Sunday, July 20, 2008

A VC Calls for Startup Ideas and I Ponder What I am Doing at Dow Jones

Over on Techememe the main headline this Sunday morning was a post by Paul Graham on the Y Combinator blog titled Startup Ideas We'd Like to Fund. Y Combinator is a venture firm specializing in funding early stage startups. In this post he outlines 30 ideas that Y Combinator is interested in funding. Many are obvious, some are interesting and others perhaps a bit off (or already in motion-perhaps even funded by Y Combinator themselves). But that is not what i found interesting that made me start this post with my cup of coffee in hand.

What got me thinking was that one of the things i usually get asked the most when i tell people i work for Dow Jones (formerly Factiva a Dow Jones & Reuters Joint Venture) is why do i work for such a huge blue chip company (and it is not only the brand blue colors that they are referring to!). When i tell them that i am going on nine years with the company~ scrunched eyebrows tend to come out on the questioners face. I won't lie to you that i sometimes think very comprehensively about leaving and going to some what i think is a promising start-up. Since moving to Silicon Valley three years ago i think about it even more, even going through the process of evaluating very carefully some serious opportunities- but not jumping on any as of yet. Just recently i was asked again and my stock response was 'when the right thing comes that feels right' i will'.

So as i read the Y Combinator's post about Startup Ideas that they are interested in, i started thinking about some of the things that i think that Dow Jones in all its incarnations is doing right that definitely impacts the reason as to why i am still around. So here are some of them:

#3- New News-
Yes traditional newspapers are in trouble and Dow Jones owns a bunch of them including the Wall Street Journal online and print publications, the Ottaway Community newspapers and other publications like Barron's. With their online news publications ventures, they certainly try to innovate from making Facebook applications for around 'what your friends are reading' to supporting and growing the All Things Digital Web site devoted to news, analysis and opinion on technology (and which according to the site runs autonomously as a small online startup), that tends to venture off 'traditional' reporting methods but yet maintains journalist integrity.

But i don't think that is what Paul Graham was referring to or at least that is not how i read it and where i think there is opportunity- the 'New' part of 'New News' is what is interesting to me. 'Traditional' reporting is not going away anytime soon and it shouldn't. Adding blogs to the news output is only one answer but what Dow Jones is delivering in the marketplace and doing is researching and investing in new ways of producing 'New news' by using technology to produce content out of content. Look at its recent acquisition of Generate Inc that brings extraction technology and relationship mapping into the picture and the work that the Algorithmic and Quantitative Trading product group does within its real-time products. Also let's not forget the work that the Factiva business line has done in regards to News visualization and metadata application across over 10,000 aggregated news sources in 22 languages. All with the aim to get more context out of the content that is being produced by the different media outlets. News readers don't want to read the same story over and over again or spends hours per day looking through headlines, they want intuitive ways to digest the massive amount of content that is being produced to give them the information they need.

#7. Something your company needs that doesn't exist.
I am going to bend this one a bit- but the premise is the same because of the downstream affect on the core business. Switch 'company' in this statement to 'client' and you get the basis for the Dow Jones Client Solutions (DJCS) organization which i have been part of for the last 6 years and have had the honor of driving a lot of the innovation of. Sure traditional 'consulting services' where customized solutions are built for clients are probably not to be considered start-up materials that Y Combinator would look at, but the DJCS group tends to be the ones that are called in when something a 'client' needs does not yet exist as a core product offering. The reason i liked my job as a Solutions Architect was that anything my client and i could think of would most likely be possible because of the flexible infrastructure we had built on the Factiva fully enable Web Services platform. What happens however is that some of the custom needs that get designed, developed and delivered eventually end up as part of the core product strategy. Examples are Newsletter creation tools that although continue to have customized components are also now built into the core product with its newsletter features and sales triggering capabilities that are now part of the SalesWorks suite of products.

#14. Tools for measurement.
Once again allow me to bend this a bit (perhaps a bit to much, but i am just trying to make a point here!) The Y Combinator idea request is measurement of productivity in corporations- to answer the question of where people spending their time and who are the most productive. I think that other parts of measurement that are going to be important in Organizations that could essentially tie into productivity gains is the tracking of influence within an organization. For example, take a look a the Community Equity project that Sun Microsystems is pushing forward with SunSpace (note: Dow Jones has no involvement in this project, i am just a fan!).

If you have been following my blog for a while you have read some of my posts on Media Measurement which includes both mainstream and Social Media. Four years ago Factiva acquired a company that had technology specializing in media monitoring and reputation management which turned into our Factiva Insight product suite (now Dow Jones Insight)~ way before people where talking about social media monitoring we were doing some of it. In the last few years that group has innovated quite a bit in the marketplace, and although i personally think that they could do much more i think that there continues to be a big opportunity in measurement tools. As Enterprises continue to use social media internally and externally to collaborate and communicate measurement tools can be used internally as well to measure business impact.

#16. A form of search that depends on design.

The majority of the search options across the Dow Jones properties are premium services that require a subscription of some sort- so the target market is not to beat out 'free search' but i think that a lot of the success of parts of our business has been the ability to provide search tools that have the user in specific vertical markets mind. In January of 2006 Factiva launched Search 2.0 in order to address the change in our core user search market for a simpler but more powerful search. The Search 2.0 interface uses visualization to present relevant search results by utilizing varies technologies to extract metadata and content elements of each article across the premium content, web content and multi-media content that is aggregated. Exciting enhancements to continue leveraging entity extractions for content context are also on the way.

20. Shopping guides.
No we do not have services for shopping, but we are capable of working with clients around this topic and increasing our resources to support customers in this space. As of the end of last year, I became the business development manager for Synaptica and taxonomy services in the DJCS group because i saw these types of markets as being part of our future growth. Our services and Synaptica tool can be used to create and manage taxonomies, thesauri, name catalogs and other authority files that can drive some of the " how do you decide what you want?" features that Y Combinator is looking to invest in. Forward looking investments a couple years back when we acquired the Synaptica product suite and continuous product enhancements ensures our solutions are for example compatible with Semantic technologies by supporting RDF, OWL, SKOS etc. are positioning us very nicely in the space where i thinking online shopping, search and advertising is going.

Like what Paul writes at the end of his post, my own post was an interesting exercise for me as well. I have been away from work for almost two weeks and gave the question of 'what am i doing a Dow Jones' a bit of time as i sat poolside and pondered my next few months. When i started with Factiva, the joint venture was just beginning and we did feel like we were working for a startup. With the News Corp acquisition of Dow Jones last year, one of things that i hoped to see was more strategic investment in some of these 'start-up' ideas. So far i have been pleased with what i have seen from my vantage point. Sure things don't move as fast as i would like them to and many times i get disgusted with the massiveness that the company is (e.g. 7 months to setup a public web page that is only text based and 4 months to get a press release out). I unfortunately do not have the privilege of being able to able to touch all the parts of the business that i think are innovative because i am only focusing on one part of the business; but i think this exercise on a Sunday has been important one for me to be able to look at the company i work for and feel that there are parts that are on the right track and that for the time being i am in a good place with that.


Никола said...

The majority of the search options across the Dow Jones properties are premium services that require a subscription of some sort- so the target market is not to beat out 'free search' but i think that a lot of the success of parts of our business has been the ability to provide search tools that have the user in specific vertical markets mind

Eric said...

Thanks for posting on some of the great things Dow Jones is doing -- and some things we could be doing better or more efficiently. You bring an "XML Web Services" analysis to your job and commentary.

"XML Web Services" is my new coinage for the vastly overused "out of the box." XWS, maybe? Of course, no one would know what it means ... "Picasso's Three Musicians is so XWS."