Sequoia etc. close barn door after horse

It’s nice that the smart folks at Sequoia Capital are ringing the “good times are over” bell for their portfolio companies, as my friend Om Malik is reporting on his blog (other venture capitalists are sounding a similar warning, says Mike Arrington). My only question would be: Why the hell did they wait until now? The meltdown of the banking sector and the collapse of global credit markets is undoubtedly worse than many people (including me) expected, but it’s not as though it was a lightning stroke out of a clear blue sky. The U.S. has likely been in a recession for most of the past year, if not longer, and plenty of people have noticed. What were Sequoia’s portfolio companies doing up until now?

Seriously, though — isn’t it a little late (not to mention ironic) to be telling companies that they should cut their burn rate, refocus, etc.? They arguably should have been doing all of those things for the past six months, if not longer. Venture capitalist and entrepreneur Howard Lindzon has a good take on things on his blog, where he says the savvy players have already become as small and nimble as they can, and are preparing to look for opportunities. “Too Small to Fail” is Howard’s new motto. Silicon Valley’s venture firms may be just coming to that realization, but by the time you get one of those letters from Ron Conway, it’s probably too late. If you’re a Canadian startup and are feeling nervous, Jevon has some good advice worth reading.

Update:

Om has posted more details on the Sequoia meeting, with comments from several of the senior partners, including Mike Moritz and Eric Upin.

Jay Walker’s incredible geek library

I must have missed this one somehow, but I just came across a Wired piece by veteran tech journalist and former Newsweek staffer Steven Levy, in which he describes — complete with some amazing photos (I only wish they were bigger) — the incredible three-storey library that entrepreneur and uber-geek Jay Walker (the guy behind Priceline) has constructed to hold all of his various books and other keepsakes. The list of things in this library will make your jaw drop open. It includes:

  • a small earth globe signed by 9 astronauts
  • rare books bound in rubies and other precious stones
  • an early edition of Chaucer
  • the chandelier from the Bond film Die Another Day
  • the Bills of Mortality from London in 1665
  • an instruction manual for the Saturn V rocket
  • a 300-million-year old trilobite fossil
  • the original hand prop from the TV show The Addams Family
  • a hand-painted “celestial atlas” from 1660
  • an original copy of The Nuremberg Chronicle, from 1493
  • a working version of a Nazi-era Enigma machine

That’s apparently just a taste of what Walker’s 3,600-square-foot library contains, according to Levy, who says he is the first journalist to get a tour. I would give my right arm to have a few hours in there.

Behind the missing SNL bailout video

One of the highlights of last weekend’s Saturday Night Live episode — apart from the brilliant (as always) Sarah Palin impersonation by Tina Fey — was a clip in which George Bush, Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank talk about the Wall Street bailout and who is to blame, and then a succession of pathetic characters tell their stories. I recall seeing a Twitter message (I think it was from Mark Hopkins of Mashable) on Monday about how the clip was nowhere to be found. I didn’t think that much of it, because I assumed NBC had pulled it from YouTube for the usual reasons.

As it turns out, however, NBC pulled the video for legal reasons — in a nutshell, I think, it was afraid it was going to get sued. Although there have been a number of dark whispers from right-wing types such as Michelle Malkin about how the skit was yanked because it criticized Democrats like Pelosi and Frank (as well as equally dark whispers about how it was pulled because it criticized billionaire George Soros), according to NBC the skit was removed and re-edited because it “didn’t meet quality standards.” A website has since appeared that has the original clip, as well as a number of news stories and blog posts about it (it has a .cx domain name, which — in case you’re wondering — belongs to Christmas Island).

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Seth Godin’s advice for aspiring authors

Cartoonist and wine-marketing genius Hugh Macleod of Gaping Void asked marketing guru Seth Godin some questions recently, which he has posted on his blog. One of my favourites is when Hugh asks Seth what the hardest lessons are for a first-time author to learn:

“Books are souvenirs that hold ideas. Ideas are free. If no one knows about your idea, you fail. If your idea doesn’t spread, you fail. If your idea spreads but no one wants to own the souvenir edition, you fail.”

If I were a publisher, or an author’s agent, or teaching a class on writing, I would engrave that somewhere very prominent.

Eisner: Give Sarah Palin a talk show

Online video hub Veoh put on a mini-conference yesterday in New York that would have been fun to attend, if only to hear former Disney head Michael Eisner make some of these comments in person:

  • “At ABC, we started America’s Funniest Home Videos — so this isn’t the first era to watch a man get hit in the groin with a bat.”
  • “Most of the studio video is repurposed, like Hulu. It makes NBC and News Corp feel like they’re doing something — I’m not sure it’s the right thing, but they’re doing it well.”
  • “South Park is a radio show, basically.”
  • “Appointment TV is gone. Targeted audiences are here to stay. If you can make an interactive commercial, that would be the way to go.”
  • “Mass audiences are still possible, even on the internet. If I were at ABC, I’d sign up Palin and put her on a show the day after she loses the election. With that wink, she can go a long way.”
  • “The most interesting thing to me about the Katie Couric video, was not the interview, but the comments on it.”

As a guy who has his hands in all sorts of online video pies, including attempts to create online sitcoms such as Prom Queen through an entertainment company called Vuguru, Eisner’s opinion is worth paying attention to. To echo his comment about Hulu, these may not be the right things to do, but at least he’s doing them well, and he’s experimenting. Eisner also seems to recognize that the secret to online video isn’t just repurposing TV content like Hulu is doing, but that “it’s about discovery, it’s about community, it’s about interactivity.”

Comments like “South Park is a radio show” also get you thinking about what is important about a show — is the animation what makes SP funny, or the audio? The same thing with the comment about how the most interesting aspect of the Katie Couric video was the comments, and how those could be commercialized. That shows a guy who is thinking creatively about where online media is going. And for what it’s worth, I think Sarah Palin would make a great talk-show host. Better than a VP.

LP33.tv launches music community

It’s been over 25 years since MTV first launched, so plenty of people have probably forgotten what a splash it made at the time. A whole television channel about music? It seemed crazy in a way. A few years later VH1 launched, targeting a slightly older demographic, but with the same commitment to music (and in Canada, the iconic MuchMusic launched at around the same time). Now a music startup called LP33.tv wants to take up the same kind of position on the Web — an all-in-one community that features new bands, shows videos, allows fans to interact with their favourite artists and so on. But can it compete?

Andrew Bentley, the co-founder of LP33.tv, has a long history in the music business. His mother and father ran a number of popular music clubs in Britain when he was growing up, he said in a recent interview with me, and famous musicians were always around. Andrew wound up working at Virgin Music and then at EMI, but says he became dissatisfied with the bureaucratic approach that the company had towards the business, and the lack of imagination when it came to the Web. “I left after a meeting we had about the Internet, at which it was basically decided to sue our customers,” he says.

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Your intellectual property tastes delicious

This has to be my favourite intellectual property dispute ever: according to reports from a variety of sources, including Associated Press and Haaretz, a group known as the Association of Lebanese Industrialists is planning to file a lawsuit against the state of Israel for “stealing” traditional Lebanese delicacies such as hummus (which is spelled about seven different ways) as well as baba gannouj, falafels and tabouleh.

As it turns out, of course, Lebanon doesn’t actually own the trademark to such dishes, but the head of the ALI says he’s planning to file something, and once he gets the rights he’s going to sue someone (it’s not clear who). The precedent, apparently, is the case that Greece launched to get the exclusive EU rights to the term “feta” cheese.

The only wrinkle in the Lebanese plan? A number of other groups — including the Palestinians — claim they invented the dishes Lebanon wants to trademark (The Guardian says that tabouleh was developed in Ottoman Syria, including what is now Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan). Can’t they all just sit down and talk this one over?

Google needs to mind its own business

Google is nothing if not helpful. It will suggest search terms, it will suggest driving directions for you on Google Maps, and now apparently it will suggest that you not send drunken emails late at night on the weekend. Is this what we really want from our Web services? Maybe Google could parse the content of my latest email and tell me whether I’m being a little too harsh with my mother-in-law in that email I just sent about Thanksgiving. Or maybe Google could suggest some other adjectives and adverbs I could use instead. Is that really the kind of help I need?

If we’re talking about protecting people from themselves, why not have a Google mobile GPS unit that can detect the proximity of donut shops or McDonald’s outlets and then send the user a quick text message: “Are you sure you want to buy that breakfast sandwich, Dave?” Just as the Gmail feature forces users who have had too much to drink to answer math questions (which wouldn’t stop my brother, whose math skills are impervious to alcohol consumption), the mobile service could force you to do some jumping-jacks or touch your toes, and if you were incapable of doing so it could disable the wallet function in your handheld.

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Is online advertising heading for a cliff?

As the markets see-saw between concern and outright panic over the fate of the U.S. financial bailout, the credit shock that’s rippling through not just North America but most of the Western hemisphere, and the potential for a severe economic downturn, anyone with a Web-based business that depends on advertising has to be asking: Is this the beginning of the end? If the U.S., Canada and to some extent even Europe are in the depths of a recession (or possibly even worse), what does that mean for online ad spending? The answer could mean life or death for some startups.

This debate has been going on for almost a year now. Google’s stock price came under fire around the end of last year and the beginning of this year because of concern that the search giant might see a downturn in ad spending that would hit the bottom line. Has it? A little, but not a huge amount (although some say that could change). In fact, there are those who argue that search-related ad spending is likely to be the most durable even in a shaky economy — in part because businesses can get more bang from buying AdWords than a newspaper ad or TV spot.

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Has Apple really muzzled the lawyers?

One of the new faces at The Daily Beast — the online magazine launched today by former New Yorker and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown — is actually kind of an old face: Nick Ciarelli is the former teenaged blogger behind Think Secret, an Apple rumour site he started when he was just 13, and he has written a piece about how the tech company’s approach to rumours seems to have changed. Just a couple of years ago, Apple was happily suing sites like Think Secret (which shut down after the lawsuit), as well as Apple Insider and PowerPage for posting rumours about new products. Now, Ciarelli says such behaviour doesn’t seem to draw as much attention.

“There are signs that Apple … has thrown in the towel on fighting leaks. This year, advance details about a number of Apple products spilled onto the web, including photos of the iPhone 3G and the latest lineup of iPod nanos. In the past, Apple would’ve fought like hell — including threatening legal action — to get the leaks off the web. But when I spoke to many of the sites that published the images, all of them said that the company’s lawyers had been strangely silent.”

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