Saturday, February 28, 2009

A startup uses science to catch pooper-scooper scofflaws.

Link of the day - Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things

If Tom Boyd gets his way, pet owners may soon feel like actors in an episode of CSI: Pooch.

His Knoxville company, BioPet Vet Lab, developed a DNA-based system to help apartment managers and town administrators catch miscreants who ignore pooper-scooper rules. The system, called PooPrints, collects saliva swabs from every dog in a participating area and registers the DNA in a central database. When residents find dog droppings, they mail them to BioPet. Technicians then match the DNA to reveal the offending owner. Boyd, 71, charges $29.95 for each pet he enrolls and $49.95 per poop test.

"There's a major problem with dog crap, especially where kids play," he says. "It's a health hazard."

At least one property manager is skeptical. Mary Gwyn, founder and co-owner of Apartment Dynamics, a High Point, N.C. company that manages eight apartment complexes with a total of 916 units, argues that poop testing is a hard sell in a weak economy and could create an adversarial relationship between landlords and tenants.

"A more viable market would be high-end condo or homeowner associations," she says. "Because their occupants are owners, they don't have to worry as much about policies that cause residents not to want to live there."

Pet DNA products are big business. Since Boyd launched BioPet in March 2008, he has released three new products in addition to the poop test: a proof of parentage test; a genetic ID kit, which lets owners register a pet DNA sample for proof of ownership; and a breed identification test that reveals every single breed in your mutt's family tree. Boyd expects to sell about 600,000 of these DNA test products this year, for sales of $18 million to $20 million.

"The DNA Breed Identification test kit is probably one of the best single items I've ever added," says Curt Olvey, president of UTM Distributing, a Cincinnati pet supply wholesaler that sold 2,580 kits in six months. "People regard their pets as family."

Navigation By Mood

World’s Smallest Postal Service

A New Sport and a Startup

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How To Avoid Deadbeat Clients

Link of the day - The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life

Over lunch last spring, as Robert Bodi listened to a buddy complain about a customer who refused to pay for irrigation work on her property, he knew something sounded familiar about the story. Bodi, an independent irrigation contractor in Venice, Fla., realized the same woman had stiffed him after he fixed some wires in her irrigation system following a lightning strike. "And it turned out, there was a third guy in our business who said she never paid him for putting in a new pump for her," recalls Bodi, a 30-year-veteran of the contracting business, who runs Rainmaster LLC. "Some people you just can't please."

With the help of his daughter Ashley, Bodi responded by establishing, a Web site where contractors share stories about deadbeats and those infamous, impossible-to-please customers. The site also names names, to help business owners avoid toxic clients. Since it began operating, in June 2008, the Web site has acquired about 650 members and received 20,000 page hits. has become something of a reverse Better Business Bureau (BBB), a resource that many small business owners look to for guidance—especially in a depressed economic environment in which few can afford to let customers ignore invoices.

"When it comes to work contractors do, they invest a lot of money, so it's only natural for them to get nervous about not being paid," says Alison Southwick, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau.

Like the BBB, Bodi, 48, and his daughter are taking pains to ensure their site's legitimacy so that it doesn't turn into a repository for general nastiness or diatribes from folks seeking to rant for the sake of ranting. "The first couple of months we had to delete stuff like crazy. I was worried about lawsuits," Bodi says. "Then we started charging a one-time $5 fee for people to become members. You would not believe how that reduced the number of crazy claims. And members have to give us their business license numbers." The $5 fees are used to defray the site's administrative costs. (The Bodis take no payments for operating

Although Bodi doesn't retain a lawyer for advice about the site, he says he and his daughter calmed their fears about potential lawsuits by doing some legal research on the Internet before starting the site. They've posted a disclaimer, citing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which says that, as long as Web site owners don't alter reader comments to make them defamatory, they can't be held liable. The Bodis edit to remove defamatory language from the site, and prohibit profanity and personal insults. "You have to stick to the issue at hand," says Robert Bodi. "You can't call anyone fat or ugly on our site." So far, no one has attempted any legal action against or the contractors who post complaints on the site.

Dino Garnett, the sole proprietor of Dee-Noz Tractor Work, in Port Charlotte, Fla., counts herself as a fan of "If I put down a load of pit shell, that's $1,500 just for the material, and I can hardly go back and scrape it back up into my truck if the customer refuses to pay," Garnett says. "Now before I take on new customers, I check to see if other contractors have had problems with customers not paying their bills."

Indeed, tales about deadbeat customers—or those who subjected a contractor to a particular onerous experience before paying—dominate the site. "After she used us for cleaning service, she would not pay us. She told us many times she would pay us but never did," reads a typical comment, from a contractor in El Paso. Although most posts don't disclose the amount that was owed, the average among business owners who reveal that information is $2,000 to $2,500. Bodi and Garnett say they have found that wealthy customers are the ones most likely not to pay. receives complaints from all over the U.S. and parts of Canada. Contractors can search for complaints about prospective customers via Zip Code or county, state, or province name. A list of customers then comes up, but the user can't see the text of the actual complaints without registering and paying the $5 fee. Likewise, customers who have registered can view what contractors have written about them; they then have the option of posting an explanation with their side of the matter.

If complaint sites like are the flip side of the BBB, does it mean the most-complained-about industries are the ones most likely to create their own sites about troublesome customers? Probably not. According to the BBB, the top three fields that generate the most customer complaints are cellular phone sellers, auto dealerships, and banks—industries dominated by large corporations that do not want to risk lawsuits or even the slightest appearance of a Goliath hectoring an individual. (Contractors rank 19th.)

Indeed, small businesses are the most likely to follow's example, says Dave Heller, a lawyer at the Media Law Resource Center in New York. He points to's closest and most prominent predecessor, the decade-old, which began as a forum for restaurant servers to tattle on diners who left cheap tips. "These are situations in which the balance of power is not necessarily tipped in favor of the business," Heller says. Hence public opinion is more likely to view small contractors—who provide manual labor and the up-front costs of providing construction and repair materials—as victims rather than menacing bill collectors.

Nonetheless, wherever people are identified, there exists the possibility of litigation. Linda Wong, an attorney with a specialty in commercial law, says she would discourage all businesses from taking part in such forums. "You have the First Amendment right to publish statements on a public Internet forum," says Wong, a partner in the Princeton (N.J.) firm of Wong, Walker, Bowman & Fleming. "But if you write about private parties rather than public figures, you run the risk of defamation lawsuits."

Other observers, however, wouldn't let fear of litigation stop them from making legitimate complaints via Web sites like "It's the other side of the coin—there are a million sites where customers complain," says Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Assn. in New Rochelle, N.Y. "If businesses want to use the Internet to post information, it's fine as long as it's true. Businesses have a right to protect their interests—within the limits of defamation and privacy law, of course."

Ben Popken, co-executive editor of, a three-year-old consumer-complaint site recently purchased by Consumers Union, believes that the $5 membership fee charges means lower liability risk. "The site is behind a pay-wall, so it's not so bad, because it isn't accessible via a Google search for an individual customer's name," says Popken. And no matter how much justifiable hostility Web site posters feel, experts say such sites are wise to adhere to strict rules on civil language. "Don't call for someone's dismemberment," says author Steve Dublanica, who gathered hundreds of waiters' complaints about customers for his book, Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip—Confessions of a Cynical Waiter (Ecco Harper Collins, 2008).

Indeed, Ashley and Robert Bodi pride themselves on the fact that postings have in some cases led to reconciliations between customers and wronged contractors. And he speculates that the very existence of will help stop payment squabbles before they start: "We hope the customer and contractor can get together and say: 'Hey, neither of us wants to be on this list, so let's get this thing resolved between us now.'"

During This Recession, Expect To Be Put On Hold

No Love For The Wedding Industry During Recession.

Man Charged With Killing Hawk To Help Squirrel

The Business Of Grease

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Change My Name

Link of the day - How Changed The Domain Game For Good

Planning a wedding may be a time-consuming task, but any bride who elects to take her husband's last name after getting married soon learns that the process of making that name change can be nearly as laborious. Enter I'm a Mrs., a new site that gives Canadian women an alternative to navigating the myriad forms, government requirements and notification letters themselves.

Traditionally, changing one's name involves visiting a government office for the required forms, and then identifying and notifying all the other organizations in one's life—a process that can take hours or even days. Vancouver-based I’m A Mrs., however, provides a one-stop alternative with all of the forms, instructions and personalized letters new brides need when they change their name. Two packages are available on the site: a CDN 29.95 standard package, which includes access to all of the necessary government forms as well as three additional ones of the bride's choice, and a CDN 49.95 premium package, which includes access to all forms in the database covering government, banks, credit cards, utility companies and mortgage firms. With either package, brides are given a personal page where they select the organizations that are relevant to them. Then, they simply provide I'm a Mrs. with the details of their name change, and the site auto-completes the necessary forms and letters. After looking them over, brides need only sign the paperwork and send it out.

I'm a Mrs. currently serves only Canada, but plans are in the works to extend its service to the US as well. One to partner with or emulate in your neck of the woods...?

P2P Camping

Profiting From Exotic Popcorn Flavors

Magic As Business

Weird Businesses - Lightning Photography

Demographic Winter: Decline of the Human Family

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How Enterpreneurs Get Their Ideas

Link of the day - Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

I'm often asked how I came up with the idea for my baseball tours company, Big League Tours. It's pretty simple, really. Just like everything else in my life, when my experience, passions and opportunities intersect, "big breaks" have occurred.

What led me to start Big League Tours is my background in entrepreneurial activities, my love for baseball and my recognition of a niche opportunity.

My background in entrepreneurial activities began at a young age when my dad encouraged me to mow lawns in my hometown of Summitville. He helped me set a price, ask for the money and realize that when you are providing a service that people need or want, you shouldn't feel like you are selling them anything.

From there I went to Ball State University to study entrepreneurship, which only increased my desire to be involved with entrepreneurial ventures. Starting at the Small Business Development Center in Columbus and later the SBDC in Indianapolis, I counseled and trained small-business owners in all aspects of business planning, startup and operations.

Seeing a need to provide services to entrepreneurs led my co-founder, Tom Gabbert, and me to launch Milestone Advisors in 2003. At Milestone, we advise CEOs on business strategy, corporate finance and management accounting. We have worked with more than 300 companies since our inception and have grown to 25 people.

Similarly, baseball is a passion for me that began at an early age. I grew up playing baseball, watching the game of the week on Saturdays and going to Riverfront Stadium every chance that I could. My dad and I used to talk about visiting every Major League ballpark, and we visited a few here and there.

But when my son, who's now 11, started getting into baseball, we began talking about visiting all the parks, too. I realized that I had a window of opportunity to go to as many of the stadiums as I could with him and my dad before life passed us up and we no longer had the opportunity.

As I looked into the options of going with other tour operators or going on my own, I didn't like what I saw. Other tour operators offered seven- to 10-day tours that had you on a bus for 3,000-plus miles, staying at cheap motels in the middle of nowhere and sitting in group seats in the upper decks. None of that appealed to me. I also thought that going alone wouldn't afford me some things that could more easily be done in a group.

I began pulling together a business plan. I surrounded myself with people with experience in travel, and (who) had connections with baseball. Once the idea had jelled, the launch began in the fall of 2005 and tours began in 2006.

We offer really cool opportunities for baseball lovers, like bringing in current and former Major League Baseball players to meet with our guests. We take private stadium tours and get special access to stadiums.

It's been a real dream to think up and plan the tours the way that I would want to take them and to share that with other baseball fans.

How Two Tech Guys Created A Viral Food Sensation

Pee Farming

Leo Nordine - The King Of Foreclosures

Don't Touch My Beer!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Laid-off tech workers get entrepreneurial for Valentine's Day

Link of the day - The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need

In case you missed, the fun Christmas gift referral service started by two laid-off Seattle techies - they're back with a Valentine's version launching today. does the same sort of thing: Visitors enter the phone number of their special someone, who then gets an automated call from Saint Valentino. When they describe the gifts they'd like to receive on Feb. 14, speech-to-text software they built develops a shopping list and the site offers links to

It sounds simple, but it took some creativity and finesse by developers Matt Steckler, 32, and Andres Krogh, 25, who are now trying to build their voice-recognition-based gift system into a year-round business. Possibilities include white labeling the service or developing versions for birthdays or weddings.

They started Christmas version after being laid-off from Seattle's Haute Secure in September. The inspiration came from another Seattle startup, Web telephony tool Twilio, which they used to build in under a week.

Their first effort handled more than 15,000 phone calls in 30 days. It also drew the attention of an unnamed angel investor who gave them enough (under $20,000) to keep building their startup, dubbed

Their wish for Saint Valentino: More funding from angels or a strategic partner to help make into a full-blown company.

Peter Schiff Talks About The Coming Economic Collapse In US (2006 Video In 8 Parts)

They Sell WHAT On Amazon.Com?

25 Weirdest Collections

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fictional Brands As Business

Link of the day - I will pay you $25, if you come up with a cool domain name for me.

Lucky Seven makes custom caps that bear the logos of fictional companies featured in cult films and television shows. Founder Jay Jay Burridge is a self-proclaimed seventies kid, who spent much of his childhood wearing a Star Wars cap. Burridge, who is an artist by trade, founded the London-based company as a hobby, and turned it into a successful online business.

Lucky Seven's caps are all made to order. On the company’s website, customers are invited to design their own caps by choosing either a mesh or army style cap, a colour combination from an extensive palate, style of captain's laurels, and the preferred fictional company's crest. Want to declare your loyalty to the promise and opportunity of Blade Runner's Off World Colonies? Done. Prefer people to think you shot J.R. because of your Ewing Oil cap? No problem. Every order is shipped in a Lucky Seven hat box, and caps are priced at GBP 30.

The company has cleverly focused on a very narrow niche—not just customized caps, or accessories featured in movies, but caps with logos of fictional yet memorable entities. Immediately recognizable only to likeminded fans, a Lucky Seven cap is both a conversation starter and an insider's status symbol. Which is the kind of added value that can help a small business grow. One to learn from!

Obsessive Branding Disorder

10 Books Are Just As Good As Freakonomics

Navigation By Mood

The Business Of Deer Pee

Monday, February 09, 2009

Obsessive Branding Disorder

Link of the day - I will pay you $25, if you come up with a cool domain name for me.

The Authors@Google program welcomed Lucas Conley to Google's New York office to discuss his book, "Obsessive Branding Disorder".

Publisher's Weekly: "Journalist Conley examines the implications of brand-centric marketing in an incisive investigation that illustrates how defenseless consumers are against advertising—on any given day, they are assaulted by 3,000 to 5,000 ads and branding stratagems that subtly dictate every aspect of their lives. Harnessing scientific innovations, branding has become increasing insidious—whether it is the Xbox audio logo or Southwest Airlines' incorporation of the fasten seatbelt sound in their marketing campaign—consumers are being conditioned to think in brands. Beyond ad creep and product placement in entertainment programming, viral and word of mouth (WOM) marketing now make even personal recommendations suspect. According to Conley, 1% of American children and 7% of mothers are compensated for participating in WOM marketing. Even social policy is being corrupted—the author asserts that public branding initiatives such as post-Katrina New Orleans' allocation of public funds toward refurbishing its Mardi Gras City image rather than addressing its safety issues shifts resources away from problem-solving in favor of perception. Conley's perspective on branding's encroachment into social areas is as alarming as it is stimulating."

Murder Inc Documentary

Inside The Mafia

MS-13 Documentary From History Channel

Saturday, February 07, 2009

How To Track Your Sex Life Online

Link of the day - How Changed The Domain Game For Good

The web has spawned new ways to track just about everything under the sun—from our finances to the foods we eat—so why not our sex lives too? Indeed, Bedpost is an online application now in private beta that helps consumers do just that.

Bedpost is an entirely personal application, password-protected from the prying eyes of others, and stresses that it offers absolutely no social networking features. Rather, it is a way for consumers to keep track of the sexual encounters they've had by logging in and entering some key details after each one. Users begin by creating a profile for the partner involved in their most recent encounter and then clicking on the calendar to indicate when the encounter happened. Then, they enter not just the time it happened, but also how long the encounter lasted, some descriptive tags and a star-based rating of the experience. The site then records all that information and presents it in a map of activity for the month on the user's dashboard. For a historical view, Bedpost tracks summary statistics including frequency, average rating, and totals for the month and year so far. "Solo sex" tracking is also available.

As Bedpost notes in its privacy section, sexual data is potentially second only to financial information in its sensitivity. Will consumers be willing to trust a third party with that information—and will the benefits make any risk worthwhile? Time will tell. In the meantime, Bedpost is seeking donations as votes for the project's long-term viability.


Dumping Startbucks Can Be A Good Thing For Your Business

Magic As Business

The junk boom: Profiting from foreclosures

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Link of the day - The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Vontoo started out as a voice-messaging tool, blasting targeted lists of people with prerecorded pitches from the likes of Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in the National Basketball Assn.'s 2007 draft, who "called" Portland Trailblazer season ticket holders to re-up for another year.

But as times have grown tougher, the 25-employee company has morphed into a service for bill collectors. Dustin Sapp, 30, and Robert Compton, 52, co-founders of Indianapolis-based Vontoo, had already launched and sold a successful business—NoInk, a digital information service for the medical-device industry—before they began their new company in 2005 with $1.5 million from angel investors.

Prices range from $15 for 100 message minutes to $1,000 for 10,000 message minutes. Lately, the founders have discovered their automated phone calls are an effective collection tool. More than a third of Vontoo's clients today use it to get customers to pay past-due bills, and Sapp expects the share to grow. (Celebrity voices aren't used for these calls; companies typically record a company exec or someone in customer service.)

Since turning to Vontoo, one client has cut its own collection staff by more than 50% while realizing a 60% jump in collections.

Pee Farming

Leo Nordine - The King Of Foreclosures

Dumping Startbucks Can Be A Good Thing For Your Business

The junk boom: Profiting from foreclosures

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Eco Logos

Link of the day - How Changed The Domain Game For Good

Realising that green concerns are here to stay, British media agency Curb offers nothing but low-impact advertising. Its clean advertising service (similar to Street Advertising Services and GreenGraffiti, which we featured earlier) uses rainwater to clean logos into grubby pavements, and has been joined by a four other services that are both novel and easy on the environment.

Curb creates sand sculptures of all sizes; burns patterns and logos into wood using magnifying glasses; and offers a ‘logrow’ service to cut logos as big as 30m wide into turf. Although each service is handcrafted, the agency is adamant that images are produced exactly as created digitally. Last but not least, graphics can be projected on falling sheets of water to create a memorable display. Household names have already used Curb’s services: Innocent smoothies were immortalised in grass, Volkswagen commissioned a sand sculpture and Barack Obama’s face was etched into wood.

We’re happy to see that ‘cleanvertising’ has been expanded into an entire portfolio of green(er) advertising options. Curb claim to be the world’s first and only media agency to be doing this exclusively. Which indicates that there’s space for others in different regions. Start blasting, sculpting, cutting and burning!

DollarFlyers Are Stealing The Spotlight From Traditional Business Cards

World Monument of Love World

Dumb But Profitable. 10 Million Dollar Ideas That Shouldn't Have Worked.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

KarmaBanque Radio