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July 30, 2009

A Pearl Of An Approach - Oyster Hotel Reviews Takes On An Industry.

Oyster Hotel Reviews, a new travel wesbite has caught our eye and got us thinking.

Oyster, which just launched in June and has received lots of buzz, offers detailed and structured reviews of hundreds of hotels in select destinations (more coming soon of course) and documents these reviews with hundreds of well-shot photos. Together, these ‘expert reviews’ and ‘undoctored photography’ aim to help travel planners avoid the hours of research and cross-referencing currently necessary when choosing a hotel.

While hotel sites may seem like an already crowded space, Oyster really runs against the grain and is designed to excel where other travel sites fall short.

How? Well...

* First the reviews are written by trained staff reporters, so the information is assumedly much less biased than that of begrudged vacationers or friends with an ulterior motive.

* Second, the reporters are also skilled photographers so the pictures you are seeing are actually good and aren’t scenes orchestrated by the hotel or some family’s entire vacation album.

* Third, Oyster employees stay at the hotels under-cover and therefore get and report about the same treatment that you or I would experience.

* Fourth, unlike other booking sites Oyster doesn’t sell rooms, and therefore doesn’t benefit in any way from your travel decision.

Beyond being an attractive and engaging search experience, what is really interesting is that Oyster seems to be a thorough critique of the industry standard (in particular the glut of user-generated content and the ticket seller approach). It stands in direct contrast to the existing options and fills the multiple gaps that these businesses leave open.

Often new business come about by taking the standard and tweaking one or two features to either improve quality, service, or price. It is much less common for new comers to emerge by turning industry standards on their head. Can you think of any?

July 29, 2009

Nobody Likes to be Taken by Surprise! How to Respectfully Make Relationships With Seeming Competitors.

It is important for entrepreneurs to continually conduct research and established businesses (often in the same or similar industries) are a treasure trove of useful information and data. However, we unfortunately find that these potentially useful relationships and conversations are often fraught with awkwardness and even deception and frequently result in burned bridges and bruised egos. Aren't these competitors? Why would they talk to me? Why should I talk to them?

Some professionals we know would never dream of engaging with another person in their industry by asking them for information or sharing ideas. And that is fine - everyone has to do what makes them feel comfortable. But we think that there can be a lot to gain from these relationships and would encourage you to reconsider writing them off.

So, how do you establish these relationships or connections comfortably and respectfully?
Good Question - here's what we recommend you can do:

Be Totally Transparent - nobody likes to feel like they’ve been lied to, taken by surprise, or taken advantage of. If you would like information, ask for it and be honest about your goals, plans, and intentions. The clearer you are, the easier it will be for them to determine what they are willing to share.

Understand and Acknowledge Their Hesitation - the person you are asking for information has worked hard to get where they are and may not have made public their own future plans. They may be fearful of giving away some of their secret sauce or of being accused of stealing some of your ideas. Perhaps, unbeknownst to you they are already planning something similar to what you share with them. It can put them in a awkward position to co-mingle nascent ideas with a colleague or potential competitor. Just acknowledging their potential discomfort will help put them at ease, make you seem more trustworthy, and give them a way to comfortable to say no if they want to. Remember, as long as you have been respectful in your request you won’t burn any bridges even if they say no.

Make It Easy For Them to Share - Sometimes people say no just because they are pressed for time or are concerned they may reveal too much when put on the spot. If you sense that is the case, offer to email your questions so they can decide when and how much info they want to share.

Ask For Another Source - If they are unavailable or unwilling to talk, ask if they have a suggestion of a colleague that may be more forthcoming.

When the tables are turned:

There is a lot of business to go around and being honest often provides the opportunity to develop a partnership or acquire information. There is a lot to be gained by collegial conversations and from having your ear to the ground. Determine how much info you are willing to share and under what parameters and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to withhold information and to indicate that you have limits.

Our advice is what goes around, comes around. These potentially awkward and threatening conversations can be respectfully handled and managed with comfortable boundaries. There will certainly be a time when you need info too!

July 23, 2009

Setting a Good Example? Marketing Campaigns to Remember...

This month Inc Magazine included an article on “Great Marketing Moves”, which features some 30 “classic examples” of ways that entrepreneurs who have little cash but lots of creativity have gotten noticed. The list of examples cites examples as far back as the early 80s.

The list is interesting and many do highlight innovation and creativity but I have to admit that I was surprised by some the examples included. Several were shock value campaigns such as the infamous Go Daddy Super Bowl ads, while others had a strong tone of aggression.

More than specifically competitive, some of the examples are clear taunts to competitors including one that actually unintentionally incited vandalism at Starbucks and another campaign rewarded customers from ripping a Dominos pizza add out of phone books.

Reading this list of example got me wondering how many of these "great marketing" examples I would actually want to use. Some, but certainly not all. I am sure that it isn't that hard to cite 30 great marketing campaigns that are all based on creativity rather than shock or competition. I wonder why some of these examples seemed so impressive?

When I was in graduate school I remember hearing about the marketing campaign of the leading depression drug who wanted to find a way to boost sales that didn’t require the medical laundry list that most commercials mandate. So the company decided to advertise about depression in general. They knew that their promotional efforts would lead to a spike in sales of their drug over other drugs, but rather it would likely lead to an increase in all depression drugs, of which they were already the leading seller. This tactic is a far cry from tearing out competitors’ ads from the phone book.

Reading this also reminded me of a post that I wrote last year on the advertising rules for public radio spots, which prohibit the use of superlatives and force companies to advertise with integrity and focus on qualitative information. Read the quidelines here.

* At the very least this serves as a very helpful exercise...What would your public radio advertisement say?

July 22, 2009

(Wo)man on the moon: Small Steps to Big Action

As business owners there is much to be learned from Neil Armstong's famous words, "one small step for man one giant step for mankind".

To start, you need to crawl before you can walk. And, it is taking that first step that starts you on the greater road ahead.

While it is incredibly important to "think big" and have a vision of what you want your business to be in 5 years, it is also important to focus on the present and take it one step at a time. Often, a danger of only thinking big is immobility. It can be very difficult to take action on the big picture, and with only the big picture in mind it is easy to feel paralyzed and unclear about the day to day work that you need to accomplish in order to eventually achieve your long term goals.

So what to do? We usually encourage women entrepreneurs to do two things:

First, make sure that your big picture vision is where you really want to go! We have worked with several women who felt stymied and stuck although they had a clear vision. However, much of their inaction really stemmed from the fact that want they wanted had changed and their BIG vision no longer motivated them or was no longer suitable for the company.

Second, if you are a visionary person who gets inspired by BIG future ideas, make sure that you are setting aside as much time for brainstorming about the HOW as you are the WHAT and WHY. Start with your vision and work backwards. Given where you want to be in 5 years, what needs to happen in 1 year, then back up to 6 months, 3 months, 1 month, and 1 week. This kind of backtracking will not only help you put yourself into motion but also create some accountability too.

You should certainly reach for the stars and shoot for the moon but remember the importance of keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground.

July 20, 2009

Second Thoughts: Rational vs Emotional Decision Making

Did you ever have a brilliant idea only to late exclaim, “what was I thinking?!”. A recent post on LiteMind can help guide you in evaluating and auditing your ideas and thinking before you make the wrong moves. "10 Thinking Traps" highlights 10 mindsets that can hinder your ability to think rationally about a subject or decision.

The list inevitably takes the reader on a trip down “bad decision” lane and forces you to ask: “which of these traps am I currently stuck in and would I know it?”. The Status Quo trap? The Sunk Cost trap? The Recall Trap? I was sold on using this list as a guide to better rational decision making.

Interestingly, however, Fast Company also has an article about the differences in rational and emotional decision making.

The article cites a recent study that showed that if given the choice subjects would rather put their fate in the hands of someone they’ve been told is a rational decision maker (versus an emotional one) but that the outcomes were dramatically better for the subjects if they had chosen the emotional decision maker! In the study those decision makers that were encouraged to rely on their gut and emotion were more trustworthy and ethical.

* So is rational decision making better?
* What kind of decision maker would you trust more?
* How do you make sure that you are making sounds decisions?

July 12, 2009

HOW, Indeed?! A New Site Gives You "How To" Info on Hundreds of Topics

An article in today's NYTimes Business Section highlights Howcast, which shows consumers engaging, useful how-to videos and guides wherever, whenever they need to learn how. Howcast leverages user-generated content (like YouTube), comes as an iPhone app, and covers topics such as How to Look Great in Photographs, How to Cook a Turkey, and How to Pack a Beer Cooler, How to Improve Your Memory, and How to Reduce Your Carbon FootPrint.

Among other uses Howcast seems to be a really interesting and new way to share information, promote knowledge, or advance a cause with a large audience previously unknown to you.

Concept-wise, it reminded us of another business that we recently wrote about, Common Craft, a really cool company that creates instructional videos that explain complex concepts “in plain English”. Instead of user-generated, Common Craft videos are produced by an educational team who focuses on simplifying complex sets of information supported by illustration. Common Craft can also build a custom video for you or your organization.

There is obviously an interest in being able to easily access explanatory information...and it will be interesting to see how these two approaches are taken up by the marketplace!

Have you noticed the emergence of any other interesting HOW TO businesses?

July 10, 2009

The Uniform Project Challenges Us to Think Creatively About Clothes, Charities, and Consumption

The Uniform Project is a cool new initiative that is sure to capture the hearts of all those ladies who have ever bemoaned the stress involved with creating a consistently fetching wardrobe, fretted over the amount of clothes they purchase and purge, or fantasized about the blessings of a pre-selected outfit.

The Uniform Project was started by Sheena Matheiken, who has vowed to wear identical copies of the same dress every day for a year. She will, of course, accessorize her uniform differently each day.

Not only is the project a statement about sustainability, but it also an effort to raise funds for the non-profit Akanksha, an organization that funds education for slum children in Mumbai. Sheena, who was raised and educated in India, will donate a dollar a day to the organization (by the end of the year that is enough to fund one child) and you can donate as well (to date they have raised more than $5000). You can also donate accessories (listen up accessories and fashion designers!) that Sheena will wear with the dress.

You can view Sheena's outfits by month or day.

Her creativity will undoubtedly inspire followers and challenge us all to see more potential in each piece of our wardrobe!

July 2, 2009

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve: Cause Du Jour with Rosa Loves

A really wonderful concept and story that reminds us of two others that we have features: Small Can Be Big (because of the choice given to fund a specific individual) and Reply For All (where you can select the cause the is most meaningful to you). Rosa Loves is also like Small Can Be Big because it is a part-time, unpaid, volunteer effort launched by charitable citizens who just wanted to do more to impact the world around them.

Two guys (Mike Fretto & Chris Lewis) started Rosa Loves as a way to encourage individual people to get involved in the community around them on a somewhat tangible scale.

They identify individuals in need, design a shirt that represents the story, and produce the number of shirts that they need to fund the cause or person. Each design is therefore a limited edition and only offered until all the funds have been raised.

Some examples of causes and designs include:

Simple Machine, which raises money for the re-commissioning and recycling of bikes to be given to those in the St. Augustine area who need transport to/from their jobs.

& The Mustard Seed of Baje Amli, which sponsors the education of 30 kids in Bangladesh.

Talk about tangible impact!

The designs are beautiful and each shirt has the story that inspired the design printed on the inside. You can learn about the stories, see the designs, and support the causes all online.

July 1, 2009

Is Anyone Out There?? Radio Silence in the Web 2.0

A few weeks ago a really interesting article by Douglas Quenqua in the NY Times entitled Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest talked about the status of the blogosphere and bloggers today.

The article cited data from Technorati that shows that 95% of all blogs have effectively been abandoned (weren’t updated for more than 120 days).


Some bloggers never really took off, others got too busy, others felt too exposed and shuttered their blogs in order to regain a shred of privacy, others felt web 2.0 changed the nature of blogging favoring shorter posts versus longer more journal-like styles.

Some had thought their blogs would bring them fame or fortune or both, and left their blogs when those dreams went unrealized. (For more on the money myths of blogging read this article that reports that the average ad blog makes only $5k per year.)

So, with no shortage of blogs and bloggers out there, it seems we are at the next stage of the blogosphere life cycle. Blogging has been around long enough to have grown in awareness then popularity, to have myths built up and exposed, and to shift in the fundamental usage. We are at an evolutionary moment.

Perhaps these people are using less social media overall, or perhaps they are just are abandoning blogs and moving to the more-portable and more immediate facebook or twitter applications.

Perhaps casual users will all move to these other mediums leaving the blogosphere more dedicated writers, story tellers, or information sellers. Perhaps blogs will continue to fill the journalistic space where the print media field dissolved.

Perhaps blogs will just be the new “home base” where all these communication mediums are docked and stored.

Quenqua also quotes Richard Jalichandra of Technorati who said that at any given time there are 7 million to 10 million active blogs on the Internet, but “it’s probably between 50,000 and 100,000 blogs that are generating most of the page views.” He added, “There’s a joke within the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one.”

This reminded us of a similar report on Twitter. Now obviously Twitter is a newer technology that is by all accounts just taking off, and certainly most people are just getting comfortable with it.

Nevertheless... A study conducted at Harvard Business School looked at 300,000 random twitter users found that:

* Among these users the median number of lifetime tweets is one!
* & the top 10% of twitter users account for 90% of all the tweets
(& interestingly though men and women follow a similar number of people, men tend to have 15% more followers than women)

However, for those that are still eager to start or build a blog (for a larger audience than one) here are some good resources that can help you learn from the ground up - (not that we are speaking as experts here, we know we still have a long way to go!)

ProBlogger: 31 Days to Build a Better Blog
(used to be a free email-a-day program and now is a (not-free) e-book. 14,000 bloggers have done the program, which really breaks the gargantuan task down into bites sized chunks.)

Quick Sprout's Search Engine Optimization for your Blog