Surprise and delight your users. Give them chocolate chip cookies.

On Saturday, Lauren and I caught a flight from San Francisco to New York City’s JFK airport.  Tomorrow is the last investor demo day for Umba Box as part of the 500 Startups summer program.

Our flight was at 3pm and got us into JFK at 11pm.  If you haven’t flown into JFK before, it’s actually pretty far away from Manhattan.  It took us 30-45mins to get to our hotel by taxi.   Once we got to our hotel, I was tired and a little cranky.

We were finishing up checking-in for the room and the guy behind the desk said “And to start off your stay on the right foot,  here’s a warm chocolate chip cookie.”  I then noticed that he had a warmer-thingy behind the check-in counter filled with cookies.  SCORE!

The cookie caught me off guard.  It made me smile and feel a little less tired & cranky.  It made me feel good about the hotel we are staying and it did start my trip off on the right foot.  🙂

It got me thinking more generally about the web & technology space.  We need to do more to surprise & delight our users.  We may not be able to give them chocolate chip cookies but there are other things we can do.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos is the class example that everyone likes to bring up.  He gave people free overnight shipping, even when they didn’t pay for it.

What are other examples where folks have gone above & beyond and it’s absolutely enamored you with their business?

The tyranny of too many beer choices

Last Saturday, Lauren and I were having beer & pizza tonight.  Had ordered a pizza and wanted to pick up some beer on the way to picking up the pizza.  Stopped at speciality beverage store BevMo.

If you haven’t been to BevMo, it’s the size of a small grocery store filled with wine, beer, and liquor of all shapes and sizes. If you’re a craft beer fan like myself, this is a great place to find breweries that you’re not going to find at your typical grocery store.

But here in lies the problem.  There are too many beers.  It’s hard to decide what you want.  I can easily sit for 15 minutes going through the aisles being totally frozen in indecision as I try to decide on region of the world, lager vs ale,  light vs dark, cheap vs reasonable vs expensive, and hoppy vs not.

You see similar overwhelmed faces when you patronize my favorite beer bars like DC’s ChurchKey & Bier Baron.  You see the 50+ taps with delight.  It all changes when the waitress hands you the binder of a beer menu.   You just page through all the options and wonder where you should start first.

I almost want these beer mecca’s to have their own iPhone app, where they knew what I liked and made recommendations.   If it’s at a restaurant, the beer app could take into consideration what I’ve already drank that evening or what aspect of the meal that I’m in.   A very bitter beer could nuke my palette and spoil my ability to taste a meet.  So I should probably steer clear till the dessert course.

We see this phenomenon not just in beer but in a lot of things.  For example in online, we’ve given everyone the ability to publish whatever they want online.  To look at my wife’s company Umba Box, sites like Etsy have given everyone the ability to publish their store to sell their handmade goods.   It’s awesome BUT… this means there’s a lot of crap being sold online and there are just TOO many choices.   We need someone like Lauren & Umba Box who can come in and make recommendations for the best handmade products to buy.

If you’re angel investor, keeping track of all the new startups that pop up on a daily basis is darn need impossible.  There are just too many out there.   Sites like Angel List help curate and let you track the best of what’s out there.

Foursquare’s another one that helps you tackled a crowded world.  They use the check-in data from their users to help figure out where are the hidden gems of restaurants, cafes, pubs, and bistros for you to patronize.  When you’re traveling its an amazing way to figure out the cool places to eat & drink.

Pinterest is the ultimate in helping you discover what’s out there.  The entire premise of the application is around users making lists/pin boards of the things that people love.   And… it’s taken off.

We live in a crowded world.   There’s lots of room for innovation around helping us navigate it.

Make products people love.

I’m totally fascinated by the relationship that people have with products & companies.   It’s easy to make a product that fills a need.  You find it, you use it, it’s helpful, and that’s awesome.  Thing is that this relationship only creates a user and doesn’t create an advocate or evangelist.

If you wanna create a product that people love, you have to solve a higher level issue.  You have to fulfill an emotional need.    Everyone’s favorite example is Apple.  Buying an iPad or Mac Book Air gives you the feeling of empowerment.   You’re creative in a way that wasn’t before possible.

It’s been a lot of fun to watch the evolution of my wife’s company, Umba Box.  She’s created a great way of connecting artisans and their products with people that want to buy them.  But… it’s more than that.

Umba Box has been wildly successful because it delights its users.   The women who subscribe love getting a surprise in the mail every month.   My wife Lauren is kind of like My Space’s Tom.  She’s every Umba Box subscribers friend that sends you package just for you in the mail.     This relationship is what keeps retention high.

To stay with subscription commerce for a minute, I’d hate to be the guys at Dollar Shave Club.  They created a GENIUS video.   I’m sure it sold a lot of razor subscriptions.   But when the buzz wears off, all the subscribers are just getting is razors in a box shipped to them every month.  It’d be just as easy to get this from or anyone else.  There’s no added delight.   Yes, Dollar Shave Club is great and it fills a need but that’s it.   People can easily go somewhere else.

What are the products that you use, love, and can’t live without?

PS: If you wanna read a great book about topic, I’d HIGHLY recommend PEAK.

Uber makes everything better.

Everyone’s favorite private town car service Uber has announced that on Friday, in addition to summoning black sedans from your mobile phone, you’ll be able to summon ice cream to your location if you’re in one of their major markets.

I think what we’re seeing is that Uber is SO much more than a town car service.  It’s a logistics efficiency platform.  Uber’s able to plug into any real world market that has supply & demand to better… more efficiently match their supply with the existing demand that’s happening in real-time.  Users declare their intent to purchase and Uber’s able to match that user with someone who can fulfill that need & do it quickly, in order to give the best user experience.

We’ve seen this play out with their sedan/suv/towncar service.   When Lauren  and I were in Austin,  they made pedicabs & bbq available on demand.   And… now it’s ice cream.  What’s next?

Uber’s ability to leverage big data to help increase the efficiency of the logistics within markets within any market is the reason why they’re going to be a big f’n business.

I see Uber as being super competitive with something like TaskRabbit.

I don’t need more than a web browser.

TechCrunch & CrunchFund Founder Michael Arrington wrote on his blog that he had just gotten a new computer and that Google Chrome was the main if not only software that he really needed.  Everything he had to do, whether it was listening to music or writing, was all done via a Web browser.

I can relate.  All I ever really use is the Web browser.  I could totally see myself just using a Chromebook.  Lauren actually got one of the CR-48 prototypes and I was using that for a while.   It was great… good enough.

Not so long ago, it was all about the computer and the software it could run.  Now while I still prefer Apple computers, it really doesn’t matter.  My only question is… can it get online?  When I open Chrome with a number of tabs, will it still operate quickly.

Oh what a different time we’re living in.

Feed the community. Build excitement.

I have to admit.  I’m SUPER excited for the new Batman movie, Dark Knight Rises, that comes out in a few weeks.   I think Christopher Nolan is one of this era’s most masterful filmmakers and I’m excited to see how he handles this final chapter in his chunk of the Batman franchise that he’s been given to steward.

I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes though.  When you’re dealing with a franchise like Batman, you have this amazing audience/community that you’re accountable to.  Screwing up isn’t an option.

With the Batman fan community, the best way to sell movie tickets is to feed the beast.  You have to give the community something that’ll give them a taste of what to expect.   The excitement’s not going to be as high if they don’t hear anything from you for the 2 years between when the different movies get released.

And Warner Bro’s did exactly this.  To build up excitement for the movie that’s coming out in a couple of weeks, they just released a 13 minute feature showing clips and behind the scene of Dark Knight Rises.   (The clip is embeded below.)  Like every other fan, I took 13 minutes of my day and was totally enthralled in watching the feature.

This is SUPER applicable to anyone that’s trying to build up a community.  In order to get that relationship between you and your audience, you have to communicate with them.   You have to tell them what to expect.  You have to tell them what to get excited about and you have to do it on a pretty regular basis.  In Warner Bro’s case, they  release teaser trailers, trailers, posters, behind the scenes features, etc.

Granted when you communicate like this, it does 2 things in addition to getting people excited…

It sets expectations.  If you say that you’re going to make the best Batman movie ever.  You have to actually do it.

Secondly, it gives people something to talk about, for better or for worse.  People are going to talk about what you put out there.  You have to be ready to take the feedback, respond, and do something with it.  Otherwise, the community can backfire on you quickly.

So… feed your community.  Communicate with them and do it on a regular basis.  Watch the excitement grow.

And here’s what I know you really want.  It’s the 13 minute feature on Dark Knight Rises…

My champagne philosophy


My good friend Zvi Band recently wrote a blog post about how hard it can be to stay motivated as an entrepreneur.  One thing he recommended was celebrating every win.  I totally agree!  Every new user that’s willing to give you their credit card number is something worth celebrating.

His post made me think of my champagne philosophy.  When I was at university at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), I took a couple of wine classes.  I was just excited to drink wine during the middle of the day but walked away with a deep appreciation and love for the art of wine.

One thing our professor Lorraine advocated was drinking more champagne (really it’s just sparkling wine unless the wine’s from Champagne, France).  For the most part, people only drink champagne for major holidays, especially New Year’s Eve.   This makes no sense.  Champagne is DELICIOUS. Why are you relegating it to be only drank once or twice a year?

Lorraine recommended that we drank champagne more often and every time we drank it to celebrate something.  Life is hard and is always going to present us with challenges.  Yet, we’re are all so incredibly blessed.   It’s good to regularly take sometime to be thankful and celebrate something that’s going on in your life.  Drink some champagne.  This is a philosophy that Lauren and I have adopted.

So… go get some bubbly and celebrate your blessings!

A bootstrapped story

If you read technology/startup blog TechCrunch like I do, everyday there’s another story of some company that has/hasn’t launched their startup yet and they’ve raised millions of dollars and that’s very exciting.

Today, TechCrunch reported that programming code repository GitHub raised $100M dollars from top VC firm Andreessen Horowitz.  Great, right? Absolutely.

What makes this story amazing is that this $100M investment is their FIRST infusion of VC money ever.  They’ve been able to get the company to where it is now with no external capital before now.  That’s amazing.

Congrats to GitHub!

Pro tip: Get the best reception with the least noisy medium…

NY Times tech writer Nick Bilton wrote a great post about how we all get far too much email.   The overwhelming volume of email that people receive make email sometimes the worst way of getting ahold of someone.

So here’s my tip: I’ve found that by identifying the channel/medium that someone communicates on that has the least amount of noise and using that to message them can often bring the best results.    For example, with a lot of my friends, I can get ahold of them almost immediately through a DM on Twitter or a message on Facebook, where it could take days to hear back via email.

What tips have worked well for you to get ahold of someone?

The psychology of someone browsing at a craft show

So for the last two days, I’ve been helping Lauren with her Umba Box booth at the Urban Craft Uprising craft show in Seattle.   It’s been great.  Have gotten to tell the Umba Box story to a lot of people and helped garner that much more excitement for what Lauren is doing, which is AWESOME!

I’m completely fascinated by people.  It’s been a lot of fun to watch people walk by the booth, try to figure out what’s going on their head, so I can figure out how to get them over to talk to me about Umba Box. Craft shows are different from just general expos or trade shows too.  The goal at a craft show is you actually wanna move product.

I developed a theory about folks that come to craft shows and how they browse.  There are people who walk at 1 feet, 3 feet, and 6-10 feet from the booth.

The 6-10 feet people aren’t really interested.  They come to the show to feel all handmade but they’re not interested in buying a product.  There are always exceptions to this.  Interestingly lots of men/husbands/boy friends hover at the 6-10 feet mark.  Umba Box is an especially great gift for the lady in your life so I’ve been successful with pulling the guys who are hovering at 6 to 10 feet and getting them to make a purchase or at least take a card.

With the 3 feet people, they’re interested in what your selling and want to buy but they need to be invited over.  It’s funny because most handmade vendors just sit behind their booths and don’t actually talk to their customers.   I would step out from behind the table, invite them over and talk to them.  Was able to reel them in from 3 feet to 1 foot so they would start to play with the products and listen to my schtick about Umba Box.

The people at 1 feet are the best.  They’re the ones that go booth to booth and are really interested in what everyone’s doing.  These are the people you can have a conversation with.  These are also the people who have 3 or 4 bags in their hands because they’ve been buying and buying and buying.