Yammer Wins TechCrunch 50

Congratulations are in order for startup company Yammer , which just won the very prestigious TechCrunch 50 startup competition in Silicon Valley.   Over 1000 companies applied and 52 were chosen to present at no charge to a very distinguished group of corporate and media digital luminaries such as Marissa Mayer, Mark Cuban, Don Dodge, Robert Scoble, Mark Andreessen, and many other major corporate decision makers and online influencers.

Is is sour grapes that I think they’ve picked a dud here?  No – Matt Ingram Agrees and he is ALWAYS mostly right.  Our not-yet-launched  Retirement startup was rejected  – perhaps because we really were offering a great business model in our demo presentation but no new technologies.   Frankly I was impressed watching several of the presentations.   The programming side of things seemed very inspired as people had created elaborate game worlds, powerful photo grouping software, a collaborative music mixing environment (BoJam), and several more clever innovations with online technologies.  For this reason I was very surprised to see the judges rate Yammer so highly.

Yammer is a fine idea and application,  but it seems to simply be a modification of the Twitter idea for company use.  As far as I can tell is very unlikely to do the two things it needs to succeed:   Replace people’s use of Twitter, including a Twitter than could easily be modified to do the same thing as Yammer, and be used in place of other company messaging systems that can simply copy this layout, use a modified twitter, develop their own, etc.     IBM’s not going to start Yammering and small companies are going to Twitter.

So, as with many of the amazing technologies presented at TechCrunch there appears to be little revenue to be had.

No, this isn’t just sour grapes for being one of the 950 or so TechCrunch LOSERs  (we actually could have presented in the “Demo Pit” at the show but opted out of that due to cost and time).    My thinking is that the best course of action now is to bring the *existing* tool sets to bear against old problems in existing businesses.    We don’t need a new travel *application*, but we certainly need better ways for people to research trips without too much advertising pollution or misleading information.

Then again, when I look at the most hyped of the startups, Ashton Kutcher’s  BlahGirls I wonder if I’m just hopelessly…. i mean … like …  Blah Blah Blah!… in the wrong business.

Google’s KinderGate: Your kids are welcome here for $57,000 a year.

When I first read about trouble in Google land over child care costs I thought it would be another case of the how super well paid but whiney Silicon Valley parents were unreasonably complaining about a minor bump in their charmed luxury lives. But maybe not.

Google appears to be on a search for the holy grail of child care, and even after charging parents for the service Google wound up subsidizing things to the tune of 37,000 *per child per year* – managing to spend the approximate average national income on every kid lucky enough to reach the nirvanesque kinderplex environment. The solution to this negative cash flow – unusual for the company known for showering employees with benefits like laundry service and free meals – was to raise the child care rates to about 2500 per month per child.

The NYT reports that two kids in Google childcare will run you $57,000. Although Googlers take home an average of something like $140,000 per year this isn’t going to ruin them, but this sure ain’t a page from the Brady Bunch days.

The situation is interesting economically but I think even more interesting as an experiment in Google’s approach to social engineering, which I think argue may be failing because it may not be able to scale in the same fashion as many of Google’s magnificent technological innovations.

Although Silicon Valley employees have historically enjoyed some great benefits, Google shined as the company that outdid everybody with free gourmet meals, free laundry, and great parties all within a context of individual freedom to work pretty much as you pleased as long as you were productively engaged, and even that was defined in some part by the employee.

This approach seemed to be working well, but I wonder how much of this was just an illusion caused by Google’s huge wash of incoming cash. The NYT article suggests that the company hardly even noticed the child care subsidy until recently. I’m guessing that only recently have the Google bean counters been called up from their free lunch to sharpen their pencils and find ways for Google to trim the company budget.

There are obviously two huge human resource pressures on Google now as it grows within the context of providing the world’s best company bennies. First is the fact that the legions of Googlers are for the most part…kidless. As employees age, especially the key folks from the early days, Google will see a lot more departures of key folks and a lot more demands for family time and benefits. Even stronger will be the pressure from the growing number of employees in Google’s empire, far more of whom are likely to be “in it for the money and perks” than in the early days. I remember touring the Googleplex a few years ago with an exec who, when asked about this problem, said it was not happening. But I think that was about 10,000 employees ago and before the level of concern over Google’s KinderGate scandal.

I will be very interesting to see if Google can scale their sometimes pesky human resources as effectively as they have scaled their technological and commercial resources.

I’m guessing…make that strongly predicting….the answer is no.

New York Times Reports

Web 2.0 Conference

WebGuild of Silicon Valley sponsored a great one day conference last week.   I missed the event but here are some pictures  courtesy of Reshma Kumar and Daya Baran, the Vice President and President of WebGuild who have really done an extraordinary job making that group one of the premier internet insider gatherings in the world.

This year Craig Newmark from Craigslist gave one of the keynotes.    He’s one of the most interesting folks in the internet landscape and it would really have been fun to hear his talk.      For me, the huge success of Craigslist, combined with the simple and spartan look and structure, supports the idea that the internet at a core level is about *people and information* more than anything else. 

Pearls before Twine

update:  I think I was in a bad mood on this – not fair to be so hard on a new company without even trying it.   Sorry Twine, I hope you … ROCK! 

Twine is the new social network applications just “launched” at the Web 2.0 summit in Silicon Valley.   Like Paul Kedrowsky   I’m skeptical before I’ve even had a chance to test Twine.   (I will test it and review as soon as I get an invite…).

No, this is not fair but I’m getting sick of applications priming the buzz machine with hyperbole before they have even put out the application to enough people that you can figure out if it’s “Web 3.0” as Twine claims it is, or just another overhyped social application that needs widespread adoption to be useful.   

My favorite 2.0 observer, Tim O’Reilly, has a detailed review of the Twine demo after which he wonders if they’ve succeeded.    Note to Twine – if you can’t convince people in a demo that you are great you probably have some work to do, and you might even suck.

Now I really feel like an Assclown 2.0 to be so critical of what is clearly a thoughtful and potentially great application from Nova Spivak, a very clever Web 2.0 fellow. 

But I think I’m suffering from Web 2.0 stress syndrome where the hype, lies, and video clips are overwhelming me with irrelevant stuff while I try desparately to winnow out the good stuff from the bad.   We need an automated routine (aka ‘search agent’) that  does the preliminary winnowing of content and organization of other stuff and my stuff for us.  Now THAT would be web 3.0 and THAT would be worth my time as well as the time of all the moms, pops, and kids out there who are the backbone of the new web.   Silicon Valley often spills out silly companies and ideas as if the other 99.9% of the global population is clueless or irrelevant.   Theoretically Web 2.0 was to change that and make people, not computers, the center of the internet universe.   But sometimes I wonder if the Silicon folks have even paid any attention to that change.