Innovation and Invention seeks Venture Capital
January 29, 2001

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Reaching Great Minds Online
January 29, 2001 Issue #74
Mike Valentine, Editor,


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Innovation is Alive and Well on the Web!
by Mike Banks Valentine

IÕve just returned from the Upside Events 2001 Showcase held
in Palm Springs, California and find it hard to believe the
creativity and innovation surrounding the web! The show is
designed as a forum for entrepreneurs to present their ideas
to a panel of venture capitalists with the goal of securing
funding for their start-up company. The show gathered over
70 hand picked ÒdemonstratorsÓ offering their best face to
the assembled crowd of journalists, potential partners and
attendees of the event.

One of the frustrations of small business online is that most
new web solutions and tools are targeted at
gigantic companies looking for Òenterprise solutionsÓ,
Òlegacy systemsÓ, and Òinfrastructure toolsÓ. The attempt I
made was to specifically focus on the tools and products aimed
at Small Office Home Office (SOHO) crowd, I paid little or no
attention to those "" solutions.

My personal Best of Show goes to a great small business
networking solution called NetWinder that lets the non-tech
small business owner run a network server for under $2000!
It can be set up and run by a novice via a browser based
interface either in-house or remotely. It allows web site
hosting on a Linux based system. Sold by a company called It is fully programmable by an expert or can be
run by technophobes with no training whatsoever via the
browser based interface. Wonderful solution for the small
business that doesnÕt want to hire their own Information
Technology guy but does want to host their own website and
network the small office.

The best mobile worker tool I saw was from a company called which allows remote access to any computer via
a password protected web interface from ANYWHERE! Incredibly
valuable for accessing that stuff back at the office from a
client office or a laptop without all the software that
drives it from the desktop. You actually see the desktop
of the host computer back at the office or home or workplace
or all of the above from even a Palm Pilot or mobile phone!
Really incredible use of the web to advance mobile commerce.

My vote for the best multi-use tool for small business or home
office was a voice command cordless phone and headset with
voice enabled applications via the headset. You can see it at where youÕll see a small headset that weighs
only an ounce which wirelessly connects to a modem-sized
unit on your desktop that connects via serial cable or USB to
your PC and can control multiple applications by voice command
to your computer! Really want one of those myself!

The sponsors (Upside Magazine) Best of Show award went to a
company called which allows those with multiple
phones and voicemail boxes to incorporate them all through a
service which will dial all the phones at once and send the
voicemail to a single mailbox of your choice if none of the
phones are answered. Great for mobile workers, telecommuters
and small businesses in general.

Another wonderful small business tool for mobile workers is
called Nomad from which offers a great way to
receive filtered high priority email via (simulated) voice
over the phone with voice commands hands free. Once you get
back to an internet connection to download email, you can
also listen to the email right from the email client.

Another Showcase Award winner was a company called MoonFruit.
They offer a semi-template based Flash web site creation tool
for those willing to accept hosting from Moonfruit on a sub-
domain. There are currently no options to download the site
once youÕve created your flash masterpiece and FTP to your own

They claim that they will offer that service to small business
in the future, but it is currently limited to a consumer market.
They suggest the possibility of adding the ecommerce capabilities
to their online flash site creation "soon". It will be great if
they offer the currently unavailable option of ecommerce and
true domain names, but it's not there yet. Appeal to a mass
market is the first step.

Then there was the redesigned keyboard from which
looks like a game controller console but is actually a fully
functioning keyboard! This story here is more about the
entrepreneurial spirit of someone willing to teach us to type
in an entirely new way to allow work without a desk from any
position. Brave, brave folks with a really cool idea. This
innovative goody is one I wanted to take home immediately but
itÕs still in development and seeking licensing partners and

Imagine reclining in an easy chair, typing using mostly the back
surface of what appears to be a video game controller! It has
eight multi-function keys on the back where your fingers rest,
mouse controls under your thumbs and the shift and space keys
near the mouse controls. The inventor claims you can teach
yourself to type this way in a week and from then on be free
of your desk.

If all of this fun stuff doesnÕt really excite you about the
future of the web, then there may truly be no future for the
web. I'm heartened by the continuing spirit of innovation
and invention and wish each of these entrepreneurs great good
luck and future funding!

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What You Don't Know Can Shut You Down

Here's an enlightening execise: the next time you hear about
another e-tailer who is in trouble or struggling to stay
afloat, visit their Web site. How long does it take to load?
How well does it drive a sale? Based on your experience
with the site, what would you guess the site's conversion
ratio to be?

The sad truth is that many of these struggling companies may
not even know what their conversion ratio is. The percentage
of buyers to visitors is likely the single most important
metric in e-commerce. Improving conversion ratios is often
the easiest, most cost-effective way to increase sales. Yet
many companies neglect this powerful source of sales,
preferring instead to focus on other things.

How many layoffs could be avoided if these failing sites
increased their conversion ratios? Only they could say for
sure. But let's suppose a site is currently only converting
1% of their visitors into customers. Bringing this ratio up
to just 2% would double sales. Would these sites have to lay
off people, or close their doors altogether, if they were
able to double sales without spending an additional dime?

Take the case of one two-year old dot-com on the verge of
failure. They laid off nearly 40% of their workforce as they
failed to reach their sales targets. They then brought in a
consultant to help improve what remained of their business.

The consultant discovered that these site managers had no
idea how many visitors they were converting. How could
they? The shocking reality was that they had no site
activity reporting tools at all! No one in their company
had any idea what was going on out on their site. For over
two years, this so-called "e-commerce company" was literally
flying blind!

This company may have had all the business they needed to
survive. There may have been thousands of prospects hitting
the site just waiting to be converted into customers. These
site managers had no way to know whether their site was
actually doing a good job of selling. Nor could they
determine what changes needed to be made to increase sales.
Some very simple site tweaks may have been able to actually
save this company. But without the key metrics, they had no
way to know - and this lack of knowledge cost a lot of
people their jobs.

So, how do you keep from repeating this company's mistakes?
It's not that difficult - it's just a matter of focus:

- You must have a keen understanding of what is
happening on your site.

- You must focus on conversion ratios as a key
business metric.

- Improving these ratios needs to be a primary goal
and an ongoing effort.

This company cannot likely be saved at this point. But,
its failure can provide us with many valuable lessons.

==================== About the Author =====================

Kim Wingate, founder of AvidSurfer, is the publisher of Web
business case studies, reports, and manuals. A real-world case
study showing how a six hours of "tweaks" at one dot-com yielded
$13,500 per day in additional sales is FREE for a limited time!



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Copyright © 2000 Mike Valentine

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  June 10, 2001