Let the Coupon/Groupon wars begin. Again.

April 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Google launched it’s ‘Offers’ deal a day service in a few cities on Thursday. It’s basically another daily coupon service. Google is better funded than the 200 odd deal a day platforms out there so money won’t be a problem. But how will Google Offers compete in this crowded market?

1. Adwords powers deal-a-day ads online: One huge consideration is that Google Ads (through Adwords and it’s affiliates) is the engine for most of the deal-a-day adverts online: take note as you browse your favorite web pages today. Who can target ads better than Google can? No one. Will Google leverage this power to compete? You bet. The key will be to do it without breaking competition laws.

2. 3000 sales employees? How about 5 exabytes of data: The claim is that Groupon (the daddy of deal a day sites) has over 3000 sales employees. That’s a lot of phonecalls to small businesses. Google lacks the human element that Groupon (and the other deal a day sites) brings to small business customer acquisition. But what Google lacks in human interface, it has in data quantity. And this data is on both the small businesses and their customers. Google has the analytical capabilities to find relevance/correlation in the huge repository of data it currently has. This will help them generate win-win-win deal opportunities that keep more money in the hands of the small business owners (a current criticism of Groupon).

3. Where are the customers? It is claimed that there are over 100 million Gmail accounts. Add to that all the email addresses that have received an email from gmail addresses. Since Google is replicating the email-a-day formula of other deal-a-day sites then you have close to 200 million accounts that can get deals from Google. Targeted emails too…

4. A lot of Cash: Google has a lot of cash to spend. And Google will spend.

All this is further proof of the how hot the deal-a-day space is right now. Add the Groupon rebuff of Google’s $6bn offer and the plot thickens.

Will this equate to success for Google Offers? Time will tell. One thing we can be sure of is that competition will increase in this market, this will bring innovation and innovation will benefit customers (customers and businesses). And that’s a good deal for everyone…

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Why Are Gas Prices So High? And 4 Simple Ways to lessen the impact

April 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you’ve bought gasoline in the last few days (anywhere in the USA) then you’ve paid close to or over $4/gallon. In some areas this is over 10 cents more per gallon than just over 2 weeks ago. What does that amount to? At least $100 Bn additional spent on fuel over the last few weeks. And on a more personal level? It’s $33 more spent by every man, woman and child in America.

Whichever way you look at this it’s more money coming out of your pocket. And it’s not just when you fill up your car. It shows up in the price of groceries (the stores pass the fuel cost through to you and I), in the price of services and in the price of gas/electricity for our homes (especially if you’re not on fixed rates).

But is this spike in cost really justifiable? The answer is a big NO.

The only reason we hear for the gas price increase is the unrest in the Middle East (especially Libya right now). Two wrong assumptions are made when this reason is given:

1. The Middle East supplies the bulk of US Oil:

Libya only supplies about 1% of US crude. Saudi Arabia supplies only 11% and other Middle East countries supply another 7%. The US actually gets the bulk of it’s oil supplies from the Americas (Canada, Mexico, Venezuela etc). And Net Imports of fuel have been reducing. But we think (or are made to think) that the bulk of supply comes from the Middle East.

2. Crude Oil price increase = Pump price increase:

The gasoline you buy at the pump today was drilled somewhere between 3-6 months ago. Yes. 3-6 months ago! It was refined, converted and stored. So that there is unrest in Libya today should, technically, not affect the pump price until the Summer. But the neighborhood gas station (which actually makes its money when you buy the Snickers at the station convenience store) reflects the ‘gas price increase’ only 2 weeks after unrest starts. Again it’s a perception thing.

So what can you as a consumer do to reduce the impact of the gasoline price increases on your wallet?

Drive less: The CTA/Metra/Public Transport System provider cannot jack up bus and train prices on a whim like the gas stations can.

Lighten the load in your car: Get the junk out of your trunk and you’ll need less gas to drop your kids at school etc

Shop local: Locally sourced produce comes from closer to you and hence the fuel costs will not, for the most part, increase the costs. The food is better for you too (it contains less preservatives).

Carpool: Saves on cost. It might even be an opportunity to know your neighbors (you know what they say about people becoming likable when you get to know them).

Any other ideas on how to reduce the impact of increasing gas prices?

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5 trendsetting companies/institutions in Illinois. One is working on toilet tissue…

April 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

Spring (ish).

Time to look at things with a brighter perspective. Time to look at 5 fresh institutions/companies to watch in Illinois over the next 9 months. It’s a diverse group with interests in 3-D printing, tubeless toilet paper, Kids tablets and crowdsourced fundraising for medical expenses.

Enjoy the awesomeness:

1.Kimberly-Clark and it’s tube free Toilet Rolls: Who said there is no innovation in the toilet industry! Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB) is stepping up with a solution to a longtime problem: what to do with the waste that is the toilet tissue tube. You know someone had to sort this out considering the global push towards sustainability and more conscious living. The Hoffman Estates based company estimates that the 17 billion toilet paper tubes produced per year in the U.S. generate enough tubing to stretch over a million miles when placed end to end.

Why watch? The value of this initiative will only be truly seen if customers respond (and it seems to be catching on). Expect other companies to follow this trend. And I know, without a doubt, that you’ve used some tissue paper today so this’ll stay on your mind…

2. Nano-CEMMs and 3D printing : 3-Dimensional printing is about to be huge (or so says the Economist). The Nano-CEMM center (a partnership between Univ of  Illinois Urbana Champaign, Stanford, Northwestern, Notre Dame and NC State) is pioneering curvilinear  3D printing. In simple terms: it’s a cool way of improving the quality of 3-D prints and it’s a disruptive technology.

Why watch? The performance of the antenna on your smart phone will benefit from the method this center is developing. I’m sure Apple are watching. You should too.

2. Educational Games for Tablets (Tallytots by Spinlight Studios): The Education industry (including the educational games market) is big but stale. Tablets are changing that. Tablet and Mobile Applications are big and will stay big for a while. Spinlight Studios (Champaign, Illinois) with it’s first app, Tallytots, is making great strides in becoming a big player in the intersection of the education and mobile app market with its fun and educational counting game for kids.

Why watch? In the skewed world of ‘apps’ the free apps get all the buzz. Tallytots is a paid app that beat out Ms PacMan, the Dr Seuss Apps and Mathboard and is rising fast in the App Store (number 19 at the last check). And that’s worth celebrating.

4. VTech and it’s Tablets for Kids: The Ipad, Xoom etc are, for the most part, too expensive for the average American. And you know kids want to play and learn with these tablets too (cute Ipad youtube video). This creates suppressed demand and suppressed demand plus lowering costs of production lead to huge market opportunity. VTech (a company in Arlington Heights, Illinois) is looking to capitalize on this latent demand with it’s line of kid and pocket friendly Inno-Pads. VTech already has it’s line of Innovative VReaders.

Why watch? People love their kids, the economy is on a slight upswing and Summer is just round the corner. There will be sales…

5. Fundraising for loved ones made easy with GiveForward:  There is a lot of uncertainty around healthcare insurance and medical expenses. With uncertainty comes opportunity. And with opportunity, in some cases, sprouts greed. But some people see uncertainty and confusion as a chance to help people. Step up Chicago based GiveForward. The site (in their own words) ‘is the easiest way to help a loved one in need’ by providing an easy to use fundraising platform for the smallest to the biggest medical expense. We say well done…

Why watch? Debates over the healthcare bill and rising medical expenses aren’t going to subside anytime soon. Neither will the need to care for our loved ones. Expect Giveforward to grow. They’ve already assisted in raising over $4.1MM!

Any other companies on your list? Any trends you think we should watch?

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Determining Market Need (CCIST Innovation Seminar University of Chicago)

April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Presented on Determining Customer Needs at the University of Chicago Innovation Seminar earlier today: amazingly smart students (the intellectual rigor is alive and well!!!) and I learned as much as I hoped they did (probably more if I’m honest…)


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