurs, who are already stapped for cash, wanting to support a subscription model. And accepting any kind of sponsorship from investors would get in the way of impartiality.

On the home page, there are pointers to business news sources which have reviewed the site, such as TechCrunch, RedHerring, theDeal and Business 2.0. Maybe one of them would take more of an interest in the near future…

It will be interesting to see if TheFunded decides to go the venture funding route themselves. They have all the information they need to make the choice, for sure!


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3D revolution will be printed

3D printers have been around for almost a decade now. They are mostly used in the industrial settings to test a part before it is sent out for manufacturing. The current price of these machines, very often called rapid prototypers, is about $15-20k. That’s old news.

What is noteworthy is that a new crop of 3D printers are coming to market; the desktop 3D printers. The Desktop Factory (an Ideal Lab Company) will start selling its 3D printer for $4995 this year.

Fabjectory already makes the virtual life -real life crossover by making a 3D print of your virtual avatar from Nintendo Mii or from Second Life; and 3D Systems, a pioneer in the field with several hundred patents, will soon release a printer in the sub 10k range. It all points to the phase transition for the products.

It has been said that the successful products have three phases:

“what is it?” phase,
“how much is it” phase, and
“I can make it cheaper!” phase.

It seems to me that the the 3D printers are now officially crawled in to the “how much is it” phase!

Laser printers went through similar transition of being bulky and expensive to smaller, better, and cheaper phase of $99 pricing; the video recording went through the same phases of a unit costing $100,000 to $10,000 to $79 in the liquidation isle and now its time for 3D printers to do the same.

NY Times, quoted A. Michael Berman, chief technology officer for the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena:

The market for 3-D printing isn’t as big as for laser printers, but I do believe it is huge.

Yes, I do agree that the market for 3D printer is huge! Eventually, It might even be bigger than the laser printer market. I expect that in about five years, Brother will be making a 7 in 1 model of a multi function machine that copies, scans, faxes and prints in BW, Color and in 3D!

As a physicist, I don’t see any reason why in 3007, one might not have a printer that uses hydrogen as “ink” to “print” anything of any metal and any composition. But for now, I’ll just be happy with a small 3D printer that makes a copy of a gorgeous little singe flower vase that I just saw.


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Search engines: Find it in a Snap!

snap logosnap logoLast month I attended an awards banquet hosted by Entretech and PWC, to celebrate high tech companies in the Los Angeles area. It was held at the gracious Athenaeum, in Caltech, Pasadena. Start-ups were recognized in 3 categories, ranging from revenues under a million to over 5 million. The search engine Snap was one of two IdeaLab companies that was nominated for an award - along with 7 others.

Snap.com took first prize in its category (revenue $1M to $5M). I had followed the company for a little while, and thought I would finally take a closer look at the search engine.

On the face of it, Snap looks similar to a lot of other alternative search engines. One nice feature is that clicking on any search result (not the url) shows a preview of the web page, without leaving the frame - a handy feature to have when you don’t want to get ambushed by those annoying parked domains selling random traffic.

So how well did the search itself work? I wanted to look up “tapefailure”, the site that lets your record and playback website visitor behavior (more on that in another post), so I entered “tape failure” as the search term. Snap showed tapefailure.com as its first result. Good work! On google, the site was nowhere to be found on the first page. The displayed results were mostly for tape backup systems, as were searches 2 onwards in Snap. Round one to Snap!

So how about a more commercially popular search term. This time I tried “Callaway Golf Clubs”. Both Snap and Google brought up the grand ol’ website callawaygolf.com at the top of their search.

But this is where I was a bit disappointed with Snap. The first 3 search results were golf related, but the next two were not (one was for an email program and the other was for high speed internet). Closer inspection revealed that next to the urls for these two results, there was a notation for “sponsored result”. The next set of results were unsponsored (and golf related) as were the first two. While I can understand that a search engine needs to generate revenue, I would at least have expected the sponsored results to be related to the primary search term.

One very cool feature that Snap has is Snap shots, those pop-up preview boxes that show up when you hover over snapshot logo next to a link on a web page. It allows site owners to keep their visitors longer on the page while providing additional content from different souces. Sites such as my favorite, Techcrunch, have been making heavy use of Snapshots. Besides, snapshots cleverly bundles its search box into the snapshot, which gives them a good distribution channel since no one wants to add yet one more toolbar on their browser!

So the result of my informal research on Snap was: Decent algorithm, clever preview feature, bad idea to mix organic and sponsored results. The snapshots feature is a keeper.


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