Darren Herman: Looking Ahead 2008

I’ve been taking a macro view at my entire portfolio of investments and have begun devising a strategy for the future.  What we’ve been witnessing with the Internet in terms of “the world is flat” is having a major network effect into other industries, thus the world is fundamentally changing.  While cultures may be separate and geographically disparate, there is no reason why they can’t live next to each other digitally.  “Best in the World” does not apply any more:  everyone has a voice that becomes crowdsourced into a microsystem.

I’m not an economist, stock picking guru, or even significant angel investor, but there are areas that I’m taking a dive into more recently.  The areas may not be new, but the attention I’m giving them are greater than previously:

1.  Overseas:  Living in the USA, we tend to drink our own Kool Aid.  When traveling overseas, you realize what the rest of the world is up to and how much greater of a an impact an investment overseas could have.  So with that said, I’m exploring markets like Eastern Europe, China, and India and finding distressed areas that with a little investment, could create both social and economic winners.  I’m learning, albeit the hard way, that where there is hype, there is often smoke & mirrors.  There are billions of people that are under-served due to their relatively small buying power is something that is attractive to me due to the way that the world is becoming flat and I’m investing my time and funds into this area to try and figure it out.

2.  Digital Real Estate:  I’ve always been fascinated at the domain name game.  There is a relatively small group of folks who control this market and it’s sure to break out into mass appeal in the coming years.  How will it play out?  I have no idea.  If history is any indication however, property value raises over time and there are always going to be premier real estate locations to own.  The market creates it’s own stratospheres and if you pick the right one, you can do extremely well.  I’ve built up a portfolio of domain names that may or may not have some value (I sold a .org domain name for 4 figures back in 2001) and I’ll be looking to monetize them in one way or another.  Any domain name that I have purchased in the past or do intend to purchase has a vision to it.  I don’t like to purchase domain names for the sake or owning them, I like to purchase so that I can build them out in the future.  If you look at my porfolio (to be made public in 2008), you can predict or see what businesses I was looking at rolling out over time.  Like I said earlier, I don’t claim to know this space well, but I’ve been learning from a few pros and have met some great people so far and am digging deeper everyday.

3.  Ad Targeting: You’d think I would be late to the game here but it’s honestly just starting to play out.  Digital ad targeting is going to be a hot area in 2008 as players like AOL, MSN, Google, Adify, Glam, ValueClick, Casale, Lotame, and others try to refine their network strategies and create highly targeted customer segments.  I am fortunate to meet with each of these companies quite often and am up to speed on their offerings, but I don’t think we’re 100% there yet on targeting.  The thesis I see playing out in 2008 is Vertical vs. Contextual vs. Behavioral vs. Social Targeting where each one of these areas aren’t mutually exclusive.  I’m predicting lots of roll-ups in this side of the business and it’s going to be extremely exciting to watch it all play out.

4.  Green:  We’ve been going green for years but I don’t think we’ve ever had the breakout year that we’ve expected.  2008 will NOT be that year, but it will be a year that I spend quite a bit of time learning the ins/outs of the industry.  Lots of issues will be brought to light due to the elections and if you act as a sponge throughout 2008, you can listen quietly to the issues and try and find (and back) the right people solving them.  I’m not trying to follow the many venture capitalists who are investing in this space, but for my own tree-hugging self (who also owns a Jeep), I’m socially interested.

5.  New York:  We’re starting to get on the USA digital media radar screen.  AlleyInsider and Center Networks are helping lead the charge and entrepreneurs from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens (amongst many other places) are cooking up their own flavor of the web.  nextNY and NY Tech Meetup are in full swing and the comraderie is increasing.   With the financial world’s bonus’s delivered in January 2008, there is going to be quite a bit of angel investments into the scene which will potentially drive venture capital into larger rounds.  I’m excited to be located in New York during these times and we’re seeing some amazing companies launch.  Word of caution:  I’m seeing a lot of companies launching in NYC and many are features, not a company.  Please keep in mind that just because you have the financial means to launch a company, doesn’t mean you should.  Build out a sustainable business that could survive on its own, not just a simple feature that any social network, communications company, or software company could add onto it’s feature list.

6.  Features, Not a Company:  As we get even more bullish in 2008, we’re going to see even more companies launch because more dollars are being put to work from an investment standpoint.  As I alluded to in #5, we’re going to see quite a bit of “companies” launch who are essentially features.  This generally is a negative thing as most of the companies burn through their capital and die, but I do think there is a way to launch standalone features as part of a portfolio strategy and this is an area that I’m going to be spending some time looking at.

7.  Creativity:  It seems that each newborn child these days knows how to develop using the latest tools, but many of us forget how to be creative.  Linear thinkers will always be needed and in some ways, may become a commodity (if not already), but the real winners of 2008 are the creatives.  I’m not saying this because I work hand-in-hand with creative agencies, but as technology becomes a commodity, how do we differentiate ourselves and design better interfaces, business plans, etc.  It’s all about the creativity.  How can we harness this for the future?  I don’t know, but I’m certainly trying to figure it out.

These are just a few of the areas that I’m looking at in 2008.  Any overlaps with what you are looking at?

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