Mobile is the Future of Local Tech

Mobile now accounts for 50% of all time spent online, and more than one-third of people use mobile exclusively for purchase research. As Internet use continues to shift toward mobile, it is essential that we deliver the right content to the right consumer at the right time.

Last week, I was asked to speak on the panel “Using Mobile to Connect Content and Commerce” at the Street Fight Summit West Conference in San Francisco. I was joined by Yellow Pages CMO Allison Checci, Gilt City President Steve Schneider, and moderator Bill Dinan from Telmetrics. A major theme of our discussion was the ever-changing path to purchase, and the opportunity to rethink how we interact with mobile-first consumers.

Panel-SFSW14Retailers historically had ways to shape demand and get your attention, so when you made that trip to go shopping you decided to go to Kohl’s instead of Macy’s. Now, with mobile we have a chance to get in front of you directly, so when you are in fact going to Macy’s, we can tell you to go to Kohl’s. With our Find&Save geo-focused mobile apps, we are able to deliver highly relevant content to users based on their physical locations.

We’ve found that the location of where someone’s at and where he or she has been is incredibly valuable intent. If you’re walking into a home depot on Saturday morning, we have a pretty good idea what your plans are for the weekend, and that allows us to push the right content in front of you at the right time. As Allison Checchi said, “Knowing that an individual has certain behavioral patterns and layering [those patterns] on top of geo-location data is key.”

If you are walking into a Home Depot, we have the ability to push an ad to save $10 at Lowe’s in the next four hours. That’s pretty effective in terms of getting you to consider Lowe’s and cross their threshold, instead of spending your whole wallet at Home Depot. You couldn’t have done that before mobile, because you didn’t know where that person was and didn’t have access to them outside the home.

BenSmith-SFSW14One of the event sponsors was Reply, Inc., the company that I sold MerchantCircle to in 2011. Payam Zamani, CEO of Reply! mentioned the ownership of MerchantCircle, which has 1.7MM small merchants on their platform. He spoke about the company’s position in local and how MerchantCircle is a big part of their local marketing solution. He said, “We are focused on giving complete control to the local advertiser, especially on mobile devices.”

Mobile is changing the way we discover, find and buy goods/services online. During my time at MerchantCircle, our main focus was building the largest network of SMB’s on the web. It wasn’t until 2010, about a year before selling the company to Reply! that our attention began to shift toward developing a mobile app.

Apps are making mobile devices more useful for everyday human needs, helping us consume and digest information easier. It is crucial to design simple apps; they should only perform one specific point function. Consumers prefer simplicity; they expect the app to push a button and do something. They don’t expect it to do everything; they expect it to do one thing. A big difference in how you approach the app world is building a portfolio of apps that solve specific problems vs. the all-encompassing app.

This year’s Street Fight Summit West Conference was packed with insights into the growing system of hyperlocal media. As time goes on we will see new location technologies bring local data to the next level. As we continue to work on bringing consumers and retailers together, I am already looking forward to attending Street Fight Summit West 2015 and sharing our latest learnings.

Posted in Silicon Valley, Wanderful Media | Tagged , , , , , , ,

8 Steps to Bring Less Stress When Acquiring a Small Business

I recently wrote a piece for Entrepreneur.com, “How to Acquire a Small Business (and Keep Employees Happy)” to offer some framework for the purchase of a small business — a move that requires a different strategy.

Small companies are difficult to buy, but they can have tremendous benefits to the acquirer over the long term — an argument that has been proven over and over again in Silicon Valley. Having bought a number of small companies and frankly having sold my companies to bigger companies a number of times, I have learned that these 8 steps help make this a smoother process — on both ends.

Steps number two and five included below were updated for this post. You can read about the other 6 steps here: How to Acquire a Small Business (and Keep Employees Happy) | Entrepreneur

2. Respect the existing products and the customer relationships. Whether or not you plan to keep the existing business, you must respect what that team built in terms of product and customer relationships. This is what they sold their soul to for two or maybe three years.

facebook_instagramWhen Facebook announced in 2012 they were acquiring two-year-old Instagram for $1 billion, some investors felt the valuation was high. At the time, Zuckerberg said that Facebook planned to build on Instagram’s features and grow the app independently. Now two years later, Instagram remains completely separate from Facebook and the valuation is now in the $5-$15 billion range. Had Facebook disrupted the existing products and customer relationships, Instagram would likely be less favorable today.

If you upset their customers or dismiss their product through a lack of respect, you are going to end up with a lot of very frustrated engineers on your hands. Even if you only wanted the team, there is a chance they will want to leave because they are embarrassed about what was done to their product.

5. Put a short-term material retention program into place. It will indeed be a tough period for current employees, as there will be change. To help reduce employee fears, put into place a short-term material retention program. It is important to remember the retention program needs to be material and at least be as big, or double, as the expected bonus. This will help for a smoother transition period and hopefully retain the newly acquired talent.

maxresdefaultLook at Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp for $16 billion in cash and stock. Facebook set aside an additional $3 billion in restricted stock units to be granted to WhatsApp founders and employees that will vest over the next four years. With the corporate landscape changing almost daily and a liquid labor market that allows workers to job-hop easily, retention bonuses are a great way for companies to keep valuable employees.

Many believe that such methods add value to the business as well, as they reflect well on company’s management and promote loyalty on both sides. Remember these employees just lost hope of changing the world a little bit, so it is critical to get them through that period and to convince them of the new leadership.

Read about the other 6 steps here: How to Acquire a Small Business (and Keep Employees Happy) | Entrepreneur

Posted in Deals, Silicon Valley, Startups | Tagged , , , , ,

The Formula to a Successful App

Consumers prefer apps that do one, maybe two things, very well. Clunky apps that try to be your virtual Swiss Army Knife typically fail to do anything exceptional, with each additional feature being another impossible frustration. An app should have one purpose, and be great at it.

iPhone AppsThe app marketplace is more crowded and competitive than ever, making it important to put out high-quality apps that meet a user’s expectation. Apps that try to add multiple bonus features are slow to load and prone to errors. According to a recent study on consumer expectations and experiences of mobile devices, 79 percent of users will abandon an app if it fails to work on the first or second try. In addition, 48 percent said that they are less likely to use an app when they are not satisfied with its performance, and might submit unfavorable reviews.

App-StoreSingle or dual-purpose apps tend to be less complex, with faster load times and fewer opportunities for malfunctions. Paper, Uber, MyTime and Wells Fargo Mobile are examples of four such apps that do their job: making a user’s life easier.

  • Facebook’s new Paper app is a simplified version of Facebook, with the goal of making it easier to consume content. Buttons, menus and other distractions are removed for a clean layout.
  • Uber connects users to private drivers in select cities in 19 countries around the world. With one tap, Uber checks a user’s location using their device’s GPS and dispatches a driver to pick them up. Uber even tracks driver location to see how far away they are and contacts them if needed.
  • MyTime compares a user’s calendar on a mobile device with that of the business where an appointment is desired, and the user chooses the best option. According to MyTime, most of its appointments are booked after business hours. From barber shops to tennis lessons, the app provides one valuable service for both local businesses and consumers.
  • The Wells Fargo Mobile app foregoes the bells and whistles to concentrate on fast load times at 128 bit SSL encryption. The app has a simple, clean display so users clearly see the fine details related to an account.

Google-PlayPaper, Uber, MyTime and Well Fargo Mobile fit the mold of the modern app: light and efficient, quick to load and respond, but powerful and useful. When apps do something well and do it quickly, it fits into the lifestyle of today’s consumer. The formula is easy: a simple function or service + clean, easy to navigate design = a successful app that users will keep coming back to.

Posted in Mobile, Product, Silicon Valley | Tagged , , , , ,

How to Optimize User Experience Across Multiple Devices

I co-authored an article, “How to Optimize User Experience Across Multiple Devices” with Steve Trefethen, CTO of Wanderful Media. Having both worked in technology for many years; we understand the importance of focusing on user experience. Today, people are using a variety of devices to access the web, so you can’t ignore the different screen sizes, interaction options and software capabilities.

multiple-devices

The days of building solely for the desktop or laptop are over, we must spread our focus across multiple devices to meet user expectations. People often use different-sized devices sequentially throughout the day. They also tend to begin their online activities on a smartphone, except when shopping or managing their finances. Meanwhile, tablets are the most commonly used device for watching videos and planning trips.

Responsive DesignWeb developers have no choice but to adapt to the wide variety of devices being used. The solution to optimizing sites and apps across multiple devices lies in responsive web design. With responsive web design, you can create layouts and content that adjust based on a device. These sites automatically determine the system that is being used, and choose the proper formatting for the device and its screen size.

Read full article: How to Optimize User Experience Across Multiple Devices | Independent Retailer

Posted in Product, Silicon Valley, Wanderful Media | Tagged , , , , , , ,

2013: Year In Review

If you think about it, every year develops a character, or theme of its own depending upon objectives we’ve set, choices we’ve made and unexpected events that occurred along the way.

SJSUvsStanford-2013On the personal side, 2013 was driven by a few new beginnings for me; getting married this past spring, moving to Los Gatos after 14 years in Scotts Valley and three of my kids starting their freshman year of high school.

It has been a busy year, but I managed to see more college games than I did in 2012 and I look forward to closing out the year with some big bowl games.

On the professional side, 2013 was all about execution. Here are some Wanderful Media highlights from this past year:

  • We reimagined the Find&Save web experience and launched FindnSave.com. We also expanded to 470 newspaper sites. Our audience has grown by 40% in combined engagement and visitors in the last 60 days alone. We still have a few major improvements up our sleeve, but the web is just the foundation.
  • We launched our iPad app 60 days ago; it now makes up 10% of our audience and is growing faster than the web by far. It’s not unlikely that it will reach 50% in the near future. The iPad app is still in its early stage and we have to begin to build distribution for it. But given that engagement is four times than what it is on the web, it has the potential to change consumer behavior in a big way.

F&S-iPadApp#2

  • A few weeks ago we launched our first iPhone app in the App Store. According to Greg Sterling’s article on Screenwerk, “Find&Save offers what may well be the best overall shopping app/experience online – period.” We have more work left to do to perfect this app even more, have two more consumer apps in design and our local merchant app at the conceptual stage.
  • We renovated a historic building in Downtown Chico to design a Silicon Valley-styled workplace for our development and production office. We’ve already had great support from the community with successful events, and even won the area’s Tech Company of the Year award from Innovate Northstate.

ChicoOffice-BartSpeakingBy the end of 2014, we hope to fundamentally change consumer behavior, and just as importantly, create a set of advertising options for retailers that don’t exist today. When we put our apps in the hands of 50MM consumers, it will have the consumer purchase power that circulars have had historically. 

We see a path to building a much larger, more targeted and more engaged audience than all of the combined printed “circular like” vehicles over the next five years. Our investors will own something that touches more consumers, more deeply than the 100 plus-year-old circular business.

When all is said and done, I’m excited about the road ahead and optimistic for another successful year in 2014.

Roll Tide!

Posted in FindnSave, Silicon Valley, Wanderful Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s a Wanderful time to be in the news!

With the first official day of fall around the corner, Wanderful is moving quickly to prepare for the holiday shopping season. Momentum is building and media outlets are taking notice of our hard work.

A few weeks ago I was interviewed live on Bloomberg TV’s “Taking Stock with Pimm Fox.” We discussed how newspapers are getting serious about digital ads, and I provided an overview of Wanderful Media and our main product Find&Save. I explained that our focus over the last year has been building a product that engages the audience across the web and mobile devices, with a real big focus on the tablet given that we think that is a very natural way to do discovery shopping, very similar to sitting on the couch and flipping through the circular.

Ben Smith - Bloomberg TV

To view the full interview, click here: Newspapers Get Serious About Digital Ads – Bloomberg TV’s “Taking Stock with Pimm Fox” (aired on August 23, 2013)

I was also asked to comment on a post for NetNewsCheck, helping announce the upcoming Place Indoor Marketing Summit. This event is being hosted by Greg Sterling’s Opus Research and will bring together the entire spectrum of companies building the indoor marketing ecosystem.

Indoor Marketing Summit (2013)

With billions of dollars being spent each year trying to influence consumer buying in stores, a percentage of that money will migrate towards indoor marketing. The goal of the newspaper insert is to drive shoppers to stores, and indoor-marketing techniques implemented by retailers will encourage shoppers to buy more stuff. I am looking forward to speaking at this event on October 8th in San Francisco.

To read the full article, click here: Indoor Marketing: The Next Disruptor? – NetNewsCheck (published on August 20, 2013).

Recently, Wanderful’s Grace Chan shared her thoughts on Marissa Mayer’s Vogue photo with CNN. She contributed to an article on CNN.com and also joined anchor Brooke Baldwin and writer Kelly Wallace live on CNN Newsroom to further discuss her personal views. When asked if she would ever pose for Vogue as executive, Grace said “This is something I wouldn’t personally do because I believe if you want to be treated equal, you shouldn’t take advantage of your physical assets”.

Grace Chan - CNN

Grace also went on to say “I don’t want to get brownie points because I am attractive. I like to separate the fact that I am a woman and I am a professional.”

To read the full article, click here: Sexed up and smart: Women debate Marissa Mayer’s Vogue photo – CNN News (published on August 20, 2013)

Posted in FindnSave, Silicon Valley, Wanderful Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mobile Technology: A Must For Business

I recently co-authored an Independent Retailer article with Seema Sud, Director of Product Management for Mobile and Tablet at Wanderful Media. We were asked to share our thoughts on Mobile Technology for the magazine’s readers. As the rate of mobile usage continues to surge, we see some challenges ahead, but a lot of opportunity for independent retailers.

mobile-shoppingOur focus has always been on connecting local retailers with consumers, and we believe mobile technology is a key element for making this happen. The Internet is always open for business, and mobile devices are enabling consumers to browse, check reviews, find stores and buy products anywhere/anytime.

Here are a few highlights from the article we wrote:

  • Shopping-Women-using-Digital-Tablet-outdoors.-660x440Optimize for mobile - More than ever, consumers are using mobile devices to compare information about companies, products and pricing prior to making a purchase. Independent retailers should optimize their website so it can easily be viewed across all mobile devices. A poor mobile experience can dramatically impact shopping and the overall bottom line.
  • shopphoneImage is everything – Think of images as multiple window displays for your business. High-quality images attract consumers, and this is especially true when it comes to shopping. For most consumers, detailed images carry more weight than product information, full descriptions and customer ratings.

In 2013, it is expected that the number of mobile devices will exceed the number of people. The time is now for independent retailers to integrate mobile technology into their business. A fundamental shift must be made to meet the expectations of the modern customer – the longer businesses hold out, the harder it will be to catch up.

To see what we said about mobile technology for business, check out the full article on Independent Retailer

Posted in FindnSave, Wanderful Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Wanderful Media Raises Another $9 Million to Fuel Rapid Growth

Wanderful logo?We’ve been heads-down, busy working, and I am very pleased with the team’s accomplishments so far in 2013. Wanderful Media recently announced raising an additional $9 million from our existing investors, bringing our total funding to $36 million. This additional capital emphasizes the continued enthusiasm from our core group of investors in the market potential and in our overall product strategy.

Trending Community Picks

Over the last few months, we’ve been building some exciting new features and enhancements into our Find&Save experience. Some of these include: our Trending Community Picks widget, Community Picks Page, My Lists Page and major refinements to search and navigation. I want to thank the entire team for their hard work, but specifically Dave Thomsen and Grace Chan for driving our product/design, Seema Sud for her focus on building our mobile products, and Steve Trefethen for overseeing the development and deployment of our web and mobile presence.

F&S FacebookWanderful Media’s decision to ‘double-down’ on mobile and social has pushed us to the forefront of innovation in this area. Today’s consumers want more from their shopping experience and our team is focused on delivering the information they crave in a quick and easy format. Our newly reimagined Find&Save allows retailers to engage shoppers around sales and products, with the intent of driving them across the threshold of retail stores.

Here are some highlights from the coverage we received:

Wanderful Media, which is helping newspapers make next-generation circulars, announced Tuesday morning that it’s raised $9 million in a new round of financing from its existing newspaper publisher backers. – VatorNews

“The relaunch has gotten a positive response so far. That’s one of the reasons for the new funding – to increase the distribution around a product that seems to be working,” Doug Kilponen, COO for Wanderful Media – TechCrunch

Wanderful’s objective is to reinvent the newspaper circular as a digital shopping discovery experience in an effort to drive online (and mobile) consumers into stores. – Greg Sterling’s Screenwerk

Read more here: Newspaper Companies Invest Another $9M In Local Deal Startup Wanderful Media

Posted in FindnSave, Silicon Valley, Wanderful Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Dumb Things We Say in the Startup World

I recently co-authored an article, “The Dumb Things We Say in the Startup World” with Mark Menell, a former partner at Rustic Canyon and the past COO & CFO of ShopRunner. Having worked together on several ventures, Mark and I have more than our fair share of scars and failures alongside of a few wins. We wanted to share a few important lessons we’ve learned and some of the really dumb things we’ve heard, or even said, throughout the years.

DumbThings

Here are just a few of the dumb things we called out in this piece:

“If you are not sleeping under your desk regularly, you are not committed to this.” 

You are putting everything on the line. All you ask in return from employees is absolute dedication. You can’t beat people into commitment. If your idea is so great, inspire them to be as dedicated as you are. If you can inspire people to be passionate, you can let go of rigid rules and authoritarian mandates because everyone will give all they have for the sake of the dream. Marissa Mayer is wrong — a dedicated, passionate team will do absolutely whatever it takes, whether they are in the office, on the road or occasionally making it home to see their kids for dinner.

“We can’t give up that much ownership! What will we ever use that extra $2MM for?” 

It sounds thoughtful, conservative, responsible and careful. It’s usually just misguided. In terms of dilution, it’s good to maintain as much control as possible, but don’t let your ship go under in lieu of accepting the right financing deal during the crucial proving period.

“I don’t get this relationship stuff, I am just all about putting my head down and getting stuff done.” 

That might work in a transaction-based world, but never in the VC world. If you don’t have long-term relationships, you will not be able to influence broad ecosystems to your point of view. Consider Marc Benioff at Salesforce.com as an example of how important this skill is for winning in the valley. Without relationships, you will also not have the best information about what is really happening — such as when the largest acquisition in the history of your space goes down. In addition, without relationships you will not be able to remove friction. Buying companies involves weeks of paperwork and diligence, and can be great experiences because of trusted relationships. Relationships matter in the startup world. Treat them like the 50-year investment they are.

To see what other dumb things we’ve heard…or possibly said, read the full article on PandoDaily.

Posted in Silicon Valley, Startups | Tagged , , , , , ,

Take Two! The Find&Save Experience Just Got More Personal & Social

This week we unveiled our new Find&Save® local discovery shopping platform at the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) mediaXchange Conference in Orlando. This represents the culmination of many months of GSD or Get Sh*t Done. The Wanderful Media team consistently delivers with a sooner is better than better attitude and I couldn’t be more proud…or excited of what we built.

539727_273220636146574_655896730_nWe’ve taken our previous “Find n Save” product and revamped the design from the bottom up – adding new features and tools to enhance the shopper experience. Local shoppers now have at their fingertips the ability to:

  • Discover sales, all in one place – Find&Save is a comprehensive collection of great local sales.
  • Collect sale items of interest - Easily create lists of sale items to be saved, sent to friends, or shared with the Find&Save community.
  • Never miss a sale - Get timely alerts and reminders about expiring sales
  • Share, follow, and participate - Share sale items and lists across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and email. Also follow favorite retailers, shopping categories and user-created lists, as well as tastemakers within the shopping community.

Ben Smith - NAA (2013)Our official press release went out on Monday. If you’d like to read a bit more about our announcement, visit our website for the full press release. Also, more great press has been circulating this week. Here’s what is being said about our new Find&Save:

No more dirty fingers for consumers, who can throw away print circulars and browse sales on their tablets, phones or desktops thanks to Find&Save. The relaunched product, previously a collection of digital circulars, has been redesigned as an online community replete with social-media type tools. – ClickZ

Wanderful Media has reinvented Find&Save through social/local/mobile, or SoLoMo, technologies and today debuts a new mobile site and web site, and soon will launch iPhone and iPad apps. – Internet Retailer

While creating shopping lists and following lists sounds a lot like what you can do on Pinterest, the difference is that Wanderful’s Find&Save service is for the frugal shopper, which cuts across many demographics. Everyone wants to save money. – VatorNews

Indeed, with the right user experience there’s enormous potential for Find&Save – especially if social is done well and the company can get the PC-app integration right. – Screenwerk

I appreciate the industry for providing us with the opportunity to work on this problem – it’s exciting. We’re honored that you trust us to help reinvent this part of the business. Start browsing the newly re-imagined Find&Save in your area; I am certain you will find a product or two that is worth sharing with friends or adding to a list.

Go here: For more Wanderful videos from NAA mediaXchange 2013

Posted in FindnSave, Silicon Valley, Wanderful Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,