Alltop: the magazine rack of the net

Alltop: the magazine rack of the net

This is Kamla Bhatt. Today my guest is Guy Kawasaki, who is a VC, entrepreneur and an evangelist. Today we are here to meet Guy in his latest avatar or reincarnation, as a social media evangelist and also as somebody who is investing in start-ups. A late bloomer, Guy started blogging just about three years ago and he has rapidly transitioned and leap-froged to the head of the pack and has a fairly ubiquitous web presence.

Guy: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Kamla: I want to start off with Hawaii. You went to the other school?

f86ac1d6-dfdb-11dd-9ff3-000b5dabf636.flvGuy: Yeah, the other school. The one that Barack Obama did not go to, because he couldn’t get in. He went to Punahou and I went to Iolani. The rivalry is roughly the rivalry between Stanford and USC- where Iolani is Stanford and Pulho is USC.

Kamla: Really?

Guy: Really.

Kamla: When you graduated from High School, do you recall what your High School yearbook had to say about what you would be doing in future?

Guy: I think I had some stupid quote there about “I can’t possibly know well or think or do what to tell you in the future so if you really care- just ask me again" or something like that. It was not the most insightful and it was not Thoreau and it wasn’t some great philosopher or so. It was a long time ago.

Kamla: Were you ever part of your school’s debate team?

Guy: No, I was not. In High School, I just loved football. So I just focused on football and had a great time. Had a great high school life. I do remember, our graduating class had 135 people and I think my GPA- I was the 5th in the class. And I tied with a guy named Mufi Hanneman for Athlete Scholar and I won Scholar Athlete so the difference- the emphasis which came first. Today Mufi Hanneman is the mayor of Honolulu and likely to be the governor of Hawaii sometime soon.

So that is my past.

Kamla: And that’s how you came to Stanford with that Scholar Athlete Scholarship?And you did Psychology. You’ve had a very interesting experience and the way you entered Apple. We’ll quickly go through it and leapfrog to your blogging and social media. I mean you are ubiquitous; you are everywhere.

Guy: So I went to Stanford from 1972-76. I majored in Psychology because Psychology is the easiest major or was the easiest major at Stanford at the time. Then, in 1977, I entered law school at UC Davis because my parents wanted me to be a lawyer; because all Japanese-American parents want your kids to be lawyers, doctors or dentists. And I did not want to stick my hands in people’s mouths or in people’s body so that eliminated the medical field and the dental field. So all that was left was sticking your hand in people’s affairs, which is the legal field.

So I went to Law School for two weeks, and I hated it and I quit. I returned to Hawaii, I worked for the Lt. Governor of Hawaii, and then I returned the following year to get an MBA at UCLA. Did that for a couple of years and while I was there, believe it or not, I worked for a jewellery manufacturer and literally counting the diamonds. I stayed that for 5 years, once my MBA was done.

At that point of time, I saw an Apple II, then I saw Macintosh and my classmate from Stanford; my roommate at Stanford, offered me a position at Apple. The first position was to work for the Apple University Consortium to go around to schools convincing them to buy Macs and I didn’t take that job. I wasn’t right for that job and I didn’t have the right background for that. I was bitten by the computer bug anyway so I went to work for a small software company called, “Peachtree Software". It was- excuse me; it was “Eduware Services" which was shortly thereafter acquired by Peachtree out of Atlanta. And I was supposed to move to Atlanta but I just could not move to Atlanta - it was too humid.

So then Apple recruited me for a second position (at Apple)- this time as Software Evangelist- so I became a software evangelist. I stayed there for four years and then I started a software company after I left Apple. I became a writer and speaker after the software company then started another software company and went back to Apple. Then started Garage as a boutique investment bank. Garage has subsequently changed its model to be a venture capitalist i.e. looking for two guys and two girls at the Garage.

Recently, I started blogging, like three years ago. And then I started this website called “Truemors" which stands for True Rumours, where people could post news.

And we noticed that the traffic from Truemors was heavily, heavily coming from a company called PopUrls, which is the site that aggregates tech and business news. So we noticed that PopUrls were sending us as much traffic as Google, so I asked the PopUrls guy, Thomas Marvin if he was going to do anything beside tech & business and he said “No". That’s when I said that all right Since you’re not going to do anything beyond tech and business then, I’m going to do wine and food and adoption and autism and zoology and politics and you name it. And that was the birth of Alltop.

So we were inspired by PopUrls and today we have about 410 topics.

Kamla: And how do you select the topics?

Guy: Well, some are naturals. I mean you have to have news, you have to have politics, you have to have baseball, football, soccer, cricket- you know. You have to have the major cultures, and you have to have the major cities. But beyond that, it’s really the total community. You know, they would suggest you need to do stuff like, you know- Bacon.

Let me give you an extreme example. So one day, we get some tweets and somebody says, you really need to do “bacon". I said, what are you talking about? Bacon.Alltops. Apparently, there are lot of blogs about bacon! Okay. So we created Bacon.Alltop and so somebody else says when you have Bacon.Alltop, then you need to do Cookies.Alltop, you need to do etc, etc.

So the Twitter community suggests the topics. Many times the person who suggests the topics also has their own personal collection of feeds so they send us their OPML, and then the community contributes to that, makes it a better site by suggesting more feeds. And then somebody says, if you’ve done adoption, how about if you do home schooling? And somebody else says, if you’ve done home schooling, how about if you do ADHD and it just goes on and on.

So Alltop would not be nearly what it is without Twitter. It was made for Twitter; Twitter was made for Alltop.

Kamla: You’re a very good marketing person. Lot of people say that-

Guy: Something to take it as an insult but I don’t.

Kamla: Oh no. It’s not an insult. I am taking my hat off. I’m doffing my hat in your direction saying you know that marketing is a tool that we forget to use.

Guy: It’s the only tool I got.

Kamla: I had asked people to send me questions when I told them I was going to interview you. Interestingly, there were a whole bunch of questions on Alltop. And the number one question was- how do you plan to monetize Alltop?

Guy: That should be fairly obvious. If people would go to Mac.Alltop- Macintosh news aggregation site, They will see an ad that is sponsored by Microsoft, they will see Google Ad Sense ads, and they will see commission junction affiliate ads. So those are the three things. And we have 400 topics. We would sell a sponsorship per month, for any topic for $250 except Mac.Alltop. Mac.Alltop has so much traffic-that’s probably $500.

And this is for 125x125 GIF.

So the theory is that we have not yet proven the theory yet. A good comparison would be against Google AdSense. So if I’m a blogger- let’s say I am a blogger about WordPress; I’m a word press blogger-that’s my topic. And I go to – some O’Reilly conference and I say well, I went to the O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference and I had a glass of wine with Michael Arington. So they write that in a blog. So Adsense sees the word “wine", puts some wine ads in the side bar; text lines you know, “wines for less", “1-800-Wines", “" because it saw this keyword, “wine".

But if you think about it, the person reading the wordpress blog is not particularly interested in wine. It is just that word appeared. By contrast, if you went to, guess what. You’re into wine. There is no question why you’re there. You’re not into wordpress so you’re reading Wine.Alltop. Flip sides and if you go to Wordpress.Alltop, you’re not into wine! So if we pull it off, we have the ultimate segmented population because when you’re in Wine.Alltop, you’re interested in wine. If you’re at Mac.Alltop, guess what- you’re interested in Macintosh. If you’re at Autism.Alltop, you have an autistic kid. So some drug company who wants to sell drugs to cure Autism how can you get more targeted market than that? That is the theory. We will see if we can prove it.

Kamla: So are you trying to build an ad network?

Guy: No. I mean, an ad network implies that we have a bunch of content providers. We are not a Glam or Federated. So, we are more like Google, in the sense that Google is taking its best shot that it is guessing that if you have a word in the blog then that word is probably pertinent to readers Since it is pertinent to reader we will find ads that are pertinent to the word.

We don’t make that calculation. Our calculation is much more basic. If you are at Wine.Alltop, you must be into wine. Why else would you be there?

Kamla: So your context is far more specific.

Guy: Far more specific. And it’s not accidental, and it’s not based on you know, algorithms. It’s all very simple. If you’re at Wine.Alltop, we assume you’re into wine. I think that is a good assumption. If you’re at Autos.Alltop, guess what- you like cars! If you’re at India.Alltop, guess what- you’re probably an Indian! So- it’s very clean. Very clean.

Kamla: The reason I asked if you’re going to start an ad network is because you have re-invented yourself so many times and you know-

Guy: Not on purpose.

Kamla: I know that. But - because you review the landscape, you see the altered landscape and you say, okay, this is what is required. ..

Guy: If you want to believe that’s my process; okay!

Kamla: Well, okay. What is your process?

Guy: My process is- I do stuff that I like. I happen to like providing a very, very good informational experience. Right. So, another example would be- let’s say that you want to keep track of what’s going on in India. All right? You’ve just moved here from Bangalore or whatever you know and graduated from IIT and now you’ve moved to America and you’re working in Silicon Valley. But you would still like to keep track of what’s happening in Mumbai or what’s happening in Bangalore or what’s happening with Cricket. All right?

Then, you know let’s think of all the alternatives. You could go to Google and type in India and you’d find in probably 40 million matches. Right? And that the word “INDIA" in that context could be Indian food, Indian religion, Mumbai terrorist attack, - it could be 38 million different things! Now, if you went to, guess what? It’s only news about India. So we answer a very different question from Google. Google- you might ask “How many people live in India?" You ask that question to Google, it will point you to CIA database or Wikipedia or the Indian government department that maintains population figure. You will answer the question 3 billion people or you know- whatever the figure is. That is not the kind of question we answer.

We answer the question “How do I keep on top of what’s happening in India?" If you want to ask that question, “How do I keep on top of what’s happening in India?" you go to India.Alltop. We have 75 feeds of Indian publications sites and blogs. We keep you on top of India. However, if you wanted to know how many people live in India, we don’t provide that answer.

Now, it could be just sheer coincidence that one of the feeds that we aggregate that moment has a story about the latest population figures but that’s purely coincidence. If you want to ask the question “How many people live in India?" go to Google. If you want to ask the question “How do I keep on top of what’s happening in India?" you go to Alltop.

Kamla: Let me ask you. How do you define yourself?

Guy: How do I define myself? First of all I am a parent. And I am a writer and a speaker and an entrepreneur and a venture capitalist and I try to play hockey. Those are the six things.

Kamla: What about the latest one- Online business editor?

Guy: Online business editor is my Twitter profile because I want people to understand that I focus on Alltop and as the co-founder and CEO of Alltop, that’s what we do. You know, I’m an editor. I’m editing feeds. I’m trying to pick out what’s best for any given topic.

You were listening to Guy Kawasaki who is a Silicon Valley based investor, entrepreneur and writer. Guy is also the Managing Director of Garage Technology Ventures.

Tune back in for Part 2 of our conversation where Guy continues to talk about Alltop and Twitter and the business model for his Alltop venture.

This is Kamla Bhatt. This interview is brought to you in association with Live Mint Radio and as always, thank you for tuning in.

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