Reporting back from BlogHer

I spent Saturday at the BlogHer conference. Arrived somewhat late for the morning session which was titled: Play by today’s rules, or change the game? When I arrived, discussion was focused on the Technorati A list, and other similar lists (and why there are very few women on these lists). Ideas ranged from developing other more multidimensional lists, to having a BlogHer list, to linking more to each other.

Since I had never seen the Technorati 100 before, I headed there. And predictably, found few women on it. I generally find such lists to be unidimensional and mostly useless, so do not feel unduly concerned that it is a male-dominated list. The important issue is reaching the people you want to connect to. The web is all about being able to reach the Long Tail. So, the more relevant question to me is: Do women bloggers have a harder time reaching people who are interested in the same topics? If the answer is yes, then that is more problematic.

At the same time, I imagine that there are some women bloggers who do want to reach the type of mass-blog market that people on these lists reach. For them, it makes sense to understand the statistical nature of this type of popularity. In the short term, its more about getting ahead playing by the same rules. In the long term, thinking of more multidimensional metrics for measuring popularity makes a lot of sense.

A few things that struck me at the conference: There were mostly panels rather than talks. This worked out very well. It was an informal sharing of experience, and disucssion around it, rather than talks by superstars with people hanging on to every word.

Sociologically, it was an interesting experience with so many women, and very few men. The interpersonal and group dynamics are different.

It was also interesting to watch how many women knew each other or of each other’s blogs (I felt a little left out of this). There were many bloggers I had never heard of, but everyone else seemed to know (for example, Dooce.com). I am not sure why I was not familiar with the well-known characters there – I feel like I generally know the blogs in my areas of interest. Is this simply because of varied interests, or is this a reflection of the fact that women don’t seem to get into the A-lists?

Below are my notes for some of the sessions.

Advanced Tools Session

The advanced tools session was all about tagging. Lots of discussion of Del.icio.us and how it will rock your world. Interestingly, the panelists most focused on was how you can tag your items with more than one tag (unlike categories, where you have to decide on the one right cageory). And that there is no “wrong” tag.

There was also a lot talk of RSS feeds and how to setup a RSS feed for del.icio.us into your blog.

I found this session to be good field research – in understanding how the panelists described tags while introducing them to the audience. Similar to the discussion on email entry, it seemed like the most important benefit is being able to assign multiple tags to an item. The social aspect was seen as a side benefit. And interestingly, no one talked about using tags in a very different way than folders – as descriptors rather than parent categories.

Women who Want to Fund, Build, & Sell Things

This was a very informative session. Mary Hodder shared her learnings on going through the angel funding phase for her own company. She felt that Powerpoint did not work well. She prefers to have a Word file, and try to get into conversations. Also, she thinks that blogging has helped her; people know that she knows what she is talking about. It gives her credibility.

Denise talked a little bit about a lawyer’s perspective and how they can help you in going through this process.

Particia nakache, a venture capitalist herself, was the most informative. She talked about angel and venture funding. What are the criteria for both types of investors? What do they look for? What is meant by the path to liquidity?

One woman wanted to know what % of the company you would have to give up going through the funding rounds. Marc Canter spoke up, that sometimes, it can upto 51%!

Patricia gave out some statistics: Basic series A round venture financing – Average funding is to the tune of 4-5 million dollars and you are giving up 30-50% of the company. Angel funding is generally a few hundred thousand.

Someone asked about funding for women. And if there are any special avenues. Patricia acknowledged that the funding for women was abysmal. Only 4-5% of companies funded in 2003 had women CEO’s.

I thought this session was very relevant and useful. If there is one thing that women need to do is to go out there and start businesses. I hope that next year they devote a whole track to this – about how to get started with a business.

What I thought was left out of the session was alternatives to the venture route. Basecamp is a great example of products that were built without getting entangled in the whole angel/venture financing process. There is something to be said for bootstrapping and focusing on building the product, rather than spending time getting funding. I raised this issue in a question, but I wish there had been a whole session devoted to “starting and building a business by bootstrapping”.

Blogging for Business

This was a great session as well. Three people from different companies shared stories about Blogging for Business.

Susan Getgood talked about working on a blog sponsored by a company, but written by customers! The blog allows the company to connect with its customers, give a voice to some of them. Susan mentioned that for a company to do this, it needs to have a certain character. There has to be a commitment to really listen to the customers. Also, customers have to love your products. The customers have to be online. They should be already talking about product. The company Susan worked with on this project is in the education field, which is an active, engaged market. Read her blog for more details about this venture.

The most interesting story was from Christine Halvorson who talked about the four (soon to be five) topic-based blogs they run at Stonyfield. The most popular one is the Bovine Bugle. Someone in the audience asked – but does it sell more yogurt. Christine said that the CEO does not care if it does not have direct ROI in sense of selling more yogurt. The company is being able to reach its customers, and share a point of view and thats enough returns for them.

For more about the session, go here.

It was a great experience to be at a conference with mostly women speakers, attendees and organizers. Apart from other types of impact, Blogher will help forge better informal networks among women. In the past few years, I have realized how much business is done through informal networks. Anything that helps women form more of these networks is a good thing for women. I look forward to attending BlogHer next year.

One thought on “Reporting back from BlogHer

  1. “Basic series A round venture financing – Average funding is to the tune of 4-5 million dollars and you are giving up 30-50% of the company.”

    True as far as the average figures go but of course it all depends upon the valuation the VC and the entrepreneur agree upon. If you are seeking $5m for a 33% stake, that means you value the company at $15m right now. Since VCs only fund high prospect high growth companies (typically looking at returns of 10-50x in a 5-7 yr period), you must demonstrate that the company will be at least worth $150m in five years AND that the VC will be able to exit the deal in order to cash his $50m stake (typical exit is an acquisition or an IPO).

    Good point about bootstrapping. Many entrepreneurs don’t realise that not all businesses are fit for venture capital. And that not being able to secure it because of market being small or for another reason, doesn’t in anyway mean the business has no chance of getting off the business plan.

    Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki has some very good ideas on bootstrapping and “Art of The Start” at ChangeThis.com.

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