Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Accounting Finance Jobs You Need to Check Out

Personforce recently expanded its job search capabilities to include accounting finance jobs from across our network and the web. While traditionally we've had mostly tech related jobs, we're gradually expanding into jobs in accounting, finance, and more. You can consider this post an invitation to check out specializing accounting financing jobs on Personforce.

We hope this career section will provide career opportunities that are at the intersection of accounting and finance. You'll find jobs in tax, audit, book-keeping, m&a, investment banking and more. Please check it out below:

Accounting Finance Jobs

Facebook Jobs - The Killer Job Board

I've often thought that Facebook jobs would be a killer feature for the social network. With a near monopoly on the attention of all college students and recent graduates, a Facebook Job Board would be the first place the new generation would look for jobs.

I often recommend to my friends with specialized hiring needs to create a targeted Facebook ad and see if they can hire someone that way. The problem with this is that it's very difficult to get someone's attention on Facebook via an advertisement. It's much easier to get someone's attention when they actively decide to go visit the Facebook job board and peruse job opportunities.

A Facebook job board combined with their targeted advertising system would be the killer jobs application of the next decade and a potentially $200 million source of revenue for the company.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

StackExchange Needs an App Store

A few weeks ago, I created a StackExchange called Explain Business as fun side project. It's meant to be a site where entrepreneurs can ask questions about incorporation, accounting, legal stuff, employment issues, finding vendors, hiring, etc. Really, it's for all the boring but practical stuff no one ever teaches you. As a result, when it comes up, you have to ask an expensive lawyer or accountant.

So far, it's been very useful for me and a few of my former classmates to share startup tips and ask questions. I've been a huge fan of how well the platform is designed and how useful a tool it is to record knowledge. There are a few features I'd change here and there, but overall it is quite nice. I like my StackExchange.

I think StackExchange and FogCreek Software are on the verge of missing a really big opportunity though. While the original Stack Overflow caught on like wildfire, most of the StackExchanges seem to be sputtering and dying. In fact if you look at the 77 sites registered on StackExchanges Sites, only 5 seem to have achieved critical mass. Of those 5, some appear to be decelerating in activity.

FogCreek certainly has an interest in seeing many StackExchanges flourish so it can sell more licenses. Similarly Apple, has an interest in seeing it's iPhone developers flourish so it can sell more iPhones (and apps). When Apple launched it's app platform it created a concentrated distribution platform. This allowed it to ensure quality control, but also created a vibrant marketplace overnight.

To help StackExchange developers succeed, I'd suggest FogCreek implement an App Store where it can channel is huge collective audience (through Joel on Software and StackOverflow) to consumers who are looking for knowledge. FogCreek could be the Apple of knowledge applications. It's similar to what Philip Greenspun has proposed as a killer idea.

An App Store for knowledge communities could be a powerful thing. Right now there are some lists of StackExchanges here and here but nothing that drive significant adoption. Fog Creek will sill probably sell a bunch of licenses for StackExchange (especially for private company ones) regardless of what it does, but I think an App Store will help it become a truly transformative idea.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

HBS Interview Questions

Hi all. I was going through my old business school admissions folders and found this listing of HBS interview questions that my friends were sharing. Hopefully a question or two here will be relevant for your HBS interview!


What do you want to do with your career?

Why the MBA? Why now?

Describe your career aspirations

What would you do if not accepted?

What are your long- and short-term goals? Why?

Why are you applying to business school?

Why did you choose your undergraduate major?

How did you choose your job after college?

What would you do if a team member wasn't pulling his own weight?

Is there anything you would like to ask me/us?

If someone approached you with an idea, would I take the risk of developing the idea if they would not?

What is something from your past that you wish you would have done differently and why? The experience can be from work, school, other activities, or from your personal life.

Talk about essays

Who is a client you admire and why?

Since submitting your application, how have you continued to take leadership roles?

With all of your experience, why do you need an MBA?

What makes you think that you are prepared for the academic rigors of HBS?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Secret to Finding College Jobs

With the Fall comes a rush of college students trying to find jobs. While most students think of on campus recruiting as the ultimate source of college jobs, this is not the case. In reality, less than 1/3 of college students find jobs from companies that hire through career services.

Personforce has thousands of jobs for college students and works with dozens of college newspapers, so I thought I'd take a minute to discuss finding college jobs.

So what is the secret to finding college jobs? Focus and persistence. I'm going to assume you've spent the last 4 years figuring out what kind of job you want and what industry you are interested in. Once you've identified your ideal post-college job, here is the secret to getting it.

Focus. First off, become an expert in your area. My number one recommendation is start a blog and post one entry every day about this industry and job function. You'll be surprised, but eventually people in this industry will start coming to your site (mostly through search engines). While the rest of your classmates will be searching for jobs, college jobs will be finding you. Through your blog you'll start to build relationships with people in the industry. They'll be impressed that a college student has taken such an interest in their industry.

Relatedly, build a focused online presence geared toward this industry. Create a LinkedIn profile, send some insightful tweets, create an profile on various career sites.

Persistence. Remember you'll probably be shot down for 95% of the jobs you apply for. You have to be darn persistent when finding college jobs. Create a spreadsheet of the top 100 companies you want to apply to. Then go through the list and actually do it. Go through your alumni database (or LinkedIn) and create a list of people you want to speak to. Then, contact each of them and try to set up "informational interviews" to learn more about the industry. Be disciplined and try to set up one call a day.

Finding college jobs is hard, but it's easier if you build a presence in the industry. The best way to do that is to start interacting with the industry by writing and meeting people. It's great if you can search for college jobs, but it's even better if they find you.

For more information about finding a job during your senior year, check out Personforce.

Production Supervisor Job in Ohio!

At Personforce, many of a the job postings we get are tech-related. Much of that is due to our location in San Francisco and base of publishers. We get job postings from all across the world and in all industries though.

Recently, there was a production supervisor job posted in Fremont Ohio. The Heinz Company (and more) are hiring production supervisors so get your applications ready! It has been especially popular so I thought I'd highlight it on this blog. Check out these jobs and more manufacturing jobs on Personforce:

Check out the production supervisor job board here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

MySpace Jobs is Gone

MySpace has decided to kill its jobs section, according to an interview with its new CEO. This has to be a big hit for SimplyHired, the company that powered the jobs section for the massive social network.

While the traffic loss associated with the termination of MySpace Jobs has to be significant, the bigger issue for SimplyHired is that its partners may increasingly start to question whether a jobs section is a productive use of their advertising real estate. More and more publisher may question the premise of job advertising networks.

In the same interview, it also came out that MySpace Classifieds (powered by Oodle) is gone as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Career Advice Forum That Doesn't Suck

At Personforce, we help connect people with careers.

Often times in that process, people have questions when they are looking for jobs. What is the salary range for this position? How can I get a job in Homeland Security? Do I need a graduate degree for this position?

Until today, there has been no good place to ask these questions. You could email your friends, use a forum or bulletin board that sucks, or just hope for the best.

I'm proud to introduce the new Personforce Career Advice Forum.

Ask any question and our staff of career experts and community will answer your questions. It's built on the StackExchange platform that I've been using to power my business advice forum.

Go ahead, ask questions about your career now!

Monday, October 12, 2009

A New Small Business Advice Forum

I recently launched a forum for Business Advice using the stackexchange knowledge sharing platform. It's basically a site where small business owners can post questions and have them answered by the community.

The site is called Explain Business - you can check it out here.

Whether you are starting a business or run your own small business, I hope you'll find it to be a useful way to get business advice. You can ask questions about coming up with an idea, incorporating, hiring, firing, legal, accounting, or anything entrepreneurship related! The community also votes up the best questions and answers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review of Starbucks Instant Coffee: It's not very good

This morning at Starbucks they were giving out some free sample of their new instant coffee, Via. I had gotten a sample of it a few months ago and tried it again this morning.

My verdict is in, Via is not very good. Starbucks advertises their instant coffee as being as good their drip brewed coffee. This simply is not the case. Via definitely has the sort of burnt, stale taste of instant coffee. Via is a bit over-priced as well. An 8 ounce cup of instant coffee costs about about a dollar. That's practically the same price per ounce as Starbucks in store drip coffee.

However, Via does taste better than most brands of instant coffee I've ever had. I'd definitely take it camping with me but I can't think of when else I'd use it.

So final verdict: Via doesn't taste that great and is very expensive for instant coffee. As instant coffee goes, it's pretty good, but what does that really say?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Job Advertising Networks Generally Fail

It's now been about 3 years since we decided to start Personforce. When we first started, we had some idea about being a "Google Adsense for Jobs" or a "Ad Network For Jobs". After talking to potential customers, we dismissed the idea. Every few years though, a company tries to setup up this sort of ad network. There are a couple of reasons job ad networks are economically unsound ideas:

1. It's unlikely a job advertisement is the most lucrative use of ad space for a publisher. In fact, it's impossible.

2. Advertising to "passive job seekers" is a kind way of saying "advertising to people who have no interest in what you are advertising."

3. Cost per applications are very very expensive when you are advertising to people who have no "purchase intent" for what you are selling (your job opening).

4. An easier way to target passive job seekers is just to find their profiles on LinkedIn and message them.

These economic realities generally make it difficult to pull off an ad network for jobs.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Virtual Gifts on Twitter - Twitgift.ly launches!

About 6 weeks ago, I came up with an idea for a lightweight Twitter application that lets people send virtual gifts to their friends on Twitter. I decided it might be a fun little side project to bring this to market.

Today, I launched TwitGift.ly, a site that lets you send virtual gifts on Twitter. It was a fun project to do on the weekends and learn more about Twitter, digital goodies, and viral applications. I'll keep you posted how it goes and maybe do some more posts about building the site and the developing the idea.

Perhaps the neatest part of TwitGiftly is you can use it to raise money for charities like LIVESTRONG, Donors Choose, Charity Water, UM Health and more. All you need to do is send a charity gift and all the proceeds go to the non-profit.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Job Apps for iPhone, Android & BlackBerry

Oh my!

At Personforce we just launched our Mobile Jobs Platform. Basically we can help any job site take their existing website and turn it into an iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry app.

TechCrunch did a story on it here:


You can also check it out on our blog:


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

An iPhone jobs application from me

Silicon MBA readers,

Personforce and Next Mobile Web just released a free iPhone jobs application we think you like. The jobs app is called "High Paying Jobs". We're trying to help deliver high quality jobs that you can browse, bookmark, and apply to from your iPhone.

The application is totally free and hopefully will be useful if you're looking for a job.

Download it on iTunes here.

Let me know if you have any feedback on it. When the iPhone app platform came out, I was a bit skeptical if it would be useful for job search. Consider this an experiment as to whether iPhone jobs applications and mobile job search will be useful or popular.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Sponsored Definition" - Ads come to Twitter

This morning on my Twitter, there was definitely an ad labeled "Sponsored definition" for the iPhone ExecTweets by Microsoft (and federated media).

When I clicked on it, it opened up my iTunes (somewhat annoying). I can only assume this has to be an ad? Is this the end of the free advertisements for Twitter apps?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Using Adsense to test your business model

There has been a lot written how entrepreneurs can use Google Adwords to verify whether customer demand exists for their products. Even before you have a product built, you can write a text ad and pay to have it displayed next to search results. If people click on your ad at a solid clip, you have a good sense whether customers are interested in what you are offering.

Another interesting tool is to use Adsense to test your business model. You can use Adsense to answer a simple but important questions - is there money to be made in what I am doing? All too often, entrepreneurs start a social network, blog, or site where there is literally no way to make money. This is a little diagnostic to help avoiding that. Here goes:

Put Adsense on your site. Observe the eCPM. If the CPM is high (say greater than 5 CPM) this is a good sign. If you have low CPM (say less than .5 CPM) this is a bad sign.

The eCPM of your site tells you two important things. First, are you in an industry where there is money to be made. You might not understand yet how to make that money, but someone out there is willing pay for traffic and therefore they know how to make money.

Second, the eCPM tells you whether your vistors have "purchase intent" for something. If they are coming to your site to read an article, message their friends, or write a post, they probably don't have purchase intent for anything and will exhibit a low eCPM. If they are looking for real estate, browsing car prices, or looking at electronics reviews, they will tend to have an higher eCPM.

If you are getting a very low eCPM, I'd encourage you to think very critically about the industry you are getting into and your prospects for making money. Your site could become massively popular, but your business could still be a failure. Your business model will feel like you are squeezing blood from a stone.

In short, you can use Adsense to determine industry profitability and whether you are attracting visitors that might want open their wallets. This does not mean you should use Adsense as your primary business model. Making decent money from 3rd party advertising (even at a high CPMs) requires a level of traffic that most sites will never achieve. However, if you are achieving a strong eCPM, there is a good chance eventually you'll figure out how to make money.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Does Craigslist make $96 million in profit?

The AIM Group is estimating that Craigslist is doing about $100 million in annual revenue. Given that you can physically count the number of paid listings on their site, I take this to be a solid estimate of their revenue.

The more remarkable fact is that Craigslist achieves this revenue with only 30 employees. They've built a product so compelling that they don't need any sales and marketing to achieve this revenue. Customers just show up and hand them money. If you assume a fully loaded average wage of $130,000 per employee, that comes out to a cost base of only $4 million.

So is Craigslist making $96 million dollars in profit? This leaves a heck of a lot of money to pay dividends to it's owners (and the government).

When I first started Personforce, I met with a former senior exec at Monster. The advice he gave me was try to be more like Craigslist and less like Monster. His point was that running a sales force is expensive and pushing a product that no one is excited about is not fun. Instead, build something that is so unique and compelling, it sells itself. Who wouldn't want to run a company with 95% net margins?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Ha, I was right about Stack Overflow jobs!

A few weeks ago I wrote a post saying that Stack Overflow would be come a recruiting and jobs site.

Today, I logged into my Google analytics for the first time a couple of weeks and saw a massive spike in traffic to that post. One of the co-founders of Stack Overflow linked to it on twitter, saying "the silicon MBA is on to us!"

Turns out I was right. They added a job board to the site and hinted about more recruiting functions to come. Looks like a solid move for the company and an innovative way to find technical talent.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Thanks for selling my information, Yahoo

About a year and a half ago, a friend and I decided to start a tshirt business on a whim. Our plan was to sell hyper-targeted tshirts to folks using Facebook's self-service ad platform. Our target market was management consultants, a market which we sized to be about $500 in annual revenue (if we achieved 100% marketshare) and we would have negative gross margins. Seemed like an inspired idea!

That very morning, we bought the domain and set up a store using Yahoo Stores to power our ecommerce site. Within 3 hours of thinking up the idea, we had our business up and running; 8020 tshirts was born!

By the afternoon we lost interest in the idea; 8020 tshirts was dead! After letting the site sit around for a while, we cancelled the account with Yahoo Stores (after paying them about $150 bucks in fees). So this business only lasted about 3 hours and the only one who ever knew about it was Yahoo.

But why the heck do I get junk mail almost every week addressed to 8020 tshirts? Credit card applications, small busines banking promotions, all sorts of crap. It's rather annoying actually (and a constant reminder of our sad business failure!).

I can only assume that Yahoo sold our information to a mailing list company. That seems like a pretty low move. I could never see Google doing something as greedy and short-sighted as that.

What gives Yahoo?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How this blog got me in Fortune Magazine

Well, around a month or two ago, I started writing more regular posts on this blog. There really isn't much of a purpose to having this blog other than it helps me learn about publishing, advertising, SEO, and content.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a Fortune magazine writer that was researching how small businesses use the iPhone. Apparently if you google "iphone small business", this blog comes up second. The reporter found the blog, contacted me and we set up a time to talk. When the article came out, it had this quote from me.

"I use my iPhone to react to information, but not for active tasks," says Rohin Dhar, owner of Personforce, a creator of online job boards. "Typing on it is really hard."

You can checkout the full article here. I have no idea whether the article came out in print.

So is blogging worth it? Well, the publicity generated from a quote in Fortune was . . . absolutely zero. No bump in traffic, no friend encountering it and emailing me, no inbound link, nothing really. I guess this bodes poorly for traditionally media...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A TechCrunch for the recruiting industry?

It's sort of a bummer there is no TechCrunch for the recruiting industry. TechCrunch covers the latest news about web startups and established tech companies. It's a great blog to follow to find out what companies are being started, funded, acquired, as well as information about larger tech firms. I personally like the fact that TechCrunch takes an opinion on the news because I think it's generally an informed opinion.

Unfortunately, there is no TechCrunch for the recruiting industry. There is no site that intelligently covers hot startups in the jobs and recruitment space and that's a shame. Of course there are a few blogs out their about recruiting, but no publication of record (that i know of; if you know of one, let me know).

So why is there no TechCrunch for recruiting? Is it:

1. People don't care about recruiting startups?
2. It's too small a niche?
3. The recruiting industry is bereft of talented startups and sharp writers?

So, anyone out there know of any good blogs that cover and analyze recruiting startups? Heck, if recruiting startups out there contact me, I'll even review your company here. Let's hope that in the next year a sharp blog comes out that provides objective analysis about recruiting startups.

Scarcity Brings Clarity - a good startup quote

A great quote from Sergey Brin about conducting business in an economic downturn in Google's 2008 Founders Letter:

"Nonetheless, I am optimistic about the future, because I believe scarcity breeds clarity: it focuses minds, forcing people to think creatively and rise to the challenge."

It's the same reason why Toyota tries to carry zero inventory - when you're operating without a safety net, you better operate correctly.

Official Google Blog: The 2008 Founders' Letter

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A job search tool for finding MBA jobs

At Personforce we recently enhanced our jobs page to allow people to browse jobs by tags. Basically, now when an employer posts a job, they have to tag it with keywords. By doing so, it makes it easier for job seekers to find and browse related jobs. Each tag page also serves as a "mini job board" that job seekers can bookmark and return to to find relevant jobs.

So now that we have these tag pages on Personforce, I thought I'd highlight some of the mini job boards that can point you towards finding MBA jobs.

MBA Job Board - a collection of jobs where MBAs are a requirement
Analyst Job Board - a variety of junior and senior financial positions
Accounting Job Board - jobs requiring accounting degrees
Advertising Job Board - a broad range of jobs in the advertising industry
Business Development Job Board - the sweet spot for MBAs - business development jobs!
Business Statistics Job Board - less of a sweet spot for MBAs - business statistics jobs!
Intern Job Board - junior and senior intern positions
Internship Job Board - ditto
CEO Job Board - "CEO" jobs (though most real CEO jobs are posted on job boards)
Cleantech Job Board - the industry of the hour for business school students, cleantech
Marketing Job Board - marketing jobs for business school students and anyone really
Finance Job Board - a broad selection of finance jobs
Sales Job Board - a broad selection of sales jobs
Sales Vice President Job Board - vp of sales jobs
and more job boards by tag

Hopefully this can help in your MBA job search!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Wharton interview questions & tips

From my old business school admissions files.


Wharton interview tips (Do's and Don'ts)


Be self-confident and be yourself:
The best answer for how to prepare or do an interview comes from the adcom member of a b-school. She answered the question, “ Just recognize how great you are. Be self-confident, be yourself, and show him/her who you are.”

Answer in real, professional terms:
When you are asked about the hypothetical situation in terms of teamwork or leadership, try to speak in real, professional terms.

how an interviewer how well-informed you are of the school:
If you are interested in international perspective of the Wharton, tell him/her which programs or classes can help develop your career in detail. Do not forget How & Why

Imprint your strength into an interviewer:
If your strength is “passionate” (it is mine.  my nick name is “Walking Energizer!”), then show him/her your passion. What you are passionate for, What you have done for it, Why you are passionate for it, How it has changed your life, and How your passion is related to the decision to go to Wharton.

Big Smile & Positive thinking:
Never bother yourself with what you have already said during the interview. Even if you made a stupid mistake in your eye, the interviewer might think you are cool just because of it. Think positively.


Never pass the fine line between self-confidence and arrogance:
As you already know well, Wharton is looking for down-to-earth types of people. While you need to remember how great you are, you also need to keep in mind how great other peers are. It might not be anything wrong even if you are so confident of your accomplishment. However, do not overact to impress the interviewer.

Do not bring up GMAT unless asked:
Unless asked, you may not want to bring up GMAT. It wouldn’t matter whether your score is 800 or 600. 30 minutes are too short time even to articulate your passion and goal. You may not want waste your time talking about vague numbers. And then it may have a negative result.

Be ready but do not rehearse:
Unintentionally you might need to make up a story because of a lack of readiness. Study your resume enough. Think about your life-past and future. Be fully ready to answer any question. Sometimes we hear applicants were too nervous to remember the name of an author whose book they had read recently when asked. Check every stuff, which will be asked. However, Don’t rehearse the answer over and over. The interviewer can tell when people do this

Sample Wharton interview questions:


Walk me through your post-undergraduate work experience and describe transitions you’ve made.

Tell me about the person with whom you have least enjoyed working. How did this relationship function?

What are some of the frustrations/rewards you've experienced as a manager?

What are your plans if you’re not accepted into an MBA program of your choice?

Of what accomplishment at work are you most proud?

Describe your ideal work environment.

How do you vent work-related stress?

How does your current job relate to your career goals, where does an MBA fit in?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years?


Tell me about the decision to get here – to apply for an MBA.
Why now?

Why do you feel you are a good fit for the school and vice versa?
What kind of value do you can add to the Wharton?


Describe a difficult team environment in which you have been involved and how you responded to it.

What role do you usually play in-group situations and give some examples?

What happens when you feel strongly about an idea that a majority of your group is against?

Tell me about a conflict you had with a co-worker. How was it resolved?

Tell me about specific situations in which you’ve had a leadership role.

How would others describe your leadership style? Would you agree with this assessment?

If you suddenly had an afternoon off, what would you do with it?

In what non-job related activities do you participate? Describe your involvement.


Is there anything else you would like the Admissions Committee to know about you?

Is there anything you would have liked me to ask you that I didn't?

What would you say is the greatest weakness in your application?

AOL acquires resume-builiding site Emurse

I somehow missed this, but AOL acquired resume building site Emurse last month. Emurse allows you to build, store, and share your resume online. The design of the site looks excellent and it looks like an easy to use tool for job seekers.

Great to see some acquisitions going on in the recruiting space. As far as I can tell, the founders of the company were former AOL employees who struck out on their own before being acquired by their former bosses. No word on the purchase price, but I imagine it was enough to make the founders quite happy. Congrats!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stack Overflow will become a recruiting site

And Dice will be screwed. So will technical recruiters. That's my guess anyway.

I just watched part of a presentation by Joel Spolsky at Google about his startup StackOverflow.com. Stack Overflow is sort of a Yahoo Answers for programming questions. During the presentation, Joel hints that in the future the site could help connect programmers with jobs.

Since Stack Overflow members answer specific programming questions, the site knows exactly what technical skills its members possess. This will make it a far more valuable data resource than Dice's resume database. Instead of companies buying access to an unwieldy database, they can probably pay to connect with programmers who actually demonstrate prowess on the site. Through the job board on his blog, he probably has direct relationships with thousands of employers already.

Moreover, I have a feeling that Joel probably doesn't like the fact that technical recruiters are so important in recruiting engineering talent and charge such high fees. My guess is he'll try to leverage the data created by Stack Overflow to disintermediate Dice and technical recruiters as well. We'll see how it plays out.

Should you apply to business school?

The other day, I was thinking about why I decided to go to the business school. Perhaps, I'll touch on that in another post, but I thought it would be interesting to list some of the important questions to consider before applying to business school.

If you are thinking about applying to MBA programs this fall, I'd encourage you to think through these questions:

1. What is the exact mechanism by which an MBA will improve your quality of life or career?
2. Do you envision your current job becoming your long-term career?
3. Are there gaping holes in your business knowledge that can be filled by book learning?
4. Can you afford business school right now?
5. What is the exact ROI you are forecasting from getting an MBA?
6. Does applying to school this year fit with your personal life right now?
7. Is this the year you can put together your best application?
8. What non-monetary benefits do you think spending time in business school will provide?
9. What are your alternatives to going to business school?
10. If you didn't get in to your top choice business schools, would you still get an MBA?
11. If you want to take a break from work, what other options can you pursue other than business school?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Selling eBooks on your blog

Recently, I encountered two articles that made a combined impression on me. They were both related to internet marketing and the process of customer acquisition, conversion, and product fulfillment.

The first was a fascinating article about selling eBooks to monetize traffic on your blog or website. It describes a website called "Parrot Secrets", that provides information about caring for parrots and makes about $400,000 a year selling eBooks about parrots. For all I know the story could be completely made up, but I found it instructive.

Now most people that have a blog or website about Parrots probably would think it would be next to impossible to profit from the traffic. Selling an eBook about how to take care of your parrot was an interesting angle I never would have considered. It seems to provide value to the consumer while compensating the site owner.

Most interesting to me about the eBook is you are selling a product. Because you are a selling a product with fixed prices and fixed margins (95%!), you can model traffic acquisition costs and conversion rates to know exactly how much you would pay for a visitor. Once you know exactly how much a visitor is worth to you, you can buy traffic that costs less than that amount. The extent to which this is a large market and traffic is relatively inexpensive, you can grow the business. In otherwords, eBooks scale.

The other article I recently encountered was an interview with the ShoeMoney guy. I just found it interesting how he was able to build consumer marketing businesses. He originally built a site around mobile phone wallpaper and ringtones, and then tried about a million different ways to monetize it. Nothing earth shattering, but it was interesting to hear the process of how he built the business.

Anyhow, both the articles made me think it would be an amazing learning experience to write an eBook and learn the customer acquisition economics inside and out. It would probably be a cheap education!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are US social networks communist and Chinese ones capitalist?

It occurred to me the other day that on Facebook, it doesn't matter how much money you have. The service is free and taking advantage of all of its features is free too. In fact, it's quite difficult to tell who on Facebook is rich and who is poor; we are all equal citizens in the Facebook commune.

In the real world, it obviously does matter how much money you have. Moreover, it is easy to tell who is rich and who is poor. People send signals about their affluence from their clothes, cars, housing, and almost all the physical goods they consume. Facebook, on the other hand offers almost no clues into your financial status because there is almost nothing to consume.

While US social networks appear to have achieved a near Utopian existence, Chinese social networks are capitalist hotbeds. The Chinese social network Qzone earns nearly a billion dollars a year from the sale of virtual goods. On this social network, it matters how much money you have; the affluent can purchase more scarce virtual goods to decorate their profiles and the poor cannot. If you are poor in real world China, you are poor in social network China. How is that for communism?

Our experience on Facebook today may be the garden before the fall. As virtual goods offer perhaps the best way to monetize social networks, I imagine it will be tempting for Facebook to taste the (virtual) apple. If that happens, I think we'll look back on these early days of social networking fondly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Did Google just kill LinkedIn's biggest feature?

Interesting new feature from Google - people search! Now you can create your own public profile on Google. When you google your name (or someone else's name) you will see specific profile search results that include your Google profile.

When you Google most peoples' names, usually their LinkedIn profile comes up. Going forward, I guess this will be replaced by your Google profile. This is probably a net-negative for LinkedIn and other vertical search engines that specialize in "people search". Will sites like ZoomInfo, Spokeo, Pipl go by the wayside?

Official Google Blog: Search for "me" on Google

Monday, April 20, 2009

Google + Freebase = Structured Data Goodness

Pretty neat to see that Google is using Freebase to add structured data to the news. It looks like Google is using the semantic webs service to understand when a particular news story is about a book, movie or TV show.

For example, if you search for Philip Roth you can see a timeline of his books from Freebase. You can click through and find related topics and even buy the book from Amazon.

I wonder if we are starting to see the emergence of sites that actually "aware" of the type of content they are producing and how it relates to other items on the web.

Google News Blog: Introducing Google News Timeline

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This struck a chord

I actually think I saw Eric talk my last semester at the GSB when we did the IMVU case in Andy Rachleff's class on aligning startups and markets. The case (and Steve Blank's book) were really instrumental in shaping my thinking as we designed Personforce. Get a product in the market fast and iterate based on customer feedback was the overall gist of the IMVU case.

Eric has a great post about renewable/predictable revenue that demonstrates compelling customer-level economics versus revenue that is a result of inspired salesmanship.

It made me think very hard about where our revenue comes from and figure out what camp we're in. The short answer is we started off in the salesmanship camp, now we're a bit of a hybrid, and hopefully we're moving into the predictable revenue camp. Eric's post below definitely struck a chord with me.

Lessons Learned: Validated learning about customers

Omid Kordestani (business founder at Google) steps down

An interesting note in today's Google earnings announcement was that its business founder, Omid Kordestani is stepping down. Omid was a Stanford GSB alum and he spoke at the school one time when I was there.

When Kordestani got to Google, they had no revenue and no business model. He experimented with a lot of different revenue models at Google before they figured out that text link advertisement was a winner. If they hadn't figured that out, it's unlikely Google would be anywhere today.

The Google founders had a great technology insight - links can be used as a voting mechanism to rank search results. Kordestani had a breakthrough business insight- when someone is looking for something, it's a heck of a time to serve them an advertisement. Other companies (like Overture) tried similar things, but Kordestani really proved that monetizing search intent was a "homerun".


Recent Developments – After ten years of building and managing our global sales and partnership operations, Omid Kordestani has decided to hand over the reins to Nikesh Arora, currently President of International Operations, and take on a new role as Senior Advisor, Office of the CEO and Founders. Continued growth is essential to our future success and no one is better placed to advise on new revenue opportunities than Omid, the business founder of Google. In his new role as President, Global Sales Operations and Business Development, Nikesh Arora will have responsibility for all Google's revenue and customer operations, as well as marketing and partnerships. He has a proven track record at Google, having spent the last four and a half years building our European operations into a substantial business.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Social Networks and Finding a Job

I spoke to my friend Christian today about a paper he was writing for a class at HBS about how social networks were affecting job search and recruiting sites.

Some random points I jotted down about my thoughts on how social networking will affect finding a job:

1. Social networks offer reach and targeting. That makes them equally useful to a company's marketing department as recruiting department. In that way, social networking isn't differentially impacting recruiting more so than other functions.

2. Social networks don't attract users that have "search intent for jobs."

3. Search sites (vertical search, Google) are probably more disruptive to the industry in my opinion.

4. LinkedIn is monumentally useful for job search, but isn't really a social network in my opinion. LinkedIn is a big database of contacts so it's useful for finding people.

5. Candidates find jobs through people with which they have strong ties (friends and family), loose ties (friends of friends), or no ties (strangers). Job boards specialize in finding the jobs in the "no ties" department so are less affected by social networking. Social networking can increase the number of people in the "loose ties" group though.

6. New information such recommendations and people's social networking "fingerprints" may become part of the job application.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Endless entertainment at Google

A very neat post on the Google blog. I think a lens like this would provide endless amounts of entertainment:

Official Google Blog: Will it lens?: "We've got more details and more pictures of our results on Alan's personal blog. If you have ideas of other things we should try lensing, we'd love to hear suggestions."

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Kumo.com showing up in my google analytics

Rumor has it that Microsoft will be launching a new search engine called Kumo.com. This morning when I was checking the Google Analytics of this blog, I noticed that Kumo.com was referring traffic to the this site.

See source #6 in the chart below. Not sure if this means anything (or if it's always been there), but it stood out to me. Does this mean Kumo.com is about to launch? Your guess is probably better than mine.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Are paid job postings sites dead?

Running Personforce has caused me to think about whether employers will continue to pay money to post jobs in the future. There are a lot of reasons to think they won't. That has significant implications for the recruiting industry and means that sites like CareerBuilder and Monster might not be around in a few years.

1. All job postings are available through Google for free. If a company can post a job to its own site and people can find it through Google, it is less likely to pay money to post a job to a big site.

2. All job postings are available through vertical search engines like SimplyHired or Indeed also. Companies can post jobs to their own websites and they'll show up in vertical search engines as well as a google. Another reason not to pay to post jobs.

3. Any job site can offer an index of all the jobs on the web through Indeed, SimplyHired, or Google's API. On Personforce you can find all the jobs on our network + about 2 million more posted on the web. This means almost any site can offer more job postings than Monster.com or CareerBuilder.

4. Big job sites don't offer the ability to target specific population. Sites like Facebook or TechCrunch give you a much better ability to target exactly the kind of jobseeker you want. Big sites might offer applicant flow, but don't really offer any way to target desirable audiences.

5. Craigslist is free or mostly free.

That's not to say that paid job postings are definitely going away. However, I can't really think of any countervailing forces that will prevent these trends from further growing.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Twitter Report: Most of my followers are spambots

Well, a couple of weeks ago we started twittering at Personforce. Well, we haven't started twittering exactly. We mostly just publish some job listings on it and a few random tidbits. We haven't really started engaging in "conversations" per say.

Without really doing anything on twitter, we seem to be picking up a few followers every day. I'd say these followers fall into two categories: spambots and kind of spammy marketers. The spambot types don't appear to post anything, they just follow people. The marketers mostly twitter about twittering. They tend of have names like Tweet4Traffic and GreatAbs. Some people appear to just post links to ther sites and i'm not sure if they are humans (or dancer).

Well, that's the two week twitter report. We haven't quite connected with any real people yet, but let's wait and see!

You can follow Personforce here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

SEO caused Get Satisfaction to do bad things

This week, the company 37 Signals railed against the website Get Satisfaction for misleading users into thinking that Get Satisfaction was handling the the customer support function for 37 Signals. Get Satisfaction helps companies set up their own customer support and feedback function. A company can pay Get Satisfaction to get an nice customer feedback page on GetStatisfaction.com where the company can provide customer support.

However, Get Satisfaction set up customer feedback pages for companies that didn't want one (or pay for one). In this case, Get Satisfaction set up a page for 37 Signals (without its permission) that implied that customer support issues about 37 Signals products could be addressed from this page.

Users would Google the term "37 Signals customer support" and the Get Satisfaction page for 37 Signals would come up. Users would leave customer support requests thinking this was official channel to reach 37 Signals. Of course it wasn't, so these requests when unanswered by the company. When 37 Signals found out their customers were being misled in this fashion, they were furious.

So why would Get Satisfaction set up fake customer support pages for companies that didn't want them? I think this is a classic case of companies doing bad things for the sake of search engine optimization (SEO). The company realized that they tend to show up on the Google Results for "customer support" so they set up a bunch of pages that people might google: Customer support of Comcast", "Customer Support for 37 Signals", etc.

I'd hard to believe that Get Satisfaction would have created these fake pages for any other reason than to get increased traffic from Google. It definitely makes me think more carefully about the implications of trying to create content to get more search engine traffic.

Stanford GSB Acceptance Phone Call

I guess it's the round 2 notification day for Stanford GSB. A neat thing about the school is the head of admissions calls informs you personally about your acceptance. For those of us that attend the school, the phone call is a long-cherished memory.

To all the applicants out there, good luck getting the phone call! And if you don't, may you receive many fat envelopes.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rest in Peace Microsoft Encarta

Microsoft announced this week it was shuttering its Encarta service. In the analysis about the decision, most people are rightly pointing out that Wikipedia simply made Encarta obsolete and ineffective by comparison. In effect, Wikipedia was the "Encarta-killer".

However, Encarta was one of the first steps in making the world's information freely available to everyone. Before Encarta, a set of encyclopedias cost thousands of dollars. Having a set was a beyond the reach of most people. Encarta came in and made all this information available to anyone for $60. Overnight, the economics of information changed. Encarta was the "Britannica- killer".

One of the transformative shifts in our society is that information is becoming free and widely available. Microsoft Encarta was an important step along the way as we move from information being expensive and scarce to free and plentiful. Rest in peace Encarta.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How to start a company in 5 steps (legal & admin stuff)

Where starting Personforce, I was overwhelmed by all the legal and administrative tasks required to start a business. I thought it might be helpful for folks looking to start a business to have a little checklist of the things you have to do. This is the order we did things and is not legal advice.

How to start business in 5 steps - the legal and adminstrative stuff you need to do

1. Incorporate

Choose legal structure and name. Are you going to be a C-corp (good for startups seeking funding), S-Corp (good for cash flow positive businesses), LLC, or sole proprietorship. There are lots of good websites you can use to get this. You need this to get a certificate of incorporate

2. Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

3. Get a bank account

You need an EIN before you can open a business bank account.

4. Elect a board of directors

File the documentation about who is on your board of directors with your registered agent (the entity that helped you Incorporate.

5. Allocate founders' shares through share purchase agreement.

Basically, someone has to own the company. Allocate share that the founders need to purchase. Set a vesting schedule for the shares.

Bam, 5 easy steps to start you business. Once you raise money, start making money, or have a payroll things get a little more complicated, but that's basically all you need to do in the beginning.

Stanford GSB Interview Questions

When applying to the Stanford GSB, a bunch of my friends came up with common interview questions for the admissions process. At Stanford, you have to be interviewed to get accepted. They interview only about 25% of applicants so getting an interview is a good sign! Hopefully this non-official list of Stanford GSB interview questions helps:

Stanford Specific Questions

Tell me about your background. Why do you want to change from your current career? What do you want to do? Why? And how will the Stanford MBA help.

Why do you want to go back to school?

Why Stanford?

Clubs you’d be interested in joining at Stanford?

What other schools did you apply to and why Stanford?

If you don’t get an MBA offer, what will you do?

What value you can bring to Stanford?

What are your Long-term/Short-term goals?

Leadership / Team Work

Tell me about how you dealt with someone who was terrible to work with and how you handled it

Tell me about a leadership experience you’ve had.

Tell me about a time you’ve failed – what did you do?

Tell me about a time you were in a team and achieved a great outcome

Tell me about a time when you displayed leadership.

What is you leadership style?


A book you’ve read recently and what you learned from it.

What books have you read that were unrelated to work?

Tell me about something you are interested in outside of work – why does this excite you?

What questions do you have for me? (this was w/ about 15 minutes left, so is important to have good questions)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Business School Interview Questions & Tips

I was going through my old files and found tons of business school interview questions, tips, and pointers. Most of this stuff was passed around various email lists at Stanford GSB, HBS, Wharton, Kellogg, and Columbia.

Anyhow, rather than keep this information locked up, I thought it'd post it here so anyone can use it to prepare for there interviews. I'll do it in a few posts which information about specific schools.

Here is a great compilation of generic business school questions you should be ready for in your interview:

Discuss your career progression.

Give examples of how you have demonstrated leadership inside and outside the work environment.

What do you want to do (in regard to business function, industry, location)?

Why the MBA? Why now?

Describe an ethical dilemma faced at work?

Describe your career aspirations?

What would you do if not accepted?

What are your long- and short-term goals? Why?

Why are you applying to business school?

Why does this school appeal to you?

What is an activity you are involved in? Why is it important to you?

Talk about experiences you have had at work.

Why are you interested in a general MBA program?

Why did you choose your undergraduate major?

Discuss yourself.

What contributions would you make to a group?

Name three words or phrases to describe yourself to others.

What is most frustrating at work?

How would co-workers describe you?

Describe a typical work day.

Have you worked in a team environment? What were your contributions to the effort?

Discuss any experience you have had abroad.

How did you choose your job after college?

What do you do to relieve stress?

It's two years after graduation, what three words would your team members use to describe you?

Describe a situation where you brought an idea forward, and it failed.

How do you define success?

What would you do if a team member wasn't pulling his own weight?

Is there anything you would like to ask me/us?

Have you faced a situation at work where you had to convince your colleagues

describe your idea of a manager

What character will you chose that represents your long term professional goals?

Describe an interesting experience from work

How will you contribute to your class?

Tell me about a problem you faced at work and how you resolve it.

What has been difficult/challenging about working in teams?

What extra-curricula activities are you going to participate in?

Why this school? Why now?

How are you in a team setting?

Describe a time when you worked with a team and the team didn't see eye to I on an idea. What did you do to make it work? What didn't you do to make it work?

How I will use my current skill set in my next career after business school?

If someone approached me with an idea, would I take the risk of developing the idea if they would not?

What is something from your past that you wish you would have done differently and why? The experience can be from work, school, other activities, or from your personal life.

Who is a client you admire and why?

Since submitting your application, how have you continued to take leadership roles?

With all of your experience, why do you need an MBA?

What makes you think that you are prepared for the academic rigors of XXX?

Which of my skills would help me most in my post-MBA career.

Tell everything there is to know about yourself.

How do you see yourself in 10 years

What should I remember you?

Tell me about your past experiences, don't tell me about your accomplishments as your resume details those, but more your thought processes as you went through those experiences

If you are in a situation where a team member is not pulling their weight on the team what would you do?

Describe how you have dealt with a difficult person you had to work with

Starbucks Refill Policy is Now Worse!

Part of my daily routine is a cup of delicious coffee at Starbucks. I pick one up on my way to work and then get a refill a couple of hours later for 50 cents (or free if you have a registered starbucks card). The staff by our office is extremely friendly and the experience is great.

Unfortunately, as of March 25, 2009, Starbucks is eliminating free refills (and 50 cent refills) unless you consume the coffee within 1 hours while at the store. The Staff at my local Starbucks broke the news to me last week.

I guess the company is trying to come up with ways to penalize its best customers. I was calculating that because of their prior refill policy I would go to a Starbucks about 50 times a month (2x per day, 25 days a month). Generally I would just buy a coffee (or get a refill) - but about 1/3 of the time I'd upgrade to a higher margin item like food or an espresso based drink.

Under the new policy, I have no incentive to come back in the store for a second time during a day, so I'll probably start going to Peet's in the afternoon. My visits to Starbucks will drop from 50 times a week to probably about 25 times a week. Starbucks will have 1/2 has many touchpoints and opportunities to sell me things.

Looking at these numbers I'm struck by two things. 1) Starbucks is penalizing their best customers who often evangelize about their brand. 2) I go to Starbucks way too often. I should cut back. Seriously.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I feel like we should start twittering

I still can't bring my self to set up a twitter account for myself, but we did set one up at Personforce.com.

You can follow us at www.twitter.com/personforce. Like resurrecting my blog at Silicon MBA, setting up a company twitter account is more an experiment in understanding how social media works than anything else. It seems like everyone else is doing it, so I we should just start twittering.

I'm not sure exactly what we'll do it, probably broadcast recent job listings, blog posts, and "witticisms". We have 10 followers so far, 8 of whom are spambots.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Principal-Agent Problem & AIG

The employees have gone wild!

I think that's the root cause of this current financial crisis. Basically, employees at financial institutions like AIG took on some big risks in hopes for a huge payday if the bets turned out well. If bets went sour, then the shareholders (or taxpayers) are left holding the bucket.

If we're going to rehabilitate the economy, we need to reaffirm the core capitalist principle - businesses exist to enrich their shareholders, not their executives. Just because asset prices are rising, employees have very little entitlement to share in the upside.

Economists describe this problem as the "principal-agent" dilemma. Owners hire managers to run their businesses. Managers, however, tend to promote their own interests above those of the owners when unchecked. In scenarios where shareholders have weak control over the management, the management inevitable will misbehave by:

1. Taking on excess risk
2. Creating excess volatility
3. Benefiting from the upside of these risks
4. Leaving equity holders or the government to cover downside

Shareholders need to assert their rights over irresponsible management to prevent the inevitable re-occurence of these financial bubbles. When the Obama administration tries to strip AIG derivatives traders of their bonuses, I view this as a fundamental reaffirmation of our capitalist system that prizes equity-holders rights above managerial compensation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Adsense can undermine your message

I put Adsense on this blog a couple of months ago to better understand how online advertising and monetization of content works. It's still a bit of a mystery to me if/why people click on advertisements so I thought perhaps I could learn by minor experimentation. The downside of using these ads are it sullies the purity of your site while simultaneously not making you very much money (based on the traffic of Silicon MBA anyways).

One weird thing I've noticed so far is that adsense can seriously undermine the message of your post. Yesterday, I wrote about critizing FreeCreditReport.com for engaging in a predatory business model. Today, I open up the post and my site is full of advertisements for FreeCreditReport.com and other online credit led generation services! My message about criticizing it's business model is a little undermined, don't you think?

I imagine this happens a lot. If you write a negative review about some company or practice and then ads endorsing that company or practice start showing up. I wonder how many vegans write blogs financed by ads from Omaha steaks?

Perhaps as Google Adsense gets smarter and understands the semantic meaning of the text, this sort of mistargeting won't take place.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How Acai Berries could save the New York Times

I was struck by two articles I read today about Acai Berries and what is says about why newspapers are failing in this digital age.

Via a link on Hacker News, I found an post on Black Hat SEO about a fellow that makes $15,000 a through Google adsense. The basic formula was 1) Pick a valuable industry 2) Create content in that industry 3) Take steps such at people find this content through Google 4) Profit when people click on valuable advertising.

The fellow gave an example of creating a site about Acai berries and how he makes $5 everytime someone clicks on a link on the site. After setting up the site, he basically has very little to do and makes some nice passive income. People who coming to his site have "purchase intent" for things regarding Acai Berries and therefore are valuable leads for advertisers.

That same day, the New York Times has an article about Acai Berries. It's a well researched, intelligent piece about Acai Berries. Because the New York Times is such a reputable source, many people will find this content through search engines when they are seeking Acai related products.

How does the New York Times monetize this valuable content? Through flippin ads about Ralph Lauren clothes! It's nuts, this is possibly the worst way to make money from this content. The people who are reading this content are interested in Acai Berries - serve them some ads about Acai Berries. Of course the New York Times has some Google Adsense advertisements on the page in the lower right hand corners where no one would have click.

It seems the little guys might understand internet advertising business models better than the big guys like newspapers. Newspapers need to understand:

1. Many people will find their content through search engines
2. Many people who see their articles will have purchase intent regarding that content
3. This is not ideal advertising space for "branded advertising"
4. This is ideal advertising space for products related to that purchase intent.

Newspapers - learn it and love it; these are the rules.

The FreeCreditReport.com Business Model & Ethics

The internet is full of scams and deceptive practices centered around "recurring billing solutions". While technically not fraud, how many businesses make their livelihood by convincing consumers they are getting something free (or a one-time fee) but in reality charging the unsuspecting consumer every single month for the service? The best recent example are all the "stimulus checks" websites out there today.

I call this the FreeCreditReport.com business model. Credit reports are actually available for free, but not through this company. Their entire business model is built around convincing someone to sign up and then making it very difficult for them to cancel. This business a pure wealth transfer between the unsuspecting and the predatory - it creates zero value for society.

The current push among Web 2.0 companies to move from a "ad-supported" to a "paid-subscription" business model. I hope that as people make this transition, the companies take care to avoid this predatory model. In the jobs space, I see companies are increasingly charging job seekers monthly fees to access "exclusive jobs". I hope that these services are providing real value and not just taking advantage of people's insecurities about finding work right now.

The world doesn't need another FreeCreditReport.com. I hope entreprenuers will remember that as they design their businesses. Moreover, I hope the ad network and websites (like Google, Yahoo, Facebook) will work hard to make sure that they deceptive business are not allow to advertise on their grounds.

Google Checkout raises prices

When we first started using Google checkout, it was free. Then they raised the price to 2.2% + $0.20.

Now Google is announcing a massive price increase. A tiered structure that penalizes the vast majority of merchants. See below.



We're writing to let you know that on May 5, 2009, Google
Checkout's transaction processing fees will be changing. We'll be
transitioning from our 2.0% + $0.20 per transaction rate to a new
tiered fee structure, where the rates will vary depending on the
dollar amount of your monthly sales processed through Checkout.
The rate you'll be charged beginning on May 5, 2009 will be based
on your sales processed through Checkout during the month of April
2009. Each month thereafter, we'll continue to use the prior
month's sales volume to determine your transaction processing
rate. For more details about the new rates, please visit

We'll also be discontinuing the AdWords free transaction
processing promotion on May 5, 2009. Any AdWords transaction
processing credits accrued during April 2009 will be applied
towards transactions that occur on May 1-4, 2009.

Fees are the same for all payment types (Visa, MasterCard,
American Express, and Discover) and there are still no monthly,
setup, or gateway fees. For cross-border transactions, there will
be an additional 1% fee assessed per transaction. To learn more
about Google Checkout fees, please visit

Google is committed to the continued growth and development of
Checkout and to helping merchants increase sales by driving more
leads and higher conversions. Advertisers who use Checkout have
the opportunity to display the Checkout badge on their ads, which
has proven to be an effective way to differentiate ads and attract
user interest. Checkout users click on ads 10% more when the ad
displays the Checkout badge and convert 40% more than shoppers who
have not used Checkout in the past.

For more information about this change and how it affects the
product, please read our post on The Official Google Checkout
Blog: http://googlecheckout.blogspot.com/2009/03/google-checkout-fees-in-2009.html

If you have any questions, please visit our Help Center at
Thank you for using Google Checkout.

The Google Checkout Team

Friday, March 06, 2009

MBA rankings (that are actually right)

Whenever, I look through the business school and mba rankings produced by magazines, I'm struck that the rankings are stupid. It's as if they just randomly selected criteria, scored the schools along the criteria, and then said here are the rankings folks!

The problem with this approach is it is wrong. The two reasons it are wrong are 1) The criteria are arbitrary 2) The variance in the results (the fact that the rankings change ever year dramatically) is completely unexplained and probably wrong.

Since I've noticed a lot of the traffic to this blog is by people looking for information about MBA programs, I'm going to give you my opinion about business school rankings.

I think better approach rankings schools would be to ask the question - what schools do people want to attend? Using a statistical method called "conjoint analysis" you can look at what schools did people get in to, and based on that choice set, where did they choose to attend. If someone chooses Stanford over Wharton, you can rank Stanford over Wharton. If someone chooses Wharton over Tuck, you can rank Stanford and Wharton over Tuck. With a large enough data set, the preferences are fairly stable.

As my data set, I'm going to use my "vague memory" of what business schools my peers decided to attend based when I was at Mercer Management Consulting (now Oliver Wyman). I'm also not actually going to perform the analysis (that is beyond the limits of me and this actual faux data), but instead guesstimate the results based on observed behavior. I hope another institution (maybe someone like McKinsey that would have large data set) would perform this actual analysis some day. This is of course biased by the time at Stanford GSB and all my other biases since this guesstimate is essentially a qualitative assessment.

MBA rankings by Silicon MBA

1. Stanford
1. Harvard
3. Wharton
4. Kellogg
5. Tuck
5. MIT
5. Chicago
8. Columba
8. Berkeley
10. NYU

There you go. You'll notice they mostly fall in bands/tiers. Again, this result is heavily based on my own opinion, but my opinion is informed by observations of what business schools prospective applicants actually choose to attend.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Facebook takes on Twitter!

Facebook's announcement to allow 1-way following of friends amounts to a direct assault on Twitter.

If you haven't heard, Facebook members can now have as many friends/followers as they like. Moreover, the can allow people who they don't know to follow them without having to reciprocate.

What has made Twitter popular is it gives anyone the ability to broadcast to the world. Facebook is now opening up this feature to its 175 million active users. Will users start using Facebook as a broadcasting platform? The companies has a few advantages over Twitter:

1. 175 million users is huge head start
2. With Facebook you can broadcast more rich and interesting information since you're not constrained by 140 characters.

Hitherto, Facebook has just been used to connect people who know each other in the real world. Will it take off as a broadcasting platform? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

SEO for Job Sites - a Race to the Bottom?

Google is the starting point for most people's navigation of the internet. For hr, recruiting, and job sites, this is no different. As a result, job sites focus intently on SEO (search engine optimization). SEO broadly refers to making the content on your site accessible to search engines (ie The Google!).

People Google the term "jobs" about 150,000,000 times a month. Because of this, almost all job sites want their pages to show up for common (and long tail) search terms. The result is that job search sites are all following the same best practices and focusing more on the question "will Google find this content?" than on "is this good content?"

Try searching for any job-related search term on Google. Try the term "miami jobs". Look at the first 10 sites; they are all following the same employment SEO formula, have similar page titles and meta data, and show the same jobs. Not one of the results gives you a website that is generally that useful or unique for someone conducting a Miami specific job search. This pattern continues for almost any job-related search, no matter how obscure.

I don't want to call the results spam, but they are just not interesting. Many sites out there have great content, but it seems the industry is focused more on gaming the Google SEO guidelines and less on producing interesting content. The result is that most sites are pretty much repackaging the same ole crap, competing against each other in a race to the top of Google, but to the bottom of the job seeker experience. More and more, all the job search sites out there are just starting to look the same.

Google, to its credit, recognizes that when sites create content for the sole purpose of search engine optimization, the quality of search results goes down. I wonder how Google will adjust it's algorithm to ensure fresh interesting results for career sites. It certainly will create a ripple in the industry.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

13 point checklist for startups

Paul Graham at Ycombinator recently published a great essay entitled Startups in 13 Sentences. The essay stands out for its elegant simplicity - clearly a lot of experience and data are neatly reduced to these thirteen tips about starting a company. Like all aphorisms, the tips don't apply to all companies and all situations, but they are surprisingly robust in my opionion.

The tips are great advice for someone thinking about starting a startup. I think it's quite useful as a diagnostic tool for all startup founders as well. Go through each of the 13 points and rate yourself on a A-F scale. Based on the the results, what would you do differently? What are you you doing well and where can you improve?

I went through the excercise for Personforce and found it illuminating. I'll spare you the results, but it definitely highlighted areas where we can improve.

Here's an abbreviated version of Paul's startup tips that you can use are a scoring sheet:

1. Pick good cofounders: ___

2. Launch fast: ___

3. Let your idea evolve: ___

4. Understand your users: ___

5. Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent: ___

6. Offer surprisingly good customer service: ___

7. You make what you measure: ___

8. Spend little: ___

9. Get ramen profitable: ___

10. Avoid distractions: ___

11. Don't get demoralized: ___

12. Don't give up: ___

13. Deals fall through: ___

Definitely read the full version with Paul's explanations here before taking the test.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Email fax by RingCentral is amazing

When we started Personforce, I was amazed at how much faxing went on in the industry. Before this experience, I had used a fax machine maybe once or twice in my entire life. After we launched though, I was paying usurious rates to the Stanford GSB practically every day to send and receive faxes to and from clients.

When I graduated from school and started Personforce fulltime, one of our first purchases was our own fax machine. For a while I was pretty happy about it. Whenever the fax machine starting ringing my ears perked up - it was generally the sound of a new order coming in, which was very exciting. Actually, lots of times it was spam telemarketers which was quite disappointing.

When we changed offices we had to change telephone lines so I revisited our fax service. We decided to try out an email fax service (efax) because it just seemed like the modern thing to do. RingCentral seemed reasonably priced and full featured so we choose them.

It turned out switching to RingCentral has been an incredible experience. The software is well designed and easy to use. You can very easily replicate all the core features of sending and receiving faxes.

The best part of RingCentral is that it puts your fax "in the clouds". That means I can access it from my laptop, anyone else's computer, from my phone, or from any device that can connect to the internet. Now when I get a fax I can check it out on my iPhone whereever I am. I'd contrast this to having to physically go to the Stanford GSB fax terminal after class and see if anything came in.

The other great benefit of email fax services is that they cut down on paperwork. All your documents come to you digitized so there is no need to phyically file documents. I almost never need to file paper documents anymore now.

Anyhow, I highly recommend putting your fax in the cloud. I don't know much about other services but we're quite happy with RingCentral. I particularly like the nice "ding" sound when a new order comes in.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Getting your MBA online? I'm skeptical.

As part of a side project, I recently tried researching online MBA programs.

First off, I learned it's really hard to research almost anything in the online education space because of the vibrant lead generation business. Basically, there are a lot of companies that are willing to pay a lot of money for customer leads of prospective students. As a result, there are lots of spammy sites about online MBA programs that just try to get you to click on their advertisements.

As a rule, if a company is will to pay a lot of money for a customer lead, they are generally taking advantage of their customers. That got me thinking, is getting your MBA online worth it?

First of the pro's. An online education is accessible to lots of people because it's flexible around your schedule and personal life. Also, you can avoid the time-consuming application process for a traditional program. Some employers will increase your pay scale if you can check a box saying you have an MBA, so it seems worth it if you work at one of those places. Finally, I assume these programs actually teach you something about accounting, finance, operations, and strategy, and learning is generally good.

However, I think the bad certainly outweighs the good. First off, you're deprived of most of the benefits of the MBA - the network of alumni and the signaling effect associated with your school's brand. Second, a lot of the learning in an MBA program (specifically in areas like Strategy) is experiential; I'm skeptical that can be recreated online. Finally, these programs charge you an arm and a leg; it seems like highway robbery for a product which has very low variable costs.

What I would suggest is that instead of getting an MBA online, you should get an accounting degree online. I think most of the concrete book knowledge in the MBA program can be captured through accounting and finance. Moreover, accounting is the sort of thing that you can probably learn online well and that a deep knowledge of makes you immediately marketable. Just my two cents!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reflections on Entrepreneurship from Stanford GSB

Going through an old notebook of mine, I found a page of things I had learned about startups and entrepreneurship from my time in the MBA program at Stanford GSB. I wrote it on 6/12/07, about a week before i graduated. I culled these from things I learned from various classes, lectures, meetings, books, and during the early days of starting Personforce.
  • Entrepreneurship is about building something with little to zero resources
  • Do rather than analyze. Err on the side of speed than precision
  • Building a company is an iterative process. Test and learn.
  • There is a mental inflection point when the startup moves from idea to actual business
  • The micro-details of the product, the sales pitch, the contract matter.
  • There is a way to solve any problem. There is a way to sell anything. It might just be harder than you are prepared to work.
  • Differentiated businesses require lots of hard work
  • Do the dogs want to eat the dog food?
  • Your sheer force of will is a competitive advantage
  • Work with people who have different skills but similar values to you
  • You have to give equity away to make the pie larger
  • You have to strike and scale while the iron is hot
  • Successful entrepreneurs are just normal people
  • You need to commit to something to succeed. Good things start happening and it provides focus. "Throw your cap over the fence"
  • Little is gained by secrecy, good things happen when talking to smart people
  • Act weak when you are strong. Act still when you are about to move.
  • Little companies can crush competitors
  • Achieving public success has an irrevocable price
  • Don't add costs to the business
  • To succeed, you need to be contrarian and right
  • Selling into existing markets can be easier to sell to. Creating new markets can be powerful.
  • Great businesses create an impact far in excess of the capital invested in them.
  • Every early decision has strategic and ethical implications
  • Before every fork in the road, ask your self exactly what it is that you are trying to accomplish
Perhaps at a later date I'll write about which of these points I found to be true, especially true, or not sure true in starting a business.