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May 25, 2000
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Thoughts and Thanks
Thank you all for coming here and thinking aloud about our service. I've learned a lot sorting through the messages here. You can understand that as I read from paragraph to paragraph, I alternately agree and disagree with points made. 'Tis the natural order of logic and creative thought.
From a very general standpoint, my primary point of agreement is that we as a company need to do a much better job of listening to our many constituents. On the same day that we receive two dozen heartfelt thank-yous from newcomers to Fool.com, we can learn as much from a dozen notes of anxieties and concerns from newcomers who can't find what they need on the site.
We have to listen and communicate better.
Please don't mistake our "listening" and "communicating" for automatic and immediate adoption of your ideas. A classic example of this for me is our work on a new disclosure policy at The Fool.
We have listened to thousands of suggestions. We have talked through hundreds of scenarios. And we have counsel drawing up the guidelines. As a company, we went out and hired Jay Perlman, from internet enforcement at the SEC, to help us develop guidelines for this brand new medium. I'm absolutely confident that our team is going to draw up precedents that apply across the Internet and that have implications beyond the financial services industry.
But this can't happen in short order. It is a labor-intensive process. When I read posts that say, "The Fool promised us a new disclosure policy and they haven't delivered. What a disappointment!" I have to largely discount them. They are not based in the realities of actually designing, installing, and communicating policies like these. If they're going to be effective and if they're going to be sustainable (not altered every six months), they take time. I want them as soon as anyone. But I want them to be powerful and enduring.
Then I continue through the folder and read the opinion that we push our investment philosophy too much on the mainpage, while so many valuable insights come from out here in the message folders. And I say, "Aha! Precisely." I agree. I believe there is too much broadcasting at Fool.com right now...and not enough communicating. It is the two-way (or many-way) exchange of information that makes the Internet so valuable (and which can make The Motley Fool so useful). We need to work on this. We need to think on this.
Then I continue and read a follow-along post that challenges the economic expansion of our services -- challenging the commercial nature of Soapbox.com. My first reaction is understanding. This is an entirely new concept and it will take time for many folks to digest it.
But, shed more light on this structure in your mind, and I think that a) you'll be impressed by the concept and b) you'll encourage our expansion of these sorts of services. Here are a few reasons why:
1. The Motley Fool, like every other for-profit entity on the planet (from Starbucks to Disney, from Johnson & Johnson to the local health food store) survives on cash flow. The free markets generally do a good job (though not a perfectly efficient job) of directing cash toward value.
2. Soapbox.com represents a couple of interesting things.
a) a way for authors to make 4-5x *more* for their work than they take from a publishing house, magazine, newspaper, etc.
b) a way for insights on our services to broaden and deepen considerably (you cannot believe the number and quality of people applying to be authors and the width of their interests)
c) a new model for the purchase of information -- Soapbox offers the buyer a 100% money back guarantee on every purchase. Remember that we *all* buy information. Newspapers, cable tv, books, magazines, et al. Can you name one of those that offers buyers a 100% money back guarantee?
d) an open market that can be engaged or ignored as Fools see fit -- those who love it, will immerse themselves in it; those who don't can ignore it.
This is not to say that we don't have challenges ahead of us. But try to include in your understanding of Soapbox a recognition that authors get a higher cut for their work and buyers get the security of a full money back guarantee. I believe the marketplace will embrace the Soapbox.com concept for those (and many other) reasons. We have to work to make it great. But we wouldn't do it if we didn't think it weren't likely to increase the output of value and reduce the input of cost.
Sorry for the length.
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