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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The App is simple, but powerful and I would pay for it; I would pay more than than the ‘do not publish’ service the phone company offers (which on a side note, I find ridiculous — really…why would the phone company think they own rights to my number?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.

‘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

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.

Advertisers aren’t chuckling anymore. They need you Ms, Mr, and Mrs consumer.

Two years ago when I embarked on the journey to help advertisers and agencies understand how the consumer messaging paradigm shift plays a critical role in their world, the average response was; well, a chuckle.

It wasn’t a ‘ha-ha, you’re funny’ kind of chuckle, it was more of a ‘are you kidding me? Consumers taking over creative?’ kind of chuckle. I’m going to go there and say, they’re not chuckling anymore. As a matter of fact, they haven’t been for about a year now as industry wide it’s crystal clear that they need you, Ms, Mr and Mrs consumer.

Regardless of the myriad collection of industry terms (consumer generated messaging, consumer generated advertising, social media, crowdsourcing, etc., most of which are still in debate), one message reveals itself as the essence of the shift. Consumers are THE most critical element in any campaign strategy and execution.

Seems obvious, right? Clearly, if you want to communicate the most relevant message to your buyer, you need to know what resonates with them as a collective. That message needs to be so compelling, that sharing is the natural next step. After all, people share what they care about. I call this being one with the people.

And there you have it;  Ask, and ye shall receive.

Most Winning Creative Work Involves Consumer Participation http://bit.ly/5VNcYC

The result? 9 out of the top 10 worldwide ‘best of’ campaigns involved consumer input and only 1 was a traditional campaign. Now that’s pretty cool.

The people DO count (FTC inquiry to Facebook privacy issues)

I’m really a believer that it’s all about the consumer and clearly this power shift continues to gain strength in shaping everything from a service to a brand, to even products.

As many would have anticipated, private privacy groups have taken the issue of Facebook’s global release of user information on the web, to the FTC.

Facebook Privacy Changes Break the Law, Privacy Groups Tell FTC: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/12/facebook-ftc-complaint/

So hey, people are in charge.

FB+web search+privacy+twitterized=Really??

Well it seems facebook can’t quite seem to make their model work (or they’re getting greedy) so today, it was announced that FB has released new privacy defaults to ‘twitterize’ it.

(Note that the screen doesn’t *quite* tell you that information will make the WW web). Full article here: http://tinyurl.com/yk5rhl7).

Business Problem

Seems to me one of the initial business problems facebook had (and still does), is the squishy road to having their own personality and purpose;  FB was about friends connecting with each other, including those you were out of touch with on a social level. It was nice and simple. And it really was about connecting with friends and family in a more robust environment, all in one place with media elements that enhanced that connection. 

Over time, it’s become less interesting, more cluttered, far less private and far less relevant. In addition, it feels like (and looks like) FB is becoming twitter with photos, apps and video. Oh, and it’s all over the web if you don’t change your settings.

Privacy Issue

If you allow friends of friends to see your personal information (posts, photos, phone number, etc.) and those friends of friends are allowing public info, then there you are. Maybe you don’t really care if all that information is out there; I’m guessing if you have 500 friends, you don’t. (Really? 500 friends? wow).

And, BTW, if you have had it with facebook, here’s a new way to create your own “facebook death”. http://tinyurl.com/ybz79mu

Clogging, duplicate and less relevant information

At some point, media started telling you that the more friends you have, the more fans you have, the more valuable you are. Well, that’s probably another post and I personally don’t associate value to those ‘metrics’ but what I do care about, is the resulting ‘clog’ of information.

Clearly social media continues to pave the way for a new level of communication and connecting; that’s the point. But at what point, does too much information become invaluable? Boy, it’s messy out there.

The good news is that the situation creates opportunities; we need smarter and more relevant search, we need consolidated results based on what we’re looking for, in at least less than 10 places. We need tools to sort out the duplicate RT’s, tinyurls, overpostings, etc., that take even more time to wade through than it did 3 years ago. This is the real business problem; if everyone looks the same, what is their unique value? Facebook has this problem, twitter has this problem, and even linkedin has this problem.

The solution?

There are some interesting solutions out there that enable you to streamline receiving the information you care about; they’re in a relative state of infancy, but going in the right direction. There are also tools that enable you to post one message to multiple social sites; a bit counter-productive to the first. It’s an interesting push-pull challenge.

In any case, I’ll be the first customer of anyone who can solve the social channel problem of too much information that I don’t care about, and duplicated information I get weary of sorting through. Keep me posted on that, would you? 🙂

If you have a non-threatening emergency, you can email Oprah

Ok, I cruise around and dabble in all random things of interest to me, and found myself at oprah.com learning about the ‘worlds best karaoke’ singers competition. I clicked the link and a hectic page of lovely opportunities to be a star, win things, be on the show and all kinds of goodies greeted me.

Honestly, the only reason I clicked it was to see if in fact they really wanted the worst, who thought they were ok (that’d be me) because then I could probably win some serious cash and prizes…. Alas, nope, just the good ones and  they meant it.  I suppose I could always audition for American Idol to make the ‘Seattle has the worst singers’ list. Oh yeah, too late. 🙂

So for fun, I clicked on the ‘Ad Sales’ link at the bottom of the page; I was just curious after all. A simple page with simple instructions greeted me:

* You can only be a serious advertiser; all others will be disregarded

* No CPC or revenue sharing, just CPM

* The minimum buy on oprah.com is $50,000

I was a little struck by the verbiage but I suppose there’s a lot of ‘riff raff’ out there thinking $20k or so would get you a spot, and I’m confident $50k keeps it managable.

So I scrolled down to see how serious the form was, and to my surprise, noticed the following, just after the advertising rules:

IMPORTANT MESSAGE: If you are seeking immediate assistance on a matter involving urgent health care, personal safety, the safety of others or any other issue requiring immediate attention, please do not use this e-mail or website. Instead, IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING OR HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF AN EMERGENCY INVOLVING IMMEDIATE DANGER OR PHYSICAL HARM TO YOU OR TO ANOTHER, PLEASE CALL 911 OR YOUR LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITIES. If you are experiencing any other type of emergency situation with which you need assistance, please click here.. Please note that we cannot reply to all e-mails sent to us or guarantee that your e-mail will be or will be immediately read. We cannot always review every e-mail that we receive. https://www.oprah.com/ord/plugform.jsp?plugId=510

I’m wondering if the shock of the minimum or the rules have caused others to have a medical emergency? Hm, seems it’s possible.

But, I was delighted to see that if you have any other type of emergency, you can send an email to the oprah team. That’s pretty amazing, but then I do sincerely believe that Oprah is amazing.

I read a litte further and noticed the paragraph states, “…cannot…guarantee that your e-mail will be or will be immediately read”.

So on second thought, maybe you should not email in the event of an emergency although I did really kind of like the idea of it.

See, you thought I was kidding huh?
See, you thought I was kidding huh?

Okay, Okay, Okay…I confess, I emailed my non-medical emergency that there was a grammatical error on the web page…Gosh, I hope someone would do the same for me.  🙂

I had no idea it happens all the time….does it?

Wow. On the way home from an event the other night in my neighborhood, I pulled to the right to let a screaming ambulance by (and hey, the 4 other people that did not pull over to the right, let’s hope you don’t have to be in one). I carried on my path home doing the posted speed limit 🙂 as anyone would do.

I arrived at the first intersection, and stopped at the red light…I waited, then moved again on green arriving at the second intersection again stopping at the red light…waiting…and waiting…(it’s a long one).

As I was approaching the next intersection along came the screaming ambulance from a different direction, going my way now. What??

The ambulance was lost.

In today’s digital app and gadget this and that, I had no concept this could really be possible, let alone common. I stopped at the gas station on that corner and chatted with the cashier about what I thought was an entirely unique event.

“oh no”, she said. “It happens all the time”.

All the time?

“Yes”, she said. “I see them coming from that street (pointing right), going up that street (pointing left) and then screaming by again to turn onto THAT street (the one going straight)… All the time”.

Is this a business problem that needs solving? what about GPS solutions? What about Onstar, or all the other technology solutions to get you from one place to another? And in this case, it’s pretty darn important.

So wow, here’s my survey.

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