I started sketching out this post before Benedict joined a16z, so excuse the fact that his ‘business model’ is now resolved for a little while :). For ‘Benedict Evans’ feel free to substitute any smart, public intellectual unaffiliated to an existing organisation with a wealth of insight to provide.
When Benedict and his blog emerged on the start-up scene, it was an interesting event: he had over a decade of experience in mobile & media and was rapidly building an audience of the most influential people in tech. The most entertaining feature to me was his weekly summary of how many more readers he’d acquired that week. I reached out to him when his blog was just getting started and we had a good conversation over breakfast. I really admire him and watched him build his audience with fascination. The question that kept coming back to me was - what should his business model be?
The value proposition as I see it is: world class insight into a particular domain (in his case, mostly the evolution of mobile/media) which he was providing for free. Normally such insights are clearly part of a broader free+paid model - Fred Wilson was eloquent and explicit about this when describing his blog: "It is the model behind this blog in fact. You get the content for free. Anything else, you have to pay for with equity in your company".
The ways to get paid that I could see at the time:
- put some of the content behind a paywall (e.g. similar to Ben Bajarin at Techpinions or Om Malik) ie charge a subset of the public for incremental insight
- get paid offline (e.g. Eric Ries' book, events etc)
- build a product around his community (e.g. Sean Ellis & growthhackers that monetises in another way)
- get paid in cash/equity as an advisor to various start-ups, VCs, established businesses ie charge individual businesses for company specific insight
- get paid in carry as part of a VC firm
I have to say I was hoping that somehow this might represent the unbundling of VC and that Benedict would build a standalone business around advice/insight. But I suspect that what he’s doing now will probably be the best move he could possibly have made. It is interesting to consider what % of a16z he has vs the other partners/contributors. It would be a great data point on the value of insight.