Archive for October, 2007

Good + Fast + Cheap

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

There are so many good things about starting a company. The freedom. The independence. The creativity that it brings out in me. The amazing things that I’m learning. But the one thing that is so incredibly frustrating is that I have to rely on part-time contractors to get anything done.

The last job that I was at, I worked with an incredible team of people. Technically, I guess they worked for me, but each of them was so good at what they all did that I really considered us to be a team with myself at the helm, giving directions and making sure that the company, the development, the product – that everything was moving in the right direction. Quickly. Efficiently. FAST.

Now, I am a solo act. I am still working as quickly as I ever have – probably more so because I’ve upped the amount I’m working to approximately 15 hours per day (all the statistics about how much you work when you’re self-employed are right, it turns out). But no matter how quickly I work, I am always waiting for someone else to get something done.

Let me be really quick to say that I am not blaming anyone for this situation – I am still working with an amazing group of people. It’s just that they are only contracted to work some (small) number of hours per month. I mean, I work more hours PER DAY than each of them work per month. This is the way it has to be, but it really tests my patience.

According to Chris, this situation is attributable to the Good Fast Cheap theory of business. OK, I don’t think that Good Fast Cheap is technically a business theory, I think it’s more a concept that designers use when working for clients to try to help them understand how they work, but it’s a reality with my company so far. Chris’ claim (and I think he’s right) is that you can pick two of the three – Good, Fast, Cheap – but you will have to forgo the third. In my case, I have picked good and cheap, but I have to let go of FAST.

This is really too bad, because fast is one of my favorites.

A bad Web design could kill your business

Monday, October 29th, 2007

If you have a company, you have a Web site. If you work for a company, it has a Web site. If you don’t work, you use Web sites. OK, you get the point – Web design affects everyone. (Aside: If you have a company and do not have a Web site, it’s time to get one. At this point, there is absolutely no reason you should be without. Go buy a domain name, and get started.)

Even though Web design affects everyone, this post is really directed at business owners, or anyone who is in charge of or has an influencing role in the development and design of the Web site at their company. You may believe that the design doesn’t really matter, that as long as you have a “Web presence,” that’s enough and your company will be successful. This is a myth.

Your Web site is your #1 face to the world, your primary branding vehicle. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your offline presence is, if your Web site isn’t as nice – or nicer – than your store, or restaurant, or software or service, you will lose customers. This is increasingly true as more and more people use the Internet to research everything, and especially as the younger generations who grew up with technology move into consumer roles. This generation grew up using the Internet, and they use it to research everything because they don’t want to waste their time driving somewhere or ordering something only to find out that it’s not what they were looking for, for goodness sake, what a waste of time.

But what if you do have the product that they are looking for, but they just don’t think so because your Web site isn’t attractive? This happens! Let me give you two examples. First, I treated a friend to a day at the spa for her birthday, and I sent her the links to two spas that I had been to before. In person, they were very similar, nice, upscale spas. Here are the links: Paula’s and Bella Sante. Which do you think she chose? Yep – Bella Sante. It was actually less conveniently located, but she picked it solely because the Web site made it appear that it would be nicer. Second example – I went to Bermuda this past summer and stayed at the Grotto Bay Beach Resort. Did you go look at the site? Go now. I would 100% recommend this place to anyone – it was beautiful and we had a wonderful time there, but I would 100% NOT send anyone the link to the Web site. The reason? Their photography is so outdated that it makes the place look cheesy, like it hasn’t been updated since the 80’s. There are no up-close pictures of the beach, arguably the resort’s best feature, and even the models look outdated with their clothes and hairstyles. If someone else hadn’t booked this resort before I saw the site, I would never have gone there.

Web design matters; don’t try to fool yourself that it doesn’t.

Halloween and the Internet

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

For some reason, people love Halloween. I’m not sure if it’s just that creative people like Halloween because they can let their inspiration flow, or if it’s something else, but I know a lot of people who LOVE LOVE LOVE the holiday. It’s not my favorite, personally. But my sister-in-law Michele loves it. And she and my brother Matt throw the best Halloween party every year. I dressed up this year as Princess Fiona, the wife of Shrek. I picked the costume purposely because I have a Halloween day event that a lot of little kids will be at, and I wanted them to be able to recognize who I was and not run away. I’m not sure if I will be successful because I scared Matt and Cara with my green makeup – Matt kept looking at me and saying that I was freaking him out because I didn’t look like myself.

Anyway, I didn’t really know exactly what Fiona looked like before I dressed up, so I found pictures on the Internet to model my costume after. A good way to find image of the person or thing that you’re dressing up as is to use Google image search. That’s how I found my model. But there are a lot of other tools that you can use if you’re looking to create a last-minute Halloween costume. This post from Lifehacker gives a list of places that you can go to print your own mask. If you have the clothes that your character would wear, but just can’t make yourself look like that person, it’s an easy (and low-cost) way to “disguise” yourself. There are also a number of sites that help with inspiration if yours is lacking – two that I came across are Costumzee and Costume Idea Zone, which also provides some handy idea for the reluctant party-goer.

Trust and Internet advertising

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

I just read an article called “The Trust Issue” by David Morgan in the Online Spin blog. In the post, Morgan is referencing a report from Nielsen that shows that consumers don’t trust Internet advertising. Here’s an excerpt:

A global study from Nielsen … found consumers don’t trust Internet advertising nearly as much as they trust traditional forms of advertising. The Nielsen study, based on an online survey of more than 26,000 consumers, asked respondents their perceptions of different forms of advertising. The results? Consumers rated Internet advertising at the bottom when it comes to trust as compared to offline media. Specifically, 63% said they trust newspaper ads, 56% trusted TV spots and magazine placements — while search ads got a trust thumbs-up from just 34%, and banner ads were trusted by just 26% of the respondents.

He goes on to talk about some ways to help change consumer perception about online advertising. It’s a good article, go read it. But as much as I am an advocate for the Internet and Internet advertising, and as much as I would like us to work at changing negative perceptions about the Internet, I actually agree with the consumers – they are right to not trust Internet advertising as much as they trust TV or print.

TV and print advertising is obvious. You can tell – with close to 100% accuracy – when something is an advertisement and when something isn’t. And I think that this is the main reason why Internet advertising got such low marks – not necessarily because the ads themselves weren’t trustworthy (although that is probably part of it), but because consumers are unsure when they are being shown an ad, and when it’s “real content.”

There are so many ways that Internet advertising is fuzzy. Just think of Google, the second most popular Web site in the U.S., according to Alexa. On the Google search results page, ads run at the top and along the sides – and they are clearly labeled – but many consumers still don’t realize that they are looking at ads because the results look very similar to the organic search results. And what is listed in those ads is sometimes misleading. And that is just one example – there are many others. Bloggers are paid by companies to write reviews of their products with services such as ReviewMe. Parked domains gather advertising revenue from direct navigation (when keywords are typed directly into the search bar), the sites seem like they are providing information, but they are really just collecting PPC dollars. Pop-up ads arise from nowhere and refuse to disappear.

I love the Internet and I am a fan of these new and exciting business models, but there just aren’t the same standards online when it comes to the separation of “editorial” and “marketing” – it is sometimes hard to know what is an ad and what isn’t. In my opinion, at this point, the consumers are right to mistrust.

This is the best font directory I've ever used

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Idiot font
Hands down, dafont.com is the most fun, cool, and (as far as I can tell at first glance) free font directory I’ve ever used. I honestly can’t believe that I never came across it until today. The font I used for this rendition of 16thLetter is “idiot.” Go figure.

Facebook is now valued at $15 billion

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Facebook logoI was talking to some 30-something, non-tech-industry friends last week, and the topic turned to Facebook. What’s the deal with Facebook? they asked. None of them had profiles, none of them had ever even visited the site, all of them thought I was nuts for having set up a profile. “You mean you put it online that you live in Massachusetts?!” they asked. I tried to explain that Facebook is huge (as is the state of Massachusetts). They didn’t buy it.

“Today Microsoft agreed to invest $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook that values the social-networking site at $15 billion, beating Google in a closely watched contest.”Friends, Facebook is worth $15 BILLION dollars. I am not the only one who uses the site.

More proof that search engines aren’t working for buying process

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I just read this comment in Robert Scoble’s blog after I published my last post about the solution to search engine fatigue. This seems to be more evidence to the point that I was making that search engines aren’t always the best tools in the buying process:

“Now, since we’re all talking about this, two other issues. First, bloggers were showing up too high in searches anyway. In comparing to my friends we got lots of traffic from Google that we didn’t deserve. The problem is that traffic isn’t good anyway. Put it this way, let’s say I showed up high in a search for Saturn Cars (since I’ve written about them). Most people wouldn’t have found much value in that post and even if they did they wouldn’t have stuck around to be a regular reader.

I’d rather show up for when you’re searching for tech or geek stuff. That’s the audience I want to be in front of.”

Coincidentally, something similar is happening with my blog today – I’m showing up high in Google for various search terms related to the Red Sox and Pumpkin Carving due to a post I made this weekend. Sorry all you Red Sox pumpkin pattern searchers!

The solution to search engine fatigue

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Internet users are tired of trying to use a search engine to find something that they want, and not finding that thing. This seems obvious, but it’s the conclusion that’s been reached following a recent survey of 1,001 U.S. adults called “State of Search.” The research was conducted by Kelton Research for Autobytel. The primary finding from the study is that 72% of searchers have “search engine fatigue” meaning that they become impatient or frustrated when they are unable to quickly find the exact information they need when using a search engine.

I’m actually surprised that the number isn’t closer to 100%.

Some statistics from the report (thanks to Search Engine Land for this information):

- 65.4% of Americans say they’ve spent two or more hours in a single sitting searching for specific information on search engines.

- When asked to name their #1 complaint about the process, 25% cited a deluge of results, 24% cited a predominance of commercial (paid) listings, 18.8% blamed the search engine’s inability to understand their keywords (forcing them to try again), and 18.6% were most frustrated by disorganized/random results.

Search Engine Land draws the conclusion that this is an argument for personalization in search, and in part it may be. But I think that these results also point to the need for comprehensive and information-rich vertical search alternatives to aid in the buying process – not as a replacement to the popular search engines, but as a supplemental tool.

The difficulty of using the popular search engines in the buying process is nothing new. This study was conducted to illustrate problems in the car-buying process, but the same issues happen in other product buying cycles, including the IT buying process. When I worked on the Web Buyer’s Guide, the goal of the site and technology that we built was to provide a better technology buying process for IT professionals. At the time, I would do a demonstration to explain to people why this type of vertical search engine was essential for the buying process – and why Google and Yahoo wouldn’t work for buyers who were trying to do the research that’s needed to make a product purchase.

I used the term “CRM” (customer relationship management) to demonstrate. First, I would type “CRM” into Google to see the results – 83,900,000. I then modified the search to CRM Products – 34,300,000. Still too many results. This is the #1 problem with search engines for the 25% of people who complained about a “deluge of results” and why, in the survey results, nearly 40% of Americans described finding the “right and relevant” information in the big search engines – Google and Yahoo – as “overwhelming and time-consuming.”

The next search that I did was with WBG’s top competitor – KnowledgeStorm, another IT product directory. For the search, I went to their CRM page and asked someone in the crowd to name a random CRM company. Different answers were given, but usually one of the top companies was named, such as Pivotal, Oracle or Salesforce.com. Typically, if I was to search for products from any of those companies in the KnowledgeStorm directory, they weren’t included in the list because they weren’t KnowledgeStorm’s paying customers. This type of situation causes two levels of frustration for users, both because all the results that are displayed are commercial (paid) listings, and because this forces buyers to go elsewhere to find a complete list of CRM products when 85% of buyers want to find a one-stop shop for everything related to their purchase.

To overcome the buying process issues that both the search engines and limited product directories have, we built a vertical directory based on technology product categories. This vertical directory included every bit of information that Ziff Davis had about each of those categories – editor reviews, articles, news, user ratings, etc. – combined with a comprehensive product directory and resource library with information from the IT vendors themselves, including white papers, videos, etc. By surrounding each technology category with all the relevant content in each category and a comprehensive product list, we allowed IT buyers to be able to get a complete view into the product that they were attempting to buy.

In the State of Search report, nearly 25% of respondents said that they actually put off purchasing a car because they found the overall car-buying process too overwhelming or frustrating. Autobytel built a vertical directory to try to solve those issues, and I think that they might have hit on a viable solution if they are able to execute.

~ Black & White ~

I’m starting a company that starts companies

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

So far, one of the most fun things about starting a company is telling people about it for the first time. At first, it was a challenge to figure out how to explain what I’m doing. Early on, I would tell people “I am starting a company that starts companies.” I quickly realized that this didn’t really explain anything, especially to anyone who wasn’t in the Internet industry, so I had to modify my 20-words-or-less job description. Once I decided that the name of the company was going to be Pure Incubation, I also had to figure out how to explain that I wasn’t hatching any eggs or doing any science experiments, so I changed the short answer to “I’m launching an Internet incubator – which is a company that starts Internet companies.” This doesn’t usually satisfy anyone, either, but so far I haven’t come up with anything better that’s under 20 words. I think it will get easier once I actually launch something, but until then, I’m open for suggestions.

After I get through the initial description, the typical reaction is that people think it’s a little bit crazy although they are supportive. Some of the reactions that I’ve gotten so far:

“Wow, two entrepreneurs in the family” (This is by far the most common reaction – Chris started SpineFrontier last year. I think that by this people mean “You two are insane.”)

“That’s great! Dinner’s on me.” (An acquaintance who was at dinner the night I quit my job – thank you H.!)

“Thank God Chris has a job.” (My mom)

But really the big lesson that I’ve learned from this experience is that people are not always going to understand what I’m doing and why I’m starting this business but that it’s OK. And I am gathering some good stories in the process.

Starting a company – Pure Incubation

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

I started posting to 16th Letter in early September, at the same time that I launched my new company – Pure Incubation. I can’t link to my company Web site because it’s still a work in progress, but hopefully before the end of the month the Web site and my new blog design will be live. In the meantime, I just wanted to mention that I have heard from a bunch of you that you want me to blog about what it’s like to start a company so I’ve decided to sprinkle in some Pure Incubation posts here and there…when and if I have something to say about it. You’ll be able to find the posts in the “Pure Incubation” category, I’ll make sure to tag them all that way so that they are easy to find.