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Summary:

A another bubble seems to be brewing and entrepreneurs and investors need to get ready, tread carefully and, most importantly, learn from the lessons of the previous bubble and bust cycle. To help with that, we sat down with five entrepreneurs and investors to hear their tips.

bubble2

Get ready to adapt — and quickly

Who: Ask.com CEO Doug Leeds

Bubble Cred: Leeds was formerly both President and the Chief Operations Officer at Ask.com, which was founded as Ask Jeeves in 1996. Leeds oversaw Ask’s more recent shift away from search and more towards a Q&A model that employs human-powered answers. As COO he also lead the acquisition and growth of Dictionary.com. Before Ask, Leeds spent almost five years at Yahoo!

Interviewed by Colleen Taylor

Lessons Learned:

  • Be ready to change your plan. Things are constantly changing. It’s those players who can keep up with the pace of change — not just technology change, but change in business models, and change in what is available to build your platform on – that will have a good chance of being successful. For example, we have changed the way we use money over time. We moved from paying people at Ask Jeeves to answer questions, to spending money on arming ourselves with the best deep tech in search, to tapping into a new engine we can take advantage of, which is people not on our payroll: the social web.
  • Act with your gut, but listen to your customer. I think part of longevity is knowing what the world is ready to hear, and when they’re ready to hear it. But you also have to ignore some of that and just do what is the best user experience regardless of what people want to hear.
  • Focus on technology and product first, rather than marketing. Build great products, and let the products speak for themselves. Trust your core focus and your brand and trust your users to interact with it. Focus on building those things that will create value for your users, instead of describing that value and spending money on that. We got away from that for a little while, and that was a big lesson for us. The darkest period in our history was a few years ago when we thought this battle we were in was one we could win with marketing instead of product.
  • Act now: Each bust in littered with companies that understood the language of what’s happening, but they didn’t actually DO anything. They just knew how to talk about it. The key thing is to focus on providing something to a user that they can’t get from anyone else, and worry about how to articulate that later.
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  1. A bubble requires a great deal more than excess enthusiasm for a couple of tech stocks. Especially when they’ve demonstrated some ability to turn a profit on their own.

    You don’t need buzz concepts in the headline to have an interesting discussion.

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  2. The last tech bubble was burst by the Fed by ill-advisedly raising interest rates and causing a recession. The only way interest rates go up soon is if the Fed is crazy. I don’t see a localized bubble as bad. Has a tech bubble ever soft landed on its own without the milieu of rising interest rates or a recession? We’ll soon find out.

    As to raising interest rates to ill-advised levels, the entire last decade gave two examples of how not to do it. Interest rates need to be low because of productivity gains. We have entered a new age of innovation, like the industrial age, this time based on electronic technology. I don’t think the Fed has a handle of how much computers and smart devices/networks are changing the productivity equation for both consumers and businesses.

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  3. LosFelizRider Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    It’s interesting how the interviewees contradict each other on some points. It’s also interesting how some of them made out well by selling during Bubble 1.0.

    And, really, the head of Ask.com talking about focusing on building a great product? Ask.com has sucked ever since IAC acquired it and change it from AskJeeves.

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  4. I disagree. There are profound differences between DotCom 1.0 (2002) and DotCom 2.0 (2011). Most notably the VCs approach to investing now (execution vs. R&D dollars; and it’s this capital investment which largely drives up valuation pre-IPO) and that these newer dotcoms actually generate significant revenue (i.e., Zynga and Groupon). Their ability to drive high margin and good EBITDA will force correction post IPO. Here’s a post I wrote about these core differences:

    http://gigaom.com/2011/07/13/how-to-survive-the-next-bubble/

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