How Innovation Happens

November 29, 2016

How Innovation Happens

 


Why Mom-and-Pops need to learn “Social Media Management”

February 6, 2013

I have been busy.  I haven’t posted for a long time. I needed a shot in the arm to make me post.  I got it today when I read Julie Brooks post on StreetFight titled “Why Mom-and-Pops will no longer pay for “Social Media Management” .

Julie I agree that it is a very difficult proposition to “sell social services” to vsb and be authentic, timely and engaging.  This is why companies like yours cannot offer a DIFM (Do it for me) type service to these businesses.  On the other hand, I think we can all agree the most VSB (very small business) , at least initially, can’t and won’t be able to effectively use a DIY (Do it Yourself) solution like Hootsuite.  They have neither the time, nor inclination nor knowledge.

This is why, as a commenter stated, you need to provide a service that teaches them how to use social over time.  Social channels are just like any other media channel.  People will not engage a TV or Radio station that plays only commercials – yet this is essentially what many VSBs exactly do when they attempt “Social”.   The solution you folks need to provide must be DIWM (Do it with me).

To simply council VSB to avoid social is folly. While “Social”  might not make them money out of the gate it just might be the only thing that ensures they are around over the long haul.

Social media has many forms.  It is not just “Facebook and Twitter”. There are many things that make up a businesses social footprint. It is their website (mobile and/or responsive),blog, review sites like Yelp and Google+, Listing sites, directory sites, local sites mobile apps, instagrm, consumer complaint sites etc. All of these places allow consumers to gain and voice an opinion of the vsb.  How will fare if they do not monitor, manage and build their on-line reputation? The key is for vsb is to start monitoring and understanding what folks are saying about them.  Their brand is no longer what they say it is – it is what their customers say it is.

The fact is the money that VSBs spend is moving from Paid to Owned and Earned. The digital agency companies that understand this and help their customers enter into this new age of reality will reap  great rewards.

VendAsta 2011 – A Year in Recap

January 3, 2012

….. and I’m back.  It’s been a while since my last post.  I took a year off blogging to try Twitter instead.  I don’t think I will stop tweeting but I find I need more words to express myself. Let’s see if I can find the time.🙂

VendAsta is a software development company.  And like most true software development companies we are always thinking about what’s next.  And when you are driving forward so fast that you never have to check the rear view mirror it is easy to lose sight of how far you have come.  Glancing up at the rear view mirror it is apparent that 2011 was truly an inflection point for us.

The Early Years

Sometimes in order to understand the future you need to examine the past.  2008 was our first year of existence. We started by doing consulting work for Ritchie Brothers and  building a business plan to raise money for MyFrontSteps. MyFrontSteps was to be a social network for home owners to  get inspiration and ideas by sharing  their homes with friends and family, but most importantly to be able to find service providers (lawyers, Realtors, carpenters, painters, plumbers, etc.) that their friends had used and recommended. For service providers, MyFrontSteps would provide a free reputation management tool and a connection to customers.  

We closed an A round of financing for 3M in summer of 2008 and got to work building MyFrontSteps.   We found out early on that people didn’t want to share their home online as much as we thought they would.   However, we also discovered that there was a huge demand for reputation management.

Unfortunately for us, our funding was based on milestones and product deliverables tied to the MyFrontSteps product vision. Due to a series of complications these milestones were essentially non-negotiable. So, to make a long story short we spent the bulk of 2008, 2009 and 2010 building (burning dollars)  a product we knew we could not make work. However, we knew we had a winner on the reputation management side of MyFrontSteps, so we focused on sales, business development and software development in this area.

By mid 2010 we had developed a reputation management product that rivaled the functionality of the expensive tools for brands, but provided the additional functionality needed for local businesses, and we did it at a price point these businesses could afford.

Because we are a software development company we chose to build our service as a white label platform that media companies and publishers could use to resell reputation management software to their customers.

By the end of 2010 we signed LocalEdge ( a Hearst Company) and ZipLocal, a major Yellow Page Directory Company, to our Reputation Management platform.

2011 – The year of Sales and Integrations.

Glancing back at 2011 it is easy to see that it truly was an inflection point for us. We signed and integrated a truly humbling number of partners of the highest quality.

Product Recap:

Winter – Integration

Most of January and February of 2011 were spent integrating these partners.  We learned a lot and laid the ground work to make future integrations smooth and painless for new partners.

Spring – Sales and New Partners

In Spring we watched as our new partners found success selling reputation management to local businesses.  The success of our partners and the realization by business of the need for reputation management drove incredible demand.   Here is a partial list of customers we signed in the spring: Immersifind, which  includes our products in its  platform and whose customers include: Pinnacle, BestlocalSearch.com, Comporium/MakeitLocal.com,Directory Publishing Solutions,  IE Yellow, Southern Directory Publishing, Georgia Local Search,  and Search Local. We also signed Pioneer Newspapers ( 9 papers),   Gauss Media (with 20 media outlets), LMS Max, XL WebServices and The Social Business.

Summer – New products and Partners

There was no summer break. Demand continued to increase for our product.  We also explored new avenues and uses for our core reputation management platform.  

New Products

We developed National Brands, a way for franchises and businesses with multiple locations  to view and explore the reputation of their businesses at a national level and enable them to drill down by region and right down to a specific location, becoming the only reputation management solution to provide national brands and franchises with actionable feedback at national and location specific levels.

Our partners also indicated a need for a platform to provide Mobile Sites for their business customers.  According to the Kelsey Group only 1.25% of small and medium businesses have a website that is  mobile or mobile friendly while at the same time 50% of all local searches are being performed on a mobile device. Further, mobile users are generally looking for a subset of data: directions, hours of operation, menus, videos, photos.  So, in conjunction with DirectWest, one of our partners, we developed a mobile solution that is SEO friendly, easy for consumers to use on  mobile devices and is generated from existing partner directory data.  In this way these sites are always up to date, require no fulfilment and encourage business to purchase enhanced listings (photos and videos) from our partners.

We also continued to bring on new partners like:  Morris Digital ( Jacksonville Times Union, The Augusta Chronicle, Online Athens, Savannah Now, Lubbock Online, and the Amarillo Globe-News),  MediaNews Group (Taponix.com – 56 properties),  LocalBizNow (provides reputation management for Ford and Chysler) , PowerSports marketing, PinPoint Local, Metroland Media’s Goldbook.ca , Maine Today Digital  and Impressions Media.

Fall – It’s all about our Partners, Partners, Partners

Given our new products and rapid growth of partners we developed “Partner Central”, a one stop all access point combining resource centers for our products  and administrative access under one roof.  This allows our partners to access reputation management, national brands and mobile sites with one user name and password.  We also added sales and marketing tools to help our partners sell more products.

We also enjoyed continued growth in the area of new partners with the likes of Web.com, Cox Media Group,  and The News-Gazette.

Rounding out 2011 and heading into the new year we signed Primedia,  FreeCustomers.com, OLIVER Media, and SoVi Digital.

December shows no signs of slowing down.  We have a lot of exciting opportunities in the hopper!

Consulting

We have continued to do exciting work for a small number of companies in areas where we have industry and subject matter expertise that allows us to provide quality product and perform services at the high level. We continue to work with and  are committed to providing these services to  Ritchie Brothers, Potash Corp and DirectWest.

We love our consulting customers and it is safe to say that they love us. 2011 was a banner year working with these partners. I can’t say too much but I can tell you that we have already expanded the scope of work we will do with these partners in 2012.

New Location

2011 also saw us move into a new location.  We loved our previous location and were very concerned when we found out that we couldn’t stay when the building we were in was sold to SIAST.  We went to a lot of trouble to make sure that our new location was the perfect fit for our crew.  Having been here since October 1st we can safely say that our new location is more fantastic than we could have hoped for.

Summary

In Summary 2011 could not have been more exciting or more of a whirlwind for VendAsta. We are all looking forward to continue growing in 2012. If you think you might be a good fit or you know someone who would, please make sure to get in touch!

I want to extend a personal thank you to all involved: co-workers, customers and partners.  I look forward to working with all of you in 2012.

Brendan King, CEO 
VendAsta Technologies Inc.

The Power of Word Of Mouth

December 30, 2010

In 1989 fresh out of university I started a  business with a college buddy.  I remember those early days fondly.  Our business only had a handful of employees.  We worked long hours for very little but we had a great time.  We started out recycling / remanufacturing toner cartridges for laser printers but soon found ourselves selling computer hardware.  Our business grew from 90K in revenue in 1989 to just over 12M in revenue at close of year 1994. We ended up selling our business in 1994 and started all over again in 1995.  We did it again. We built a computer retail business from scratch to just under 15M in revenue by 1999.

I often think back and wonder what could we have done, or not done, in the Social Internet environment of today?  When we started in ‘89 the Internet was just beginning to show it’s potential via newsgroups and bulletin boards (bbs’s for those in the know), we leveraged it to get at the real geeks but only in the most informal of ways.

In the early 90’s everyone felt they needed a computer to “move ahead” or to “make sure their children were not left out” of the coming age of information. The problem was that brand name computers (IBM and Compaq at that time) were out of the price range of most.  Clone computers and computers built from parts were cheaper but the options and configurations were scary for consumers.  People simply didn’t know what to do.   I remember when we sold some of our first computers people would come back and visit and say “what do I do with it now?”  The C:> dos prompt just didn’t do it for them.

We did a couple of things that made us successful.  We installed a software menu with a ton of shareware/freeware  Games, recipes, spreadsheet, word processor, graphics program – some 200 programs in all that we preloaded on every system.  We defined three “packages”, with only a few add on options (printers, mouse, monitor), that would satisfy users. Most importantly we explained why you needed a computer and what it would do for you.

We had a room, maybe 20 X 30, with white boards on three of the four walls.  We had stacks of spec sheets for each of our packages with check boxes for the options.  Customers would come in and we would ask them a few qualifying  questions  and then we would start writing on those white boards explaining the solutions and giving them advice as to what they should purchase.

I remember some days standing  and  talking and writing on the white boards with a couple or a family and by the time I was done presenting I had  an audience of three, four or five groups.  Our little room would be packed like sardines. When the presentation was over one of the groups would place their order and invariably the rest would follow suit.  My business partner and  I would sell 25 systems each at at $3000 dollars a pop every Saturday and week days weren’t too shabby either.

How did that happen.  Was it location? Nope we were impossible to find, hidden away in an industrial area of Saskatoon.  In fact the main reason we hired a receptionist was to answer the phone and give directions. Was it advertising?  Nope. In those early days we didn’t do any. The extent of our advertising was a “highlighted” telephone number in the directory and a small yellow page ad.

Our marketing started as simple, cheap and effective as it gets – word of mouth. We helped people, we became their friends,  and in turn they told their friends.  Even today 20,  years later, walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant, someone will say “Hi Brendan, remember me? I bought my first computer from you.”  Sometimes I remember, sometimes I don’t. One thing I will never forget or underestimate is the power of word of mouth and referrals generated by really helping people and giving them value.

So sometimes I think back, what could we have done given the megaphone of the “social graph”?  How many more people could we have crammed into that little room if people could have used Facebook and Twitter to tell their friends and family?  I know that the opportunity we had selling computers couldn’t co-exist with ubiquitousness of  Facebook and Twitter but it’s fun to think about it.


Exploring the question: “Is Groupon the New Yellow Pages”.

December 29, 2010

Greg Sterling asked the question, “Is Groupon the new Yellow Pages”, and then went on to make compelling argument as to why Groupon could indeed be seen as the “new” yellow pages.  Basically the analogy is that in the glory days YP owned all the content, sales and distribution. Today they no longer have exclusivity to these things and it is possible that Groupon, within their model, owns these in deep and meaningful ways.

Greg’s post got me thinking about the  sales, content and distribution aspects of Groupon.

  • Sales.  Groupon has spent considerable effort developing a sales force. Direct feedback from SMB’s I have spoken with indicate Groupon’s sales people are pushy, but they are certainly effective. Also, at least in our neck of the woods, sales are done via telephone and not in person. This is a big advantage for Groupon both in cost and in scale. The more successful they are the more effective this strategy becomes. There is no question that Groupon controls their own sales channel.
  • Content.  What exactly is the content?  Well it is mostly the deal itself but is is also the innovative description of the business and the wacky stories them make up and associate to businesses.  The deal content is clearly owned by Groupon.
  • Distribution. This, in my opinion, is the key to Groupon.  They have perfected the art of building, and working/selling, an email list. Groupon uses the deal content, which is extremely valuable to consumers, to build an email list. They leverage the idea of group buying and referral fees to get consumers to recruit subscribers for them.  Then, they take the email list and pimp it out to businesses guaranteeing them a certain amount of business in exchange for a great deal for consumers.  The great deal in turn brings them subscribers.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Their success allows them to own the list exclusively.  The do not share the list including the deal buyers with the businesses.

So if owning sales, content and distribution defines the new Yellow Pages then Groupon could certainly be it. My question is simply, does it have to be this way?  I think there are many entities out there that could give Groupon a run for their money, if not in the near term, certainly over the long haul. Many companies have broader distribution they just have to figure out how to harness it and share it with SMB’s.

 


Protected: The Things That Shape Your Life

September 2, 2010

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Product Development and a Strong Vision

March 13, 2010

At VendAsta we have been working for the better part of a year and a half on  projects that fall under our http://www.SocialConnections.com umbrella.  VendAsta has a team of world class software developers, but building  software products from scratch is difficult. Period.   You need more than a great team and a good idea.  If a product  is to have any chance of success it must have a clear and compelling Vision and it must be needed.  It must serve some need or  solve a  problem- business or otherwise.

For various reasons both internal and external, the vision for our http://www.SocialConnection.com products  hasn’t always been clear or consistent and at end of the day this is the responsibility of the executive and leadership .  Building, sharing and articulating a company’s vision is extremely important, but is easier said than done. Initially the vision for our products were not as strong as I personally would have liked them to be.  However, in the fall of 2009 a lot of what we had learned in the preceding year started to make sense and strong visions for StepRep and Mashedin emerged.

Having a strong vision is one thing, sharing it with the world is another.  As Mashedin and StepRep come together we will redoubling our efforts to share their vision.

To this end I recently sent an email to all our StepRep beta users explaining how we started, where we have come from, and where we are going.   Also I described our vision, which is to make StepRep the premier Reputation Intelligence and Social Engagement tool for small and medium businesses.

Here is the letter:

Subject: An Open Letter to StepRep Users

From: Brendan King, CEO

Hello {insert name here},

Please let me take this opportunity to thank you for using StepRep. We have been making a lot of changes and many of you have asked “What the heck is going on?”. Some of these changes are part of a larger development cycle and results in features that don’t work as expected and/or loss of  functionality. I want to thank you for hanging in there and bearing with us. The changes are all part of a larger plan.

In order to best explain what we are trying to achieve I thought it prudent to tell you where we came from and how we got to where we are.

Originally StepRep was part of MyFrontSteps, a solution to connect home owners with home service providers (real estate agents, plumbers, carpenters, landscapers, etc.). StepRep was envisioned as a personal Reputation Alert tool (much like Google Alerts) to allow these service providers to monitor what was being said about them online. It would also
help them to build their reputation by allowing them to place the positive stories on a widget which they could promote in various places. StepRep would also be the place where these small business people would be exposed and interact with questions from potential customers. Remember the “Asks” tab?

Along the way we discovered that we vastly underestimated the need for Reputation Intelligence and social engagement tools. We have found that small and medium business have a growing appetite and tremendous demand for these tools.

Our vision and goal is to make StepRep the premier Reputation Intelligence and Social Engagement tool for small and medium businesses. We want to do much more than provide alerts for key word terms. We want StepRep to give you information you can use to make your real world business better. This is a simplistic example but, imagine your business is a restaurant and people are saying “your lunch special is awesome but your bathrooms are dirty”, we want you to know. This way you can market your lunch special and clean up your bathrooms. We also want you to help you engage your customers where they are talking. Our Social publishing tool is designed to help you take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. We intend to add Google Buzz and other places where consumers are talking. Lastly we want to make sure
your business can be found. Our business listing will help you get your business listed online in places like Google Local business center all the way down to small local directories.

To this end we have been doing a lot of work “under the hood” and some of our recent work is not complete. Again I want to reiterate my sincere apologies if these changes have inconvenienced you. I hope you will hang in there. We want StepRep to be the best Reputation Intelligence and social engagement tool available. We understand that in the short term the changes might be frustrating, especially when it is not clear how you can accomplish the tasks with which you are familiar. For instance, we are introducing automated sentiment detection (Positive, Neutral, Negative) so that you
don’t have to do all the work yourself. To do this we have had to temporarily disable your ability to set sentiment manually but your ability to assign sentiment will return very soon.

Over the 2nd quarter of 2010 you will notice many changes and improvements and we hope that you will enjoy them. If you have a feature request or are unsure about how to use our product please make suggestions or ask questions.

You may have also noticed that we have a new support system in place. Please feel free to email suggestions or questions to support@steprep.com

Thanks so much for your patience.

Brendan King

CEO

www.StepRep.com

I am looking forward to sharing the vision for our product www.Mashedin.com and hope to do that withing the next couple of weeks. Till then please feel free to check it out yourself and let us know what you think.


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