Archive for May, 2014

Delivering Customizations to the Masses

May 28, 2014


As we emerge into the Age of Personalization, the leaders will be those who can cost-effectively deliver customized products and services to the door of discerning users, leveraging technology to collect and analyze data, and to optimize the distribution of same. Below are some winning strategies from tech companies to up-starts raising the bar for them.

Aggregating Delivery of Off-the-Shelf Products: Congratulations to Amazon and Google for finding the opportunity in aggregating off-the-shelf products, delivered to the door. Challenges are that the recipients must buy things off-the-shelf (must be standard sizes and offerings, customizations need not apply), that they must be in urban areas (there’s no way to deliver it cheaply to rural areas), and that there’s a service fee (in the case of Amazon Prime Fresh, it’s a $299 annual fee, which includes free same-day and early morning delivery on grocery orders over $35 as well as free two-day delivery on select items, the free Kindle e-book lending library, and unlimited video streaming through its FireTV solution – look out NetFlix, and in the case of Google, it’s free for 6 months, paid by merchants who sign up, and then annual fee is TBD, but for now, staples are emphasized, not produce and dairy which require special care).

  1. Can a start-up like SnapDeal, the largest ecommerce marketplace in India compete against the 800-pound gorillas and survive beyond what WebVan and Kosmo did when the opportunity was at its infancy? It will be difficult without the fulfillment centers of Amazon, the retailer relationships of Google, and the brand of both, both perhaps they can stay specialize in delivering to an established, high-population geography, and poise themselves for a buy-out by larger entities, perhaps they will remain dominate in that geographic area, or perhaps they will expand to other high-population, tech-philic, non-US regions quickly, or a combination of the above.

Connecting Buyers and Sellers: eBay is a prime example of an organization which built a market and industry around connecting buyers and sellers online, paying local couriers to deliver a wide range of products to areas throughout the US and the world, customized to the needs of the buyer, while also creating a process for validating both buyers and sellers. Other new options are emerging, also connecting buyers to sellers, for the purchase or products or services.

  1. eBid has local sites in over 20 countries including USA, Australia, New Zealand the UK, Canada and Ireland and sellers are reporting that customer service and ease of use are great. Listing auctions on eBid is free, sellers just pay for listing upgrades and success fees. ArtFire is where buyers go to find vintage, antique or handmade items. Selling items on ArtFire is free, but you can upgrade to a paid account for US $9.95 per month and you will receive greater options for customization, promotional tools, more exposure and faster service.
  2. Craigslist is the world’s largest online classified website and allows people to sell locally (mostly in US metro areas) if you are willing to organize pickups. There are no listing fees or selling fees, but there is less automation of the selling process. And Angieslist gives buyers a list of vetted recommended service providers for a wide range of needs.
  3. Lyft connects people who need rides to people who can provide rides.

Package Pick-ups and Deliveries: Amazon Prime did raise the bar for shipping companies including USPS, UPS and FedEx, and each are competing to get packages delivered to the door within 2 days. But what could we do to make it easier for sellers to efficiently package and send custom packages to the door of customers, and/or if we could aggregate packages received by customers into conveniently located shared mailboxes, would more people be buying and selling online? Here are two start-ups addressing this problem and opportunity.

  1. Shyp picks up your items, packs and sends them anywhere in the world, using the lowest cost, most reliable option. Unfortunately, it’s only being offered in SF, for now.
  2. MyDoorman gives you a secure address for package delivery, sign for your package, alert you when the package(s) have arrived, and then arranges for after-hours delivery of your online purchases for $7 a delivery (not for package). Unfortunately, it too is only being offered in SF, for now.

One-Time Customizations, Applied to Many: High-end men’s clothing stores like Men’s Wearhouse set the expectation that clothes will be high quality, tailored to fit, and relatively easy to care for, but not necessarily cheaply. Emerging start-ups are extending this concept to the internet marketplace where customers demand quality, fit and style, taking the time to meet in person the first time, to get measured and fit and identify preferences, and then automating orders from there.

  1. Trumaker delivers men’s casual and dress shirts and takes the time to meet you in person, measure you for fit, and understand your preferences for sleeve length, collar, material, cuffs, and costs. After the fitting, order online, for a cost similar to in-store prices.

Preference Identification: Amazon again set the standard with its online store, predicting other books or songs you might like because you’ve purchased something in the past. Grocery stores and just about everybody else is very much into that now, rewarding you for being a customer, and conveniently offering discounts for other products or services which may be of interest, given what you’ve shared about yourself through your past purchases.

  1. StitchFix is doing this online now, allowing you to set your profile online, receive 5 hand-picked items based on your identified tastes, and allowing for easy returns. The more you order and keep or exchange, the more they will understand what you like in terms of style, size, materials, patterns, etc., And they won’t just send you the same items, they would also send you styles and options that would stretch your range and help you create a fashion identity. Note that items are priced around $65 each.

Platforms for Creating and Sharing Customized Content, to your device: Applause to NetFlix for efficiently moving from moving from DVD to online content, making it easy to queue up your preferred shows and download them online, and now even creating customized content for your binge-viewing pleasure. Today there are platforms that allow users to upload their own custom content – from text to videos to pictures – to public and/or targeted audiences.

  1. Photo and video editing sites ArcSoft and YouTube and photo and video storing and sharing sites like SmugMug and Vimeo and Flickr allow users to upload and share custom content of interest to personal, social and general networks.
  2. Platforms like WordPress and PBWiki facilitates the creation and distribution of original content like blogs and wikis while curation platforms like let users gather theme-based content and social media platforms like FaceBook and LinkedIn and Twitter allow users to follow content creators. But the next generation of innovation in content creation will be solutions like WattPad, which recently received $46 million in funding, with its 25 million people creating 150,000 stories a day, with live feedback from readers.! Any way you slice it, there are plenty of ways for content consumers to decide whom or what to follow, based on their personal interests.

What are your thoughts on delivering customized solutions to the masses efficiently? E-mail us at with your thoughts.


Building Trust

May 28, 2014


As a follow-up to last month’s post on underground motivations, let’s say that you’ve detected that the person you’re talking to isn’t quite comfortable communicating transparently with you. If you need to work with this person, or if you would just like to support this person in her/his growth, consider doing any combination of the following things:

  1. Determine *why* that other person might have reservations about communicating transparently with you. Below are some common reasons why she/he is not choosing to trust you and be transparent with you.
    1. It’s YOU: they heard from someone else that you may not be as trustworthy as you’d like to think.
    2. It’s THEM: they are not naturally trusting people and/or they’ve recently misplaced their trust.
    3. It’s the SITUATION: they are reacting to the instability of the circumstances for the individuals, group, company, industry.
  2. Once you know *why* someone is not easily trusting or communicating with you, and you’ve decided that you’re willing and able to fix it, decide whether you want to. It’s a commitment of time and energy to do so, don’t just fall into it and leave it half-way done, or you won’t be worth the trust someone else may have in you for next time.
  3. Next, have a discussion about whether the other person wants to work with you to figure out how to address the core underlying problem. And be OK with it if that other person decides that they don’t want to solve the problem, that you may not be the right person to solve the problem, that the timing isn’t right to fix the problem, etc. Just having you say that you know there’s a problem will help her/him acknowledge and accept that there’s a problem, and help them deal with it.
  4. Assuming that she/he would like your support in solving the problem, scope out all facets of the issue and all the stakeholders involved.
  5. Then strategize on how to fix the problem short term and long term.
  6. Whether or not you make progress in addressing the core issue, build a relationship based on trust with him/her.
  7. Make it OK to share transparently with you – be a safe sounding board and advocate.
  8. Remember that trust is a two-way street – act trustworthy, and call the other person on it if he or she is not doing the same.
  9. Try not to judge, but use your best judgment in helping him or her resolve any issues which strain your personal moral compass. Even go so far as to spell out your opinion and perspective and provide boundaries and even taboo topics if necessary, to ensure that you are true to your values, while also making it ‘safe’ for someone to share deeply with you.
  10. Building a relationship of trust means that you must accept the other person for who they are and be a neutral sounding board in as many areas as you can. Being honest with yourself about areas where you don’t feel comfortable doing so will help you succeed in this endeavor.

We hope that these thoughts and suggestions help you to create and grow relationships of trust with a wide network of people.

Business Analytics in Retail and eCommerce

May 12, 2014

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FountainBlue’s June 3, 2011 Business Analytics Event: Business Analytics in eCommerce and Retail and featured:
Facilitator Adrian Ott, CEO, Exponential Edge Inc. and Author, The 24-Hour Customer
Panelist Darren Bruntz, Senior Director, Analytics Platform & Delivery, eBay
Panelist Tobin Gilman, Vice President, BI and EPM Product Marketing, Oracle
Panelist Raj Sen, Group Manager, Multi-Channel Analytics, Adobe

Please join us in thanking our hosts at eBay for graciously hosting us at their facilities and for their ongoing support of FountainBlue. Below are notes from the conversation.
With the explosion of online, web, social, mobile and video, the sheer volume of data over the next four years will approach the total amount ever created in the history of the planet. As our panelists agree that understanding what customers are doing and personalizing experiences based on their behavior is a must-have, not a nice-to-have, the challenge for technology companies and retailers is how to take this volume of data and target, acquire, engage and measure customers in order to provide personalized systems which would lead to better customer experiences and loyalty.

We have rapidly moved from a period of relatively little data, most of it offline, with few big tech companies specializing in analytics and business decisions based on intuition to a period where the volumes of data overwhelm even the largest tech companies, large companies partner with other large companies to cost-effective provide personalized experiences for customers, and seamless presentation of dynamically generated information online, customized to the needs of the user, based on analytics.

The sophisticated business analytics of today’s large tech companies including data management, database technology, data integration, standard BI, end-user, predictive, financial performance management, hardware and software are all leveraged to serve the individual and personalized needs of the user. But there is a challenge of creating scalable, cost-effective solutions which serve a business purpose, and isn’t too high-maintenance from a technology perspective. Each of our panelists and their companies are looking for opportunities to innovate in business analytics space overall, in the retail and other sectors so that we build trust and do the right thing for the customer, saving them time and money, while respecting their privacy.

This challenge of getting-heard-through-the-noise has existed for decades, yet it is amplified now for several reasons, including the proliferation of products and brands, the number of channels where information can be presented to customers – from web site to mobile to brick and mortar, plus the integration of all, the relative ease of reaching to customers leveraging technology like e-mail and web sites, the formidable margin pressures put on management with the commiserate pressure to ensure advertising dollars reap rewards and other factors. There may be more information and data to process, but studies find that consumers are using the same amount of time to make purchasing decisions now as they have before.
This all leads to the impatience of customers and the escalating demand for instant evaluation metrics and vetted recommendations from trusted sources. Below is advice from our panelists for better serving that customer and providing value-added, dynamically-generated, data-driven personalized solutions for those customers:
• Be a trusted brand and resource to the customer. Leverage their behavior, history, profile, and other data so that it best serves them while respecting their privacy and adding value to them.
• Leverage social media so that the wisdom of the crowd can best decide the best sellers, the best buyers and the best products.
• Be a neutral body for both sellers and buyers and be clear on policies and procedures for buying and selling.
• From the vendor’s perspective, your business analytics program goal should be more customer loyalty, increased likelihood of up-sell and increased referrals. From the customer’s perspective, the goal might be more timely, more personalized recommendations based on patterns of use, survey of needs, and available product offerings.
• Address the needs of the customer with sophisticated, integrated technologies which appear seamless to the customer.
• Understand and segment your users and note patterns so that you can better serve and even anticipate the needs of the customer.
• Rather than striving to interpret the huge volumes of generated data, seek larger patterns of behaviors and create use cases which would make recommendations on what’s important to the user, without looking at *all* the data to justify that recommendation. Extend the concept further into use case families to better understand customer segments, product feedback, buying trends, etc.
• Collaborate with key vendors to create generic application for future use, keeping solutions simple for customers, retailers and vendor alike.
• Buy or build technologies that would serve your customer, but if possible, don’t create another technology stack which needs to be upgraded and managed.
Below are some ideas and suggestions for entrepreneurs innovating in this space:
• Find the integration between mobile devices and cameras and how it can integrate with more traditional retail experience in brick and mortar stores as well as in ecommerce solutions.
• Leverage social media to more efficiently provided customized, personalized, vetted feedback to niche customers.
• Make it easy for retailers who are not necessarily technophilic to learn and adopt business analytics practices which would serve both their customers and their businesses.
• Leverage personalized online visualization so customers experience the product visually and in 3D in a way that drives customer purchasing decisions without too much extra technology overhead.
• Create a solution which would generate results faster, more accurately, more efficiently.
• Consumers are hungry for the score – how do you create a vetted, five-star instant-gradafication system cost-effectively to them?
• Go beyond tables and bar charts and produce 3D reports like waterfalls or scatter-plots so that retailers can better manage their merchandise online, on-site, in the warehouse, and elsewhere. These reports
• Create solutions which address the intersection of data on behavior, customers, transactions and products and translate it into actionable correlations.
• The pro-privacy movement led by some consumers will make it more difficult for retailers and vendors to understand behaviors of consumers. But this is also an opportunity.

The bottom line is that data is a double-edge sword: it holds the secret to better understanding and serving the customer, but the sheer volume of data makes it a challenge to integrate and protect/secure it while identifying the kernels of wisdom and information which would spell out patterns and better anticipate and deliver actionable personalized solutions for retailers, vendors and customers alike. The market will continue to evolve as retailers open up to analytics, consumers keep raising the bar on what’s immediate and what’s personalized, vendors collaborate to dynamically deliver more sophisticated, integrated technology solutions, and entrepreneurs continue to innovate.

• Wall St. Journal May 18, 2011 Article on Check Out the Future of Shopping covers mobile shopping gadgets
• Our facilitator Adrian Ott , CEO of Exponential Edge Inc. and NAWBO’s Silicon Valley’s Enterprising Woman of the Year 2011 is also the author of The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved,
Always-Connected Economy The 24-Hour Customer, named a Best Business Book 2010 by Library Journal and Small Business Trends, provides a framework that helps businesses turn customer time and attention scarcity into a competitive advantage. The book demonstrates how to make your products and services more addictive through the use of key buying triggers and techniques that redirect customer attention and traction in your favor. To purchase your copy online, visit

Standing on the Shoulders of Mentors

May 12, 2014

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FountainBlue’s May 9 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Standing on the Shoulders of Mentors. Below are notes from the conversation. Our mentors represented a range of tech companies, with leaders from many backgrounds and roles, all with experience at many different levels within and outside tech organizations and start-ups and consultancies. They have worked with a range of mentees and mentors and generously shared their wisdom and advice. Know what you want

  • A mentor is different than a coach, who focuses more on mostly your business goals. It’s different than an executive sponsor, who may have the influence and authority to help you advance in your career, open doors and navigate the politics. It’s different than a boss, who focuses more on your job performance and goals. A mentor goes beyond that and is generally a longer term (beyond a task/project), more inclusive (beyond work) relationship.
  • A mentor stretches your perspective and horizons – first listening deeply to you, and then offering information and perspectives that stretch your comfort zone and the range of possibilities for you, in work and in life.

Follow a process for selecting and working with a mentor

  • Know what you want to do and why before you reach out to identify a mentor.
  • Be worthy of mentoring – show intelligence, trustworthiness, integrity, competence, promise.
  • Consider the task you need help you, the time you need for support, and the scope of support you need before reaching out to identify a mentor.
  • Select a mentor/mentee you respect who is competent and trustworthy. The relationship will be longer term and will cover work as well as life issues, so you want someone competent and trustworthy on both sides of the mentoring table.
  • Mentees need to take ownership and drive the process and relationship, embracing opportunities to learn and grow, especially when it’s uncomfortable.
  • Be organized, on top of things, punctual, respectful of the mentor’s time and advice and connections.

Make the relationship rewarding for both sides

  • Everyone’s time is valuable – make the mentoring experience a positive, thought-provoking experience for both sides.
  • A mentoring session is not a gripe session. Find others for that type of support.
  • Embrace the opportunity to learn and grow in areas you want to focus on, but also take advantage of serendipitous opportunities to learn and stretch.
  • Celebrate your relationship, your progress.

The bottom line is that mentoring is a two-way street. Make sure that both parties benefit and grow from the relationship and interactions.

Please join us in thanking our speakers for  FountainBlue’s May 9 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, on the topic of Standing on the Shoulders of Mentors, and to our gracious hosts at Aruba. Facilitator Pat Obuchowski, MBA, CPCC, PCC, CEO, inVisionaria Panelist Marta Beckwith, Vice President of Legal, Aruba Networks Panelist Karen Borden, Senior Director of HR, Lam Research Panelist Laura Danckwerth, Director of Social Engineering, Stub Hub, President of eBay Women In Technology Panelist Martha Galley, Vice President,, Advisor, ASTIA