THE BLOG
01/21/2011 03:03 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Personalization Remains an Open Problem

I want to start today with a prayer for Steve Jobs. I just wrote a post on my blog saying, "Apple Doesn't Need Steve Jobs; Tech Industry Does." It sums up my sadness at the thought of our industry not having the privilege of Steve's thought process. I have, most certainly, drawn tremendous inspiration from him as a thinker and a visionary. I am sure most entrepreneurs have.

With this week's One Million by One Million roundtable, we have moved from the DimDim web conferencing platform to the ViVu video conferencing platform. DimDim, as you know, was recently acquired by Salesforce.com.

First up today was Michael Greenberg presenting Better Personal Advertising. Mike wants to manage online identity on behalf of consumers, so that they can maintain multiple identities for different types of sites, say photo, career, etc. and present themselves better in those different contexts.

Mike's customer acquisition strategy is weak at this point, and he also has a rather broad strategy in approaching this market. While I do believe there is an interesting opportunity in identity management, I am going to need to work much more closely with Mike to extract the nuggets out of his idea, and give shape to a viable go to market strategy.

Then Kelly Fallis pitched Remote Stylist, a personalized interior decoration advice service coupled with e-commerce in the domain of furniture and furnishings. Kelly's business has already done about $150k in 2010 revenue, which tells me that she has successfully validated at least some of her assumptions. Kelly has a lot of gaps in her customer acquisition strategy, as well as positioning, and she is seeing customers from commercial and residential clients. All this is too broad, and needs tightening up on multiple dimensions.

I like the business idea a lot, and in 1M/1M, we know a lot about building Web 3.0 and e-Commerce businesses, so I would love to work with Kelly to help her figure out the various nuances of building a successful e-commerce business, especially one that differentiates on personalization. I have repeatedly said that personalization is an open opportunity in web businesses, and needs to be tapped this decade. For Kelly, a good starting point would be the 1M/1M Curriculum, where we can offer her a lot more on the subject.

Next Sajeeva Bora with tekMunk Software Solutions discussed BizzGenie, a business software concept to help retailers manage the decision-making between "shop floors and top floors." Sajeeva and his cofounders have good domain knowledge of the retail business, but have not yet done sufficient validation of the idea. He is looking for money and naturally, getting rejected by investors for lack of validation. As I have said before, this is not the right stage to look for money. There's more work to be done to prepare for a funding round.

Nwenna Kai then presented Food Is Our Medicine Vision, an online training concept through which she wants to teach community leaders how to create healthier living concepts like organic gardens, etc. in urban areas. Nwenna has surveyed about 200 readers of her blog, and they have told her that they would be willing to pay $400-$800 for such courses.

Nwenna came to the roundtable with the question: what now? Where do I begin? Well, that's a rather large question to answer in five minutes, but she obviously needs to start validating her business within that group of 200 users who have said they're willing to pay for her offering.

Up last was Gagan Biyani pitching Udemy, an online marketplace for educators and experts to teach various topics. Gagan has about 150 completed courses on the site so far, and about 10 of those are monetizing. He has run some experiments within the entrepreneurship training vertical, and has seen success when he has brought on known thought leaders. However, he faces the problem that the top-tier thought leaders are unwilling to set up shop on his site. They have their own programs under their own brands.

Interestingly, Nwenna, who pitched right before Gagan, would be very interested in setting up shop on Udemy, and teaching her concepts and bringing her audience onto Udemy. We did this spot validation at the roundtable, and I believe, Gagan got a customer. However, I'd like to see a more focused, vertical specific go-to-market strategy in Udemy. At some level, Gagan's focus on entrepreneurship courses doesn't really align with Nwenna's target audience.

I have thought a lot about how to make an entrepreneurship education and ecosystem scalable and accessible to a vastly larger number of people. The answer to that question, I believe, is the 1M/1M Premium Lounge. In fact, at a time when we're facing severe youth unemployment in America and Europe, and the emerging markets are just starting to build their entrepreneurship eco-systems, we really need to think deeply on how more and more young people can be efficiently, rapidly and cost-effectively be trained in entrepreneurship.

You can listen to the recording of today's roundtable here. Recordings of previous roundtables are all available here. You can register for the next roundtable here.