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VLAB Discusses Bitcoin, or Let Them Eat Cupcakes

“The whole idea of governments, nations, it’s public relations theory at this point.”  Martin Q. Blank, Grosse Pointe Blank

Last night I attended VLAB’s “Virtual Currencies Gold Rush or Fools Gold, the rise of Bitcoin in a Digital Economy” at the ever more swanky Stanford GSB. I have long felt that the next Bill Gates level  fortune will come from who every figures out virtual currencies.2013-06-19 18.29.28

A particularly strong panel included Chris Larson of E-Loan fame, the Winklevoss twins (yes, they both came), Fred Ehrsam who runs the USV-funded Bitcoin exchange Coinbase, Wendy Cheung of SVB with moderation by Forbes’ Kashmir Hill.

The event opened with GSB professor Susan Athey giving an overview of Bitcoin focusing on her belief that the value of Bitcoin is determined by the volume of transactions in the currency. Moderator Kashmir Hill describing her humorous experience trying to live off from Bitcoin for a week. Long story short, she lost 3lbs because she could only eat sushi and cupcakes as only two eateries in San Francisco took Bitcoin. She also had to walk everywhere because taxis and buses do not take Bitcoin.

Next up is Chris Larsen who provide a crisp six slide (Yes, Visuals, Thank You!) overview of the history of math based currencies and his start-up OpenCoin, creator of Ripple, a virtual currency similar to Bitcoin. He noted that Bitcoin rose during the economic meltdown of 2009 when we lost faith in financial institutions and nation-based currencies. He compared the similarities and differences of Ripple and Bitcoin and closed by asking whether virtual currencies would develop the “trust, utility and liquidity” to become  “the HTTP of money” or fade away like the Occupy Movement.

The panel moved to Q & A with Ehrsam and Larsen answering question on how virtual currencies actually work – mining, exchanges, etc.  Applications were also discussed including micropayments. One of the Winklevoss (who claim to own 1% of all Bitcoins – not sure if they remember the Hunt brothers) suggested “banking the world.” For you celebrity watchers, they came off nothing like the characters in the Social Network. They were very relaxed and affable young men.

I kept thinking about PayPal and was surprised that it was never mentioned as it seems so applicable. For years PayPal literally gave away money trying to get people to pay each other using PayPal (to solve the cupcakes and sushi problem). Ultimately they got adoption by enabling greater efficiency on a platform people use, eBay. Once the got traction, every bureaucrat from every government in the developed world showed up on their doorstep to regulate them.  Given the difficult times (July, 2002) their acquisition by eBay was a gold rush. But their upside was limited as there was basically one buyer. It is worth noting that at the time of the acquisition, the consensus of the pundits was that PayPal would ultimately be worth more than eBay. Several years later, that is not the case.

While math-based currencies are still searching for their eBay, exchanging cash instantly across borders with zero transaction costs – that would be an incredible new freedom.  On the other hand it would be very disruptive to taxation, capital formation and the financial services industry. One panelist asked “why do we need banks?” My mind moved to the killer quote above. But as Larson noted, “the financial services industry is very hard to disrupt.”

At the Summit

Thanks to our friends at Intel, I maintained a perfect three for three attendance at this the Web 2.0 Summit. It was the perfect venue for our big announcement and it generated terrific publicity. I think this is a watershed moment in bringing Web 2.0 to the enterprise.
Web2 Web 2 O2

This year’s event was different than the previous two versions. While huge (and Tim O’eilly claimed they turned away 5,000 people), the mood is more businesslike. Gone is the “everyone is getting rich but me” frenzy of the second year and the “I’m not the only one who thinks there might be something here” attitude of year one. VC attendance was way down. Corporate business development attendance was way up.

Day three was the most interesting. Below are a few highlights.

Ram Shriram on the current environment “While there is venture money for early stage companies, the number of billion dollar exits are very few and far between. There have been two internet IPOs this year and both are languishing at a sub $500m valuation and suffering from a lack of research coverage.”

Note to all journalists trying to sell more of their publication by saying we are in a bubble. A bubble is when companies with no chance of profits are sold for over a billion dollars or go public on a daily basis. Thus, we are not in a bubble. Clear enough?

More from Ram “There will continue to be many sub $100 million exits, but this is threatening to venture capital IRRs.”

Roger McNamee (whose hair cut shows he is spending too much time with Bono) on content “Media guys say that user generated content is just an appetizer, people really want Hollywood movies. that’s just bullshit.”

McNamee to along winded entrepreneur whining that he could not raise venture capital. “Entrepreneurship is not for lightweights.”

Eric Schmidt flatly denied that any of the uTube consideration was going to copyright holders.

Barry Diller on company building “Equity is built by holding on.”

On the Teen panel (which was not nearly as good this year). Question “ How much time do you spend on MySpace? Unanimous response, “2-4 hours a day” “because I want to get my profile just right” and “I like it when people tell me they love my MySpace page” and “When I check my MySpace page it is like Christmas morning with the presents under the tree.”

Question – Who do you trust more Yahoo or Google? Unanimous response, “Google.” They will regret that.

Best eye candy came from Microsoft labs.

One Month with the Sierra Aircard 860 with Cingular 3G

Sunday April 23rd
It took 45 minutes to buy the card. Most of that time was spent answering questions for the Cingular sales person and watching him manually enter the data “data they already have as I am a 15 year Cingular customer. I pass the time by watching people 3 deep buy Razrs.
The Sierra Aircard 860
Captured the card and took it home. After a 5 minute install and I can see the network but it will not connect. Switch to WiFi and get an added bonus – Outlook will not check POP email. Cingular is blocking something. Spent two hours reading through forums and doing an upgrade of the firmware in the card. Same problems.

Monday, April 24th
Took the card and the PC to Cingular. Got laughed at for using the included software -”The Cingular stuff doesn’t work, go download the Watcher utility from the Sierra web site” Did a system restore and installed the Sierra Watcher software. Still can not connect, but can collect POP email. Took it to Cingular again, but the no one in the store knew anything about the card. More people buying Razrs. Another hour trolling through support boards looking for the solution.

Tuesday April 25th
Took it to Cingular again. The manager took one look at my dbase record and sheepishly admitted the clerk had not activated my card. 30 seconds later, it works – really well.

Wednesday and Thursday, April 25 & 26
Never loses connection during 8 straight hours of RSS demos in the bowels of the Moscone. And it’s fast!

Friday April 27
Moving offices on Monday so call SBC/AT&T to makes sure the order for internet service to our new office is on track. It’s not. The rep did not put in the order (nice job, “Gary” of SBC’s Torrance office). Install 3G card on old Vaio and use Windows internet connections sharing out the eithernet adaptor to a router to provide wifi to the new office space. A terrific short term solution, although the engineers complain of slow uploads for doing builds. Probably violating some terms of service, but given the amount of my time they wasted this week, we can call it even.

Saturday May 6
For inexplicable reasons, coach makes my daughter arrive an hour early for her soccer game. Rather than flipping through magazines, I get work done. Nice. No noticeable drain on battery.

Monday May 15
Off to New York for the Syndicate Conference. Works well in San Jose Airport. Arrive at lousy hotel, where the “free” WiFi costs $10 a day. The Cingular sales rep had said that 3G won’t be fully deployed in New York till the end of the year. I fire up the 3G cards and get nothing. Not even Edge. Try it at an agency meeting across town and get nothing. Try it at a partner meeting downtown and get nothing. New York, not a Cingular 3G kind of town.

Conclusion – it’s magic when it works, but Cingular has a long ways to go with thier network and their customer service.

Brands – More Than a Wrapper

I spent the middle of the week at Red Herring’s CMO Conference where the theme was “Understanding the Technology Customer.” The big themes I heard.

- The rise of the web Larry Webber, the web is not another vehicle, it is the vehicle.
- The Googlification of marketing success is directly tied to how effectively companies turn their customers into their sales force without advertising.
- The emergence of PR as a lead generation tool, which the Salesforce.com CMO called “the virtuous hype circle.”
- CMO Rising CMO moving from a staff role to more central to the success of tech companies
- Use of internet tools (such as email) to achieve near term ROI at the expense of lifetime value of the customer.

The dapper and gracious Alex Vieux wrapped up with his top 10 takeaways from the conference. Number two – Branding is not a marketing issue it is a business issue.

This rang true as I went back to hotel. Lest the entrepreneurial live seem too glamorous, I was again too cheap to stay at the conference hotel, so I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Encinitas.

Holiday Inn no more

Or so I thought, as that very day the hotel had been turned into a Howard Johnson. Neither brand has much of a connotation in my mind. And I don’t spend much time thinking about that which I can not control. Not so their cliental. Checking in at 10:30 PM and checking out at 7AM, I stood in line as guests voiced their anger in person and on the phone. What would this mean to their rooms? What about their reward points? Would their reservation still be valid? Do they still serve breakfast? The patient desk clerks answered the questions and only complained that their new uniforms had not yet arrived. To me it was the same hotel, they just changed the name, but not to their customers. Somewhere the branding team at Holiday Inn is smiling.

Syndicate Panel – RSS, Blogging, Podcasting and the New Marketing Mix

The corporate marketing track started off with on a high powered note with Ryan Rosenberg and Marc Landsberg speaking and Chris Kenton moderating. It was that rare panel that you wish would not end. Kenton, a BusinessWeek columnist and head of the CMO Counsel asked excellent questions. Some highlights. Corporate Marketing Panel

Rosenberg discussed the creation of podcasts in conjunction with the launch of Filemaker 7. The idea came from the PR team, not a top level corporate mandate. Initially they created scripts but went away from the scripts to keep it more conversational. They also recorded over the phone (rather than go to a studio) to make is sound more live and conversational. In the first 90 days 12,000 people have downloaded the podcast. Given the specificity of the content that seems fantastic. Next will be a series of Podcasts tailored to their vertical markets.

Landsberg discussed big marketing trends “innovation is coming from consumers, not corporations – they own the brands anyway.” He discussed the consumer value exchange equation = consumer give money and attention and get goods or services. New tools such as RSS, Blogs and Podcasts have the ability to effect that equation. He also nicely summarized where the tools fit in the acquisition to retention continuum.

Finally Kenton brought up measurability. Rosenberg felt results came from good content rather than from delivery. Landsberg felt that it is too early to determine ROI on RSS, Blogging and Podcasting initiatives, and that the focus should be on increased brand interaction and on measurables such as click-throughs, registrations and conversions.

Just scratching the surface with the above, I eagerly await the podcast from Chris.

No Sleep Till Syndicate

Drop by the Syndicate Conference next week. We will have a table top and I will be moderating a panel on the branding benefits of RSS.

No word on the jump suit.

At ad:tech NYC

If you are in NYC come visit us at ad:tech tomorrow or drop by their web site and see why this guy is so excited. ad:tech RSS

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