As a Merchant/retailer, would you find any value in letting a local shopper know that you have the product they’re looking for in stock & how much you’re selling it for?
In fine company last night among QuantumWhisper, SoleiraSun, SolidWild at Montreal NEWTECH’s Demo Night.
— Jason Calacanis, TechCrunch50 2009 Twetailer semi-finalist demo.
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.
Many thanks to Montreal NewTech, Felipe Coimbra for all his time, twitter apps & organization savy and the sponsors Bolidea and 63 Squares – Web Technologies and Marketing Collective.
See you at the NewTech Series: Pitch, Thu 2010-04-15 6pm.
Man I told you… my day is, I come to work, I get paid, I go home. You think I want to do this all my life?
– Retailer Sales Associate (Let’s call him Trevor)
Over the past few posts, I’ve spent some time describing my Social Software in Schools project, which has been an absolute blast & has yeilded some surprising results. (But that’ll be another post.) However, I also spend my time on my true start-up – twetailer. Without going into much detail here, I’ll just put things in context by defining it as:
Twetailer: Brokering Consumer Demand with local Retailers’ available Supply – via tweets, for f(r)ee.
Prior to heading off to pitch a potential business partner, I decided to try out my routine on an unsuspecting Retail Sales Associate who I thought fit our personna – young, tech savy, looking for an easier way to get things done. My pitch demos how consumers Google for product reviews, make a decision, then search for a local retailer to make the sale. Part of the demo, demonstrates how local business directories / search engines were failing local retailers, thereby creating greater barriers for entry (sales) to their stores – partly due to their antiquated taxonomy/categories.
The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
I approached Trevor – an unoccupied Carl’s Cameras Sales Associate, as opposed to, the older gentleman behind the cash register making sales. I introduced myself as being part of an Internet start-up company offering a free search service that matches consumers ready to purchase products with local retailers ready to make sales – all via Tweets/text messages. While Trevor didn’t use Twitter (too young), he was willing to listen, so I opened my MacBook & started my Keynote presentation. I went through all the slides/videos & stopped at the demo part to elaborate. Trevor was engaged! He had questions & thought it was “really cool”. He thought searching Yellow Pages for “cameras” locally was useless but did accept there may not be many alternatives, even after I demoed Google Maps local search. He wasn’t surprised to see Carl’s Cameras not among the initial Yellow Pages search results & conceded that no one walks into the store asking for “digital image processing equipment” – Carl’s Cameras taxonomy & there’s no way anyone in the store could change that. He loved the idea of “social tagging” Demand & Supply in the language (terminology) of the consumers’ & retailers’ & thought it was very practical.
However, here’s how the conversation continued;
Me: “Would you use Twetailer to help you close sales?”
Trevor: No. It’s not like I’m going to work here the rest of my life. My day is, I come in, I go home, I get paid.”
Me: But you could just sit down in the back room, have a coffee & make sales? Do you text message?
Trevor: True dat. Yah of course I text.
Me: Do you have unlimited text messaging?
Trevor: Yah, for sure. But I’m not going to use my phone for work & Carl’s Cameras is not going to give me a phone to text.
Me: Carl’s Cameras doesn’t have to give you a phone to text. Especially, if you’ve already got unlimited texting. Tell me, if a friend texted you & said he knows someone looking for a nikon d5000, do you have any in the store, would you text back? Wouldn’t you text “Yes, tell them to come see me.”?
Trevor: True dat… of course I would.
Me: So what’s the difference with Twetailer?
Trevor: I guess nothing. But my day is, I come here, I work, I go home, I get paid. You know… you should really speak to Carl’s Cameras’ Regional Sales Manager. He’s a really nice guy & he’s gonna love this thing. He could probably get all the stores to use it. (He then went to get me the contact info.)
Me: Thanks so much for your help. I really appreciate it. Take care.
I then glanced over to the cash, where the elder gentleman was eavesdropping from all the time, waited to see if he had anything to add & then left.
In the days that followed, I tried on several occassions to contact the Regional Sales Manager. The phone number Trevor gave me was also listed on the web site. Yet everytime I called, the phone system went on & on about the office hours & no matter what options I chose, no matter what day, no matter what time, I always ended back at the beginning. For the record “Carl’s Cameras” is my alias for a national retailer!
A few days later, I demo’ed to Kevin Makice – author of Twitter API: Up and Running – O’Reilly Media. He had a funny/sad take on this story. His theory is that small/medium sized retailers – the Mom & Pop stores, are so busy treading water, that they can’t imagine stopping for 5 minutes to try something new, simply on the hope that it can change their world. This would be especially true, for a technology they don’t get – like Twitter/ text messaging.
Unfortunately, the irony of the situation, is that text messaging/tweets empowers these retailers to get back in the digital age. There’s no need for static brochure-ware web sites – which they may have missed, or, are out-dated. There’s no need for online e-commerce shopping cart sites – which they probably can’t afford, or, could never see any return-on-investment. There’s no need for anything more that an old mobile phone that can text message & someone to push those little buttons.
All they need is someone like Trevor to give a damm. Someone who would probably love the excuse to text at work. Someone who would probably find it easier than answering the phone.
Next time, I’m going to demo someone on commission 🙂
Have you had a similar experience? Is this a generational thing, or, simply a management issue?
My Idea’s Unhidden Agenda, also known as, Work-For-Attribution, and how I hope it will attract community members and contributors – the Who.
Imagination: Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Leaders create things that didn’t exist before. The do this by giving the tribe a vision of something that could happen, but hasn’t (yet).
You can’t manage without knowledge. You can’t lead without imagination.
As written in my Part 1, I needed to find a way build on my lessons learned and try my best to avoid repeating any errs of the past. But even more than needing a way to attract members to my new tribe, I needed to find a way to give them an environment where they could go beyond simple contributions. I needed to find a way for them to build their own opportunities, own quests and maybe even their own tribes.
So a little while back, I came up with the following for my collaborators:
How to make this viral
I was also wondering how to make this a community project where we could create the engine and enable/empower other communities to use/build/extend it for purposes we haven’t yet considered, or, may simply not be in our domain of expertise. In other words, make it “viral”.
This is what I’ve come up with so far
The core engine – to be defined later, is the center of our community. If you’ve read Seth Godin’s Tribes then you already know that every community needs a leader. That would be me – Steven Milstein. And while this is not a democracy, that certainly doesn’t mean that I won’t hear & listen to the members of this tribe. Now that may sound harsh but, please hear me out – I’m not finished yet.
Since you’re here reading this, then I’m going to guess that you like the idea, or, appeal of leading – maybe even a tribe of your own. It may not be today, but someday in the foreseeable future. If this is not the case, then I deeply encourage you to give this some thought. Because what I’d like to see is each of us exploiting this opportunity to seed own tribes with this core engine.
What I’d like is for each of us to create an entry here with our Unhidden Agenda. Describe what it is you hope to gain by investing your time, energy, maybe money, in this venture? (Don’t tell what you can, or, cannot invest.) You have to be honest & you have to be passionate. Once approved/agreed upon, this Agenda will then represent your social contract to this endeavor. Break your Agenda, break your contract – you’re out.
I’m not dead certain about this idea & am certainly open to your feedback. But until then, I think this Unhidden Agenda Model will scale & encourage others to not only participate but contribute. And if we truly believe in outside-in agile/scrum software development & we strive to maintain the integrity of the core engine then each of us should be able to fulfill our agenda.
My (Steven’s) Unhidden Agenda will elaborate on how I’d like to be the product manager/owner of some leading edge social software product. I’ll go on to say how I want to use this endeavor to prove that I can not only be just that but, also have a touch of vision and more importantly, that I deliver. I’d also like to boast about the community/communities I seeded and onboarded to social software.
I imagine [Retail IT Guy/Gal] ‘s entry will focus on their retail domain of expertise & how they would like to cultivate their own tribe.
For [Software Engineer Guy/Gal], I can see them seizing the opportunity to build the core engine in their own technical fashion and then sharing & expanding its APIs with the technical community of this growing social network.
As I said earlier, this is not written in stone but I would like to find a way to make this more than three guys who live in Montreal. If we’re all somewhat comfortable with this approach, then here’s what I see happening next:
1. Work & finalize on our agendas
2. Get to work on building a simple proof-of-concept
3. Start blogging about what we’re doing here & post your Unhidden Agenda
4. Find & contribute to your related communities
5. Seek feedback from others & maybe ask a select few join us in our Community
6. Invite some of those to publicly blog their own Unhidden Agenda in the hopes of gaining admittance to this exclusive community – exclusivity matters. (If you believe Seth Godin.)
While I originally sought a lawyer’s opinion about the Idea’s monetization possibilities, I was immediately told not to proceed without securing my copyright and ownership of “said” Idea. And that’s when I had visions of Groundhog Day. To be very clear. I did not then, nor do I now, have any money. I did not then, nor do I now, have the time, nor the resources to expend on fantasies and illusions of gazillion dollar exit strategies. This is my Reality Check. (By the way, if you click on any of the links that lead to Amazon and actually buy the book, then I get something back – although I quite honestly don’t even know that that is yet, through their Associates program.)
So as of today’s date, this is the best I can offer:
Whatever work you contribute will be considered “work made for hire” and for whatever reason that may not hold up, then the agreement will be considered a “copyright assignment” from you to my company – Milstein & Associates Inc.
Sounds harsh, eh? But, it is what it is. I’ll post this digital back of the napkin version in the Idea’s community site so folks can sign up – at least in the digital sense.
Now in lieu of any payment, what I hope to do – subject to lawyer approval, is offer an Attribution for your contributions. Something like movie credits, or, if you open Adobe Reader, click on the Help, About, Credits button – for starters. Ideally, as stated in the Unhidden Agenda, I would have to provide a mechanism and venue for folks to discover and explore your contributions, maybe even for you to start your own tribe.
My next post will be about the Idea’s Community site and who would be its target audience.
An unexpected customer service story right out of the pages of Chip & Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick”.
A little off topic for me but …
For the most part, I focus my posts on social software. But while doing so, I’m also working on a start-up project and spend time with books that I often refer to in my writings. Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is one of them. As described in the book, one of the principles in getting someones attention, is to use stories about something unexpected.
Setting the scene
A few weeks ago, while on vacation, my family & I were walking through a mall in Hallandale, Florida. As we approached the Nordstrom department store, I started recounting some of the Nordie stories illustrated in the book, like;
The Nordie who ironed a new shirt for a customer who needed it for a meeting that afternoon;
The Nordie who cheerfully gift wrapped products a customer bought at Macy’s;
The Nordie who refunded money for a set of tire chains – although Nordstrom doesn’t sell tire chains.
My wife – Anna, thought the first one believable, the second just a mistake and the third simply ridiculous. But as fate would have it, Anna needed a dress for an upcoming wedding and despite my being the poster child for “I hate shopping”, I suggested we try Nordstrom simply because of the book.
Right, or, wrong, this is how I shop with Anna & the kids – Sara (11) and Alex (7): I let Anna walk up front while the kids and I hang a few steps behind. Being the Poster Child, I often backseat drive and offer which direction we should be going – call it payback 🙂 However, this time I got us into a small enclosed area of with some brand name over top which I never heard but had Anna chuckling to herself. You must know that chuckle. The one you get when you refuse to stop for driving directions and you end up on dead end street. Within less than a minute, Anna held up a white T-shirt with a movie poster on it for $395 US dollars. I then bowed my head, held my kids close by and quickly and quietly, followed Anna into a friendlier neighbourhood.
Thankfully, we found our way into a area that was more appropriate for our budget. And with the quick help of a salesperson – Bethany, Anna tried on a few dresses & settled on the first one – which by the way was around $150 US dollars. There was only one slight glitch; both Anna & Bethany thought a “shrug” would go nicely but there wasn’t anything suitable in the store.
So Bethany offered to hold onto the dress for a few days while Anna (read “we”) scoured the mall (read “malls”) for the shrug. However, feeling a little smug about scoring the dress in Nordstrom’s and fearing that a pattern may be emerging, I encouraged Anna that it would be a lot easier, to find the shrug if she had the dress with her. Besides, in the worst case, if Nordstrom could take back tire chains they can certainly take back the dress. Since the customer is always right 🙂 , Bethany offered Anna a few places to check and sure enough, we scored the shrug too.
A week after returning home to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Anna received that Thank You card above. Needless to say, the both of us were impressed. Its not like we’ll be back in area next weekend and decide to stop by Nordstrom’s. its also not as if Anna bought the $395 white T-shirt with the movie poster on it. But it was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise. One worth retelling and one worth visiting Nordstrom’s the next time we’re in the neighbourhood.
Thank You Bethany!
Given the current economic climate, I would imagine more and more retailers would be following Nordstom’s lead. Do you have any unexpected customer service stories you’d like to share?