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World Unfurled… An entrepreneur travels the world. » Business

Registerfly in the ointment

May 8, 2007

Piss on registerflyMore than one loyal reader has asked me, “What the hell happened to the site?”

Register Fly happened! Register Fly was the Registrar I used to register my domain. There is a whole big scandal about the Register Fly exec who was alleged to have spent registration fees on hookers and a $6000 dog, but I cared more about the domains I had (and lost) with them. Their list of woes is long, but in short-I paid to renew names, but they didn’t renew them, I tried to transfer names, but they made it impossible. Such was the fate of worldunfurled.com. I could not transfer the site, I could not renew the site, the site expired and served up crappy ads. Of course no one at Register Fly answers support requests or even picks up the phone.

When my site went down, in desperation, I hired some guy I found on a message board. I knew nothing about him, but I happily gave him my Register Fly account and paid him nearly $250. He transferred 16 domains that I had been unable to get from Register Fly, and after a week managed to save this site, which had expired! It was ridiculous to have to pay to get my own domains back, but I was glad to do it. I had spent weeks and had only been able to transfer 60% of my domains.

I am still stuck over $350 more dollars of useless “Register Fly credit” that I can neither get back nor buy anything with. I still have one domain in process, but I am almost done with the bums.

Here is more information on Register Fly and the class action suit.

Table side gambling… Your bill is free!

March 24, 2006

Since July of last year wireless gambling has been legal in Vegas, but here in South Africa I stumbled across a more subtle and insidious version.

Soyan and I had a coffee and a light breakfast at Caffe Magnifico. When I got the bill, the folder was adorned with an ad both inside and out. It read:

BEFORE YOU PAY
Check if this is a free bill.

I like free, but as I well know there is always a catch… I read on:

Sms the code “12396″ to the number 36706 and receive your SMS reply

It went on to say:

FREE BILL?
Call your waitron now!
Show your winning sms!
Your bill is paid!

R5 [about a 85 cents US] per SMS
Terms and conditions apply
Maximimum value of Free Bill is R500 [About $85 USD]
FBSA may contact you with information via SMS

Powered by itouch

Now wait a minute, for a bet of about a buck, I could get a “free bill”. Even at the maximum bill size I had better win at least 1 in 100 times to break even. Given the size of my actual bill I better win more like one in 10 times. Oh yeah, and by the way I have to agree to get “information” via SMS. I wonder what kind of information, ads perhaps?

While this doesn’t seem like a good deal for the consumer, it is an interesting little business idea. I have to admit I was almost taken in. I asked the waitress if anybody ever wins. She said she had not seen anybody win a free bill, but she had seen people get a prize / coupon for free coffee.

This is an interesting little business if you can get the cell phone companies to bill for you, avoid being classified as gambling, and find resturants to play along. I went to the Free Bill web site to investigate.

They bill it as a “zero cost revenue-generating product for restaurants and retailers. FREE BILL is a staff motivational product, business development, marketing, free advertising and publicity tool. FREE BILL is a fun time concept and a database accumulator for restaurants and retailers AND a FREE loyalty program introduced to restaurants and retailers.”

I wonder what the restaurant’s cut is? I like the loyalty program bit. It sounds like it could mesh well with something like Mobile Lime, a US based service that “turns the cell phone you’re carrying right now into a quick and easy way to pay at stores, restaurants and more.” Mobile Lime is really a customer loyalty tool masquerading as a cell phone payment system. Of course, if you can get people to sign up by offering them a “free bill” that could be interesting too.

Ostrich Riding and Ranching!

March 17, 2006

Jonathan on an ostrichIn Oudtshoorn we went to visit “Safari”, an ostrich ranch and show farm. Well, I say it is an ostrich ranch because they say they are an ostrich ranch, but a quick discussion with the tour guide reveals that they are as much a tourist destination as a ranch. Why not? If I could double my business by giving tours, I’d add a ticket counter next to the water cooler too.

Soyan riding an ostrich.They raise about 3500 ostriches a year that sell for around $300 each. They also get 4-5 giant tour buses of visitors a day at $7.50 a head for the tour, plus a gift shop and restaurant. Quick math reveals that it is a toss up which business is bigger, the ranch or the tour of the ranch.

It makes sense, because they run a good tour. I learned such vital information as, ostriches will eat anything: rocks, tools, glass, shoes and sometimes even foodstuffs! This is because and that they have no teeth and they need rocks (or whatever else they find) in their stomachs to digest the food they eat. Other factoids included important information like: an ostrich egg is as big as 24 chicken eggs.

Ostrich RacingI also got to meet their oldest pair of ostriches (Jack the Ripper and Susie the Stripper), stand on ostrich eggs to prove that they won’t break, and sit on on an ostrich. If you weigh less that 65 kilos (143 lbs) they even let you take a brief ride. The tour finishes with a pair of jockeys racing ostriches.

It was silly, it was touristy, it was so worth it!

See more photos of the ostrichs.

Flickr lights my fire.

December 20, 2005

DearFlickr,

I W+ant


to
pay

M+oarmoney

I love flickr! It is a great service. I use it to upload and archive my photos on my trip around the world. I use it to share them with my friends. I use it to learn about photography. I have have sponsored other users.

The problem is that 2 gigs a month is not enough for me. It is not enough for three reasons: I take lots of photos. I take high resolution photos. Some months I can´t get a good connection and the photos back up so I have to upload them the next month.

I wrote to flickr and explained my problem and asked to pay more. A very helpful flickr rep told me that I could not buy more upload capacity, but he reset my account for me so I could upload more that month. It was very much appreciated. The problem is that this was a one time deal.

I have purchased a second flickr account in the mean time, but this is really inconvenient. Now I have to remember in which account I put a particular photo. I have to tell friends to look in two places. People who discover me through flickr will only find half of my photos. etc. etc. etc.

I understand that people who use the full monthly allocation of bandwidth are the exception. They cost more than the average user. If they want double the bandwidth they should pay more than double. That is fair! I am hereby offering to pay flickr $75/year (triple the normal price) for double the upload capacity. Or even better I´ll pay $100 (quadruple the price) for triple the normal upload capacity.

Hopefully Jeremy Zawodny will see this and somebody at flickr will take notice (and my money).

All photos used in the rebus above are flickr photos licensed under the creative commons license.

Thank you to:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/eckenheimer/ for the dear photo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/phasmous/ for the eye photo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/ for the letter W photo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/bip/ for the plus sign photo (times two) and the letter W photo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kclama/ for the ant photo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/ for the two photo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kb-a/ for the pay photo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/evesdropping/ for the letter M photo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/seawallrunner/ for the oar photo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/thrift5/ for the money photo.

I’d like to buy the world a Coke. (How many will I need?)

December 12, 2005


ODT, the online map seller, has an intersting new map showing countries in based on population size. Canada and Australia get very small. All of Asia gets very large. Japan is espcially strinking epecially when you see it dwarf Australia.

Chech Mate(s)

December 1, 2005

You never know who you’ll meet on the road. I spent three weeks travelling with Barbara, a Brazilian woman, and Ronald, her Slovak boyfriend. In Bariloche, Ronald met Pavel and Petr, two Chech guys with an environmental clean up company in Prague. They were on vacation in Argentina and preparing to head down route 40 on their BMW motorcycles. We all met up for some drinks and to make a night of it.

There was drinking involved, and not all of the details are completely clear, but some of the evenings highlights included:

  • Watching Petr consume a seemingly endless series of flaming B-52 shots while wearing a hat with fake dreadlocks.
  • Everyone taking their turn arm wrestling Pavel.
  • Watching them pick up the waitress. That is, literally pick her up and hold her 4 feet off the ground for a photo.
  • Our accidental foray in to a techno bar where the average age could hardly have topped 18 and a half.

Suffice it to say when they invited us to look them up in Prague, I instantly said I would.


Everything is for Sail

November 6, 2005

Manuel windsurfing in RodeoOctober 20th — For 10 years Manuel lived in San Juan, Argentina selling insurance. Four years ago he decided that that wasn’t the life for him. He sold all of his accounts and closed his office. He was a windsurfer, and while San Juan was just 199 kilometers from some of the best windsurfing in the world, it was 199 kilometers too far.

Manuel moved to Rodeo, a mountain town of less than 2000 people. It was a town without a movie theater, a bank, or even a single taxi. It did, however, have something special. In 1998 the government built a dam to generate hydroelectric power and improve irrigation from the Andean snow melt. Unfortunately, the hydroelectric project has been a failure. The dam does ensure a reliable supply of water to the city of Jachal 44 kilometers to the east, but it hasn’t been as useful for irrigation as had been anticipated.

What the dam did do beautifully was create a lake 5800 feet above sea level, right in the middle of some of the most reliable winds in the world. Along the southern shore is Playa Lamaral, the best beach on the lake. While it lacks the sand of coastal beaches it more than makes up for it with spectacular views of the snow capped Andes that feed the lake and the ridged brown foothills to the northeast.

Playa Lamaral is the spot that Manuel had scoped out as the best beach in his endless visits to the dique, both during construction of the dam and in the years immediately after. The beach was just a few hundred kilometers down the road from the enormous farmhouse that Manuel leased and turned into the Hostel, Rancho Lamaral. He knew this was going to be a special area, and he had the forethought to get some of the best real estate. The area is known as Cuesta Del Viento.

Manuel caters to a mix of windsurfers, fans and travellers on a budget looking for something different, and he does so really well. Soyan and I spent 4 terrific days here learning to windsurf in the relative calm of the mornings and watching the expert windsurfers put on a show when the big winds came out, late each afternoon. We also met a pair of travellers from Buenos Aires taking a break from camping and enjoying the laidback lifestyle at Rancho Lamaral. It is hard to camp when you can sleep in a bed with clean sheets, take a hot shower, watch a movie from the large video library and get breakfast included for just $15.00 pesos ($5.00 USD) a night.

Beyond windsurfing there is horseback riding, rafting and caves to explore, but having been away from work for a while now I chose to spend my time differently. I spent a few hours in a strategy session with Manuel where he and I designed some windsurfing packages. Then I set to work on a Spanish language and an English language a flyer for Rancho and Playa Lamaral. I also put him in touch with another entrepreneur who runs a nice hostal in Mendoza. You can take the entreprenuer out of the business, but not the business out of the entrepreneur.

If you like to windsurf or you are just looking for something different, now you really can windsurf in the Andes.

Here are some photos:

Windsurfers showing off.
Gaston and Mauro
Manuel the owner of Lamaral
Jonathan learning to windsurf

Mystery Shopping: Secret Agent Man

October 11, 2005

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Fly to a fine hotel. Stay for a couple of nights. Eat at all the resturants and have a drink at the bar. Be sure to lay by the pool and visit the gym. Finally, stop by the casino and do some gambling. We will pick you up at the airport and pay for everything.

Sounds great so far.

Then answer 2,118 multiple choice questions and prepare detailed narratives of everything you have done, carefully noting and commenting on any deviation from the exhaustive standards of an international corporation committed to consistant worldwide excellence. Be sure to include the name, height, age and hair color of each and every bellhop, housekeeper, server, bartender, dealer, cashier, pool attendent, shop keeper, valet, driver and concierge you come into contact with. Note their greeting and whether they smiled. Did they thank you and ask you to come back again? In the resturant were you offered a beverage (other than water) within 2 minutes of being seated? In the casino, did they announce and wait for approval on every bill change of $100? Were dirty towels by the pool stored out of sight of guests? Do all the faucets in all the bathrooms work? Are there at least 10 hangers of which 5 are skirt hangers and are there additional satin hangers in your closet? Were the lights dimmed and music left on after turndown service? Is the sign for the ice machine clearly visible and clean? Was your request for a wake up call answered within 3 rings? Was the call itself delivered with in 3 minutes of the requested time?

Now you are beginning to get the idea of what it means to be a mystery shopper.

I have spent the last few days at the Park Hyatt, in Mendoza, Argentina as a guest of the management, but not even my hosts knew I was there. I am pleased to report that even though it was a long weekend, one of the busiest leisure weekends on record according to the Buenos Aires Herald, and the hotel was completely full every night, it was a wonderful place to be. Like any large organization with scores of employees, not everybody was perfect and not every service was flawless, but in general it was excellent. That is hardly a surprise from an organization committed enough to hire a company to send people around the world monthly to visit and evaluate their hotels.

Businesses large and small talk about a commitment to customer service. The very best organizations actually mean it! From small independent restaurants to large multinational chains they hire companies to “shop them”. Mystery shopping companies, like Service Sleuth, have an army of detailed-oriented note takers willing to go under cover and tell companies how they are really doing.

My assignment was admittedly a plum! You´ll generally have to start at the bottom, driving to a furniture store in the sticks on a Sunday to report on how they are doing. If you prove yourself as careful, punctual and reliable you´ll soon find yourself getting paid a few bucks (and more importantly having your expenses covered) while you go to the movies or out to eat.

As a business owner, I believe that if you can´t measure, you can´t manage. Mystery shopping is the tool that lets businesses measure. As an individual, I love the idea of getting something for nothing, but each and every time I do a shop, I am struck by how much work it is. Soyan and I have together spent atleast 40 hours completing the detailed evaluation forms, and that doesn´t even take into account all the time doing the actual evaluations, but if you´d like to take a shot at being a mystery shopper visit Shurlock and click on new shopper signup.

Jonathan Lieberman’s Guide to Guerrilla Garage Sale Selling

October 4, 2005

Yard Sale signI wrote most of this before I left Boston 6 weeks ago. I had intended to write more, but time has gotten away from me and now I feel I must just get it out the door. Please forgive the time warp.

Last week I had a garage sale to sell pretty much everything that was in my apartment. I have several observations on the garage sale experience, so here I present, “Jonathan Lieberman’s Guide to Guerrilla Garage Sale Selling”, with apologies to Jay Conrad Levinson, author of “Guerrilla Trade Show Selling”, which was without a doubt, the single highest yield investment I have ever made.

So before we begin, I need to ask…

WHY ARE YOU HAVING A GARAGE SALE?
I assume there are two basic reasons, which while not mutually exclusive, are less compatible than you might imagine. You either want to get rid of stuff, or you want to make money.

If you want to get rid of stuff with minimal effort. Run an ad in the largest major newspaper (call by Tuesday for the best weekend rate). When someone makes a low ball offer (as the people from the newspaper certainly will) haggle for appearance sake (you might get an extra 20% or so, but generally not much more). Then take what they offer you. These people are professional garage sale shoppers. They tear through mounds of junk and offer you a quarter a piece for things, or they will build their pile high, offer you $5.00 for the whole mound and be gone in a flash, with or without the stuff. After all they have 11 more sales to get to before noon.

If you want to make money. Skip the ad in the paper unless you either have a lot of furniture (because the regulars bring trucks) or you have a thick skin and are a TOUGH negotiator. If you have trouble hanging up on telephone calls at dinner… in fact unless you interrupt them with in 8 seconds and say “No Thanks” or “Please remove from me the list” and then hang up almost without waiting for a response, skip the newspaper. You are no match for these people, and they are mean.

Mean you say? I mean, how mean can they be? REALLY MEAN! That’s how mean. Have I mentioned they are mean? About the nicest thing they will say in response to your price quote is: “You must not go to yard sales much.” Usually it is something more along the lines of “Are you crazy?” or “NO WAY! Paper backs are always a quarter at yard sales.” Another popular line is, “You’ll never sell anything!”. Some like to say they’ll come back at the end of the day, when you have come to your senses. Nope! They’ll never be back. And while you will trim your prices slightly as the day draws on, it will only be slightly. In the 20% range on big stuff, a few bucks on medium stuff and a buck or so on the small things.

Please forgive a brief aside on why the Garage Sale regulars are so mean. In discussing the garage sale my friend Jeff he was dubious that so many people were so mean. After all, his mother goes to these sales all the time. When my wife confirmed that we had at least 25 such mean people, he tried to blame me suggesting that I had some how violated the social moires of garage sale culture by trying to sell things at 60-80% off new Target® prices rather than the 99-99.5% discount that garage sale regulars feel they are entitled to. It seems to me that the meanness is really the result of simple game theory. This is a single round game for all participants. The shoppers need not worry about offending me with their bullying and fear promoting tactics because they’ll never buy from me again. Of course, likewise I don’t care about upsetting them with very reasonable prices (that seem high to them) because I am not looking to build repeat clientele.

Perhaps you are thinking I am crazy now too. Perhaps you are thinking that “anything I don’t sell is lost money.” While that is true, equally true, and less often understood is anything you sell too cheap is lost money. How cheap is too cheap? It depends, but we’ll get to that in a minute. If you decide to skip an ad in the paper or even if you run one, you’ll want to get some additional (better) customers to your sale.

Who do you want at your sale? You want 2 types of people, neither of whom go to yard sales very often. Number 1, you want people who are coming to by a specific item or items. Number 2, you want people who are just walking or driving by and “saw the sign”. Let’s talk about each of these groups individually.

People coming for specific items. Before your yard sale you should put lots of individual items up on craigslist.com If you have some how been living under a rock and don’t know what Craig’s list is it is an online classified system that with a few narrow exceptions (job postings in some cities) is completely free and ad free. It is great, really great. It is local for every city and people generally pick things up rather than shipping, which makes it much better for big stuff than Ebay.

To begin your marketing take photos of furniture and larger ticket items like air conditioners, rugs, speakers, a TV, the radar detector you never use, etc. Create an account on craigslist, you don’t need one to post ads, but having one makes it easy to keep track of your ads and edit them (which is very important).Now, post ads to Craig’s list for each of the individual items you took photos of above. Craig’s list has free photo hosting for the photos in your ad. If you use their photo hosting instead of your own the ad will indicate that it includes a photo. If you don’t mind getting phone calls, butting your phone number in the ad will increase responses and speed up the process of completing a sale.

You’ll get a good idea about popularity in 24 hours. Expect 60% of you response in the first 24 hours, 15% in the next 24 hours, and then 5% a day for the next 5 days til your ad expires. Once you posted several items (one ad per item) you’ll want to create an ad for the garage sale itself an link to each of the items that you have posted for sale. Additionally you’ll want to update each of those items to mention and link to the sale. This will help you to presell some items. if people want to pick them up at the sale insist that they send a deposit via paypal or that they pick it up in advance. If they can’t do either have them come as early as possible, or explain that because you have been stood up in the past, you can not hold an item until without a deposit, but let them know they can call and check if it is still available on the day of the sale.

These people are good customers, because they are coming to buy. They already know your price and are psychologically (if not fiscally) committed to buying. They’ll bring the appropriate vehicle and labor to get their stuff. They may pick up some other goodies while they are at it. This brings us to another great set of customers.

People who saw the sign. There should be a lot of these people if you have done your signs well. What we are looking for here is neighbors, passersby and people that are NOT looking for a garage sale. People who see a clean, new looking, but slightly dated food processor with manual for sale and are delighted to learn that it is $7.00.

People who shop at target you’d see your items as bargains, but nothing costs a quarter at my yard sale, and if that is the offer you’d make, you aren’t the kind of people I am looking for.

To get lots of people from the signs you’ll need… Lots of signs. But, even more importantly, you need large, high contrast signs that can be read from a car at 25 MPH. If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see that after my wife made the sign for our front lawn, I went back and added lots of ink to YARD SALE and 9AM. The letters need to be 1/2 - 1 inch thick to be readable from a car. As few words as possible are ideal. In addition to the words “Yard Sale” which has less letters than “Garage Sale” the date and an arrow are useful. Include the address only if you think it is more helpful than an arrow. Ideally people should be able to follow a series of signs to the sale. Hang the signs at busy intersections and at a nearby supermarket (and the appropriate cross streets to guide them all the way) and you should have lots of people. I know it is easier to print signs on your computer, but they just don’t work.

THE CUSTOMERS

I had indented to write a bit about the various customer types here but I have run out of energy for more than a quick descriptions.

  • Lowballer - Will offer a to pay you 50 cents to a two dollar bill. If he has some haggler in him he’ll come up to a $1.00.
  • Haggler - She enjoys the negotiation and will never expect your initial offer, no matter how reasonable. If you say a box of books is a nickle, she’ll offer 4 cents.
  • Add On - After you have a deal she’ll always try and get you to include one more thing for free.
  • Shy Guy (actually usually a gal) - She is usually quiet and will ask how much something is and then either pay with out question or simply leave. Very much a take it or leave it type. Seems almost afraid of the process.
  • Empty Pockets - This is a variant of the haggler who will plead poor in trying to negotiate a lower price. My preferred type will actually turn his pockets inside out to demonstrate that he has already offered every cent he has.
  • The tortoise- The tortoise will stay for a long time working on you to buy a specific item. Time is of no value to this person, he usually has an interest in only a single specific thing.
  • Drive by shooters - These are usually newspaper people that come by very early and honk leaning out the window to ask if “You got anything old?”

Good luck and may your garage sales all be successful.

World Unfurled Scoops WSJ

September 13, 2005

On August 23 I wrote about Coinstar and Amazon gift cards. No doubt following my lead, the Wall Street Journal has picked up the story. One interesting note from the article, it seems Amazon that sees this as a way to reach people with out credit cards. Not only can you feed the machine coins, you can feed it paper bills. Take that paypal!

If you haven’t seen it in your city yet it should arrive soon. I looked at the Coin Star machine at a Kroger’s in Houston on Sunday and the option was not yet present.

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