Tuesday, January 18, 2011

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Values, Value and Valuation — The money is all relative

Oh how timing sometimes works out to be funny. I was driving home tonight and started thinking about the value of products, the valuation of companies and how the values that a company portrays can change the rest. No sooner had I sat down to write this piece than the news of Goldman Sachs investing $500 million into Facebook broke and refreshed the entire thing in my mind. So let’s look at these three things, and try to see if one manages to sway the rest.


Do you, like me, find yourself more inclined to use or purchase something that comes from a company that you can believe in? The ethos of a company can — for me at least — completely break me away from the product. That very fact, because I feel that I’m likely not alone in my actions (or lack thereof) can have a serious impact on the bottom line of a company.

Look at Facebook, for instance. When the Social Graph was announced and the new privacy changes went into effect, many people threw up their hands in disgust. But many others continued with life as usual, even if a bit annoyed. Why? Because Facebook has this outward appearance of a company that’s simply trying to do cool things, and it needs information in order to do them. The company’s values seem, for the most part, to be in line with the things that we Internet users want. As such, there was a lot more wagging and a lot less barking from the angry dogs crowd.

You’re starting a company? There’s likely something to be said for developing an ethos ahead of time, making it known and then sticking to it. Would Google be where it is today if not for the “don’t be evil” tag line? Even if you don’t fully believe that the company runs that way, you still remember it. Point made.


When value exceeds cost, even by a single cent, the purchase will be made – Grant Cardone

That quote is one that has stuck with me for some time now. A few years ago I was making my living selling cars and it is sometimes exceedingly difficult to overcome the objection of price. In the technology world, we’re constantly being offered products for “free”. The only cost? A bit of information, a slice of our privacy or somethings similar. But then, after using those “free” products, we start to build our own value for them.

Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the things that you likely use every day. Gmail? You’d pay for that. Twitter? You don’t want to admit it, but it’s likely become a valuable asset to your daily Internet life. The same can be said for so many things and yet we get them for “free”. But there’s a down side to this issue as well — it becomes very difficult for a maker to charge for a product when there are free alternatives. Don’t believe that? When was the last time that a box office movie didn’t get a torrent version?

And yet, even as companies try to build value in their products, still others think that the economy allows for them to set their own values and tell us what something is worth. TV networks are probably the most well-known perpetrators of this heresy. Apple TV launched, ABC and Fox decided to jump on board and see what would happen. Some of the rest? They decided that $.99 was devaluing the product and yet as the provider of the product, there is no one entity that is more unqualified to name the value.

Consider it a lesson in business, I suppose. The potential buyer will determine the value of your product. Always.


Now here’s a sticky one. Valuation is one of those strange things because it means so many different things to different people. To the potential investors, it’s a measure of how much money can be made. To the business owner it’s a gauge of how well the business has done. To the end user? It’s…honestly not much.

As a case in point, around TNW we love Twitter. We want to see it succeed and we are sure that it will. The valuation continues to climb prior to any IPO and yet, as users of the service, it really doesn’t matter much to us. Sure, it would matter if the site closed its doors, but beyond that there simply isn’t anything about the valuation number that matters.

And so, as an entrepreneur you have to ask yourself where the balance lies. Do your company values allow you to build value in your product? If so, then the chances are that your valuation will end up right where it needs to be. There’s a fair amount of truth in the thought that, if you handle the small stuff, the big stuff will fall into place.

So with that, I offer you a thought going into the new year — start with your values. The rest will fall into place.

As we get ready for John Boehner to take the gavel from Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, I find myself thinking back to the last time a Republican speaker took control of the House from a Democrat -- and reflecting on how far down the wrong road we have traveled since then.

It was January 1995, and Newt Gingrich, now considered a right-wing bomb thrower, was taking the gavel from Tom Foley. After taking the oath of office, he delivered a speech that praised FDR as "the greatest president of the 20th century" and presented concern for the least among us as a shared national objective. "The balanced budget is the right thing to do," he said. "But it does not in my mind have the moral urgency of coming to grips with what is happening to the poorest Americans."

For the incoming Republican speaker, reducing poverty and lifting the poor into the middle class was a moral imperative beyond the left vs. right battlefield -- not just the purview of lefties, socialists, and community organizers:

I say to those Republicans who believe in total privatization, you cannot believe in the Good Samaritan and explain that as long as business is making money we can walk by a fellow American who is hurt and not do something.... If you cannot afford to leave the public housing project, you are not free. If you do not know how to find a job and do not know how to create a job, you are not free. If you cannot find a place that will educate you, you are not free. If you are afraid to walk to the store because you could get killed, you are not free.

So now, with poverty higher than it was 16 years ago, with greater income inequality, and with the middle class struggling to hold on, what will Speaker Boehner make his number one priority? According to the Washington Post, it's "cutting spending," followed by repealing the healthcare law, and "helping get our economy moving" (no specifics on how he plans to do that).

Yet we saw on 60 Minutes that he's very aware of how fragile the American Dream has become, telling Lesley Stahl, "I can't go to a school anymore. I used to go to a lot of schools. And you see all these little kids running around. Can't talk about it." And he choked up when he did try to talk about "making sure these kids have a shot at the American Dream, like I did. It's important."

Interestingly, in his first speech as speaker, Gingrich also talked about being moved by the woes of school kids.

"I have seldom been more shaken," he said, "than I was after the election when I had breakfast with two members of the Black Caucus. One of them said to me, 'Can you imagine what it is like to visit a first-grade class and realize that every fourth or fifth young boy in that class may be dead or in jail within 15 years? And they are your constituents and you are helpless to change it?' For some reason, I do not know why, maybe because I visit a lot of schools, that got through. I mean, that personalized it. That made it real, not just statistics, but real people."

But the trajectory of our political discourse over the last decade and a half has meant that taking on poverty has gone from a moral imperative and shared national objective to an afterthought -- or no thought at all.

The question is, is there anything that can be done to help Boehner make the connection between the policies he supports and the effect those policies have on the kids who bring him to tears?

Newt Gingrich failed to follow through on the moral imperative he identified in his first speech as speaker, trading in his moral vision and replacing it 15 months later with an announcement that the Republican agenda could be reduced to six words: "Earn more, keep more, do more."

Will Boehner's take be "Earn more, keep more, cut more"? Or is there a chance he will surprise us? Maybe it's because it's close enough to Christmas that I still believe in miracles, but wouldn't it be great if the John Boehner who takes the gavel on Wednesday is the one who weeps at the thought of kids denied a shot at the American Dream?


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