Saturday, November 30, 2013

When cars sell - story

Crazy Startup Of The Day -

Talk about a fruitful investment. Mason Arnold relishes the attention he and his com-pany garner around Austin for driving a vehicle with a big banana on the roof. In turning people's heads, he has turned a company car into a rolling conversation starter, brand fortifier and revenue generator.

"It's the best marketing thing we've ever done,"

Arnold says of the vehicle, one of three fruit-topped Toyota Prius hybrid cars operated by his 8-year-old company, Greenling, an organic-food delivery service.

Arnold couldn't be happier with his decision to purchase a company-owned Prius and top it with a $3,000 epoxy-coated, aluminum-and-Styrofoam banana emblazoned with the company's web address. "For every dollar we spend on the banana car, we probably get $10 to $20 in return," he says, citing a survey of new customers who signed up as a direct result of seeing the vehicle, which runs about $600 per month in operating costs.

Even without a supersize piece of produce, a wisely chosen company vehicle can be a productive and versatile investment. The car Tom Turner was seeking for his legal e-discovery/tech company, DSi, didn't have to be fast, but it had to be easy to park, with enough cargo room to haul boxes of documents around downtown Nashville, Tenn. The one he ultimately chose, a $14,000 CitEcar Electro Bubble Buddy, can be described as something between a golf cart and a delivery van; it's an electric-powered utility vehicle that plugs in overnight to recharge, eliminating refueling downtime. Even better, the small vehicle can be parked on sidewalks or in vacant spots that are too small for a typical car.

The savings on fuel and parking come out to roughly $1,700 a year. And thanks to a $7,500 tax credit from the federal government for green vehicles, and the IRS' mileage deduction, Turner expects the CitEcar to pay for itself within three years and then actually start making money if he takes advantage of the mileage write-off.

[Via -]

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

World's Strangest Startup Incubator

Crazy Startup Of The Day -
The next great tech startup could emerge from a classroom full of men serving double-digit sentences for offenses ranging from car-jacking to murder.

Launched in 2010, The Last Mile is a tech incubator at San Quentin State Prison. Many of the inmates in the program will spend years in prison and some may never leave, but TLM is aimed at helping them find their voice and, for those who do leave, a job.

Like many entrepreneurs, founders Chris Redlitz and his wife, Beverly Parenti, set out to fix a problem.

"In California, we spend more for prisons than for higher education," Parenti said. "The average cost per prisoner per year is $45,000. So when many men leave San Quentin, we have already invested nearly $1 million for their incarceration."

Two nights a week, a select group of inmates gather to learn about technology and innovation. To get into the Last Mile, inmates complete the in-prison college program. They also go through a rigorous application process and must demonstrate the ability to work well in teams. They're mentored by Redlitz and Parenti along with tech entrepreneurs from companies like Quora and LinkedIn who drop by for guest lectures.

Throughout the six-month course, each inmate cultivates a business idea. At the end of the program, they pitch their concepts to venture capitalists and program supporters like M.C. Hammer. Past ideas have ranged from a food distribution startup connecting leftover produce with impoverished communities, to ways to combat obesity in low-income neighborhoods.

The inmates also learn about modern ways to connect: Even though San Quentin is less than an hour from tech giants like Facebook and Twitter, many of the inmates have never logged on to either service. They learn to tweet by filling out 140-character forms that are later tweeted for them; they answer questions from the outside world on Quora via volunteers in the program. For those behind bars, social media tools are a way to connect and find their voice in what can often be an extremely isolating environment.

"There's so much more to us than the crimes we committed ... Social media gave us an outlet to speak to who we really are," former inmate Kenyatta Leal said.

For Leal, who was incarcerated nearly two decades ago when flip phones were the smartest devices on the market, the program has been invaluable. At The Last Mile, Leal pitched an idea for Coach Potato, an app that would allow fans to call plays during games. Because of his success in the program, Leal left prison with a job many college grads would envy.
The ex-con is working as an operations associate at Rocketspace, a co-working and community space for tech startups in San Francisco.

He's not the only Last Mile grad to get a job in the startup community. After 17 years in prison, James Houston is interning at payments startup Ribbon. He connected with the company through TLM.

"I believe a lot of us, we started getting in trouble because we thought outside the box," he told CNNMoney. "Instead of redirecting that in a positive way, we were just kinda outcasts because of it."

Of the six TLM graduates who have been released, five are either interning or working full-time at tech startups, and the sixth started his own web consulting firm.

For many, the program is viewed as a way back into society.

"[The Last Mile is] the light at the end of the tunnel for those guys that are ultimately desiring to exit the prison and become valuable citizens again," said Lt. Sam Robinson, the public information officer at San Quentin who tracks the progress of participating inmates.

Hercacio Harts graduated TLM and was released after eight and a half years last March. He's now working full-time in business development at crowdfunding startup

"I spent many years reading books and magazines and thinking that no one's going to hire me," Harts said. "For my family structure, it's been really helpful for my kids to see me not in blue, [but] as a returned citizen."

The Last Mile's success hasn't gone unnoticed. L.A. County Prison adopted the same program and Redlitz said others are considering similar ones.

Inmates say their prison experience makes them uniquely suited to becoming entrepreneurs:

"Being in prison, having to survive in this type of lifestyle, that's one thing prison does teach you, is how to be resilient and really try to win against all odds," inmate James Cavitt said.

[Via - CNNMoney]

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Business Of Changing Names

Crazy Startup Of The Day -
CHICAGO – It took three stressful trips to the motor vehicle department before newlywed Danielle Tate finally succeeded in changing her name. Her frustration unleashed a new business that has saved thousands of brides from the same headache.

“I complained to my new husband that this is ridiculous, why isn’t there some sort of service that does as much of the paperwork for you as possible?” said Ms. Tate, 29. “He just looked at me and said, ‘Well, you should do it.’”

Six years later, has helped some 82,000 users change their married names. At the cost of US$29.95, plus fees with various government agencies, the website offers an integrated process Ms. Tate likens to filing taxes on TurboTax. She estimated it saves about 13 hours of wasted time, on average.

“It’s sort of amazing in this day and age and level of technology that there is still this amount of red tape associated with changing to your married name,” said Ms. Tate, who co-founded the company with her husband, Culin and another partner. “We give you the complete inside scoop on how to skip hassle, skip lines, mail everything in.”

Ms. Tate undertook initial research for the idea at night and on weekends, keeping her sales job with a cancer diagnostics company until August 2006, shortly before launching her website.

In addition to investing US$15,000 of her own money, she needed to get a handle on the varied requirements around the country, personally calling motor vehicle departments in all 50 states.

“You don’t realize how much minutiae goes into each name change,” said Ms. Tate, who now relies on new customers for updates when local requirements change.

Potomac, Md.-based MissNowMrs handles name changes on driver’s licenses, passports and social security IDs, among other documents. It also helps to alert banks, utilities and other service providers. In most cases, the only time customers need to appear in person is to change their driver’s license.

MissNowMrs has faced several hurdles since founding. The recession took a toll on growth, Ms. Tate said, noting that 2009 sales flattened as more couples waited out the economic uncertainty. She had to lay off two members of her fledgling staff, which currently includes her husband and three part-timers.

In addition, a number of copycats began appearing, and Ms. Tate had to divert resources toward costly litigation she said ended in settlements.

“It was actually something that pulled our focus away from opportunities,” said Ms. Tate, adding: “I think we’ve established the brand and brand recognition and the niche in such a way that we’re in a good spot.”

Growth has resumed, Ms. Tate said, noting second-quarter sales are up 25% from last year. Total revenues to date are nearing US$2.5-million.

To help draw traffic to the site, Ms. Tate has embraced social media, having developed the No. 1 Google-ranked blog for newlyweds where she writes on topics ranging from marital spats to coping with in-laws and popular cocktail recipes.

“Brides were a very new, girly world to investigate and understand,” she said.

Justine Ingersoll, editor of, which identifies wedding-related deals, said MissNowMrs is one of several tools that have emerged to automate the process of wedding planning. Everything from sending invitations to writing speeches – even practicing a first dance – can be aided by online services.

“One great thing about the bridal industry is that it will never go away, it’s not a trend,” Ms. Ingersoll said. “I think there’s a market for sites that just make a bride’s life easier.”

Should a marriage go south, Ms. Tate has that covered as well, having tapped the divorce market with a sister site called

“It’s the red-headed stepchild,” Ms. Tate joked. “We’ve actually had a couple of customers admit to using and are now using GetYourNameBack.”

[Via - Financial]

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Best Business Name Ideas Come From …

Coming up with a name for your new company or domain name for your new venture may seem like an impossible task – you’ve already thought about hundred different names, but they are all boring. All the good domain names are taken long ago or being sold for thousands of dollars. You were never the creative type. Excuses, excuses, excuses. In fact, business name ideas are actually fairly easy to come up with, if you use these tools

1. Crowdsourcing

PickyDomains is the most famous crowdsourcing naming service thanks to a unique business model adopted – unlike naming agencies that charge thousands of dollars upfront, with PickyDomains you pay ONLY if you decide to use on the name or ideas suggested by their contributors. So you don’t pay anything if you did not like anything, as simple as that. And if PickyDomains came up with a perfect company name or domain for it – all you pay is $50. That’s something even the most cash strapped business can afford.

2. Brainstorming 2.0

Have you ever heard about social intranet or private social networks? If not, head over to, which can be described as brainstorming on steroids. Bitrix24 offers a number of idea management tools – workgroups, polls, activity stream, group chats, videoconferencing – all of which can be used to generate ideas, evaluate them and vote on the final decision. The basic features in Bitrix24 (including all I just mentioned) are 100% free. Unlike PickyDomains, where others come up with business name ideas for you, Bitrix24 works only if you invite your friends, family members, co-workers or clients to come brainstorm with you.

3. Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Haraka means fast in Swahili. Ixchel is a Mayan goddess of fertility. Belka and Strelka are the names of soviet space dogs that were the first to return from space (Laika, on the other hand, was not so lucky). So if you are launching a new dog treat or dog walking business, you no longer have to limit your thinking to paws, tails, bones and canines. Some of the most quirky name ideas come from obscure facts that you can easily access online, if you know where to look.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Insane Startup Ideas - Space Raffle

Crazy Startup Of The Day -
A new startup company’s $10 space posters come with a chance to win a ride on a suborbital space vehicle.

Called ”I Dream of Space,” the company is selling 25,000 posters at $10 apiece, the proceeds of which should cover a $200,000 ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo or a $95,000 seat on XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx, plus some profit for the company’s founders.

No spaceflight company has yet made a commercial flight, and it could be years before they do, but that day is approaching.

“Given the kind of progress we’re seeing with these companies, and the customers lining up, it’s going to happen soon. It has to happen,” said company co-founder Reuben Metcalfe. “If companies continue building the way they are building, and we build a robust community, it’s going to pan out.”

Metcalfe, a 25-year-old New Zealander, and several friends founded the company in November 2011 as part of Startup Weekend. Metcalfe said he’s already discussing options with suborbital spaceflight companies, but needs to raise a $20,000 deposit before they take him seriously.

Of course, even if they do take him seriously, those companies still have to prove they can routinely fly customers to suborbital altitudes, or at least 62 miles above Earth, and safely return them to the ground.

“People need to be aware that when they enter, they should be comfortable with the fact that it will be years before they can go,” Metcalfe said.

Despite Metcalfe’s legal obligation to provide a ticket for something that doesn’t yet exist, he isn’t worried about following through. Virgin Galactic’s manifest, for example, is already filling up with hundreds of customers on flights anticipated to launch over the course of several years.

Even scientists anticipate the impending success of a suborbital spaceflight industry. Many have booked flights to perform research in near-weightless environments afforded by the parabolic launches.

I Dream of Space has already attracted hundreds of poster-buying, space-flying hopefuls, and they aim to sell remaining contest entries by the year’s end. If Metcalfe’s business model proves successful, he hopes to stage more in 2013 and 2014.

[Via - Wired]

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Kickstart Startups - Lock8 Review

Crazy Startup Of The Day -
Franz Salzmann’s bike had just been stolen. His friend, Daniel Zajarias-Fainsod, had found his own bike filched two days earlier. Over coffee, the friends and students at Oxford University decided it was time to build a better bike lock. “We were very annoyed,” says Salzmann. “Locks today are so bad!”

That was in 2012. After extensive research on bike-theft techniques and existing locks, the entrepreneurs have introduced their solution: Lock8, a keyless smart lock with a GPS tracker, motion and temperature sensors (in case a burglar tries freezing the lock), and a “painfully loud” alarm that goes off if someone cuts the lock cable or so much as moves the bike.

When the alarm goes off, users receive a push notification to their smartphones. The movement sensor can be adjusted to be more or less sensitive so simple jostling won’t unnecessarily trigger the alarm.

To build the first prototypes, Salzmann and Zajarias-Fainsod, both now 28, abandoned their previous careers. Salzmann, an Austrian, had worked in private equity for Deutsche Bank before going to study European history at Oxford, while Zajarias-Fainsod, from Mexico, is a medical doctor. They next secured a seven-digit sum, largely from Christophe Maire, an angel investor who has backed the likes of SoundCloud and gate5.

Lock8 comes with a specially wired cable, so bikes can be physically locked onto bike racks. But it also works on its own. Locking and unlocking the device requires just a swipe of the finger on your smartphone. And if you lose your phone? “Any phone can unlock it,” says Salzmann. “Just download the app, type in your password.”

Since anyone with a password can unlock your bike, users could theoretically share their bike with friends and family—or even rent it to strangers. “[It's a bike rental] platform that is scalable for everyone,” says Salzmann. “Without docking stations, without anything—people can just buy one lock and become part of a platform. Everyone. Hotels, hostels, bike shops, anyone who has a bike to rent.”

Similar to car-sharing programs like Car2Go, Lock8 could conceivably serve as the basis for a bike-sharing service where users look up the available two-wheelers online, find the nearest rental bike, and pay for the key. “Like an Airbnb for bicycles,” reads a Lock8 press release. In other words, New Yorkers who deign to ride Citi Bike’s blue clunkers may eventually be able to choose from a much more diverse fleet—and all without the city-size infrastructure of docking stations built to make the program possible.

Lock8, which launched its Kickstarter campaign this week, plans to go into production in January and deliver its first locks to customers in the U.S. and Europe by May 2014. The lock, Salzmann says, will retail at around $150.

[Via -]

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3 Best Free Business Chat Solutions

Chat has a bad reputation. So let’s clarify – business chat is not something creepy nor a chatroom full of MLM scumbags. Business chat or group chat is an essential communication tool for your company that’s entirely private. Business chat, enterprise chat and group chat are sometimes used interchangeably – it’s hard to find a person who has not heard of WhatsApp or GroupMe. However, there is a difference – group chats are just about chat, while business chat typically incorporates tools frequently used by businesses like tasks, project management, collaboration, file sharing, HR and so on. So let’s talk about best free business or enterprise chats, meaning communication tools for business with VERY generous free plan.

Bitrix24 is probably the most popular free enterprise chat platform outside Skype and deservedly so. It’s also the one I know best, because I use it for my businesses, so get ready for specifics you probably don’t care about. The free plan includes 12 users and 5 GB of space and you have an option to use cloud service or host it on your own server (the self-hosted version comes with API and the source code so you can modify it and integrate with other tools as you please).

The chat works on iOS and Android devices, any web browser and desktop apps are available for both PCs and Macs. All versions support push notifications, so everything works realtime without any reloading. Business chat options are pretty standard – private, public, group chat, persistent chat (via workgroups). E-mail to chat option is available in the paid self-hosted version only, however. Videochat and videoconferencing are based on WebRTC and are free. Screensharing works one on one only as of Nov 2013, but this will change soon, according to developers.

DocManagement module supports private and shared documents, online document editing with or without MS Office installed, including simultaneous editing by multiple users. Shared calendars (personal/group/company/private/shared) let you schedule your own appointments, group meetings, check your co-worker schedule and even see who’s in office and who’s away on vacation. Task and Project Management module is quite powerful too.

There are also HR tools, mobile CRM and other features I won’t go into. Like I said, Bitrix24 is probably the most popular business chat solution after Skype, so you’ll have to explore it on your own. If you don’t want all these functions and if you don’t need to host business chat on your own server, there are two more solutions worth looking at. let you have one on one chats for free with 400 MB of storage, unlimited contacts, up to 14 group chats, 2 video chats and 100 voice chats. Both iOS and Android versions are available.

OfficeChat.Com is under development by a young and ambitious Indian team (which explains spelling mistakes). It’s currently in beta, which is a developer code for ‘buggy as hell’, but OfficeChat is 100% free and will remain 100% free to all users to join the beta. All of the standard chat features are present or announced.

Source - Best 3 Free Business Chat Solutions

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Saturday, November 09, 2013

Facebook Marketing Case Studies - Smoke's Poutinerie

 Crazy Startup Of The Day -

The founder of Toronto-based Smoke's Poutinerie had $400,000 to launch his fast-food chain, but not a dime of it went toward advertising.

He opened his first store in November 2008, serving variations on the dish of french fries, cheese curds and gravy. To get the word out, he turned to the one marketing medium he could use for free: Social media. He signed up with Facebook just as the first restaurant opened and took to Twitter six months later.

During the first six months, Smolkin put in nearly five hours a night sending invites to friends of friends from the company's account. His method worked: About 500 people accepted his requests and lines soon began to form around the block of his restaurant.

Soon, customers were doing the friending themselves: Smoke's had almost 1,000 friends by the end of 2009 and his followers kept growing.

"People started inviting their own friends," he said. "It was completely word of mouth."

He'd post at least once a day about things he knew his target demographic was interested in: Food, sports and bits of news from his various restaurants.

Messages that received the most traction showcased some of the company's more off-the-wall ideas: An Eggs Benedict poutine, for instance.

Pictures of the first wedding they catered were also incredibly popular. They not only highlighted how his food could be used, but followers got a kick out of the fact that poutine was served at a wedding.

What he didn't do then, and still refuses to do, is offer online discounts.

"It devalues my product," he said. "People just wait for the 15%. I should just give my whole menu at a better pricepoint then."

Today, Smoke's Poutinerie has nearly 17,500 Facebook likes and 14,000 Twitter followers. There are 60 stores across Canada that will generate about $28 million in sales by the end of the year.

The business is doing better than Smolkin could have imagined, and he's continuing to build up his online presence. In September, he began rolling out pages for his franchises, which are overseen by the head office. Smolkin also hired a social  media coordinator to handle the majority of the posting. His goal is for 120 Facebook pages and 100,000 followers across all social media networks.

Smolkin attributes his success to the fact that he "keeps it real." He and his team know the company's target market, they don't outsource the work and, most importantly, they have a ton of fun.

Smolkin plans to open several U.S. locations in 2014 -- the first will likely be in Los Angeles. But this time around, he won't have to burn the midnight oil friending American customers. He's got an army of fans who will likely be spreading the good news themselves.

"We put up things that people care about and want to see," he said. "We give them a reason to come back and they bring their friends when they do."

[Via - CNNMoney]

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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Rent An MBA - Hourly Nerd Review

Crazy Startup Of The Day -

Linio, an e-commerce startup based in Mexico City, couldn’t afford Bain or McKinsey when it needed help pricing new products ranging from vintage wines to billiard tables. So this summer it farmed the work out to Anya Rasulova, a 2013 Wharton School MBA who was looking to make some money before starting a full-time job at EBay (EBAY). “We had so many things to develop in a short period of time,” says Bernardo Cordero, Linio’s managing director. “It was too complicated to do it all internally.” Cordero paid Rasulova, who worked in management consulting for three years prior to business school, $1,500 for an assignment that took about 35 hours. He estimates a small consulting firm would have charged $20,000.

A growing number of companies are using freelance MBAs to access the same brain power they might find at a top-tier consulting firm. The demand has given rise to online marketplaces that are a cross between executive search agencies and freelance job sites—where the featured contractors are skilled at financial modeling, competitive analysis, and marketing.

The services are especially popular with startups, small businesses, and enterprises operating on lean budgets. “Companies can choose someone who is hyperspecialized and work with them only for the exact amount of time that they need to,” says Daniel Callaghan, the chief executive officer of MBA & Co., a London-based online staffing service. More than 98 percent of the 16,000 contractors listed on its website hold a postgraduate degree; 35 percent have worked at consulting and financial firms. Linio’s Cordero found Rasulova through Skillbridge, a New York-based site started in May by a pair of MBAs fresh out of Wharton. Two-thirds of the 300 freelancers listed on Skillbridge have an advanced degree.

To get listed on these sites, professionals submit their résumés to be vetted. When a company posts a project online, the site comes back with a list of qualified specialists who have been singled out for the job. The marketplaces charge companies a commission from 10 percent to 20 percent.

Fees paid to consultants-for-hire vary widely. On HourlyNerd, a service started this year by a group of Harvard MBA students who count Mark Cuban as one of their backers, businesses pay $25 to $75 an hour, according to co-CEO Patrick Petitti. At Skillbridge, the average take-home pay of an active freelancer is about $5,000 a month, says CEO Rajeev Jeyakumar.

A former management consultant, Callaghan started MBA & Co. in London in 2009, when a wave of investment bankers lost their jobs and he realized clients might pay for their skills on an as-needed basis. The company raised $1.3 million from investors this year. Callaghan says the largest fee ever commanded by a contractor through MBA & Co. was more than $500,000, paid by a “large American car company” that he declined to name. On the lower end, he says freelancers make $225 a day.

The number of so-called interim management projects is up 12.7 percent over the past year, according to the Interim Management Association, a London group that tracks such projects globally. In the U.S., independent workers are expected to make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020, up from 30 percent in 2006, according to data from the Freelancers Union and the Government Accountability Office.

Jeyakumar says 10 percent to 15 percent of part-timers listed on Skillbridge are what he calls McKinsey moms—women who left work to care for children and plan to return. Another large contingent are current or recently graduated MBA students who pack in projects around their classes or job search.

In an article in the October issue of the Harvard Business Review, Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma about disruptive technologies, argues such marketplaces have the potential to undermine segments of the traditional consulting industry. Derek van Bever, a Harvard Business School colleague of Christensen’s who co-authored the article, says, “We absolutely see HourlyNerd as an example of a larger trend that is going on. Larger firms should see them as evidence of disruption entering their business at the basement level and working its way up.”

[Via - BusinessWeek]

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