07 Sep 2011

Rocky Mountain Racquet Killer: Why Next Day Racquets is crushing Boulder tennis

No Comments local advertising, Stand Up for the Little Guy

You ever been to one of those gas stations along the highway– the one that can charge $7 a gallon because the nearest gas is 40 miles away?  They can charge whatever they want.

Until recently, there was no other place in Boulder for stringing tennis racquets. 22 year old CU grad, Matt Prater, has a love for tennis. He made his high school varsity team as a freshman and hasn’t put his racquet down since.  Now, 8 years later, Matt is a professional tennis instructor teaching his students twice a day, seven days a week. On top of that, he strings tennis racquets for his students.

His tennis stringing business naturally evolved. He started by stringing his fellow high school teammates to make a little extra cash.  Soon, he bought a stringing machine, purchased various reels of string, and found himself with a business.

Whether his business was buoyed by his love or perhaps the lack of competition from the only other Boulder tennis shop in town, it’s hard to tell what drove his growth. Part of what irked Matt was that the competition took over a week to do a restringing.  For kids that have only one racquet and didn’t want to go a week without playing, that was unacceptable.

So he started Next Day Racquets to set a new standard in town. Not only is is service better, but he charges only $20 plus the cost of strings. And as any young entrepreneur, he has put his business on Facebook, to tap into the social crowd.

Have you been a happy customer of Matt or perhaps have some advice to provide him? We look forward to your thoughts!

20 Aug 2011

Employees and Students: One Trait to Rule them All

No Comments Guest Posts, people management

An Article by Keith Wilcox

When I was in high school, I was a good runner. It wasn’t just in my head either; I won all sorts of fancy awards during my junior and senior years. I was good in college, too, but that’s a different story. I had the one trait that I thought mattered in a runner – natural ability and a high threshold for pain. My coaches, on the other hand, didn’t like me very much. One coach in particular, it seemed at the time, made a special point to thwart my self-imagined rightful place on the team. I never made the varsity team as a freshman despite the fact that I ran varsity times and regularly beat other varsity runners. I thought it was the height of injustice, but in hind sight I can see why I didn’t make it. It had nothing to do with my speed; it was because I rarely practiced and, when I did, I would make a joke out of it and spend my time distracting anybody within range of my shenanigans. It wasn’t clear to me until I got to college that the one trait that really matters in life is passion coupled with a willingness to learn. I eventually did learn my lessons, but it was a tough road. Most people never get it, and it’s one factor that makes hiring new employees a pain and firing them routine.

Get a Job, Keep a Job:

It’s one thing to fake your way through a job interview. It’s an entirely different matter to fake your way through a whole job. Do you know why people spend so much effort complaining about cubicle jobs yet almost no effort in finding alternate employment? It’s because this most common of employee subspecies can easily escape detection as a fraud in its current, and comfortable, habitat.  It has the luxury to complain about a job that affords it the ability to hide behind the redundancy of a multi-tiered corporation. Why would it ever risk detection in the big bad world of competition if it’s every need is already being cared for, it’s only sacrifice being freedom? This employee would convulse if it ever had to work for a boss who actually paid attention to how little, if any, daily work gets done.

Keeping a job in which your boss cares about results means that hiding isn’t an option. You’ll have to take some risks; perhaps also, when entrusted with responsibility, you’ll be required to make few command decisions. You’ll fail a few times in the learning process. Bosses tend to be upset when screw up happen, and you might spend some time being upset with each other as a result of mistakes, but don’t worry because the thing a boss, a good boss, really wants to hear is that you’ve learned something by the mistake and are enthusiastic about trying again (it would help of course if the boss also admitted his mistakes, but don’t hold your breath on that). Anybody of reasonable intelligence can keep employment provided he/she actually cares about the job at hand. Working for a boss stinks most of the time because bosses can be assholes with enormous, unwarranted egos.  But,  here’s the thing about wanting to learn that makes this risk worthwhile for the right person: when the time comes, and you’ve accumulated enough knowledge and experience, you can become your own boss with your own company. Isn’t that a nice little side effect of passion and dedication?

Washouts Like to Complain: Inoculate with Competency

I love to complain when things don’t go my way. I played a bad round of golf? Oh, it was because the grass was a little moist. I fell off my bike? It was clearly that damn rock that jumped out in front of me! I’ve even seen my kid complain about losing a tennis match because his serves didn’t go in. Serves are, incidentally, a prime ingredient in tennis; he could have been more convincing if he’d complained about a bug flying up his nose or something. Sports, academics, or whatever. It doesn’t matter — The fault for failure lies directly at the feet of the one doing the failing notwithstanding external, unpredictable influences. Losing is no great sin. Everybody does it. Making excuses, therefore, is unnecessary as long as you want to get up to try again. My boy’s coach doesn’t want to see sulking or some contorted look of dejection. Buck up, camper! Quit yer bitchin’ and try again! Competency doesn’t come as a natural right or like a union raise. It comes through actively searching for it. Good bosses, coaches and teachers (sometimes one and the same) know that their best students are the ones who want to be in the classroom. They can do without the naysayers or class clowns who do nothing but drag down the beating heart of the organization.

09 Aug 2011

$50 a Day for Internet Access in Miami

3 Comments Misc.

I travel a lot. So few people get to see how much hotels, airlines, convention centers, or your mobile carrier charge you for internet access. Check out what Swisscom, who powers the Miami Convention Center, charges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I estimate I spend about 500 dollars a month for internet access:

  • $50 for Comcast
  • $70 for my Verizon aircard (assuming no overages)
  • $150 for my Verizon droid phone to hit the internet
  • $150 for hotel access for 10-15 stays
  • $30 for GoGo inflight access
  • $20 a month for Southwest ($5 each time when they have it)
  • $20 for Boingo wifi spots

What do you spend for internet access?

04 Aug 2011

Would you recommend this on Facebook?

No Comments facebook marketing and advertising



I most certainly would!

It seems that Facebook is in the reviews game with their questions about your favorite places and apps.  Is Facebook the sleeper that will kill off Yelp and other review sites?  If past history is any indicator, they are the king at amassing user generated content.


 

04 Aug 2011

All Your Data Are Belong to Us

No Comments cookies, internet marketing training, retargeting ad, social media

My hat is off to Kara and Walt for warning readers of All Things Digital about tracking cookies on their site. Today, it seems that surfing the web is akin to wading naked into a mosquito infested swamp.  You can’t avoid getting stung, but you have no choice– your home is in the middle of this swamp.  And it wasn’t because you decided to build your house in the swamp– the mosquitos saw where you lived and decided to locate where you are for convenience.

Not all tracking cookies are evil, but how is the consumer to know who is doing what with your data and where you’ve been?  Usually, it’s a good thing, such as remembering that you’ve come to a place before.  Sometimes it’s questionable, such as retargeting or remarketing, where you are followed around the web just because you went to a particular site. And sometimes it just outright unethical, such as flash cookies (which aren’t even cookies) and are nearly impossible to be removed. With new technology comes new opportunity for advertising in ways that even industry pioneers haven’t considered yet– and certainly not regulators.  Check out what Roger McNamee has to say, for example. If you’re an advertiser, what are you doing about this?  If you’re a consumer, what do you think, given there isn’t much you can do?

26 Jul 2011

Soles4souls.org and Wayne Elsey Change the World One Shoe at a Time

5 Comments local advertising

I was at Reebok headquarters the other day meeting with their social team, when I noticed a shoe drop box. Donate your old shoes in any condition, to help the half a billion kids worldwide that don’t have any shoes. It was from Soles4Souls and one of the many outlets that have helped the organization deliver a whopping 15 million shoes so far. Count a pair as two shoes and you have 30 million!

And it doesn’t cost a lot—just $1 will help get one child a pair of shoes.  Even a high school teenager that has pocket change or leftover tips from their restaurant job can make a difference. Before I begin to sound like a TV commercial that pulls your heartstrings via parading pictures of starving children in front of you, let me tell you that I did my research and see this is a solid organization. They now have a 300,000 square foot warehouse, 45 employees, and a $100 million operation.

Wayne Elsey was once a shoe company executive, so he knows the business and has the connections.  He’s doing it for the cause, not to make money.  What was once a “shoestring” operation has now grown into a global enterprise in Nashville that holds fundraising events all over the country and has the participation of the largest companies. For example, watch the video here.  They’ve expanded to donate clothing, as well.

Consider the things we take for granted. I read that the average teenager buys 4 pairs of shoes per year. Before Nike singlehandedly turned shoes from a utility item to a piece of fashion, the average kid bought 2 pairs per year. But when it’s fashion, you buy for what’s cool versus whether you actually need physical replacement. It’s more about obsolescence from style versus from being worn out. When I ran track years ago, I would sometimes go through a pair of shoes in 4 weeks.  If you’re running 80 miles a week and you know a pair of shoes loses cushioning at about 300 miles, you can do the math.

But if you’re not a Division I cross country runner—especially if you’re sponsored and not having to pay for shoes (that was great while it lasted)—then that’s a lot of waste.

At our company, we want to make an impact in the world—which is why we work with organizations like Grameen Foundation that seek to eradicate poverty, improve living conditions, and deliver shoes all over the world.  Wayne Elsey is a great man and we are pleased to support his organization and the awesome team he has assembled.  Check out the Wayne Elsey blog to keep up to date.

If you want to participate in any way—helping spread the word, donating your shoes, holding a shoe drive at your school, or contributing your talents in any way—just let us know and we’d love to talk to you.  If you’re underemployed, unemployed, or are perhaps a college student that wants to get experience in Facebook marketing, this could be a great internship opportunity that will give you the skills and real world experience you need to thrive in online marketing.

And as a special pledge, we will donate $1 per pair of shoes donated to our headquarters at 718 SW Alder Street, Suite 200, Portland, OR 97205, up to a limit of 1,000 pairs.  You can also follow Soles4Souls on Facebook and Twitter.

07 Jul 2011

Facebook does “hot or not” with Place Pages

3 Comments facebook marketing and advertising

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you seen this in your news feed or is this just something that only a few beta folks are seeing?

05 Jul 2011

Omniture says 0% of BlitzMetrics’s traffic is from Facebook

2 Comments facebook marketing and advertising

 

Well, this unsolicited letter from Omniture (now part of Adobe)  had me scratching my head, since our company specializes in driving Facebook traffic.  Do a Google search on facebook advertising and see where we rank. Also, we have 4,920 fans on Facebook vs Omniture’s 3,410.

What is presumptuous about saying where our traffic comes from is that it’s not possible for Omniture to measure our ad traffic or traffic from various Facebook pages that we have a voice. The old world of web analytics assumed you owned the audience– they hung out on your website. But in modern times, that audience may choose to interact on Facebook with your brand or between friends and perhaps not even set foot on your website. They could be on their phones, in a coffee shop talking, watching TV together, or doing other word-of-mouth things that a pixel cannot capture.

Thus, even if Omniture could magically peek into our Google Analytics (and to which they’d see that 3-10% of our traffic is from Facebook), it would still be missing the picture.  In the world of PPC, there are keyword research tools where you can estimate how much someone is spending on PPC and break it down by keyword.  In Facebook, that’s just not possible because of the targeting options.  I could run ads targeting boys 13-17 that like to play football in the US– and unless you fit that criteria exactly, you just won’t ever see my ads. So to pretend to know how much traffic we get on Facebook is somewhat silly, don’t you think?

Are you also mistakenly assuming that it’s a good thing to rip users away from facebook and into your website?

Because of Facebook’s graph API, it’s now possible to measure your traffic in a user’s news feed (home page), where they spend about 50% of their time. That’s right, most of those likes and comments that may appear as if they are occurring on your Facebook page is actually happening in the news feed.  And though you can pixel a custom tab on your page, you cannot tag your wall, nor can you tag the news feed, which is an order of magnitude larger in traffic than what you can track via only the old way of doing things.

How much of your conversation are you missing by not listening in the right places?

P.S– Sorry, Omniture.  No hard feelings. I get a ton of unsolicited sales letters such as this one, so I randomly picked one to showcase.  If you’d like to write a counter response on how to properly measure the value of a fan, even if they don’t always come to the website (which is what your white paper insists that clients do), I’ll happily post it.

04 Jul 2011

The most underrated quality in entrepreneurship

1 Comment people management, Stand Up for the Little Guy

It’s about 5 am and I’m on my way to the airport again.  If you’re an entrepreneur like me, you know it’s a difficult and lonely road that usually ends in failure. If you are not a start-up or business owner, you can safely ignore the rest of this article.

Those who aren’t entrepreneurs might not appreciate the path we trod. I’ve witnessed many a well-known, now super successful, entrepreneurs spend their last dollar on a lavish client meal, miss payroll more than once, and even lose a wife in the process. And all the while, people come and go. Perhaps the #1 complaint I hear from successful business owners is how hard it is to find good people— folks who won’t flake out and can think for themselves. You, as the business owner, are the only one who cannot call in sick, blame that other guy for your mistakes, or make excuses to the client.

And it would be a mistake for you to try to get your employees to care as much as you do. The reason you’re alive and progressing is simply because you persevere until the point where you reach your goal.  This Boulder tennis pro wrote nearly 500 consecutive posts when he started out and now ranks on the first page for searches such as Boulder tennis instructor. Another friend has been doing SEO for 3.5 years and this morning we had a conversation about what a trip it has been. She started knowing very little and now is well-connected.

And it’s not about skill, intelligence, or other factors, though these, as well as luck, play a minor role. So don’t worry about things like that or even what the “competition” is doing.  Odds are they are dealing with the same issues– finding and retaining quality people.  The race goes not to the best php coders, of which there are many, but those that see it through.

I’d recommend connecting with other entrepreneurs who can identify with the issues that we face. It could be a formal group you pay for such as Vistage or EO– or it could even be a local chamber of commerce, meetup, or another group. Whatever the case, keep at it and here’s to your success!

P.S. If you’re over 35, congrats, as 80% of high tech startups are founded by folks like you.

 

26 Jun 2011

In God We Trust—All Others Pay Cash

5 Comments people management

If you’re a fledgling software company like us, you know how many ways potential clients, relatives, and partners want to get you to consult for free. But if you’re going to be a viable company that can pay bills and hire quality people, you have to say no so that you can say yes when the real clients come along.

While it’s tempting to try to serve every lead that comes in, don’t. You’re awesome at what you do– charge appropriately for it. Don’t sell by being the cheapest game in town– unless you are Walmart or competing in a commodity market. If you’re bootstrapping your software development by doing enterprise consulting, here are some techniques that work for us which might benefit you:

Require a token $1,000 to begin consulting

Sure, give them 15 minutes to discuss their needs. But don’t let them drag it out into some hour-long free consulting session under the guise that they want to get to know you, qualify your abilities, pull in other people, or whatever. If $1,000 to start is a big deal for them, just imagine the headache you’ll have trying to ask for $10,000, after you’ve spent all this time on them. This is called the “sunk cost” phenomenon in finance, or what I call the “bad girlfriend problem”, where you’ve put in so much time already, it’s hard to be rational. The $1k trick is super effective and gets folks qualified in minutes.

You can offer the $1k to be credit back towards the project if they’d like. Or call it an assessment. Your time is valuable.

We’re not the cheapest game in town

I want you to memorize these 7 words. If the prospect talks about someone else being cheaper, don’t discourage them. If they think they can get a quality heart surgeon to operate on their child at 50% off, then let them try. Their company is their baby, so if you want to do it right the first time, you have to pay for expertise.  And while the hourly rate or project fee might appear “high”, what they’re really paying for is your years of experience.

Half now, half later

Not only must you get a signed contract, but you need a deposit to start work. The $1k trick is a good way to mentally commit the client to working with you and treating this seriously.  If it’s not a Fortune 500 company, then you’ll need to get something down.  You don’t pay your employees or your rent based on promises (though it does happen with startups), so don’t let them do that to you. We have been burned many times here in the oddest of ways– the company goes bankrupt midway through the project, the project sponsor is fired, they change their mind, whatever.

Hence the title of this post– In God we trust, all others pay cash.  As a software company, you must keep enough working capital to be able to service current and future clients. Perhaps one of the biggest hidden killers of startups is success.  Yes, you can be so successful that you run out of money. The concept of working capital is that you might have to spend $10k of resources now to be able to collect $20k in 90 days. But if you’re growing quickly, that’s a lot of money you’re having to put in now.

Take on Pro Bono work cautiously

Pro bono is just latin for “free”. Unless you really believe in the cause or they have viable operations, don’t do it. All of us have friends trying to start non-profits– great ideas, but no resources. So the promise is that if the venture is successful, then they’ll be able to pay you all this money, make introductions to important people, or whatever. Don’t go for the Siren’s Song. Not saying it can’t work.

Our company got its start via pro bono work almost 4 years ago. Grameen Foundation is a multi billion dollar non-profit that invented microfinance, creates jobs worldwide, and helps eradicate poverty. We managed their Google AdWords, rehosted their site, and called in some favors to help them out. In return, we got access to some senior people that became great clients. The folks who are on the boards of major non-profits are often super-connected, and we made a name for ourselves as PPC experts, which then transitioned into Facebook marketing experts.

Fire 80% of your clients

Why? Because you’re not properly serving the 20% of them that are paying your bills. If you’re a growing company, the clients that were a great fit a year ago aren’t the kind of clients you’d love to have now. I took an entrepreneurship class at Southern Methodist University from Jerry White in my undergrad days. He taught me that you “bootstrap” your new business venture by taking on small clients to get your name out. Then use a few small clients to be able to help you get some medium sized clients. And then you’re ready to try some big clients. If you go for the big clients at the start, you might not be able to convince them to choose you and you might not be ready.

Intrapreneurs to Entrepreneurs

In our case, we ran an internal consulting group at Yahoo! that served many big clients.  That’s called intrapreneurship, since you’re effectively running your own company inside another company, but bear neither the risk nor the reward. It’s a great middle step to take if you want to transition from employee to successful business owner.

If you’re the founder of your company, there are many hats you must wear– many of them are areas that you have no experience in. But hey, that’s what entrepreneurship is about. But among these duties, you really have only 2 things to worry about– finding great people and keeping the money coming in.  All the other functions you can delegate to some degree. And #2 (keeping the money coming in) is often the hardest.

Yet in a start-up, we are ALL in sales, even if we pan off the “dirty work” to some hired sales reps.  ABC– Always Be Closing.

There has never been a better time in the history of the planet to start a business– low cost of entry, plenty of talent, access to capital.

How is your business faring?  Let me know at http://www.facebook.com/blitzlocal.