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wintermann

a kaleidoscope of thoughts

3 year olds don’t stop knocking.

It’s the night where you contemplate how much of a candy stash you need for all the kids that come around with their trick-or-treat wishes and today, I stocked up and settled in to answer the door for a few hours — who can resist?

I had a very interesting observation I never expected to have. The doorbell currently has a mind of its own; sometimes it chimes, sometimes it doesn’t, so I taped a “please knock” sign over it to make sure I didn’t miss one little precious bumble bee, zombie or baseball player.

Through the night, I noticed that 3-year olds don’t stop knocking.

They read my sign and started knocking and never stopped until I opened the door. In addition, the triplet bumble bee,fairy and witch stumbled into the house, pursuing the candy bowl, stopped only by me, and that bowl of candy in my hands. But in the spirit of any great quarterback (ah, name one?) they would have continued their pursuit if not for mom who laughingly said, “stop, don’t go into the house silly girls”. 

Why is this anything you ask?

Enthusiasm. Blatant pursuit and focus on their end game — candy.

I relate that to a start-up and the ability to be just that, focused, enthusiastic, always moving forward.

So today, I’m going to remind myself of my ‘inner 3-year old’; the one who keeps knocking and continues to move forward to my end goal, which seems to be a good thing to contemplate on any day.

Happy Halloween.

A LAND line App idea to mimize telemarketing/research calls?

Interestingly, I still receive phone calls from telemarketers & research firms, despite being on the do not call list. Yes, research firms will tell you they are not selling anything, so the “do not call” does not apply to them which IMHO, is a bad way to try and continue an unwanted conversation.

If I receive more than 2 calls, I will re-register on the DNC gov and also eventually pick up the call, to let that poor ‘sitting behind my desk dialing for dollars’  individual know that the number is registered, and to kindly communicate I am a waste of their time. Believe me, I have been there (ok, only once — it was an informative experience a couple of decades ago – a telemarking sweat shop in a mobile home stacked with fold out picnic tables — think about how many clowns you can fit into a vw bug and you’ve got it).

Which is why I still try to be courteous and kind when I recieve those calls – after all, a gal/guy has to earn a buck.

The App is simple, but powerful and I would pay for it; I would pay more than than the ‘do not publish’ service the phone company offers (which on a side note, I find ridiculous — really…why would the phone company think they own rights to my number? I pay for it, right? It seems clear to me that people own their phone number, we all can port it — Another post, right?) 🙂

Here is how it would work:

1. A telemarketer calls me (it’s clear because “Maritz Research” shows up on my ID)

2. I probably ignore it (as do most)

3. There’s no message, so I will definitely ignore it next time (like most)

4. On second or third call (which always seems to be a most inconvenient time  and in this case 7:02 PM), I do pick up to save the poor soul trying to make a buck. If I receive another call after that, it was clear my ‘remove from this list’  request was meaningless (9 times out of 10, that’s my experience).

That app will recognize who I am, the number that called mine, and automatically block calls in the future, much like other apps which are more manual. I can set my settings for all kinds of handy things.

And, I don’t have to pay the phone company that $5/month for the same service. Because really, I believe that $$ should go to a startup, not a conglomerate (mostly because I am not given a choice).  While there are plenty of apps for smartphones and so on, a quick shout on the numbers will show those silly LAND lines still exist. 

Without mapping a business plan, how is this:

1. Before “X” am and after “Y” pm, I forward my phone to “insert your company here” with a virtual number system.

2. That system takes the first ring of all my calls, reconciles it with a database of the above. If it passes, I get the call on the second ring. If it fails, well, how about an automated recording that repeats endlessly until the party hangs up, which is about what we usually get for these types of calls.

Let me know if you build this App, I will be your first customer.

7 minutes for a pre-Black Friday deal and I still couldn’t spend my $.

I received some great Black Friday deal notifications and love it because like most, I know what I need, what I’m willing to pay, and when I need it. But anytime between November and Mid-December when any particular item is not time sensitive, I wait and hold out for the deal.

I also temporarily subscribe to email newsletters for those companies that carry products I might be looking for, as a shortcut to the online search for it.

I did receive that Black Friday deal in my inbox, and goody! Just what I was looking for!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t buy anything…

The story:

I received a great “secret” black Friday deal which starts tomorrow (2 days before the official day) – Excellent! I open it. I see the item on my list (2TB backup drive) which I was already planning to purchase at some point in the near future. Bonus, this one is $70 — you have my attention and I’m ready to buy it right now.

But wait, I can’t buy it yet.

There’s no click-through link to the item on your website (drat), so I go there and I search. I give it a good 7 minutes (that probably makes me a unique user, except I know I want it). Your newsletter statistics will show a high success open rate. They’ll show a high up-side on web traffic. They won’t show purchases associated to the announcement and likely, they may never be converted to a sale if a competitor also offered a similar deal.

What you did well:

1. Let me know I have a secret no one else does so I’m checking out your list, plus anything else I might need. Yay. (And ok, I know it’s me and 10,000 others but that doesn’t really matter — what does is that you accomplished the first mission – get my attention to a click).

2. Push it out before Black Friday when you’re competing with everyone else around that event and particularly for electronics, first one out usually wins.

3. You gave me a very nice selection of options around your core business and product lines. So, you were right, it was relevant and I did read your entire newsletter looking for other things I might need.

What was not so great:

1. I could not access the product through a link in the email, I could not buy it, I could not even put it in my cart to set my alarm to hit ‘send’ according to your ‘start hour’ for the impending sale.

2. I could not even research the item (after that 7 minute search) to make my final buying decision (there was no model number so it was a guessing game). If I were only price driven, it wouldn’t matter, however I’m probably like others who research electronics obsessively since I have them for awhile before upgrading.

3. Where is the option to share and talk about your ‘secret’ sale? I know you want me to tell all my friends, but surprisingly, there was nothing to help me do that (share, secret link, product info, referral deals, etc.). I wanted to tell my friends, but what shall I tell them?

Next Time?

1. I would like to purchase it when I find it — a good deal for both of us

2. I might know someone who might need “that” item too, so sharing would be handy. Even better, I would love to receive just a little something for doing that if they buy something from my referral.

3. If there’s a reason that I can’t purchase anything on the list at the time I receive the email, I would still take a few extra minutes to create an account and put it in my cart. Even better if there’s limited supply — a simple click to “buy now” and I’d wake up the next morning like it were Christmas already! 

We’ll see what happens next year for this very same retailer

How to succeed as an entrepreneur in Seattle (resources & comments).

Thanks to Michael Surkin for hosting this live radio discussion, it was great fun to be a part of it! You can listen to the livecast here.

Here are some of the resources I mentioned and we talked about for entrepreneurs of any kind that may be useful:

http://www.seattletechstartups.com

A website of events and resources with an impressive open and collaborative group of folks via listserve is open to anyone. Topics include anything startup, technology, business and more.

Organizers: Chuck Groom and Gaurav Oberoi

http://www.seattle20.com

A collaborative organization that focuses on startups in the Seattle area with the focus of helping tech entrepreneurs build great companies. Great posts, great events, great folks.

Organizers: Marcelo Calbucci, Danielle Morrill, Alyssa Royse, Andy Sack, Anthony Stevens, David Aronchick, Gerry Langeler, Jennifer Cabala, Sasha Pasulka

http://www.techvenue.com

A calendar of various technology events across many regions, Seattle included. Techvenue is a promoter of local & worldwide technology-related business events organized geographically in an easy-to-use set of calendars.

http://www.nwen.org

The Northwest Entrepreneur Network’s focus is on helping entrepreneur’s succeed. Events, meet and greets, Pub nights, think tanks, seminars and other programs provide valuable resources.

Organizers: A non-profit with great contributors, sponsors and community leaders.

http://www.startpad.org

A great ‘co-working’ solution that provides short and long term desks & offices in a collaborative environment next to other technology folks. More importantly they also offer free monthly one-on-one meetings with leaders in their area including usability, finance, legal and more. Brown bag lunches, talks, events, all Seattle based.

Organizers: Andy Sack, Mike Koss and others.

http://www.xconomy.com

A resource (seattle included) for all things entrepeneur, finance, VC, events, etc. with a thumb on the pulse of tech and startup.

‘backing into your market’ after you’ve built something

It’s no surprise the topics of building ‘minimum viable products’, ‘lean startups’, ‘customer validation first’ and hundreds of other themes continue to take center stage in the startup scene.

For the majority of startups, there are usually (yes, this may be a sweeping generalization) two types of founding partner teams; The technical team partners and the business team partners. And it’s really no wonder — us biz folks hang with other biz folks, and tech folks hang with tech folks.

30% of startups fail due to an unbalanced founding team (SBA)

The market is swarming with organizations trying to address this issue on all levels — after all, that’s a relatively ‘simple’ failure point but what makes it complex, is the relationships required to solve it. (more on that later, I’m sure).

So great tech minds come together and build something that feels like it’s addressing a market gap. And great Biz minds come together and map out a solution, go sell it and validate it, and then start the difficult hunt to have it built. Assuming you are bootstrapping your startup, both founder teams are faced with unique challenges.

Or commonly, tech folks build a solution on contract while retaining rights to the code, enhance the product further, and then try to build a market around it. In this case, that’s the scenario I’m going to address.

I met a very smart and talented technical fellow a few weeks ago (Joe) who also had a great sense of design and usability. He was also very ‘business minded’ (I was impressed) and had had a successful startup exit in the past.

Joe built this nifty application that was a very simplistic way to create a form and distribute communications across multiple individuals in multiple locations, no code required. He figured his market was non-technical small businesses, and based on his own contract work, was tired of coding the same thing over and over again

So Joe puts his situation forward: 1) I have an app, 2) I’ve tried connecting with webmasters and small biz, 3) I’m not sure how to get customers in this market even with the freemium model and, bless his heart, he even tried cold calling (can you say R-E-S-P-E-C-T)?

I threw out some quick ideas based on his application description, his website messaging and small business target market which included connecting with groups, associations, SMB channels of relevance, aggregated biz communities, etc. The first places you’d start validating your application viability.

He had tried those with minimal success, and proceeded to give much more detail about what his application could do. As a result, what I saw was a business solution that consolidated several customer service issues for mid-size customers, not small business. And, his potential competitors were profitable organizations who hadn’t yet offered a full service solution yet, in which he was well positioned to do.

Given this additional information, the single most important thing Joe could do now was to back into his ‘real’ market to determine who his target customer should be, to identify his competitive strengths, and to re-define his messaging based on what he learned.

If you find you’re in a similar situation, here’s how you start:

 Market/Competitive analysis/who are they?

  • To validate who your customer “should” be, take your solution components (along with each problem), and find similar companies that solve one (or more) of the problems you’ve solved.
  • Ancillary competitors count too, since the purpose of this exercise is to get a market view of your app now, and its possibilities based on how it fits into the current market
  • Dig into your competitors customer list (usually you’ll find a who’s who) and get a sense of their company size, vertical, etc. All the data that would apply to your solution.
  • Look at the pricing, revenue models (per use, one time, etc.) for each competitor’s offering

 Let the data guide you to a broad stroke

  • Compare the solutions (not just the features).
  • Compare the customers, pricing, service, what the customers have in common, what they say are important to them, etc.
  • Add the information into the same spreadsheet to get a big picture view of where you could fit based on all the information you’ve gathered – the results will likely astound you.

Messaging/positioning

  • Re-work your value proposition and messaging based on your results
  • Identify the problem and the solution in a way that will immediately resonate with the customers of your competitors and be specific about your value proposition
  • If necessary, update your site messaging so it’s consistent (this is a quick hit, not weeks of delay – after all, you’re still learning but confusion is the biggest sales enemy).

Cut your teeth

  • Pick 3 potential customers somewhere in the middle of your chart (as the saying goes, burn the ones you don’t want so you can learn what you need to).
  • Keep honing your pitch based on the feedback you receive and track it. If the message doesn’t resonate, go back to the homework and repeat with smarter data until you hit an 80% confidence level you’re on target.

Get started with your target

  • Translate the above into your key messaging. Post the tools needed to convert mild interest into actionable interest (data sheets, customer ROI, pictures, what have you – all based on what you learned).
  • Focus on Problem, Solution, Value Proposition
  • Consider choosing a customer to develop a case study, referrals, etc. to building your market credibility.
  • Start first with the original competitor’s customers to convert their business. They already understand certain pain points and it’s likely they will be your easiest sale.

My reward? This response:

Amazing. Such good advice. Thank you. I’ll get to work.

Dodd’s bill: Restrict startups & investors (after all, only 64% of small biz creates new US jobs)

He’s kidding, right? I mean, I’m not really sure what anyone is expected to say to such a proposal.

Chris Dodd, Democrat chairing the Senate Banking Committee is proposing new restrictions on startups and investing. Let’s start with “Senate Banking Committee”…You draw your own conclusions.

The proposed bill would have an effect on 1) angel investors (friends and family members who invest in a startup, 2) unaffiliated wealthy individuals, and 3) side VC’s acting on their own.

What does that mean, according to the proposed bill?

#1) Startups who raise ANY funding would be required to register with the SEC and wait 120 days for the Securities & Exchange Commission to review their filing.

     Let’s add more costs and hurdles to the risks of creating a startup where innovation lives.

 #2) It would raise the wealth requirements for an “accredited investor” who can invest in startups from #1 million, to more than $2.3 million in assets, or income of more than $450,000 (up from $250,000).

       Let’s see, perfect timing. It’s clear our country is rolling in the ‘dough’ and those with $$ have suffered severe net worth loss, and the rest, have suffered. Let’s limit their ability to fund jobs and innovation.

#3) The third restriction removes the federal pre-emption allowing angel and venture financing in the United States to follow federal regulations, rather than face different rules between states.

       If  funding rules become the same across all states, I suppose it’s logical that also means we get to take the best of all states; no personal income tax, no property tax, legality of same sex marriages and so on.?

Who should care? All of us.

Firms with fewer than 500 employees accounted for 64 percent (14.5 million) of the 22.5 million net new jobs (gains minus loses) between 1993 and the third quarter of 2008.

Small businesses create 64% of the net new jobs in the U.S. market.

Continuing firms accounted for 68% of net new jobs, and the other 32% reflect net new jobs from startup births minus those lost in closures (1993-2007). 

Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Business Employment Dynamics. Note that the methodology used for the figures above counts job gains or losses in the actual class size where they occurred.

Small businesses account for over 50% of US workers

Small businesses employ just over half of U.S. workers. Of 119.9 million non-farm private sector workers in 2006, small firms with less than 500 workers employed 60.2 million and large firms employed 59.7 million. Firms with fewer than 20 employees employed 21.6 million.

While small firms create a majority of the net new jobs, their share of employment remains steady since some grow into large firms as they create new jobs. Small firms’ share of part-time workers is 21%, similar to large firms’ share (18%).

Source: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census: Statistics of U.S. Businesses, Current Population Survey.

SIGN THE PETITION HERE: http://tiny.cc/sign_now

NET: Startup businesses represent a significant percent of the U.S. job market and the economy. Innovation is stemmed by this very same group. How could these elements of the proposed bill possibly have any value?

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://tiny.cc/7yi3z

Biz Trend #1 – (collaboration) My postman was willing to help fix my window today

I alluded to posting trends I see and believe in moving forward and I’m finally making the time for #1 because my postman was willing to help fix my window today.

We have a pathfinder we sluff around in – it’s great for hauling things from my gardening obsessions to packages, to people (vs. the cute little car which is a two person gig). Over the past several weeks, the front passenger window has been acting peculiar. Sometimes it goes up and sometimes it doesn’t. Try several times and you’ll get lucky that it will close. Whew, and oohhh every time. Since it’s an automatic window, it could be a small or big fix, quick or painfully slow, no big deal or hugely expensive.

For any of you with a newer and/or high-end car, this can be a dauntingly potential “electrical” problem. (“ouch”). Today, that persnickety window turned into failure — the window would not close at all! Ugh. That’s inconvenient – geez, it’s 4pm in the afternoon and it’s supposed to rain.

So of course I tried my previous series of tricks; Partially up (nope), partially down (yep), pushing up while holidng the button (nope), down a little more then pull it up? (nope). Partially down again? (yep and crud, all the way down it goes, right into the door frame).

Along comes my postman who catches me doing handstands, odd activities and perhaps an explicative or two, and so on in my desperate attempts to get the window up for the evening.  I say, “Hey Aarol, has this ever happened to you? Any ideas”?  He gives me his ideas – One is very bad (the motor in the door has died) and one is good (it’s stuck, force it up). The entire thought of removing the door panel and replacing the motor must have expressed itself with razor sharp clarity. 

Aarol says; “that’s happened to me, I could help fix it”. (WOW.)

Trend #1 – collaboration

I can’t exactly say I’ve done anything spectacular for my postman except to be a good natured and friendly person; we chat when he comes round, I’m empathetic to what he must deal with on a daily basis and I really like him so I try to make his job easier. But frankly, don’t most of us? Maybe not… I mean, seriously, he offered to help fix my window. It’s no small feat and it’s no small offer.

As we move through this whacky economic situation that can be easily articulated into the have’s and have not’s (for the purpose of this concept), I believe we will get back to the basics to collaborate toward some common vision or goal. Whether it’s 5 minutes of “I’ve been there, try this” to something more complex, I believe we’re back on the path of help me, help you. No matter how small or big, this is what connects us.

And today, we hold that value higher than we have in the last decade because it’s real. It’s consumable, it’s immediate and it means something.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve moved to an “I can help you, but you have to pay” model, validated by those who were willing to do so. Well, that’s great for high commerce times. Pay to play. But looking at where this fundamental concept and requirement (and on a global scale) has gotten us, it’s clearly not the path to success. And it’s clearly challenged today. Yet, the value of the relationship is there, it’s the currency that will change.

So, moving forward, collaboration will rule. People will get closer together to help each other on every scale, small and large. Whether it’s an “I’ll connect you, I’ve been there, I have some ideas” and so on, this trend will start to rule how we do business, how we grow a business, and how they will succeed. Yes, there’s still plenty of room for the ‘pro services’ folks – but I believe that landscape will also continue to change.

We will start re-connecting again as in times past; giving freely to you, as you would to me, because we both know the less we collaborate, the steeper the hill and that 20 degrees all of a sudden feels like and looks like 10 degrees.

Now that helps us move forward.

Facebook comment = email reply (Whew!)

It’s true I’m a social media and digital nut. Not only personally do I find it incredibly difficult to rip myself away from my favorite channels, but I also consult for various clients helping them understand how to maximize social and digital marketing from creating a strategy or campaign, to establishing protocols that get the most out of it. 

While so many social channels are still truly in their infancy, they are quickly figuring out how to make the engagement lifecycle easier and more integrated which is critical to longterm success. (Well, within their own channel anyway….try creating a social media campaign that cross-markets using several channels (such as Facebook AND Twitter), then having a management and tracking plan in place that doesn’t consume a full time resource! (More to come on that I’m sure). 

I have my communication preferences just like everyone else and when I started using facebook personally, I was pretty resistant to the whole concept of: 

Share -> Notify -> Sign In -> comment -> sign out and move on -> get another comment/poke/post -> Sign in, etc. 

People started having ‘semi-live’ conversations within a topic and it was certainly Facebook’s point to keep people signed in longer and doing more. But frankly, not for me.  

I would literally reply to an invite/post/comment saying email me@. If it didn’t work the first time, I would be forced to use the word PLEASE, PLEASE email me@ 

So I did eventually get over that 🙂 however MOST importantly (and the big news!) is that I’m so thrilled that I don’t have to get over it at all!! With the new reply-to email to comment on posts, I get to stay in the same places I want to online, and to my beloved email inbox! 

Yayyy!!!
Yayyy! (Just reply to FB activity in your inbox!)

THANK YOU FACEBOOK. 

Really, really, really, thank you! This tidy and handy little feature is a setting adjustment in your account – just select your notification preferences (comments, updates, etc.) with your email preferences. If you’re a super-active FB individual and you go around poking people and sending little apps and having real time conversations (or your friends do!), it’s a great way to keep up with the ‘conversation’. 

Now, when you’re at work and your boss walks by to make sure you’re  not burning company time by socializing with your friends on facebook, you’re covered!

Smart move, facebook! As organizations crack down on (unofficial) social media time spent in the office, you’ve made it much easier to keep engaged without getting ‘found out’. And for those of us who just LOVE the handy little feature because it’s how we want to manage our engagements, we’re so much happier!

BTW, let’s not forget how much easier this makes it for several people within an organization to manage a company presence…A definite consolidation trend for 2010. More on that another time.

Yah-WHO? (You, creeps, bullies and maybe everyone else too).

I woke up early this morning, excited to start my ‘social media predictions and trends for 2010’ post, which has been on my list for some time now. One of my new year’s resolutions is to make a greater effort to share opinions, insights, knowledge and observations that may be of value to others in the industry and today was the day!

It went afoul.

I was mildly surprised when I received an invitation to connect from media company “X” via Yahoo! Not that a connection request is odd (and I’m all about connecting), but when I looked twice, then a second time, my pleasant mystery quickly became concern.

Imagine my surprise when I started investigating how company “X” successfully sent an email invitation to an entirely different (unpublished) email account of mine, but through Yahoo!… I don’t know company X, or anyone from company X.

Even more mysterious was the combination of these bits of data:

  1. The email header included my married last name which I don’t use anywhere
  2. The invitation was not sent to my yahoo email (which I’ve had since 1995), nor a publicized address
  3. My yahoo profile had been changed to a hyphenated last name (I didn’t do it)

Curiosity killed the cat (that’s me), so off to mail.yahoo I went.

Yah-WHO? You really published my personal information from 1995? And by data mining? Without notifying, telling or asking?

Yes, that’s exactly what happened. I believe the word is “stunned”. In fact, some of the information came from my original yahoo profile, and some data had been mined from a questionable source (let’s just say there are two pieces of ID you never give out, that have that hyphenated name, which is the only source of locating it). That’s pretty much a ‘not-ok’. For starters, your birthday, age and name are public by default.

My auto assigned happy face is not so happy.

After following random clicks here and there, I eventually found the settings (above), and had to click ‘hide my age/save’ several times before it updated (now that you all know my birthday is coming up, I would happily accept thoughtful best wishes. But I’m thinking age isn’t really relevant nor of interest to most. 🙂 

I was expecting to be done, but noticed the new right side bar options; Relationships, Work, Schools, and Interests. At this point, I double-checked my browser URL to make sure I was really at mail.yahoo and not in fact on Facebook, LinkedIn, classmates or some dating site that I don’t visit nor am a member of. I clearly felt obligated to keep going because in fact, I really was at mail.yahoo.

Creeps & bullies, and 3rd party apps

creeps and bullies?
creeps and bullies, oh my! And Lions and tigers and bears? More searching and my level of concern started to match that of my frustration. Here’s your one ‘gimme’ yahoo; I was ‘pleased’ you didn’t pull a Facebook by defaulting ‘share’ with 3rd party apps. It was almost a relief. Can’t edit permissions? That would really be a drag for someone who uses yahoo apps, chat, connections, etc. but I don’t.Wait! Not only did I have a new sidebar menu (which by now I can confidently conclude potentially leads to a dark and mysterious place…)I was now being prompted to learn how to ‘manage my reputation’ and how to deal with ‘creeps and bullies’? If Yahoo feels the need to prioritize those topics on your permissions settings, I equally share the concern about my reputation AND creeps and bullies.How long will this take?I finally found all my options in the help section.
Worn out by now, I believe I finally located the full view of information that may or may not be out there in the help files (look at all those new settings…ugh, what a drag). I’m not sure I found everything, but what was clear is that I had been socialized without even knowing it or being asked. I’m not interested in managing my yahoo reputation, age, birthday, connections and blogs or have a guestbook, photos, manage an alias or chat. I’m sure some people are, but I, like most users, live in the channels that have value to me.

The net-net?

I ‘get’ the business logic for trying to keep your channel engaged by providing a robust & valuable group of services that will keep them – it’s one of the trends I believe we’ll continue to see significant shifts in, moving forward. It will be critical to establishing leadership success. But compromising trust (and privacy) is a fail that leads to initiatives like Facebook death.  

So I’ll wrap this up by calling this out as the ‘mis-perceived value’ and privacy fail. By now it’s an ‘old’ social media truth to ask and I’m not sure why folks can’t quite get that one right.

So, who is my new friend media company ‘X’? I never did find the answer (though I’m certain I’d be happy to connect); But after all that, I couldn’t find ‘X’s profile through yahoo and am still wondering how they found mine.

That mystery I’ll save for another day.

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