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Think Big. Move Fast.

Just a short addition to my previous post. There’s been some interesting commentary on the need for both “art” and “science” to induce viral growth. The science component is comprised of a website’s ability to systematically measure all aspects of user response to viral campaigns and iteratively refine features and experience to boost propogation rates. The “art” component relates to the fact that without first creating approximate viral memes that are (a) logically consistent a site’s primary value proposition and (b) resonate with something fundamental in the audience’s psyche, its virtually impossible to jumpstart a viral growth cycle. So how does one overcome the immaculate conception problem to predictably create “good” initial viral memes? There are no hard rules as each meme must be tailored to a particular situation. However, Seth Godin’s general rules for “What makes an idea viral” presents a good starting point for basic viral meme construction. Have fun creating!

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Two good posts today on why VC’s don’t sign NDAs, one from Brad Feld at Ask the VC and the other from Rick Segal at The Post Money Value.

When I was VP of Strategic Planning at IAC and SVP of Corporate Development at AOL we didn’t like signing NDAs, but we did it reasonably frequently. In those cases though, we were looking at buying companies and we were getting pretty deep into the financial and operational details of a company very quickly.

Now that I’m on the Venture side, we hardly ever sign an NDA. As both Brad and Rick point out, there shouldn’t be a need to disclose confidential information at a first meeting to determine whether or not there is interest in moving forward.

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For websites with social networking or community features “going viral” or acheiving a viral coefficient greater than 1.0 represents the holy grail of traffic acquisition. What’s behind this? Going viral means that new user acquisition costs have essentially been driven to ZERO. This is a significant departure from the current state-of-the-art.

The friction of the “real world” means traditional businesses need to invest in sales and marketing to acquire and retain customers. Whether selling to enterprises or consumers and whether the sales process is direct, “high touch” or indirect via telesales, direct mail, etc, the process of bringing in customers requires money proportional to the number of new users. Internet 1.0 businesses have fared slightly better through expanded online reach but still need to invest in keyword marketing, affiliate revenue sharing and other acquisition and distribution vehicles to acquire incremental customers.

Viral marketing has emerged as a mainstream Web 2.0 phenomena whereby existing users do the work and bear the time and expense of delivering additional new users. While not univerasally applicable (yet), we think the power of viral marketing as a zero or exceptionally low cost agent for acquiring customers will expand to be applied across lots of new categories. To date we’ve observed several early variants on the model:

1) Peer to Peer Communication and Messaging: Applications like Skype or Hotmail where inherent use of the application requires a user to forward the application to other users and have them register in order to particiapte. CPM (Yahoo!Mail) and contextual (gmail) advertising and pre-paid subscription (Skype) business models have all been used to monetize these viral ecosystems.

2) Online Self Expression and Social Networking: Sites like MySpace , Flickr, and YouTube and new distributed social self expression sites or widgets like RockYou (LSVP portfolio company), Widgetbox and others enable users to invite friends to view personalized digital content. These new viewers are required to become registrants on the social networking site or can make the decision to adopt a widget in order to broadcast their own content inducing a viral growth cycle as these new users then invite additional viewers into the system. Thus far, monetization has occured primarly through online advertising although early experiments with the sale of digital goods (HotorNot) foreshadow a more transaction-based monetization model.

3) Viral email marketing: This usually takes place by way of online offers which are proposed to an initial set of consumers. Embedded in the offer is an earnable incentive or reward for successfully forwarding the identical offer to additional consumers. Campaigns can yield large numbers of responses even for offers sent to a small initial set of customers.

4) Vertical community sites. Like more horizontal social networking sites, these portals enable like-minded consumers with a particular interest to invite new users to participate in a shared affinity group. The more people who are part of the community, the faster the rate of the communities viral growth due to exponential increases in the richness of content and number of invitations sent out to new members. Viral community sites enable sharing of interests across topics ranging from finding sales leads (Jigsaw) or finding a new career (LinkedIn) to finding the trendiest new clothing styles (Stylehive – LSVP portfolio company) or getting the latest tips on new movies (Flixster – LSVP portfolio company). Today much of the monetization occurs through impression based advertising although future monetization could emerge via subscriptions, lead generation, and transactional commerce services aimed at vendors interested in accessing highly targetted channels of distribution.

We think the principals of viral marketing and viral user acquisition will be applied well beyond current initial use cases as Web 2.0 continues to evolve. It should yield some exciting new investment opportunities which we’re looking forward to hearing about and getting involved in.

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Toby Coppel recently posted on the Y! corporate blog with his thoughts on interesting startups. He calls out some companies he finds interesting (one of which Y! has since acquired!), talks about how this wave of startups is different …

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Patrick wrote a post on “The New Must See TV” on Friday and I know that he wanted to include some information on The Venice Project but was unable to say much because of the NDA that we signed. However, …

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Download Squad reports on a rumor that Safari might be released for Windows, citing Mary Jo Foley who found the speculation on Mozilla’s Firefox 3 requirements wiki. (The speculation has since been removed form the Mozilla wiki.)

The …

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On Wednesday, Yahoo! and Akimbo announced a new partnership to bring the most popular selections of Yahoo! Video to the Akimbo video-on-demand service. This announcement comes on the heels of the launch of Apple TV, a set top box …

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There has been some vigorous comment discussion on the post of 2007 consumer internet predictions, mostly about the lead gen prediction. Firstly, its wonderful to get comments – thank you. When you first start blogging it feels like shouting out …

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A couple of posts on Techcrunch, one on Filmloop entering the Deadpool, and another on a rumor that Slide took $20m in funding have sparked some lively debate in comments about the business models for widgets. I don’t pretend …

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Several recent articles (NYT, Richard MacManus, etc) on next generation search and the questionable wisdom of backing businesses with a mission to displace some or all of Google’s current market domain caused us to do some of …

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