Ultimate Recession Company – Virtual Events – ON24 – Conversation with CEO Sharat Sharan

Last month during the Web 2.0 conference I stopped by the office of ON24 to meet with their CEO Sharat Sharan. I was interested in meeting with Sharat for three reasons: 1) he was funded by USVP, 2) his company is doing extremely well, and 3) he’s lived through two bust cycles.

ON24, a venture backed company, has built up a business that is now global. Initially they were focused on “Live” events and now have focused on servicing the enterprise via webcasting, demand generation, and rich media offerings. I was very impressed with Sharat in that he is very geeky and is deep technically. More importantly, he kept his company alive through two up and down cycles. ON24 has built an infrastructure platform that handles corporate casting, conf call, demand and lead gen. However, what got me excited is the new direction of virtual conferences.

As Second Life struggles with it’s virtual business approach, ON24 is kicking butt. Trade shows and conference are the areas that companies cut during a recession and having a viable platform like ON24 makes sense. To me the big upshot is the trend in social networks where trust and communications are now being established. This will lead to a viable model for virtual collaboration or better yet virtual events. Although the product isn’t what I had hoped, it delivers the basics and it is state of the art.

ON24 isn’t going out of business anytime soon. In fact they are doing great even in this market. They have the ultimate recession product – it increases revenues for companies while reducing costs. Now that’s a business model.

ON24’s challenge is to make the user experience truely social instead of some vendor speak “spam party”. I know that they are working on that but that is not their job. Corporate customers need to adjust the ON24 product to fit the market rather then just fit their marketing message.

A couple of sound bite comments from Sharat worth noting:
– Second Life is inappropriate for business
– Brands want control over their virtual environment
– demand generation and lead generation is key to the ROI for corporate customers
– users enjoy exciting new apps but it complicated things – the latest and greatest don’t necessarily translate to success
– the social web is becoming more cluttered (noisy) and we need new filters and look to expert systems or guides to lead in this area
– in 3-5 yrs rich media will be the standard not the exception with interaction capabilities being front and center
– patience is what allowed him to survive and keep his business on track for the 2 down cycles (including this one)
– reinventing and serving customers that drive revenue help companies survive – eliminate the heavy cost structures if revenues aren’t in sight
– revenue is the ultimate success story for this current market condition; revenue equals product/platform validation
– Erwin Federman was the key to the success of ON24 with Erwin Federman ON24 never would have made it

I have to say that I really liked Sharat and his team. Sharat is a true entrepreneur, tech guru, and great executive. We shared some great entrepreneurial stories including some about USVP which will remain off the record. PodTech and ON24 where both funded by USVP. USVP shut down PodTech, but supported ON24 (Erwin Federman wasn’t on the board of PodTech).

Sharat success as he puts it comes down to patience and support of his team (including Erwin Federman of USVP).

My prediction is that we will see a massive rise in social “virtual” collaboration very quickly or more short term – “virtual” events. The question is can ON24 platform enable and accelerate that trend. The key to success will be user experience.

Burn the Village Strategy: WSJ Subscription Firewall – What It Really Means

Emily Steel just wrote a blog post about Rupert Murdocks comments that WSJ will retain the ‘paid subscription firewall’ for the Wall Street Journal Online.   

After I gave WSJ Digital Network kudos for their Davos World Economic Forum coverage at the Davos Daily, I see Emily’s report???  What’s the deal??   Expand blog network and keep the firewall?  It’s called ‘burn the village’ strategy and invest in a differentiated product.

Emily writes:  “Speculation that News Corp. would make WSJ.com a completely free site had been rife in recent months, since Mr. Murdoch had signaled he was contemplating lifting the subscription wall. Mr. Murdoch had indicated that lifting the pay wall could broaden the Journal’s online audience and boost its Web advertising revenue, offsetting any loss in subscription revenues.

Mr. Murdoch made his comments today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in answer to a question.

“We are going to greatly expand and improve the free part of the Wall Street Journal online, but there will still be a strong offering” for subscribers, Mr. Murdoch said. “The really special things will still be a subscription service, and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive.”

It’s a “burn the village” strategy for WSJ.  They can provide rapid blogging coverage to commoditize the blogosphere then create a separate product that is highly differentiated and charge for it. 

This plays directly into WSJ’s hands since they invest the most in the talent.  Same is true for the NY  Times, but they have actually integrated blogging into their online site which has no subscription firewall.   Interesting strategies by both companies.  Many have said that newspapers should create blog networks.  

There was a great post and debate about data being a commodity on bubblegenration and publishing 2.o last month. 

Is blogging and free content a commodity?  Lets have some pork bellies with those blog posts.  Meanwhile look for big media companies to “Burn the Villages”.   

Why?  Commoditize the blogosphere then roll them all up.


Best Davos Coverage – Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal has the best Davos coverage coming out of the World Economic Forum.  They have a blog called Daily Davos.  This part of the WSJ Digital Network where they are blogging professionally. 

This is how the WSJ Digital Network describes their coverage at Davos in the Davos Daily:  The Daily Davos provides updates from the World Economic Forum’s annual talkfest in Davos, Switzerland, which draws more than 2,000 business, political and academic leaders for a five-day program of workshops and panel discussions. A team of reporters and editors from The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires is on the scene, and will be posting news, commentary and gossip as the conference unfolds.

Folks what we are seeing here is professional blogging.  Great job by the WSJ bloggers.  I’d like to know who the people are that are behind the blogging for WSJ.  For example I know that Eric Savitz is Barron’s Tech Trader Daily.  Linking to a person behind the blogging is easier then some generic face like Davos Daily – there are two brands the blog site and the blogger(s).  I like AllThingsD, but its Kara Swisher who I like to read.   

WSJ Digital Network is a collection of blogs.  Will they partner with other networks.  PodTech currently works with Dow Jones and they should form a strategic partnership with WSJ Digital.

Video Ads are Here to Stay – What will they look like?

Blodget has a post on video advertising.  I’ve been working hard to get my advertising vision at PodTech to embrace this trend.  What is video advertising?  Short form youtube videos?  Infomercials?  Entertainment?  All of the above?

A new report by research-boutique Off The Record suggests that, after a couple of years of dabbling, big advertisers are now taking online video advertising seriously.  This is good news for traditional TV networks–Disney, Viacom (VIAB), News Corp (NWS)–and it’s good news for Google.  The report was based on 10 interviews with ad-agency execs conducted from Sept 21-Oct 4.

Key points:

  • Video ads growing faster than ad execs expected.
  • Video ads still account for only a tiny percentage of overall web ads but are expected to be the fastest growing category for the foreseeable future.
  • Auto and entertainment categories strongest, with good growth in consumer products, technology, and fast food.

For more check out Henry’s post.