meshwest 2011 stage

Mesh is a Toronto-based organization started five years ago by five friends who believed that an event was needed to get people talking about the Web. Launched in Toronto as a two day conference, Mark Evans, Rob Hyndman, Mathew Ingram, Michael MacDerment and Stuart MacDonald (the “mesh gang”) have brought their conference out West to include Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

Each of the past five conferences have brought sold out successes to the group, and in 2009, meshMarketing was founded. meshwest is the one day version of the conference, one that I hope will see many future years! By all accounts, the tweets, questions posed to the speakers, as well as positive feedback I was overhearing (and contributing to!) during the day, this will certainly happen.

Introduction by Mark Evans
[Introduction by Mark Evans]

The Salt Building was the chosen venue, a very comfortable space where tables with water bottles made for a friendly social approach to attendees engaging before, during the breaks, and after the event. I was so happy to see the natural light coming through the floor to ceiling windows, with a gorgeous view of False Creek made even prettier once the sun came out.

meshwest 2011

In fact, I wish that more conferences would take place in open spaces, where rather than long rows in a theatre without windows, people are encouraged to move about, charge their laptops/smart phones when needed, and grab a cup of coffee to bring back to the table.

Cathy Browne, early morning

Unlike other conferences, I wasn’t as tired after the full day of panels. The conference provided breakfast, snacks, coffee, lunch and an after party at nearby Sin Bin for its attendees. As a guest, I want to thank the organizers for inviting me to this inaugural conference and look forward to many more like it.

Here’s a recap of the day through my notes and photos.

Stewart Butterfield and Mark Evans
[Stewart Butterfield and Mark Evans]

Stewart Butterfield, discussing startups and the gaming marketplace, together with Mark Evans

“Banking should almost be illegal.”

Hardware is about 5% the cost of 2002. Back then, a couple of thousand people had experience running websites. It’s a lot less expensive to fail these days. With any kind of service or retail division, odds are really good that you’re going to fail. People have to go into that knowing this.

During the dot-com boom, you took down a lot of people with you. Nowadays, a failing startup involves less people and financial fail .

Community exists in the same circles and follow each other on Twitter. The amount of those involved in startups is large.

How do you build community? There needs to be more events.

What holds YVR back? The size of community.

For example, Seattle has 10k ex-Microsofters, 5k ex-Amazon, which gives the city a huge leg-up on ready made community.

It’s hard for anyone, anywhere to compete with that kind of Silicon Valley community.

People carry their networks with them. Ex-large company employers will move around to new companies, as layoffs and change-ups occur.

A bit about Flickr

Back when it started, Flickr consisted of realtime photo sharing and was chat-based. But fairly useless as a product, as the odds that someone that you cared about was online was pretty slim.

The idea was to build a photo sharing site for a million dollars and sell the shares to create the game company.

Four to five months after launching, Stewart realized that the Flickr thing would take off.
“We would have done even better had we launched the day before Orca launched.”

By six months in, Flickr had already met with Google and Kodak as potential buyers. Within a year of launching, it was sold.

“People don’t remember 2004, but it was still the doldrums. There weren’t any big applications coming out. Other than pure tech acquisitions, there wasn’t any big activity around that time. Things got crazy again around 2006, 2007”.

Technology has improved, infrastructure, servers all cheaper.

The experience of doing something online was what motivated and interested Stewart. As well, creating a world where you don’t have to take yourself too seriously was motivating for him.

As far as his current gaming company (Tiny Speck) is concerned, marketing isn’t the main concern (nor challenge), as they’re fortunate enough to have investors with a lot of money. PR works because the team puts out something different. Biggest challenge was trying to change the headlines from Flickr to Butterfield’s new venture, to being solely Glitch.

Using PR agencies is a pretty important part of the mix right now. Stewart: “The shift to Twitter has been interesting”.

Glitch already has 5,000 features, because every piece of content contains a ton of features. You can’t possibly take five to seven years and one to two hundred million dollars….it’s a lot more time consuming. Takes more effort and discipline.

By comparison, Flickr has about 100 features, all-in.

Free play for business model goes back decades. Zynga and other social games became big in North America. Free for awhile, play longer for a couple of bucks, etc. or bug some friends too (referral model).

Butterfield was quoted as chastising free game model. “Even if it’s good, it’s going to be nagging me to pay money all the time to continue”.

Michael McDerment, Erik Blachford, Carl Schmidt, Jason Bailey
[Michael McDerment, Erik Blachford, Carl Schmidt, Jason Bailey]

Michael McDerment in conversation with Erik Blanchford, Carl Schmidt and Jason Bailey
Having six cofounders helped Michael.

“The potential audience is huge. I don’t know that building a company is easier. There’s less capital involved. You can get incredible leverage from the user base. It’s much different from Expedia where there’s enormous budgets for PR”.

Why are people excited? It’s the American dream to start up with little or nothing and build up a fortune. It’s more possible now. Why now? Because the heroes of the story are the geeks.

What are characteristics of a company to look for?
Carl: Throw out the business plan. I’m looking for someone with cojones and the drive to win at all costs. It’s about the people. There’s a certain entrepreneurial DNA. It’s being able to recognize those traits that counts.

Michael: There’s a wide style of characteristics that will work, a lot of formulas.
Carl: They all have something in common: the drive to win. You can tell the people who forget that they’re in a job situation. The drive and curiosity are what attracts Carl.

Erik: It’s a little bit trendy to start up a company. If you’re not serious, all you’re going to do is burn yourself out and maybe pass the company on to someone.
He sees a lot more of this scenario. A lot of small amount of monies going into startups.

Is this the new norm? Money will be spread out among more startups.

Life cycle of companies is shorter.
Carl: The notion of a bubble. Hopefully we’re seeing just the beginning of a trend and not a bubble that’s going to burst soon.

How long do you really have, unless you have the breakout success?
Michael: I can’t do something for five years. I’m going to build an awesome product, but am not comfortable running large companies with a bunch of people I don’t know. I build it at an early stage and flip it off once takes off.

Where social networking was big a few years ago, now it’s all about mobile, without question. Is it scary to think just mobile. What are other things being seen?
Carl: Are you looking at two years or 10? The answer depends on your outlook.

People don’t know how their info is being exploited.
Erik: You sign up for Facebook, you type in a bunch of info, etc. What you probably don’t expect is that four years later, someone is going to have a startup and use that data down the road.
How do you know how your info gets used? This was a good point made.

Single founders are not what attract Michael as an investor potential. A team needs to be brought forth. You have to have a sort of product prototype, and be ready to show it. He wants to see short-term results.

What role can universities play?
“The best thing they can do is just shut the fuck down”.
Carl: You guys (universities) are not helping. Some are doing a great job. There’s a place for them, sometimes people can learn in a structured environment.
Is it their place to fund startups?
So many interesting things you can do with a technical degree. You need to nurture technical talent.

Startups in Canada: How are we doing?
Michael is staying here, but Silicon Valley is centre of universe. Admit and embrace that.
We’ve come a long way, we’re better accelerators, but we still a long way to go. It really is an international global market.
Most startups know that revenues are international, not purely Canadian based.
Valley has such a buzz. Everyone’s building something. A whole lot of ‘scene’. Here in Vancouver, there isn’t much of that, so more time to focus and building something.

Michael: I could wake up and piss ideas. After about a week, if it’s still stumping me, I’ll explore the idea further. Or at least discuss it with my wife.
If it’s still valid, I’ll start to share it with some of my entrepreneur friends.

Coming up with something good:
Do you think it’s worth putting money into it?
Erik: Small decision is evaluation. Is it competitive or not?
Evaluation has no formula.
If the founders can’t push their product/idea’s vision on their own, it’s a red flag.

Michael: Look for the spark in their eyes. That’s where the vision is. If they are passionate and articulate enough to believe that there’s something there, it may very well be worth exploring.

Michael McDerment, Sean Ellis
[Michael McDerment, Sean Ellis]

Sean Ellis discussing startups and business growth
Ellis has spent time at round tables with entrepreneurs around the world to find out what matters in that sphere.

He’s a good ‘picker’ – identifier of values in startups. This thing has real potential to bring to the masses.

How is this done? A lot of people have certain assumptions about the value they are going to create. When people try products, they have intended use cases. What was of value with what was actually created.

There’s a level he looks for: “How would you feel if you could no longer use this service or product?” He was looking for the answer: very disappointed.

Most companies did well when 40% answered this way. This is a great way to orient the way a company is created.

Why that question for emerging companies? “I started to ask it as a satisfaction question. Managers from certain companies were never satisfied, however if you took something away from them, they would become disappointed. This was the best way to get the response I was looking for.” Sean found a pattern with this scenario. If you can execute well around that value, you can create a successful product.

If a product is not cared about, he can’t build a sustainable business around it.

It doesn’t start until you get something into people’s hands. You want to find out early if you’ve stumbled upon something flawed.

You’ve got to be super receptive to the way that people are using a product. The roadmap will be paved around the things that matter to the product when it’s being developed.

Freemium: A free version of the product was good to get people locked in, later to get to the premium version with more functionality.

After working with about 15 freemium model companies, he realized it’s a lot harder, however if you succeed it’s a lot harder to compete against it.

What works now is that customers are a lot more empowered. If it’s free and works well, word spreads way faster than it used to as people are more connected via social media. Word of mouth growth curve is super sustainable.

Dropbox is prime example. Launched in 2008, current figure is 250 million in revenue, earned with no marketing budget!

Taking a core number and looking at groups of 100 is the easiest way to calculate a product’s success based on cohorts (groups).

Free with advertising vs. paid without?

Beauty of free is it’s a model that earns your business. If you nail it with a free product, it is the competitive advantage that spreads the product. Harder to acquire a user cold with free as they are initially skeptical, it’s evangelist-driven growth however. If however a friend tells you it’s great, you’ll be convinced to try it.

Create a need for the free feature, and that’s when the model works really well.

Janice Diner
[Janice Diner]

Janice Diner: Everyone’s Got a Facebook Page
Facebook, innovation and the rise of the Social Consumer

Janice, a former creative director with large Toronto agencies, presented case studies on what Facebook Pages need to have in order to engage with their community.

Every aspect of consumer’s lives is on multiple screens; we discuss about what we buy before, during, and after.

800+ million share 4 billion pieces of content per day!

350 million users engage with Facebook on a mobile device and are twice as active as those on a home PC.

Facebook and its apps are accessed 20 million times day on average.

F-stores: Facebook e-commerce stories where credit cards are taken out to purchase something on Facebook without leaving the Facebook interface.

Facebook places: every brick-and-mortar store is starting to bring their business to Facebook.

30 billion revenue projected over the next five years with Facebook.

Fan exclusive offers are a growing trend. Need to “like” the page in order to access the offers before anyone else.

Shop Kick mobile app: If you check into stores such as Best Buy and Macy’s, you earn Facebook credits right into your fb account.

Facebook Locations tab enables businesses to register for every single brick-and-mortar location. It’s a free fb app that lets you develop on top of regular features, offering seamless integration across Facebook pages and mobile places check ins.

Facebook catalogues all those checkins.

Facebook Open Graph data remains largely unexplored right now. “It’s going to make it possible to build a completely new class of apps that wasn’t possible before.” – Mark Zuckerberg

Allows 3rd party applications to include arbitrary actions and objects. I like, I sold, I want, I buy, I wore. Objects can have actions attached. Two things are paired. Those things start to filter into news feed and timeline. Shared actions of activity.

There are both good and bad ways to use this information. Janice believes that some interesting things will be created from Open Graph.

Link, Like, Love” American Express page. Log in with Facebook. Based on likes, AMEX surfaces up and offers things based on your likes and activity. AMEX card will automatically know to discount or take action, without a store’s employee needing to be trained or be made aware of it.

Facebook puts parameters around the activity to find just the right offer for readers who engage with AMEX (and other Facebook pages).

You can deliver a customized experience, one that is catered to “me”, that is built around “my” friends and “my” interests.

You can create a lot of experience for your customers inside Facebook pages. One central database will give them access to the information. “API’s for Linkedin are pretty rich, and we’re only just getting started.”

Ali Davar and Mathew Ingram
[Ali Davar, Mathew Ingram]

Ali Davar, on how the tablet is changing how content is created and consumed, with moderator Mathew Ingram
How do people get in touch with all the great features that are out there? Initially Zite thought the best way to do that was along the lines of a search.

Ali is a former law student who was looking to create a user experience.

Zite, launched about a year ago, was meant to be a stand-alone product, but it took them a while to figure out the UX. What’s different about Zite is level of surprise you get, the serendipitous element of discovery. Come across an article you might not otherwise expect. Maybe from a source you know, but not on the front page, or it could be from a source you’ve never heard of.

Model is something interesting and unexpected.

Zite also looks at what you don’t do, what you pass up. You need to spend a lot of time thinking about what type of information experience they’re trying to create. Where emphasis is put on research can determine the end result of the product.

CNN can help Zite with distribution, how to solve issues with media, while CNN has an innovative culture. They want to see something like Zite. Zite can leverage what they build for CNN’s properties. Excellent synergy between the two companies that can benefit from one another.

How is media being changed by the way we’re consuming information? The level of satisfaction from consumer experience and delivery on their iPad will motivate them to seek out more content. The interactivity with the content and how does it fit within my interest, and how can I have this discovery experience that I’ve never had (i.e. a static experience)?

Comparatively, StumbleUpon will give you something truly random. Zite walks the line between specific and random results.

Choosing what to put in and leave out is a tough choice for a product such as Zite.

Zite has a lot of features on its road map, but scheduling tweets is for the hard core user. Zite is trying to build their product for a broader audience. Business model: “We’re experimenting. It has to fit within a matrix of stakeholders, mainstream magazines, niche publications, brands figuring out how to fit this all together.”

Information scraping has lead to a cease and desist order for Zite. Ali learned the news after the fact. Wall Street Journal broke the story. What does that mean for Zite? They’re currently trying to create a win-win for publishers.

Articles can come up in two formats: reading mode clear of ads, or web view mode, view much like a web page. Publishers can tell Zite whether they want their content presented one way or another. Reader mode is more preferable, as it looks cleaner and is free of ads.

By far, publishers are happy to allow Zite to continue with the path its on, as publishers know that a better user experience will ultimately benefit them.

The trick will be to find a business model that works while maintaining the value of the product. First and foremost is to create great content.

Longer form content is what users enjoy with the tablet, especially when it comes down to leisure time reading.

Darren Barefoot, Caroline MacGillivray, Alexandra Samuel, Elijah van der Giessen
[Darren Barefoot, Caroline MacGillivray, Alexandra Samuel, Elijah van der Giessen]

Social Media and Political Activism: Who’s Got the Upper Hand?
Darren Barefoot talks with Alexandra Samuel, Caroline MacGillivray and Elijah van der Giessen

Discussion of the Egypt revolution/digital blackout of January 25. Drove people to the streets, as population couldn’t text via digital blackout.

What is an online activist/slacktivist/clicktivist?
Alexandra: At its most basic, anyone who participates in any kind of political action online is an online activist. Everyone’s an online activist to some degree. Often people use the term to define something a bit more narrow, their primary form of engagement being through the internet. People of all ages tend to adopt the internet either as an alternative or complement to forms of political engagement.

Actions traditionally take forever. With people engaging directly with companies, this process is speeded up.

Elijah: Online campaigns vs. offline: What unites what’s done online is that it’s easy. Usually a low barrier to action activities, easy to click a form or like on Facebook. Those actions have a wide variety of flavours. David Suzuki gets supporters to harass both government and those in the corporate world. “We’re angry and we’re going to give you a bit of sass.” There are successes with this form of political advocacy, not a direct change, but enough to Elijah and the David Suzuki Foundation to learn ‘who wants more’.

Caroline: If you think about why people get engaged in the first place, it starts with value systems. It comes down to your mission. Charities are derived from the church, where missionaries go out and do the work. Engaging people, whether in conversation or inviting them to an event, or even retweeting something you’ve said, involving Twitter’s local community and networks is a good basis to get more engagement.

As in Japan disaster, there’s people who will either want to spread the word of affect change. They came to Caroline just to see whether they could engage in call to action. It’s about getting communities built online and eventually taking them offline to get the campaigns and actions underway.

Caroline: Slackers can make a difference down the line by volunteering or spreading the word, even if not directly partaking as result of an online campaign.

Darren: Starts from value position. Formulate a theory of change, then move to audience analysis, who to build the movement around, and progress from there.

Alexandra argued that it’s about having a goal. “There’s a high cost of getting people in the door. With internet, it’s easy to organize around an issue. You don’t need people with common beliefs, as coalitions will come together with hugely different values. Then they’ll go on their separate ways, possibly campaigning around polar opposite issues”.

Elijah: Some are there for purely for environmental concerns, others for the lives of their grandchildren.

A phone call is worth 10 emails, walking into someone’s constituency office is worth 10 phone calls. At the end of the day, online petitions are a great way to build community with those that share similar values.

Fundraising: Traditionally involves cheques through the door, and the older generation. Are we replacing online fundraising with these conservative methods? What are the other’s thoughts on fundraising?

Elijah: Is the money coming in online via traditional methods? No. Traditional non-profits are successful but none widely. I’d be shocked to find more than 10% proceeds made online. Open Media Project is a good example (Stop the Meter) of a successful campaign. It changed government policy, and only raises money online now. As much money has been raised via David Suzuki online, it’s remarkable that Open Media have only been online for two years to reach their level of success.

Caroline: Especially when it comes to Beauty Night finding donors, the organization will see someone who donated 1 million and ask Caroline, “why not get that organization to donate”? She’d rather see many give small amounts and later get engaged. Each generation is a bit different. You need to know what works for each.

Alexandra: The distinction between high net worth strategies focusing on large money donors vs. grassroots depends on organization. If you’ve got a short run campaign, you need to think about where you’ll get those dollars the quickest. If you’re a charity that’s around for the long run, those organizations need to embrace a tier strategy. Today’s high net worth individuals may have deep pockets now, but tomorrow’s high net worth individuals are from the Facebook generation (the 20 year olds, the ones that will make millions at their startups); they’ll remember you later when they want to donate millions, so it’s prudent to engage with them.

Who has the upper hand: the corporations or the government?
Caroline: They want to work together.
Darren: Governments and corporations are winning; non-profits occasionally.
Alexandra: Governments are far less sensitive to domestic pressures and far more sensitive to a company’s moving out of Canada. Has nothing to do with who’s better at using the internet.
Elijah: If you can give voice to your supporters and customers to articulate their values, you’ll get their attention.

Alexandra: Unless you’re a company whose customers care enough to wear your logo, then they won’t be interested enough in being part of your campaign. Most companies can learn that people are passionate about values and issues that have to do with their lives. Find a topic to engage your community, then you’ll succeed in your campaign.

Caroline: Follow your mission. Opportunities exist for businesses that want to make change in the community. I hope to see more businesses partner with non-profits.

Darren: How can you turn your customers into a movement? Create a movement-changing gesture to build a community.

Alexandra: What can we do in the world to make an impact? How do I turn a Harley Davidson owner into a movement?

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