Win Some, Lose Some

Today’s win: successfully replacing the laser in a broken Wii console, without wiping the saved data or shorting anything out. Thank you, Console Zombie!

Today’s loss: finding out that Momentum MINI in Houston put much cheaper tires on my car two weeks ago than the ones that I came in with, even though they didn’t mention that fact either before or after, and it cost me as much as it would have for the good ones. I then found out that they also just happened to leave $1,700 off of the estimate for the additional work I needed, even though all of the parts and labor involved were listed. Of course, the guy I was dealing with insisted that we had discussed all of these things and that they only reason he didn’t include all of the prices previously was that I told him to hold off on giving me the full quote for some reason. I don’t really enjoy being lied to or paying unreasonable amounts for routine maintenance, so I made him give me back my key so that I could go get a quote that is on this side of the sanity spectrum.

Treadmill

I’m writing this on my treadmill! We bought a SurfShelf Treadmill Desk for those times when we want to work out but need to work or have something else to do on the computer. Pretty sweet.

Have you started your social network yet?

Or rather, 230,000 of them? That’s the promise (and achievement) of Ning, the latest effort by serial entrepreneur Marc Andreessen. The principle is simple: let people create their own social networks, for whomever and whatever reason. The results are amazing: the site is growing at 0.4% per day and aiming to host 4 million networks by the end of 2010, with billions of daily page views. That is a lot of users and a fortune in potential revenue.

Now, this is all information you could get elsewhere, like this excellent article from Fast Company. Andreessen is arguably the greatest entrepreneur of our generation, maybe of the entire Information Age to date (John Rodkin, my Business of Entrepreneurship for Lawyers seminar lecturer, thinks so). He is not the richest, of course, but Andreessen has a remarkable string of entrepreneurial successes. He co-founded Netscape (with Jim Clark, one of the founders of Silicon Graphics), which went public and was later purchased by AOL for $4.2 billion. He then founded the web hosting services company Loudcloud, which went public, sold a division, and was acquired for approximately $1.6 billion. That’s quite the record. Ning now has a valuation over half a billion dollars. Taking that into account, Andreessen has a simply amazing record.

Part of the reason for Andreessen’s success is his use of “viral expansion loops” (like viral marketing, but on crack). From the Fast Company article:

Here’s something you probably don’t know about the Internet: Simply by designing your product the right way, you can build a billion-dollar business from scratch. No advertising or marketing budget, no need for a sales force, and venture capitalists will kill for the chance to throw money at you.

The secret is what’s called a “viral expansion loop,” a concept little known outside of Silicon Valley (go ahead, Google it — you won’t find much). It’s a type of engineering alchemy that, done right, almost guarantees a self-replicating, borglike growth: One user becomes two, then four, eight, to a million and beyond. It’s not unlike taking a penny and doubling it daily for 30 days. By the end of a week, you’d have 64 cents; within two weeks, $81.92; by day 30, about $5.4 million.

Viral loops have emerged as perhaps the most significant business accelerant to hit Silicon Valley since the search engine. They power many of the icons of Web 2.0, including Google, PayPal, YouTube, eBay, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Flickr. But don’t confuse a viral loop with viral advertising or videos such as Saturday Night Live’s “Lazy Sunday” or the Mentos-Diet Coke Bellagio fountain. Viral advertising can’t be replicated; by definition, a viral loop must be.

Ning takes this a step further with “double viral loops;” a social network, by definition, is a kind of viral loop (think Facebook, MySpace, etc.), while a network of (or platform for) social networks gives each user the opportunity to create their own viral loop. Thus, the double viral loop, perhaps the most fiendishly clever marketing device yet thought of, is born.

Andreessen is probably as good a model as the enterprising web geek could want. If this is interesting to you, I strongly recommend checking out Andreessen’s blog and soaking it all in. Meanwhile, think you can build a community around your obscure hobbies? Ning has you covered.

Ashes and Snow

Reading CNN.com, this morning, I was introduced to Ashes and Snow, a new exhibition by photographer Gregory Colbert. It is simply stunning. Do yourself a favor and go explore the site, right now.

Stupid, Cost-Conscious Me

I’m kicking myself for opting for the cheap graphics card when I bought my laptop. William talked me into finally checking out Civilization IV, but it turns out my graphics card can’t hack it (only 32MB, and 64MB cards are required). I’m quite tempted to go buy the game, see if it will run, and buy the sound card to upgrade, if it doesn’t, but that’s probably not a smart way to spend my money. Oh, well.

Ellen DeGeneres

I don’t get it. I know some people find her hilarious, but I think she has to be the least amusing comic on television. She’s even got her own five-days-a-week talk show. I don’t get it.

Andy’s Jazz Club

I just got back from Andy’s Jazz Club. I highly recommend it; it was a very fun evening. A very, very strange evening, but fun.

STOMP

STOMP is awesome. Annie bought me tickets for Christmas and treated me to dinner at Gordon Biersch (also awesome), tonight. That was a very cool performance.

Oh, and I got a call from UVA, today: more good news made me 4 for 4. Sweet.