Feed

Rick Webb

Caught In The Webb

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Why We’re Definitely in a Bubble

rickwebb-682x1024-399x600

Bubbles bubbles bubbles! The talk continues. Last week the anti-bubble camp was in the ascendency. First we had a massive bubble debate on Branch.com (disclosure: I am an investor in Branch), featuring some of the best minds on the internet: Anil Dash, Dave McClure, Paul Kedrosky, Chris Sacca, Michael Arrington, MG Seigler and more. The rough consensus? No bubble.

In wrapping up the Branch debate, Seigler pointed to First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, and his hilarious bubble post – from 2007, no less – mocking those who continuously cry bubble, and failing to grasp the transformational power of the internet. A fair point.

Next we had Business Insider Henry Blodget’s presentation State of Startups 2012 presentation, subtitled “No, it’s not a bubble.” Many charts, graphs and points followed laying out why the bubble doesn’t exist.

I must confess, however, I’m in the pro-bubble camp, and while reading the Branch debate, I found myself jumping up and down with counter arguments on why we actually are in a bubble. And, since I’ve taken a two week vacation from this column, I figured I’d come back with a vengeance, and cogently lay out all the arguments and counter arguments. Read More

Caught In The Webb

A Call for an Anti-Social Network

Mr. Webb.

A year ago this month my old agency made a joke website. The Barbarians were, and still are, quite fond of the joke website. This one, though, people seemed to really dig. It was called GroupMeh. It was a “revolutionary, game-changing social network for the tragically apathetic.” It was a big hit with the nerderati. I was reminded of this this weekend while at Coachella, when I ran into two of the co-founders of GroupMe, Steve and Jared. “Oh you were one of the guys who did GroupMeh.” Jared said. I was slightly embarrassed, but then I started rambling on about how we wanted to take it further.  I started babbling incoherently about our plans for GroupMeh. It was awkward. But the whole encounter reminded me of an idea that has been bouncing around in my brain, and a few other brains, for a few years now, even before GroupMeh (or GroupMe). The antisocial network.

When we launched GroupMeh we included a signup page that asked people for a reason why they wanted to join. Many of the comments people left were touching, and sad, and all too human. For example: “Reason? I moved in to a new city more than a year ago. I still have zero friends. Correct. Zero! Couple of banks are after me. Not to mention that I’ve never been in a relationship in my life. And I am 29 already!” Or how about this: “Got dumped by my girlfriend of ten years after living together for six months. Now live alone 20 miles away from hometown so utterly alone. Alienated all my friends for this girl. She’s very successful while I have a middling job with no future, no friends, no prospects. Oh also work overnights so very little human contact at work.” Not everyone has friends. Read More

Caught In The Webb

Instagram and the Age of Upsets

Mr. Webb.

Instagram, Instagram, Instagram! Oooh fun times! OMGPOP was exciting enough, but this! So exciting! What does it mean! What does it mean! A few weeks ago I tweeted that I wanted a nice big juicy acquisition to get all excited about. Chaos! Excitement! Inspiration! Copy cats. Looks like I got my wish.

Another thing that strikes me looking at Instagram and OMGPOP, is that I think what we are seeing is that the new tech titans are vulnerable. The days of people jousting fruitlessly against the dominant tech titan—Google—are over. Read More

The Extinct Agency IPO

Mr. Webb.

You know how this works from here on out. We start with a bunch of piddly shit. Your Topaz, your White Knight cologne. We add your midsize stuff. Maybe Mohawk. We still got Vicks. That’s big. Next we worm our way into a few niche companies. Get something sexy in a good neighborhood. A pharmaceutical. Maybe if god is gracious, a car. And then, we go public, open an office in Buenos Aires and Elvis plays at Tammy’s sweet sixteen.” – Ken Cosgrove, “Mad Men”

Ah, the good old days. The 1960′s were the heyday for the agency IPO. PKL kicked it off in 1962. Grey, FCB, and J Walter Thompson all followed later that decade. David Ogilvy took Ogilvy public in 1966 and claimed Warren Buffet as an early and long-term investor. Agency IPOs continued in through the latter half of the 20th century. The renowned Saatchi brothers took Saatchi & Saatchi public in 1975 in a reverse merger. Australian agency John Singleton Advertising in 1993. Media agency CIA in 1998. Japanese agency Dentsu, a unique blend of ad agency and media agency, pulled it off just in time in 2000. The Saatchis, extraordinary in their financial dexterity, pulled off another IPO of their new agency M&C Saatchi in 2004.

That was a lark. While the occasional agency IPO has happened in the 21st century, the agency IPO has been a rare bird indeed. Read More

Caught In The Webb

JOBS Act Jitters

Mr. Webb.

In one of my first Betabeat columns, I wrote about my concerns that the tech bubble has been only tempered by the larger economy. Once that economy rebounds, the unbridled enthusiasm in the tech sector will take off and the bubble will enter into the danger zone.

Even earlier–one year ago next week–I wrote my most popular blog post of all time. It was entitled “on the bubble.” I wrote it on my Tumblr. It was hella popular. Really. I wrote it one Saturday afternoon, in an almost stream of consciousness rant. I woke up, had some soup, and grabbed a Diet Coke and started writing. You can tell, when you read it (and do!) that it sort of hangs together, but that I come across new ideas as I’m writing it.

The basic premise of the piece, if you don’t feel like reading all 2,000 words of it, is that we are in the early stages of a tech bubble, and that most of these companies are funded by advertising, and advertisers don’t spend enough money, worldwide, to turn more than a few of these startups into “the next Google” or “the next Facebook,” even if all the ad money in the world went online. I still believe that. And I still believe that we’re in a bubble.

Finally, in the follow up discussions around my bubble post, I made this observation:

“We’re already hearing rumblings from the tech industry about how SOX [Sarbanes-Oxley --ed.] is burdensome, and SOX needs to be reworked, and SOX is interfering in the tech industry’s innovation. But it is not. SOX is going to be doing its job in this bubble. And if you want to actually look to see when this bubble’s gone to far, I would actually say that one of the easiest ways to measure how close we are to bubble busting, is to watch the chatter around SOX or, god forbid, action that lessens it. We’re at the end, then.”

Well, well, well. Little did I know it would come this soon. Read More

Caught In The Webb

Why Maturing Sites Should Go All Gladwell in Their Marketing

Mr. Webb.

I was sitting at Crif Dogs. The one in Williamsburg. It was sometime around midnight. I was coming home from the Björk show at Roseland, and picking up some burgers and dogs for me and my girlfriend. I was a little tipsy. I like that place. People are very chatty. It is, however, a tad slow in getting you a to-go burger (though the dogs are quick). But it’s worth it. Those are some good dogs and some very reasonably priced, quality burgers. I was sitting in the corner. I was reading “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” In other crowds in other places, I might feel a smidge of embarrassment for not having read it yet. At 1 a.m. in Williamsburg, my embarrassment would be that I am reading it at all, when I haven’t read the Patti Smith book yet. Or the Keith Richards one. God, I am a bad aging rocker. Read More

Caught In The Webb

Strange Memories on This Nervous Night at SXSW

Mr. Webb.

Rick Webb co-founded The Barbarian Group, a digital ad agency, and is now a writer and angel investor in the tech industry.

Like a merchant marine making his annual port of call, SXSW Interactive sails off into the night. We feel vaguely dirty and exhausted, but also fulfilled and edified. Do merchant marines edify? I’m sure they do.

The frothy mix of tech, advertising and media, having arrived to the party through the years in that order, has been shaken-not-stirred to a bubbling brew of publicity-fueled frenzy where corporate alliances battle mightily to prove new business models. The modern equivalent of the SkyTeam alliance is now the tech company-big brand-media property. Are you a gold member of Twitter+American Express+Jay Z? Free show for you. A platinum member of the Foodspotting+Chow.com alliance? Free tacos. A million-miler on the Samsung+Twitter+Techset mileage program? Swag and laptop charging all around. Google, much like Virgin America, goes its own way with its mileage program, and the perks are as shiny and new as USB at your seat and WiFi in every flight: The Shins, The Ting Tings, Black Star and Jimmy Cliff. Also they took over the best bars in Austin (on Rainey St.) that hadn’t been previously tainted by SXSW. I am bitter. Read More

Caught In The Webb

SXSW, Here We Come.

Mr. Webb.

Rick Webb co-founded The Barbarian Group, a digital ad agency, and is now a writer and angel investor in the tech industry.

Oh man. It is upon us! I am so excited! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! South by Southwest, here we come! I leave tomorrow. ARE YOU READY? I am so ready. I have lost count on which SXSW this is for me, but it’s well over my tenth. Yes, it’s changed a lot. Yes, it’s huge now – and I hope it just keeps getting bigger. To my Austin friends, I apologize for saying this. I know you’re sick of us. But we do really love your town. We love SXSW. And we are thankful for your hospitality.

It’s just the best most wonderful week of the year for the internet industry, isn’t it? I mean there are cooler conferences (DLD, Next Web). There are more exclusive ones – Summit Series (who just bought a mountain! WTF!), and the mainframe TED, which is sorta the Sparc Supercluster or Cray of tech conferences. Monolithic, kind of old school but still pretty awesome. SXSW Interactive, now entering its 13th year, is the big one. It’s the closest thing the tech industry has to an E3 or a CES or Cannes or Outdoor Retailer. It is, essentially, the Internet’s trade conference. Everyone goes.

Well, okay, each year there are a few curmudgeons bemoaning that it’s gotten too big, a few cooler-than-thou insiders who simultaneously don’t need a giant conference to meet everyone and also have also forgotten the serendipitous joy that accompanies meeting someone new, interesting and unexpected. Then, of course, there are the new tech founders, running 3-10 person companies that are heads down trying to get things done, yet already funded, and not ready to launch. They’ve got work to do. Many people skip at least one year in this manner. Godspeed and see you next year with your awesome new product. We’ll drink a Shiner in your honor.

But for the most part, everyone else attends. And I do mean everyone. Read More

Caught In The Webb

Why You Can Blame Your Inability to Find an iOS Developer on VCs

Mr. Webb.

Rick Webb co-founded The Barbarian Group, a digital ad agency, and is now a writer and angel investor in the tech industry.

I meet all sorts of people starting new companies. A ton of them are starting hot new tech startups and are out there looking for funding and often succeeding. Many more are starting much-needed service firms in high tech—providing much-needed services along the lines of iOS app development, web development, marketing, PR, content creation, and backend development. There are massively talented people in both types of companies. They do the same work. They hang out together, they have the same skills. They need each other.

Yet one segment of them have the potential to earn millions, and the other doesn’t.

It makes no sense. Read More

Caught In The Webb

Lay off the Social Media Experts

Mr. Webb.

Rick Webb co-founded The Barbarian Group, a digital ad agency, and is now a writer and angel investor in the tech industry.

It’s happening again. While perusing the never-ending flow of tweets and Tumblr blogs that make up the collective consciousness of the internet, like I do, I’ve noticed that over the last few weeks, it’s become fun again to mock “social media experts.” And so, in the wake of another successful Social Media Week, now seems a good time to stick up for this much-maligned digital wage slave. I admit I have gone on this rant before, and if you’ve heard me before, I apologize.

But it’s time to toast the Social Media Expert. Read More