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I am Joannes Vermorel, founder at Lokad. I am also an engineer from the Corps des Mines who initially graduated from the ENS.

I have been passionate about computer science, software matters and data mining for almost two decades. (RSS - ATOM)

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Entries in practices (34)

Monday
May042009

Copied by the Chinese government

Apparently, my company website has been copied by an official branch of the Chinese government. Although, Ghandi has said that Imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, I am not sure how I should handle such a blatant ripoff of Lokad's copyrights.

Key interesting facts:

  • plenty of "left-over" on the Chinese website from the original one.

  • imaginative ways of recycling irrelevant illustrations.

  • it's a .gov.cn website, that is to say an official Department of the Government of China.

The Business of Software folks have already quite few ideas on the subject. I will probably ponder the case a few days to decided what to do next.

Co-worker suggestion:
Rinat is suggesting me to recontact them saying that since they appear to like our website that much, they might want to try our forecasting technology too.

A few screenshots in case the Chinese website gets updated: 1, 2 and 3.

Tuesday
Apr212009

Startup Class '07 and '08 at Telecom ParisTech

In my previous post if been detailing 9 steps to make sure your startup exists. Inspired by an initial idea of Chris Exline, I decided to make a small survey of the startups admitted at the Incubator of Telecom ParisTech in 2007 and 2008 (startups are hosted 18 months by the incubator, and then kicked-out, that's the rule).

To figure out how well the startups of the incubator were doing, I came up with a simple score the startup websites.

Survival test for startup websites:

  • +2 if look & fell is GOOD.

  • +1 if look & fell is just OK (zero if horrid).

  • +2 if benefits of product or service is clear.

  • +1 if I must struggle to figure out the benefits.
    (zero if I am still clueless about benefits after struggling)

  • +1 if there is no happy talk

  • +1 if PageRank is greater than 3 for a B2B company.

  • +1 if PageRank is greater than 5 for a B2C company.

  • +1 if there is an English version.

  • +1 if people can buy or consume right away.

  • +1 if there are news.

  • +1 if there are forums.

The maximal score for this test is 10. One can argue that this test is very subjective. Frankly, after reviewing 50 companies, I rather think otherwise.

Any website with a decent, professional looking is ranked as GOOD with 2 points - no need for flashy graphics, decent is enough. In the other hand, if the website feels amateurish (colors messed-up, random layout) but still functional, then it's OK, you get 1 point. If the website is utterly broken in design or in navigation, then it's zero point.

Same for the benefits. If I can get a rough idea, in less than a minute, of the added-value of your company, then you get 2 points. I mean no need for detailed ideas, big picture is enough. If I have to struggle for 5 mins to finally guess what could be your added value, then it's 1 point. If after 5 mins, I am still utterly clueless, then it's zero point.

Concerning the PageRank, I am putting a much lower threshold for B2B website, because those folks typically need 100x times less customers than B2C companies to be profitable.

Not having a English version is like shooting yourself a bullet in your feet. The French market is small, so small, compared to USA+UK+Canada+India+Australia. To get 1 point here, you don't need to have translated everything in English, any portion that makes sense is enough.

In my opinion:

  • any 6 months old startup should get at least 6/10.

  • any 18 months old startup should get 9/10.

I have collected raw data for 52 startups within a Google Spreadsheet, and here are the results at present date 2009-04-21.

Disclaimer: I have a strong bias toward Lokad since it's my own company so it was removed from the study.

07 class

9 DisMoiOù
9 Lingueo
8 Connecthings
8 Helia
8 La Cartoonerie
8 LivePepper
8 Netineo
8 PREXENS
8 Teacheo
7 FrenchSet
6 Adminext
6 EtherTrust
6 InovaCours
6 Tellus
5 FamilyBy
5 Adipsys
5 Lixys
4 Needer
3 Connect and Go
3 Patent Organizer Software
3 Nexess
2 MobiNear
1 Alphacode
1 Système Polaire
0 Takys

Average score: 5.5
'08 Class

9 OOdesk
8 Accessif
8 Haploid
8 Hellocoton
8 PlayAdz
7 CapAngel
7 Jaxio
7 OhMyMode
6 Ecce Vino
6 Quelle Energie
6 Actimos
6 Kwaga
5 Ineovation
4 Eyes Triple Shut
4 Hedera Technology
4 Plugnsurf
3 Absysseo
3 Aquilant Technologies
3 Faveod
3 The Metrics Factory
2 FI Technologies
2 Media Mobility
2 nYouLinK
2 SeQureNet

Average score: 5.3

 
To be honest, those results look rather poor to me.

  • Two thirds of those startups don't offer any chance to their customer to buy or consume the product or service online.

  • Roughly one third of those startups are not able to express the benefits they could bring to their customers.

  • More than half of the startups can't get even a limited English version of their website.

Moreover, startups do not improve much over time. Considering 2007 vs 2008, if feel like if there were two categories of startups:

  • the ones that got a good website right from the start.

  • the ones that will never get a good one.

Yet, my own experience told me it's so obviously not true. Just have a look at the first version of the Lokad website and compare with the current one. Granted, I am still far from what Branding Geniuses could produce, but still.

I would be interested to see how other incubators are doing on their own.

Saturday
Apr182009

9 steps to make sure your startup exists

My uISV isn't even remotely an audience based business - we are on a narrow B2B segment - but since the very beginning, I have invested a lot of efforts to get a decent online presence. So far, every effort that I have pushed to strengthen the online presence was very significantly rewarded. Every week or so, excellent news just pop out of nowhere:

  • A consulting group wants to add the product to its portfolio.

  • A customer sends you a detailed spec of what you should be doing instead, and it happens to be really smart suggestions.

  • A large company wants to know if your product scales up to 1 zillion users, because they are considering buying a zillion licenses.

Nearly one year ago, I had the chance to get my own uISV admitted at the Startup Incubator of Telecom ParisTech. An incubator is a nice place to meet other people that are facing roughly the same sort of problems that you have. To my great surprise, most startups have poor online presence, and even more surprising, most investors seem to have no clue about online presence either.

It's not clear how much it hurts the business; but in my opinion your online presence is the only tangible proof of your company existence for all people who do not happens to be within a 20km radius of your office.

Thus, here are my 9 steps to make sure the company has an online presence: 

  1. No stealth-mode crap, get online, no excuse.

  2. Look & feel should be decent.

  3. Customer benefits come first.

  4. Happy talk has no place on your site.

  5. Decent Google PageRank is required.

  6. English is required.

  7. Public pricing is required.

  8. Blog is required.

  9. Community feedback should be possible.

1. No stealth-mode crap, get online, no excuse
People tend to think too much good of their own ideas. Ideas matters little while execution is everything. Remember that Google was half-a-decade late in the search engine race; idem with Facebook for social networking websites. Stealth development is a game for big players who can sustain years of R&D expenses with no visible returns and then inject millions in marketing once the technology is ready.

2. Look & feel should be decent
Unless you happen to be a graphic designer, don't even try to skin your website yourself: it will look awfully amateurish and turn your customers away. For $100 or less you can get a nice website template. It might not be unique, but it does not matter. There are so many templates available anyway, that 99.99% of your visitors won't even notice that aspect. In 2009, there is no more excuse to have a half-backed website skin.

3. Customer benefits come first
If your visitors can't figure out the benefits of your technology / product / service, why should they actually care about the way it's designed? Many startup fails at actually explain the value of what they are offering, and strongly focus on random technical aspects that happened to be a challenge for the development team.

4. Happy talk has no place on your site
Happy talk is an easy way to fill your website. Ever considered putting a Welcome on our website sentence in your front page? Well, don't. Also, for B2B company, happy talk usually happens with (slightly) more subtle verbiage such as mindless mission statements: our mission is to serve our customer's interests. Make sure that every single word that you put on your website carry a valuable message. If it doesn't, delete the word.

5. Decent Google PageRank is required
Ever googled a company name to end up on the Facebook page of an employee? Well, that sort of things happens when your Google PageRank is just too low. More generally, a decent PageRank ensures that if somebody does a deep market research, your company will appears. I am not even talking about grabbing thousands of visitors through top SERP on strategic keywords; I am just considering the journalist / student / consultant / ... who is trying to figure out all the players of your business niche. If this person can't find you, then you don't exist.

6. English is required
If you happen to be a native English speaker, that one isn't going to be too hard for you. For the rest of us, well, we have to make the effort to get it done nonetheless. The harsh reality is that through English, you can reach roughly 10x more people than what you can through any other languages. It's doesn't mean that you can't do other languages, but English should be a primary focus.

7. Public pricing is required
It's always a bit puzzling to me to notice how people are usually reluctant to display any pricing on their website - especially on B2B websites. Yet, pricing is a vital information for your customers. Software or services can be priced from $1 / month to $10 million / month. Where do you stand? This concern stays valid even for beta products. Displaying a price is a very good signal for your customers: it tells them that you are a real company with a real product under way. Without pricing, you're simply not part of the economic circuit.

8. Blog is required
A company can be long dead while the website is still up and running. Providing some news - any news, anywhere on the website - as long the dates are visible, is the most simple way to prove to your visitors that the company is still up and running. Having a blog, and posting at least once a month is probably the easiest to complete this step. Blogs are dirty cheap and dead simple, no excuse will be considered for not having a blog.

9. Community feedback should be possible
I found that it's always very frustrating not being able to provide feedback about a product, a website, a service whatever. Granted, most web visitors are never giving any feedback, but some are doing it all the time. The feedback provided by those users is gold. Don't neglect your community when setting-up web forums is just a matter of hours. Your forums are likely to have a slow profile, but in my experience, the few early feedbacks that you get can actually make a difference in your business. You should not miss that sort of opportunity.

As a final word, I have already started to collect some data about the '07 and '08 classes of the incubator of Telecom ParisTech. Stay tuned.

 

Monday
Jul282008

Migrating from OnTime to Trac, a short review

I have been a long time user of the project tracker OnTime provided by Axosoft. Yet, at Lokad, we have just migrated to Trac, a open source project tracker.

Although OnTime is a good product, there are quite a few elements definitively in favor a Trac

  • low ceremony: Trac has no advanced workflow, no 10 fields bug entry forms, no team reporting dashboard - but it just works. When it comes to web app, less is more. If you can pinpoint a bug in one sentence, then filling a 6 steps bug replication form is just a waste of time.

  • pretty URLs: that one is very often neglected by ASP.NET developers. It's really nice to be able to copy a URL such as http://foo.com/trac/ticket/17 into a mail, a wiki or even to bookmark it. Then, every single view in Trac has its own URL ready to be shared. In this respect, I have felt that the AJAX upgrade of OnTime, one year ago, was a downgrade from the usability viewpoint, because with AJAX, you loose both URLs and the ability to hit "back" on your web browser.

  • emphasing usability and not coolness: when I select an item on Trac, I get the complete view of the item in a simple webpage. Agreed, the page design not super elegant, but since scrolling up and down is a mechanical feature of my mouse, and it happens to be really efficient - especially compared to the tiny AJAX tabs of OnTime.

  • SVN integration: Trac let you browse the SVN source and associate SVN commits can be associated to Trac tickets. That one feature is a killer.

Disclaimer: OnTime is probably meant to be used through the Visual Studio add-in, yet, for some reason, I never managed to convince myself of actually installing the add-in, and I did stick to the hosted edition of OnTime. Thus, the comparison might be entirely fair.

Friday
Nov162007

Tracking file downloads in Google Analytics AND Google Adwords

Google has not one web analytics system, but two of them, namely Google Analytics and Google Adwords. For the average webmaster, this situation is quite a pain, because most of the tracking code must be duplicated. To make the situation worse, Google Adwords does not support any straightforward solution to track file downloads.

For the sake of my own μISV, I have designed the following script that enables both Analytics and Adwords tracking in a single function.

// Tracking.js - Joannes Vermorel, Lokad.com, 2007
function dhtmlLoadScript(url)
{
var e = document.createElement("script");
e.src = url;
e.type="text/javascript";
document.getElementsByTagName("head")[0].appendChild(e);
}

function lokadTracker(path)
{
urchinTracker(path);

google_conversion_id = 10683XXXX; // use your own ID here
google_conversion_language = "en_US";
google_conversion_format = "1";
google_conversion_color = "FFFFFF";
if (1) {
google_conversion_value = 1;
}
google_conversion_label = "pageview";
dhtmlLoadScript('http://www.googleadservices.com/pagead/conversion.js');
}

In order to track a file download just embed the script here above, and intercept the onclick event of your download link

<a onclick="lokadTracker('/Foo.zip')" href="Foo.zip" > Foo <a>