Score your influence!

Project Blackfish has some amazing new updates! Remember last week when I mentioned that users could now unlike articles as well? Well, there was a problem with that system: users could like and unlike articles as many times as they wanted. That has now been solved after some very steep learning in Django, particularly learning one-to-one and many-to-one relationships.

So here’s the lowdown: In the screenshot below you can see that if a user viewing an article has not liked an article it will say “You scored it: Rate this article!”

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If the user clicks “like” the Total Point Score for the article increases by one as does the amount you scored it by. The trick here is that a user cannot like an article more than one time. They can become neutral again (Score = 0), or they can score it as -1. The user can change their score as many times as they want between -1 and 1.

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Now here’s where things get really interesting! All articles are now tied back to the user that wrote it. When another user rates their article they receive Influence Points(iPoints). At the moment the user “test 4” has 0 iPoints, after their article was given a like they then receive one iPoint. If the user rating the article goes back and changes their mind “test 4” will have -1 iPoints. These points are accumulated from all of their articles so the more articles they write and the more users that like their articles the more iPoints they receive thus scoring their overall influence within the community.

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Special thanks to Vikram, Vanessa, and Ildar for helping me with my logic and answering my never ending stream of questions!

Day: 8  Budget: $?  Spend: $0

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Throwing in the Towel: The Lessons I Learned as a Failed Entrepreneur

Shutting down my business was not an easy decision. My partner and I invested a lot of time and money into trying to make our business dreams into a reality. The problem was, that reality consisted of us being very good at setting up our business, but not so great at expanding it.

I learned a thing or two about myself throughout this experience:

  1. I’m great at setting up a business.
  2. I’m terrible at selling, particularly cold sells.
  3. I love coming up with marketing solutions.
  4. I hate dealing with customer’s complaints on a retail level.
  5. I can be both detail and big-picture oriented.
  6. I can really become demotivated by working completely on my own.

There are probably a million others but I don’t want to bore you with them all. The point is, that for every victory achieved and every mistake made, I learned something very valuable about myself. Although, I came out a net loss financially, I probably learned more in this experience than in any other in my life.

That said, one of the most important lessons I learned was when to throw in the towel. If you’ve ever invested in anything you have to have an exit strategy, no matter what the investment. Having invested in the stock market, both winning and losing, I knew that there was a point in time in which we had to pack it in if it wasn’t meeting our expectations. Here are a few of the indicators:

  1. First and foremost, we weren’t profiting off of our venture.
  2. Both my partner and I had lost the enthusiasm we had when we started out.
  3. Neither of us were willing to invest further into our venture.
  4. No one else was willing to invest in our venture.

I still believe in our business model, but without the proper motivation and funding, nothing was going to happen.

I would like to thank everyone who took the time to help us out, supported us, and gave us the opportunity to launch our company: Jeeves Valet Dry Cleaning. Everyone of you, and you know who you are, have been an inspiration to this humble entrepreneur: Thank you!

That being said I would like to turn the page to the future of my career in web and e-commerce analytics in the startup business world. I will be changing my blog focus to discuss topics in these areas and I would love for all of you to join me in these discussions.

Until we meet again, entrepreneurship!

Group buying deal revisited: Was it successful?

With any promotion, especially a new one, you always have to wait to find out whether it was successful or not. Despite the fact that with group buying site promotions you pay per voucher sold, and despite the fact that you receive payment from the advertiser (Teambuy in this case), there is still an enormous cost and risk associated with this type of promotion.

Finding out whether or not the promotion was truly successful or not may take months but it is important to track its effectiveness afterwards, and not just for  a few months, but for years (take look at a cohort analysis if you haven’t already before). For this scenario we are only a month-and-a-half in and we a are new company, which makes it difficult to compare and really measure our success so far but this doesn’t mean we can’t start analyzing it. Here are a few things that we’ve considered already:

  • Have our revenues increased?
  • Have our revenues less discounts increased?
  • Do we have repeat customers?
  • Are we covering increased costs?

Our answers for the first three are all ‘yes,’ but our costs may take more time to solve. We’ve smashed our record for revenues even with discounts and we have repeat customers. As many as we would like? No, but it may be too early to tell still.

When we dig deeper we realize that previous customers did not increase spending at all. Almost, all of our increased revenues came from new Teambuy customers putting more emphasis on a successful campaign thus far.

Does the campaign cover its cost? Have we increased our customer base? Have we received a sufficient amount of repeat customers? Has this been profitable?

Until our vouchers expire in December these are all questions we will not be able to fully answer but analyzing the deal before it ends is just as important as analyzing it afterwards.

Here is some extra reading if you’re hungry for more ways to analyze group deal success:

http://mashable.com/2011/07/11/measure-group-buying-deals/

Educating your customer’s expectations = Customer satisfaction

Often times your customers may have a problem with your service or product because their expectations were not in line with what your business could sufficiently provide. I noticed this with my business when a new cohort of customers were suddenly unhappy with the same level of service that previous customers had been ecstatic with.  I had to ask myself two questions in order to solve this problem: Why are they unhappy? And what can I do about it?

My customers were unhappy because they didn’t understand that our price list was not exhaustive (even though it stated it was not) , and thus assumed that the garments they sent for us to be cleaned were priced at something on that list. Without boring you too much about dry cleaning details, garments made of linen, silk, down, not to mention garments with pleats and other hard to clean clothing styles, all take extra time and care to clean, thus requiring a higher price. I suddenly noticed that these new customers did not know this and were complaining every time their cleaning cost more than what they had expected. (Just a side note, there are about 700 items to be priced for a dry cleaner so listing them all can be difficult).

Now comes the answer to my second question. What can I do about it? First I tried to please any customer already served as best I could. At the same time I realized that to avoid these problems I needed to educate all my new customers about these details. Every email that was sent out to a new customer received a brief paragraph explaining the need for extra care on particular items, and every new customer spoken to over the phone received the same short and concise lesson.

The conclusion: no more complaints! New customers excepted the fact that their clothing may not be what they had thought. By taking 30 seconds to simply educate my customer and ground their expectations frustration was avoided on both sides. The problem is, you may not know what the problems will be until they come up, as was the case with our promotion.

In my previous post on customer service I explain how I dealt with some of these complaints, which might be useful. And lastly, this article by Richard Branson made me think a lot about this problem. I highly recommend reading it, the man knows a thing or two about running a successful business.

Facebook Ads vs Google Ads: Why they could both be losers!

There is an abundance of online advertising to choose from but the two most well known options are Facebook Ads and Google Ads. I’m not going to tell you how I created ads that cost me $0.05 per click and how I got a click through rate of 20%. I’m not even sure that this is possible, in fact I had the opposite experience. I had very few clicks from Facebook and no return on investment from Google. Although, this is obviously not everyone else’s experience mine might help you better prepare for your own ad campaigns.

The difference between these two forms of advertising is not technical but rather who  the audience is. You might tell yourself: “How can they be different? Everyone uses Facebook and Google!” The difference is that most of the audience on Facebook doesn’t yet know that they want your product or service, whereas on Google they do (at least you hope they do when they punch in those search terms).

Facebook ads are similar to that of a billboard, potential customers are going about their daily life when they notice your ad on their Facebook page. They weren’t looking for it but you posted it up in the hopes that you reached your target audience. The more defined that target is the more likely you are to get the right person clicking on your ad (the same goes for Google ads in this case). The point to remember here is that on Facebook viewers do not know they want your product until they view it. You are letting them know, or reminding them, that it exists. The Google ads audience, on the other hand, does know that your product exists and are trying to find it by searching for it. This is something similar to looking in a Yellow Pages book.

The problem with Facebook ads is that you have very little control over who your ad is placed next to or going up against. Although there are implications on the bid price you are paying for, there is a much greater threat to your business here: your ad could be right in-between two ads for scams. Yes, scams! If you’ve worked hard to build an image for your company and you are offering a legitimate service or product how do you think this looks to your potential customers? Well, the answer is not good if you’re not a well known brand with an existing reputation.

An example of advertised scams are the penny auction ads. These literally link you to a phony news site, which is covered in news and links for the auction site (I even tried clicking the links at the top of this site, it was just an image!). I’m not going to go into how these sites are scams, a small amount of research will prove this.

Google ads can also have a stigma attached to them. Often searchers avoid them, I know I often do. I’ve noticed the color of the background behind these ads has become lighter and lighter to blend in, now it doesn’t even seem like there is a different shade behind them at all.

Although, neither of these methods worked for us they may still work for you. We had significantly more clicks on google ads but we didn’t generate any new business from them. This may have a lot to do with our industry, most people just don’t search for dry cleaners they just go to them nearby. Ultimately, if you don’t have increased business from these ads it doesn’t matter what your click through rate (CTR) is. As both are very cheap to try out (Google often hands out $100 start up coupons for new customers and there is a $20 activation fee whereas Facebook has no promotions I know about and no activation fees) I would highly recommend giving them both a try regardless of my experience because they are so cheap and I have heard of success stories. Who knows, with the right campaign and service/product, your ad could be a huge success and for such a low start up cost it’s worth the try.

Got an idea? Share it!

You’ve got an idea. In fact, you probably have tons of them, and you want to start a business but your not really sure whether it will work or not.

Does this sound like you? I know it was me before I started my business and it sounds a lot like plenty of other people I know. So how do you get it going? How do you know that it’s a good idea? How do you get feedback?

Here’s a thought: SHARE IT! Talk to people about it. Start with close friends or family that you trust and get opinions and more ideas.

You’re probably thinking right now, “Why is he blogging about this and why is this an issue?” Well, I am constantly meeting people who want to be entrepreneurs, they have ideas and they want to start something new but I always hear, “Ya, I’ve got a few ideas but I’m not really sure yet,” and then end it there.

What I notice is that people are afraid. They’re afraid they’ll hear something negative about their idea or they’re afraid someone will steal it. For one, negative feedback is great feedback because you now know why your idea might not work. This can add fuel to your fire, get you thinking about why this person doesn’t think it will work and prove them wrong. But don’t just stop at one opinion, get lots. The more opinions you have the better you can formulate your idea and consider whether it actually is worth spending time and resources developing.

If you’re afraid that someone might steal your idea don’t talk to them about it. If your idea is that easy to steal in the first place maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to undertake. Most people aren’t going to be interested in taking your idea anyways, they’re too busy thinking about their own. And remember, an idea is just an idea until you do something with it and put it into practice.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s different if you are already in business and you tell a direct competitor your idea for putting them out of business, but that would be just plain stupid! For now, you’ve got an idea, you think it might work but you’re not sure. So get out there, start talking to people, get feedback, and SHARE IT!

Customer service is a tricky business.

Customer service is tricky. What is good customer service? What is bad customer service? As a business, how far do you have to go to please a customer?

The not so surprising answer to these questions is that there is no right answer. It depends on a lot of factors but a few are: your type of business, how many customers you have, the value of each customer the costs involved to please them, and what type of reputation you want.

I am in the service industry and my customer types vary greatly. Some use the service every week, others every month. I obviously want to keep those frequent high volume customers happy and I would rather spend more resources on pleasing them. But what if that low volume customer is a connector, meaning they talk a lot to other people and those people listen. Maybe they write a blog about great service with 1000’s of subscribers. But even worse, we don’t know who they are because we have far too many customers to keep track. This customer has a certain value that we can’t quantify through our sales data. Unless they are referring customers constantly how will we know just how valuable this customer is beyond how much they spend. It is therefore so important for us to keep a high level of service for all of our customers. Sure, we will monetarily reward our customers who spend more (ie. our Executive Club) but there is no way that we can differentiate which customer is a connector and will say great things about us (or worse yet, who will say something bad about us).

By offering a high standard of service you our bound to get that reputation on peoples lips eventually. Although, this doesn’t mean that you throw the bank at every customer no matter what the problem is. It is so important to stick by your standards and set customers expectations because for everyone of them that is a connector (let’s say 1 in 10) there is another one who will abuse good service because they can. And knowing when to say enough is enough is just as important as giving great service.

Lastly, never offer an unhappy customer everything at once. First try explaining to them the problem and if they are still not pleased offer a monetary incentive. They may or may not be happy with that first bone but at least if you don’t offer them everything at once you’ll at least have some more ammunition for round two!