Took a marketing jaunt last week to NYC to visit with some early-stage VCs to let them know about all the great startups we have here in Northeast Ohio. As luck would have it, the weather was fabulous, making it easy to enjoy the city and walk from meeting to meeting. It took me back to a time gone by when I worked on Wall Street as a junior peon -- oh, I mean Financial Analyst -- learning what "IPOs" and "M&A transactions" are and deciphering what it really means to participate in the capital markets.
In 1984, on my first day at Smith Barney, Harris Upham ("we make money the old fashioned way, we earn it...") we learned how to use LOTUS 1-2-3 on a newfangled contraption called a personal computer. It's interesting to reflect, 25 years later, on the effect the PC (and, more importantly, the variety of software programs developed for the PC) has had on the workplace of today. (Does anyone remember WORDIX/EDIX and VISICALC?) While that discussion is a topic for another day, it does relate a bit to what I want to discuss here.
These past few days, while traveling and in-between meetings, I have been trying to get further up-to-speed on Twitter. Partially because I heard that one of the VCs I wanted to meet -- Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures -- is a big "tweeter" (he's also an investor in the company), and partially because I just like the challenge of learning new things. In a nutshell, Twitter allows one-to-many communication, kind of like sending out an email blast with an interesting article or cool fun fact. The difference, however, is that instead of an email blast, where you are sending a message to people you know, with Twitter you send your blast to people who have decided to "follow" you whether you know them personally or not.
It's easy to sign up but not as intuitive to use as the creators would like to believe. The "help" section is just a list of topics compiled by users, so it's not really a basic "101" type overview, nor is it that easy to search. To make up for this I searched for and found two concise articles to get me started and am sharing them: one article by Paul Boutin, and another article by David Pogue, both from The New York Times. My quick evaluation is that, like all other social media tools, Twitter can be both a blessing and a curse. The same person who tweets "waiting in line at Starbucks, should I get a latte or a macchiato?" (I mean, who really cares?) could be the same person who sends out an incredibly relevant and interesting article that you never would have found in a million years. Such was the case over the past two days when I received the following great article in a tweet. It's a terrific post mortem about a failed startup. While I'm not advocating dwelling on the negative, the writer highlights some strategic business issues that were not as well thought out as they could have been. Very interesting reading for anyone contemplating starting a business. As for Twitter, let's hope that as the Twitter community matures, the users realize the benefits inherent in sharing interesting, thoughtful information rather than frivolous information bordering on the narcissistic.
Lynn-Ann Gries is the Chief Investment Officer of JumpStart Ventures. She previously worked in the investment banking departments at both McDonald Investments and Smith Barney (now part of Citigroup), and in the sales and trading area at Morgan Stanley. She received her MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business and her BA in Economics from Smith College. She currently serves on the board of the Fund for the Future of Shaker Heights, the Great Lakes Science Center and Summer on the Cuyahoga (SOTC).