Archive for September, 2008

Footnote’s Presentation at TechCrunch50

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

OK, my quick reactions to Footnote’s pitch to the TechCrunch50 event today:

  • Starting off with a personal vignette about attending a funeral… a good idea?  Worked for Arcade Fire, I guess.
  • Note to self… make sure that personal experiences I relate about deceased friends or relatives help my audience associate warm, positive feelings with our website.
  • Yikes… do VCs/serial entrepreneurs get the  genealogy space?  Another reason not to go looking for VC funding, perhaps.
  • Loic Le Meur’s concerns are likely shared by quite a few… among his points:
  • “Honestly, I find it disturbing.. i wouldn’t like to have my family exposed, can I opt out for my family?”
  • “I would hate to see a blank profile with my father’s name when he (and I) can’t control it.”
  • “Monetizing my family… I have a problem with that.”
  • Give the Footnote team credit for rolling with the punches.  They seemed confident, at ease, not defensive.  If I were them, I would have found the “you’re just like Ancestry” comment annoying… I thought they turned that one around well.

Footnote a TechCrunch50 Finalist

Monday, September 8th, 2008

TechCrunch50Footnote Logo

Congratulations to Footnote.com for being selected as a TechCrunch50 Finalist.  TechCrunch is a hugely influential website that spotlights the most promising up-and-coming Internet startups.  Each year they hold a highly-anticipated conference event where company founders pitch their business ideas to venture capitalists and the tech media.  Last year’s best presenting company was Mint.com, a personal finance startup that has gone on to secure $16.7M in Series A and B investments from Shasta Ventures and Benchmark Capital, among others.

Footnote will be making their TechCrunch50 presentation in San Francisco this Wednesday as part of a session entitled “Vertical Social Networking”.  They’ll go up against social networks for bird watchers, fashionistas, those looking to support social causes, and online gamers.

When I mention my involvement in a genealogy-related startup to potential investors, many are quick to dismiss the field as too “niche” to merit serious (i.e., venture-scale) investment.  To some extent, that reflects their own lack of familiarity with the field, but it also represents a fairly realistic assessment of what’s happened in the genealogy market to this point.  By choosing to showcase Footnote at their yearly “coming-out” party for startups, TechCrunch has signaled their view that Footnote could break out of the relatively narrow genealogy market vertical, garner mainstream customer traction and attract serious new investors.

In my view, this is great news for the genealogy community.  It should embolden entrepreneurs trying to bring innovative new family history products to market.  This in turn will help insure that the field doesn’t continue to be dominated by a few large players.  And of course, here at Genlighten, we hope it translates into accelerating growth in the market for Internet-enabled genealogy services.

Again, congratulations to the Footnote team!

Is FGS attendance down? And if so, why?

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

FGS 2008 Conference Logo

The buzz around the FGS exhibit hall today is that this year’s registered attendance is down to around 700.  That would evidently represent a big drop from recent years, which saw perhaps closer to 1,200 or more attendees.  Speculation for the cause of the drop (if indeed it turns out to be real) seems to be running along two basic lines:

  1. The economy’s down, and the price of gas is up, so genealogy enthusiasts are cutting down on their discretionary conference travel spending.
  2. The speakers were selected so far in advance that there’s not a whole lot of new talks on offer to attract attendees, particularly coming so soon after the NGS Meeting.

I don’t have much basis for a response to explanation #2, but from my brief scan of the presentations at FGS this year, they look plenty interesting to me.  (I unfortunately may not be able to get away from the booth to see many of them.)

Explanation #2 has a common-sense plausibility to it that makes it hard to argue with.  From a business standpoint, the relatively low exhibit area traffic calls into question the ROI of our renting a booth here.

Ever the optimist, however, I take the glass-half-full view:  if genealogists are finding it too expensive to travel to conferences, they may also be looking for low-cost alternatives to long-distance trips in search of genealogical documents.  Genlighten should meet that need quite nicely!

A few important updates to Genlighten.com

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

I’m here at the FGS Conference in Philadelphia looking out from our booth on the exhibit hall, which is buzzing with conference-goers.  We’d originally hoped to announce our beta release at this event, but as with many software projects, our milestone estimates turned out to be optimistic, and we’ve had to move our anticipated launch date back by several months.  We now anticipate the public beta being ready by early 2009, with access to the private beta available towards the end of this year.

What’s Taking Us So Long?

For the most part, the delay is a natural consequence of our business strategy, which can be summed up as “Don’t quit your day job!”  Genlighten continues to be primarily a “nights and weekends” project for Justin and me and it will likely stay that way until revenue justifies otherwise.

Of course, we could put a lot of effort into getting angel investors to fund our early-stage development, allowing us to work full-time on Genlighten and hopefully get it launched and producing revenue a lot faster.  That’s a strategy we’re considering, but our team is well aware of the immense challenges and pitfalls involved, so for the time being we’re not ready to head down that road.

In the meantime, just in time for FGS, we do have a few updates to the Alpha site to announce.

Updated Flyers, Document Delivery Strategy, and Provider Criteria

First, the PDF flyers available on the site have been revised to reflect our new anticipated private and public beta availability dates.  The new flyers also reflect our intention to deliver most (if not all) documents as digital images via download from the site itself, rather than having our providers mail paper copies.  Accordingly, we’re looking for potential providers who have ready access to a digital scanner and are confident creating good-quality images from scanned documents.  These adjustments to our strategy reflect input we’ve received from several generous advisers in the genealogy research community.  Look for more details on this approach in a future blog post.

New Mailing Address

Second, we’ve changed our mailing address.  The new one is:

Genlighten
P.O. Box 893
Wilmette, Illinois  60091

This move doesn’t reflect anything particularly strategic.  Our previous commercial mailbox provider just happened to go out of business (about a month after we had business cards printed, unfortunately.)

Privacy and Security Policy

One of the main unfinished tasks from the initial alpha version of the site was developing a privacy and security policy.  I’ve noticed from our traffic logs that many people visit the blank placeholder page we’ve had up to this point.  I’m happy to be able to say that we now have posted our Privacy and Security Policy here.  Please take a look and let us know what you think.

Thanks for your patience…

I’m keenly aware that some of you have been following our progress for the better part of a year now.  I just want to let you know that we appreciate your patience and we’re working hard week-by-week to deliver what we’ve promised you.  Thanks for your ongoing encouragement and support — it means a great deal to our entire team.