Building Econtent Companies to Last

After witnessing many econtent companies start up, grow, sometimes die, occasionally go public, and often be acquired over the past (gasp) 24 years, I've finally come to the realization that the best companies follow a defined birth and growth process. Initial sparks of an idea typically come from a founder who identifies a market problem that is solved by technology. The founder-turned-entrepreneur then either self-funds or finds seed funding to build an initial product, which is typically released into the marketplace after months or years of development effort. So far, so good.

The difficult part comes next, when customers demand enhancements to the initial product or the founders see an opportunity that can only be exploited with more marketing muscle and added salespeople to knock on doors. I've seen many companies get stuck at this stage because it requires funding.

Kudos to the SIIA for recognizing this problem for early stage econtent companies and developing its SIIA Previews event. SIIA Previews also serves another important need in the market, as a juried event where larger information companies and the VC community (plus media and analysts) can hear from innovative young companies that will likely make a splash in the months or years to come. At the event, the CEOs of a dozen or so new and interesting information and content technology companies each presented for five minutes to an audience of several hundred.

SIIA content division VP Ed Keating produced the event (with Larry Schwartz, president of Newstex LLC). Keating expects it to become an annual showcase. He says, "I like the notion that we have companies representing all parts of the value chain: creators, distributors, and protectors," and I agree. The brief format gave the audience a taste of what each company was up to, with the overall result being a picture of the content lifecycle.

Joel Dreyfuss, editor-in-chief of Red Herring, kicked off the event by describing the VC environment in early 2007. "The mood is upbeat," according to Dreyfuss. "Deals are happening. Money and ideas are flowing again."

There was a wonderful group of content companies involved, including Decision Tree Media, a company that creates private-label web guides that drive qualified leads to sales channels. I am a big fan of this kind of online educational content, which is used to teach people how to use complex products and is leveraged by companies for lead generation. Decision Tree delivers an online offer that leads to an offline sales process.

Other content companies included Eurekster, which empowers communities to own and refine site-based web search. The search and monetization platform enables the passion of community for customers in the social search and collaboration space. Generate Inc. delivers real-time company intelligence with integrated social networking tools to deliver personalized information to business professionals. The Generate G2 product (which I reviewed in April) stands out as a tool for sales professionals and others who need to cultivate high-level contacts. With an innovative combination of users' personal network of contacts, publicly available information, and premium news, the platform delivers connections to drive business. Near-Time integrates a group blog with wiki pages, team events, and shared files in a hosted and secure collaborative environment.

Multi-media content delivery network Dragonfly was among the content-delivery companies. Others were Inform Technologies LLC, which metatags publisher's existing content and editorial assets; and RealTimeMatrix, with technology that enables people to get relevant content from multiple sites on the web the instant it is published.

Pando Networks generated buzz with its simple and free professional P2P application for sharing large files. Growing by 30,000 installs a day, the Pando P2P network solves a very simple-to-understand market problem for users—large files cannot always be sent by email due to firewall constraints within many organizations.

The content protectors included: Attributor, a platform that provides transparency and accountability in online content use and licensing; Cranium Softworks, a company that helps streamline the publishing and content delivery process and protects online intellectual property; and iCopyright, specializing in developing technology for digital content marketing and licensing.

As I watched each short presentation that afternoon, I wondered: Which of the companies would be on the EContent 100 list this year. And more importantly, which ones will remain on it in the years to come?