Way back in the now distant 1980s, I wrote about the U.S. Army training tank crews using a video game simulation for Science Digest Magazine. The game saved expensive ammunition and let the crews make errors in a digital realm rather than on actual terrain where they could be costly.
Since then, the military embraced simulation training in many areas. Now, faced with Global economic downturns, armed forces reorganisation and allied troops withdrawals from Afghanistan, the training and simulation (T&S) market is being pushed to come up with more customized solutions.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan , Global Military Training and Simulation Market Assessment, finds total expenditures of $36.88 billion in 2012 and estimates this to increase to $46.09 billion by 2021.
The research covers end users (air, land and naval forces), military capabilities (platform-based training, system-based training and platform maintenance-based training), and training types (live training, virtual training, constructive training and live, virtual, constructive (LVC) training.)
Battlefield lessons learned
“In addition to military equipment modernisation driving the global T&S market, lessons have been learned from battlefields in the Balkans and the Middle East,” noted Frost & Sullivan Aerospace & Defence Research Analyst Alix Leboulanger .
“The key lesson has been that conventional training types are no longer fully adequate to prepare armed forces for military operations other than war.”
As a result, apart from live training, virtual and constructive training will also grow at very dynamic pace. The increasing trend of blending training types will be stimulated by developed countries looking for more realistic but affordable training solutions.
Fully immersive environments
End users are looking for training solutions providing fully immersive, seamless and realistic environments to solve the delicate equation of training costs, place and time issues. Military end-users globally will use more complex weapons systems, C4ISR capabilities and are also expected to conduct more joint operations in shorter turnaround times.
“Therefore, the T&S industry has to develop new training solutions based on the LVC type, by enhancing new technologies such as Augmented Reality, haptics and embedded systems integration to enable military end-users to train faster and more effectively within an increasingly interactive and networked centric environment,” remarked Leboulanger.
We’ve actually seen a number of these fully immersive simulation training systems at TechMedia events over the years. Some even provide tactile feedback as soldiers walk a simulated battlefield landscape. Others allow pilots to familiarize themselves with actual terrain and targets.
Before LVC training takes over and whilst live and virtual training remain highly expensive, a strong demand for constructive training is forecast during the next ten years.
This is also due to a growing number of constructive training solutions being made available under the commercial off the shelf (COTS) format, hence offering a cost-affordable training solution for both transitioning and cost-saving end-users economies. — Allan Maurer
Even though Peak 10, the Charlotte-based data center and managed services provider now has 350 employees, CEO David Jones says the company still tries to foster an entrepreneurial spirit.
“We don’t make all our decisions centrally,” says Jones.
Jones co-founded Peak 10 in March of 2000 and has led the company to a top market position as a leading independent data center, managed services, and cloud computing solutions provider in the United States, with facilities in Charlotte, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Tampa, South Florida, Raleigh, and Richmond.
Participating in the Southeast Venture Conference
Jones, who speaks often to entrepreneurial groups and is a past chair and still a director of the North Carolina Technology Association, is one of dozens of thought-leaders, venture capitalists, angel investors and entrepreneurs participating in the Southeast Venture Conference in Charlotte, NC, March 13-14.
“I think it’s going to be a great event for Charlotte,” Jones says. “It has an informative agenda, not the same old stuff you usually see at conferences. It’s going to bring a lot of faces into Charlotte who don’t normally spend time here.”
The Southeast Venture Conference is headed to Charlotte, NC, in March 2013. The event offers firms a chance to present to top national venture capitalists and angel investors.
Specifically, that includes speakers and panelists from national and regional venture capital firms and 50 innovative presenting companies from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Last we heard, there were only a handful of seats left for the event, so it’s a good idea to reserve yours now if you plan on attending.
Part of the Peak 10 entrepreneurial culture derives from its growing an average of about 25 percent a year and regularly opening new facilities to meet demand in the areas it serves.
Four pieces of advice for entrepreneurs
We asked Jones what advice he thinks is most important to starting a company.
First, he says, “Stay focused. We’ve all heard stories of companies that try to do too many things at once and don’t do any of them well.”
But even more important, he says, “Hire the best people you can. Don’t be complacent about that.” In the end, “That will make you successful or not.”
Get the right financial leadership
Next, he says, “Make sure you have the right financial leadership. A lot of startups fly by the seat of their pants. You need to know your operating costs. I’ve always tried to find the best financial officer I could. If nothing else, have a financial advisor who can help you strategize where you are and the things you’ll need.”
Doing that can prevent you from “Hitting a brick wall when you find you didn’t plan for what you need on the development side.”
Finally, he adds, “Make sure you have a plan that can get funded. Great ideas go nowhere unless you have a plan to get there. Keep it simple. The more complex you make it, the harder it will be to get to where you want to be.”
In general, Jones says, “We’re in challenging times, but there are still a lot of opportunities out there.”
While landing a round of venture financing can help drive a startup’s growth, the best venture firms bring more than money to the table when they make a deal.
Justin Reger, a principal at LLR Partners, a middle market private equity firm with more than $2 billion under management, says that the first step his firm takes following its investments – whether as a majority or minority investor – is set-up a strategic planning session.
Reger, who manages LLR’s technology practice and previously an investment banker with Citigroup focused on technology, about the added value investors provide their portfolio companies at the upcoming Southeast Venture Conference in Charlotte, NC, March 13-14.
First: strategic planning
“Soon after we close a deal,” says Reger, we hold a two-day offsite strategic planning session, first for one-year and then for three. We hire a moderator who knows the industry.”
LLR starts by sharing its due diligence findings with the company and its management team. “We put that on the table and build the strategic plan with the team. We don’t say what they could do. It’s more to create a framework. Then we build up operations and tactics to support the plan.”
LLR then revisits the plan with the company each year. Some have accomplished their goals, some have not. The plan is updated annually.
Second: augment management teams
Next, LLR looks at a company’s management team. “Often, teams are incomplete,” says Reger. “They may have a solid CEO, a CFO, and maybe a head of sales. They may not have a product or marketing manager. We don’t look to replace senior management, but rather to augment the bench from our network.”
That is often guided by the results found by an outside assessment firm hired during LLR’s due diligence process. “They identify key areas that need to be upgraded or augmented to drive value.”
Third: Getting to $100 Million
Next, LLR looks at the company’s finance function, where infrastructure is “typically lacking,” says Reger. “The typical company we invest in has a strong product in a well defined market, but has to breakthrough from $10 million to $15 million in revenue to $100 million.”
Fourth: M&A possibilities
Reger says LLR also sometimes “Serves as an outsource M&A arm for the company. We canvas the network of adjacent players and make calls, qualify opportunities, work with management to see if it’s a fit and help with integration.”
Many companies in which LLR invests also benefit from channel partner development, Reger notes. “There is an ecosystem of larger players, resellers, OEM sales channels and a portfolio company’s ultimate acquirer might be in that system. The IBMs, SAPs, and HPs of the world. We have pretty good contacts at those organizations.”
Brian Rich, managing director, co-founder, Catalyst Ventures.He’s participating in the Southeast Venture Conference in Charlotte, NC, March 13-14.
By Allan Maurer
What’s the best way to contact a potential investor in your startup company? Venture capitalists see so many business plans come through the door that the way you contact them is important, says Brian Rich, managing partner and co-founder of Catalyst Ventures.
Since the mid-1990s, New York-based Catalyst has invested in more than 50 portfolio companies and completed 100+ consolidating acquisitions. Prior to co-founding Catalyst, Rich founded and managed TD Capital, the entity that made Toronto Dominion Bank’s U.S.-based equity, mezzanine, and limited partnership investments from 1995 to 1999. As group head, he oversaw approximately 40 investments totaling more than $600 million.
Rich will join two-dozen other venture capitalists participating in the upcoming Southeast East Venture Conference March 13-14 at the Ritz Carlton in Charlotte, NC. The Seventh Annual SEVC includes presentations from more than 50 high growth technology companies from the region, and insights into fund-raising from industry experts, and many networking opportunities.
The best way to approach a venture capital firm, Rich says, “Is through a warm introduction. Email me referencing someone I know or trust. Things like LinkedIn make that easier. ‘Brian, I know so-and-so and he recommended that I write to you.’ That’s a warm introduction, and I’ll pay more attention to that.”
Before you approach any VC with a pitch, however, you should do your homework thoroughly, he adds. “We’re sort of like doctors in our business – very specialized,” he explains. “There are investors who are geographically focused, some who are stage (of fund raising) focused, and some industry focused.”
Those specializations break down even further to things such as early-stage healthcare, or social media and so on.
“You need to do your homework directly or through an intermediary because there is no point in talking to someone with no interest in what you do.”
Should you use an intermediary?
That brings up another question. Should you use an intermediary when fund-raising?
Bankers are not like consultants, he says. They don’t get paid for the time they spend on a deal, so they want bigger deals. If you’re only raising a million or two, Rich says, “I’d have to question whether or not you’re likely to be more successful with them or without them.”
If you do choose to go with an intermediary, however, Rich says you should make sure it’s with someone who has demonstrated that they raised money for other companies and can provide references. “Talk to four or five CEOs of companies they worked with,” he suggests, “and ask how they performed. Did they do what they said they would? Of the money raised, how much did they raise? Were you happy with the results?”
Once you make that decision, then decide on which VC you’ll approach – preferably with that warm introduction.
What sort of email should you send?
“Don’t send me a diatribe in email,” he warns. “I’m not going to read it. I get a hundred a day. Get to the point. This is my company, this is our size and scale, how much we intend to raise, the key merits of the deal and who you are. Keep it short enough to read in a minute or less.” Attach a one-page pdf with more details and if the deal interests the VC, it will get read.
It is essentially a written version of the elevator speech an entrepreneur should be able to deliver between floors.
Once you get into see a VC, “Don’t be too rigid in your presentation,” says Rich. “Allow the investor to ask questions. If you’re in the right place, he’ll have a good knowledge of the space you’re in. If the questions take you off track, you should be strong enough to pull the meeting back on track.”
If you don’t get funding and you come back to the same venture firm in a couple of years time, “Rest assured we will pull out your old set of projections. We save everything,” says Rich. “So be careful of what you say you’re going to do.”
If you’re lucky enough to interest a couple of investors, he says, “Don’t dilly-dally. Close with one of them. Go and get it done.”
Job hunters are turning to social media during their hunt for a position, says a report from the National Association of Colleges & Employers reveals the rise in social media in the job search.
According to the report, 26% of college seniors use social media to network during their job search. It’s probably not surprising that the resume is also going social, says Robert Half.
Below are three resume trends for 2013:
Twitter Resumes: Some job seekers choose to promote themselves in 140 characters or less. How much can you learn about someone that way?
A typical Twitter resume might go something like this: #twesume “Web designing wiz familiar with all the latest languages and platforms looking for a fast-paced firm. Learn more at www.janedoe.com.” There is usually a link to an online resume, blog or networking site.
Chris McCrea, Robert Half Technoloy regional VP, tells the TechJournal Twitter is being used quite a bit, but it can be challenging to speak about yourself in 140 characters.
QR Code Resumes: The square barcodes that have been showing up on ads everywhere are also making inroads in job hunting. Using these QR codes may be particularly attractive to IT professionals wanting to show employers they’re up on the latest trends. QR codes are often placed on resumes to link hiring managers to work samples.
Both QR Code and infographic resumes are “At the cutting edge of phase of new tech resumes, says McCrea. “I don’t think either will replace traditional resumes any time soon.”
Infographic Resumes: Companies like Vizulize.me and Re.vu are helping candidates create infographic resumes – documents that use illustrations, charts, graphs and other visuals to showcase skills, experience and professional accomplishments. This format can make it easy to see an individual’s qualifications at a glance, although, infographic resumes do not provide as much detail as a traditional resume.
An infographic resume can provide a quick glimse of a job-seeker’s background and personality, McCrea says, “But I don’t think the classic resume will become extinct. A lot of people are still looking for hard copies.”
McCrea notes that the IT job market continues to be robust, particularly in networking, database management, desktop support, mobile media, and cloud technologies.
Mobile app development “Is a very hot skill set,” he says. “It’s relatively new, so the number of people with experience is small. It’s a dogfight for employers to get the best of the best.”
Last week we ran a story that noted starting salaries for app developers exceed those for some entry-level doctor or lawyer positions.
Jack Krawczyk of StumbleUpon is one of the presenters at the upcoming Dallas Digital Summit.
When someone says “social network” you probably immediately think of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumbr, or Pinterest. But, says Jack Krawczyk, head of monetization at StubleUpon, “Email is the number one social network.”
Krawczyk says that’s backed up by research StumbleUpon did over the summer. “Our internal data shows that for every one share on a social network, we get two via email,” he says. “Email is an often overlooked and really intimate form of communications.”
Eyeglasses firm Wavy Parker, for instance, has a “super cool feature” that lets your webcam shoot a photo of you and then try a pair of eyeglasses on your face. “But the only sharing option is Facebook,” says Krawczyk. “When I first saw that my insecurity meter went off the charts. The only person I’d want to share it with is my wife via email to make sure I don’t l0ok like a goofball. That’s an area where email makes sense.”
The State Farm robot attack video was shared primarily via email.
A company that used email well, however, is State Farm Insurance, which ran a campaign with the idea that you never know when disaster might strike, letting users create a video in which a rampaging robot stomps their own house, then email it to friends. “They did a cool integration with Google maps. You typed in your address and they created this minute long experience of a robot walking through your neighborhood. That might not be something you want to share on Facebook,” he says, “because you don’t want everyone to know your address.”
But people did email the videos – including me. And Krawczyk is correct, it isn’t something I would necessarily want to post on other social media, but I emailed it to several friends.
It is a matter of broadcast vs. intimate sharing, he notes. “We looked at 13 different content veritcals, TV, websites and what people do, sharing to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or send it to friends via email.”
They found certain topics best attuned to broadcast sharing include humor, music, technology, things that are easy to digest and allow quick, short conversations on social media.
But when it comes to more personal verticals, financial services, shopping, travel, they’re topics people prefer to email about. Krawczyk says, for instance, when shopping, he emails his “staff consultant – my wife,” for advice.
Krawczyk tells us that StubleUpon relaunched its mobile apps for iPhone and iPad in September, introducing the concept of “The slide.”
“Before you would go from web page to web page,” he says. “Now you see preview panes that let’s you decide quickly if you want to see the page.”
That way you don’t have to wait for pages to load on a mobile device. Feedback suggests users like having more control and “We’ve seen significant growth on iOS devices,” he says. “Now we’ll apply it to Android devices.”
Mobile has been an “awesome story” for StumbleUpon, he adds. “We’ve gone from zero to 15 percent on mobile and by the end of this year will hit 30 percent.”
As Head of Product Monetization at StumbleUpon, Krawczyk is responsible for the product management of advertising and partnership solutions. Focused on Paid Discovery, StumbleUpon’s social media marketing platform, Krawczyk has been working closely with brands to understand how to better engage brand promise with consumers who are in the mindset of discovery.
Prior to joining StumbleUpon, Krawczck was at Google where he worked on the development of Google+, and previously industry marketing management of Fortune 500 advertising relationships in the media & entertainment, financial services, travel and local services sectors.
He’ll join dozens of other top digital thought-leaders at the sold-out Dallas Digital Summit, Dec. 4-6. You can still add your name to a waiting list in case some registered cancel, and that does happen.
It’s much easier to launch a startup company these days, but not nearly so easy to get venture or angel financing, says Joe Procopio.
New technologies such as cloud computing infrastructure, fairly easy to use website development and content management systems, and other advances make it a much simpler matter to get a company launched with very little capital.
But getting seed or venture funding these days is a different matter.
“It started with the Facebook hangover,” says Procopio. The number of financing deals and the dollars invested are down compared to last year. I think we’ll be seeing smaller deals with less game-changing technology behind them and a greater emphasis on revenues.”
In fact, he adds, “It’s not just about the idea any more. Financials are king. You really have to have customers and show good financials — or have a very clear path to them – to get funded these days.”
Get into the startup ecosystem
On the other hand, he says, “Often, getting funding is not the way to go.” Instead, he says, entrepreneurs should take advantage of the startup ecosystems popping up in many cities and regions.
Those include accelerators, incubators, competitions, universities, and crowd-sourced funding (such as Kickstarter).
For instance, he notes, via the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carolina Challenge, “Students are getting into entrepreneurship while completing a bachelor’s degree. They’re coming out of school starting their own companies and get cashflow positive very quickly. It’s a trend that will continue.”
While there will still be some “home-run hitters” among startups and some great ideas that get tons of funding, most startups are probably better off “Letting customers fund them,” he says.
Procopio, a serial entrepreneur familiar to TechJournal readers for his columns about the startup scene in the Research Triangle in NC, where he is a familiar face at conferences and networking events for entrepreneurs, will participate in the upcoming Startup Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-7.
Speakers from top brands
The Startup Summit is a new addition to the 2012 Internet Summit, which brings 120 thought-leaders to the Raleigh, NC, Convention Center Nov. 6-8, featuring speakers from AOL, Bing, Google, Klout, Mashable, comScore and many other top digital brands.
He’ll join speakers such as Angus Davis, founder and CEO at Swipely, Paul Singh, partner and “Master of the Hustle,” at 500 Startups, Sarah Lacy, founder and editor of Pando Daily, and venture capitalists from NextView Ventures, ABS Capital, True Ventures, Baltimore Angles and Nucleus Venture, Southern Capitol Ventures, Contender Capital, and North Bridge Venture Partners.
Among the other startup CEOs on the agenda is Procopio’s boss at Automated Insights, Robbie Allen, a former distinguished engineer at Cisco and author of ten books on a variety of technical topics.
Allen founded Automated Insights, which began by developing automated sports reporting, an idea that got a lot of press for its robot journalism angle. The firm landed a NC IDEA grant and raised a $4.3 million round of funding in October last year.
Procopio, who has been with the firm since 2010, says, “Our slogan is automate everything. “We joke that we want to automate our ping pong games,” he quips. Automated Insights has moved on from automated sports reporting – for which there is a limited market – to such things as recapping Fantasy Football games in a deal with Yahoo. Personally, here at the TechJournal, we think that is one clever idea.
Procopio, who also started and runs the ExitEventstartup network, has this advice for entrepreneurs:
First, “Chase sales and think customers first. Prove your idea before you seek money and consider whether you really need outside capital.”
Second, “Reach out to the startup ecosystem and get involved early. You’ll get so much return on very little investment connecting at educational events or just going out with other entrepreneurs for a beer. Later stage guys are open, helpful and willing to make connections for you.”
Ride the roller coaster
Finally: “Ride the roller coaster. If you’re having days with awesome highs followed by terrible lows, you’re doing it right.”
He sees a lot of entrepreneurs who go a month or two without gaining traction and get the 20th no, then quit.
But, he says, “That’s one of the best and worst things about being a startup. You’ll have days that are phenomenal and the next be crashing down and fighting fires. Doing that, you’re in the right place.”
On the other hand, he says, if you’re not having those highs and lows on the roller coaster, you may be growing complacent and “need to pivot.”
The easiest way to lose, he says, “Take your eye off the ball and get complacent.”
Facebook says that it now has a billion users globally who log in to the site at least once a month. In the last two years, the Facebook doubled its user base.
The company also named the top five countries where users log on (in alphabetical order), Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico and the U.S., where the company nabs most of its revenue. Here’s the New York Times report.
Weird Net News Department: the Like-a-Hug vest
Not getting enough hugs? Spend a lot of time on Facebook? Then perhaps this is for you, although we won’t be wearing one personally: the Like-a-hug vest.
The inventor, Melissa Chow, describes it this way on her site:
Like-A-Hug is a wearable social media vest that allows for hugs to be given via Facebook, bringing us closer despite physical distance. The vest inflates when friends ‘Like’ a photo, video, or status update on the wearer’s wall.”
The Atlantic Wire points out that “likes” are not really generally signs of affection and disparages the product.
Startups running leaner, creating fewer jobs
Not long ago we ran a report noting that startup job creation has dropped in recent years and continues to fall.
The Great Recession resulted in belt-tightening at many venture-backed and boot-strapped startups alike, and technologies such as cloud computing have made launch costs cheaper, but also mean fledgling firms don’t have to hire people to build infrastructure.
The Times says the trend is ominous, because new companies have been the job growth engine in America for decades.
The problem reflects one that has affected many industries: increased productivity due to technology and other factors means many jobs slashed in the recession probably aren’t coming back and not as many new ones need to be created.
Even in an area such as journalism, software robots now write sports stories and may eventually replace many entry-level positions that once filled many newsroom seats.
Do we really need more social networks? During a recent interview a social media expert for a large corporation told the TechJournal that “A new one pops up every week.”
Some weeks more than one new social network announces its arrival. This week has hardly more than begun an already we see three new ones touting their digital wares.
There is e-Deliberation, a Canadian firm based in Victoria, British Columbia, which headlined its press release, “Social Networking is Dead; Long Live e-Deliberation.”
Established in 2010 by Jean-Daniel Cusin, a serial entrepreneur, the company says “The mission of e‑Deliberation is to bring the Internet experience to the next step: enable people globally to mutually connect, deliberate and collaboratively resolve issues that concern them.”
One of the hallmarks of these startups is a statement of lofty goals.
Here’s Cusin on his vision for e-Deliberation, for instance:
“The events of the past few years have highlighted that when governance systems, be they geo-political or corporate, are controlled by a very few people at the top who are expected to master everything, it’s a disaster.”
But that isn’t all.
He adds, “The world is too complex for that. Too many knowledge domains, too many stakeholders, jurisdictions, potential impacts… If we are to advance as a civilization, we need to leverage the Internet to solve big problems by assembling the right minds and helping them get the job done. That is what we are doing with e-Deliberation.”
Investor research site
Also in today’s news: New York-based Dodilio, describes itself as “The first global network allowing investment professionals to generate, consume, and collaboratively develop customized research products and services on demand.”
It says Dodilio allows investors to quickly and efficiently access the specific information they need, on select social networks and forums that will help them satisfy their investment objectives, improving the quality of research received.
But wait, there’s more
Las Vegas, NV, and Palo Alto, CA-based AlertID has launched the AlertID Secure Social Network.
It’s purpose? “Individuals, families, communities, schools, co-workers, public safety officials and others concerned about the safety of communicating on social networks now have a safe and easy way to share important information quickly.”
AlertID says its network is secure because the company does not scan the content of members’ communication and postings to sell to advertisers or anyone else, nor does it sell information that would personally identify members to advertisers. AlertID’s proprietary platform also prevents search engines from scanning users’ information.
Available features include:
My Neighborhood: Securely share messages about suspicious persons, crime, missing pets and other neighborhood information, as well as pictures, videos and more with AlertID members in the vicinity of the member’s physical address as well as other areas to monitor such as work, child’s school, and parents’ home in another state, among others.
My Groups: Safely create private or public groups and invite friends, colleagues, customers and others, either one-by-one or by easily importing contact lists. Groups may or may not be location-based and can be created for schools, homeowner’s associations, public safety organizations, neighbors, families and more. The “group administrator” also has the ability to use the
AlertID Broadcast System™ (ABS), previously only available to law enforcement and public safety agencies, to send critical alerts via secure mobile notification and email to members of the group, including those for missing children, lost pets, suspicious persons and more.
Homeland Security Reporting: Easily report suspicious activity directly to the Department of Homeland Security as it happens either from mobile devices, Apple iPads or computers.
We can see how that might be useful in any number of circumstances. The question we have to ask about all these services is how much traction are they going to get? Is the need for them real? Are there enough interested people in these niches to create a going concern?
In fact, these three new social networks all seem to fill special niche needs – although we’re not so sure about e-Deliberation. Many others bring only a few different features to what is essentially a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest or Google Plus knockoff. Still three on one Tuesday in October suggests this bandwagon’s wheels are churning at full speed.
We saw a similar stampede to create variations of digital daily deals or electronic coupon sites and services for most of 2011.
One of the reasons three quarters of startups fail is that rather than bringing innovative thinking to meeting consumer, business or professional needs, they tweak existing ideas or create me-too companies that are not likely to go anywhere unless they land enough funding for marketing efforts and most won’t.
Imitation will never replace innovation.
As for marketers, Chris Brooks of Hilton Worldwide, who is giving a talk at the Digital East event going on today and tomorrow (Oct. 2-3) in Herdon, VA, noted that most work with limited budgets and time.
Telling a corporate story online and engaging consumers can be a challenge in the digital age, especially if your corporation is Hilton Worldwide and has to compete with individual Hilton hotels and…Paris Hilton, who has nothing to do with the brand.
Chris Brooks plans to tell the audience at Digital East in Herndon, VA, (which is going on Oct. Tuesday, Oct. 2 and Wednesday Oct. 3) how his efforts helped Hilton Worldwide differentiate its brand with a cohesive digital strategy.
Brooks, manager of social engagement at Hilton Worldwide, is actively building its online voice and digital footprint as well as driving the business integration of the organization’s corporate responsibility strategy including its strategic partnerships, employee volunteer program, corporate philanthropy and community engagement.
Things have changed a great deal since Conrad Hilton founded original company in 1919 with The Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas. “He first planned to buy a bank,” says Brooks, “but turned away when they raised the price, walked down the street with cash sewed into his suit, and bought a hotel.”
According to Wikipedia, “Hilton Worldwide (formerly, Hilton Hotels Corporation) is a global hospitality company. It is owned by the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm. As of August 2012 Hilton brands encompass 3,897 hotels with over 642,000 rooms in 91 countries. Hilton is ranked as the 38th largest private company in the United States by Forbes.“
Brooks, who calls the company “the oldest startup in the world,” says “It’s literally rebuilding from the ground up, but that makes my job fun.”
Refreshing its digital footprint meant redoing the web site, which was basically a four-page brochure and developing social media as a key component.
Be wise about the platforms you choose
For others working on corporate branding, he advises, “Be wise about which platforms you use to engage customers. New ones pop up every day, a lot die and others take off quickly. You’ll need a strategic plan for each.”
Hilton Worldwide uses five: LinkedIn, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
“We focus on those. They have the audience we’re trying to reach.”
Twitter is a great platform for the company’s chat series with thought-leaders and executives, but also carries conversations about guest assistance and real time matters.
YouTube and Flickr help it “Make sure our photos are getting out there and they are great SEO opportunities,” says Brooks.
The company integrates its social media into all its marketing materials such as press releases and its media center, and “makes use of all our social platforms to amplify our communications.”
What does success look like?
Then, “We measure. What does success look like?”
In the case of Hilton Worldwide, it was starting to own conversations about the company and build its digital footprint so that “It’s not just Paris Hilton and the other clutter that was out there before.”
That, Brooks says, “Requires a combination of persistence and understanding of the different platforms and their capabilities. You need to know what goes on behind how Google ranks content and where your links and meta data appear.”
It takes time and doesn’t happen overnight, Brooks adds.
“Be really strategic,” he suggests. “A page on Facebook or Google+ may or may not be where your brand needs to be. Some people have the idea they have to be on every network, but that’s not the case. The world I live in has limited resources and limited budgets.”
Smart Online’s Robert Hancock will discuss six best practices for building mobile apps at Digital East and the Internet Summit.
By Allan Maurer
Even large companies with tons of marketing experience and money can go wrong with mobile promotions if they don’t think them through. Burger King, for instance, wanted to get a mobile app out, so it created a game in which people create a burger with their choices of the many condiments it offers.
The company spent $35,000 creating the app and realized that people interacted with it less than five minutes then deleted it.
But that’s not the only thing wrong with it.
“It has a week business case,” says Robert Hancock, vice president of sales and marketing for SmartOnline, which reinvented itself about two years ago to focus on a mobile app development product.
What is the sticky factor?
Regarding the Burger King mobile game app, he says, “What is the sticky factor in that burger game? How does it increase sales?” A better idea, he suggests, might have been if the fast food firm created a brand app with store locations and used a game as a secondary element.
They could post photos of themselves eating the crazy burger they designed in a gallery and on their Facebook page with a Burger of the Month winner getting two free sandwiches. “That uses something real,” Hancock explains. Instead of just creating a photo of a burger, they become actual customers.
Hancock has over 15 years of experience building, developing, and managing marketing and sales organizations of technology companies including mobile based organizations. Prior to joining Smart Online Robert served as VP of Sales, and then Co-CEO of Prometheus Group, a leading provider of technology solutions for the SAP marketplace
Six best mobile app development practices
Hancock will discuss six best practices for developing a mobile strategy at the upcoming Digital East conference in Herndon, VA, Oct. 2-3. He’ll join thought-leaders from brands that include AOL, Mashable, Google, The Ladders, IBM, PBS, McAfee, comScore and the Travel Channel, among many others. The TechJournal interviewed a number of speakers participating in the event and you can find links to those stories here.
Hancock will also speak at The Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-8, which boasts an equally impressive lineup of top thought-leaders.
Burger King failed with its app in two ways. The idea was not particularly good and it didn’t have a clear return-on-investment strategy.
Of the top six mobile app development processes, the first should be identifying your target audience, Hancock says, echoing many other mobile experts we’ve interviewed.
“You want to reach prospects,” not everyone, he says. “Identify your audience in segments,” he suggests. “Focus and understand the needs of each one.”
Different strokes for different folks
One of the firms Smart Online works with is Southern States Farm Supply. For them, Smart Online defined two primary groups of customers and prospects. First, typical farmers and second, hobby farmers – people who have a chicken coop in the backyard.
“If you tried to build a mobile app for both row crop farmers and hobby farmers, it wouldn’t be effective for either,” he says. “If you build it for the guy who has a chicken coop in the back yars, the corporate farmer thinks that’s a joke. On the other hand, the hobby farmer won’t care when the next shipment of soy bean seeds come in – which is a big deal to the crop farmer who plans around it.”
So, says Hancock, “When you identify a target audience, access the individual needs of each audience. Ask, should I approach each with a separate mobile property? Most people try to do it too broadly. You need to microfocus.”
Don’t ignore ROI and ROE
After identifying your audiences, you should think about return on investment (ROI) and return on engagement (ROE) from the app. “Too many people skip or ignore that step,” Hancock warns.
“What are you hoping to gain? Sales? Expanding your business? A brand connection?”
Hancock notes that you also have to consider that most people use mobile phones for information snacking and don’t really use it as a business tool other than for calls. “When you’re really getting to them is when they’re sitting in a dentist’s office or waiting for their kids after school or sitting at a stop light. Those are the types of times and opportunities available.”
That means you need to give them information that means something to them that can be consumer in mobile snacking time and that they will share with others so it gets into social networking feeds.
Hyper target, microfocus
“You need to have all this in your head” as you develop a mobile app, he says. “You have to be hyper targeted and microfocused. Have an idea about a small thing, not a large thing. You need true sticky ideas that cause the app to stay on their phone.”
Smart Online recommends “Thinking about multiple apps with a limited lifecycle. It doesn’t need to be on a phone for years – but for two or three months when a situation if relevant to you.”
A beer maker, for instance, might want to skip doing a brand app and instead do one about summer stock pushing micro brews to people going to beer festivals and other summer events.
Then you might want another app out there for people who buy beer all year long.
Matt Peters speaking at the 2011 Internet Summit in Raleigh. He’ll discuss “The science of Facebook engagement at the 2012 Digital East conference in Herndon, VA, in October, at the Internet Summit in Raleigh in November, and at the Dallas Digital Summit in December.
Many social media marketers still post to Facebook and other social networks only during the workweek and East Coast working hours – which means they’re probably missing the best times to engage many users.
So says Matt Peters, co-founder and director of Pandemic Labs, a Boston-based firm that sells social media marketing and analytics services. Peters will present his “Science of Facebook engagement,” talk at three upcoming TechMedia events, Digital East in Herndon, VA, Oct. 2-3; The Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-8; and Dallas Digital Summit, Dec. 4-5.
Peters, a dynamic speaker, says his goal at conferences is to make sure that everyone who attends his sessions leaves with at least one way to improve Facebook engagement. “Everyone should be able to leave, go back to their company or agency, and make at least one change for the betterment of their engagement on Facebook,” he says.
Chances are, most may learn more than one way to boost their engagement on Facebook.
Peters says most marketers using Facebook now know that photo posts outperform other types by a significant margin, but they often still have lots to learn about the timing of posts.
Two changes that could boost your engagement numbers
In fact, he says, just two changes could increase monthly engagement numbers on Facebook for many marketers and companies.
First, he says, there is “the power of Saturday and Sunday.” While it’s no cosmic mystery as to why many social media community managers don’t work on weekends, those who schedule weekend posts “See massive engagement numbers,” says Peters.
Facebook use often actually increases during weekends. “People pull out a phone during football and check Facebook,” he says. He’ll talk more about the power of the weekend during his presentations.
A second trick is to avoid the “East Coast mentality.” That, he explains, “Is the tendency brands have to structure their postings based on the East Coast work day. So you don’t see a lot of posts going up at 11 p.m., midnight, or 1 a.m., but those are fantastic times to grab West Coast users.”
Just those two changes alone are likely to boost engagement numbers for many firms and marketers, Peters says.
Best work day to post?
Is there a work day that is best for posting?
“I used to be comfortable saying Friday, and if you cull through our database of half a million records, it will probably spit out Friday in terms of engagement, but I’m not comfortable saying that anymore.”
“We have noticed significant industry differences,” he explains. “In the retail space, for Macy’s, Penny’s, or TJ Max, Friday holds true. But in the world of hospitality and travel, it’s not so.”
Pandemic Labs, which Peters formed in 2007 with his partner Brennan White, is working a new product called Watchtower that is still in private beta testing. It will include much more sophisticated analytics.
Started in his parent’s basement
Peters, who originally planned to “Write novels and direct movies,” worked in the film and TV industry, primarily in the Southeast prior to forming Pandemic Labs. “It was a typical startup story,” he says. “We started in my parent’s basement and employed five people before we had a real office.”
The lean, boot-strapped firm now employs 14.
Its Watchtower product, which should move to public beta in several weeks, will offer companies and agencies packages of Facebook analytics. One package, for instance, will provide metrics on a firm’s own page and ten competitors and industry averages. It will retail for around $3,000 a month, although Peters emphasizes pricing is still under discussion.
Other, more complex packages will be custom designed and priced.
Everyone in marketing has heard the comment that “We know only half of our advertising works, we just don’t know which half” Boston-based DataXU thinks it can change that, fulfilling the promise of digital marketing.
“Our premise is that we’re now living in a digital world,” says DataXU CEO Mike Baker. He says that by 2020 95 percent of all media will be digital, “Even outdoor billboards and magazines, and the migration to digital is creating all this data. Everything we do on a digital device creates a data trail.”
Founded in 2009, DataXU (pronounced Data Zoo), ”Helps markerters and big brands such as Ford, General Mills and American Express manage their digital investments,” Baker tell us. “Using big data and analytics, we created a system that uses machine learning to understand which advertising is actually working and which is wasted.”
A fully-integrated digital marketing platform
The company’s flagship product is DX3, a fully-integrated digital marketing management platform for the enterprise sold as software as a service (SaaS).
In a single platform, DataXu delivers campaign management, audience management, attribution management, cross channel media buying, complex targeting, and advanced reporting.
DataXU, he says, “Measures everything: websites, mobile apps, sponsored videos. We tell our clients what’s working and what’s not to help them improve their return on investment.”
He says typical results increase the efficiency of a firms digital investments by 20 percent or more. “What that means,” he explains, “is that if you’re spending $100,000 for digital marketing, you see 20 percent more results in acquiring new customers.”
DataXU has been growing rapidly. It raised more than $35 million in venture backing, has 200 employees and 300 customers.
A digital marketing veteran and a rocket scientist
Baker himself is a veteran of the digital marketing field.
Before co-founding DataXu, he was vice president at Nokia, where he created and ran Nokia Interactive. Baker came to Nokia through its acquisition of mobile advertising leader Enpocket in 2007, where he was the founding investor and CEO.
He has also been executive vice president at Engage Technologies, an innovator in online advertising and behavioral targeting. An active angel investor in digital media, he is currently chairman of the board of Nexage, a mobile advertising solutions provider.
His co-founder and the chief technology officer at DataXU, Willard Simmons, is an actual rocket scientist. He developed and tested real-time flight software for guidance, navigation, and control of the Atlas family of space launch vehicles. He developed the company’s technology.
The technology is complex, but the value proposition is very simple, Baker notes.
“It really is rocket science. The idea of making systems go in real time – steering a rocket to its destination – is very useful in advertising,” Baker says. “You measure the data and make course corrections to automatically reach more customers for less money.”
Fees for the company’s product are based on usage. “The more someone derives value from the software, the more we get paid,” Baker says.
Trends: mobile, machines talking to machines
We asked him what trends he’s seeing now.
“A couple are interesting,” he says. “A lot more people are watching quick 5-minute videos on computers and mobile devices than before. And people are going ga-ga with games and social networking on mobile.”
Bigger trends tied to those, he adds, include big brands allocating more and more of their advertising investments in digital channels. “We saw it during the Olympics with all those digital tie-ins.”
Another is “The way ads are bought and sold. It used to be like the TV show “Mad Men.” People pitched big ideas. Went out for lunch and smoozed. Now it’s machines connected to machines, Google and Facebook. The machines, talking to each other, say, ‘Do you want to buy this ad spot for a consumer looking at news of a Hurricane?’ Or ‘How much will you pay me for this guy in Cleveland?’ From nothing three years ago, that will include of third of all transactions in digital media by 2016.”
Baker also points out that SaaS has changed the software business. “In the old days you would pay millions for a software license, another million for installation, and 20 percent a year to fix bugs. It would be 12 months before you find out if you any ROI from that.”
Now, he says, “You pay nothing up front. DataXU can deploy in two days. You can show ROI in a week and it’s even better after a month. You don’t have to wait long to see machine learning work.”
Ben Huh, CEO of The Cheezburger Network, will talk about the “Power of Humor” at the upcoming Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 7-8.
Do you use humor in your company marketing and communications? Or are you afraid people won’t get your sense of humor? Ben Huh, founder and CEO of the Cheezburger Network, says people are looking for a connection online and if you provide an authentic sense of humor, “People respond to that.”
Huh should know. His Cheezburger Network of 50 sites, gets 375 million page views a month. Those sites now inlcude The Daily What, Know Your Meme, and Memebase. But he started with the I Can Has Cheezburger, which features lolcats – photos of cats and other animals with funny captions.
I Can Has Cheezburger is one of the most popular sites online and gets up to 1.5 million hits a day and some sources say the Cheezburger Network is making $4 million a year.
Huh, born in Seoul, South Korea, earned a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and then founded an Internet analytics company which failed after 18 months. In 2007, he started a blog with his wife about living with a dog in Seattle, where he still resides.
A post about a company that had been involved in pet food recalls got linked to around the Internet. One of the links was from the I Can Has Cheezburger site and Huh befriended its two owners.
In 2007 he decided to buy the site and according to his Wikipedia entry, “He likes to joke that his investor pitch was “I would like to start a media company by buying a cat picture website. Can you give me $2.25 million?”
It has since raised $30 million in venture backing and now employs 90 people.
There’s good business in the humor business.
Huh will discuss “The Power of Humor” in a presentation at the upcoming Internet Summit at the Convention Center Raleigh, NC, November 7-8. Huh says that it’s likely he’ll show a few pictures of cats.
We asked Huh why cats – especially paired with funny captions – are so popular on the Internet. “We think cats are very much a natural canvas. Their emotional expressions mimic a lot of ours.”
Great way to connect
“A lot of people in companies are afraid to use humor in a campaign,” he says. “They don’t know if they can pull it off or if it will be offensive. They feel it’s a little dangerous.”
But he says, “It’s something people look for in the Internet age.” It’s also a great way to connect with employees, consumers, or partners.
There are certain topics off-limits in a business contex, he notes. Those include religion, politics, and specific hot-button issues of the moment.
“I think whatever style of humor you pick, you need to be able to poke fun at yourself,” Huh says. “The idea that your brand is unassailable doesn’t give users room to leave off steam if something goes wrong.”
That can make a brand seem fake, he adds. “Don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself, but never make fun of your users.”
From I Can Have Cheezburger.
He also points out that “You don’t have to have humor that goes viral to be successful. And practice helps.” He says his own humor is “impromptu and situational. I don’t tell jokes.”
At the Cheezburger Network, “We do use humor in communication with employees internally,” he says. “It catches and holds their attention. Not everyone wants to read long, boring company updates.”
Finding the right tone and approach in using humor isn’t necessarily a simple thing, he admits. “It’s very difficult when you need to listen to users and accept the ideas of others while keeping your vision.”
Advice for startups
Huh has some advice for startups. “You have to invest in the longterm,” he says. “You can’t ever take your eye off the ball for ten years. Even on the fast-moving Internet, ask ‘where will we be in five years?’ You have to ignore trends sometimes and ask, ‘How do we build a long-lasting business and do the right thing?’”
One lesson he’s learned from success, he says, is that adding more employees does not necessarily mean you’ll get more done.
“We went from 45 employees to 90 in six months in 2011. I thought, Wow, we’ve got so many people, we’ll get so much done. But getting stuff done is harder when you have more people. They’re complicated creatures. People often tell me my job is to herd the cats. They say it with a straight face.”
Most of us like to do good when we can, but many of us don’t have a lot of disposable cash to donate to worthy causes. Atlanta-based Socialvest makes giving not only easy – it doesn’t take the money out of your pocket.
Founded in 2010 and launched in the fall of 2011, Socialvest is a cause-based shopping platform that lets members earn money in a Giving Account that can be donated to any combination of more than 1.5 million registered non-profits in its database.
They do it using a browser app or the new iPhone app. Apps for other mobile devices will be available in the future.
Even little amounts are meaningful
“When someone makes their first purchase and sees money in their Giving Account, they get so excited, even if it’s only $3,” says Founder Adam Ross. “These little amounts you pick up along the way are meaningful.”
The money comes from the companies members buy from and doesn’t cost them anything extra. Amazon, for instance, gives the customer 4 percent back for his Giving Account.
Ross says that after a friend started a for-profit to help homeless women, he realized “You can build something that does good and makes money.”
He notes that “Everyone has something they care about. Socialvest makes it convenient for people to invest in social good.”
What do the brands get out of it?
An alternative to “disloyalty platforms”
“They get social promotion and loyalty,” Ross says. As opposed to say, Groupon, which he calls “a disloyalty program.” Offering the cheapest haircut or sushi deal is not the way to build loyalty, he says.
“We think that’s bad for retailers, particularly smaller ones.”
On the other hand, he says, data suggests people want to support causes they care about. “We have a platform that lets them do that.”
The company weaves its platform into social media so members can let their social networks know when they’ve made a contribution – which also gives the brand social exposure in a good light. “It’s true ambassadorship for brands,” Ross says.
SocialVest, meanwhile, gets “really interesting data,” he adds. “Big shops and boutiques all want to provide one-to-one conversations and personalized experiences. The data isn’t personally identifiable but its good aggregate data.”
Ross says the firm is also looking at how it can help brick and mortar retailers and expects to roll out a non-profit fund raising product at some point.
The five-person company raised a second round in May from Bluff Point Associates of Westport, Connecticut, bringing its total venture backing to $2.3 million.
The Socialvest team includes Allen Graber, who focuses on partnerships and operations. Graber most recently worked with ShopVisible and Ignition One in online and search marketing. Graber has invested in several early-stage companies and served on various boards, published a blog on Facebook commerce, and is co-owner of the Octane Pocket Bar.
Tom Wessling has 25 years in sales and marketing, including loyalty and interactive marketing.
Charles Campbell is a 10-year veteran software developer who worked with Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cisco, and other firms.
Marketing and brand strategist Julia Lavine led development, web strategy and the interactive marketing program, including search, email, mobile and social at the Atlanta Journal-Constitutuion.
The photo allegedly shows a Burger King employee at a northeast Ohio franchise stomping on sandwich lettuce.
By Allan Maurer
Hold the lettuce, please. A Burger King franchise put its foot in the food you put in your mouth recently if a photograph that surfaced on the Internet of an employee stomping on the sandwich lettuce is the real deal.
The picture was posted on the website 4chan.org, and GPS data embedded in the photo led to the restaurant.
The franchise fired three employees at the Northeast Ohio Burger King restaurant, but once something like that hits the Internet, the damage is often already done to a company’s reputation.
“I don’t know if they did anything wrong except hire people they shouldn’t have,” says Dave Carroll, founder and CEO of customer relationship resolution platform, Gripevine.com. He says they might also want to “Apologize, apologize, apologize and make people realize they understand a disgusting thing happened.”
Carroll got into the conflict resolution business after United Airlines damaged a $3,500 Taylor guitar on a flight he took from Halifax to Omaha several years ago.
United gets a lesson in what one voice can do via social media
“Baggage handlers were seen throwing the guitars around in Chicago,” Carroll says, and indeed, when he retrieved the instrument, it had $1,200 worth of damage. He contacted United, which told him he had to report it at the departing airport, not where he was. Later, the company told him he hadn’t reported the damage within 24 hours so the case was closed and he would not receive any compensation.
Carroll proceeded to show United that it is a bad idea to display poor customer relationship skills in the age of the Internet and social media. With donated help from his friends, he created the first of three videos,” United Breaks Guitars, which got a million hits in four days and landed on Time Magazine’s list of the Top Ten Most Viewed YouTube Videos of 2010. Google sent him congratulations on having one of the most viewed videos in the history of YouTube.
A business magazine later reported that the entertaining but scathing video resulted in a short term precipitous drop in United’s stock price (for a loss of $180 million in value) while Taylor Guitars had its best year ever, with sales up 25 percent for a discretionary item in a recession.
It even led to a small part in an Olympia Dukakis movie for Carroll’s grandmother, who briefly brandishes a cane in the video. “They called and I thought they wanted me, but then they said, can we talk to your grandmother,” Carroll says.
While the impact on United may not have been permanent, it certainly got their attention. The company contacted Carroll seven months later and offered him vouchers and $1,200 in cash, saying it wasn’t because of the video, they would do it for any customer. But Carroll turned down the offer, preferring to keep his videos online.
“At that point it wasn’t about compensation,” he says. “It was about my decision to do something in the face of their decision to do nothing.”
Carroll’s just published book.
The experience led to a speaking career in which he talks about social media, and he created Gripevine with serial entrepreneur Richard Hue, and just published a book, United Breaks Guitars.
“It shows how the power of one consumer can affect the bottom line of your company,” Carroll says.
Gripevine lets consumers amplify their voice
Gripevine, he explains, is intended to provide a way for consumers to amplify their voice and also for companies to reply. The site came out of beta in February and Carroll says that consumers love it, but so do companies because it offers them an efficient way to handle complaints.
“We created Gripevine to provide a neutral, fair and level playing field where consumers and companies can come together to work out their differences and arrive at successful resolutions to common consumer complaints,” he says.
While anyone can browse “gripes” for free, the site charges businesses for premium access to an Enterprise Dashboard. Customers include Hewlett Packard, Coca Cola, Walgreens and Sprint.
The site has seen media coverage on CNN Money, MSNBC.com, TechCrunch and other outlets.
“About 20 percent of gripes on the site are being resolved,” Carroll says.
Carroll advises companies, “Don’t just dip a toe in social media. Jump in with both feet. Companies need to understand its potential and see it as an opportunity, instead of a risk. If they solve a problem with a customer, they’ll have them for the next 20 years.”
He adds, “It’s a mindset. In time all companies will embrace social media or they’ll be irrelevant.”
Here’s Carroll’s original United Breaks Guitars video:
Steve Nicholls. is the author of the best-selling book “Social Media in Business” and has implemented advanced Internet applications for leading organizations including British Telecom, Ciena Corp., Detathree, and Inmarsat, among others. He is a social media trainer.
Businesses are rushing to get into the social media game whether they are ready for it or not, and that poses significant risks says social media trainer Steve Nicholls, author of “Social Media in Business.”
Nicholls believes that the greatest risk of all is not to embrace social media because your competitors will be, but too many firms are taking a narrow view of it.
Take a broader view
“Lots of companies are hiring social media managers, but on a low level, usually in marketing.
“There is a lot of work to be done at that level, things that need to be done. But I take a much broader view. How does it affect your business strategy? How do you systematically make sure it is integrated across your business so that it does not undermine what you’re doing?”
There is not one blueprint for doing that, he adds. “It’s different for every organization.”
You need a clear picture
To get started, he suggests, “You need a clear picture of what it is you are trying to do and that has to be tied to your business goals. It may not be about how many fans you have. It might be perfect for your business, but for a lot of people it doesn’t do anything at all.”
If your objective is customer service, he says, “Then it’s good to have followers on Facebook and Twitter. But if your objective is for better internal or external communications, that might be a whole different thing.” For instance, a business can engage a community in new product decisions.
Example: A small UK company, Morphsuits, which sells spandex suits that cover the entire body, head-to-toe like a superhero costume, has thousands of followers on Facebook. It asked its community what type of suit it should design next and had a contest that allowed is fans to design one. That suit is now their top-selling product.
“That’s the kind of thing you can do,” says Nicholls.
But, Nicholls says, companies need a framework to discuss social media throughout the entire organization, not just from a marketing or customer service standpoint. “It can be difficult to bring social DNA into some company cultures.”
It’s not just for kids
A friend of his works at a construction company and told him, re social media, “We banned it.” The friend said it was just games and people wasting time. “He still thinks it’s what kids do. He doesn’t have time for a Twitter account. If there is this mindset in your company that it is a waste of time, you are going to hit serious barriers and resistance.”
On the other hand, some companies use it to transform entire industries. “Look at what Groupon did in a recession. It took three elements, crowd buying, the promotional aspect of social media, and permission-based marketing and created the daily deals market. It used those technology tools to come up with a new business model.”
Then, there is Cisco. “They wanted to come up with a billion dollar idea,” Nicholls says. “They used their online platforms and offered $250,000 to the winning entry in a contest. They had entries from 150 countries and 8,229 ideas.”
So, Nicholls asks, “How many people are looking at social media that way? There are hundreds of ways to use these things and many that haven’t been done. As our knowledge of them increases, we’ll see more interesting things being done.”
A lot of companies, he notes, “Think, I’ve got a Facebook page, now I’m finished. It’s not as simple as that. Social media has to be a competency in your organization and you can’t have just one person looking at it.
We’ll follow up with Nicholl’s list of how to look at social media from a broader perspective and start or refresh your efforts next week.
So, what sort of video games would a company founded by two news focused organizations create? Why, games that trade on current events such as political campaigns and debates, says Lloyd Melnick, CEO.
Melnick, previously worked with Disney International and helped launch social gaming firm Merscom in 1993 (which later sold to Playdom, which itself sold to Disney) says that 519 Games builds on its connections to its corporate backers, Raleigh, NC-based Capitol Broadcasting and E.W. Scripps.
“The idea that drove formation of the company,” Melnick notes, “was how can we take what we do well – news, reality TV – and bring it to social gaming.”
The social gaming firm launched in August 2011 and is up to 16 employees. It recruited staff from top gaming firms, including Disney, RealNetworks, Turbine Entertainment, Microsoft, Playdom, Emergent Game Technologies, Oberon, Merscom and Research in Motion.
The 519 team.
Melnick says it’s helpful to be in The American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC, because the Research Triangle is a gaming hub that includes other firms such as industry leader Epic Games and many smaller companies.
“We hope to be up to 25 people by the end of summer,” Melnick says.
About half of 519 Games creations are for Facebook, although Melnick admits that’s not as hot a venue as it once was for social games.
“Facebook changed the rules and you can’t send people as many requests as in the wild west days. It’s more challenging to bring in users.” Despite that, “Game playing on Facebook is still very robust according to the numbers. People are still playing.”
Mobile is the future
Mobile – particularly tablets are where games are going, he says, however.
“I don’t go anywhere without my iPad,” he says. “It’s almost attached to my body. Mobile and tablets are definitely the future.”
The company just launched its first game, Political Rampage. “It tries to interest people in the political process,” Melnick says. The iOS version is out now, the Android version is coming within weeks.
Gamers assume the role of a famous current political figure from Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin and run their own political campaign, including debates, eventually against the President. But not President Obama.
The President considered the greatest debater, Abraham Lincoln (although he actually lost his debates with Stephen Douglas if you go by who won that election).
And what does that odd company name 519 Games mean?
“It’s the distance between the company’s two headquarters, Raleigh and Cincinnati, Ohio,” Melnick says.
I’ve tried several tablets, including a 10-inch Samsung and an iPad. As elegant and well-designed as the iPad is, like all Apple products, I found the 7-inch Kindle Fire much more to my liking.
While the Kindle Fire lacks a camera and a microphone – its size is perfect for the things I do with a tablet, browsing the web via news reader apps such as Pulse, Flipboard, StumbleUpon and other apps that make it easy. Watching the occasional video. Checking social media or email. And, of course, playing casual games such as Angry Birds.
I actually use it more than I do my regular Kindle keyboard ereader, which is saying something. I still prefer to do long reading sessions on the ereader because its much easier on the eyes than backlit LED screens, but it gets most of its use when I’m involved in a novel such as the last Game of Thrones book or when I’m traveling.
If you have an Amazon account, the ease with which you buy apps and books and media is a real plus. It’s also a pleasure to see how rapidly developers have brought apps I wanted to the device, ranging from games to HBO GO and the aforementioned Flipboard.
When I tried the larger screen tablets, I found them tiring to hold for long periods. Taking photos with them was a pain. I do suspect that the dictation feature on the iPad 4 and voice control of digital devices in general is going to be important in the future.
The Microsoft Surface has not made much of an initial splash so far and Google has a 7-inch tablet in the works. But for right now, the Kindle Fire is shaping up as the iPad’s main competitor.
Statista has compiled this graphic with data from the Online Publishers Association to show that largely due to Kindle Fire sales, the Android operating system is closing the gap on Apple’s iOS. — Allan Maurer
Growing rapidly is a problem lots of entrepreneurs would be happy to have, but it can cause problems. But find a problem and fix it is still a good path to product development.
Entrepreneurs Susie and James Wang and Rick Kostick launched their 100% Pure organic cosmetics firm in 2005. Based on an 8-acre campus in San Jose, CA, it sells products internationally via 10,000 locations, but does 20 percent of its business through the100 percent pure website.
Boostrapped, the company grew to $25 million in sales.
“We’re growing so fast and there are always so many things going on that it becomes chaotic, unorganized and messy…our team started dropping the ball constantly; tasks were assigned but forgotten about, projects didn’t move forward because we didn’t have the time to constantly check in and major things were happening in our company that we weren’t even aware of… that’s why we created Incville” says Susie Wang.
Free collaboration tool
Incville is a free online social networking site that is already earning its way by keeping everyone at 100% Pure on track and the same page, says co-founder Kostick.
“We were struggling with business issues,” he says. “We kept growing like crazy. We hired about 60 people.”
But, they ran into trouble tracking what people were working on and keeping tabs on the project progress. “We would assign something to someone and they wouldn’t do it. They would make excuses, like ‘I didn’t know it was my job.’ ” Wang says.
“Because we were hiring so fast, it got out of control,” Kostick adds. “Some employees working on teams tried to shift the blame and were doing some finger-pointing. By developing this collaborative site, we can work on projects together not only in our company but with others as well.”
Now that they are using Incville, “It’s making things work much faster. We have a much stronger team now,” Kostick says. “With this software, you have accountability. You know what your task is and when it’s due.”
The site already has more than 2,000 users even though it launched only a few weeks ago and the co-founders are talking to venture capitalists about funding, making money is not their first priortiy, says Kostick.
They have a vision
In fact, they have a vision for something much more useful.
Kostick says they want to solve another business problem. “If I want to sell to Neiman Marcus, do I find the buyer? There is no place to look that up. Wouldn’t it be cool if company’s had their work chart on the site so you contact them?”
He would like to “revolutionize the business world so that you are only an arm’s length away from anyone. That could make the whole world economy move faster.”
He says the firm wants to keep the service free as long as possible. “We are seeking investments and investors want a return. But if you create a user base of a million or tens of millions of users, we can monetize it.”
Two years away from monetizing it
One way to do that, he says, is by keeping it open to other developers who can add features they charge for and taking a piece of the action. But he notes the firm is probably two years away from attempting to monetize the project.
Meanwhile, he says, “The return from using it with our cosmetic company has already paid for it.”