Friday, December 11, 2009

A “Funny Thing” Happened on My Way to Building My First Company...

Better late than never (I guess). I finally got around to writing a quick blog post on a press release that came out a few weeks ago...

I’m happy (and proud) to finally announce that Tycoon Publishing, the leading provider of premium online investor education, has acquired TickerHound.

Before I say anything else, I really have to take a moment to thank the New York technology community for all of the help, support and advice over the last few years.

Thanks to those who believed in us when we needed it. Thanks to those of you who gave us guidance when we needed it. And thanks for offering some constructive criticism when we needed to hear it.

Bringing a start-up from napkin to sale is an incredibly difficult process. Add that to the fact that I had the “brilliant” idea to start a finance-related company right before the "greatest financial crisis since the great depression," and the challenge becomes almost comical. But a large part of our success is due to the outpouring of support in the New York start-up community. So, thank you.

In particular I wanted to thank Philip James and Mark Angelillo, Rikki Tahta and Perry Blacher, Matt Milner, Brett Petersel, Jay Levy, Ari Weinberg, Justin Tsang and David Ambrose, Gary Vaynerchuk, Vin Vicanti and Jim Moran, Nate Westheimer and Jonah Keegan – thank you for all of the awesome insight, advice, referrals and support!

And for everyone else who took the time to chat with us or answer some of our questions at an event or on the nextNY Google group, THANK YOU!

I’m humbled and honored to be part of this community.

Lessons Learned

The other night some friends insisted we go out and celebrate – “How happy are YOU!?” was the question of the evening.

But what's so surprising to me is that while I'm certainly happy about this, I’m happy for different reasons than I would have ever imagined when we started the company. I thought I'd be thrilled by being able to say "my company was acquired”.

But the “funny thing” is, that's not what made me happy at all. That old cliché comes to mind:

“Success is a journey not a destination.”

What made these last few years so amazing was simply the experience itself and most importantly, the lessons I learned along the way.

While there are probably more takeaways than I can count, these have to be my top three:

1. Principles, not Methods:

I can’t think of a better way to say this myself, so I’m simply going to quote Emerson:

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind of running a start-up. But as long as you have a solid framework from which to make decisions, evaluate opportunities, etc. , you’ll be just fine.

2. Know Your Numbers:

More specifically, get your financials down cold.

Know how big your market is. Know what it costs to acquire a user. Know how much revenue you can generate from that user.

To even begin to calculate these numbers you’ll need to constantly test, measure and optimize every single step in your marketing funnel: various marketing channels, conversion rates, retention rates, landing page design, etc. Constantly testing, measuring and optimizing every step along the way is what will ultimately bring acquisition costs down and lifetime value up.

It’s something we should’ve been doing from Day 1, but like many start-ups, we probably made every mistake along the way and still managed to do “ok” in spite of ourselves ☺

Luckily, we eventually got our act together but I have to say, the sooner the better when it comes to knowing your key metrics and how they relate to your financial performance.

3. Chickens & Eggs:

One of the biggest challenges when developing a social or community-powered site is the old "chicken & egg" problem. People won’t come to your site if there’s nothing there, but if people don’t come to your site then nothing will ever be there – what’s an entrepreneur to do?

There are a few solutions to this problem, some more difficult to implement than the others. You could, of course, develop an app that is “viral” by nature, but what’s the likelihood of that happening (and working just as planned)?

You could also go for the whole “Utility->Network” model. This is where you build the first version of your app so that a single, lonely user finds it valuable. And once you have thousands of individual users, you break down the walls between them and form a “network” (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). You’ve probably seen this on sites like

That’s obviously tough to do with a Q&A site, so what we ultimately did was inject our solution into existing communities. We white-labeled TickerHound and allowed our partners to use it as a knowledge and interaction tool within their websites. This meant we had traffic, an engaged audience and activity right away.

However, not all of our white-label initiatives were as successful as others, which I’ll go into in a separate blog post because there are some serious issues to think through with this strategy as well.

The Next Act…

I also always thought that exiting the business would be the end of the process – hence the term, “exit”. But I'm realizing that while it was the end of one process, it is the beginning of an entirely new one.

We founded TickerHound because people need answers to their questions and working on Wall Street taught me that it wasn't the place they could go to get them. I come from a "blue-collar" working class family and culture, so do my new partners at Tycoon. As opposed to the folks on Wall Street who are making 8 or 9 figures a year, we have a pretty good idea of what most Americans are going through right now.

We can relate to their fears and anxieties. We also know what it takes to make something from nothing.

Together we're hoping to change the world.

So I'm on a new mission now, I’m moving onto a new phase in my professional and personal development and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

NYC Start-up TickerHound Partners with NASDAQ

Having recently celebrated TickerHound's 1-year Anniversary as a public site, I couldn't be happier to announce our first significant technology partnership with a financial media/tech company: The NASDAQ OMX Group (Symbol: NDAQ).

If you go to you can now find TickerHound's Q&A widgets sprinkled across the site. To dive into the co-branded application we built for them just go to

This is a big moment for the entire team here and we can't wait to roll out some of the other partnerships we have on deck!

Press release is below:

NEW YORK, Apr. 9, 2009 -- and the NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc. (Nasdaq:NDAQ) today introduced NASDAQ Answers on This new, real-time Question & Answers platform provides users with unbiased, community-powered education for the individual investor.

“We’re very excited that NASDAQ, which has a long history of technological innovation in finance, has chosen TickerHound as one of its first social media offerings,” said Wayne Mulligan, TickerHound’s CEO. “NASDAQ’s implementation of TickerHound is a strong endorsement of our brand. We welcome’s support in fulfilling our mission of educating and empowering individual investors.”

"NASDAQ Answers provides an intuitive way for individual investors to ask questions and get answers from other users," said Bruce Hashim, Vice President, NASDAQ OMX Interactive Services. "TickerHound made it easy to integrate their robust software suite and we’re confident these social media features will significantly improve the user experience."

Now live on, Nasdaq Answers allows users to freely browse questions and answers across a variety of investment-related categories. Free registration with a valid email address is required for users to post or respond to questions. Visit to participate in the discussion.

For more information on NASDAQ Answers, visit

About TickerHound:

TickerHound is a community-powered education website for individual investors. Launched in 2007 the company has focused on creating a scalable and extensible Q&A platform and partnering with top-tier financial media brands. TickerHound’s goal is to provide unbiased, community-powered education for the individual investor. TickerHound provides its partners with a turnkey solution that will allow them to create, customize and quickly deploy their very own Q&A Community. The company plans to announce more white-label community-powered education features on other websites in the near future. For more information, visit

Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

The matters described herein contain forward-looking statements that are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements include, but are not limited to, statements about NASDAQ Market Pathfinders and NASDAQ OMX Group's other products and offerings. We caution that these statements are not guarantees of future performance. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied in the forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements involve a number of risks, uncertainties or other factors beyond NASDAQ OMX Group's control. These factors include, but are not limited to factors detailed in NASDAQ OMX Group's annual report on Form 10-K, and periodic reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. We undertake no obligation to release any revisions to any forward-looking statements.

# # #

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Serendipity, Discovery and Digital Media

So I saw a tweet from Fred Wilson earlier today with a link to an op-ed piece in the NY Post titled: "The Future of Television".

It was a well written piece and has a great flow-chart depicting the capabilities and limitations of many of the video offerings currently available to consumers (on both traditional television and the web). It really gives a clear picture of Boxee's position in the digital video market.

I have yet to try the service (no spare macs right now) but it looks pretty damn cool. Think iTunes if it had no DRM and allowed you to pull from a dozen other services.

At the same time I was reading the NY Post piece I had my XM-radio in my house pumping some Brian Eno. While I LOVE listening to Eno while working this was completely coincidental, I just had the channel set to "Chill" and Eno came on.

That got me thinking about new content delivery services such as Boxee and iTunes and how they've fundamentally altered our experience in discovering and consuming content.

When you use a service like Time Warner's Video on Demand, Boxee, iTunes, YouTube, whatever, it requires that you:

  1. Actively seek or search for a particular piece of content
  2. Make a concious to decision to view that piece of content (relative to other options)
  3. Commit to viewing (or listening) to it for at least a little while
Think about that for a minute - those are A LOT of steps. They all require a level of thought, comparative analysis and some element of stress when determing which show/song to select.

Now think about what usually happens when you come home after a long day at work (or on a lazy sunday) and you flip on the tube (or your radio). You can sit back, flip through a few channels randomly and through a divine act of serendipity, you stumble upon one of the greatest movies you've ever seen -- FYI: this is exactly how I first found The Shawshank Redemption.

There's something so pleasurable about accidentally finding a great song or movie. The process of accidental discovery - serendipitous content discovery, if you will - adds so much to the content consuming process. The level of enjoyment just seems to increase dramatically for me - not only did I get to enjoy a great piece of content but I also got to feel like I just won at the craps table too.

However, many of the newer services being built today are ignoring this concept.

It's what makes services like Digg so fun, it's why I keep Twitter open all day and it's why no matter how big the Video on Demand selection is on Time Warner, I'll ALWAYS default to channel surfing before heading to Channel 1000.

I'd love to see more mechanisms for serenedipitious content discovery baked into some of these new media services.

But don't get me wrong here either, services like Boxee and Video on Demand are amazing for their intended purpose: quickly browsing a catalog of content, finding the video you were looking for and having it delivered quickly and elegantly. But I think that before anything becomes the "future of TV" or radio, the recognition and utilization of serendipity in the content discovery process will be critical.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Chris Anderson's Amazing Ability to State the Obvious

The web has been abuzz all week with Anderson's latest treatise in the WSJ - The Economics of Giving it Away.

Here are some of the comments the article has generated across the web:

"Chris, what a fabulous perspective! I have been wondering how the changing economy might impact many of these web-based companies"

"Chris, great commentary on the current and future state of online business."

"I wanted to make a quick post this morning to point my readers toward a great piece in the Wall Street Journal [...] He talks about making money in this economic climate. "

Want a quick summary of Chris's "Fabulously Great" article?

If companies want to succeed, they'll have to sell something.

Hmmm...ya don't say, Chris?

That's some enlightening commentary right there...sure taught me a thing or two about a thing or two.

Ok, maybe I'm being overly critical here but I just don't get all the hubbub when someone who should be seeing ahead of the curve is pretty much reciting standard industrial-era business acumen. Am I missing something here or did Mr. Anderson pretty much regurgitate most media companies' business models (advertising) and the model for most software companies for the last 15 years (shareware)?

Chris states, "digital economics have spurred entirely new business models, such as "Freemium," a free version supported by a paid premium version. This model uses free as a form of marketing to put the product in the hands of the maximum number of people, converting just a small fraction to paying customers.", as if this were something new.

I was writing shareware when I was 15 years old - we'd give away a "Lite" version of the application and charge for the "Pro" version - it's been a pretty common practice for a long while now but for some reason if you slap a new brand ("freemium") on an old box and tell people it's new, they really think it is.

And when Chris talks about advertising-based models I really want to crack up. Network television has been 'free' for decades and is supported by ads - what's so unique about applying this model to media businesses on the web?

I just feel like it's 2000/2001 all over again and I'm reading some of the same articles for the 1000th time.

Let's get some fresh thoughts going on out there...stating the obvious isn't gonna help anyone out of the current predicament this country is in. It's as good as saying "banks should've done a better job at managing their risk" and hoping that will change things the next time around.

Chris, give us something we can really sink our teeth into next time!