Trying To Create A Great Product

Interesting piece at the NYTimes on how GroupOn distinguishes itself from on the copycats that are cropping up in the hundreds:

Any Web site can offer a daily deal, and in the wake of Groupon’s success just about everyone is. There are hundreds of knock-offs and imitators, some of them trying to undercut the original by charging the merchant less than Groupon does. Others try to cater to specialized audiences (babies, gay people). Groupon’s closest competitor, Living Social, is backed by Amazon, the retailing giant that has a history of winning.

“We’re not at all concerned any competitor is going to come in and start writing like us,” says Mr. With. “They try but fall flat.” (Living Social declined to comment.) In other words, words will save Groupon. Many more words. Mere words.

Like all the companies that have copied the iPhone over the last 4 years, the companies copying GroupOn are copying surface qualities. To other companies, GroupOn showcases deals, when the reality is owners of GroupOn adds value beyond the ‘group coupons’ they offer.
I respect GroupOn for trying to create a great product.

The Empire Strikes Back …wards*

Business Insider: Microsoft Executives In A Heated Battle Over Opening More Retail Stores

According to sources close to the company, CEO Steve Ballmer and COO Kevin Turner are both hot on the idea of matching — or even surpassing — Apple’s retail presence of over 300 stores. The stores are a big reason for Apple’s success in the last decade, as they give customers opportunities to play with products like the iPad and iPhone.

But Microsoft has only opened 8 stores in the year and a half since it launched its retail initiative, and has only announced two more, in Atlanta and Seattle, for a total of 10.

The reason: the stores are expensive to build — Microsoft wants them to be high-profile showcases like Apple stores are — and most of them aren’t making money.

My friends always roll their eyes when get into Microsoft-bashing.
With stories like this, though, I don’t even have to try.
*I stole the title for this post from one of the juicy comments on the original story.

Oil Execs, Lining Their Pockets

Declaring 2010 “the best year in safety performance in our company’s history,” Transocean Ltd., owner of the Gulf of Mexico oil rig that exploded, killing 11 workers, has awarded its top executives hefty bonuses and raises, according to a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

That includes a $200,000 salary increase for Transocean president and chief executive officer Steven L. Newman, whose base salary will increase from $900,000 to $1.1 million, according to the SEC report. Newman’s bonus was $374,062, the report states.

What a bunch of bullshit. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. Business as usual.

Imagination At Work

From the NYTimes:

General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.

The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.

Blame It On The iPhone

DealBook: How the iPhone Led to the Sale of T-Mobile USA

Until Apple introduced its highly popular touchscreen device in 2007, which went on to become the world’s leading smartphone, Deutsche Telekom had been generating decent sales from its American operation, with growth in some years surpassing that achieved in Germany.

But after the iPhone went on sale, sold exclusively at first by AT&T in the United States, T-Mobile USA began to lose its most lucrative customers, those on fixed monthly plans, who defected to its larger American rivals — AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which began selling the iPhone in February.

Paying For the News, Like Water

So we’ve all heard by now that the New York Times has begun the rollout of their paywall, starting with those Canadians, because we can’t trust them.
I agree with the responses of Koi Vihn and John Gruber – I think the choices and process for this new paywall defy logic and are way too confusing for the average user.
I’ve heard people say ‘hell no’ to paying for news access on websites. Some of these people are also the ones against advertising or use Adblock in their browser. I’m not against paying for the news, in whatever form it comes in, as long as it’s reasonable and provides real value.
We all gotten very used to most things being free on the web for many years now, but not everything has to live under advertising-subsidized-free-model. There’s room for other business models.
If you asked someone 30 years ago if they’d be willing to pay for bottled water, they’d laugh. I see the same thing happening now with pay model for web news.
Paying for news and water shouldn’t concern us. What should concern is us is when the only way to get quality news (and water) is to pay for it.

Sure, that’s all it takes

GigaOm: Why Google Still Needs to Buy a Groupon Clone

Google is launching — or at least beta-testing — a Groupon-style discount program for small businesses known as Google Offers, something that was first reported by Mashable and then confirmed by Google in an email to Search Engine Land. The program appears to be identical to those run by Groupon or one of the dozen smaller group-buying startups, in that it allows merchants to offer a discount that only gets triggered if enough people sign up for the deal. But does Google have what it takes to build up that kind of service on its own? Probably not. Which is why the company should still think about buying a Groupon clone.

Sure, that’s all it takes. Whatever market you’re in, if you don’t have a product to use against the competition, just buy one.

Kickstarter: Disrupting With People

Kickstarter is blowing doors on monetization strategies this year and challenging traditional consumer and auction paradigms. News dropped today of Scott Wilson breaking Kickstarter’s funding record by raising over $275,000 for his iPod Nano watch enclosure. And he raised that money in one week. One.
I first learned of Kickstarter from a post by Craig Mod where he broke down how he was able to fund the printing and publishing of his book, Art Space: Tokyo. It’s a must-read for anyone in any type of media who wants to stay relevant.
Forget that. You need to understand the success of Kickstarter of you’re a human being who works in order to obtain money to live. Period.
The hook for me, what makes Kickstarter so powerful is the human element. Call it social networking, call it viral, call it crowdsoucing. I call it human.
The Economist did an interview with one of the founders, Perry Chen. The whole interview is great, but this bit stood out for me:

Just like eBay or Etsy, you are obligated to do what you say you’re going to do–fulfil the limited edition, or create the event or experience that you promised to create–in exchange for someone opening their wallet and backing your project. The interesting thing is that these projects are funded by dozens, hundreds and in some cases thousands of people, but it is never completely anonymous. Within those backers are friends, long-time fans, family members, classmates, people in the gardening club with you. So there’s already a social fabric that’s brought into Kickstarter. The accountability is strengthened because those people are there.

Just keep people in mind when you’re starting a new business plan. If you keep the focus on people and not on “how we’re going to beat the competition”, you’re already putting yourself in a better position for success.

Partners, Not Vendors 2007 Creatives Roundtable (via

Last month, Creativity invited 11 highly talented and highly opinionated creative honchos from a diverse range of idea shops to deliberate on what they need to do, and who they need to be in order to get a brand message across in today’s unpredictable advertising climate.

I found the six interview video clips mildly informative. I think this might be due the fact that we’re watching the creative directors talk, opposed to seeing what they create, so it’s not their fault.
With that said, one statement did stand out for me from William Gelner, Group Creative Director at BBH. He said, “The best clients are looking for partners, not vendors.” This is great way of working with clients and it can only make better, more integrated work that elevates the client’s brand and message.
While a vendor does their job and then shoots out an invoice, a partner gets inside their client’s head, always there to guide the messaging as it evolves and changes. If you’re serious about the creative field, there’s really no reason you wouldn’t naturally become a partner with your client. Your enthusiasm, determination and creative vision should come through to your client and when they see it, they’ll have no choice but to jump on it.

iPods – is everything relative?

Listen, I love my iPod, and I understand that the Cool Factor throws off any logical product price breakdowns, but does anyone ever stop to think about things for second?
I’ve been meaning to put together a chart (ala Edward Tufte) comparing all the current digital music players and their prices relative to their features.