Local banks should hire a “startup advocate”

Photo "Vault" by Flickr user ostrograd
Photo "Vault" by Flickr user ostrograd
Photo by Flickr user ostrograd

A recent crowdsource-driven funding contest promoted by a local bank in my area got me thinking about how banks in particular can find themselves on the sidelines of the entrepreneurship/startup movement as the costs to starting a business drop and as new and creative fundraising options become available.

One way that banks can become more active participants in the startup communities in their area is by hiring a startup advocate.

What would a startup advocate do?

A startup advocate would provide the bank with a personal, human presence within the startup community, including:

  • Attending local startup meetups;
  • Speaking at local incubators and other programs (similar to the TopGun Maine program I participated in last year) – not as a pitch for the bank, but as a resource for info about the complicated world of funding;
  • Blogging/posting videos/podcasting with an eye on the local startup scene;
  • Be available for “office hours”, where entrepreneurs can call, Skype, or meet for Q&A or just talking;
  • Connect entrepreneurs with other people in their network where appropriate.

Who would make the best startup advocate?

Loosely defined, the role of a startup advocate would be filled by an entrepreneur at heart: Somebody with personal, hands-on experience inside a startup, ideally having co-founded or led one. That person would work for and represent the bank, but they should be known within the community and/or trusted as a personality unto themselves, not just as a mouthpiece for the bank.

It’s about adding value, not advertising.

Besides the obvious resource of capital (short and longer term), banks have other intangibles to offer startups: Advice and connections on the money side of the game can be immensely helpful to people who are more focused on bringing their ideas to life than learning the intricacies of funding.

Hiring a startup advocate whose mission is to actually know, understand, and help startups could be more effective and less costly for banks than simply dumping more money into traditional advertising or transparent gimmicks.

Why I don’t like the political conventions

Two convention attendees embrace

Note: I originally posted this on my WordPress.com blog.

Against my better judgement, I’ve found myself tweeting about the Republican and Democratic conventions over the past week. My tweets on the subject are usually sarcastic and/or attempts to be humorous, so I want to explain in a bit more detail why I think these are inane and even poisonous events.

2008 Republican convention
2008 Republican convention – Courtesy PBS NewsHour

Conventions are a shining example of the broken political system

Political conventions are a blatant reminder that most of American politics is not about governing, or innovating, or moving our society forward, but rather is about the two parties grappling for power, or attempting to hold onto power. As somebody who is not a member of either party, I find this shameless acknowledgement of the endless power struggle to be incredibly depressing.

Gary Vaynerchuck once said that one of the problems with America is that people put more effort into their weddings than their marriages. The same is true for politics: Governing is hard, messy, and wrought with failure; campaigning brings the glow of attention and the ability to say anything without consequence. Conventions celebrate the former excessively while completely ignoring the latter.

Conventions are insanely self-centered

No other segment of American life – not sports, not celebrity, not even business – spends as much time explicitly celebrating itself as the two main political parties (and their politicians) do during their conventions. As citizens, many of us are gleefully complicit, praising the days of empty rhetoric, self-serving video productions and ignoring the complete lack of substance or self-reflection. If you doubt that, watch as pontificating speeches about personal experiences are praised – and then the praise is praised!

Conventions bring out the worst in spectators

Like a YouTube video of bystanders idly filming a crime instead of attempting to intervene, I feel like people are at their most viciously partisan during conventions, whether it be predictably attacking every scrap of their opponents’ convention, or blindly celebrating every aspect of their own party’s event. The denial of reality and the refusal to be honest is established as a tone by the conventions, and then perpetuated by partisans.

What to do

To start, the conventions should no longer be given airtime on major networks. It’s ridiculous that major broadcast networks continue to provide prime-time air to the conventions In a time of hundreds of news and entertainment sources available across every possible medium and device providing years of coverage of every detail of the campaign.

Parties have the resources and the technology available to broadcast the conventions on their own – they no longer need or deserve the media frenzy supported by prime time air time.

In an ideal world, I’d love it if both parties retired the outdated and increasingly absurd tradition and replaced it with a new kind of event that placed integrity above pageantry. Give up the meaningless (and sometimes corrupt) nomination process and replace at least some of the endless cavalcade of speeches with honest assessments of the candidates’ records, plans, and promises.

Let’s see more context-aware design touches

I hope, and I predict, that we’ll start to see more of a trend in web and software development in the coming months and years that probably already has a great name, but since I don’t know it, for now I’m giving it my own name: context-aware design.

Loosely, I define context-aware design as a principle where an interface offers up specific information geared to that particular unique situation — either some customized data, navigation, or other existing element that’s loaded up at just the right time when it might benefit the user most.

I noticed a subtle but great example of it today when looking for a post on 37signals’ blog Signals vs. Noise. It was hidden in an often-overlooked and under-designed area that most blogs have: category archive pages. On Signals vs. Noise, if you click a category archive link (“Business”, in this example), you don’t just see what you’d expect from most blogs: the typical reverse-chronological list of blog posts from the Business category. Instead, you’re greeted with a nice bit of context-aware design right at the top of the screen:

A screenshot of the “Business” category of posts on the 37signals blog Signals vs. Noise

See the “Popular” box at the top right under the page title? It’s a simple concept: For folks browsing that category, why not show them the 10 most popular posts, right off the bat? If they’re deep diving for a particular item or topic (rather than searching), there’s a good chance one of the popular posts is the one they’re looking for — and if they’re just perusing, showing the most popular posts is a simple but effective approach to showing what types of content are in that category.

The “Popular” box shows off what makes context-aware design such a benefit for both developers and users: It’s simple to implement — most blog software will readily serve up popular content in a widget — and it’s the type of spontaneous experience that creates and builds trust. It adds up to less cost and more time spent with the interface.

Idea factory: Share your TiVo programming hints with other friends

Looking for a pretty easy and usable web project?

How about using the TiVo website (where owners can view and schedule TiVo recordings online) and combining it with some kind of easily hackable online TV listings site (neither Yahoo!’s nor TVGuide.com’s had any kind of feed/API that I could find).

The result would be a simple site that allowed you to browse (or search, of course) upcoming TV listings. When you found one that a friend would like, the site would allow you to pop in their email address, which would then send your friend a link to the show, along with a link to the relevant listing on TiVo’s subscriber site. Your friend could then single-click to confirm, then schedule the recording on their TiVo.

To extend it a bit, also generate an RSS feed of a particular user’s suggestions, so that their aggregate suggestions to friends created a veritable “recommended” list of shows.

You could call the site “GuidemyTiVo.com” or something similar and include a TiVo-centric blog with it.

If you create it, let me know…I’d use it!

PS: HEY, TIVO! Developers are appreciating your HDK, but where’s the API?!?!

Idea factory: Compare the box office theories with fact

Okay, so some folks are suggesting that summer box office was down because the movies were bad. Bereft of proof until recently, they’re now claiming vindication because box office receipts are now up, in a time when “better” movies are traditionally released (the fall).

So…how to find out what’s really happening? There’s no absolute way to know without either polling every single American or perhaps qualifiying intangible factors such as theater quality, pricing, and etc. (again that may involve signifigantly complicated polling.)

But what about this if you’re looking for a way to see if movie quality really matters:
Go to Rotten Tomatoes (or Metacritic) and tally up, then average the reviews of all movies released from May-August 2005. Then do the same for the same time period in 2004 (and perhaps even 2003). Then, compare the resulting years’ aggregate reviews with their box office numbers, and then you might have some fact to go with your conjecture.

My hypothesis? That movie quality and box office receipts are NOT corrollary. But hey, I could be wrong.

Retail heaven or Dell Hell: Before you expect a blog to solve your customer service woes, try some basics first

Considering the serious amount of blogjuice generated by Jeff Jarvis’ 520-part Dell Hell series is generating in (and out!) of the blogosphere, I thought it only fair to relate two extremely positive customer service experiences I’ve had lately, starting with most recent and going back through earlier this summer. Then, I’ll talk a bit about some ideas that can be gleaned from the experiences.

Positive experience #1: CafePress and being flexible in special circumstances

Date: August, 2005
Company: CafePress
Rating: 5 stars

At nearly the last minute, I decided to order a custom-made BBQ apron for my son’s 2nd birthday party. I jumped on to CafePress, created the apron effortlessly and with much help thanks to their excellent online creation and ordering tools. Prepping my image was equally as easy thanks to their superb templates and image-creating documentation. To get the apron in time, I opted to pay $18 for next day shipping.

Continue reading “Retail heaven or Dell Hell: Before you expect a blog to solve your customer service woes, try some basics first”