The Quiet E-Commerce Renaissance

November 30, 2010 § 2 Comments

E-commerce has undergone dramatic change in the last two years.  Zynga has cracked social gaming and virtual goods wide open, producing enormous transaction volume.  Groupon has crushed local service group buying and created a multi-billion dollar cash machine.  Gilt has pioneered invite-only branded high end flash sales.  All three of these companies have pioneered new e-commerce models in a matter of months, have been locked in the tech news spotlight, and have spawned hordes of fast-followers trying to get in on the action.

However outside of the consumer spotlight, there are several companies that have been revolutionizing web based e-commerce tools available for businesses.  Shopify, AvantLink, Shopatron, AdRoll, and FeeFighters are each dedicated to helping their customers sell more and sell better online.  They don’t receive the public fanfare of their consumer facing brethren like Zynga, Groupon and Gilt, but all have offerings that create unique value and some are growing at a similarly furious pace. « Read the rest of this entry »

Calculating Online Advertising Return on Investment

October 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve been helping a friend write a business school case on his company. I haven’t done too much but it’s been fun to see the process. Recently I helped with an appendix covering the ROI calculation when dealing with online advertising campaigns. I thought I would include it here in case it might be useful for other folks.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook: Reach and Saturation by Country, Part III

December 18, 2008 § 2 Comments

I checked in on Facebook’s growth and added to the data set used in Part I and Part II. The data is a bit too big for a spreadsheet so I used iCharts to make a dynamic chart that allows for easy visibility. Use the slider on the side to zoom in on the other 90+ other countries. Notice that their global growth continues to accelerate. « Read the rest of this entry »

User Value = Demographics + Tolerance

July 16, 2008 § 2 Comments

A subject often mulled over by startup founders and investors alike is the value of a user. Web services, just like brick and mortar service providers, try to make money from of those that use a service. Some sites charge users directly, but most rely on selling some form of access to their user base to others. Display advertisements, job postings, and direct messages are the three predominant monetization strategies used today. In the past several months, web services have begun to offer more and more targeted and focused access to their users, a trend that will certainly continue in the social network space in particular as companies begin to focus on monetization.
As this is a popular topic, Arrington recently ran an article entitled “Modeling the Real Market Value of Social Networks“. Ironically, he ignored a large amount of relevant data and instead posited a new way to value social networks…completely disconnected from any and all real market valuations (he missed a few major social networks as well). His end analysis is that demographics are the key factor in determining the value of a user base. I’ve been analyzing valuations, user bases, and user access recently and disagree with this analysis.
In order to examine the true drivers of user value, I aggregated below all of the recent available real market valuations for companies that monetize user profiles. I used a combination of enterprise values, acquisition prices, and pre-money valuations, all of which represent real market valuations. Dividing the number of profiles each company had at valuation by the valuation amount delivers the value the market put on one of that service’s users.
The numbers show that demographics are just part of user profile value. The other driver of user profile value is user tolerance, or what level of access a typical users is willing to endure. Gerson Lehrman (#1) has an extremely small user base in relative terms, but it is a group of professionals (high-end demographics) and, by definition, every user is willing to receive cold calls from Gerson Lehrman clients (perhaps the highest level of access there is). Dice (#3) has only 2M users but all are technology professionals interested in job opportunities (valuable demographics) and all are willing to receive messages or alerts about potential employers (high tolerance to access). In fact, five of the top six on the list allow for direct access to their user bases, while almost all of the bottom half of the group relies entirely on generic, unfocused display advertisements and will likely face much resistance to increased profile access (see: Wikipedia).
Going forward, it’s going to be important for web services to not only enable targeted access, but to also cultivate users that will stick around to receive it.

Company Valuation Derived from… Profiles Value Year

GLG $875M Investment 200,000 $4,375 2007

Facebook $15B Investment 50,000,000 $300 2007

Dice $500M Enterprise Value 2,200,000 $227 2008

CareerBuilder $1.55B Investment 24,000,000 $65 2006

Affinity Labs $61M Acquisition 1,000,000 $61 2008

LinkedIn $1B Investment 22,000,000 $45 2008 $90M Investment 2,000,000 $45 2007

Twitter $80M Investment 2,100,000 $38 2008

Badoo $300M Investment 10,000,000 $30 2008

Monster $1.88B Enterprise Value 80,000,000 $24 2008

Bebo $850M Acquisition 40,000,000 $21 2008

MySpace $580M Investment 22,000,000 $26 2005

Friends Reunited $208M Acquisition 15,000,000 $14 2005

Fotolog $90M Acquisition 10,000,000 $9 2007

Photobucket $300M Acquisition 40,000,000 $8 2007

Plaxo $150M Acquisition 50,000,000 $3 2008

Tagged $102M Investment 30,000,000 $3 2007

Various $50M Acquisition 18,000,000 $3 2007

BlackPlanet $38M Acquisition 16,500,000 $2 2008

Buzznet $15M Investment 7,000,000 $2 2007

If anyone has hard valuation/user profile data for yelp, myyearbook, orkut, HI5, Ning,, friendster,,,, imeem, live-journal, mixi, multiply, netlog, perfspot, skyrock, sonico, stidivz, V Kontakte, wayn, windows live spaces, xanga, xing, or any other companies in this genre please send them on.

Where’s SelfServe by MySpace?

July 11, 2008 § Leave a comment

Back in November of ’07, MySpace announced the future launch of “SelfServe by MySpace” which would “allow advertisers to directly purchase, create and analyze the performance of ads throughout the MySpace network.”  It was supposed to be in beta for two months then launched in early ’08.  It didn’t happen and ClickZ reported last month that SelfServe may launch in later summer or early fall.  MySpace is being left in the dust by Facebook Social Ads and LinkedIn DirectAds.  Now Orkut, Hi5, Bebo, Ning and the others need to step up to the targeted advertising plate as well.

LinkedIn quietly launches Research Network and DirectAds…let the monetization begin.

June 30, 2008 § 8 Comments

LinkedIn DirectAds
LinkedIn has quietly launched a beta version of a dynamic CPM text advertising platform called LinkedIn DirectAds. No formal announcement of the launch was made on the LinkedIn blog or elsewhere. According to the DIrectAds FAQ, advertisers will be able to dynamically target ads by age, gender, geography, educational institution, industry, and seniority. Minimum order size for an advertisement is $25, with the minimum number of impressions dependant on the targeting audience chosen by the advertiser. The rate that you pay for a CPM (1000 impressions) changes as you add or remove targeting options from your ad. Apparently the product will give click-through rates to advertisers, but billing will be based on CPM. In a unique twist, ads will also include the advertisers name and a link to their LinkedIn profile in hopes of “increasing transparency and visibility into the advertiser.” Much like the Facebook SocialAds platform, advertisers must have a profile on the network to launch an ad, although LinkedIn says they are limiting advertisers by completeness of profile, number of connections, date of profile creation and a number of other factors. I was unable to access the platform through my profile.

The DirectAds platform will bring LinkedIn closer to Facebook’s Social Ads technology, with these two leaving Bebo, MySpace, Plaxo, Friendster and the rest of the social networking world behind for now. I hope to be able to try the LinkedIn platform soon and give a head-to-head comparison. LinkedIn will continue to extract a premium on their advertising, as it seems they will be setting the price per CPM internally. A true market (e.g. Overture/pre-Panama Yahoo) or partial market (e.g. Google quality score) influence on price would likely result in prices lower than they would like, and they are clearly avoiding a CPC model for a reason since they are measuring CTR anyways. I think this slow transfer is very smart on their end especially considering their pre-IPO status, but as an advertiser I wish they would switch to a free market faster. Their ad margins will likely be lower than what they were getting with their rate card (although perhaps not), but the volume of advertisements will definitely spike upwards as you no longer have to go through a traditional advertising salesperson process to launch a targeted ad on their network.

LinkedIn Research Network
Additionally, on Thursday of last week LinkedIn quietly launched the LinkedIn Research Network, a product the company first mentioned back in February. No formal announcement of the actual launch was made on the LinkedIn blog or anywhere else, but the Research Network product page is live and linked to from the Premium Product footer, along with job, corporate, and upgrade links. Also linked is a 2 page product summary PDF. The product page outlines what is essentially a premium version of InMail (pdf). A Research Network subscriber can send send 20 InMails at once, and no monthly or daily limits are mentioned. Previously, LinkedIn BusinessPlus subscribers had the most InMail access and were limited to 10 InMails per month, so this is a dramatic increase in potential InMail volume. In the past advertisers could send targeted InMail blasts through LinkedIn’s advertising platform at $1 – $5 per recipient.

The LinkedIn Research Network is an attempt to move into the expert network industry and will be sold primarily to hedge, private equity and venture funds. According to a recent Integrity Research Associates report, there are roughly 25 expert networks in existence today. Aside from my company KnowledgeBid, every other expert network service operates on a subscription model. LinkedIn is likely gunning for the fat subscription fees that players like the Gerson Lehrman Group are pulling from investors (+$50k for access to one industry vertical of experts for 6 months), but the product they have launched is far more like the resume search/direct email services offered by Monster, HotJobs, CareerBuilder, Dice, etc. than an expert network. Perhaps down the road LinkedIn will try to facilitate the actual expert matching, but this iteration of the product just enables subscribers to send a large volume of cold emails to potential consultants. Additionally, the product page makes no mention of facilitating consultant payment and the only compliance functionality mentioned is a “research history”. Legal compliance is arguably the largest issue faced by expert networks today, and something that expert network users have come to expert from service providers. It’s possible that LinkedIn is intentionally not involving themselves with payment of experts in an attempt to remove themselves from the chain of liability if their service were to be used to facilitate insider trading or the like.

Congrats to LinkedIn on the product launches. I’m glad to see them competing with Facebook on the advertising technology side of things (let’s see an API guys!) and will certainly be keeping tabs on these products as they mature.

Facebook Ads now targeting professional titles, taking LinkedIn head on…

June 17, 2008 § 3 Comments

Facebook continues to quickly and quietly improve their advertising platform. In yet another innovation launched without formal announcement, Facebook now allows advertisers to target ads based on professional titles in user profiles. Previously ads could only target by keywords listed in users’ “interests” field. Now Facebook has indexed professional titles and allows for dynamic targeting through the Facebook Ads platform. Perhaps the recent launch of the advertising feedback function was in anticipation of an aggressive move towards monetization via heightened ad targeting? We’re still waiting on the Facebook Ads API but LinkedIn is still using a massively inflated CPM rate card despite their recent $1B valuation and and MySpace still uses Google adwords, putting Facebook miles ahead of the rest of the social networking pack when it comes to advertising technology.

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