Category Archives: Startups

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.

#LoveMTL – Through simple acts of kindness, we’re lovin’ on Montreal.

“It’s about the power of One. One small act, by One person will create a ripple effect that will impact One great city.” – lovemontreal.org

Those of you who know me personally, know that I’m a proud Mtl’er and a staunch NDG’er – NDG is my hood yo! But I’m not alone. At Horse & Cart we have many NDG’ers and few exes, their loss :), on staff. So, it comes as no surprise that most of us spent this past sunny weekend frolicking at NDG’s 2nd annual “Festival Monkland” taking in the sights, quenching our thirst with many a bevy, filling our bellies with food truck awesomeness, and rocking out to live music at the bandshell.

However, this post is not about how awesome NDG is, we all know it is, it’s about a great find. While hanging out on Monkland I came across the #LoveMtl booth. I had heard rumours and seen some content posted on Twitter and Instagram but wasn’t really sure what is was all about. So, being the inquisitive type, I introduced my self to the team and founders and had the opportunity to learn about their cause.

What is Love MTL?

Love MTL is a simple and whimsical way to put a smile on someone’s face, and make a difference in the life of another person. We believe you can spark the imagination and enthusiasm of others around you. And the best part is that anyone can do something, anytime, any day of the week.

 

Simple, right? It should be! Yes, I know what you’re going to say – “we’ve seen stuff like this before”, “it’s like the ‘free hugs’ movement”, “It’s nice, but not really original”. And you’d be right. But, this is in our own backyard.

Love MTL is not groundbreaking. But it is very simple and easy to use (do). The basic functionality, if you want to call it that, is human interaction. Basically, do something nice for another person and share your story via Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram using the hashtag #LoveMTL. The more people who share their acts of kindness, the hope is, the more others will follow. And, if the social web has taught us anything it’s monkey see, monkey do (it’s not always a bad thing).

Here’s a small sampling of some the kindness Love MTL has triggered:

We could all use a little kindness and why not share it with the world, or in this case Montreal. What do you got?

Video of the Week: First Moon Party

“But you’ll miss the Vagician!”

HelloFlo is a startup that specializes in, get ready for it, periods. Normally I wouldn’t spend more than a hot second entertaining another tampon commercial. They’re often painfully generic, uncomfortably upbeat, and what is with that blue liquid? If your body starts producing neon-blue liquid, reach for your emergency contact’s number, not a tampon. Apparently HelloFlo got the memo. This short clip of instant viral success (1.7 million views in just two days) is doing more than just repackaging personal products. It’s repackaging how we talk about this taboo topic.

To position myself within this discussion, I have not had, and have zero inclination of ever having a period. That said, roughly half the population is positioned opposite to that, and by proxy, their partners, friends, parents, colleagues, and confidants. But even today, people hesitate talking about it. It’s one of those bodily functions still burdened by lingering Victorian body shame. HelloFlo tackles all of this head-on this with humour, information, and an awesome product.

The commercial is set almost mocumentary style, with video and audio confessional snippets overlapping the developing story. The main girl is desperate to have her period and join the ranks of her friends. Out of frustration, she takes it upon herself to drizzle a pad with sparkly red nail polish as her fraudulent ticket into womanhood. Leaving the evidence out for her mother to find, Mom decides to teach her a little lesson by hosting a “First Moon Party”. This is essentially a vagina themed Quinceanera, including special invitee Grampa and entertainment provided by a “Vagician”. It’s revealed that the party was designed to teach the daughter a lesson about fibbing and not to shame the monthly surprise. At the end, the mother hands her the HelloFlo Period Starter Kit.

First of all, can we focus on how genius this product is!? A box filled with information, supplies, and even candy to help answer all the questions a fumbled womanhood talk may overlook. After the fact, you can personalize a monthly package with whatever you desire, even with an organic option.

From a marketing perspective, this video is hilarious and highly successful. Let’s face it, it isn’t an easy subject to navigate. They created content that has people talking positively, that challenges archaic norms, and most importantly, hooks you into purchasing their products and services. Humour is the key tool that generates the viral momentum. The daughter is cheeky, the mother is a dry mastermind, and the brief comments from the guests are all landed punchlines. HelloFlo (also great name) looks progressive, intelligent, and on-point with their message. It’s very bold.

With this approach, HelloFlo has wedged themselves into a tight market as the alternative to blindly selecting products from the drug store. The brand is on the consumer’s team and importantly, is geared towards future clients. This could have come off as conniving, like cigarette ads targeted at youth, but the direction taken, to help, inform, and provide, almost turns the company into a (nice) big sister. When situations are uncomfortable, we like to laugh. Helping us laugh through this topic makes the directness palatable. No more blue liquids. Hello Flo!

Silicon Valley – Weekly TV Show Commentary

Silicon Valley’s season finale “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” ensures that the show will be back for season 2. It mostly deals with how in general, startups spend most of their time fronting, the constant rumour mill of the tech world and the absurdity of pivoting.

Through sheer luck, the guys at Pied Piper ended up with a shark of a lawyer (I dunno about you, but Ron Laflamme seemed like a total flake when we met him in “Fiduciary Duties”), and so because Erlich was attacked, the gang is moved up to the finals of Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt.

Silicon Valley - NucleusOnce Pied Piper see what Nucleus has become (nice work, copying the Internet Explorer logo! It’s become pretty apparent that Hooli is supposed t orepresent all the current tech giants: Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc.) they determine that Pied Piper is futile – they just don’t have the reach and additional functionalities that Nucleus would because it is fully compatible with the rest of the Hooli suite of apps. Richard, as usual, treats every challenge with his usual Eeyore mentality, whereas Erlich decides that he can talk his way out of this one too:

Richard: “They have 50 modules that are all awesome, we have 5 that barely work. I mean, we’re still having trouble compressing 3D files. Who’s running off to buy that?

Erlich: Who the fuck cares? So the platform can’t handle 3D files. You know what? 3D movies suck anyway!

Erlich’s plan is to sully the names of Hooli and Gavin Belson via the attack incident. Jared’s plan is to determine how Pied Piper should pivot. He also hasn’t slept in like a week. Jared’s “market research” is a great example of how when startups say they are pivoting, they look pretty dumb.

Silicon Valley - Jared doing customer validationJared: “Hi! Can I talk to you about something called Pied Piper? What does it do? Good question. Maybe you can help us find an answer. What if Pied Piper was an app that could attract rats. You know, like the fairytale? For purposes of extermination, or to feed your pet snake – I’m not here to tell you what to do with your rats, but we’re here to get you rats – STAT. Would you be interested, somewhat interested or not interested? Which one? Which one? Which one?”

Meanwhile, Richard goes for a walk and encounters Monica… I have to admit, I’m totally disappointed that they’ve set up the sole female character as a love interest. But I also feel like I shouldn’t have expected anything different.

Silicon -Valley - We're actually brokeAt the same time, Dinesh and Gilfoyle have a look at the booths at TCD. They’re genuinely scared that Pied Piper is going to fail, and they are seriously considering jumping ship at this point. It’s not entirely out of order, and so they go have a look at a company that appears to be doing really well. After talking up Pied Piper in order to show that they are not traitors, the CEO then asks them if they are hiring #startupfail.

So many penises...

So many penises…

They all wind up in the hotel room to sulk. There, they get into a ridiculous argument about how to best jerk off the whole room within 10 minutes. This turns into a problem solving session and it seems like . This ridiculousness becomes the spark of inspiration that Richard needed – which I find true to life – most startups are inspired by the most mundane and ridiculous conversations in order to find their true purpose.

Impressions/opinions:

Leila: Like I’ve said before, I’m super disappointed with the way women are portrayed and the serious lack of female characters in here. But this is a typical TV show, so in that respect, I am not terribly surprised. Obviously they were going to win or something fabulous would happen, considering the show has received some serious acclaim and overall great reviews. Plus they were showing at Disrupt, what would be the point in showing off a merely average app. This is the first time that we see Richard seriously working instead of constantly worrying, which is a relief. For a while I wasn’t sure if he did anything other than whine and cry.

Beth: On pivoting – Pivoting isn’t bad. In fact, Marty Cagan of the Silicon Valley Product Group says that 3 out of 4 startups will iterate or pivot at some point in their life. It’s pretty rare to get it right the first time. Successful pivots happen when a greater pain to be solved is discovered through customer validation and/or customer development and NOT when something simply isn’t working without understanding why.

Silicon Valley - A Happy EndingIn the end, we’ll have to wait until next season to figure out what they do with Peter Gregory’s character (unfortunately, the actor has since passed away), how much money Pied Piper has raised since winning the competition, and how awful the Richard/Monica paring will be.

Silicon Valley – Weekly TV Show Commentary

‘Third Part Insourcing’ deals obliquely with the theme of gauging your company’s strengths and weaknesses. If you can do it properly, you can assert yourself in areas of expertise and seek external help where appropriate.

But it’s not quite easy when you’re caught discerning facts from illusion in your decision making process.

silicon-valley-ep.-6-cloud

Richard: Outside help? No we are not getting any outside help.
Jared: Well it’s a week until TechCrunch Richard, we can’t wait any longer.
Erlich: Look at the board Richard. Cloud architecture is just a giant turd that is clogging up our pipes. We have to call in a plumber to fix it.
Richard: I can solve it!
Erlich: Richard, you’re a fucking rock star. OK? You just don’t know Cloud. This tiny little shitty area, which is becoming super important, and in many ways is the future of computing … that sort of went South on me, but you understand what I’m saying…

FACT: Richard needs help with the Cloud service configuration for Pied Piper. He’s been stuck on it for a week.
FACT: Richard is a great programmer in areas aside from Cloud. He learned Ruby on rails over a weekend when he was Seventeen.
FACT: They need outside help for Cloud but Richard seems to be handling everything else well enough.

Simple enough list of facts, but it’s funny how those can get lost in the noise.

Call a Friend or Skip Your Turn

Jared: I’ve made contact with a programmer whose Cloud architecture is supposed to be insane. They call him “The Carver”.
Richard: The Carver? That Black Hat guy who apparently hacked into The Bank of America and took down their entire system? That The Carver?

silicon-valley-ep.-6-carverWe already see Richard begin to lose a handle of the facts. The reputation of The Carver as a genius programmer clouds his judgment. Richard can’t help but feel a sense of inferiority. All of this is compounded when they meet him for the first time in the offices of a company that is being taken apart, having been rendered obsolete by their move to the Cloud.

Jared: Six months ago, these guys had 6 million in series B financing. Now, the Carver’s here doing teardown.
Dinesh: He’s basically moving the carcass to the Cloud.
Erlich: Don’t touch anything failure is contagious.
Jared: I think that’s him. Excuse me, …Mr. Carver?
Kevin (The Carver): Uh yea people refer to me as The Carver, but no one actually calls me that. It’s, uh what people call a screen name. Y’know, I’m Kevin.
Jared: OK Kevin we’re from Pied Piper, we spoke earlier…
Kevin: Yea, you guys are fucked, huh.
Richard: No we are not fucked.
Erlich: Yes we are totally fucked. We have a live demo in one week and our Cloud isn’t assured.

Dinesh: Hey Kevin, so how did you bypass B of A’s network security? I want details.
Kevin: My lawyers told me I’m not allowed to discuss it.
Dinesh: Totally get it, that’s baller.
Richard: Are you ok over there? Do you have any questions?
Kevin: Yea…. one question.
Richard: Cool, shoot.
Kevin: Why do you keep your lips pressed so tight together when you’re not talking? ‘Cause they’re like white. Looks uncomfortable.

You can read Kevin’s snottiness several ways, but Richard’s primed to attribute it to his boy genius halo. His taunts and sass actually don’t do anything to logically support his capabilities. His attitude problem could actually just indicate he’s a jerk, but because of perception, insecurity, and reputation, it’s chalked up to being a sign that he’s competent.

silicon-valley-ep.-6-carver-richard

As they sit silently working beside each other, Richard begins to overestimate The Carver’s abilities and underestimate his own more and more. Now unsure of his own abilities, Richard actually hands off some of his own work to Kevin. For a second, even the viewer is taken in by Kevin’s peacocking, as he sits down with a sigh in front of the monitor, “Oh Christ.”

Soon, however, we learn that while Kevin is probably quite capable of a Cloud Programmer, he’s not quite the legendary web puppeteer Richard has come to see him as.

Richard: Did you just overwrite the data scheme? Why would you do this? You don’t ever do this.
Kevin: That’s exactly what they said when I was working at B of A…
Richard: Working at BoA? I thought you “hacked in”!
Kevin: No… I was a consultant at their retail banking services. I crashed their entire system. It took a team of seven engineers weeks to comb through all the code and find my mistake. And the only way that I ever avoided being sued was by agreeing to never tell anyone that I worked there.

Richard followed the Pied Piper too far (see what I did there?); he was deluded by the ultimately misleading promise of a charismatic leader. Self doubt, fear, other people’s comments can lead to the wrong conclusions. It’s important to make a proper assessment of where your company is at.

Gilfoyle: Richard, why would you let that little fetus access the DDL?
Richard: Because I thought that fetus was better than me, and so did you and everybody, and you pressured me into hiring him.
Erlich: Yes Richard, for the CLOUD, to deploy the Cloud.
Gilfoyle: So that you could do what you do best and concentrate on everything else which the fetus just fucked up!

The Signal and the Noise

This episode of Silicon Valley showed us that knowledge of where your assets and vulnerabilities lie are at the center of running an efficient business. Buying into the hype can cost you dearly. It’s important to assess where your strengths and weaknesses are and not to be swayed by things that are not grounded in fact. It’s dangerous to get lost in the noise rather than seek out hard facts to support your decisions.

Your Website Narrative Isn’t About You

you're so vainThis might come as a shock, but your website isn’t about you or your product. If you want engagement and conversions, it’s gotta be about, you guessed it, your customer. Everything from design to copy to UX, your website imperatively must be customer-centric. Why? Because coercing what you believe to be the best benefits and features about your product or service onto your visitors’ brief visit to your website won’t cut it.  Unless you are a major player like Apple and customers seek you out, not the other way around.

At Brendan & Brendan, we don’t write web copy, we write what we call website narratives because that is what a website is really, a story. A story that consumers want to read because it:

a. makes them happy, cool or smart, or
b. solves a problem they have.

So how do you tell your customer-centric story? First and foremost, get out of your product and revenue mindset and start thinking and feeling like your customer. The best business owners are the ones who actually need their own product. But even so, we are all individuals who research and process information in different ways. Five customers might give you five different reasons for using your product. The trick is to get a consensus that appeals to the scalable customer. As a business owner or marketing manager you also have to like your customer. And by like, I mean empathize with their problems and understand their lifestyles down to the smallest detail.

writing-rightingSo forget about what will make a sale and think about what will help your customer solve his or her problem. Then make your website easy and fun to understand in digestible pieces of content. And finally of course, make it apparent and easy to purchase, download, sign up or whatever it is your objective is.

Not to give away the secret sauce, but here is how we craft a website narrative (most of the time):

Value Proposition

What is your biggest single unique value proposition? As my Concordia University professor, Mark Haber (you hard ass!) used to say, find the “So What?”. Keep asking yourself ‘so what?’, until you get to the real value that you offer. Say for example, you offer a project management software, so what? Well, it helps you manage your files and collaborate with your team. So what? Ok, well it will increase your productivity. Ok, but so does every other PM tool out there, so what? Ours is the easiest to use and all our customers say there is almost no learning curve saving them time and frustration. Now we’re talkin! Put that up front and center on your website. A great example of value proposition is Canadian Hemp Guitars (yes, that’s a client plug).

Proof

Show me proof. In the flow of the narrative, once I know what value you can bring to my life, I need to know that it will. Testimonials and case studies do the trick. Heck, if I see that others are benefiting from this value, then so can I. A tip when collecting testimonials from your customers: ask them to address different and specific benefits and to be explicit about the gains they received. This way not all your testimonials sound the same and they all portray success.

Interactivity

Typically this would be the ‘How It Works’ part of the story. But I like to look at it as how will your customers interact with your product or service? Again, think about it from their perspective. Before making any purchases, a potential customer needs to see what the product looks like and decide for themselves if they can use it successfully. Whether your product is a toaster or an app, this where you get into the details.

Couple the the ‘How It Works’ with the product features to demonstrate the benefits of the features in action. Camayak does a great job of this. If you have a ton of features, the last thing a visitor wants to do is sift through a list of endless features. In this case, it’s best to compartmentalize features into digestible chunks of content either by benefit or functionality. See how m3p does it (yes, another client plug!).

Price

Finally, now that the visitor is hooked on the value proposition, trusts it, and knows they can use the product successfully, they need to know;

1. How much it will cost them and which package (if any) best suits their needs, and
2. That the onboarding process is simple.

Packaging pricing is tricky, especially when there are combination paying models, such as pay as you go, pre-packaged, custom, etc. Try to keep all the pricing in the same vertical panel so no scrolling is required. And be sure to include a toll-free number nearby so leads can call you if they need help.

Your Story

Don’t forget to include your story. But where and when it is appropriate? After you’ve sold the visitor on your product, it’s time to sell them on your brand and culture. Your story is about why are you doing what you do. It could include a story about the inception of the company, but again only and only if it is interesting for the customer to know and/or read. If you have a look at the Brendan & Brendan story, the copy is witty, the story itself is fun and the design inspires scrolling to keep the engagement high.

Maybe it seems backwards to tell people about yourself last, but think about the customer – they don’t care who you are until they like what you do. And once they like what you do, they’ll want to know more about the brand and what it represents. Not the other way around. So prove to your customers that you’re worth knowing about!