This fall, I have been auditing an MBA class, Managing Growing Businesses, at Babson College. For several years, the program director Ed Marram has asked me to sit on a panel of entrepreneurs for the class. This time, at his invitation, I decided to sit in for the full semester.
Last week, the featured speaker was venture capitalist Les Charm. Les talked about one of the first dot com companies that his firm funded in 1994. He talked about putting trust in the company founder, since no one at his firm knew what it really meant to have a web-based business. There really weren’t any. They planned on applying the subscription model to sell content. That was their plan, anyway, until AOL (the Google of the 90s) decided to give their content away for free. Their business model was seat of the pants stuff. There were no tried and true cases to learn from. So they tried everything. Eventually the business, FamilyEducation.com, was bought by Pearson Education.
In the class of 60 students, I am guessing that 80% are under 30 years old and couldn’t comprehend a world without sophisticated web business models. These students found it hard to believe that 28 K dial up modems were the standard, if consumers had access to the internet at all.
In 1994, we built our first website for J. C. Ayer & Company. The site is now in it’s 5th revision. When we built the first one, Jim Ayer had to come to our office to see it since he didn’t have internet access.
The social web is a perspective shift for some, but not the students in this class. They don’t miss a beat when talk turns to publishing content. Most of them have their own blogs. If we are to get the attention of these savvy consumers, we need to understand their perspective. After all, these are the young business owners and consumers that will buy our wares, now and for the next 50 years.