Category Archives: Rants

Giving Tuesday and a new approach to donating online

Giving Tuesday

Nothing like a bright, brisk, BITTERLY FREEEEEEZING COLD day to remind you that some people may not be enjoying such a cosy christmas this year.  Just as Montreal delivers its first belting blast of cold, a stalwart network of charities across town are hoping that today, Giving Tuesday, will make a difference.

It’s heartening to see how many companies are taking up the cause. CIBC’s simple Ret-tweet=$1 is bang on. I hope it goes INSANELY VIRAL….;)

NOTE: Google, who seems never to miss a day with its fun and frivolous dedications is strangely absent.

One of the big challenges charities face, beyond the obvious hurdles of being heard over the racket, is handling the cost of giving itself. Believe it or not this represents a considerable share of their administrative costs. You’ve got to spend money to make money, right? Right! And once the estimated 50% of their budgets that go to fundraisers is spent, they’re squeezed just a little but more by the credit card companies and growing number of “philanthropic startups” that help handle payments and other stuff. That generally amounts to an additional 5-7% of donated dollars NOT going to those in need.

It’s a bad old story. And it’s one of the reasons many people cite for not wanting to give through organizations.

Take Ed Norton’s Crowdrise concept. Great initiative right? Well, let’s a take a closer look at their pricing model.

If you go straight to their pricing page, it looks pretty much the same as any of the others, with three tiers of transactional costs ranging from 5% in the basic “FREE” plan to the 3% all bells and whistles “Royale” plan (nice name, that one), that costs $199 per month (with an annual commitment paid upfront). Oh, yeah and in the spirit of doubling down, as a Crowdrise donor you are asked to make your own contribution to their effort through the checkout process suggesting that the charity hasn’t already paid.

It’s the same basic concept employed by Classy.org but classy isn’t afraid to go Royale with Cheese, imposing a sliding per transaction fee from 5% to 2% and then 1% as you enter a monthly fee structure with them that starts at a $499/mo and goes up to a whopping $1,999/mo. But hey, that gives all sorts of awesome web integration, banking and admin options and multiple sub domains!

No one would blame the tech industry for being entrepreneurial but there’s a big difference between leveraging technology for good, and being predatory. These models, even if they can argue some machiavellian case for raising more money in the aggregate, are simply not doing charities any favours.

As you may have guessed, I am building up to a point here, but before I make it I want to provide full disclosure. As I present what would seem to be the antidote to this problem, and a possible game changing alternative, namely Ensemble.co happens to be a Horse & Cart client.

The brain child of Jason Dominique, Ensemble.co not only turns the whole online charitable giving concept on its head. It also takes what might have been considered a suicidal business model and makes it one of the most attractive aspects of it for charities and donors alike.

NOTE TO READERS: Ensemble is currently signing on charities to it’s service. As such its donor functions are not fully activated. If you would like to help the Ensemble cause, please urge your favourite charity to claim its free page on the site. 

Instead of engaging charities as clients, Ensemble speaks directly to the donor and their desire for fair and transparent pricing. It’s so transparent in fact that the company bravely commits to a model that is now and forever 100% free to charities. Hand in hand, Ensemble does a great job of empowering donors. In their words:

“Because a gift isn’t a gift if it isn’t free. This simple, immutable principle is the reason Ensemble exists, but we can’t do it alone. Collective Responsibility empowers donors to take on the cost of giving and ensure that their gifts of charity really and truly are gifts.”

Ensemble

Ensemble.co’s pricing page

Of course the credit card fees are inescapable. But what if the credit companies could get on board and actually stop charging transactional fees for charitable donations? Shouldn’t they be doing this already?

Happy Giving Tuesday, and here’s hoping this season we all find a way too help out and make life a little better for the people around us.

Video of the Week: Case study – The Local Television Commercial

We’ve all seen them. Local television commercials are among the most fascinating media phenomena in existence. The style has been predominant among regional furniture chains who take marketing into their own hands and deliver beyond-puzzling sensory experiences. This style isn’t limited to furniture dealers, but survives as a genre in itself. Local businesses with low marketing budgets and/or an eager friend with a camera have, consciously or not, created and concretized an aesthetic that is both replicated in seriousness and in irony. Either case is assumed to be in pursuit of the same end– more traffic and higher sales. Welcome, the “it’s so bad, it’s good”, D-listed commercials.

The local television commercials in question appear to abide by certain unconventional characteristics, some of which seem almost exclusive to the genre. In the vast majority of examples, we see a direct, vibrant address to the camera. This address is normally long (pushing uncomfortable) and usually takes place inside or in visible proximity to the store. But, if you’re lucky, you might find yourself treated to a full green screen experience. The dialogue is blunt, a little sleazy, but aims for an authentic connection with the consumer. It’s essentially a 30 second plea that rests on directness to convey and convert potential customers. The intent is to market to their local community, giving it the (unintentionally) painful comedic edge.

The example are numerous. These commercials seemed to peak in popularity in the 80s and 90s, yet live on forever in Youtube as new additions join the ranks. These three examples appropriately demonstrate it’s evolution as they slowly adapt to pop culture trends and increased self-awareness. The first example is done seriously, the second attempts irony by exaggerating its self-awareness, the third is arguably modernized with less emphasis on irony, playing into a more contemporary comedic tone. Although all within the same family, it’s like taking a Darwinian snapshot of the evolution of a genre of cheesy marketing.

Are they ultimately successful? Tough to say. There is a strong case to be made arguing that this is a genre entirely comprised of “what not to do”. Low production value, choppy and abrasive dialogue, and the artistic depth of a sidewalk puddle should, in theory, amount to a marketing disaster. But in some cases, it’s the disaster that leaves them memorable. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone invested in these projects fathomed holding a candle to landing a spot on a “Top 10 best innovators” list. Infamy ultimately becomes synonymous with fame as shamelessness takes the wheel. This is perhaps why they’re parodied so often and still talked about today.

As a business strategy, I would strongly recommend against setting foot down this path. The gems from these videos seem to be the ones done with little self-awareness. The second you seem in on the joke, you’ve lost it. A cringe-worthy example is this furniture company, who has hired an–I’m going out on a limb here–amateur comedian to play a lisping interviewer. They titled the video “Worst Furniture Commercial Ever!”, evidently to coerce viewership and achieve their desired internet infamy. However, the commercial seems more closely likened to cruel and unusual punishment than viral trailblazer.

There will always be television time slots filled by small local businesses with smaller budgets and genuine cluelessness…and that isn’t a crime. From a marketing perspective, we know there are much more effective examples of media creation on a budget. For now, they serve mainly as laughable reminders of the progression of impactful marketing. It’s always good to be in on a joke and most of us have a soft spot for irony. But, as a business owner, we should be laughing with you. Who knows, maybe we’ll do our own spoof here at Brendan & Brendan and show you how hard we can bring it, old school, furniture style.

Silicon Valley – Weekly TV Show Commentary

 

The cast of Silicon Valley

“Due? This is not college. I’m not going to be giving you a course syllabus” – Peter Gregory

Last week, the new HBO show Silicon Valley stirred up some interesting discussion in the office about life in tech startups. Aside from providing a colourful cast of characters that many people will surely recognize in their own workplaces, it was also a great opportunity to discuss the common pitfalls of running a startup. So, we decided to share it with you all on our blog! This is the first of a weekly commentary of our thoughts on each episode and what some local startups think.

Brief episode 1 recap

In the first episode, Richard, gets the deal of a lifetime, something most startup developers can only dream of. He turns down a $10M buy out and opts for a $200,000 investment for 5% shares and the opportunity to grow his own company. It is this starry-eyed idealism that leads to an inevitable confrontation with the realities of running a business.

Season 1 Episode 2 : The Cap Table

Richard arrives at his first meeting with Peter Gregory with no pitch, hands open and vacuously expecting a check. When he’s asked about cap tables, investment decks, and business plans, his wide-eyed response is that he didn’t realize “that stuff was due yet”.

“Due? This is not college. I’m not going to be giving you a course syllabus. […] What is this company? What did I buy?” –Peter Gregory

Richard is upbraided by Peter and told he has 48 hours to produce a cogent pitch. Leaving the office, Richard comments on how Peter was being “kind of an asshole”, but Elrich corrects him: his reaction made total business sense. The business world is no place for training wheels, you need to know what you’re doing and fight for a place at the table.

“You’re being a complete tool right now, I need you to be a complete asshole right now. If you’re not an asshole, this company dies.” –Erlich

Being an asshole, seems to be the shows succinct way of describing the qualities needed to be a good businessperson: an enigmatic mixture of ability, assertiveness, and personableness. You can’t make business decisions based on being friendly and nice.

Soon we discover that Richard may well be the only one who hasn’t yet grasped this concept. As Jordan Dunn leaves Gavin Belson to join their team to help Richard build his business plan, they sit down for individual meetings with the members of Pied Piper. Dinesh and Gilfoyle both confidently enumerate the ways in which they contribute to the company and state outright that they think they deserve more shares than the other. Big Head, Richard’s best friend, reveals himself to be a totally nonessential player.

After mulling it over for a long time, Richard eventually decides to go out on a limb for his friend and keep him in the company, giving him the same amount of shares as everyone else, despite his lack of value, only to realize that while he was trying to defend his integrity, Gavin Belson’s ability to be an “asshole” had already thrown a wrench in his plans by stealing his friend away with a promotion.

“So you’re like the VP of spite?” –Dinesh

This episode plays on many themes, the key theme being in order to survive in business you need to be and asshole – of course that is up for debate in the real world. But in Richard’s act of standing up for his friend, we see a glimmer of hope for camaraderie in the startup world of business. It’s important to be aware of the dangers of being too nice, but that does not absolutely refute the value of having integrity – can an asshole have integrity?

At the end of the episode, we are reminded that, in business, you can’t rest on your laurels, the next challenge is always right ahead. Check in hand at the bank, Richard realizes that he cant even deposit the sum without a corporate account, while Gavin Belson is already in the process of reverse engineering the valuable algorithm he developed.

Our thoughts

Vivien – It’s interesting that Big Head ranted about the sexism inherent in his app “Nip Alert”. The show, at the moment, has only one main female cast member with a grand total of three lines in this episode and the first woman of colour to appear on the show is a stripper. I look forward to seeing how Silicon Valley will tackle the issue of the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the tech industry. Here’s a great article which develops this thought further.

The Poet – I think there’s a big difference between being arrogant, being a jerk and being an asshole. In my opinion the first 2 have no merit in the business world, but being an asshole can be very beneficial – trust me, I’m an asshole. I’ve worked for many asshole CEO’s who I still admired and who were still able to have meaningful relationships with their employees – I think you can still be likeable as an asshole – sometimes you just need to get your point across and make a decision wether people like it or not.

and a commentary from a local startup founder …

Josh McRae, Co-Founder of MTL Blog – I don’t think you need to be an asshole in order to be successful yet having a stern non-friend approach is certainly a benefit in the end. People need to respect you. If there’s no respect for you or the company, the company image and deadlines are at risk and procrastination reigns.

Got something to say? Let us know in the comments below. If you’re a startup and would like to weigh in on the commentary for a following episode let us know.

Fun Friday Post – Highlights of #QC2014 as The Little Mermaid

Yeah we know – it’s very Buzzfeed-esque. But since our own Brendan Tully Walsh ran for the CAQ (Coalition Avenir Quebec) in the riding of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, and the elections are over, we’d like to pay tribute to the Quebec election 2014.

When the voters found out that there really was another election happening:

giphy

When the election was announced, it was speculated that Pauline Marois had called it so she wouldn’t have to testify in a parliamentary committee:

giphy (1) Don’t be inquiète (be very
inquiète)

How impressive PKP’s fist pump was:

giphy (2)

PKP’s impression of himself after his fist pump:

giphy (3)

Quebec Solidaire fought hard to seduce voters’ hearts & minds:

giphy (4)

When the Director of Elections was denying students the vote:

giphy (5)

Pauline, you may be ready for a PQ majority and a referendum, but the voters clearly are not:

giphy (6)

Voters’ reactions when the PQ ran solely on la charte des valeurs:

giphy (7)

When the CBC called the election for the Liberals early, the PLQ was all like:

giphy (8)

And finally, when Pauline Marois resigned:

Starting a startup is the new writing a novel

Have you got a startup on the side and you think you’re disrupting whole industries? Think that you’re unique? I’m here to say you’re not. Let’s face some hard truths together, I’ll hold your hand through it.

Starting a startup is the new writing a novel.

Writer Once, twenty-somethings, usually men, felt they had enough life experience and good ideas to fill pages, inspire a generation, and write the next great American novel while selling millions of copies. Now, they quit school, learn to code and think they have the ideas that will retain millions of users and sell for billions of dollars.

But how can this be? Anyone can write a novel, right? Well now anyone can also start their own startup. With advances in tech and the democratization of the internet, owning a computer, a smartphone and/or a tablet has become commonplace within the same demographics that yearned to pen the so-called “unique” stories that lived within their souls. The same demographics who would have once been prime candidates for pulling out their hair while staring at a blank page are now pulling out their hair learning to code instead.

bug-featureThink about it: aside from coding (which isn’t always necessary anymore – there are plenty of non-technical founders), writing a novel and starting a startup are almost one and the same. They require tenacity, determination, and a beautiful cross between self-delusion and self-confidence that the founder will be part of the minute percentage that makes it. It also requires a lot of self-motivation, selling to get the novel/startup off the ground, and both types to get involved in these types of projects are usually quite clever and intelligent.

Often, a novel or a startup begins on the side while trying to turn becoming an author or becoming an entrepreneur into a full-time gig. Both types commonly require large cash advances and require large amounts of time, energy and concentration to make it. They also require a huge amount of focus, sophistication and expertise – more than most people posses or expect. Both dream of being able to quit their day jobs to pursue their dreams full-time (oh wait – who doesn’t?).

And the failure rates are quite similar too, most people fail in both cases – most writers never finish writing their first manuscript, and if they do, the majority won’t get book deals, while approximately 90% of startups fail within the first year.

So if young people writing semi-autobiographical novels is considered frivolous navel-gazing, how would you categorize the current slew of cute, cool startups? Because let’s face it, the vast majority of startups aren’t changing the world.

Distractions, the Efficiency Killer!

I hate unnecessary distractions. I just want to work!

Distractions are a massive pet peeve of mine, especially when I’m coding or writing up a blog post. I can’t stand being taken away from my work when I’m “wired in”, feeling the mojo and the juices are bubbling. What I loathe the most is waiting on others to get their part done so I can complete my tasks. It all adds up to low productivity, inefficiency,  and most importantly missed deadlines. That being said, I can be one of the biggest propagators of distractions at the office.

However, we can’t get rid of all distractions. Some distractions can be good if they promote company culture and well being and don’t conflict with what needs to get done. For example, every morning we have an all staff stand up to go over our daily tasks. At 3pm we have a dance party for a few minutes where we all get up dance and burn some energy, get are late day juices flowing again and it makes for a nice break with some staff bonding.

Here are a few ways to eliminate distractions

Random and pointless web surfing – We all do it. It’s so easy to be distracted by the web and find yourself aimlessly wondering through Facebook, Twitter or your favourite blog. Whatever your crux is remember it takes away from valuable time you could be spending on client work. The key is finding a way to minimize the amount of time you spend doing this. Like a diet, it’s all about moderation. This is a problem especially for people like me who are constantly connected for both business and personal reasons.

Turn notifications off – Probably the easiest step to take for eliminating distractions, yet we don’t think to do it. We all run apps that are constantly notifying us of who’s online, who just commented, who posted a new status, who’s birthday it is, etc. When you’re getting ready to hunker down for a few hours to work on a project turn all your notifiers off. There’s nothing more distracting than windows popping up all over your desktop every 5secs.

Hide your phone and tablet – Similar to annoying notifications on your computer, your phone and tablet are equally distracting. Setting your phone to vibrate is only a band-aid solution. If your device is in plain sight you’ll still see the screen light up. Temptation is a bitch.

Hide from your family – The idea of working remotely sounds great. What could be better than sitting on your couch,  working in your pj’s surrounded by your comfort zone? Getting out of the house! Your family can be the biggest distraction of all. It’s difficult to tell your wife or husband or kid(s) that you need to be left alone to work. Taking the 10mins to deal with family during the work day has a huge impact on loss of focus. Anyone who has worked from home or still does has this false sense of reality that they are being more productive without all the distractions at the office. The reality is there are plenty of studies that prove otherwise. I did the stay at home thing for a while. I feel way more productive at the office than I ever did at home. Plus, if you’re working with a team, being in the same space allows for better communication and team building.

Email, Email, Email – Easier said than done. This one is super difficult for me. At Brendan & Brendan we use email all day to communicate with our clients and some clients just can’t be ignored. If there’s an urgent request we need to be aware. In extreme circumstances such as tight deadlines, big pitches or a backup in work I will shut down my email app until I feel comfortable opening myself up to communication again.

Got a second? – This is by far the most annoying distraction of all, colleagues coming by your desk to chit chat about random or non-urgent stuff. At Brendan & Brendan we work in an open space. This means there’s less poking me on the shoulder and more yelling out my name or throwing a crumpled up piece a paper at me to get my attention. Don’t get me wrong I love my team but sometimes I just need to be focused and left alone.  This is why we have daily stand ups! My tip, make it a rule that if headphones are on stay away!

What measures do you take to eliminate distractions at work?