Monday, April 28, 2008

Web 2.0 Mavens

Today I was honored to be part of a panel of founders who had started and have been running Web 2.0 companies. The panel was moderated by Professor Karim Lakhani, who opened by giving a brief introduction to his research and findings in the area of distributed innovation.

My fellow presenters were as follows:

Georg Ludviksson, co-founder of The UpDown

Karin Ong, founder of My Happy Planet

David Reinke, founder of Style Hop

This is without a doubt my most favorite type of group to be amongst. Real open source gurus who are struggling with the same issues and experiencing the same elation that we do every day at LM. In a group like this you can move quickly past the general subject of distributed innovation and dig into some of the finer points regarding, IP protection, degrees of virality, motivations for community participation, and more. Each one of these people has experienced slightly different challenges which each of us could learn from.

The audience was primarily Harvard Business School students and many from the Tech Media Club. Again, I bemoan the fact that such businesses continue to have such a tech focus, because crowdsourcing and distributed innovation are as old and can be as low-tech as a 900BCE Greek Agora.

(Greek Agora or public meeting place, Wikipedia)

Nonetheless, tech focus or not, these businesses are talking about the most modern ways of building community and customer attachment that I have seen to date. From investing to language learning to fashion pathfinding, each of these ideas have explored various ways of connecting clouds of interested participants and turning their user generated content back around into the site for others to consume.

They are not all viral, they are not all software focused, they are not all expected, but they all share a common master: Look outside your team for the heart of your organization.

Above all the topics we discussed, one stood out in my mind: Passion. Many people think that distributed innovation is a tinderbox of users waiting to be struck, but that is more often not the case. Instead, these companies are built by the dedication and hard work of a small number of core users. Long before the community catches fire, the going is tough and the challenges often gray and nuanced. Only those mavens with extreme passion are able to stay the course and give birth to a new Web 2.0 darling.

Speaking of giving birth, in 7 hours we will be in the hospital where the stork is supposed to deliver our 4th boy. Wish us luck, it may be a long day! He will no doubt be a car lover :)


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