Dan and I met over  lunch with the CEO and the IT head of the Mountain View Voice (http://mv-voice.com/). We showed them our mockups and explained the concept to them. While they were expressed interest in our social network around news, we also learned the following:

  • They take at least 3 months to make a decision for anything. This is because it requires the approval of so many stakeholders. The fastest they ever made a decision was when a competitor launched a commenting feature. They built a similar commenting features in 3 1/2 weeks.
  • The criteria the IT head uses to make a decision is (1) ease of use – how easy is it to incorporate into everything we already have? how much do I have to work to maintain it?, (2) cost – how does this affect the bottom line?, and (3) quality – is this the best product out there?
  • They don’t want to replace their existing comments. They see a link to our site as an additional feature.
  • They prefer to allow anonymous comments but don’t mind that we require identities.

They liked the following about our service:

  • Social integration: We tie in with their Facebook accounts.
  • Control: Because we don’t ask for their content (like Yahoo does), they don’t loose control over the presentation of their content.
  • Sharing: The sharing features would probably bring more page views to their site.

So the overall take away is: They are very interested and intrigued by our product but they are swamped with so many other projects that commenting isn’t on the top of their  list.

At the end of the meeting, we asked the IT head what the company’s top priority projects were. I was astonished to learn that these projects were all IT related. They needed a redesign of their site, they were replacing their ad system, and there were many other changes to the site in the pipeline. The difficulty was, like a lot of other small newspapers, they were running  a home-brew content management system built in an era before WordPress.

We also asked what the company’s largest problem was. To my surprise (sarcasm), they said the bottom line. The transition from print to the internet had crippled their revenue. Most of their print revenue used to be made from local advertising. Today, local businesses have a myriad of options to advertise. Among these is Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Ads. Newspapers are no longer the place for local business to advertise. They’re just an option.

The opportunities I see here are

  • The major IT headaches for small news publishers that can’t afford large IT departments. This seemed like a hair-on-fire problem from the way the IT head described it. There is definitely a market for tools that make their lives easier.
  • Newspapers’ competition with other local advertisement channels. The demographic information from our social network may make local newspapers more attractive to local advertisers.

After we are able to obtain evidence that our social network can improve a newspaper’s biggest problem–their bottom line–we will have a far more compelling product.

-Venkat

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