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.


Protected: The Things That Shape Your Life

September 2, 2010

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:


Inspiration

May 13, 2009

Almost a year ago I wrote a post called “Dream Like A Child” .  I watched a video today that captured the sentiment of my post in much more elegant way.

Take a look:


Cool (And Smart) New Google things

April 21, 2009

In the last few days Google has announced some really cool things.  The most significant is that Google is leveraging their search engine dominance to give their Google Profiles (see mine here – Brendan’s Google Profile )   

So here is what Google is doing,  They have  begun to show Google profile results at the bottom of U.S. name-query search pages.  So when you, or someone else searches your name they will see abbreviated information from Google Profiles at the bottom of the search results. The more complete the profile, the higher the chance yours will show than other people with the same name. 
So in effect Google is leveraging their search power to compel to fill out a complete profile.  This makes sure they have a relationship with you and know  about you – something that is very important to Google.  This is smart.
You can read more about this on the Official Google Blog                

                                      
On the lighter and, for most people that aren’t identity geeks like me, cooler is the new Google Labs .  It is now powered by Google App Engine.  I just love how Google easts their own dog food.  However, it’s not the labs itself that is cool but the two latest experiments.  Google Time line and Similar Images.  The Time line is cool but it is the similar images that really gets my juices flowing.   Check out this search for Kitchens and this one for kitchens but using the red color modifier.  You get the idea.


Time: Google Giveth and Taketh Away

August 21, 2008

I am a big advocate of Google Docs. The collaboration, sharing and simplicity of “one document” are brilliant – at least to me. So brilliant that I have been coercing anyone I interact with to use the tool. Bragging about all the things thag Google gives you . So I was happy to get this email from a potential convert I have been working on :

“Brendan,

After working with Google over the past week there is one thing that is clear that Google gives you ….

TIME

Time to think about you life,

Time to think about planning your evening,

Time to email your Investees with complaints about Google…

 

Time

Time

Time

 

All while Google is thinking about calculating a formula….

 

I’ve written this email while Google is thinking…. About importing a value from another sheet…. So I’m not sure the “import Range” function is going to be the way to go.

 

It finally worked!

 

I’ll have to give this more thought tomorrow.”

Oh well, I have to admit it is true that when working with complex spreadsheets Google has some work to do.


Getting to Graphing Social Patterns East

June 9, 2008

Finally made it to GSP (Graphing Social Patterns) East in Washington. Jeff and I were supposed to arrive Sunday night. The hot weather sparked a thunderstorm in Toronto so we couldn’t land and had to to on to Ottawa. The Ottawa airport was overwhelmed with incoming flights so they couldn’t take us off the plane, Instead they parked us (in a plane parking lot as Jeff described it). We sat there for a couple of hours, refueled and got back to TO in time for, well in time for nothing actually. When we got off the plane nobody said anything to us, it was as if nothing had happened. It was about 10 PM and an Air Canada employee at the gate told us that they “shut down customer service because it got too busy with the cancellations and rerouting.” Wow. He must have noticed the tired angry incredulous look on my face because, with a sigh, he handed me a tiny white slip of paper. A coupon for a hotel, or a meal or credit or something maybe? No a small piece of paper with two phone numbers. One to rebook my flight and one for area hotels. It seems there is/was no way to rebook your ticket at the airport. You need to call an 800 number and wait on hold for over 15 minutes (at least they warn you) and then talk to someone. Air Canada had already booked me on a new flight but it didn’t get into Ronald Regan until 10 am and the conference started at 8 am today. I finally changed our flights to get into Dulles at 7:45am. Okay, but Dulles is a 29 miles from the conference and Ronald Regan is 5 miles. I did it, but Air Canada, if your listening, it sucks. Oh and the hotel that Air Canada gets you at a discount – when you get there they don’t want to let you stay for the $75 quoted, but for $145 – no problem at all.

We got to sleep at 1:30 Toronto time and had to get up at 4 am to get the shuttle to the airport. We waited in the Air Canada line and finally got to the front only to have the attendant inform us that our flight was operated by United. “Go down to isle J”. Long line at isle J. Why couldn’t the person on the phone last night tell me that we needed to go the United gate. Air Canada, I don’t know if you listening. but this sucks.

So now we have a very short time to get through customs and security. Customs goes smoothly but we we get to security the guy says to me, and I kid you not, “I have been waiting for you”. We get some kind of rub down search that you might pay money for in other circumstances. But we made it to our plane, Washington and the conference.

It’s 102 degrees here so I spent the lunch break at the small pool here at the Regency Hyatt. Another Canadian, well a Newfie so almost Canadian (joking) , showed up. Nice guy working on cool stuff.

Back to the conference!


News from the News People

June 5, 2008

Some interesting news from the news people at Inman.  Jessica is moving on and Joel and Glenn are moving up.  All of us at VendAsta are going to miss Jessica.We have gotten to know and appreciate her over the years.  Jessica we wish you well in your new adventure. I hope we still have the pleasure of crossing paths. 

 

Congrats to Joel and Glenn.   Joel certainly has a a keen insight into the future of real estate marketing.  He is especially apt at identifying and dissecting the latest and greatest.  Joel you will make a great VP Content. 

 

I have had the pleasure of being interviewed and meeting Glenn over the course of the years.  He is a super nice guy with a mild demeanor, but don’t let that fool you.  Glenn does his homework and has a way of capturing the essence of the story and getting all the facts.  Glenn you will make a great managing editor.


%d bloggers like this: