Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A writer's persistence

Dale Carnegie's book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is a great read and surprisingly filled with stories about persistence. Here's one I enjoyed.

"In the early nineteenth century, a young man in London aspired to be a writer. But everything seemed to be against him. He had never been able to attend school more than four years. His father had been flung in jail because he couldn’t pay his debts, and this young man often knew the pangs of hunger. Finally, he got a job pasting labels on bottles of blacking in a rat-infested warehouse, and he slept at night in a dismal attic room with two other boys - guttersnipes from the slums of London. He had so little confidence in his ability to write that he sneaked out and mailed his first manuscript in the dead of night so nobody would laugh at him. Story after story was refused. Finally the great day came when one was accepted. True, he wasn’t paid a shilling for it, but one editor had praised him. One editor had given him recognition. He was so thrilled that he wandered aimlessly around the streets with tears rolling down his cheeks.

The praise, the recognition, that he received through getting one story in print, changed his whole life, for if it hadn’t been for that encouragement, he might have spent his entire life working in rat-infested factories. You may have heard of that boy."

I'm not sure I know anyone who has failed at what they wanted to accomplish if they just kept persisting. But I know plenty who have given up after a try or two. And sometimes unfortunately it's going to take 34 or more tries.

Monday, December 28, 2009

You Care Too Much What Other People Think

Saw a clip on Better Off Ted that's a good reminder that sometimes it really doesn't matter what other people think of an idea you have.

The best feedback is the time when a customer pulls out their wallet and pays for whatever your idea is.

That's why the goal should be getting something in the hands of your potential customers with a price tag on it very quickly.

There's a lot of great examples of listening to your intuition instead of just relying on what customers tell you is a good idea from people like Steve Jobs and Henry Ford. Here's one I saw recently in Barbarians to Bureaucrats by Lawrence M. Miller. He writes about how McDonalds started out their drive ins with car hops bringing food to their customers. These drive ins were doing extremely well, but then they decided to throw that away and make it even better. Dick McDonald one of the original founders said,  "the carhops were slow. We'd say to ourselves that there had to be a faster way. The cars were jamming up the lot. Customers weren't demanding it, but our intuition told us that they would like speed."

They made a keen observation of how their world could be better and they went with it instead of relying on everyone else around them to reinforce their ego. This decision of theirs increased their sales by 40% and obviously was part of history in revolutionizing fast food.

We're big believers obviosuly in asking your customers and your employees for their thoughts and predictions on all sorts of things. But often as an innovator, it's your job to listen for the root cause behind feedback you get rather than react to it literally.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More about the public marketplace "regulars"

Earlier today we sent a little note of thanks to our all-time most "prolific" users in our public marketplace. Essentially these are our regulars; our you come in to the bar and we know your name crowd. To formalize this list of regulars, we pulled the top 100 most active traders and the top 100 most active market creators, removed duplicates, and sent a heartfelt note of thanks for their participation this year and in years past.

But as far as this blog post goes, that's the boring part. We then spent a few minutes looking at some characteristics about this group and thought there were a few interesting nuggets to share:

  • 38% of the most active traders are also the most active market creators;

  • The public marketplace has a hardcore following that has been around awhile. All of the most active traders joined before 2009, and only 4 of the most active market creators joined during 2009;

  • 80 of the 100 most active traders have created at least one market of their own;

  • The trader with the highest balance has also created the most markets;

  • Most of the most active traders are still active. 86 of the 100 made at least 1 trade this year;

  • The most number of trades anyone has made as of today is 28,791. They have created 16 markets; and

  • The most active traders know that getting in to a market early can be an advantage. Only 6 of the 100 have shut their email alerts off.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Whistle Blowers Unite

One of the leading stories in the Chicago Tribune today is about a survey the City of Chicago conducted of city workers about their workplace environment. From the article:

Chicago city workers are less likely to report job-related misconduct than their counterparts elsewhere, largely because they don’t believe the problem will be fixed and they fear retaliation from bosses, a new survey by Mayor Richard Daley's hiring compliance office reveals.

The snapshot into City Hall work culture found that Chicago employees report only one out of every two instances of misconduct that they witness. Workers for other local governments, however, were more likely to disclose on-the-job wrongdoing, reporting two out of every three instances of misconduct.

We've been talking about Inkling as an effective tool in any risk manager's arsenal for awhile now. With Inkling, risk managers understand a) the probability of a risk factor occurring, b) the reasoning behind why people feel this way, and c) an understanding of who is good at forecasting certain types of risk.

An effective risk management program depends on awareness, prioritization, and the ability to effectively carry out the right mitigation strategy. Understanding what is really going on on the ground is a lynchpin. Government and corporate employees alike need a safe harbor to reveal information without the fear of retribution, otherwise any risk management strategy will fail. A prediction market can play that role.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Your Suggested Markets

Today we released a new feature that suggests markets we think you should be participating in based on your historical trading behavior.

The list of questions appears on people's dashboards once they've logged in. We've been using this internally for the past few weeks and have tweaked the algorithm several times to improve relevancy. Based on our own increased trading activity we think others will find this lucrative as well. We've also provided a feedback mechanism for each recommendation, so if you don't like it, you can just click the "refresh" icon and a new recommendation will appear.

Hosted by imgur.com

In the coming days as we continue to get feedback, I'm sure we'll tweak the algorithm further and we'll be adding the recommendations in more places. There may even come a day soon when the homepage of the marketplace is driven much more by your own activity and what has been determined to be relevant to you vs. only what the marketplace administrator thinks is important.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't let 34 rejection notices stop you

Fannie Hurst epitomizes persistence.

"In 1909, following graduation, Hurst secured a job in a shoe factory. Once in New York City, she worked as a restaurant server, salesperson, and actor. In her spare time, she combed the city and Ellis Island picking up local color. Hurst, this prolific and determined writer, received thirty-four letters of rejection from the Saturday Evening Post before publishing “Power and Horse Power” in 1912. After breaking that barrier, success came swiftly, and Hurst never again knew a dry spell."

I'm definitely a fan of working hard and working smart. But when I define working hard as a business owner, it's about persistence and determination. It's not about sacrificing health and family that so many find so easy to do.

Monday, December 07, 2009

New Feature for Admins: Add possible answers to users' profile questions

You've been able to ask your users questions that they answer when registering or editing their profile. Now you can give them a set of possible answers that they can choose for those answers. This will make getting their answers even easier and also make sure the data you capture from them is uniform across everyone. To add or edit the possible answers to your questions, just go to "Configure Marketplace" and find the Profile Questions section. You can ask new questions and give them answers, or use the "add" link to add answers to questions you've already posted.

Screen shot 2009-12-07 at 10.03.29 AM

On the profile edit and registration pages, these answers will show up as a drop down box.

Screen shot 2009-12-07 at 10.03.53 AM

Here's a video of it in action:

Thursday, December 03, 2009

How Mad Mimi created a $75,000 a month business in a couple years

Mad Mimi is making $75,000 a month in just about 2 years. They did it with focus on a small niche, twitter replies, and obsessive customer service.

Mad Mimi is a web service to send out marketing emails to an email list. Email marketing. Not rocket surgery. Actually such a routine business that the competition in this market is pretty established and there's a lot of it.

I can rattle off at least 5 or 6 from memory that do things like this: MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Aweber, iContact, Constant Contact, Vertical Response, Emma, on and on. Just look up email marketing in Google and be overwhelmed.

Huh, so you have to be nuts to want to enter this right?

A couple nights ago I attended a talk given by Dave Hoover of Obtiva about how he helped Mad Mimi get started. Dave's talk was recorded and hopefully will be up on Chicago Ruby soon, so I'll just mention a few things that really stood out.

Mad Mimi actually tried to get started in 2005. Apparently it failed in its first attempt. Not sure about the details. But it sounds like whoever was trying to build version 0.1 couldn't get it off the ground. But Gary Levitt the owner and founder of Mad Mimi sounds like a man with a vision and crazy persistence.

You've got dozens and dozens of competitors. And your first attempt at starting your new business failed. Give up?

Instead he contacted Dave with Obtiva to give Mad Mimi a second try. That effort seems to have paid off. Here's a few takeaways from Dave's talk that stood out.

1) Focus on one type of customer. Gary is a musician and wanted to focus on helping musicians. Mimi even stands for Music Interface something something :) As Mimi started, it was completely targeted at helping Gary's musician friends send out great emails to their fans.

Just like an example out of Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm's "Bowling Alley" theory, Mimi's success with musicians was like a bowling ball hitting the first pin. After that, it started to hit a lot more pins. The success has spread to clubs and spread to fans receiving those emails. And now many more non-musicians are on it. Seth Godin is a high profile marketing guy and he uses it for Squidoo.

2) Use twitter replies. They've won a lot of customers just paying attention on Twitter to people that need things. Someone having trouble with a competitor? There they are offering a nudge to check out Mimi.

3) Total dedication to customer support. An important feature for them was adding a "Chat to Support" button in Mimi that opens up a 37signal's Campfire chat. Customers love having someone to ask questions to in real time and only a click away.

Their customer support doesn't stop there. Here's one example of how crazy they are with paying attention to their customers' needs. The head of customer support (Gary's brother Dean) heard on Twitter that one of their customers was traveling to New York and was looking for a place to stay. Dean had that guy stay with him at his own place in New York. :)

Dave gave a great talk. I'll update this post if I see the video online. Obtiva and Mad Mimi seem to be a couple companies worth paying attention to.