Archive for the ‘real magic’ tag
Manipulating images for your website is such a tedious chore. You need to open Photoshop, click your mouse about ten thousand times, then save the file and upload it. Then next month you redesign your site and suddenly need to re-size all your image elements again! Startup Cloudinary has a good alternative for you: use custom URLs to transform your images in the cloud! I was a bit skeptical when I first read about Cloudinary, but after five minutes of goofing around with it I’m sold.
Upload your images — either through the Cloudinary dashboard or from your own applications via their API — and then access those images using specially crafted URLs to apply a variety of transformations to your images. That’s the real magic: you don’t need to do anything other than request your image with the transformations you want. Your original photo is still available, if needed, and each new variant you request is cached and delivered through Amazon’s CDN.
You want that full-size image scaled to 100 pixels high? Here you go!
Oh, you just want the woman’s face from that photo in a nice 90×90 thumbnail? Cloudinary provides face detection, so no problem.
You need rounded corners?
Or how about a circle?
Users can create named transformations in their dashboard, which can then be used in the URLs for convenience and clarity. “round_thumbnail” makes a better URL component than “w_90,h_90,c_thumb,g_face,r_max”, wouldn’t you agree?
Cloudinary can also trivially grab profile photos from Facebook and Twitter:
And all the various transformations can be applied to these images, as well.
Cloudinary offers a robust and well-documented API. Pricing plans look reasonable, and they have a free tier for low-volume or proof-of-concept users. Now you can quit mucking around with Photoshop and get back to agonizing over which font to use for your blog about ancient Egyptian cat worship.
If you spent any time in high school thinking about ley lines and bio-implants, you were probably a Shadowrun player. The game, which petered out after a disastrous run as a PC/Xbox game in 2007, brought the high-tech of William Gibson to the magical realms of Mr. Gygax. It was, in short, pretty cool.
A Kickstarter project aims to bring back all that fun in video game form, adding lots of what you missed about Shadowrun back to the PC. This new version will be a RPG involving the Shadowrun world complete with various character types – elves, samurai, humans – and, although this is discouraged, deals with dragons. $15 gets you a copy of the game while $60 gets you a t-shirt and some in-game perks.
Pledge $10,000 and the real magic happens:
You’ve heard the term buzzing around the Internet. You may even consider it part of your online strategy. But have you ever stopped to think about just what it is and why this social media phenomenon is so influential?
Content marketing is as simple as it sounds: provide high quality content for your users, partners, followers and/or consumers and you will increase participation, sales, and loyalty. The concept is intuitive and (almost) appears to represent the idea that marketing is headed in a positive direction. The objective behind content marketing is not to spam potential clients or collaborators or to bombard them with pitches and useless brand ideology. Content marketing is the means by which you provide substance your target group can utilize.
What are some examples of the types of material that should be pushed in content marketing? The beauty of this strategy is that is that there is really little manipulative ‘strategy’ involved. Give your customers or business affiliates within your niche content that can give them an edge in what they are trying to achieve: educate and entertain. If you sell a product within the beauty industry, give tips on health and cosmetic trends; if you provide a software service, provide news on ways to get an edgewise by using upcoming technology. Be brave enough to add humor if the situation applies. Don’t just copy and paste a link from the front page of a source they may have already visited. The key is to provide them with knowledge to which they otherwise may not have been exposed. By providing valuable content, you establish yourself as a thought leader.
You know what I hate most about getting too drunk to drive home? The hangover. No, no, I’m kidding (well, sort of) – it’s having to go retrieve my car from wherever I left it the next day. Sometimes, it’s been towed. Other times, it’s been broken into (true story). That’s why I’m hopeful about the possibilities a new service called StearClear has in store. The startup, which is backed by $500,000 in founder-led and VC funding, has been up-and-running for just a month in parts of New Jersey. What StearClear offers, simply put, is a way to get you and your car home. Safely.
Oh god, please let this work.
According to co-founder Craig Sher, the idea for providing a designated driver service is hardly new. “I found 50 or 60 companies across the country,” he said. “But most of the companies that do designated driver services are mom-and-pop shops…and it’s a very difficult business to make money on. Most people who embark on a designated driver service do it from a community service point of view – they’re very focused on volunteer drivers.”
Instead of launching this as their own service from scratch, StearClear takes on a lot of the cost that goes along with creating a business, while leaving the day-to-day to others. The franchises don’t have to process credit cards, handle paying employees or doing their tax reporting; they don’t have to hire HR staff to ensure compliance with U.S. employment law, or worry with insurance and liability protections. StearClear also handles vetting the drivers, handling background checks, criminal and sexual predator checks, driving record checks, and even drug tests.
But, says Sher, “our real magic is the software, and the fact that we have a real end-to-end solution.”
The software he’s referring to is a suite of three mobile applications: an iOS/Android app for end users (them being the drunks), one for the drive teams, and a third iPad app for franchise owners which lets them view a heatmap of their drivers’ cars in action, customer requests, and all the management reporting functions necessary to run the business.
The drive teams are a team of two people – one who drives the customer’s car, another who chases it in their own. Both are hired locally and paid as W-2 employees ($8/hour while waiting, $12/hour while working; plus, for the chaser, 55 cents per mile – the going federal rate). It’s not career-making money, of course. The “waiting” pay is barely above minimum wage. But the drive teams split tips, so there’s a chance to earn a bit more.
Drivers are assigned shifts to keep the busy times covered, but can also make themselves available at any other time, if they want to make extra cash. When customer requests come in, drivers “bid” for the pickup via their own app by saying when they can get there. The customer usually picks the closest driver, of course.
As for customers, the sign-up process is similar to that of black car service Uber: a credit card is kept on file so there’s no need to swipe cards or hand over cash at the end of the ride. Rates are $20/per pickup plus $2.50/mile. Premium members (aka regular drunks), can pay $5/month then get discounted rates of $15/pickup and $2.25/mile.
Sher says the pricing can either be around 5% more or less than local cab rides, depending on your area, but is on average 20-30% cheaper than a black car service.
Meanwhile, franchise owners pay $30,000 to buy a block of 70,000 people (around 6 to 12 zip codes’ worth) for their business. They then get access to the turnkey solution, and keep 80% of the revenue.
The business’s subsequent failure or success, then, is on them. Marketing, raising awareness, finding employees, managing schedules, everyday customer service, etc. – it’s all on them. In Sher’s view, this makes them stakeholders. Well, sure. But it also means that getting the company off the ground has been essentially handed off to a bunch of unknowns in whichever far-flung regions of the country where someone decides to take a risk. Anyone with $30K and a dream of keeping drunk drivers off the road can sign up. Some, like some of the mom-and-pop operations, will make it work. Others will not. And it will all reflect back on StearClear.
Sher believes that this can work, though. “It makes the franchisee profitable. Within their first six months, they’re making money. If they would have started from scratch…number one, they wouldn’t have a software solution, they’d have a phone number – all the things that make the business difficult to implement, we take care of.”
Build a platform, and they will come?
“None of these [mom-and-pops] have been able to scale, none of them have been able to make any money, and worse than that, none can offer a nationwide service,” he says. Now, maybe, they can.
The founders, Craig Sher, Ken Schwartz and Harjinder Sidhu, have technology backgrounds which involve their two previous firms – a consulting firm and software company – which did engineering projects for most of the big banks on Wall Street. Over the years, they accumulated the IP and staff needed to launch something like StearClear. Of the $500,000 in funding, only 20% is outside funding from Accelerant Capital Partners, the rest is from the founders themselves.
StearClear is live in parts of N.J. now during its first public test, a 3-month beta where the idea is put into action for the first time. Stay tuned.
I believe that one of the greatest opportunities we have as business owners is to create wealth.
By that I don’t necessarily me get wealthy. I mean create an asset, a business, which is worth more today than it was yesterday. All too often this view gets buried in the push to create a paycheck.
In my view there are much easier ways to draw a salary than owning a business.
The real magic in the wealth creation opportunity comes when you also see it as a way to create wealth for all of the people the work to increase the market value of the business.
The key to this notion is shared ownership.
Sharing ownership with employees has become much more popular in the world of Internet startups and IPOs. The idea is that if people have stock they’ll be more productive.
The problem with this mentality however is that if employees don’t have psychic ownership first and foremost, real ownership probably won’t benefit anyone.
Psychic ownership suggests a culture where employees feel like owners, act like owners and think like owners, even though they may not actually have any formal equity in the company.
The fact is many companies try to explore this idea of ownership but approach it in name only.
If employees don’t feel like they have a stake it what happens, don’t have access to the financial data or can’t make decisions that impact the value of their ownership, then all the stock options in the world won’t help. In fact, organizations that simply adopt an ownership or equity type of environment based on paper only find that it can be a disincentive and create entitlement without accountability.
Until you can create a culture that fosters psychic ownership first – a place where people feel empowered as owners, even if they’re not – you’ll never realize the benefits of providing real ownership.
The combination of a psychic ownership environment and real ownership structure, however, is perhaps the most potent tool for the creation of commitment that can be employed.
Creating a culture of shared ownership
When Sky Factory founder Bill Witherspoon determined, approaching sixty, that he would start yet another company he sat back and analyzed his past failures and successes and concluded that he had never been very good at managing people or the organization once it had grown to a certain level.
So, he decided to throw everything he had ever done or learned about traditional management out and start with a totally new view of how to build, in his words, a “beautiful corporation,” also something of an oxymoron in his view.
Having a background in bioscience he determined that every organization’s DNA lies in the company culture and he knew he had to direct that element over all else. The company’s core beliefs sprung from that thinking, but became much more than words on sign.
Transparency – Now, there’s a word that’s been abused in business writing over the last few years, but taken at face value, and in this context, it simply means sharing everything with everyone in the company.
Every Friday afternoon the entire staff gathers to go over the metrics one by one – even things like how much cash is in the bank is reported. (The only metric that is not public is individual salaries.) Every department talks about goals and challenges and the entire team of 40 can discuss any element that’s shared.
When issues arise that need to be shared quickly, they call impromptu “stand up” meetings and shut down so that everyone can be involved.
Autonomy –There are no vice presidents, no managers, and no shop supervisors at The Sky Factory. If they had an organization chart it would be very flat.
The company is organized into functional teams based on related work and each team uses a rotating facilitation model to keep things moving in place of the traditional manager.
Every week two members of a team take on the role of management (one from last week and one new one.) Everyone on the team takes a turn and Witherspoon feels that this concept allow people to learn, grow and earn greater respect from other members of the staff.
This no hierarchy approach removes politics and frees people to stretch far beyond the confines of the normal job description. The Sky Factory has numerous job descriptions that are tied to functional work that must be done, but the goal is to create a workplace where everyone can essentially do everything.
There certainly are instance where this isn’t practical or possible, but no one gets tethered to one kind of work, no one gets bored and everyone is asked to grow and given the opportunity to do work that continually stretches them.
The Sky Factory also finds that experience built in continuous improvement by letting new people provide a fresh approach in processes and systems.
Consensus – Every important decision made at The Sky Factory is made through a system of consensus. Some decisions are departmental, others are company wide, but if there’s even one no, the decision must be evaluated.
Decenters are asked to explain and own their no votes and more often than not the no simply leads to more research or looking at a decision in a new light, but everyone has a real voice in the process.
Sky Factory also uses consensus to impact operations – The Company was experiencing a high percentage of late deliveries on promised projects. They had tried a number of process improvements to no avail. During one of their weekly meeting an employee suggested that they should tie profit sharing bonuses to delivery. The group agreed and the rule became that if even one delivery missed its promised date during a month, no one in the organization would receive that month’s profit sharing bonus.
Since installing this rule several years ago they virtually eliminated the problem. Everyone in the organization is now concerned about late deliveries and everyone is focused on pitching in and solving any potential snags in any part of the production process. And you can bet that if someone is having an issue with an order they ask for help.
Of course consensus won’t work if there’s no transparency and truly no hierarchy. Consensus as a stand-alone tool is a recipe for disaster, but teamed with complete sharing of information and rotational management, it is the tool that turns everyone into an owner.
Now, Sky Factory also has an incredibly innovative profit sharing and real ownership structure, but the key to making it work in their incredible shared ownership culture.
When an entrepreneur starts a business and it’s just them, they have all the information, have no hierarchy and get consensus on every decision – shared ownership thinking simply takes this to another level.
Logitech’s Harmony division has long made some of the very best universal remotes. But their latest product turns the very best smartphones and tablets into a great universal remote. Meet Harmony Link and the Harmony Link App.
The Harmony Link hardware is a disc that’s placed near your entertainment system and provides the link between the new controller and the equipment using a local WiFi network. Tiny IR Blasters snake from the backside of the sleek disc to your cable box, TV and A/V hardware — just like every other Harmony remote. This not only facilitates communication but also allows owners to place all the unsightly hardware in a closet, enclosed cabinet, or like in my house, a basement room underneath the living room. Logitech says the Harmony Link can replace up to eight remotes.
But this hardware isn’t the fun part. Nope, the real magic comes from the iPad app.
The Harmony Link App turns the iPad into a universal remote, but one with a touch of flare. Instead of just being a touchscreen remote with the usual assortment of playback controls, the iPad app turns the chore of finding a TV program into a fun excursion. Slide through the interactive TV listings and just press Watch Now to engage the magic of Harmony Link, which will switch your TV to the appropriate station. Of course the app also features all the normal device controls and activity functions generally associated with Harmony remotes.
At launch, only the iPad will feature this interactive programming guide. The iPhone and Android app will only display activity buttons and device controls. Expect the Harmony Link in stores next month with a $99 MSRP.