ASSERTION #1: The default startup business model from 2000-2009 was based on growth (aka acquisition) and CPM- or CPC-advertising
Over the past 10 years, we have seen a massive shift in advertising from CPM to CPC-based advertising. This basically started happening when the 2000-2001 dotcom implosion blew the market cap of Yahoo to smithereens, and display advertising went into the shitter. Altho CPM subsequently recovered, Google's IPO and the gradual emergence of CPC as a higher-quality advertising medium has been the dominant story of the first half of the last decade. There's still a lot of page views and CPM advertising out there -- and YouTube & Facebook are making sure that doesn't change -- but as we VCs like to say: "at the end of the day, Yahoo is now Google's bitch".
Let me say that again with emphasis so you don't miss it.
Google's ABSOLUTE FRIGGIN' SEARCH DOMINANCE has made CPC advertising the defacto monetization standard for the web.
But what has all this Don't-Be-Evil-AdWords-Click-Happiness done to the internet & startup ecosystem?
It's made us a bunch of lazy, ad-happy, Web-Tards with crappy ROI.
So crappy in fact, we should be ashamed to call ourselves entrepreneurs & venture "capitalists". Why, Schumpeter is probably rolling over in his grave at how little Creative Destruction we have rained down upon crotchety incumbents. It's a goddamn travesty that some aspiring startup or greedy hedge fund hasn't pummelled Yahoo and eBay into a hostile takeover by now, and Microsoft has made itself almost irrelevant in the consumer internet space -- helloooo Mr. Ballmer? please tell me how you own hundreds of millions of users and more than half the browser market and you HAVE NO VISIBLE 3rd-party distribution or monetization strategy? -- Srsly, we have monkeys driving some of the biggest trains on the Internet at the moment.
Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Fucking Way.
And while there's been something of a Startup Renaissance going on since around 2004, all these little web 2.0 wannabees have spent an inordinate amount of our attention on ad-driven business models resulting in a big steaming 2-Founders-1-Cup of FAIL. Everyone seems to have assumed that since Yahoo and Google were giants in internet advertising, therefore all internet startups should be using some form of CPM or CPC ad-monetization.
THIS IS A VERY LARGE LEMMING-LIKE ERROR IN LOGIC THAT MUST BE CORRECTED IMMEDIATELY.
We have largely WASTED an entire web decade of time, energy & venture capital on extremely inefficient revenue models. There have been a few interesting examples of startups acquired in the 00's for large amounts due to amazing growth (eGroups, MySpace, Skype, YouTube) or advertising potential (aQuantive, DoubleClick, AdMob, RightMedia). However, mostly the decade has been an uninterrupted string of uninspiring business models and small-time acquisitions of Web 2.0 startups filled with rainbows & unicorns, rather than those based on simple, transactional revenue models.
ATTENTION u ASSHATs on Sand Hill Road & u HIPPY-DIPPY Startups in SOMA -- This Shit Stops NOW.
ASSERTION #2: The default startup business model for 2010 & beyond will be subscriptions and transactions (e-commerce, digital goods).
Newsflash folks: The Internet does NOT want to be FREE... It wants to GET PAID on Fucking Friday, just like everybody else on the damn planet.
Yes there is a role for Freemium, but unless you missed the TPS report the FREE part is only a loss-leader for the MEE-YUM part -- it's a test-drive before you buy something. If your users are just kicking the tires then you need to kick them to the curb eventually (unless of course they are your viral bee-yotches, in which case it's ok to have a few invitation whores as freeriders).
Free is not Forever, unless you never want to be in control of your own fate.
Gradually we are discovering that the default revenue model on the internet should probably be the simplest one -- that is: basic transactions for physical or digital goods, and recurring transactions (aka subscriptions) for repeat usage.
Let me say that one more time so you don't miss it.
Get Dem Bitches to *PAY* You, G.
Ok, so there's only one problem with this. It's called the Penny Gap.
Surprise, surprise... most people don't like to pay you squat unless they have no other choice. And aside from the user's disinclination to pull out their wallet, there's also the problem of wallet friction itself -- payment conversion is shitty for many reasons other than just price. Mainly it's because we can't remember our password. I'll repeat that about a million times in this post so you don't forget.
WE. CAN'T. REMEMBER. PASSWORDS.
This is incredibly important, and i'll explain why in just a little bit... but now, let's talk a brief walk down Memory Lane past my old workplace, PayPal.
Here's one of the not-so-flattering secrets of the PayPal Mafia you've probably never heard: The far-and-away #1 customer service problem -- and cost -- at PayPal was something called "forgotten password recovery". That's a nice way to say that people can't remember their fucking password.
It's the biggest goddamn problem on the Internet, but at PayPal we made it even worse by tying a payment instrument to the process, and then locking out the payment instrument if they couldn't remember their password. What a Brilliant idea! Let's see.... why don't we fuck over all of our n00b, first-use customers by forcing them to create an account they have no significant motivation to maintain yet, and then hope they don't give us a fake email address or fail to remember that password the next time they drop by... which might be 1, 3 or 6 months later. Bingo, way to create the biggest HateStorm in Internet History: make it super simple for people to make their payment method unusable by simply forgetting their password. Oh and i forgot to tell you we occasionally froze their account so they couldn't get access to their money. That was a real winner too.
PayPal was one of the classic stories of viral growth, however in this instance we also experienced viral growth in customer service: at one point more than 2 in 3 employees worked in customer service. And i'm guessing somewhere between 10-20% of first-time customers never used the service again, primarily because they forgot their password.
Look, no online service is perfect and there are often good reasons why account recovery shouldn't be too easy -- sometimes it's not YOU who wants to get access. But Password Friction at PayPal led to an unfortunate series of events which caused some signicant percentage of our users to HATE us with a PASSION that is usually reserved for politicians and lawyers. Since i was often on the front-lines running our PayPal Developer Network, i got to hear first-hand from Merchants and Developers about how this password friction caused problems with payment, and with user frustration. I got to know the folks in customer service pretty well, and i used to do my best to resolve some of our users pain.
So why am i bringing up all this bullshit now?
Well because as we transition to a Startup Ecosystem driven by direct payment & subscription business models, i want to make it clear how IMPORTANT it is to make sure users don't forget their passwords. If they forget their password, and/or can't recover it, then guess what MoFo -- YOU DON'T GET PAID.
Which means you don't get Laid, you don't get Acquired, and you sure as friggin' hell don't get to Go IPO.
So listen up & i'll share a little secret with you -- there is one very simple way to avoid forgotten passwords. Basically, it's this:
Make a Frequent-Use Product.
That's it, you say?
Yeah, that's it Sherlock. Make a brain-dead simple, frequent-use product. If users login a lot, then they don't forget their password.
Now think about that for a second...what services have users login a lot?
1) Social Networks
2) Email & IM
3) Games, Music, & Entertainment sites
Which leads me to my 3rd & final observation.
ASSERTION #3: In 2015 the default login & payment method(s) on the web will be Facebook Connect, Google Gmail, or Apple iTunes.
Now i'm not suggesting PayPal and Amazon are going to disappear overnight -- both probably have hundreds of millions of users (well, at least double-digit million *active* users anyway). And in fact, they will likely still have dominant positions in the market. But i will say this: if they rely *purely* on purchase behavior, they are fighting a losing battle against other services with more frequent usage, whose users will be more likely to remember their passwords. Like a Darwinian evolutionary experiment, only the fittest passwords survive -- and in this case, the fittest passwords will be the ones used most often. That is, the ones we use for core services like email, IM, games, music, videos. And guess what? Most of those services happen on social networks like Facebook, which currently has over 400M users and is growing like crazy internationally.
Well at this point i hope you've pieced it all together. The key to success -- one might even say DOMINANCE -- in payment systems is to begin with the foundation of frequent-use products, so that users won't forget their passwords. Whether intentional or not, Facebook has played this game to perfection. Not too far behind is Apple with iTunes, iPhone, and other related frequent-use media & entertainment products, and an App Store that people use regularly. And even Google has a shot here, with both Gmail and YouTube as two very large, frequent-use products, along with the upcoming Android platform. Twitter is probably a dark-horse here, but if user #'s continue to improve they could also have a shot. And i'd also keep an eye on Skype too, which still has a lot of frequent users and value.
Bringing up the rear pathetically here are Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL. All 3 of these services have hundreds of millions of users (via email & IM alone, not to mention other services), and yet they haven't figured it out. Yahoo had previously developed a payment product called PayDirect, but shut it down in 2004. FAIL. Microsoft had the right vision with HailStorm, but their UX was absolutely friggin' terrible (see Password Friction again), and they didn't stick with it. AOL similarly has been shedding users for a decade, and never realized how valuable their original email user base could be. It's unbelievable to me none of these Internet Giants has figured out what is going on. They have neither acquired nor merged in a payment service (Amazon, eBay) nor have they acquired a large social network. Unless MSFT develops Xbox into a widespread payment system, or acquires eBay (for PayPal), Amazon, or Facebook i just don't see them climbing back into the ring. All of those deals would be very difficult and unlikely, even for MSFT.
So that's it folks, i'm spent. This has been a complete ramble and i don't have time to edit this shit, so i'm leaving it as it is. Sorry for all the swearing and uneven pace, but hopefully some of you will take away something useful.