I was catching up with my friend Steven Benjamin today and I want to share part of the story. I got to know him originally through the ColdFusion community here in Chicago, and not only is he a talented developer, but an engineer as well – an engineer as in building things with tangible objects, not code.
Last year he launched a new business, MightyMugs.com, and I was asking him how things were going. MightyMugs gives people the ability to upload a photo or image via the Web site, and Steven would make a single or multiple coffee mugs with that image on it. He developed the process to put the image on it and makes them himself, and is a stickler for quality.
As he started marketing his services, he found a lot of interest from businesses, great and small. The fact they could order a quantity as small as a dozen was a key selling point, as other “swag” vendors usually require minimums from several dozen to a gross. Another nice feature is he can create a “3D” animation of what the mug would look like. It’s a great selling point – I know, I am a customer! He also launched a complimenting site for businesses, MightyMugsB2B.com. Not only can you upload an image, but you can email or post mail it, as he got many requests for the latter two.
I think the mark of a good entrepreneur is in how she or he can react to their audience or market and make changes in a way that large corporations cannot. Where he still sells his service to consumers, his tailored Web site and marketing to businesses has helped propel his own business. Same product, different markets, one entrepreneur. It makes you think of what you can do with your own offerings.Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
This Thursday, January 25, 2007 is the next TechCocktail. As you can guess by the name, it is an tech networking event where drinks are served. This is the third of what has become a quarterly event, and will be held at Amira at the NBC Tower in Chicago.
I went to the first one, missed the second, and I am looking forward to this one. Its success can be contributed to many reasons. It was heavily promoted on blogs, and as a result brought in a wide variety of people in technology including programmers, entrepreneurs, bloggers, venture capitalists and lawyers. As a quarterly event, it is not overdone, and still has momentum. And free admission and drinks aren’t a bad thing either.
TechCocktail's success is in its simplicity, and that’s why I think it will be around for a while. Many user groups or other organizations fail because of the complexities of their services and offerings. As well, when there is a turnover in the organizers, it is hard to regain much of the momentum the group had. I have seen this personally with tech user groups as well as established organizations like the Jaycees, and it falls in line with the team development model of forming, storming, norming and performing.
Are you going to TechCocktail? Hope to see you there!Business • Technology • (0) Comments • Permalink
Years ago I worked for a large international company who was a partner with Microsoft. The partnership was so strong we had a full-time Microsoft consultant on our development team. This was a huge benefit for us, as we had access to a top individual, plus their access to double-secret knowledgebases and internal communications. At one point, we were working with newly-launched technology and when we had a question on it, we literally had the Microsoft management for the technology on the phone.
I just got back from attending an afternoon roadshow put on by Salesforce.com. I am working with it for one of my clients, and I attended to learn more of the meat from the hype. Needless to say, my head is swirling with ideas and things I need to investigate further.
A new offering Salesforce has is its "AppExchange Incubator," which is office space made available to start-up companies who are developing applications to run on the Salesforce platform. The concept is that you are in a Salesforce office, along with Salesforce staff and other start-up companies. Not only do you get the benefit of having incubator space and its trappings, but by direct contact and osmosis you will be more successful. A single cubicle is reportedly $20,000 a year.
Some may say this is a steep price – how many people will fit in single cube anyway? But if you look at it from a learning-curve perspective, and depending on what your business model is, it can more than pay for itself. Developers of Salesforce add-ons sell them through AppExchange, an iTunes for software if you will, which is built right into the Salesforce platform.
When I heard about this, the first thought in my mind was why Microsoft never offered anything like this. Then again, having companies pay you rent is right in line with Salesforce’s subscription-based business model, not one-off licenses like Microsoft. The folks in Redmond could learn from the folks in San Francisco, maybe more than from the folks in Mountain View?Business • Technology • (0) Comments • Permalink
Today Netflix, the popular DVD-by-mail service, announced it will begin offering the ability for customers to instantly watch movies over the Internet. You can read their press release here:
As a Netflix customer and someone who likes to see companies break from the mold of purely physical music and video, this is a step forward. Though it is only available to Windows PC users, I think it will be popular as they are planning a phased approach and have worked it into their existing pricing model. This way, you should actually be able watch a movie without the servers being taxed too much, and you won’t have to change anything to do so.
Of course this enhancement is not perfect. You are not downloading a video to watch at your convenience, you are watching a streamed movie on your PC. Also, not all movie titles will be made available for viewing. But after waiting weeks to receive DVDs over the recent holidays, it will be a nice option to have, and an even nicer choice when Comcast’s On-Demand service does not have anything I am interested in, which for me was the catalyst for signing up for Netflix in the first place.
It will be interesting to see the reaction of the movie industry to this offering – will they jump on the bandwagon, or just make their back catalog available? It is a step by a major player in the direction of a pure digital world of watching or listening to whatever, whenever, a step towards convergence that is easier to use without having to buy a pricey, flat-screen telephone.Business • Technology • (3) Comments • Permalink
I start my mornings with the TV news on in the background, with the hope that subliminally I will retain the overnight activities of the world. On occasion, there is a useful nugget from a guest on a non-news topic that sticks in my mind, and today it was the topic of words.
The author of Words That Work, Frank Luntz, was on the tube stumping his new book. He is a political consultant and the example he gave was from the 2004 presidential campaign, comparing the words spoken by John Kerry, which tended to reflect his Yale education, and the words by George W. Bush, which… um… tended not to reflect his Yale education.
As this was swirling in my head, another good work on words came to mind. Dr. Peter Meyers of Tminus2 Consulting wrote a "geek guide" (a.k.a. white paper) on the topic of Speaking geek to customers which he makes available on his blog, debabblog. It offers good advice for technical folks in talking to clients or customers about technology without causing their eyes to roll to the back of their head.
Now the classic 80's song Cult of Personality by Living Colour is playing in my head, with its edited quote from Malcolm X, “[w]e want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.” Though I can't recall what today's weather forecast is.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
Business • Technology • (4) Comments • Permalink
As today I experienced two incidents of what I would consider poor customer experiences – both before noon – I thought I would share a couple of positive encounters I recently had with large companies.
Realizing the problem
Did you know you can pretty much return a Staples-brand product at any time for a replacement or refund? When I returned a shredder several months back, the clerk and on-duty manager did not know that. After realizing the cost of shipping a shredder for repair, as the manager advised me to do, would cost more than the shredder itself, I went to the form on the Staples Web site and submitted my problem.
Within four hours, I received a call from the assistant manager of that Staples store – not from the headquarters – apologizing for the problem and offered to process the exchange personally plus a coupon for a future visit. By the end of the day, I was back shredding and wondering what to buy next from Staples.
Not their problem, but still
Midway Airport in Chicago has two gates for AirTran Airways that are down what appears to be an add-on corridor from the main concourse. It’s an interesting setup, as it literally hovers over the exterior wall of the airport. Realizing that flyers would be taken aback by this, AirTran has several humorous signs along the way, which help make the trek easier. What is not down the corridor are recycle bins (there is also not a rest room, but I digress). As I had a stack of just-read magazines to throw in a typical Chicago blue bin, I managed to get to the main concourse and make it back to the gate before my flight took off.
I know this is clearly an airport issue. However, I decided to contact AirTran, and went to the form on their Web site and submitted this issue. Within 24 hours, I got a personal reply to my query. They acknowledged that it was not their direct responsibility (as I stated in my submission) but offered to forward it to airport management. The respondent thanked me for flying AirTran, and also for recycling – clearly not a purely canned response.
It’s nice to think happy thoughts, isn’t it?Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
I recently switched from Verizon Wireless to T-Mobile, and it had nothing to do with the mobile phone service itself. They lost me, believe it or not, due to their billing system.
Shortly after I moved from Boston to Chicago, I had a problem with my Kyocera 7135 Palm smartphone and went to the closest Verizon Wireless-owned store. They told me as I established the service out east, I would have to call them as they were on a different billing service. While I thought this was odd, I was able to call Verizon and get a new (actually refurbished) phone overnight, so I was not concerned. And when I had problems with the replacement phone, and 2 subsequent Treo 600’s, one call took care of it. Again I was content, so no cause for concern.
The clincher was when I wanted to add a phone line with a Chicago area code (the other numbers were Boston area codes) and they told me that due to 7 different billing systems, I would have to establish a separate account for the Chicago number. Needless to say, my mouth dropped, and even after telling the rep that this may cause me to leave being a Verizon customer for seven years, they said there was nothing they could do.
But there was something I could do – leave. I have been with T-Mobile for over a month, after taking more of the rep’s time than is probably typical. I moved all of my lines, got free phones, and the Internet package including the Hotspot service found in Starbucks was cheaper than Verizon’s Internet offering. Not to mention T-Mobile’s true GSM service and the ability to use my new unlocked Treo 680 (more on that later).
And Verizon’s response for me leaving? $50 off the cost of a new phone for coming back. Sorry, I didn’t quite hear that.Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
The telephone company SBC bought AT&T and became “the new AT&T.” Sorry, that’s at&t – all lower case. This happened earlier in 2006, yet they still say they are new. Even when they first announced it, I didn’t know what was new, other than the case change of their name, a 3rd dimension to their logo, and renaming some services (e.g. not calling it DSL anymore).
Now that at&t is acquiring BellSouth, will it still be new? As they have indicated they will eliminate the brand Cingular, will it be “the new at&t wireless?”
I don’t know. I looked up the definition of the word new at Merriam-Webster’s Web site and it was no help either.
Maybe AOL not charging for its service anymore and going by – you guessed it – “the new AOL” leads towards the answer?Business • (1) Comments • Permalink
Since I started my business, Dunkirk Systems, over two years ago, I have saved just about every email message I send or receive. This is now a good thing, due to the recent Supreme Court ruling on email, but I digress. In order to manage the volume of messages, a detailed hierarchy of folders and subfolders has evolved in my email client, and for the most part has worked well, allowing me to easily browse or search messages.
There is one folder in particular that has been burgeoning, the one named “networking.” In this folder I place emails exchanged with people I have met at networking events or frequently communicate with, but who are not a client, potential client, vendor, etc. I had a couple of subfolders in there, but for the most part it was one big bucket of messages to people.
Yesterday, I renamed the “networking” folder to “people” and setup a few initial subfolders for specific individuals as well as events and conferences. I thought to do this shortly after I wrote my last post about how a job candidate is a person, as I was dragging emails into the big bucket.
Over time, I will go through the thousands of emails and classify them further. Why? It will be a good refresher to some of the people that I have met as I have started and evolved my business, and remind me of people that I may want to reconnect with. Going forward, I hope it will help me in keeping connected with people.Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
I have been fortunate to work with some excellent programmers, developers and designers in my career. As a result of this cadre of colleagues, I am frequently called upon to give a recommendation on their behalf to a potential future employer. Where I am always willing to spend the time required to extol his or her virtues, I have to admit that I am partially biting my lip when I get the call.
As the years have gone by and technology has progressed, the questions, unfortunately, have remained the same. These questions tend to be direct, and the person on the other end of the phone is looking for a direct, to-the-point response. A call always starts well, asking my relationship with the candidate. On occasion they ask about me, which I think is a plus. Then come the predictable trio – what are their strengths, their weaknesses and would you work with them again. The first part is easy, as I roll out the words I prepared to say when the candidate initially asked me for the recommendation.
When it comes to weaknesses, I have always struggled here. I would never give a recommendation to anyone who I feel does not deserve it. I have never received a “blind” call, or one I was not expecting, as I have told my colleagues to ask me first, so I am prepared for it. When I hear the word weaknesses, I perceive this is the recruiter asking for a reason for the company not to hire this candidate – maybe it’s in the tone or inflection of their voice.
I have a new answer to this question, “they are human.” I say it, and then I pause. Sometimes I get a chuckle on the other end of the phone, many times dead air. I then continue by saying that I would never give a recommendation for anyone that I felt did not deserve it, and that nobody is a 100% perfect match for any job, or 100% every single day. Many times I get, “fair enough” and on occasion they press me more, but I hold my position. And by this answer, you can guess my answer to if I will work with them again.
I cannot recall a recruiter ask me for specific examples of a scenario and how it played out, or ask how the person would react to a certain situation. They may not be looking for that kind of information, and calling me is more of a "spaghetti test" or courtesy than a means for gaining insight into this person. Maybe it is just my expectation of what I want to know from a candidate, such as what they read, how they keep up on the industry, etc. for you are hiring a human and not just what they will do for you.Business • (2) Comments • Permalink