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Posts by Jason Rushin
Note: Today was “SOPA Blackout” day, where Google, Wikipedia, and thousands of other websites blocked access to protest SOPA. I’m vehemently anti-censorship, have contacted my local Senators and Congresspeople (several times), and wrote the following post, which originally appeared on Aloha Startups.
SOPA: Wrong for Startups, Wrong for the Internet, Wrong for America
I really don’t want to get political, but the issue of censorship really tweaks my craw. When I was in high school, I learned about Freedom of Speech, due process, and how censorship was used to oppress people in other, “evil” countries. I had to read “Fahrenheit 451″ and was taught that the USSR was evil because, among other things, the government controlled the news. More recently, I’ve read stories about the “Arab Spring” being energized via social media, and that the US helped to keep those channels of communication open while their governments tried to censor them. Now, it appears that our own government is trying to make it easier to censor the internet in the US.
SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, is a bill introduced to the House of Representatives this fall to give law enforcement and copyright holders more power to fight internet piracy. According to Wikipedia…
Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws especially against foreign websites. Opponents say it is Internet censorship, that it will cripple the Internet, and will threaten whistleblowing and other free speech.
While I’m obviously against online piracy, as everyone should be, SOPA gives rights holders the ability to shut down websites’ payment systems just by claiming copyright infringement. PCMag.com had this to say:
Among the more controversial provisions is a section that would allow rights holders to contact the financial institutions that do business with a particular Web site and ask them to shut down access because of infringing content. If you ran a Web site that used PayPal or accepted payment via MasterCard, for example, and someone thought your site contained pirated content, they could contact PayPal or MasterCard and have those companies cut off access to your site, effectively shutting down your business.
Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), who introduced the bill, said that the bill’s critics are “spreading lies” after some of the top internet companies printed an open letter saying that the bill (and the PROTECT IP Act) provides censorship “techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran.”
SOPA is still in committee, but they are meeting today to vote on amendments to the bill. (I was going to link the word “committee” to the YouTube-posted version of “I’m Just a Bill,” but it was taken down due to copyright infringement. Irony?)
Democracy In Action
So what did I do? I contacted my representative, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, to express a constituent’s opposition to SOPA. (It’s made very easy at http://americancensorship.org/, where you just type in your phone number and zip code, they give you a few talking points, and then your phone rings, already connect with your representative’s office!)
While Rep. Hanabusa’s email response to an earlier anti-SOPA note I submitted via her website, pasted in its entirety below, assures me that she will “keep (my) thoughts in mind should this bill or any similar piece of legislation come to the floor,” it’s obvious to me that she supports SOPA. She does go into detail to clear up some potential confusion about the controversial portions of the bill, and uses the typical politician fear-mongering lines around “unsuspecting consumers,” “expose children to serious health risks,” and “identity theft,” but avoids the bigger points around due process and censorship as they relate to the rights holder’s (not the Attorney General’s) ability to impact suspect sites.
Read the email for yourself, educate yourself on SOPA, make your views known to your representative, and let us know what you think in the comments. Whether you’re for or against this legislation, let your voice be heard. While our rights may be starting to erode with this bill, at least the macro democratic process is still going strong…in theory.
|December 14, 2011
Thank you for your correspondence regarding H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. I appreciate your input on this important issue.
H.R. 3261, introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (TX), allows the Attorney General to seek an injunction that would block access to foreign websites dedicated to intellectual property infringement. Intellectual property is any product conceptualized by an individual that has commercial value. This includes among other things patents, trademarks and trade secrets. Common intellectual property infringement includes pirated software, illegal distribution of music or movies, or counterfeit merchandise.
Many of these foreign sites appear legitimate to unsuspecting consumers, who are tricked into purchasing shoddy products or downloading pirated content like music, movies or games. Some of these counterfeiters sell imitation
Under this bill, once the Attorney General formally seeks an injunction against a foreign website, the Justice Department must go to a federal judge and lay out the case against the site. If a federal judge agrees that the website in question is dedicated to illegal and infringing activity, then a court order can be issued directing companies to sever ties with the illegal website. Third-party intermediaries, like credit card companies and online ad providers, are only required to stop working with the site. They cannot be held liable for the illegal or infringing actions taken by the foreign website.
Under existing law, it is already illegal to operate domestic websites that infringe on intellectual property rights, just as it is illegal to operate a brick-and-mortar store selling pirated goods. H.R. 3261 simply extends those prohibitions to foreign infringing websites.
This legislation elicits vigorous debate on both sides of the issue and I appreciate all the input from constituents I have received on this bill. Unfortunately I believe there are several misconceptions of the bill that I would like to clear up.
First, H.R. 3261 does not restrict lawful free speech and is not a form of censorship. The fact is the bill establishes judicial review and requires judicial approval for a site to be shut down. Ultimately restricting sites from offering fake designer purses or selling copies of the latest Hollywood movie is not an unlawful restriction of an individual’s Constitutional right to freedom of speech.
Next, the bill would not require an entire site to be shut down if a single page is found to be infringing. H.R. 3261 allows a court to target only the portion of the site that is engaging in criminal activity or infringing, leaving access to or funding of the rest of the site alone.
Finally, the legislation does not require internet service providers to engage in any monitoring, supervising, or policing of their networks. It only requires them to take action at the direction of the Attorney General if a federal court rules that a foreign site is engaged in criminal activity for which seizure would apply if it were in the U.S. Just like 1998′s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, internet service providers are only required to take minimum steps, with no duty to monitor.
H.R. 3261 has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, where it awaits further consideration. Please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind should this bill or any similar piece of legislation come to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote during the 112th Congress.
Again, thank you for expressing your views on this crucial issue. I hope you will continue to contact me on federal matters of concern to you. If you would like regular updates, please sign up for my e-newsletter athttp://hanabusa.house.gov.
After nearly two years with my beloved HTC Nexus One phone (great name, eh?), I just upgraded to the new Samsung Galaxy S II 4G. But, since three of the four US carriers have a Samsung Galaxy S II 4G phone, mine is the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G for AT&T. Please don’t confuse my phone with the Samsung Galaxy S II, Epic 4G Touch (yes, with the comma), which is Sprint’s version, or the plain vanilla-sounding Samsung Galaxy S II, available at T-Mobile.
My phone, as its name implies, is a 4G version, same as the Sprint model. T-Mobile’s model doesn’t have 4G in its name, despite it also being a fully 4G phone. T-Mobile has other phones with 4G in the name, but not sure why they chose to skip it for the Galaxy S II.
Oh, and even though only Sprint calls out the fact that their phone is a “Touch” (indicating a touch screen, I suppose), all of these Galaxy S II phones have a touch screen. Of course. Not sure why they didn’t all call that out, other than the fact that it’s pretty obvious to everyone these days that a “smartphone” is also a touch-screen phone.
Let me be clear that none of these phones are to be confused with AT&T’s Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket Android Smartphone. Yes, that’s its full name: Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket Android Smartphone.
Let’s review that last point: the phone utilizing slower, older 4G tech has “4G” in the name, but the phone utilizing the newer, faster LTE 4G tech does not have 4G in its name. Nor does it have LTE in its name. It does have “Skyrocket,” which, I guess, a focus group equated with super-fast mobile data speeds, so no need to be redundant. I’d love to know the reasoning behind that decision. Maybe all of AT&T’s LTE phones will be branded as Skyrockets?
Confused yet? You should be, although Samsung has made some confusing product naming decisions recently. In this case, however, I’m guessing that the carriers had more to do with it than Samsung.
(I had someone ask me the other day, “What’s the difference between an Android and a Droid?” I won’t even get in to the marketing behind that perplexing branding, or the fact that Verizon is marketing Droids as some sort of tech robot device…)
Apple is King, Right?
Not all tech companies have sucky product names. Apple, the master of marketing, has pretty straight-forward product names. The iPhone. The iPhone 3G. The iPhone 3GS. The iPhone 4. And the new iPhone 4S. Simple. Same with their MacBook and MacBook Pro, and iPad and iPad 2. Not entirely consistent, but easy to follow. Although, when you get into their iPods, their naming becomes so simple that it’s confusing: every iPod is named simply “iPod <model>”, like iPod Touch or iPod Nano. But Apple changes the format or design or features every year, which sometimes renders past iPods incompatible with software updates or accessories or, more often, cases. Apple then resorts to the product’s generation, like, “Fits first and second generation iPod Shuffles.” Or, Apple forces accessory makers to resort to this type of crystal clear description: Fits 13-inch MacBook (aluminum unibody/black keyboard) & MacBook Pro 13-inch (incorporated SD Card Slot Version).
How do you know which generation iPod you have? And how does the average person know if their MacBook has a unibody?
HP Puts in Minimal Effort
In the past, I’ve marveled at HP’s confusing, long, cryptic product names. They’ve started to get better, but they still have a ways to go. Simply navigating to HP’s laptop products page you’ll see their Pavilion line in this order, sorted by price: dm1z, g6z, g6s, g4t, dv4t, g6x, g7t, dm4t, dv6t, dv6z, dm4x, dv7t, and dv6t (“select edition” and “quad edition”).
What the hell do those names mean? What’s the difference between the initial letters of d or g? Why are g’s mixed with dm’s and dv’s? And how do they expect the typical consumer to ever know what those names mean or which product they should purchase?
Let’s not even get into their printers…HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One Printer – B210a…
Sure, they have a massive product portfolio, but there’s no way for consumers to make heads or tails of their naming conventions.
Ask a Mac owner what laptop they have and they’ll say, “MacBook Air” or maybe even “13-inch MacBook Air” to be specific. But ask an HP laptop owner and I’m sure you’ll get, “Um, an HP.” Heck, I personally own an HP laptop and know that it’s some dv something or other, but have no clue of the full, proper name, or why it’s even named that way—and I’m a geek!
Sure, there are a lot of available options, lightning-fast innovations, and frequent upgrades to tech products, but there needs to be more creativity and innovation on the naming side. Software companies have always made it easy with sequential version numbering or, more recently, annual releases tied to the year or season. Microsoft, who can’t seem to make up their minds, flip-flopped when they moved from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 then Windows 98, but then switched again to Windows XP, then Vista, and now Windows 7 and the upcoming Windows 8, but I digress…
What’s the solution? Give some marketing people access to these product naming decision meetings to provide a consumer’s point of view, rather than just the engineers’ point of view. I’m sure that there’s some very specific translation for all of these product names, but the average consumer will never spend the time to understand. Instead, they’ll just remain confused.
* The best line from PC Mag’s article on AT&T’s perversion of the term “4G” – “The International Telecommunications Union started out by defining 4G as a set of technologies that no U.S. carrier will have for several years. But as carriers defined 4G down, the ITU basically gave up.”
If you’re feeling neglected lately, it’s because I’ve started to spread myself too thin. There’s HulaCopter, obviously, and our (shameless plug) just-released Android app. There’s some side work for four or five startup friends, all of whom obviously recognize my staggering marketing genius… And, now there’s Aloha Startups, focused on expanding and bringing more attention to Hawaii’s startup community.
With Aloha Startups, I’m part of a growing group of local entrepreneurs trying to both create a community for startups and give startups a more progressive, proactive, collaborative voice in Hawaii’s business world.
In addition to the frequent articles around interesting events, startup resources (or lack thereof), and ideas for increasing awareness of Hawaii startups, there are recurring columns on engineering for the non-engineer, legal aspects of startups, and how to build an online community. We’ve also created 808STARTUP, which gives new startups a way to let people know what they’re up to, and creates a database of startup listings. And, there’s Aloha Connections, a great forum for local entrepreneurs to ask questions, virtually network, and even post job openings or requests for assistance.
If you’re interested in tech startups, give it a read. I’m confident that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the new ideas coming out of Hawaii’s startup community!
I’ve had my beloved HTC Nexus One for about 18 months now. When it comes to tech hardware, for me, that’s about 12 months longer than usual. In fact, I was just reading about the new Kindle Fire and, as my gadget lust consumed me, I started to wonder if I have some sort of personality trait similar to drug addiction. I have a Windows 7 laptop, an Ubuntu laptop, two Android phones, an iPhone 3G, an iPod Touch, an iPod Mini, a Google Cr-48 chromebook, and an HP TouchPad – not to mention the wife’s Kindle and iPad – and I still want the Kindle Fire! What’s up with that?
But I digress…
Back to the Nexus One. Over the past year and a half, I’ve gotten incredibly excited at every OS release, updating to Android 2.2 via OTA just to see how that worked, then manually updating to stock 2.3 to get the new UI. With each successive OS release, it’s the little things – whether with Android or iOS or Ubuntu or Windows – that get my curiosity going. More than the speed or power increases, I’m interested in the “look” and the new functionality. What’s going to change the look? Is the font different? How are the icons designed? What are the sounds? Can I change the color of the blinking trackball light to correspond to different types of alerts? How cool is that animation that flashes the display to sleep like an old TV set?
Yes, I am a geek.
However, since Gingerbread/2.3 dropped in December, 2010, and other than some minor releases, it’s been a long dry spell for Android (phone) updates. What’s a geek to do? Sure, I’ve installed apps and themes that give me the look of HTC’s Sense, but that’s just in a few areas – like the awesomely cool flip-style digital clock and killer weather animations (oh yeah, the raindrops and windshield wipers are my fav, for sure!). And, I changed my wallpaper pretty much weekly, going from Android’s cool “live wallpaper” to some of my own photos of local scenes to this awesome statue when I was on a bokeh kick. But those tweaks only satisfied me for so long.
I’ve always considered unlocking my phone, but never really wanted to devote the time to figure it out. The main driver was to try CyanogenMod, which is essentially a custom version of Android developed purely out of joy by a ‘Burgh dude, Cyanogen, and his community of developers. But I was always afraid of breaking something, bricking my phone, losing all of my data, or somehow making a mistake. Then, in a fit of boredom about a month ago, I took the plunge and, after about 20 minutes, had an unlocked Nexus One! It was an incredibly simple process and I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner.
With the phone unlocked, I now had the opportunity to “flash a custom ROM” onto the phone. CyanogenMod was the obvious choice, but I had been reading more and more about a Chinese company, Xiaomi, and their custom Android ROM, Miui. CyanogenMod looks very similar to stock Android and the team puts most of their effort into features and power, but Miui has taken a different approach and reskinned the entire UI. There’s very little in common with Android or even Sense. Sure, it’s the same 4×4 icon layout with a top notification bar and bottom button tray (same as every smartphone), but the “look” is entirely unique. All of the system-type apps, like the music player and text messaging, are new. Even better, Miui has fantastic support for themes, and better yet, you can cherry pick only the parts of themes that you like to create your own, totally custom theme. How cool is that?
If the unlocking process was easy, the installation of Miui was just as painless. It took a few minutes and a couple of restarts and that was it. In my hands I held what was essentially an entirely new phone! Awesome! Of course, the downside was that, in my hands, I held an entirely new phone. I had to re-install all of my apps and reconnect with all of my social media services, but the process was pretty simple. In just 90 minutes or so, I was downright giddy! Over the next few days, I’m sure the wife became sick of watching me constantly play with my phone and, every few minutes, blurt out something like, “Oh cool! You gotta check this out!” She’s a good sport.
Some of the best improvements over stock Android are the capabilities of the Nexus One that Miui engages but that Android inexplicably ignores. It’s confusing especially since the “Nexus” phones are supposed to showcase all that Android can do. The FM radio is one example; it’s not accessible via Android at all. Multitouch is another. Why Google wouldn’t enable these features is beyond me, unless it has something to do with IP and lawsuits?
I’ll make it simple: Miui is awesome! I could go on for days on some of the best features, but here are a few of the key things that make it better than Android (and I won’t even compare it to iOS, which barely allows any user customizations at this level). It’s incredible to think of the amount of development that went into Miui, and that it’s FREE!
- Unlock Screen: Miui allows you to unlock directly into the dialer or messaging. The developers looked at the typically static unlock screen and asked themselves, “Why do people usually open their phones?” Obviously, it’s when they get an alert or they want to make a call. The unlock screen has three icons, a phone, lock, and message balloon. If you swipe on the phone icon, the phone unlocks into the dialer. It gets better by putting a number indicator to tell you how many unread texts or missed calls you have. Even better, if you press and hold on the message icon, it pops up the last few unread messages with no need to even unlock your phone! That’s amazingly helpful! If you’re listening to music, the unlock screen adds fwd/back and play/pause buttons so that you can quickly manage music without diving into your phone. This is invaluable when I’m running and listening to music on my phone.
- Camera: Miui speeds up the camera app’s opening so that you can take photos almost instantly. Then, they add dozens of new settings that Android ignores, like burst mode, effects, anti-shake, metering modes, and many more. You can even focus on specific areas of the image just by tapping that area. It also adds 720p video recording, for your high-def, memory-eating delight.
- Toggles: Stock Android offers a neat widget to toggle wifi, gps, sync, and brightness. Miui, again, goes much farther by putting 12 toggles into the swipe-down notification menu, making it accessible from any screen (unlike a widget, which lives on an individual screen). The “reboot” is an interesting toggle, and they even give you options for the type of reboot you wish to perform. Geeky, and I’ve never had to reboot my phone, but neat nonetheless.
- Guest Mode: An awesome feature that hides calls and texts and prevents apps from being deleted. Sure, it’s useful if you’re going to let someone else use your phone, but it’s killer for parents who want to let their kids play with their phones.
- Themes: I mentioned them earlier, but Miui themes are incredibly comprehensive and powerful, changing everything from fonts and sounds to icons and icon shapes, the look of the messaging interface, and the number of apps in the app tray. It’s incredible how they’ve implemented this to the point of essentially allowing anyone to create a theme and almost call it their own ROM. It’s that powerful.
- Torch: The Torch has to be the coolest app on Miui. I’m not sure if something similar is available elsewhere or in a downloadable app, but it’s brilliant! What does it do? From the lock screen, if you hold down the home key, your camera flash illuminates as a flashlight! It’s awesome for walking up dark stairs, finding your keys (or the keyhole), or not tripping and killing yourself in the dark.
- Additional Fluff: Pinching on any screen pops up a thumbnail of all screens, allowing you to quickly navigate to the desired screen or add new screens. App folders can create collections of apps within one button (yes, iOS has had this feature for a while…). There are eight screen transition options (when you’re swiping between screens), from 3D cube to rotate to page. You can add apps on up to 11 (maybe more?) screens, while Android limits it to 5. FTP, which allows you to copy files to/from your phone over wifi. The dialer shows a keypad plus the past four calls to quickly dial a recent caller. The battery icon can be made to show the exact percentage remaining, not just a simple, partially-empty icon. You can control, app by app, which can transfer data over wireless, wifi, or both, letting you specify, for example, that email can sync on wifi and wireless, but Netflix can only use wifi to save yourself from using all of your monthly data.
I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things, but I think you get the drift. If you have an Android phone and want more control and a fresh UI, definitely give Miui a look. You’ll unlock your phone’s full potential and give yourself the chance to truly customize every aspect of your phone and make it your own. Honestly, it’s saved me a few hundred bucks from upgrading to an entirely new device. Sure, I’d love to have a bigger screen, and the N1′s “champagne” color is really cramping my style, but even in today’s lightning fast mobile phone world, my 18-month-old device is holding its own!
Get on it! I waited way too long, and now I’m looking forward to the day that I get tired of Miui (a few months, probably) and can give CyanogenMod a try. I’m sure the wife is excited for that as well…
Wow, who knew? I stumbled across my 13plymouth app’s listing today – which gives you constant mobile access to all of my wonderful musings – to discover that I’m currently #7 in Amazon’s Android Appstore’s “Magazine” category! That’s awesome!
This has been a great day with respect to apps: First this, then my HulaCopter iPhone app has it’s biggest one-day volume of downloads ever! And the day’s not over yet. So – shameless plug – if you’re planning a vacation to Hawaii, use HulaCopter to find amazing last-minute deals on fun things to do. We’ve been mentioned on a few blogs so far, but are just getting underway. Currently, HulaCopter covers Oahu, but we’ll be expanding to other islands and the mainland soon.
By the way, here’s the rest of 13plymouth’s “ranking” on Amazon’s Appstore. I’m not sure if this means my app is great, or if no one is using the store…
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #4,621 Free in Appstore for Android
- #7 in Appstore for Android > Magazines
Just FYI, this is all public information that anyone can see on Amazon.com. My developer account on Amazon provides a bit more info, but not much. However, it’s still much more than Apple provides their app developers.
I’ll save this rant for another post, but it’s disgusting how little data Apple provides their developers. I get nothing other than number of downloads per day by country. Nothing! Sure, they want you to build that data collection into your app, but c’mon. No device stats? No iOS version stats? No referral data? No iTunes ‘times viewed’ data?
Grrr! But I’ll save that for another day. Today, I love Android even more! (The fact that I finally rooted my Nexus One and flashed Miui probably has something to do with it…)
Aloha and mahalo!
A few months ago I wrote a post about Google’s lack of mass-marketing prowess. Just the look and feel of most of their products has that “built by engineers, for engineers” vibe. Android is a great example, even with the advances in Honeycomb. Same with Gmail, Google Analytics, Google Docs, and on and on. Now don’t get me wrong: I love Google products. I’m an Android nut and I’ve totally given my digital life over to Google’s cloud services. I live in Chrome across multiple devices and I love it (for the most part). But even the new Chromebooks, which I think are killer products (I love my Cr-48), are getting trashed by both mainstream and techie reviewers (I’ll skip the rant on their obvious Apple bias…). I do have an engineering background, which maybe aligns my thought process and helps me “get it” with respect to their usability. Sadly, however, nearly all of their products don’t pass the parent test: Would my mother be able to use this?
And that’s all just related to using their products. The marketing for their products and brand has been virtually non-existent. While commercials and advertisements may be what you think of when I say “marketing,” I’m also talking about their product marketing: colors, logos, designs, instructions, user guides, help pages, usability, screen flow and layout, etc.
But things seem to be taking a turn for the better. The Cr-48 came in a neat package, with a clever design, but it still wasn’t mainstream. Now, a few months later, Google seems to be jumping on the consumer marketing bandwagon. Maybe it’s the frequent slamming of the usability of their products, or maybe it’s their attempt at competing directly against Apple. Whatever the reasons, I’m glad that they’ve finally hired some humans, at least in their marketing department.
Google’s new Music Beta product is a great example. (Although they need to stop beating the “beta” label, which I’d bet that 80% or more of consumers outside of the Bay Area have no clue as to what that means.) Here’s the icon for Google’s old Android music app: a simple, bland speaker. I know that it’s a speaker. Most people would get that it’s a speaker. Some may think that it’s a wheel, but it’s probably obvious that it’s a speaker, right?
Below is Google’s new music app icon and the imagery from the product’s landing page.
Look at the colors! Look at the clear meaning of the icon – headphones! Look at the background! Wow, now there’s some consumer marketing by someone who knows consumer marketing. Finally!
Another great example is Google’s ad for the “It Gets Better” Project. Just their simple participation in such a wonderful and progressive movement is fantastic. Honestly, I challenge anyone to watch the Google Chrome ad for this project and not come away moved by it’s message and the deeply personal stories and emotions conveyed by the people in the video.
As a geek and gadget nut, I’m looking forward to my next Android phone and maybe even a Honeycomb tablet. But, as a marketer, I’m glad that Google is finally getting their act together and focusing on the average consumer, not just the tech, geek, engineer. To compete against Apple’s amazing products and incredible marketing machine will take more than Google Labs and highly-innovative but complex features. I just hope that these few examples are the beginning of a new page for Google, not just random one-offs.
In the meantime, Google, how about creating a “movie beta” and allowing me to purchase and download movies to my phone? Apple’s been doing that for years…
I recently stumbled across the YouTube page for devinsupertramp and was struck by his very well-executed self-promotion and marketing – all without being hokey or narcissistic. He has done a great job at creating a fun, interesting brand, putting his colorful video imagery at the forefront of the experience, and building a great relationship with fans.
First, let me tell you how I found this guy’s site. Better yet, here’s the video that I saw (on Guy Kawasaki’s never-ending Alltop.com stream) marketing a neat jet pack from Jetlev – you gotta watch it! Seriously!
The quality, editing, soundtrack, and overall fun “vibe” of that video just blew me away – so much so that I’m now saving up the $99,500 to buy one of those for myself!
I was also intrigued enough to check out the person who created the video, devinsupertramp. What’s great is that his YouTube page is nearly a full-fledged website. (Who knew that you could customize YouTube? I guess, as a marketer, I should have known that…) But just the feel of his site, colorful and fun, with a black background to focus the visitor’s attention on the images. Plus, the funny face he’s making in his “portrait” speaks volumes: he’s poking a little fun at himself which shows that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, but the photo gives the audience a good enough picture that he would be easy to recognize if you saw him.
Marketing, however, is only half of his story. If the product didn’t measure up, the marketing would fall flat. I’ll let you visit his page and watch the videos for yourself (definitely amp them up to HD quality!), but I have to say that they are incredible! Again, a very fun vibe, and always with a warm, “bunch of friends” feeling to the cast of characters. And the music choices are fantastic – fitting perfectly with each video’s feel. I even downloaded the tune from The Beatards featured in the Jetlev video.
He puts a new video up every other Tuesday, and today’s Tahiti video is another great one, and has an original score to back it up. Hit up his page to watch the video, or just check out his excerpt photos here. Amazing images!
All of his videos are extremely well done, but if you only have a few minutes (after watching the Jetlev video, of course), be sure to also watch Waimea cliff jump, North Shore in Slow Motion, and the appropriately-named Huge Bike Jump into a Pond 35 feet in the air.
The marketing around this “brand” is nearly perfect. It has a feel, a personality, great interaction with fans, and a killer product to back it up.
Did I use the word “awesome” yet? ;-)
I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of mixed reviews from merchants and small businesses on the “daily deal” phenomenon. There’s been a few nightmare stories, as well as research from Rice University’s b-school showing that Groupon promotions were profitable for only two-thirds of businesses, and 40% indicated that they would not run a “daily deal” promo again. I’ve also read that, in order to be profitable for the merchant, daily deal redeemers must visit at least four times.
On the positive side, I’ve recently spoken with a few local merchants who think that the daily deal sites are amazing marketing tools, even for the unlikely-to-repeat tourism market. One tour boat operator mentioned that, “If my boat was filled entirely with customers who redeemed a Groupon, I’d still make money.” Another, discussing today’s Groupon (April 19, 2011) for a local resort, remarked that “They’ve sold over 200 room nights already! I’d say that’s successful. There’s no way they could have done that in one day without Groupon.”
While I’m not going to get into the profitability of running a daily deal, I did start to look at the “fine print” around today’s Groupon and found some interesting murkiness…
- The deal states a value of $345, but looking at the hotel’s website, the most expensive two-bedroom suite (as offered) is only $295. And that’s the “high season” rate. Did Groupon inflate the rack rate of the offer to make the discount look bigger? It’s not clear, but the Groupon rep commented that a $20/night parking fee is included and makes up the difference (but, as I learned in “The Social Network,” checking the math shows that adding up to only $315…).
- Groupon states a limit of two per visit in the fine print, but the deal’s details state, “You may purchase up to three Groupons in total and combine them for a three-day stay at almost any time over the next year…” Probably just a typo, but you’d think Groupon would be experienced enough to ensure these fundamental errors wouldn’t happen. The entire deal is only 280 words, so not a monumental editing effort.
- In the comments, there are a few that warn buyers of a three-night minimum stay requirement. The Groupon rep chimed in to blame the owners for omitting the minimum stay from the deal, then to tell everyone to call the merchant to get questions answered. He finally apologized and offered refunds – FIVE hours after his initial “Give me a few to sort all of it out” post.
While I won’t slam anyone over mistakes and typos – Buddah knows that I make more than my share – a few things are troubling about this specific post and the way that Groupon is handling it.
- The deal has been in effect for over 18 hours, yet none of these major inconsistencies have been fixed on the deal page – the unclear $345 value, the lack of minimum stay requirement, and the mismatch between combining two or three coupons – all of these “errors” remain.
- The Groupon rep jumping to blame the merchant almost immediately. That’s horrible service on Groupon’s side, and I would be fuming over that if I were the merchant (even if I did purposely omit that detail).
- The Groupon rep telling people to call the merchant to answer any questions. OK, I see many things wrong with this approach, #1 being the ability for the merchant to even handle the onslaught of calls without prompting. A merchant I spoke with last week said that, on the day he ran his Groupon, his “bluetooth earpiece practically melted!” Of course, he liked the call volume. But proactively prompting buyers to call with questions? I can’t imagine what the poor people at the resort were doing. I purchased a daily deal a few months back for a spa, and when I called the next day to book an appointment, the receptionist asked me to call back in a few days since they were so inundated with a massive volume of callers.
- The apparent lack of Groupon “corporate” support for the field rep. I don’t know how Groupon runs the logistics of a deal, but it appears as though the Groupon rep is all alone to manage the deals as they are in-process. Where’s the support staff to actually run the deal, work with the merchant during this busy 24-hour cycle, and answer buyer questions while the rep is out selling?
- The rep’s lack of understanding of his client and their deal. It appears as though he sold the deal to this merchant without even understanding the details of the specific deal. Sure, he has to sell one per day (maybe more), and he’s probably selling weeks, if not months, ahead. But, shouldn’t he spend part of each day ensuring that tomorrow’s deal will go off without a hitch? Shouldn’t he be more closely managing his clients to ensure that their specific deals are bulletproof? Doesn’t Groupon have enough experience at this point? And what about the merchant? This is probably a major marketing effort for them, probably bigger than they’ve ever done before. Does this rep expect (or care) to have them run another deal in the future?
I hope that this isn’t indicative of Groupon’s standard operating procedure with respect to deal fine print, error fixing, and customer service. It would be disappointing if they were being purposefully misleading in order to drive revenues…
When I first set out to start my own app business, I figured it would require a few basic things: a business plan, developers, an alpha version, and then lots of angel and/or VC money to make it all come together. But, this week has really made me realize that I was very wrong. Let’s take a look the “why” for each area.
- Biz plan: In my years in the Bay Area, I’ve come to be highly suspect of any business plan, especially the revenue projections. Moving to Hawaii and working with some non-Bay Area companies has only reinforced my belief that business plans are akin to resumes for businesses: slightly inflated at best, outright lies and fabrications at worst. Business plan financials are notoriously inflated, because unless they show a billion-dollar market opportunity, they are worthless to VCs. So, every business plan creator then fabricates that billion-dollar opportunity out of thin air (and Gartner reports). It’s one of the many dirty little secrets of startups: everyone knows that it’s a lie, but everyone just goes along with it. (In place of a biz plan, I created a simple, three-page “concept document” to pass around for feedback.)
- Developers: I wish that I could code. I wish that I could create some whiz-bang app that used your GPS coordinates to tell you the optimal inflation for your mountain bike tires, or could use a photo from my phone to tell me if that slice of bread is bad before I make toast with it. I wish that I could take all of my ideas for the next killer app and make it a reality that same evening. Sadly, I’m limited to Google’s App Inventor (yes, I’ve already created my very own “whack-a-mole” app), WordPress (you’re looking at it right now – and you’ll see a different version if you visit this page with your mobile phone), and have just been introduced to Jquery Mobile. What does that mean? Well, the combination of these three (plus others, like Mobile Roadie and this list), make it easy for anyone with some basic knowledge of code to create at least a nice alpha version of any mobile app and at best a fully functional product.
- Alpha Version: Ah, the all-important alpha version: creationism. Sure, it might not actually process credit card payments or use the stars for navigation, but it will give you the ability to give a great demo and introduce your app concept to friends, partners, and potential users/customers. Using Jquery, it took me about one day to create my first mobile web app – mostly functional! I made a “Call Now” button fire off the phone’s dialer. I used coordinates to create a “Map It” button that opens Google Maps’ navigation tool. And, it all looks pretty darn nice, if I must say. That’s amazing, and significantly delayed my need to pay real money to real developers. Sure, I’ll need great developers very soon, but it’s amazing what can be accomplished easily and free these days.
- VC mondy: How much have I spent so far? Well, not counting my own time and Starbucks purchases, I’ve pretty much spent zero dollars and have a “real” version of my concept app that I can show to everyone. It doesn’t cover the full breadth of my concept, but it gets the point across and does it much better than me saying, over and over, “Imagine if you had this on your mobile phone…” Now, I can show them what I mean, and get exponentially more valuable feedback, ideas, and direction.
So, why do I even need VC money? Last fall, I watched this video by Jason Fried. One of his points that resonated with me was around taking outside investment: once you take that money, you’re focused on spending it, not on actually making money. It was a great point, and I’ve seen that happen countless times in Bay Area startups. Get $X million, spend it like you’re already making millions in revenue, then scramble for your next round of funding when you realize that you aren’t pulling in the revenue for which you set expectations in your business plan (see #1 above). I also recently met with a friend who has had success in numerous startups, large and small. When I mentioned looking for some angel funding, he was almost offended. Why would I want that false sense of security, he asked. Why would I plow money into development, or marketing, that wouldn’t be sustainable after the money ran out? Why would I take seed money at a fictitious valuation, which then requires a valuation increase for Series A, which then requires an inflated valuation for Series B, and so on? Why would I want to dilute my potential? (Of course, I can see many reasons to actually take outside investment, like the expertise provided by the advisors, to enter new markets, or to expand a proven model.)
In the few short weeks that I’ve been at this, I’ve talked with a bunch of developers (CA, HI, Mexico, and India), a few VCs, and a ton of friends and colleagues. While 100% of the feedback has been valuable, only about half of it has been positive. In most cases, I tend to agree when they point out flaws, challenges, and competing products. It helps me to hone my pitch and focus my concept. It makes me better at what I’m doing, gives me a thousand more ideas, and helps me to really figure out how to make this work.
Yeah, I’ll probably need VC money to make this work. But, I’ll never get tired of reading the stories about successful entrepreneurs recounting the dozens and dozens of people who told them, “That’ll never work.” On the VC side, I just hope I don’t have to plow through 298 more rejections before I reach the level of Pandora…