Jun 272008

Please, Keep Not Calling (Thank You!)

Please, Keep Not Calling (Thank You!)

It’s been three years since the federal government passed one of its better pieces of legislation in recent memory, creating the Do Not Call Registry which is a free way of dramatically reducing junk phone solicitations.  At the time, registrations were set to expire every three years.  When I signed up my phone number, I stuck a note in my calendar for today (three years later) to renew my registration.  I was planning on blogging about it to remind the rest of the world, too.

To my great surprise, when I went to the site today, I saw this note:

Your registration will not expire. Telephone numbers placed on the National Do Not Call Registry will remain on it permanently due to the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007, which became law in February 2008.

That’s two great pieces of legislation.  What will they think of next?

Filed under: Current Affairs

Jun 272008

Driving Out of the Bubble

Driving Out of the Bubble

It’s easy for those of us who live in the Internet bubble to confuse the words “startup” and “entrepreneur” with the word “technology.”  Every once in a while, I am struck by a fantastic entrepreneurial idea that’s low-tech or no-tech. 

In the last few weeks, I’ve learned of two of them — oddly, very similar ideas.  They’re both going after the New York City black car limo market (all those car services that take business travelers to and from airports and meetings), which is a lucrative but kind of gritty business.  I’ve used black car services for 16 years now, and while I’ve found one that’s pretty good, they all have massive customer service problems and are pretty expensive.  It’s a market ripe for revolution.  But how to execute it?

Kid Car New York is one new service that is attacking this market with an alternative car service that’s oriented around families and kids.  The cars are mini-vans.  The drivers are trained in safety and friendly.  The cars all have car seats and bases in them, which are sanitized from one passenger to the next.  The drivers are actually employees with benefits — this company is trying to do to car services what Starbucks did to convenience store workers.  There is a membership/subscription pricing model that makes it feel more like a club.  While it’s moderately more expensive than black car competition, Kid Car is a natural alternative that appeals to a big niche audience.  The entrepreneur is a friend and former Return Pather, Topher McGibbon.  He’s excited about revolutionizing a sleepy, rough industry.  Mariquita and I have used Kid Car for a bunch of trips with the kids, and it’s like night and day.

In a different way, Ozocar is doing the same thing.  It’s a black car service with a fleet 100% made up of Toyota Priuses (if that’s the plural — I keep wanting to call them Prii). That’s the hook.  If you care about your carbon footprint but still have to do things like fly on planes and get to and from airports, why wouldn’t you pick a service that’s more environmentally friendly?  I tried Ozocar last night for the first time, and it was perfectly fine.  Plus, I felt better about myself the whole 18 minutes home from LaGuardia. 

Ozocar reminds me of my friend Andrew Winston’s book, Green to Gold (I posted about it here), and how businesses can be both more sustainable and more valuable at the same time.  Both Ozocar and Kid Car are great examples of innovation being driven by customer needs and market opportunity unrelated to high tech.  They’re great services, and I hope they succeed.  I just wonder how businesses like these get funded with all of the venture focus in the world on high tech and life sciences.

Jun 192008

Run, Brad, Run!

Run, Brad, Run!

A few years ago we announced our support of a charity called the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis (see the post about it here and learn more about Accelerated Cure here).  While we have a strong culture of giving back to the community at Return Path and do that in several ways, we chose this charity as the main beneficiary of our corporate philanthropy efforts for three reasons:

  1. We wanted to support research into finding a cure for MS to honor and support one of our earliest colleagues, Sophie Miller Audette who was diagnosed with MS about 5 years ago (and is still going strong as one of our key sales directors!) – and since then, two other members of the Return Path extended family have also been diagnosed with MS
  2. We wanted to support an organization with a focused mission and one where our contributions could really make a difference
  3. Accelerated Cure has a very entrepreneurial, innovative culture that’s consistent with our own – and a solution-oriented approach to their cause that resonates with our business philosophy

We got introduced to Accelerated Cure by Brad Feld, one of Return Path’s venture investors, who is a friend of Art Mellor, Accelerated Cure’s founder and CEO.  Brad’s an interesting guy for many reasons, but one reason is that he has a goal of running 50 marathons (one in each state) by the time he’s 50.  He has eight years and 40 marathons to go, and to make it a little more significant he decided to try and drum up some sponsorships for his quest and donate the money to Accelerated Cure. 

Return Path has decided to be one of Brad’s anchor tenant sponsors by pledging $1,000 for every race he completes.  This is half of Brad’s goal of $2,000 per race, and we hope it will inspire others to donate so he can beat his goal.  Of course, Brad wants to do more than just run these marathons – he wants to, well, accelerate his performance.  So, taking a page out of the VC handbook, we’re setting up an incentive program for Brad of an additional $500 donation for every race that he completes in less than four hours. 

Besides liking both Brad and Accelerated Cure, this particular vehicle for donating money is especially meaningful to us.  A good number of Return Path employees past and present have run marathons and even competed in triathlons and Ironman competitions (including yours truly, but in a way that certainly makes me want to keep my day job).  And Seth Matheson, Accelerated Cure’s new development director who has MS, is an avid marathoner who is contemplating an Ironman competition himself.  And as I always tell our team members, running a startup is a marathon, not a sprint!

You can follow Brad’s progress – and make a donation yourself – here.

Filed under: Leadership, Sports

Jun 052008

Poor Systems Integration Just Makes It Worse, Part II

Poor Systems Integration Just Makes It Worse, Part II

In Part I, I talked about how sad/amazing it is that large companies don’t tie their systems together well in this day and age of flexible computing and 1:1 marketing.

A recent research study that our consulting team conducted at Return Path points to more of the same as it relates to email marketing.  The two big findings were that:

- 2/3 of companies in our survey don’t send an immediate welcome message to their new subscribers

- 3/4 of companies in our survey don’t use personalization, even though most ask for personal data

Appalling, right?  The full study, and a 12-minute webcast done by the study’s author, my colleague Bonnie Malone Fry, are available (and really well done!) here.

Filed under: Email

Jun 052008

Email Checklist

Email Checklist

Seth Godin has a great checklist up this morning of things you should ask yourself before you hit “send” on an email.  It’s a mix of personal rules and business/marketing rules, and it has some pretty entertaining things in it.  Definitely worth a quick read.

Filed under: Email

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Jun 042008

Book Short: How, Now

Book Short: How, Now

Every once in a while, I read a book that has me jump up and down saying “Yes! That’s so right!” How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life), by Dov Seidman, was one of those books.  But beyond just agreeing with the things Seidman says, the book had some really valuable examples and two killer frameworks, one around culture, and one around leadership.

It’s a book about the way the world we now live in — a world of transparency and hyper-connectedness — is no longer about WHAT you do, but HOW you do it. It’s about how you can have a great brand and great advertising, but if your customers find out via a blog and YouTube clip that you run a low quality sweatshop in Malaysia, you are toast. It’s about you can…not outwork the competition, not outsmart the competition, but how you can out-behave the competition.

The book, which talks about principles like mutual gain, and thriving on the collaborative, reminds me a lot of a basic tenet of negotiation I learned years ago at the Harvard Program on Negotiation about finding a “third way” beyond a “me vs. you” negotiation by expanding the pie so both parties get more out of a deal.

Here are a few snippets from the book to inspire a purchase:

- How encouraging doctors to say “I’m sorry” radically reduces lawsuits

- How “micro-inequities” can subtly leech productivity from an organization

- How the majority of workers expect from their workplaces: equity, achievement, camaraderie

- How companies whose employees understand and embrace their mission, goals, and values see a 29% greater return than companies whose employees don’t

- How reputation is the new competitive advantage

- How people will do the right thing because in self-governing cultures, not doing the right thing no longer betrays just the company; it betrays individuals’ own values

- How increasing self-governance means moving values to the center of your efforts and making it clear — in how you reward, celebrate, communicate, and pursue — that those values form the guiding spirit of the enterprise

What type of organization do you run? One based on Anarchy & Lawlessness, one based on Blind Obedience, one based on Informed Acquiescence, or one of Values-Based Self-Governance? (Hint, it’s most likely the third category.) Read the book to find out more.

Filed under: Books, Business, Leadership

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