1. Yesterday we all went into Central Park and joined the wonderful people at Oasis Summer Camps to invite a whole bunch of awesome bloggers to experience our Everyday Adventure Scrapbooking Event. We’ve been running children’s activities around the idea of scrapbooking for a little while, but this was the first time we were able to see it out in the wild.

    Kids are the ultimate beta testers, because they tell you EXACTLY what they feel. Thankfully most of it was positive, but still super constructive. Most importantly, we spent half a workday in Central Park, which ain’t too shabby.

     

  2. brycedotvc:

    I didn’t get upgraded on my flight home from NYC tonight.

    That’s not so unusual. I only get upgraded about 50% of the time. As I schleped it to my coach seat there was nothing too out of the ordinary save for a couple dilapidated seats with tray tables being held up by duct tape and one particularly surly flight attendant. 

    Then we lifted off- which is my favorite part of any flight. I enjoy sinking to the back of my seat and feeling my stomach rise to my throat. But tonight was different.

    The thrill of the ascent and the sound of rushing wind outside the doors was broken by two blaring ads plastered on every seat back screen. What is usually the most enjoyable moment of my flight had been turned into something else. WIth nowhere to turn and no way to turn them off (the audio was playing throughout the entire coach cabin) I watched.

    As I sat through the ads for Lincoln cars and Hilton hotels, I was angry. I was angry at the brands and I was angry at Delta for selling me out. I’d paid full fair (nearly $500) for this flight. The ad revenue they generated wasn’t subsidizing or discounting my purchase price, it wasn’t fixing the broken seats, it wasn’t paying the flight attendant more. It wasn’t  improving my experience as a customer at all. In a move all too common with the airlines and elsewhere, these companies were trying to capture more value than they were creating. As a result I felt like a pair of eyeballs, not a person, sinking back into my seat.

    But it didn’t need to be that way.

    Imagine them using the ad dollars they spent blasting the coach section of the plane to do something that created value for me as a potential customer. What could they have done with those dollars?

    How about paying for or subsiding a portion of the cost of our wifi. How about giving every child in coach a Matchbox sized version of the Lincoln model car that was in the advertisement. How about buying every seat in coach a movie of their choice and playing the commercials at the beginning and end of the show. I imagine anger wouldn’t be the word I’d be using to describe my feelings towards the companies right now.

    Consumers aren’t idiots and they aren’t eyeballs. They have more choices than ever and fewer dollars to spend. They expect more value not less. 

    Some brands get that. And some services are helping them create real value for their potential customers.

    In an open letter to Living Social and Foursquare, Peter actually thanks both companies for advertising to him:

    Dear LivingSocial and Foursquare,

    Thanks!

    I tend to be a griper, not a praiser. And I’ve griped about you guys in particular before. So I just want to make sure I’m fair about this, and slap you both on the back: You just sent me a daily deal I think I want, right to my iPhone.

    You took data from Foursquare, which let you know that I like to get expensive cheese and meat and beer from Stinky, an expensive cheese and meat and beer store right by my place. And you sent me a daily deal, via Foursquare, for … Stinky.

    Imagine that. Someone actually thanking a company for advertising to them.

    Behavioral data, social services and cultural norms are reshaping the relationship between companies and their customers.

    The companies who leverage this shift will have armies of Peters singing their praises. The companies that don’t won’t. And will soon find themselves with smaller and smaller customer bases from which to capture value and in turn, creating less of it for their remaining customers.

    After going on a serious Richard Branson tear this morning, this is a fitting anecdote that speaks directly to the Vigin philosophy. It’s amazing how much opportunity is around if you if you disrupt shitty experiences and actually deliver value.

     

  3. The Chef’s Table

    I had dinner at my favorite restaurant in New York on Saturday, and was sat at my favorite seat in the house: the Chef’s Table. I hadn’t been to Joseph Leonard in several months, and while the scene had gone considerably downhill since we moved away from our old apartment across the street, it still felt like home. But only once we sat down, all the way in the back squeezed against a part bar/part order-up area, facing the impossibly small kitchen. We (my girlfriend and I) both eased a sigh of comfort as we sat down because of what was going on in front of us: we were given access to the back-end, to the guts.

    That’s where the connection is for me, in the guts of a product or service. The simple act of opening that up is so incredibly trust-building, it’s hard to not fall in love with whatever the end product may be. It’s not necessarily the prettiest composition, but that’s the point. It’s authentic, it’s chefs yelling at cooks yelling at waiters yelling at busboys. It’s the process of making things so delicious you look on in awe at the efficiency and craft of these crazed cooks. It’s not only compelling, it’s comforting. Here is a business so confident in its product, they WANT you to see how it’s made. Every business should strive to achieve this level of connection with its customers. Because it’s impossible not to fall in love with a product that way.

     

  4. "

    What if they say I’m no good? What if they say, ‘Get outta here, kid, you got no future?’

    - Marty McFly, Back to the Future

    "
    — 

    This is how the founders of Youtube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, launched the new Delicious.com today. Humility, it’s a beautiful thing.

    "A New Flavor…Still Delicious"

    UPDATE 9/28/11 @ 1:20pm: Now I know why they were nervous and quoting Marty…after trying to save a few links with my Chrome extension, realizing that’s now broken, logging into delicious.com, first getting a 502 error, then getting through only to realize I recognize nothing, there’s some sort of “stack” feature that I don’t get, and I can’t see most of my tags, I get it. They completely exploded the core functionality of the service. I’m sure they have a grand vision for where this goes, but roll that out slowly…don’t alienate one of the most loyal user bases on the web on Day 1. Come on.

     

  5. Wufoo is Awesome

    Just yesterday I signed up for Wufoo for the first time. Today I see an article at the top of Hacker News, it’s an interview with the founders on Mixergy regarding their early success and eventual sale to SurveyMonkey for $35 million. A lot of the comments correctly point out how simple the service is, and who’d have thought a form builder would fetch that amount of money? Before yesterday, I would have wondered myself. But after spending 5 minutes building a form for an awards program we’re launching for Zylie (stay tuned for more on that), I get it. It’s got that same light-heartedness as MailChimp (another service we use frequently), the customer experience and personal touch of Zappos, and the elegance and simplicity that only Y Combinator boot camp could extract. I love this story, I love this service, and I’ve heard they’re sending hand-written notes to each new user…so I hope they haven’t given up that tradition post-acquisition, cuz it’s something I not only value as a customer, but it’s something I do myself with every new customer of our’s.

     

  6. Reed Hastings is the man

    "I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.”

    This is how Reed opened a monster of a blog post apologizing for and explaining the logic behind the decision to split DVD and streaming at Netflix, effectively increasing the price for the streaming-only customers. CEO’s, take note: this guy gets it. Netflix is a game-changing company (you can tell by the way the old guard treats it), and that sort of thing starts with the guy in charge.

    I could launch into a full-blown analysis of the impact of this decision, what it means for Netflix, Hollywood, content creation and distribution in general, and the overall consumer internet landscape, but Bill Gurley already did that better than I ever could. Read it here.

     
  7. This is the page you’re brought to when you click “menu” on Scarpetta’s Yelp listing. It’s a single menu item, with ingredients and recipes listed. How is this helpful? This view, by the way, is in-browser…on my iPhone, it’s impossible to read. Once you eventually FIND the menu button, its a PDF, which is all over the place size-wise, opens a new window, and is buggy. How is this a good experience? It says the site was built by “Loft2Creative,” who seem to have a whole bunch of clients for some reason.

    I’ve never found a restaurant website that I like. It usually begins auto-playing some awful muzak, has some sort of confusing flash intro, a carousel of food item images, and uber-small font on the navigation, which is usually placed in the most illogical location possible. Why are restaurants paying these mini-agencies so much money to come up with such a crappy design? Don’t they know what 99% of their visitors are wanting out of their site? Menu, and possibly location/contact info. They can get the latter from Yelp, but the menu issue still hasn’t been solved. MenuPages is still light years away from being useful, or at least integrated into enough services. Why can’t the restaurant retain that visitor by making their site useful?

    We need a OnePager App for restaurants, badly. I’m not sure why that doesn’t exist yet. Maybe it does, but if so, it’s definitely not being used enough. There just needs to be a quick and dirty way to hack together (without any programming experience) a site that has a menu—with a slick mobile interface—a location, a little branding, and sure, some photos to make the owner feel like the “ambience” is properly conveyed. That’s probably the problem with all these sites, is that the owner gets in his/her own way by wanting to exude the “philosophical qualities” of their establishment…which is always a fast-lane to a crappy UX. I ended up eating at Cookshop last night because we could actually read the menu slightly easier than Scarpetta, so it’s not just aesthetics that are a factor here, this is real business.

     

  8. The Amazing Power of Recommendation - It still gets me

    Read something —> check it out —> “yup, looks useful” —> “so-and-so would dig this” —> recommend —> warm fuzzy feeling.

    That’s the step-by-step process of what just happened to me upon reading about BellStrike, a little service that helps non-profits and charities get a site up and running (that accepts donations) in a few minutes. It’s the OnePager app for the non-profit world, and it was sweet enough for me to shoot off an email with a link to a few friends who work in that space. It’s definitely a real problem they’re solving, and would actually be useful.

    So why did I take 2 minutes to go through this process of selfless promotion for a humble entrepreneur? Give a little, get a little, the delicate balance of word of mouth. I felt good, I helped out a few friends, I got a story to tell. That’s certainly enough value to get me to copy/paste a link and compose a message in Sparrow. Are you providing an experience that inspires this action? Is Zylie? We ask ourselves that all the time, and we like to think we do, but it’s impossible to know unless you hear it from an unfiltered, unbiased stranger who just went through the motions. So whoever created BellStrike, you’re doing it right. Cheers.

     

  9. Trying New Services Just Because - B2Brev

    I sign up for most “compelling enough” startup web services that cross my radar. If there’s a decent value prop, even if there’s plenty of haterade on Hacker News or Techcrunch about competitive advantage/too few features/too niche of a focus, I still like to see what people are doing. Something I signed up for the other day was B2Brev.com, billed as a “Yelp for B2B”, which could have some legs. Right now they’re focusing on businesses experience with daily deals sites, which is a good vertical to start in because its got so much emotional capital and people seemed pretty worked up about them. So I wrote a review of our company’s experience with Living Social…we ran a deal last February with them on their newly launched Family Edition in the Southern Connecticut Region. I’ve since learned that the list size at the time we ran was incredibly small, so our conversion rate overall was actually pretty astounding, and our overall experience wasn’t too bad either. Here’s the review:

    We approached LivingSocial for a deal on our new line of children’s toys back in December ‘10. We got approval to be run in the newly launched “Family Edition” for Southern Connecticut, a regional vertical that was still building its user-base. The planning for the deal was very easy, our rep was helpful and we worked with the IT team to help plan how to handle redemptions (we redeemed the vouchers through our website)…they were super helpful as well. 

    As far as results go, the type of customer we got was not what I had been hearing on the blogs etc (unruly, coupon-clippers, angry, and so on), they were all great and very cordial. Some even posted reviews for us on Facebook and elsewhere. The problem was scale: it seemed the list size at the time of the deal (February ‘11) was pretty small compared to some of the national sites, so our overall sell-through was pretty small. Given the costs associated with redemption and fulfillment, plus some hiccups with shipping costs, it wasn’t quite break-even, though we did have about a 20% return customer rate, which was great (again, if the overall customer number had been higher I would have considered this a success). 

    All in all, I didn’t experience many of the issues most local/small businesses seem to be complaining about, though I can see how they might arise. We probably won’t be running another daily deal, but it was a nice experiment for sure.

    Who knows if this site will make it, I certainly like their focus. Though the quality of the reviews seems pretty lame right now. If they can take a few more pages out of Yelp’s book from the early days, that might be good.