Start Up Blog

Design Idea

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 3, 2010

What is the shortest path from the front door  to a smile. It doesn’t matter if we play in the web space, retail or have a factory… Once we map that out, we have defined our core utility.

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What they don’t tell you

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 4, 2010

It’s easy to get caught up in the brilliant stories of startups going viral to gain awareness, and the simplicity and usability of certain websites turning into large revenue streams. How cool the actual product is, the fact that the founders just built it and the rest just happened. This is the veritable entrepreneurial myth.

Here’s a few things to think about:

How many sales and business development people do you think Google has? Answer = around 5000. And we all thought their non human automated adwords system did it all.

What investment has Twitter made in Public Relations? You think Oprah and Obama just happened upon it? No they were pitched to heavily with a large investment in leading PR firms.

How many Youtube videos were posted by company created accounts? Answer = Hundreds of thousands.

Who seeds the quirky auction items on ebay? Answer = ebay started the game very early on and let the media know.

Everything is not as it seems. Push marketing is alive wand well, just the tactics have changed. It feels very organic and community driven, but the often the community is created by it’s founders and leaders. Nothing wrong with that, it is the job of entrepreneurs to invent said communities. But it makes for better business articles to talk of such things occurring naturally, so the real story is rarely told.

The question for startups is – what tactics can we employ to garner the same momentum?

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Feature Creep

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 11, 2009

The art of adding features to any product or service is this:

Those who need or want the new features can find them easy.

Meanwhile those who don’t need or want the features don’t even notice them. They are invisible.

Sounds impossible to do, but I think the team at twitter are doing a pretty good job of it. The way I’d try and achieve this would be by making sure the visual structure doesn’t change, and the sequence of events to use it is not interrupted.

shhh – here comes the controversy.

Unexpectedly Awesome – BBC

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 26, 2009

Sometimes it’s worth being even just a little bit awesome. We don’t need to change the world, maybe just having a little bit of public fun is enough. The usually conservative BBC did that for me today when I realised the following: The BBC video player has a volume which goes to 11.

It’s what I call unexpectedly awesome. I was delighted. So much that I’ve linked here to little video of Warren Buffett being interviewed. Upon which you can learn something and also pump the volume up to 11.

Startups – do something a little bit awesome.

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Inventing Demand

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 4, 2009

It’s no secret I own and run www.rentoid.com – but here’s a story you don’t know. The story of how I got it off the ground and got people to use the website.

Rentoid had a classic chicken and egg problem when it first got launched. People wont list items until we have willing customers waiting to rent their stuff. Conversely, people couldn’t rent things until people willing to rent their items put them up for rent. It’s a bit like asking two people who don’t know each other to fall in love. To solve this problem I decided to ‘Invent Demand’. This is how I did it.

I went out and got myself a copy of the Harvey Norman and all the major department store catalogs. Scan through and them and picked off what items I thought would be suitable to rent. For the purposes of rentoid that meant items that were ‘hot‘ in market (their placement in the catalogue was proof enough of that), items which had a purchase value of over at least $200, and had a low likelyhood of damage. I then proceeded to gather photos of the specific items off Google images and listed each of them on rentoid. The rental prices I placed at 5% of item value for a week, and 10% of item value for a month. The bond I made 50% of the cost. I made sure I listed items from varying categories. I did it in 3 suburbs across Melbourne (North, West & East). The listings also said ‘as new, never used’ – how true. It also assisted with our SEO because people do ‘item & location’ specific searches.

Harvey Norman catalogue

When people rented the items, I went out and bought them, first hunting for the lowest price on line. Then rented it to the new rentoid member in good faith and gave them an exceptional user experience.  After the rental I sold the item on ebay for around about 80% of the retail price. I pretty much re-couped my costs doing this. Some items kept renting out often enough for me to keep them including my Nintendo Wii and Guitar Hero which have paid themselves off more than 3 times over. The cool thing is the experience I gave people and the live demonstration it gave me to the system I built.  It really helped me iron out many of the bugs in the system when it comes to usability and transacting on-line.

You may think this is slightly deceptive, but it isn’t, simply because the rentoid member got what they wanted from the site and the process was completely transparent. When they’d come over the pick up the item up for rent I’d tell them I own http://www.rentoid.com. I’d ask questions like how they found the site and what they think. In fact, they loved the idea and were stoked to transact with the founding entrepreneur.

It was a great process to not only to invent demand, but also gain some brand evangalists and supporters. And yes, I still list a lot of items on rentoid – espeically if it’s new and cool and we don’t have it on the site yet.

As entrepreneurs, we need not be afraid of how we can build demand and momentum with our start up. We must do this because action creates reaction and often people simply liking our idea isn’t enough. Instead we must show leadership and belief in our own product and embrace it and use it as our own ‘in house evangelist’. If we don’t believe, how can we expect them to?

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Usability defined

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 2, 2009

If you want to know what a true consumer insight looks like. What it is to have the ‘user in mind’, then take a look at this picture below. It’s one of the simplest and best innovations I’ve seen in a while. The key question is this:

‘Why did it take the industry more than 100 years to think of it?’

electric plug

Startups: What simple user centric innovations are waiting to happen in your industry?

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Transaction Friction

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 28, 2009

I’m currently in the midst of improving the usability of rentoid.com. We are quite certain that it will improve things dramatically from where we are today. easy to follow steps and visuals to first time users.

But in truth it really won’t be enough to be game winning. After this website improvement, we’ll need to continuously iterate what we have.  And if I am to tell you all a secret here on startup blog it’s this… Some the new changes will need to be replaced in a couple of months, and so on in perpetuity. The reason is that I get phone calls all too often which sound like this:

Customer: ‘Hi I’m ring up about renting that double bed you have listed on rentoid.com’

Me: ‘Sure, are you new to rentoid? If so let me explain very quickly how it works…..

(I say we don’t own items, rather have a website that people use to rent items to and from each other. I tell her how to join / transact)

Customer: So it’s some random person?

Me: Usually things like beds are rental business – it will be identified as such saying’rentoid business partner’

Customer: Ah, no sorry… It sounds just too hard sorry…. thanks.’ Hangs up phone.

* If the first contact was with the owner, things may have been very different.

There’s too much friction. As a little reminder this is the definition of friction as it pertains to physics:

A force that resists the relative motion or tendency to such motion of two bodies or substances in contact.

Friction

The bodies in this case are the customers and the website. And transaction friction occurs whenever these bodies interact.

Currently, there are too many interactions before a transaction can happen. The reason the system has been designed this way has been to ‘protect revenue’, as all my readers will know I don’t believe that “Free” is a business model. But the question I am seriously asking myself is ‘How much revenue are we losing because of friction?’

It is free to join and list on rentoid.com and we take 5% revenue of each rental. Which means both the renter and the rentee need to do quite a few clicks before the transaction is complete. Both parties have to deal with significant fraction in order to transact with each other.

The owner has a lot of friction listing the item

The person renting also has a bit of friction when paying the 5 % deposit on rentoid to get the owners details.

This process protects our revenue, but slows things down and is painful.

There is no doubt it that turns many people away – how many we just can’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to make it ‘free’ – but maybe it’s time to make people pay to list. Which we have avoided to reduce barriers to entry for listers, as listings (having the most items for rent in one place) is game winning. That said, listing already has a lot of friction in any case…. it takes time & effort, maybe asking for a few dollars up front isn’t really a problem? Maybe people wont mind if it creates more rentals for them because their phone number is on display for the renter to call them immediately and get renting? There is only 1 way to find out the answer to this question and that is to implement it. But friction has to be balanced. We need the minimal amount of friction to to move things forward, but enough friction to make so money as well.

The other benefit of changing the system is that it will bring the money forwards and reduce complexity of the site mechanics. But it does open to other competitive risks like screen scrapping, and listings being stolen.

I’ll let you know which way we go…. In the mean time think about this in relation to your business or startup:

“How can I reduce transaction friction in my business?’

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Great Quote – Straight from the TweetDeck

From Ross Hill – Cyberguru

26 very important words.

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