Sevin Rosen gets it: Portfolio companies should focus on the fundamentals

I was doing my usual scan of VC firms to look at portfolio companies and who was backing them. In the process, I ran across a 2007 press release on how Sevin Rosen sponsored grants to companies at an Austin-based incubator. “Recipients receive financial support and mentoring from Sevin Rosen partners to shape business strategies, identify strategic partners and acquire customers.” I really like this kind of partnership. The incubator provides resources to start-ups to help them build the business and Sevin Rosen gets an early look at who might be worth supporting on a larger scale. More importantly, by the time the business is ready to stand on its own, the fundamentals will provide a strong platform to succeed.

Not every start-up is wildly successful. Having a good idea that spreads like wildfire is obviously what every VC want to discover when it pumps millions into a company. Barring that, a company that has slow, steady growth is better than one that fails. A lot of companies in the late 90′s focused on “rock star” executive teams who would use their connections to grow rapidly. But if those teams stumbled, companies often lacked the fundamentals to grow organically. Product marketing and product management would often be absent due to a focus on marketing budgets meant to create buzz and hotshot developers who could code anything you tell them to, but who was doing the telling? A good idea needs nurturing in a slow growth company and protection in a rapidly growing one. Good processes provide the best possible foundation for success regardless of the pace the company sets. I am sure Sevin Rosen does everything it can to bring in top talent at the executive level to try and hit the sweet spot that propels a company to success, but it is the early commitment to building a foundation for that protects the company from failure.

In that same way that VCs require annual financial audits of their portolio companies, they ought to conduct performance audits as well to determine if they have the right people and processes in place throughout the organization. Executive teams are highly visible, but seeing whether there is good communication and integration between sales, marketing, and development is not readily apparent. An audit would help ensure that the machine functions as it should and that the VC firms get all they can from investments.

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Open Text and Vignette not a CA-style acquisition

I just read a post on OSTATIC that compared the Open Text acquisition of Vignette to the old days of CA. I am guilty of that kind of thinking as well, since that was the first thing I thought and said. But it only took a few minutes to remind me of how wrong I was.

First, a reminder of how painful the old CA acquisitions were. CA would track down software companies with strong annual renewals and declining sales, buy them, gut them, and hold customers hostage in perpetuity. Customers hated CA, but often continued to use the products because they fulfilled a need. They had nowhere else to go for the niches they products filled. This is hardly the case for Open Text and Vignette.

Some things are similar. Vignette has strong annual renewals and declining sales and Open Text did buy them at a bargain price. (They did not have to gut Vignette, since that company shed costs [people] over the previous year to continue to show profitability.) But the final key for the CA-Open Text analogy to work would be holding the customers hostage. That is not going to happen. Yes, some companies are entrenched with Vignette to the point where it would be quite painful to move away. But, a failure to continue to enhance Web Content Management solutions to handle an ever-changing set of web technologies would make even the most ardent Vignette supporters look elsewhere. And, unlike the niche CA products, Vignette has strong competitors: Interwoven was outpacing them when Autonomy acquired them earlier this year; open source solutions continue to add features and customers to build credibility for that market segment; and a host of smaller WCM solutions are awaiting the chance to grab some market share.

According to the press releases, Vignette will remain a wholly owned subsidiary of Open Text. This is probably due to the location of Vignette in United States, while Open Text is a Canadian company. Still, it has the benefit of preserving the Vignette brand and thus keeping the focus on WCM for the company. Open Text is seen as an ECM vendor without a clear focus on WCM, so the Vignette brand provides immediate visibility into the Web market. This type of acquisition would never have happened with CA. The first thing the old CA would have done would have been to destroy the brand by either changing the name or adding the obligatory “CA” prefix to the products (e.g., the XOSoft acquisition by CA resulted in product names like “CA XOSoft Content Distribution”.) Retaining the name, retains visibility, which means if Vignette fails to keep pace in the WCM space it will be much more noticable than if they were operating under the Open Text brand and attrition will come that much more quickly.

I actually like the acquisition for two reasons. First, Vignette has a stronger financial position to build upon. Second, Open Text probably has some ideas on what to do with the transactional content management solutions within the Vignette portfolio. These types of solutions are the bread and butter of Open Text, while Vignette often saw them as a distraction. A renewed focus and funding for Vignette can only be good in the short term. Long term, it is still all about execution.

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What can Social Content Management learn from ECM?

I have been looking at companies like Emojo who are attempting to create a new Social Content Management (SCM) category to position themselves against traditional ECM vendors. I have no idea whether this is good, bad, or even possible. Do communities who participate in user-generated content want to feel “managed”? Probably not, but they can benefit from many of the attributes ECM has incorporated over the years. The question is whether SCM is the province of a new breed of tools, or an adaptation of ECM solutions that allows the participation of SOA and RESTful services in the content management architecture.

Wikis, blogs, and forums are simply tools around which communities congregate and share content. This content can take the form of documents, presentations, video, images, or anything else. Traditional ECM shines in its ability to manage controlled content sources. In SCM, it is the documents on Scribd, YouTube videos, and RSS feeds that need to be monitored and managed with notifications of missing content or changes in content.  ECM also shines when it comes to scalable solutions that incorporate localization and template/content reuse across multiple sites. Multi-national organizations participate in discussions that take place across borders and boundaries.  SCM should incorporate the ability to manage multi-lingual posts, allow editors the ability to translate and promote posts to localized blogs, and allow cross-posts.

I guess to me it just seems like SCM should be part and parcel of ECM. If it can survive as a category on its own, it should be riding higher on the hype cycle right about now.

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All right rabbit, you’ve convinced me…stall the sales cycle

If you are not familiar with the reference to the classic Bugs Bunny short film “Bugs and Thugs,” check it out. For the rest of you, read on.

Coming from the IBM world of mainframe computing, I am accustomed to long development cycles. Maybe a release a year where the roadmap is closely guarded so you do not stall current sales cycles by announcing something really cool that is still a year off. That was always frustrating for marketing departments whose job it is to talk about all the great things products can do for customers. In those days, it kinda/sorta made sense because tipping your hand also meant competitors could preview what you would be doing next year. That sucked. I’ve been beaten over the head a few times and I have finally become a believer is social media marketing for old-school markets.

Today things are different. When my friends and I started HostBridge Technology, we adopted an agile development model for mainframe-based applications. HostBridge makes mainframe applications available as Web services, which meant evaluations included both mainframe and Web developers. Our ability to churn out new features to the market based on customer requests and feedback was a boon not only to the mainframe community, but matched the expectations of the Web community. For me, the biggest benefit was the ability to market new features as soon as they became available. This meant we could respond to market changes quickly and reduced the risk of competitors beating us to market.

Social media provides an incentive to talk market new releases as they are being developed. Blogging about them creates the opportunity to include customers, partners, and even prospects in the requirements process to ensure the release meets real market needs.  However, this  flies in the face of the traditional notion that you do not want to signal future releases due to fears of freezing sales cycles while prospects wait to see the new and improved version.

One instance when you might want to consider this is when disruptive changes are expected. For example, if you are making a platform change from Java to .NET, or from on-premise to SaaS, you can hardly keep that a secret so why not create an open discussion that guides the transition. Disruptive changes are easier to swallow when you are involved the process.

Another instance might be when you are behind the competition with your existing release, your sales are already stalled due to current market conditions, and you have a new release on the horizon. In this case, what do you have to lose? If the competition is already winning the business, talking about the new release might freeze their sales cycles and keep your solution in play.

One final example is the launch of a new product or new line of business. I can remember how people wanted to surprise the market with new offerings so competitors could not position themselves effectively for a few months following the launch. Now, I have become more of a fan of softening the market through education and conversation, and surprising them by meeting target dates and expectations. Positioning yourself within the minds of consumers is more powerful than positioning against competitors.

The truth is, I know of very few organizations who evaluate solutions well in advance of a pressing need. It’s not like we all have time to issue and review RFPs and RFIs out of curiosity. Organizations tend to engage vendors when they need to make decisions. By interacting through online conversations about current and future solutions, you can maintain or expand awareness and allow communities to become invested in your offerings.

I differentiate this kind of social marketing from stealth marketing or buzz marketing. Social marketing is not meant to simply to announce or influence through surreptitious posts, but to engage communities in conversations that guide your products and solutions meet market needs. It provides reassurance to your organization that the investments you make in a new release will not miss the mark and creates incentive for those who provide feedback to follow the outcome.

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Interview with Ray Bonneville on The DOT show

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Interview with Ray Bonneville

In the latest episode of The DOT Show, Michael and David discuss the Voter ID debate in the Texas Senate, Governor Perry’s attempt to reject Federal Stimulus money, and interview award-winning Blues musician Ray Bonneville.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the music of Ray Bonneville

Playing percussion with Ray on the show is Porterdavis drummer, Mike Meadows.  Check out his amazing, patent-pending drum invention:  The Black Swan.

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Google should buy Vignette – but not for the obvious reasons

[Disclaimer: I worked for Vignette, but have no stake in this idea. To me it just makes sense.]

Every time Vignette reports a less than stellar quarter, posts like this appear suggesting Vignette is for sale. I have no insight as to whether they are or not, but I do have ideas of my own on why Google should be interested in parts of Vignette, but it has little to do with the Web and everything to do with documents.

A few years ago, Vignette was a pure-play Web Content Management company. They have since expanded their offerings, including the acquisition of Tower Technology and their document management solutions (now sold under the Transactional Content Management banner as Vignette IDM and Vignette VRD). This was partly to round out their portfolio and partly to meet the clarion call of the analysts who were declaring that Enterprise Content Management was the future and the major players should not be left behind. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, Vignette never really figured out what to do with the document management solutions and they dropped out of site as far as the market was concerned.

Still, under the radar, look at what emerged with the release of Vignette Case Manager 7.3: a BPM solution to replace simple workflow, configurable interfaces to allow simple configuration, support for federation of repositories, and more. Basically, with little or no fanfare Vignette released a sweet document management solution that adds value to the rock-solid Vignette IDM family.

So what? Google is a Web company and Vignette is a WCM company, so the synergies are right there on the surface, or so everyone keeps saying. But is Google really just a Web company? They are scanning books and documents night and day to put the entirety of human thought online. They have a Web interface to their online office suite…oh, what’s the name…oh, yeah! Google Documents. They have their enterprise solutions that operate inside the firewalls of organizations and mostly discover documents stored in scattered databases and directories.

You get my point. Calling Google a Web company is like saying Google is still a search engine. They evolved to the point where they need to look backwards and take stock of what they need to shore up the foundation of the breadth of their endeavors. I would argue that one of the things they need is a top-notch document management solution more than they need Web content management.

Vignette TCM solutions cover the spectrum from document capture to document delivery. This means a Google appliance could scan, store, and make documents immediately available for viewing or use the BPM components to manage a review process. The Record Manager component is DoD certified, so it can operate within Federal agencies where there is no shortage of physical and electronic documents. In addition, the discovery components of the Google appliances could tie into the ability for Record Manager to apply retention policies so documents and records within an organization are not deleted during litigation or deleted before .

In the case of Google Books, it might be nice to have on-premise solutions to offer to publishers that would allow scanning and indexing of the content using OCR and metadata. (Did you know that today’s OCR is better than 95% accurate? It’s pretty darned good, so the process should not be too interrrupt-driven.)

And what about the newly announced Google Health? Vignette TCM solutions have some of the largest healthcare facilities as customers where the solutions are deployed to create electronic health records. Imagine if Google could have on premise solutions that captured patient records and provided and patient option to export the data to Google Health. (Yeah, it would have to be HIPAA compliant, but this might happen since the rules surrounding patient records are going to change with the push towards eletronic records by the Obama administration. Arizona is already doing this.)

Okay, you get my point. Google is a document company with a strategy that could take adantage of on-premise technologies to feed that strategy. Vignette could divest itself of a line of products that do not fit their core business and get an infustion of cash that would allow them to feed their WCM solutions.

I am not saying they should do this. I am just saying it seems like a good idea after two pots of coffee.

More to the point of the title of this post, why do I say that maybe Google should buy Vignette and not just the line of products I mentioned? Because Vignette’s valuation is roughly the balance of cash in the bank. That is absurd. They have marquis customers and smart people. There is a lot to build upon as long as long as there is a strategy and execution.

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Cougars Democracy Squad take on grassroots organizing

Funny how stress can drive the creative juices. Some friends and I put together this video to soften a group of grassroots organizers prior to a presentation on our experiences as grassroots organizers for various Democratic candidates during the 2004 Presidential elections.

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Interview with Randy Weeks on The DOT Show

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Randy Weeks on The DOT Show

On the latest episode of The DOT Show, we welcome accomplished songwriter and recording artist Randy Weeks.  You will likely recognize Randy’s songs from such movies as Sunshine State, Shallow Hal, and several other films as well as radio play.

The 3rd song he performs on this episode is currently exclusive to The DOT Show, written the day after the Presidential election and recorded after the completion of his new album that will be released next week.

Sit back, relax, and listen to Randy Weeks on The DOT Show…

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Content management vendors should court interactive agencies who have their own content mangement solutions

This isn’t really new information. As Web Content Management and Enterprise Content Management vendors have seen buying power shift to marketing departments that no longer want IT involved in every decision they make, content management vendors have tried to establish relationships with agencies to take advantage of their direct influence on marketing departments. The question always seems to be which agencies to go after. I was looking at Rockfish Interactive the other day. As a full-service design agency, I expected them to have a set of partners they work with for content management, blogging, etc. Instead, they wrote their own. Sounds like the perfect partner for a WCM/ECM vendor partner to me.

Fifteen years ago, I had to develop my own rudimentary content management system in Perl because there was no real WCM solution. Vignette came out with StoryServer and I drooled, but could not afford it. I have implemented a couple of open source systems along the way and ended up working at Vignette last year. What occurs to me is that companies like Rockfish are right to build their own solutions that fit their specific needs. Implementing solutions from Vignette or Interwoven on project-level bases is cumbersome and expensive, and for smaller companies the overhead of managing these solutions might be daunting. However, small companies grow and their needs grow with them. When the in-house solution cannot handle the scale, a well-positioned partner can step in.

Then again, look at some of the Rockfish clients. These are large organizations that presumably have content management systems scattered throughout, but promotional microsites are often easier to deploy without using a full-scale WCM/ECM solution. A partnership might provide an opportunity for the agency to introduce an enterprise scale WCM/ECM solution that can prove agile enough to handle both small, ad-hoc projects as well as large formal projects.

The best thing about working with agencies who have homegrown CMS is that they “get it.” They have the ability to sell content management to their clients, so the relationship is not simply a referral or a passed lead. They can hand over a qualified prospect ready to see a demo. I wish all engagements started that way.

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Pros and cons of getting laid off

On December 22nd, I found out I was being laid off by Vignette Corporation. I suppose this should have been traumatic, but several mitigating factors made it bearable. It’s the aftermath that is infuriating.

Okay, so the timing was bad. Ready to leave for Oklahoma to celebrate Christmas with family and friends, I got the call. Our GM for the Transactional Content Solutions left a message. He had never called before, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t a good thing. I called back and about five words into it he mentioned the word “economy” … I knew what would follow. I was not shocked, though I was disappointed. The transactional content line became a passion for me. I had only been at Vignette nine months and they were not the products originally assigned to me. I had a sexy set of SaaS solutions to play with, but I saw hard ROI and marketable value in this set of “black sheep” solutions. (I still do believe in them, and if anyone knows some VCs with tens of millions of dollars to invest I would gladly try to buy that line and turn it around.)

After my notification, I received calls from the people to whom I reported. Neither of them had advanced notice and both disagreed with the decision to let me go. I later found out that the VP in charge of my group only found out a few days earlier and had no input on the decision. In other words, this was a true cost-cutting move. Somehow, it’s easier when you realize you are just a number. 

So, I have no job.

The pros? Time with my daughter, Willow, that I would not otherwise have had. Time to finally put together a blog. Time to spend evaluating what I enjoy doing professionally. 

The cons? Dealing with COBRA and the endless screw-ups in notifying insurance companies of continued coverage. Dwindling finances. Fighting an economy that has left dozens of other people applying for the same positions I want. 

Hopefully, I will be laid off long enough to make blogging a habit. (joke)

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