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Archive for July, 2010

Style V. Substance: Which Matters More?

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

Remember back in high school, when the guys with the coolest cars got the dates (at least that’s how I justify my lack of dates back then)?  Then you flash forward 15 years later, and those “cool car” guys haven’t moved out of their parents’ basements (and still drive the same cars that they did in high school).  While the guys who had nothing better to do than study (as they weren’t going out on dates) now have good jobs.  It plays out with regularity with every generation — style wins the battle, but substance wins the war.

While substance is the valued trait at work and in our personal lives (or at least it should be), it seems with buying decisions we lose all grip on reality and defer to the “better looking” product or service.  Why am I going with this and why does it matter?  This shallowness really impacts small business and could be a security threat for online shoppers.

For small businesses that want to have an online presence, but can’t afford a top-line web designer, the choice is often to go with a standard design template.  So if you’re selling the same product, but your site doesn’t have the same pizazz as a competitor’s, and all other things are equal (like pricing and product), we as buyers will go with the “cooler” site. 

Why?  Because it conveys legitimacy.  If someone spends a lot on a site, they must have a lot of money because the site is successful, and therefore safe. 

And here is where the security threat comes in.  Just because a site looks better, doesn’t mean it’s safe.  In fact, those same “cool guys” from high school (that are living in their parents’ basements) have plenty of time to dedicate creating fraudulent/less trustworthy sites than a successful offline business person.  So once again, we go with what looks better, and don’t take the time on the businesses with substance. 

What’s the solution?  Well, this is KikScore.com’s blog, so you probably have a guess what I think is the answer.  But I’m open to other suggestions.

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Archive for July, 2010

Twitter-bay-zon…Twitter, eBay and Amazon Combined into One App!

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

I was reading this TechCrunch article today about how Amazon just incorporated a Facebook tab/section into their website so that customers can supply their Facebook account information and then automatically see what their friends’ wish lists are or what CD their friends just purchased so they can buy it too.  I thought that this development was interesting because it is basically the largest eCommerce company integrating with the largest Social Networking company in this way and it could mark the beginning of a new trend.

What would be some more interesting eCommerce/Social Networking “mash-ups” that we could dream up here?  Another interesting match-up that I thought of in this area was the combination of Twitter and eBay.  I think that it would be very useful for people that are trying to sell a product in an auction on eBay to be able to automatically broadcast this auction over Twitter real-time as bids are being made.  To get a little crazier here we could even add an Amazon integration into the mix where users could see live streaming tweets on an Amazon product page of the same item being sold on eBay!  Let’s call it “Twitter-Bay-Zon”!

On second thought, I am guessing that Amazon wouldn’t be too happy about this partnership I just proposed here as it would directly interfere with the current used-item marketplace that they already have, but I think you are catching my drift here.  Are we about to see a major melding of the eCommerce and Social Networking companies online?  I think that it only makes sense and would lead to increased sales, advertising, and users for everyone involved…so why not?

Here are a couple more eCommerce/Social Networking mash-ups that I just thought of that would be interesting: MySpace & Amazon and YouTube & NetFlix. What are some other partnerships like this that you see forming in the next 5 years?  What company could you see your business partnering with to get an advantage over your competition in the same way?

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Archive for July, 2010

Kebabs, $18 Wine & Customer Service – A Small Business Story of Feeding on the New Competition

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

This is a story about one of my my family’s favorite neighborhood restaurants and what they have done to respond when the competition has literally moved right next door.  My wife and I love middle eastern food. I could easily live on a meal plan of  hummus, lamb kabobs, donner platters and falafel for lunch and dinner…..yes, call me crazy but I really like good middle eastern food.  So one of our favorite restaurants is called Pasha Bistro and is literally right down the street from our house (and one of KikScore’s offices!).  So my wife and I either make the trek over there or order out from Pasha Bistro almost once a week.  And we are not the only ones.  We have close friends in the neighborhood who also love Pasha Bistro too.  So much so, that on a recent night out at a spring bbq, a number of the attendees spent way too much time talking about what were our favorite menu items and even discussing a comparison on Pasha’s fantastic and extra garlicy hummus versus other more watered down hummus from lesser take out places (Mike, yes, that includes Lebanese Taverna the place he drags us all each time he is in DC- by the way for anyone with real taste buds and not from Fargo, Pasha is so much better than that Taverna!).  Bottom line, if you are in DC and especially in Dupont Circle, check Pasha Bistro out you will not regret it.

So what’s the point to this story?  Well the big talk in the neighborhood this summer in DC has been, Did you see who moved right next door to Pasha Bistro? Well that formerly empty location next door to Pasha Bistro was only known to me as the nasty bar where I had to watch the Red Sox complete their inevitable come back from a 3-1 series deficit in 2007 and beat my Cleveland Indians to advance to the World Series. It is now a brand new Mediterranean restaurant called Agora.  Take that Pasha Bistro the owners of Agora must have thought when they opened up in newly renovated digs, right next door.  The two restaurants are so close that a diner eating on the patio at Pasha can literally reach over a small patio fence that separates the two restaurant’s respective patios and swipe his bread in the hummus dish of a customer at Agora.

So when you were the only Middle Eastern restaurant on the block (17th Street) for years and build up a large and loyal following, what did Pasha Bistro do in response to Agora’s arrival right next door?  Well all of us small businesses and startups can take a lesson from what Pasha Bistro did to fight back against Agora over the last few months since its opening:

1) Beat them with customer service – So Pasha Bistro typically has good customer service when we eat there or order take out from the restaurant.  But when we visited Pasha after the “new neighbor” arrived, the service was amazing.  Every little item related to our dining experience seemed like it was focused on by the wait staff at Pasha.  They greeted us even more warmly then ever, they fawned over us before, during and after dinner and they truly looked after us.  The Pasha Bistro staff clearly went the extra mile and made that dinner out even more enjoyable that on previous occasions by being just so amazingly customer focused.

2) Emphasize your strengths – So when the competition moved in, it was almost like Pasha said lets ignore those Turkish invaders on 17th Street.  Pasha did not get distracted by trying to introduce new food dishes and entrees to compete.  Instead, Pasha cooked the same food the same way and the dishes remained first rate, the customer service (which was already a highlight) only got better and Pasha focused on one main ingredient, keeping their customers happy.  These were (and are) Pasha’s strengths and what the ownership did was played to those strengths every day at dinner when new and returning customers came to dine.

3)  Focused on your target market – The invading restaurant clearly was pushing more of an “upscale” dining experience that even included a chef standing outside decked out in a head to toe white chefs outfit with that funny hat. It would have been easy for Pasha to abandon their target market and try to go after the more “upscale” diners.  Instead, Pasha remained loyal to serving their target market of casual middle eastern dining.  There was no white table cloths or stuffy waiters – Pasha just said keep it casual and keep it good – real good.

4) Create unique offerings that keep your loyal customers happy – Following up on the last point, Pasha actually said from a strategic perspective what can we do to further solidify our customer base?  Pasha created a great, every day special that appeals to all diners (that especially like to have a drink with dinner!) and that is an $18 special for any bottle of wine, any day of the week including weekends.  And no, Pasha did not fill their wine list with Boone’s Farm or Mad Dog and try to sell that for $18.  They largely kept their same wine list with good wines and applied this great discounted offering for any dinner.  With this new deal, they got my wife and I hooked and a bunch of my other friends in the neighborhood too.  The $18 a bottle wine offer was a great competitive response by Pasha Cafe to Agora that allowed Pasha to lock in their customers and give us something new to keep bringing us all back.

5) Do not freak out when the competition moves in – From all of this, the one thing is clear and admirable: Pasha Bistro did not freak out when Agora moved in next door. They could have and in many instances you hear of small businesses and startups that freak out when they get a little competition.  The learning from here from Pasha’s experience is they took a deep breathe and said lets go on the offensive, but lets also be smart, targeted and tactical about going on the offensive against Agora.  That is the key here, Pasha mounted a competitive response to the new entry and now Pasha just needs to sit back and keep executing on their response to Agora.

What do you think about Pasha Bistro’s response to Agora?  Please tell us your stories of responding to a competitor moving next door.

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Archive for July, 2010

Calculating Business Risks: Going All In (or not)

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

With a new business, there are alot of appropriate analogies (and trust me, this blog has found most of the ones tied to movies or bad 80’s hair bands).  But one of the better ones may be poker. 

I’m only thinking of this because I noticed someone from my hometown is in the 2010 finals of the World Series of Poker.  He’s already won $898k and if he wins the whole thing, could walk away with $9.8M.  It go me to thinking…there are a lot of business lessons to learn from poker:

1.  It doesn’t take a lot of money to hit it big:  To enter most poker tourneys, you don’t need a lot of money, but if you apply the right strategy, you can clean up.  Similarly, if you have the right people and business concept, money won’t be a big hurdle (technology infrastructure is relatively cheap…and so is Frontier Airlines).

2.  Nothing Teaches You Like Real World Experience: Though I’m an excellent poker player online (or on a meaningless iPhone app), I have no clue how to interact with people when I’m sitting at a poker table.  With a business, you can have a great business plan, but unless you can sell someone in the real world, it’s not worth a whole lot.

3.  Sometimes it just comes down to luck: You can start a hand with a pair of aces (the strongest possible beginning hand in Texas Hold ‘Em) and still lose.  Why?  Well, maybe partially due to strategy.  But also because poker is still a gamble.   With a new business, eveything can be going your way, but without a break or two, you can still be out of favor with the market.

What’s your connection to business and poker?

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Archive for July, 2010

Build Trust With Customers by Providing Feedback Tools

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

As KikScore continues to grow and add customers, our team is more active in social media sites.  In anticipation of a large partner release, we are working to ensure staff support and processes in place to respond to customer inquiries and issues.

Providing an avenue for your customers to sing your praises and also to vent when needed helps to build trust in your brand and confidence in your customers.  With social media continuing to rise, consumers savor the ability to have a voice in a variety of platforms, and they can yell loudly.  To build trust and loyalty in your customer base, you have to listen and react in a timely and professional manner .

Being a mom, I could relate to the outrage set forth by moms across the country on this Motrin add.  Motrin could have quickly regained confidence and trust in its consumer base by reacting to this outrage in a much more professional  and empathetic manner.

As a small business, creating an avenue for clear communication with your customers on good and bad topics will not only build trust, but also instill loyalty which creates new customers and reduces abandoned shopping carts.  Be an advocate for your customers and they will yell loudly on social media platforms that your business is the business to connect with.

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Archive for July, 2010

Startup Lessons Learned: Hire people who roll up their sleeves

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Link: Lessons Learned: Hire people who roll up their sleeves

I came across this excellent 3 minute video of Matt Greeley, CEO of Brightidea who was interviewed by Bambi Francisco of Vator.tv on the startup lessons he has learned.  It is a good video interview and he has some great guidance for startups (and frankly small businesses too) including one that probably every startup and small business should follow: hire and surround yourself with people on your team who will roll up their sleeves.  I will add one additional point to his recommendation.  Make sure your team is full of self-starters that every day are helping the startup show tangible progress that contributes to meeting (and exceeding) the company’s goals.  You can roll up your sleeves and get busy work done, but not show real progress.  On the other hand, self-starters that contribute every day to moving the company forward are invaluable.  The success of your startup is only on the line if you do not have a team made up of these types of people.  For more information on team building for your startup, here is an earlier post on this subject.

Please tell us your thoughts on the video and your approach to your team.

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Archive for July, 2010

Unless You're in Minnesota, Trust is Important

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Minnesota is many things.  The birthplace of Bob Dylan, Prince, and Kevin McHale.  Home of the Vikings (and Brett Farve).  It is also my home state and I just returned from a 10 day visit home.  Why 10 days?  Because when you have one vacation each year you want it to last as long as possible.  And nothing seems longer than 10 days in Minnesota.

Now to my point.  When visiting the Land of 10,000 lakes, it’s striking at how accommodating and polite everyone is (whether they actually are sincere is another question and not something that really matters).  But tied into that is how trusting everyone is.  Repeatedly I noticed people leaving their computers at the Starbucks table and my parents don’t lock their doors when they are gone all day.  Trustworthiness (or at least the absence of mal-intent) seems to be part of their DNA.

This seems to extend to e-commerce.  I was quietly watching my mother shopping online.  She was looking for some odd knitting equipment (did I mention there is nothing to do in Northern Minnesota?) and she had no hesitation visiting unknown sites.  After I explained the dangers of blindly visiting sites without any security software (and this may be the reason why her computer runs slowly) she seemed shocked that anyone would be less than honest.

As with all things related to Minnesota, the awareness of online danger will spread — probably in about 3 more years.  To give you an idea of the information delay, Minnesota still seems to be getting over the grunge look (I had to tell a few folks that Soul Asylum wasn’t a “with it” band anymore).  So, unless your target market is selling deer tick spray online, promoting trust on your site should remain a top priority.

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Archive for July, 2010

Take the Leap Entrepreneur's Blog Interviews KikScore

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Take the Leap, is a great blog that profiles entrepreneur’s and startup stories.  The blog is sponsored by the company Creative Hub.   We had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jennifer Spivak about KikScore and our growth.

To check out the interview, please visit the Take the Leap Blog and the interview is titled From Lawyers to Entrepreneurs.

Please let us know what you think.

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Archive for July, 2010

Top 5 Android Applications for Small Businesses

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010


I have had the Sprint HTC EVO 4G for a little over a month now and recommend the 5 Android operating system applications below for small businesses to use on any Android phone.

Exchange by Touchdown– This application integrates with the desktop version of Microsoft Exchange and automatically syncs your email, calendar, contacts, and tasks wirelessly with minimal setup. I really like this application because it cleanly separates my work and personal email and is works just like I am sitting at my work computer.  This is actually the only application on this list that isn’t free and does cost $20 per license after a 30-day free trial.

Jorte– This is a calendar and “to do” list application that I think works much better than the calendar tool that came with my Android phone.  This application seamlessly integrates with multiple Google calendars and also gives you over 10 different widgets to add to your homepage in order to better access your events and tasks.

Google Voice– Google created the Android operating system so it would make sense that they have some of the best applications for the platform and the Google Voice app is no exception.  This application essentially replaces your default carrier-provided voicemail while adding a bunch of great features.  You can create custom voicemail messages for any of your contacts, get voicemail messages transcribed and texted and/or emailed to you, visual voicemail, and also can be used to place extremely cheap international calls all over the world.

BuzzBox– This application can be configured to provide any RSS feed directly to your phone and comes pre-loaded with hundreds of the most popular feeds for you to choose from in many different categories.  This application also comes with a handy widget for automatic updates and quick viewing.

Fring – This application integrates with Skype (and many other IM/chat applications) to bring video conferencing to your mobile phone for free.  I actually prefer this application to the included (and highly promoted) Qik application on the HTC EVO because it is easier to use and has less latency.  I would recommend using the video chat feature while connected to 4g or wi-fi but it works great and automatically imports your existing Skype contacts for easy calling.

What is your favorite Android application and how much more do you like Android over the iPhone 4?

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Archive for July, 2010

Video: Can You Trust Online Product Reviews?

Monday, July 12th, 2010

We have covered in previous posts the issues of online reviews here and the artificial inflation of numeric reviews and online ratings.  The truth is,  we all look at reviews, whether they are for a hotel on Trip Advisor, a take-out place on Yelp or a product review at your favorite online store.  With the proliferation of reviews across many sites and across so many of our online shopping choices, the issue has now become what is a legitimate review and what is a fake?

Here is a good video interview  of Alan Bligh, Executive Director of the Coastal Bend Better Business Bureau in Texas.  He outlines a series of items in this video that are red flags you should look out for when you are reading an online product review.  We highly recommend watching this video as it will help you stay safe when you are shopping online and it gives online shoppers practical security tips to help you avoid being a victim of online fraud.

Some of these red flags include:

1) Reviews that are actually from an employee or even a disgruntled employee;

2) A review written by a competitor;

3) Product reviews with too much technical jargon may be written by an “insider”;

4) Be careful of reviews that sound like an advertisement for a product;

5) The same review or largely the same review (using the same wording) is written many times on a site or  an online store’s site;

6) The review is all positive.  Typically legitimate reviews have positive and some negative (or at least potential improvements) included; and

7) Reviews with a user name that has 3-4 numbers at the end of it are typically auto generated by software or a computer that trolls the internet and automatically places generic reviews on multiple sites.

This is a good list of red flags to look for when you shop online.  Please tell us if you have any red flags or seen any odd comments in product reviews that have raised a red flag with you.

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