“Young people are engaging in constant communication,” she said. “Whether it’s highly literate or not is another question. But there’s all kinds of Web activity that is enhancing literacy.”
— Montreal Gazette: Literacy no longer either/or
Nice article on Literacy! Since there’s no where to add Comments, I’ll just have to post my $0.02 CDN here 🙂
In my opinion (IMO), there’s a direct correlation between the rise in literacy with the adoption of social software. From the netted-out 140 character tweets, to the 500 – 1000 word blogs, to the endless stream of live documents on wikis. But of course that’s IMO. There are other opinions out there which carry more weight than mine, such as, Seth Godin & Tom Peters on blogging, STRATEGY_Story’s_More_Powerful.
But wait, there’s more…
How about leading by example and authoring a digital article embedded with all the social media elements & then having a simple 140 character one-liner, or, single paragraph printed in various sections of the Montreal Gazette with a link to the full digital version? You could use a QR Code for the link, so the more hip SmartPhone users can simply scan it & have it open in their browsers. How about trying a page, or, small section featuring a collection of these with their respective QR Codes, so people like myself can quickly determine what’s of interest to me, scan the link & bookmark, it, or, ReadItLaterList it.
Offer to help
Does anyone (at The Montreal Gazette) want help doing an article on how social media can improve not just one’s literacy level, but one’s effectiveness as a communicator through various multimedia like those presentations on SlideShare, videos on YouTube and podcast on iTunes? Feel free to peruse my blog for more info and please, please, please check out http://edu.cyn.infor a living experiment with elementary & high school students embracing social software.
Just a thought
Anyone else have any thoughts of social media, literacy and how to spread the words?
The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is a metaphor for life. What seems completely new is often just an unexpected combination of the familiar but previously disconnected. This is Innovation 101, but too often we forget, and think the one asset we have is the answer, rather than asking what we can bundle it with to transform its value.
Peruse my blog and you’ll see I pretty much chronicle my experiences as an ultra light, non-funded, start-up entrepreneur. You’ll also see that I divide my time, not necessarily equally, among two main efforts: 1) called :Twetailer, which has morphed into :AnotherSocialEconomy and 2) :edu.cyn.in. While both were born out of a burning desire to correct something I found profoundly wrong, yet so “simple” to fix, I’ve always considered them to be worlds apart. That was until I tried to fill a void in my execution plans – sales & marketing. Now I know these are not subjects to be treated lightly but, in my own defense, I was primarily concerned about the Guy Kawasaki lesson How to Change the World: Defensibility. With all that reasonably taken care, I started educating myself on Search Engine Marketing (SEM). As a matter of fact, my very last post was how I used that new knowledge to rethink AnotherSocialEconomy’s :Widget. Who knew? It was not only another entry point/channel/stream into the system (remember, I’m a techie) but it actually competes – quite nicely, with Pay-Per-Click (PPC), Cost Per Click-through (CPC) and Cost Per Action (CPA).
In the early days, I tried getting schools to pay for the edu.cyn.in service but, being a techie and not a sales rep, failed. There was either not enough budget to go around, not enough qualified staff to support the service, or, simply the FUD Factor (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt). But I’m a persistent bugger and based on my prior experience with social software on the Internet, within enterprises and even within schools, I just couldn’t give up.
I knew the service was greatly appreciated by the kids. I knew the service was greatly appreciated by educators – albeit a special select few. And as a parent, I also knew the frustration of organizing events, committee meetings, car pools, other extra-curricular activities and even purchasing related goods and services.
And on top of all this pressure to sell edu into schools, I was still struggling to sell AnotherSocialEconomy – which needed a way to reach retailers & consumers.
Started getting that sinking feeling
Things just seemed to be getting worse. Was I going to be one of those start-ups with a great idea – in my case, two great ideas that no one other than myself, Dom & a few others knew about? It’s not like I don’t know my limitations. I think I’m a pretty good technical business analyst, software product manager, maybe even a social media manager. I love pre-sales demos, presenting at shows and conferences, have a pretty cool online education story to tell, love story telling and I’m pretty pleased with my stickman videos and presentation creations. But I just can’t seem to get past this marketing & sales hump. I’ve tried to bring in others but it just hasn’t gelled yet. Maybe some seed money would be the way to go. Either way, if I don’t get any traction, I’ll probably have to drop edu. Yikes! That would really hurt because not only have the Cynapse folks been more than fair with me (I’m also a struggling Reseller), it would mean that my daughter Sara & friends would lose the service.
Back in my IBM days, Perseverance was not only a welcomed characteristic, but encouraged too (by some). In a company of over 390,000 (at the time), it was all too easy to say things like; “I’m waiting for so-and-so to get back to me”, or, “Today’s first agenda item is to decide when we’ll meet again to discuss this matter”. If you truly wanted to make a difference, you had to persevere – you had to press on people, press a few buttons, or, as my wife Anna says, I just had to continue being the real pain in the ass I can be.
Dropping edu, dropping, AnotherSocialEconomy, getting a real job are options I’m just not ready to accept yet. What I really have to do is find a better way to persevere.
Do you have any suggestions on how I can make edu & AnotherSocialEconomy work for each other? Stay tuned for Part 2.
I recently signed up for Google AdWords and started playing around with its campaign site. After twenty, or, thirty minutes, I started getting a splitting headache and through frustration, closed my Google Chrome browser and defiantly opened up Firefox. Now to be fair, I had no business signing up for AdWords, since I can’t even spell S-E-M (SEM) but, I was determined to get a better understanding of what I could be missing. Being a start-up and desperate for bootstrapping sales, it seemed only logical to investigate.
Google Sales to the Rescue, sort of
The very next day I received a call from a Google Sales Rep – Terry Dewey, who was incredibly helpful, and patient, in walking me through the site & giving me my very own S-E-M 101 Course. But, by the end of the call, there was one thing terribly obvious to both of us. If I couldn’t manage to spend $7500 a month on AdWords advertising, then there simply wasn’t any point in getting started.
WCT: Wholly Crap Through
At $7500 a month, with an average of 3% conversion rate, my customer acquisition cost was probably going to cost me more than I was going to make.
Reality Check and The Referral Engine Bibles
So needless to say, I’ve abandoned my jump into SEM and have returned to the teachings of Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check & John Jantsch’s The Referral Engine. If I understand correctly, the key to success is sharing with those who can help. So that’s the motivation behind the :AnotherSocialEconomyReseller and Referrer programs. Another lesson learned, is that I have to make it real easy for those folks to pass the message along and that’s why we developed the :Widget and the :Bookmarklet.
The Ultimate Cost Per Action (CPA)
CPA offers are the truest form of performance marketing. Rather than basing payouts on bulk traffic which may or may not convert, cost per action refers to compensating affiliates/publishers for real sales, leads, and other conversion metrics. This is often the most empowering method for advertisers, as they are able to gain direct results from their advertising budget. The CPA model is a risk-free approach to advertising that usually targets niche specific publishers or clever affiliates.
So for starters, here’s how our Widgets whip click-through and pay-per-click advertising for Influencers (MFCs).
Become an AnotherSocialEconomy Reseller
Post an AnotherSocialEconomyWidget on your blog, or, web site. The widget can be customized to your site’s look and feel so it doesn’t distract your readers.
Contact Retailers, suppliers, manufactuers, brands, distributors, and anyone else in position to close a sale – locally, or, online and have them register as AnotherSocialEconomyRetailers.
Blog, review, rate, do whatever you do to contribute valuable content.
Your readers can then fill in your site’s Widget to purchase whichever goods and/or services mentioned.
AnotherSocialEconomy will then notify all registered Retailers within range of the Consumer’s location and ask them if they have the goods/services available for sale.
Those Retailers with inventory on hand, then propose their goods to the Consumer via AnotherSocialEconomy.
Once Consumers confirm, they can then proceed to the local Retailer and pick up their goods.
AnotherSocialEconomy is about connecting serious buyers with local retailers. So only those Consumers interested in buying, will click-through. And only those Retailers in a position to close the sale, need to reply. There’s no conversion rates, or, customer acquisition costs to worry about. Retailers only pay when they close the sale.
But wait, there’s more …
And what about that kind Influencer? Since they Referred the request via their site’s Wdiget, they get to share in some of AnotherSocialEconomy’s proceeds. And in this particular scenario, since they- as a Reseller signed up the Retailer who made the sale, then they again, get to share in some of AnotherSocialEconomy’s proceeds. Now that’s some CPA, eh?
I’d like to thank Michel Drouin for connecting the dots between click-through advertising and the value proposition of :AnotherSocialEconomy’s :Widget.
Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how this one works out.
There was something familiar about Twitter back in December 2008 when I posted My Five Ws of Twitter in less than 10 minutes (video included). It wasn’t necessarily the short messages – like text messaging (SMS), even though those were its roots. It wasn’t so much the chat-like short messages either. It was something I recognized as an IBM MQ Series feature call Message Persistence – basically meaning, the messages are saved on some hard disk on some server somewhere on the network. So what? So as opposed to email, text messages, or, chat messages that are 1) unless they’re spam, are sent to a select group of people, and 2) can be deleted, Twitter messages are potentially in the public domain, persisted (save to some disk) and searchable.
The original idea behind Twetailer was to expand on those persisted tweets, as if they were MQ Series persisted messages and use them as a poor-mans’ communication channel. And just like MQ Series with its ability to have operating system agnostic clients communicating to the MQ Series server, there were already a whack of Twitter client applications out there like TweetDeck, Twhirl, Seesmic, etc. That way Twetailer could focus on the transaction engine and let its users choose their favorite client app. We even had free text messaging (SMS), courtesy of Twitter.
Hence the name Twetailer, which is short for Twitter Retailer.
Sounds like a plan, eh?
But Dom Derrien was concerned about relying on Twitter for these persisted messages, so, we decided to persist our own. Still true to our Twitter inspiration, we built a transaction engine that runs in 140 characters, or, less. As a Consumer, your initial request looks like:
d twetailer wii console locale:1235 us range:25 mi expires:2010-12-23
and subsequent requests could look like:
d twetailer rent twilight dvd
since we already knew your previous preference for location and default the expiry date to one month in the future.
Oh, by the way, Dom was right! To date, Twitter does not persist searchable messages beyond a few days, at best!
While everyone we yakked to about the concept Where Demand comes to meet Supply loved it, they either didn’t tweet, or, thought the messages were too cryptic.
In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin yang is used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn… Yin yang are complementary opposites within a greater whole. Everything has both yin and yang aspects,.. constantly interacting, never existing in absolute stasis.
— Yin and yang – Wikipedia
We’ve reached our techie milestone. We have quality code running in the Google AppEngine clouds. We’ve validated our concept with as many people that will listen to us. We’re at the point now where we have to validate with the market. We need users. More specifically, we need Consumers and we need Retailers. We need marketing & we need public relations (PR).
So while the real techie – Dom Derrien, can breath a little easier, the other – me, with my techie background, has to go out and market the crap out of Twetailer. But, I’m not really a marketing kind of guy. While I absolutely love demoing and presenting and evangelizing, I’m not particularly strong at finding the right people to get in front of. So, I need to find myself a marketing guru. But being an ultra-light start up (read “living of my wife and kids”), I need to find a marketing guru – preferably one shooting for the social networking sphere, who’s willing to drink the Kool-Aid. Fortunately, Marc Bienstock likes Kool-Aid.
Twetailer was conceived and originally targeted for techies like ourselves – cube dwellers. Which is fine, since we never planned on using the line “If only 1% of China…”. So demoing to techies was never a real problem, despite some minor usability issues. But in order to get to the next level, we had to demo to prospective partners, prospective CEOs, prospective Consumers and prospective Retailers. And the further away we got from the cube dwellers, the greater the usability issue became for those higher up in the org chart – tower dwellers. Thankfully, everyone got the true value of Twetailer’s service: “Brokering Consumer Demand with local Retailers’ available Supply – via simple messages, for f(r)ee, or, Reverse Retailing”. But even our own accountant and lawyer turned on us with comments like “Can’t I just have one button to press? I’m not very comfortable with all this texting stuff. Hey, I have a great idea! How about an app for my Blackberry?”. Not bad for tower-dwellers, eh? 🙂
So now I think I understand. While I originally intended to service techie consumers, I needed non-techies to help me get that service to them. In other words, my techie solution had a non-techie dependency.
“Pivoting” is when you change a fundamental part of the business model. It can be as simple as recognizing that your product was priced incorrectly. It can be more complex if you find your target customer or users need to change or the feature set is wrong or you need to “repackage” a monolithic product into a family of products or you chose the wrong sales channel or your customer acquisition programs were ineffective.
Modified Business Model
Originally, the fee plan was to charge both Consumer & Retailer a transaction fee similar to that of Amazon Flexible Payments Service fees (about 3%). But after speaking to several people, it became clear we couldn’t build a sustainable business like that. The common thought was the best idea is to solve a real business problem and charge money for it. So we’re going to charge a monthly subscription fee for registered Retailers. And because Marc felt Twetailer was too generalized and people needed a sense of urgency to use it, we’ve also introduced a Reseller distribution channel with our first one being targeted towards golfers & golf courses. (Congrats to Marc for being our first Reseller!) And to address usability issues, we’re offering a Managed Service for those non-techie Retailers out there.
Please take a look at our pivot trilogy (less than 10 minutes) and let me know your thoughts. The first is intended to address our target audience with the second identifying their pain and the third illustrating our solution (for non-techies and techies alike).
What do you think? Am I setting a bad precedence? Am I clouding my inability to market/sell my start up by throwing more code, time & energy at the problem, as opposed to, finding/solving the root-cause? Or, do you think this is a step in the right direction?
Lon Harris, Creative Director at ThisWeekIn brought up an interesting story on Anthony Orsini, the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, who sent out an e-mail Wednesday morning asking parents to help him get all of his students off social networks and keep careful track of their text messages.
“Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today! …”
His basic concern is about bullying & how these social sites empower cyber-bullying. In response, Jason & Lon go on about how to deal with children, the Internet & even offer a few novel solutions for the car / auto-insurance industry. (I love the Key one, myself.) But, my favorite prosposed solution was Jason’s at 1:13:29 into the show:
Maybe it’s time that there be a service that’s only for kids… I think maybe that’s the solution
In all fairness, Jason doesn’t know about edu.cyn.in but I thank him for the words of encouragement, again!
A guest post by my 8 year-old son Alex, who loves movies, thinks kids should give ratings & just wants to blog.
Just one post
A lot of people have blogs. But most people don’t.
I think you should. Even if you only have one post in you.
Having a blog is pretty daunting, especially if you don’t like blank paper and are the sort of person that hates falling behind. I can imagine that the idea of posting 50 or 300 times a year is a little bit nuts for many people.
But what if there’s just one thing you need to say, but you can say it clearly and well and in a way that hasn’t been said before? What if you’ve got one great blog post inside of you, and, even better, you’re willing to update that post as you learn more and gain more insight?
An entire post about a certain kind of fossil. Or the misuse of a certain word. Or about a key difference between two kinds of bluetooth…
Not only does Alex love movies, but he wants to Produce them one day, despite the fact that none of us are all too clear on what that actually means. Nonetheless, he felt left out by Sara having edu.cyn.in (see Kicking off social software in Sara’s elementary school) to play in and really wanted to get something off his chest. His last post – Real Early Adopter was on Alice in Wonderland.
In the interest of full-disclosure, Alex created & typed the content on his own & I helped with the WordPress formatting. Here is Alex’s guest blog post…
As you ALL know The Twilight Saga: Eclipse continues this year. But Bella must choose between Edward the vampire or Jacob the werewolf before graduation. But Bella’s got bigger problems. The Volterrains are mad about Bella still being human and if she dose not become a vampire then she cannot be with Edward. But lucky for her she’s got Jacob to protect her from Victoria the vampire. Just don’t expect this one to be as light as The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Click the picture & watch the trailer on the official website.
Having lived and died the start up life during the dot com days and after reading everything on the right sidebar under Pivotal Reading, I’m now a proud ultra light startup entrepreneur. (See What are the characteristics of an Ultra Light Startup?.) With Guy Kawasaki‘s autographed copies of Reality Check & The Art of the Start tucked under my pillow at night, I have no trouble admitting to living off my faithful wife, dipping into my two beautiful children’s savings accounts the odd time and yes, there is a line of credit. So, if this was your reality, how would you go about soliciting help starting your startup?
I’ve done the startup thing & I’ve done it all wrong. Just Read Guy Kawasaki’s books for more examples.
I understand the value of lawyers & accountants, so they get paid first and that comes out of my line of credit.
If I understand my accountant – Sheldon Miller, correctly; banks just want the interest on your line of credit. VCs’ have a different kind of interest.
If I understand my lawyer – François Senécal, correctly; pay for what’s in the critical path to getting your product to market. Don’t pay for things like; “but what if one day Google buys this thing for a gazillion dollars?”.
If I understand Guy Kawasaki correctly, paying for things that may never happen simply reduces the likelyhood they will.
Here’s what I believe
I believe there’s a certain group of people in the world that love what they do but not necessarily where they’re doing.
I believe there’s a certain group of people in the world that desperately want and can do more than what they’re do now.
I believe these people just need an opportunity.
If you’re one of these people, then here’s what I’m offering you
I’m offering you a chance to build your own micro startup doing things exactly the way you want them done.
I’m offering you a chance to go beyond resumés and looking backwards when all you want to do is look to the future.
I’m offering you a canvas, silly putty, a stage for to show the world what makes you so hot.
Here’s the Risk
You have to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA).
You have to sign a Copyright Assignment Agreement. Typically, when you sign one of these with your employer, you agree to give them total ownership of your work & they agree to financially compensate you for it. In my case, you agree to give me (Milstein & Associates Inc.) total ownership of your work & I agree to fully attribute your contribution. You get no money, no shares, no promises of anything beyond public attribution. Oddly enough, it’s exactly as Jason said in above episode.
Here’s the Reward
If one day Google wants to offer a gazillion dollars, one of the first questions they may ask is; “Is the Intellectual Property locked down my Milstein & Associates Inc.”. The answer is “Yes”.
If one day Google wants to offer a gazillion dollars, one of the following questions they may ask is; “Is the team that contributed that coveted Intellectual Property locked down my Milstein & Associates Inc.”. The answer is “No”. At that point, my guess is that Google will then determine the value of locking down these contributors.
In order for my startup to succeed, I can’t afford to chance that maybe you’ll contribute enough for Google to offer that gazillion dollars. In order for you to truly succeed, you can’t afford to give up an opportunity like this. Besides, who would you rather assess your true value? Me – a guy living off his wife, kids & a line of credit, or, Google? Basically, all I’m offering you is a chance to sit at the table. But first, you have to set it & fill the glasses with Kool-Aid. Do you have a better offer from someone else?
So far three people have drank the Kool-Aid & I’m hoping one, or, two more will belly up to the table in the coming weeks. Take a look at Dom Derrien’s blog and let me know if you still think, in the worst case scenario, that he’s not seeing some form of immediate returns on his investment.
I have two start-up projects underway. The first, Twetailer was inspired by one of those “OMG! Wouldn’t it be great if you could just yada yada yada?” moments. The second, http://edu.cyn.in, was not. No edu, was created out of my 11-year old daughter Sara’s frustration with her school’s computer curriculum. Complaints like: “Why do I care if something is bold?”, or, “Insert a column? When am I ever going to need that when I grow up?”. Yikes! Wouldn’t it be great if Sara could actually use technology for something she cared about?
You can’t always get what you want
– Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones
But Sara also shared the frustration she felt when some of her friends – who are on Facebook, kept urging others to join up, even though they know the minimun age is 14. Similarly for those with MSN, or, gmail accounts. And while I love seeing kids adopt technology, there are valid reasons why these services have age requirements. So, as a parent, what do you do? Do you stick to the rules & tell them to wait until they’re old enough? Do you let them waste their effortless ability to embrace these social technologies and stick to making things bold & inserting colums?
But what if you were able to trust another parent to monitor your kid’s activities for you? Like when you let your little one go on a playdate to a friend’s house, or, they’re invited to the movies. If you trust the friend’s parents then you let them go.
Perhaps your first digital social safety net
edu started out to be a way for Sara & her Grade 6 classmates to socialize in a secured and monitored Internet playground. A place where they could experience the power of blogs, wikis, discussions, audio, video, image sharing, etc. while learning the new minimun skills sets required in today’s digital and globally distributed workplace. Pretty soon, edu will be made available for the rest of her school and any other school interested under the following conditions:
The student has to be attending an educational institution registered with edu
There must be at least one parent/guardian, teacher/faculty member monitoring that student’s grade.
In Sara’s case, I monitored her grade. Did that mean all the other parents trusted me (and edu with their children’s related activities? Not necesarly. It turns out, most didn’t have a choice. Over the course of the project, I spoke with a few parents and they simply felt they didn’t have the skill sets to monitor. Even after informing them its just a matter of reading their email, they still felt uncomfortable with this “type of stuff”, but looked forward to watching how their kids used it.
Do the math
So in essence, condition #2 above, became those parents’ new social safety net. All they needed was one adult out of twenty students, to feel comfortable enough to watch over their child in their new digital playground. Is this any different than letting your child go to the movies, or, a school field trip with a parent like that?
My parents always told me: “All we want is for you to have more opportunities than we did growing up.” And they certainly succeeded. As a parent in today’s digital world, it would be a shame not to continue the tradition. edu gives those who aren’t as connected as their kids the opportunity to do just that.
Twetailer: Brokering Consumer Demand with local Retailers’ available Supply – via tweets, for f(r)ee, or, Reverse Retailing.
Last night I presented the slides & recordings as above but did the audio part live. Technically, I had 10 minutes – 5 for demo & 5 for Q&A. I actually consumed 7 minutes, leaving on 3 for Q&A.
Here’s the Q&A (paraphrased):
Q. Do you have any retailers signed up?
A. That’s the stage we’re at right now. We actually have one, my Volkswagen dealer Volkswagen Des Sources. GregVW thinks its great for used cars!
Q. Is it fully functional?
A. Yes! The recorded demo part was just to make sure we didn’t run into any timing issues. We also weren’t sure about Internet access here – which as it turns out, there’s none. But Yes, it’s fully functional. You can even do you own demo by sending “d twetailer what-are-you-buying #demo” and a robot will play the Sales Associate role. If you want, try sending “d twetailer used vw 2010 #demo” and Greg may even play along too.