Update: Launching NetForum London and Schedule for NetForum NYC

 

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NEW YORK, New York — After 2 years of Start-Up mode, the NetForum is getting more structured. But we are not changing anything to the format that really creates the magic of NetForum events: small group around one table having an off-the-record discussion about challenges and opportunities facing tech startups of a certain size and maturity. The attendees are a mix of CXOs of tech startups and Corp Dev/Corp Strategy execs in larger companies. I originally called this “Peer-to-Peer learning” when we launched despite the fact that not everyone were peers. But considering the intense interest by strategics in the start-up universe, I think the call was prescient. There is a lot that the small companies and the big companies can learn from each other, and the right way to do it is in a conversation among peers, not some big lecture hall. I am glad you voted your agreement by attending the NetForum and I count on your continued presence and contribution as we roll-on.

After we launched the NetForum, I started getting invited to join other very expensive (K-K per annum) “Peer to Peer” events (or Leadership Councils or whatever people call them). I attended one such event and was struck at how many people were signing up. One would think it is counterintuitive that in the age of professional networking platforms people would actually join offline networking events. Isn’t LinkedIn enough? 300 million people right there for you to connect with. Why do you need to meet them face to face? Just improve your profile with a pretty picture, add a few more interest groups to your profile, publish some clever content that would establish your “credibility” and get people to “trust” you as an “expert.” And voila, wait for the money to flow (say the LinkedIn gods).
I know that it is working for some people but what about the rest of us? What I do observe more generally is that the Content Marketing phenomenon and the ease of access to anyone online has devalued both content and online relationships – if everyone is doing it (sharing prodigious amounts of content produced by their social media managers, and tapping you on the shoulder every time you post something, etc.) then it’s not really authentic anymore. I recently read a post from a consultant who makes his living by training people to use LinkedIn, and he was saying “I think my LinkedIn contacts are too numerous to be of any value.” Another factoid came to my attention from a Hotel Industry newsletter that I get (never unsubscribed to it after working on an online travel deal 4 years ago!): hotels are forecasting a banner year in conferences for 2015. Lastly, regarding conferences, anyone been to Dreamforce this past month? 150,000 people attending a conference about a SaaS platform in SFO… Remember that Sheldon Adelson, #10 Richest Person in the world in 2014 according to Forbes, made his first 0M by selling COMDEX to Softbank in 1995, in what (I think) was Softbank’s first major foray in the US tech space. (If you don’t know what COMDEX was, well…).
All right, what’s my point? When it comes to making important business decisions, nothing replaces in person relationships. It’s that simple, business is based on trust and relationships, and accepting your LinkedIn invitation is just the beginning of the journey. It has to be followed by in person. I was just reading Matrix Partners’ David Skok’s blog for entrepreneurs and his annual SaaS survey. He reports that the churn rate of clients in SaaS subscriptions is higher for e-commerce transactions (i.e self serve and pay) by a huge margin over sales done by inside sales, and the stickier clients are those sold by field sales. He does not say why but I will venture to suggest that it’s because it’s harder to cancel when there is a relationship than when you dealt with a computer. It’s all about relationships.
But it’s hard to develop relationships when you are sitting in a lecture hall being lectured to. And during the lunch break, you only get to meet the person to your left and right. At happy hour, you talk to people you already know.  It’s all very inefficient.
That’s where NetForum comes in. We do small events. We (try to) do them frequently. The topics are usually suggested by members (all you need to do is send me an email). Everybody gets to join the conversation and talk about something they know about (other than their current product offering). There is time before and after the event for in person interactions. And I introduce anyone who wants to anyone else on the spot or after. All this in 90 minutes with breakfast. I have never been involved in anything that generates so much “customer satisfaction.”
Let me turn to NetForum London. The man behind that is my former and now again partner Raj Singh. (http://www.linkedin.com/in/rajsingh). Raj has done it all – worked at IBM when the Web was born, then at Booz Allen, then went to the investment side as a partner at Investcorp (and even with Parkview for a little while), then went to the start-up side and even did consulting for governments on how to stoke innovation ecosystems. London has recently caught the start-up fever, with Strategic-Startup hook-ups happening everywhere. So we thought that the NetForum formula would add value to the London ecosystem. The first event is at Bloomberg on December 8, 2014. The event will cover the hot subject of the day: “The Day After the Closing of a Strategic VC Investment – What Now?” Basically, what’s the plan for this strategic investment, and how to execute it. Raj will send invitations to his network there but do let me know if you have colleagues in London that should be part of the NetForum there (send me a note and I will have Raj add them to his list.) We are going to always let everyone know about the events in both cities so that people can attend everywhere they are. Again thanks to Bloomberg for hosting and helping organize the event.
And now finally back to NYC NetForum. Apologies to some of you who mysteriously got dropped from the invites. I switched email clients and I lost the old mailing list, had to rebuild it. I have been really busy too. In 2008, Parkview invested in Reachable (www.reachable.com) and in 2013 I became interim CEO and finally permanent CEO. Reachable provides a SaaS solution to enterprises that want to accelerate sales, business development and fund raising by leveraging their own graph of enterprise relationships – basically a private, enterprise “who knows-who-solution” based on big data analytics and professional data from our strategic partners, including S&P Capital IQ… So, running a startup in a hot market while managing a boutique merchant bank with VC investments and providing Corporate Innovation Investment Strategy and M&A advice to clients is demanding but quite interesting. My partners really helped out.
These are the subjects that we tested on some of you and that resonated well and thus will become NetForum discussions:
  1. The Chinese Giants Have Landed. Alibaba, Tencent, and others are investing, buying companies, and establishing US beachheads. Market expansion, or search for innovation? Is your company a target for a Chinese strategic investor?
  2. The Valuation Game. What is this company worth? What are the factors that influence your valuation and what can you do about it? You should understand how the game is played before you get burned.
  3. Privacy. Are you doing enough to protect the Privacy of your users? Or are you exploiting the fact that they really don’t care? Is Privacy a business imperative or just a slogan?
  4. Internet of Things. Does it affect you? Is it an opportunity or a threat? Can you quantify its impact on your business?
As always, we like to balance perennials and hot subjects. Keep the ideas coming and let me know if your company has expertise on any of these matters and wants to contribute a subject matter expert to the discussion.
You will be receiving your invitation to the first event on November 20 shortly. Let me know if you want to add anyone from your London team or a London friend to our London event list.
Thanks for the emails with ideas and suggestions!