Does Bambi like TechCrunch Pitches?

When I first heard about TechCrunch’s new Elevator Pitches site (when a post from Erick Schonfeld popped up in FriendFeed, if you must know), it sounded kind of familiar. A site where entrepreneurs can upload 60-second “elevator pitches” about their companies — so-called because they’re supposed to mimic a pitch you would make to a VC if you met him or her in the elevator? And then it came to me: that’s the exact same model that former Marketwatch columnist-turned-entrepreneur Bambi Francisco uses for her site, Vator.tv.

Vator — which Bambi originally tried to run while still working at Marketwatch, until concerns about a conflict of interest led her to resign — has raised a pile of money from a number of investors, including Facebook backer and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, as well as MySpace founder Richard Rosenblatt, and recently raised a bunch more. While Vator has elements that TechCrunch’s offering doesn’t — it also has interviews with venture capitalists and other newsmakers — they are very similar. Is there room for more than one elevator-pitch site?

As for which is better, that’s a tough one. Vator has — well, it has Bambi, and the equally attractive and smart Reena Jadhav, and has built up a fairly large library of content (although the site could use a redesign). TechCrunch, meanwhile, is slick looking and has already gotten some interesting pitches up; but I’m still not sure about using the “cartoonization” of BeFunky.com for the videos. For what it’s worth, Erick Schonfeld says that the new TechCrunch site isn’t aimed at Vator.

Note to startups: Turn off “track changes”

Some of you may have seen this already, since it has been passed around on Twitter, but I just had to point to Rick Segal’s hilarious blog post about a startup that did everything right in its business plan — right up until it sent the document without clicking the “accept changes” menu item in Word. So when Rick (who is a VC with J.L. Albright in Toronto) looked at the impressive business plan, what he saw in the margins were all the edits and comments made by the team and their advisors, including:

  • “Segal used work for Microsoft so skip the name dropping, save it for the afternoon meeting, they are clueless about Redmond.”
  • “When you talk through this point on your slides, make Chanukah jokes, he is Jewish and will get them”
  • “I’d delete this section since we don’t have these features on the roadmap and haven’t figured out how to code this unless you believe the investors won’t catch this.”
  • “VCs are typically stupid when it comes to this section so be prepared for a dumb question blizzard.”

Hysterical. I’m trying to imagine someone on the executive team at that startup — or on their advisory board — reading the post and gradually realizing with horror that it’s theirs. Priceless. For what it’s worth, Rick says he thought it was funny and wouldn’t hold it against the company. For other examples of the dangers of Word’s “track changes” function, you might want to talk to the British government, or to someone with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, or someone in the Bush administration’s environmental unit, or lawyers for the SCO Group. You can find lots more examples here.

Sharing presentations is fun — really

For many people, PowerPoint (or Keynote) presentations are like root canals — you know they’re necessary, but they’re painful and they make you uncomfortable. And they’re a little like dental surgery in another way as well: they put a lot of people to sleep. That said, however, they are a fact of life, and SlideShare, which just got $3-million in funding, is one of the companies that has been doing its best to try and make them more interesting by letting people share them (it’s not aimed at helping you *create* them — that’s what companies like Zoho.com, SlideRocket.com and Empressr.com are trying to do). But can you really develop a community around something like that?

I think the answer could be yes. From my own point of view, I’ve put together a few PowerPoints for presentations to companies about social media and blogs and so on, and in doing so I spent a bunch of time looking around for examples. And I came across some good ones — like Dick Hardt’s presentation about Identity 2.0, which I highly recommend as an example of how to do it right, and which has become almost legendary in some circles. After all, giving a presentation is a kind of performance, and there are those who do it well. Some PowerPoint shorthand has even emerged, like the “Meet Henry.”

I’ve shared my “decks” or slides with others to get their feedback, and they’ve shared theirs with me. In some cases we’ve traded some really good slides if we’re giving similar presentations. And I’ve browsed through the “most popular” at SlideShare more than once, or the related items after searching for a term, and found some pretty good ones. You could argue that having something like SlideShare helps to improve the average calibre of PowerPoints — and that has to be a good thing, especially if you have to sit through them regularly 🙂

Dual-class stock = enlightened dictatorship

I like Marc Andreessen a lot. I think he writes some deep and thoughtful posts at his blog, and as more than one person has pointed out, his analysis of the Microsoft-Yahoo brouhaha has been second to none (except maybe Kara Swisher at All Things Digital). And his latest post on dual-class shares is likewise deep and thoughtful — and I also happen to think it is wrong. I must admit, he is such a persuasive bugger that he almost had me nodding along in agreement there for awhile. But I wrote about some of the reasons why I think he’s wrong the last time he brought the idea up, and I stand by that post.

Try this: Read through Marc’s excellent argument, but whenever he says “dual-class shares,” insert the word “dictatorship” in there instead, and I think you will see what I mean. In effect, Marc is arguing that dual-class shares are a fantastic way of running a technology company — provided nothing goes wrong. That is, if the ones with the voting control are also majority shareholders, and if they have a long-term vision for the company, and if shareholders go in with their eyes open, and if the founders don’t suddenly become… well, dictators.

I now believe that dual-class stock structures are a great idea for a technology company that is in the process of going public, under the following conditions:

* The key leaders of the company — typically the founders — who will own the controlling Class B shares, are also major economic shareholders in the company. They own a significant portion of the company and are therefore highly incented to maximize the value of the company over time.

* The key leaders of the company who own the controlling Class B shares have a long-term goal of building a major franchise, and the commitment required to execute against that goal.

* The controlling Class B shareholders have a commitment to treat Class A shareholders fairly and equally in all respects other than voting power.

* All public shareholders understand what they are getting into up front — no bait and switch.

This seems to me to be the equivalent of the old saying about how Mussolini was bad, but at least he “made the trains run on time.” In other words, on the whole the complete centralization of power in the hands of a dictator was for the best. I would never compare Larry Page or Sergey Brin — or even Jerry Yang and David Filo — to an evil dictator, but my point is that just as a benevolent dictatorship is seen by some as the best political structure for a country (“best” meaning the most efficient), so dual-class shares might seem like the best share structure for a company, right up until something goes wrong.

As I said in my previous post, dual-class shares are an attempt to get around Darwin’s Law as it applies to the marketplace. Multiple-voting shares protect incompetent, complacent or simply unsuccessful companies that should be taken over and either remade or dismantled. If your company is agile enough and creative enough, it shouldn’t need them. And if you don’t want to bow to the whims of the marketplace, then there’s a simple solution that Marc ignores: Don’t go public.