Urban-farming innovators such as Detroit and Cleveland offer an object lesson in how cities can transform disused land into tomorrow’s (healthy) dinner.
New Ideas, New Markets, New Insights
All around the country, Americans are dreaming big. Their boldest ideas are changing their communities–and having a ripple effect throughout the world.
Consider this paradox: 49 million Americans live with daily food insecurity, 23 million live in urban food deserts, and collectively we’re all getting fatter. Simultaneously vacant lots, concrete grooves, and other desolate, empty spots dot urban landscapes, while a quarter of traditional agricultural land is severely degraded according to the UN.
Enter the urban farm: a fast, smart, cheap way to bring healthy food closer to those who need it, transform ugly vacant spaces into lush gardens, and promote a healthier, greener, more connected urban community.
A recently released video by the American Society of Landscape Architects uses case studies from edible-city innovators, such as Cleveland and Detroit, to offer practical advice for bringing urban farms to your backyard (or corner lot or rooftop). Here are four helpful tips:
Plant a garden in your own yard (or farm the job out to someone else).
Acres of perfect green grass are both a hassle to maintain and, nutritionally speaking, useless. Inhabitants with yards in D.C. and Portland can even lease their yard to those with greener thumbs–and take a cut of the produce they yield.
Populate empty lots with crops.
Cities like Cleveland and Detroit are leasing abandoned lots to urban farmers for practically nothing–provided the lessees are committed to filling those spots with edible greenery.
If your lot’s soil is poisoned with lead or other contaminants, simply truck in new soil in raised beds. Even cheaper: Plant your veggies in burlap bags filled with clean soil. Roll the sacks up and fill with more soil as the plants grow, and you can transport them indoors when winter hits.
Use your roof.
ASLA’s video suggests restaurants harness their roofs to grow ingredients for their own meals. Big-box stores can lease or farm their own vast roofs and sell the proceeds in-store or via local greenmarkets. Rooftop farms use wasted space and lower your utility bill, too.
Fill up your food trucks.
Mobile trucks sell prepared foods–often unhealthy at that. Why not use them as fresh-fruit stands? Food truck legislation in many cities has relaxed in recent years. Opportunity knocks, suburban farmers: Coordinate with a food truck owner to sell your produce wherever there’s a need in your city–not just at the Saturday greenmarket. Hook the kids on juicy berries or watermelon in summer, and you may make a confirmed veggie fan year-round.
Image: Flickr user Joel Carranza
Via Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com
It may seem like we have entered a golden era of product design, in which the world’s most valuable company has built its entire business on a dozen consumer products while heightening our appreciation of the subtleties of industrial design immeasurably. So why do I get a pervasive feeling of doom and gloom when I hang out with my product design pals? Maybe its because all of the action has moved to software and apps. There is a real startup frenzy out there with designers playing a meaningful role this time around. Yet it is still damn hard to get a VC to go along with any startup involving hardware unless you have already locked in distribution with Best Buy or Walmart.
When will hardware hit the masses, with MakerBots and 3-D printers on our desktops? The answer is pretty unclear. But in the meantime, you’ve got to love Kickstarter for creating a marketplace (or at least the impression of one), where the hardware plays can rise to the top. So I wanted to build on the comments I made in a recent New York Times article on the topic. I am thrilled to see a nascent hardware startup economy emerge around Kickstarter and not surprised that it is stealing headlines. So here is a broader take on the phenomenon from the point of view of someone who is immersed in the world of product design.
The Pebble, which has raised nearly $9 million.
1. Kickstarter Has Rescued Musty Categories
Product design is governed by the laws of supply and demand. There is a tremendous supply of talent, yet very few products actually make it to market. So most designers have a huge stockpile of high-fidelity concepts and beautiful renderings gathering dust. While a number of these concepts turn up on Core77 and Co.Design, they have zero paths to market. Now you can argue that we don’t need another slab phone/pad with a slightly different chamfer or bezel. But there are a whole host of neglected device categories desperate for attention, like watches, bathroom scales, and thermostats. These devices feel woefully out of sync in an iProduct world. Perhaps the biggest service that Kickstarter has done is to reinvigorate these categories to the point where bigger players might see their potential and escape from “Slab Land.”
2. People Now Believe, Gee Whiz, Tech Can Be Real
Ubiquitous Apple advertising has trained consumers to believe the magic and fill in the gaps when presented with a single image of a finger touching a beautiful screen or of a person sitting lazily on a couch. Renderings that would have seemed like science fiction 10 years ago are now taken at face value, imbued with a high degree of credibility. Part of that is due to amazing strides in technology. And part of it is due to the discipline in Cupertino. Apple has never shown us concepts; only real products.
Now, consumers can look at one image of the Nest thermometer or the Fitbit and fill in all the blanks (while rushing to pre-order). Eric Migicovsky, the inventor of the Pebble Watch–the biggest sensation on Kickstarter to date–conveys this perfectly in an insightful Co.Design post: “We really wanted to emphasize the use cases,” he says. “We wanted to say, ‘Here’s an example of how you’re going to use this in your everyday life.’”
Kickstarter’s first runaway hit: The Tik Tok watchband for the iPod Nano.
3. Imbuing Customer Relationships With a Sense of Ownership
Consumers don’t just want to understand the story. Increasingly, they want to be part of it, which is something even Apple won’t let them do. Let’s face it: There is nothing original about your iPhone other than your lock image. Even the funky case you bought is being sported by thousands of other people. There is actually something sort of horrifying when someone plops their iPhone on the counter, and it has the same case as your own. It strips away that “think different” mantra pretty fast. While people love their Apple products, they are looking for a stronger link to the products they use. They want to get closer to the source. Kickstarter offers anyone the opportunity to be the first to discover, invest, and share a new product concept within a circle of friends, which alone is worth some money down even if the product never actually makes it to you doorstep as promised.
A Windowfarm kit funded on kickstarter.
4. Delivering On Hollow Promises
But there are a few areas in which Kickstarter truly suffers. The path to market is very different for a book, restaurant, or gadget. It comes down to more than just the amount of money raised, as I noted in The New York Times piece. If you invest in a book, it is pretty reasonable to expect you might get a copy. But what about a smart-watch gizmo? It is much more of a gamble. With the increased complexity of software and services, the $7+ million that the Pebble Watch has raised will go very fast.
The downside of Apple-style marketing is that we have very high expectations for the seamless integration of software, services, and support in the finished product. Even Jawbone, which has raised more than $260 million in investment, had to do a complete recall of the Up health care monitor wristband due to the complexities of launching this kind of product. Plus, consumers as investors might reasonably expect the folks at Pebble Technology to provide a projection of how the millions they have raised might actually be spent. The percent amounts going toward offshore manufacturing, low-wage factory workers, and fuel costs for transport would make for a very different story on Kickstarter.
5. A Sacrifice of Craft
Last year, I visited Shanghai with Max Burton, one of Frog’s pre-eminent product design gurus who led the Nike watch team for many years pioneering some of the same unibody production techniques later adopted by Apple. Max and I are both watch geeks. He was planning to take some personal time to visit one of the factories he used to work with to look at the small-scale production of one of his own designs. This is about as close to the story as it gets, so I was happy to commit $500 to be one of the first in line for Max’s creation. Unfortunately, he came back empty-handed. Not only were the tooling costs out of reach. But it would have been impossible to reproduce the level of engagement that he was accustomed to from his Nike days. A significant part of the craft is in the manufacturing process, working back and forth, through numerous prototypes, to get to a satisfying design. That process is largely out of reach for a hardware startup.
The 999 bottle visualizes your eco-impact.
So how do we build on the enthusiasm within the product design world and create a more sustainable market for hardware startups? Here are a couple of closing thoughts:
1. Kickstarter should not be a shopping site
Product designers are blurring the line between investing and pre-ordering at their own risk. The biggest return on an investment in the Pebble Watch may not be getting the watch in the mail. It is in generating interest among bigger electronics companies to reconsider categories that they previously dismissed (like watches). You are voting with your dollars for the products you want to see in the world, regardless of whether they end up being made by startups or the big guys. It would be great if Kickstarter could create competitions around some of the more mundane gadgets in our lives–like thermostats or hotplates–to see what the design community can come up with.
2. Different Forms of Sponsorship
For that reason, it would be interesting if product designers could figure out a different way to personalize the investment, short of promising a product in the mail at some point. My guess is that a lot folks would be very happy with a signed form model from a standard 3-D printer. In fact, this might end up being more valuable and memorable than a watch gizmo that you will wear for a couple of years and then dump in a drawer. In recent years early Apple models and signed memorabilia have received high prices at auction. Designers could send out models in a variety of different form factors to gather feedback and support their user research. What about a limited edition of signed sketches? It is easy to see how you could offer different artifacts at different investment levels, all of which would help educate the public about the craft of creating a great product. I would love to see more creativity in this area.
3. Teaming With Industry, to Revive Unused Tech
At Frog, we work with so many clients that have valuable technologies sitting on the shelf. They don’t have the endless time, or creative resources to envision how these inventions could fit into people’s lives as meaningful products. And they have no cost-effective way to gauge consumer demand or interest for new product categories. I would love to see a few organizations, whether corporations or universities, open their kimonos and release some unused technical capabilities to this community, providing a marketplace for designers to explore applications in health, energy, or other markets–particularly ones with the potential for major social impact. They could work with Kickstarter to create sponsored competitions in which the designer and the technology organization share the IP that is created around the design, with the public voting along the way for their favorites. This could be a great way for companies to build a meaningful design community just like the developer communities they are constantly courting. The IP issues would be challenging to navigate, but Kickstarter could have the platform–and financial platform–to make this happen.
At the end of the day, we all want a more meaningful connection and a more substantive say in the physical products we interact with. This is particularly true of the connected gadgets that are leaching into every facet of our daily experience. As Frog’s executive creative director of global insights, Jan Chipchase, is fond of saying: Opting out of these technologies is no longer an option in many societies. As we adapt more and more to the capabilities of so-called smart devices, we are looking for more meaningful ways to make them adapt to us as well. If we can’t do that with our smartphones, thanks to Apple’s closed ecosystem, at least we have a shot with smaller categories like watches that are equally personal. That is the true lesson of Kickstarter and the emerging hardware startup economy.
Via FastCoDesign: http://www.fastcodesign.com/
Gertrude Stein once famously said of Oakland, “There is no there there.” Nancy Pfund, of the VC firm DBL Investors, makes a case for how modern Oakland is proving Stein wrong.
New Ideas, New Markets, New Insights
It used to be, if you were serious about starting a tech company, you went to Silicon Valley. But emerging entrepreneurial hubs around the country are giving startups new options. In this series, we talk to leading figures in those communities about what makes them tick.
Most urban centers like to describe themselves as “a city of contrasts”–but few actually clinch that description like Oakland, California. A sleepy tidal town whose redwoods were logged to build nearby San Francisco, Oakland’s fortunes accelerated in the mid-1800s, first as a supply depot for the California Gold Rush and then as the western terminal of the Transcontinental Railroad. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the city’s port fed Oakland’s immigrant boom until brisk drug trafficking rendered Oakland a violent-crime center and, more recently, the nation’s unofficial headquarters of the Occupy movement.
Now for the “city of contrasts” part: despite persistent crime and its homely sister status to the more glittering cities on the Bay, Oakland boasts world-class sports teams, rich urban culture (music acts born here include Sly and the Family Stone and Tupac Shakur), all at a sweet discount to pricy San Franicsco.
Business prospects are surprisingly rosy in Oakland, too. Home to Kaiser Permanente, Wells Fargo, and Clorox, the city ranks consistently among America’s most sustainable cities and as a result lures green-energy startups galore. Startups thriving on the East Bay include streaming-music site Pandora (whose IPO was a roaring success, even in 2011), First Solar, Sungevity, and other green-energy, tech, and life-science plays. We talked with Nancy Pfund of DBL Investors, a local VC firm with five Oakland startups in its portfolio, including Pandora. Here, she shares five things you need to know about starting a business in Oakland.
Oakland is hella’ green.
Oakland offers unusually deep support for startups in green tech. DBL co-sponsors StartupOakland, an annual event hosted in a freshly renovated Art Deco landmark, the stunning Fox Theater. Stop Waste helps local environmentally friendly startups get funding and other support.
There’s obvious synergy to be found when your neighbors intuitively understand the green thing. Among Oakland’s companies is another DBL firm, BrightSource Energy, a solar thermal energy provider whose galloping growth recently hit a snag as it abruptly dropped its IPO plans. Other Oakland green-energy plays include Solar Millennium, biodiesel producer Sirona Fuels, and EarthSource Forest Products, a sustainable timber firm.
Pfund lists other Oakland players ready to support startups of any industry. Nonprofit Inner City Advisors offers small businesses guidance from business plan development to funding. One PacificCoast Bank is a community-development bank committed to funding Oakland-based ventures. And then, of course, you can always hop on B.A.R.T. and wow some San Francisco backers.
The City’s New Office of Economic Development is another theoretical resource, although remember: California has a famously catawampus state government, now underfunded to a record degree. Proceed with caution.
Oakland lets you rub shoulders with the world’s best engineering talent.
“UC Berkeley and CalTech are up the street from Oakland. It also isn’t very far from Stanford or UCSF in the city,” Pfund says. “Wtihin ten miles of Oakland you’ll find a lot of horsepower.”
Although a lot of recent grads flock to San Jose for tech or San Francisco for life sciences, many others stay put in the Oakland-Berkeley area. According to Pfund, Oakland is (slowly) materializing as a talent mecca.
It’s easier to get to places in San Francisco from Oakland than it is from San Francisco itself.
Oakland grew up as a transportation hub, with a bustling international airport and the nation’s fifth largest port. Its position east of San Francisco and proximity to Highway 880 are all advantages. But Oakland also kills with its frequent ferries and B.A.R.T. (cummuter train) hubs.
Pfund drops a much-cited point in Oakland’s favor: “It’s easier to get to most places in San Francisco from Oakland than it is from San Francisco itself,” she says. Not just attractive to reverse-commuters, Oakland makes sense for residents of Berkeley, Marin County, and the peninsula. Bedroom communities east of Oakland, like Piedmont and Danville, are booming with formerly fed-up commuters whose travel-times are eased by Oakland’s outstanding connectivity. “Look at Google and Facebook,” Pfund says. “They offer vans because people don’t want to live in the Valley, and they don’t want to drive and there’s no public transit. If your workers want a rich urban experience, Oakland is a great choice.”
One of DBL’s portfolio companies, Revolution Foods, makes healthy, affordable lunches for public schools. Oakland’s centrality helped them grow rapidly; today, they deliver 120,000 meals delivered daily. “Whole Foods’ distribution center is nearby, which is a great help,” Pfund adds. “It’s useful to be near a freeway to transport the meals to the schools.“ (Revolution Foods ranked among our 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World in Food in 2012.)
Now for the caveat: Oakland is a tougher sell to diehard Palo Altans and residents of San Jose. Those two original epicenters of the tech boom still attract workers who need to live and work right on top of the action. However, for more seasoned (and commute-weary) tech workers settled in areas near Oakland, locating your headquarters in Oakland may actually come as a relief to the talent.
“Affordable San Fran” isn’t an oxymoron.
The numbers don’t lie: residential real estate in San Francisco proper runs as high as $1,000 per square foot in premium spots. In Oakland prices top out at $500 to $700 per square foot. Office real estate prices follow suit–if anything, the comparison is even sweeter. Grubb & Ellis rates Oakland as the seventh best office market in the U.S. and No. 3 for industrial office space.
Buy a bike (but don’t get too attached to it).
Oakland’s manageably hilly landscape and warmer weather (it’s consistently 10 degrees hotter than San Francsico) make it “a biking mecca,” Pfund says. That said, this is a city known for sky-high crimes–No. 1 in violent crimes in California in 2011. Guard your property and person accordingly, particularly in the dicey West and East Oakland areas.
Still, if you keep your wits about you and invest in bulletproof locks, Oakland can indeed beguile. The city has some great restaurants that won’t break the bank like more famous establishments in San Francisco. “So many great restaurants in Oakland have spawned from chefs leaving Chez Panisse and others up in Berkeley,” Pfund say. Imagine savoring buttermilk fried chicken at Brown Sugar, the sun warming you up for a day of gentle biking, water views flashing from every hilltop: not too shabby a way to recharge.
Follow the conversation on Twitter using the tag #USInnovation.
Image: Flickr user Jeff Rosen
Via Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com
It’s not too difficult to find locally grown fruits and vegetables in most markets — but start searching for beef, chicken or pork and your food’s origins become a lot more murky. That’s what the Kansas City-based startup AgLocal aims to change.
The mobile-based app functions as a network to benefit three sides of the carnivorous human food chain. Consumers will be able to browse for local farms to order meat, which independent distributors will deliver to grocery stores, where individual buyers will claim their order.
Farmers won’t be forced into the false choice between scaling up to provide for huge conglomerates such as Monsanto, or the inefficient farmers’ market route. Distributors will be connected to their markets and not have to work with huge competitors that hurt their margins. Consumers will know where their meat comes from and have more transparent freedom of choice.
AgLocal co-founder and CEO Naithan Jones, who comes from a family of chefs and farmers, says the startup’s concept came from his own frustration as a meat-loving, health-conscious consumer.
“I’m always so conscious about what I put in my body,” he told Mashable earlier this year. “There are a lot of services out there for vegetarians and vegans, but not for meat eaters.”
Pitching the company to potential investors and other entrepreneurs Wednesday in San Francisco at the startup accelerator NewMe‘s demo day, Jones described his ambition to “change the way meat is bought and sold all over the world” for a marketplace wallowing behind the broader curve of innovation.
The $200 billion global meat business, he said, is an “antiquated, old industry powered by just a few corporate partners that have consolidated power and cut you out of the loop, which has created this problem of sustainability.”
But the company will need to make money to do that. How? Jones says AgLocal will charge wholesale fees when distributors buy from farms and farms from distributors.
AgLocal is currently wrapping up the 12-week NewMe program, where co-founder Jacob McDaniel says it made important connections, learned from mentors and fine tuned its business strategy. McDaniel declined to provide funding numbers but says the company has had no trouble attracting buzz and interested investors.
A small group of consumers, probably in the San Francisco and New York City areas, will be able to order meat from farmers in an alpha lunch within a few months, and McDaniels says AgLocal plans to expand to about 30 major American cities in the next one to two years. Eventually, however, the goal is to connect meat eaters and farmers worldwide.
Is AgLocal a service you would use? Do you think it can change the meat industry and become a success in the process? Let us know in the comments.
Via Mashable: http://www.mashable.com
Guest post by James Stewart, Director at Geneva Film Co
The debate surrounding 3D’s viability across all platforms continues to rage. Nay-sayers maintain that 3D is merely a “flash in the pan”… a “fad”… soon to fade into technological obscurity. Yet visionary artists and innovators continue to drive 3D technology deeper into the very fabric of our screen-based culture. For brands, agencies, and content creators, is it worth it? In a word: YES.
THE 3D REVOLUTION
James Cameron’s Avatar set the stage for 3D’s emergence in 2009 by showcasing, to a global audience, the true potential of this immersive technology. From that time, a 3D revolution has been slowly changing the media landscape, project by project, day by day, year after year. Once considered a hollow gimmick, 3D has matured into a full-blown phenomenon. In fact, of the 10 movies that have ever crossed the $1 Billion mark, 6 are 3D films with Avatar topping the list. And there is little sign of this trend slowing down. 2012 will see blockbusters like The Hobbit, Men In Black, The Amazing Spiderman, and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus hitting theatres in three dimensions. The format continues to gain greater acceptance by audiences and critics alike. The epic 3D adventure Hugo by cinematic master Martin Scorsese is a prime example, topping this year’s Oscar nominations with 11, winning 5.
One Wall Street analyst decried 3D to be “over” in 2010 when only 38% of the $1Billion grossing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides box office could be attributed to 3D (down from the standard 55% – 80%). If 38% of your customers were demanding a 3D feature would you consider it dead, especially if that feature was selling at a 15% premium? Hugo’s opening box-office was 75% from 3D screenings. The latest box office hit is another 3D re-release: James Cameron’s Titanic. The 3D reboot debuted in China and earned the second-highest opening day ever in the country, selling approximately $11.6 million worth of tickets. It’s a hit across the UK and U.S. as well.
3D COMES HOME
The 3D revolution is no longer being waged on the sliver-screen alone. The real in-roads are being blazed by the growing list of 3D-capable devices that allow consumers to experience the brands they love in 3D, anytime and virtually anywhere. This is no accident. The success of any technological innovation can always be traced back to the moment it found its way affordably into the hands of the consumer– from the personal computer, to High Definition TV, and now 3D. At the center of this surge is the 3D TV market, which showed promising growth in the 4th quarter of 2011, and is tracking for even larger gains through 2012. According to Research and Markets, the global 3D TV market size is expected to exceed $100 Billion by the end of 2014. Which begs the question: in what industry would a product worth $100 Billion in sales be considered “a passing fad”?
3D GOES MOBILE
2011 saw the launch of several “glasses-free” 3D mobile devices, including the LG Optimus 3D Max, the HTC EVO 3D (both of which offer the ability to record and take photos in 3D using dual cameras) and more recently, the Gadmei 8” 3D Tablet. These relatively inexpensive devices offer consumers the full 3D experience in the palm of their hand. This evolution of 3D technology has opened the door for a wide variety of 3D creative needs, from mobile games, to applications, to advertising geared toward the mobile 3D market. The stage is set for brands and their agencies to leap off the screen and into the hearts and minds of the customers in ways never thought possible before. My company, Geneva Film Co., has produced 3D spots for Lexus, Sprint and others, bringing global brands into this next dimension. These projects– produced mainly for cinema– will next find their way to 3D TV and mobile platforms. As the popular YouTube 3D channel has shown, mobile user-generated 3D content can be an immersive experience with huge “viral” potential. In fact, YouTube not only allows stereoscopic 3D footage to be uploaded online, but also offers users a chance to convert their 2D HD footage to 3D with a click of a button online. It’s almost too easy.
3D CONTENT = RETENTION
Another exciting avenue currently being explored is 3D content in the classroom. Several schools across Europe have already started utilizing 3D projection. Astudy conducted on behalf of Texas Instruments showed a 17% increase in test results for those students who viewed 3D content as part of their normal curriculum. It also found attention-levels soared, with 92% of the class paying attention, versus 46% in the traditional 2D learning environment.
This type of 3D retention and engagement is not limited to the classroom. A similar study also conducted by Texas Instruments showed that viewers presented with 3D advertising content were as much as 20% more likely to retain that information than those who saw a 2D counterpart. These promising statistics bode well for Brands who develop 3D content as part of their marketing activities, as well as for agencies and content creators who offer this type of 3D impact to their clients.
3D’s GOT GAME
On the front lines of the 3D revolution are the Gamers: fearless consumers who are always ready to embrace new technology to elevate their gaming experience to a more immersive level. The Nintendo 3DS has sold over 15 million units worldwide and continues to gain traction in the US market thanks to a price cut that saw sales numbers soar. 3D-ready game consoles like Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 now feature franchise titles like Grand Turismo and Call of Duty in immersive 3D splendor. This in turn propels 3D TV sales as gamers scramble to update their home systems to be 3D ready. By its very nature, gaming and 3D technologies are a match made in heaven, tapping into the very essence of what makes 3D so exciting: it just feels real.
3D CONTENT IS KING
Ultimately, content is still king. Like the HD revolution that preceded it, 3D now has the platforms to support widespread use in every aspect of daily life. However, without content to bring these devices to life, consumers will have little reason to buy. As a presenter at both TED, and Cannes Lions, my experience has been that the enthusiasm for 3D has been palpable. Despite initial trepidation by production companies and agencies, overall 3D content continues to expand. 24/7 3D channels like ESPN3D, 3net and Sky Channel are paving the way. 2012 will see the London Olympics broadcast in 3D, with the opening and closing ceremonies, men’s 100m dash, gymnastics, swimming, basketball promising 3D action. Hollywood is also offering more Blu-Ray 3D movies than ever. As more and more content enters the market, giving a greater number of consumers a reason to introduce the growing list of 3D devices into their daily routine, 3D will quickly become a primary format for content across all media platforms. For the brands and agencies bold enough to lead the way, the sky is the limit. Is it worth it? Let’s just say we won’t have the Star Trek holodeck without 3D.
Via Brian Solis: http://www.briansolis.com
The digital landscape continues to undergo a significant shift that will have profound effects on business this year. The challenge is that hardly any business leaders noticed. That’s not their fault however. Even through the impact of technology on business and consumer behavior was widely reported, in depth reports on what to do next or how this will affect their business specifically were scant at best.
I’m sure you heard it from “experts” everywhere, “You need a Facebook brand page! Why are you not on Twitter yet? Have you checked-in on Foursquare? Hurry up and get set up on Google+. If you don’t get on social media, you’re going to go out of business!”
And, here you are…still in business I presume. But like any keen business leader, you’re avidly thinking about your next move. You already know that running the show in a mode of “business as usual” is not only limiting, it’s terribly complacent. But if you are to change, you need to better understand exactly how technology is influencing the behavior of your customers and why.
The truth is that you can create brand pages on every social network you can imagine and you won’t succeed unless you know whom you’re trying to reach and where, what it is they expect and value, and how these channels represent a meaningful opportunity for you and your consumers to connect. You first must answer what’s in it for them and what’s in it for you.
What the social media gurus aren’t telling you is that the landscape for business isn’t changing because of social media, it’s changing because consumer expectations are evolving. Your customers are empowered through technology where social media becomes only part of the disruption. Social networks, smartphones, tablets, review sites, gamification, geo-location, et al. are producing a new breed of consumer and businesses are largely missing them altogether. In fact, the emergence of this more “connected consumer” is forcing the end of business as usual. And at the same time, the pattern of decisions these connected consumers make usher in an era of risk where any business, large and small is vulnerable to digital Darwinism – the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to adapt.
Your job is to not embrace new technology with arms wide open, but instead understand it and learn which disruptive technologies separate you from existing and potential customers. What’s unique about connected consumers is that they find and share information differently than their more traditional counterparts. They make decisions differently than the everyday consumers you’re used to engaging as well. But this part is the key, the connected do not displace your traditional customer, they simply expand your opportunity to grow your business. How you’re marketing, selling, and servicing customers today are largely missing this new breed of consumer and thus limiting your overall opportunity for growth.
To reach the connected consumer, you must first walk in their footsteps. It takes research not guesswork. It takes understanding not skepticism. And it takes a dedicated not generic or approximated approach. Why? Because while your traditional consumer relies on tangible media such as TV, radio, newspapers, direct mail, email, Google search or static websites, the connected consumer is not blindly seeking information, they are reliant on the right information finding them in the right places.
For example, your new prospective customer lives on their smartphones and tablets. They network with friends, family and the businesses they support in mobile and social networks. They check in to locations to signal to people nearby that they’re in the neighborhood and to alert businesses that they’re ready to interact live. Consumers install apps to better make decisions and to broadcast those decisions to their social networks. What’s more, they research products and services based on the experiences of their peers in real-time and in turn share their experiences with everyone else to shape and steer the experiences of others. In doing so they expand the idea of audiences to something far more efficient and expansive, an audience with an audience of audiences.
While it seems foreign or dismissible to those who are not actively embracing or even dependent on disruptive technology, connected consumers are only growing in size, magnitude and influence. Ignoring them is a step toward digital Darwinism. Understanding them and their behavior is a step toward relevance. In 2012, consider yourself a digital anthropologist or sociologist as you immerse in a day in the life of your connected consumer and seek to close the chasm between you and them. There are many professional analysts, researchers and strategists who can help you find the answers you seek.
Starting now and lasting well, forever, technology and empathy are now part of your business strategy. To what extent disruptive technology impacts your markets, will depend on your industry and the rate of adoption within it.
Your priority areas include understanding…
1. Social Networks from Facebook to Twitter to Google+ and how they’re connecting to influencers and businesses
2. Geolocation check-in services such as Foursquare and Facebook location updates to share locations and earn rewards or opportunities for discounts
3. Crowdsourced discounts and deals including Groupon and LivingSocial and what’s valued and why
4. Social commerce services like Shopkick and Armadealo and how they create personalized experiences that are worth sharing
5. Referral based solutions like Yelp, Service Magic, and Angie’s List to make informed decisions and how shared experiences can improve your business, products, and services
6. Gamification platforms such as Badgeville and Fangager, and why rewarding engagement improves commerce and loyalty
7. How your consumers using mobile devices today and what apps they’re installing. Also, how they’re comparing options, reviewing experiences and making decisions while mobile?
8. The online presence your business produces across a variety of platforms such as tablets, smartphones, laptops and desktops. You must realize how consumers are experiencing the online presences you create and whether or not they deliver a holistic and optimized experience for each platform.
9. The consumer clickpath based on the platform consumers are using. Are you steering experiences based on the expectations of your customers? And are you taking into consideration the device or network where the clickpath begins and ends? Are you integrating Facebook F-commerce and m-commerce into the journey?
10. The expectations of connected consumers, what they value in each channel and platform, where they engage and how your business can improve experiences and make them worthy of sharing.
This year and next are formidable years to solidify your position in how you compete for the future. Nowadays, no company is too big to fail or too small to succeed. Simply knowing your customer is one thing. But, understanding how they make decisions and participating in that process influences behavior while building meaningful relationships. Regardless of technology, the future of business isn’t created, it’s co-created. To succeed, it takes a culture of customer-centricity and the ability to recognize new opportunities and adapt based on what they present.
As Leon C. Megginson once said in paraphrasing Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Image credit: Shutterstock
This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.
With 71% of New Orleans schoolchildren attending charter schools, the atmosphere is ripe for testing new educational ideas. Enter 4.0 Schools, a nonprofit incubator that helps turn teachers into entrepreneurs.
New Ideas, New Markets, New Insights
All around the country, Americans are dreaming big. Their boldest ideas are changing their communities–and having a ripple effect throughout the world.
Seventy-one percent of New Orleans’s schoolchildren attend charter schools, a legacy of Katrina. While charters’ performance as measured by student test scores both nationwide and in the city has been mixed, they undeniably increase the local appetite for trying new educational ideas. “If you’re an edtech entrepreneur who wants to pilot an idea, you have the most efficient and smartest market in the country here,” says Matt Candler, CEO of 4.0 Schools. That’s because instead of a centralized bureaucracy, there are more than 40 schools making independent decisions on both hiring and procurement. Organizations like KIPP, Teach for America, and the Gates Foundation have established beachheads, drawing top teachers and fresh blood from all over the country. These are intersecting with a nascent startup scene dubbed “Silicon Bayou” to produce a hothouse of ideas to change education: for-profit and non-profit, from school redesigns to apps, often from younger, female entrepreneurs.
As Silicon Valley capital becomes increasingly interested in education—witness ur-angel investor Jason Calcanis holding his first ever LAUNCH event focusing on education, and Benchmark making its biggest ever seed investment in startup university Minerva—it’s a fair bet that a surprising number of successful companies will come from the Big Easy. “This is a place where you can do entrepreneurship AND do some amazing things for kids who really need it,” says Candler, who knows a bit about both. He opened schools all over the country for KIPP, did similar work for Joel Klein in New York City, and founded New Schools New Orleans, a program for aspiring school leaders.
Unique in the country, 4.0 Schools is a nonprofit incubator founded in December of 2010 that runs four-day intensives, book clubs, unconferences and other programs to turn teachers and others with a passion for education into for-profit or nonprofit entrepreneurs with solutions. In February, four participants went up to Startup Weekend – Edu in New York City, where they swept first, second, and third place in the competition. The winners were Jess Bialecki’s Classroom Blueprint, a social network for teachers to compare classroom design ideas; Aliya Bhatia’s Dash, a mobile app that helps teachers keep in touch with parents; and Chapman Snowden’s Kinobi, which uses the Microsoft Kinect to help train teachers in classroom management.
The role of teachers in improving schools is a subject of surprising controversy. The reform agenda popularized by high-profile chancellors like Joel Klein in NYC and Michelle Rhee in DC has been criticized for scapegoating, sanctioning, and making it easier to fire teachers. Others might argue that being with kids in the classroom is more than a full-time job without asking teachers to wear the entrepreneur hat. Candler and others in New Orleans look to teachers as an undertapped resource for school transformation.
“As they were racing to catch a plane, because they had to teach the next day, VCs were chasing them out the door,” says Candler. “This is our vision of success: to encourage classroom teachers who work their butts off already so that they believe in themselves and investors think they can have an impact.”
Candler has a more roundabout connection to the current star of the local edtech startup scene. Jen Medbery is a TFA alum with a CS degree from Columbia who originally came to New Orleans to teach at a New Schools New Orleans startup. Her application, Kickboard, is a dashboard that aims to help teachers make better use of data on students’ performance and behavior–information that’s now scattered in gradebooks and post-it notes. They’re marketing directly to teachers who are turning around and convincing their colleagues and entire schools to adopt the platform—it’s now in use in 11 states. “”As we head into the summer and the start of our second sales cycle we’re on track to double our national customer base of schools,” says Medbery. “We’ve taken this not only as evidence of the demand for a product like Kickboard, but of the eagerness of teachers and school leaders to adopt a more analytical approach to teaching and learning.”
Image: Orange Line Media via ShutterStock
Via Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com
Bell Helicopter unveiled its largest commercial helicopter ever, and the 16-passenger aircraft is getting as much attention for its fly-by-wire system as its ability to carry, say, a crew of oil workers to an offshore drilling rig.
A pair of 1,800-horsepower General Electric turbine engines will allow the Bell 525 to carry a work crew (or a few VIPs) 400 miles at 140 knots (161 miles per hour). When it comes to quickly moving heavy loads, brute power remains key. But to control that power, Bell Helicopter will use fly-by-wire technology for the first time. Although such tech has been common in airplanes for many years, it remains rare in the rotary-wing world.
Bell plans to join the small club of fly-by-wire helicopters, a move that will dramatically change the cockpit for the 525 pilot. The helicopter will be flown via two small joysticks rather than the large control stick and lever that has dominated helicopter cockpits since the early days of rotary-wing flight. The extra room will open up the view for the massive touchscreen displays.
It’s been more than 66 years since Bell first flew the Model 47, the bubble-canopy helicopter everyone knows from the opening sequence of M*A*S*H. (Yes, the Army actually flew the H-13 Sioux.) The company cemented its iconic status more than 55 years ago with the UH-1 “Huey.” But in today’s world, a growing part of the industry is focused on ever-bigger helicopters that can carry work crews long distances, often to oil rigs in the middle of an ocean or mining camps in the middle of nowhere.
Bell has been late to the game of producing a model for the new class of “medium lift” helicopters. Civilian variants of its Huey were for decades a big player in the offshore industry, but it was left behind as Eurocopter, Sikorsky, AgustaWestland and others offered faster, more capable models.
Bell’s latest is aimed squarely at reclaiming lost ground. The fly-by-wire control system, and the paperless cockpit dominated by four large touchscreens, put it a step beyond the competition from a technological viewpoint.
The fly-by-wire system on the 525 is similar to that of the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, and a triple-redundant system ensures a measure of safety. Pilots will have to get used to flying through a computer rather than direct mechanical linkage. For the uninitiated, fly-by-wire essentially means the pilot tells the computer what to do, and the computer determines how best to fulfill the instruction. There are times when the computer can override the pilot if it determines the person at the controls is asking for something unsafe.
Of course, the potential disconnect between pilot and computer has led to problems and occasional disasters like the crash of Air France Flight 447.
Bell Helicopter’s Larry Roberts told Vertical that the flight control computer on the 525 should not limit the pilot’s capabilities and the helicopter “will provide an impressively wide range of maneuvering capability and not require the need, or, for that matter, the ability, to override.”
According to Vertical, the launch customer for the 525 is PHI Inc., one of the biggest players in the offshore oil transportation business. But the company also sees potential sales in search and rescue as well as other markets.
The Bell 525 Relentless is expected to make its first flight in 2014.
Via Wired Autopia: http://www.wired.com/autopia/
The giant consumer technology firm revealed in its “Apple Supplier Responsibility Report” for 2012, available for perusal here, that it had carried out 229 individual audits among its diverse and largely secrecy-shrouded supplier chain. Looking for responsibke behavior across all aspects of their business, Apple paid attention to labor and human rights, health and safety, environmental impact and more ephemeral aspects like ethics and business practices. The targeted firms covered the full range from individual component suppliers to assembly firms like Foxconn.
According to Apple itself, the report represents “a level of transparency and independent oversight that is unmatched in our industry,” with the independent aspect coming from plans to let the Fair Labor Association carry out its own similar audits. Summarizing its audit, and actually admitting to slight errors and inadequacies in earlier audits, the company notes “We continue to expand our program to reach deeper into our supply base, and this year we also added more detailed and specialized audits to address safety and environmental concerns.
We know that finding and correcting problems is not enough. Apple-designed training programs educate workers about local laws, their fundamental rights as workers, occupational health and safety, and Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct. Today there are more than one million people who know their rights because they went to work for an Apple supplier.”
This position is interesting, given the recent eye-grabbing headlines coming from Foxconn–which is one of its biggest suppliers. Over a hundred workers in a Foxconn plant in Wuhan, China had threatened mass suicide because their company had moved them ad-hoc to a different production line, with a potentially dangerous lack of training and imbalanced pay conditions. Though the situation has now been resolved, reportedly with the resignation of many of the workers involved in the scandal, it’s a black PR mark for Foxconn and thus its prestigious overseas clients of which Apple is the best known. Foxconn had previously been embroiled in a different suicide scandal, which though potentially overblown by a sensation-seeking press, did speak to non-ideal working conditions in Foxconn factories–with stress to deliver to Apple as the cause.
A small number of explosions in Foxconn facilities is another bad episode in its recent history, with the blame laid on inadequate dust extraction in machining facilities causing dust explosions, fatalities and injuries, and terrible headlines. Apple has also faced criticism from global groups like Greenpeace about its allegedly poor environmental footprint, largely stemming from dangerous practices among its supply chain companies.
Among these issues, Apple also disclosed that some suppliers, mainly at indiivdual component level (a lower margin business than product assembly) were operating with child laborers–an amazingly frank admission. Following Apple’s own strict policies, the firm will push for radical changes in infringing firms. Apple notes it requires “suppliers to return underage workers to school and finance their education through our Child Labor Remediation program” with free education and continued payments.
As part of its audit trail Apple has also revealed in full its extensive list of suppliers for the year 2011. Though there will be modifications to this list for 2012, it’s also an unusually open move by Apple. Speculation on these moves would naturally lead to the fact that with the death of Steve Jobs, Tim Cook is now CEO and his expertise over the years has actually been in perfecting Apple’s supply chain so it can command in the markets it now leads in.
Image: Flickr user mwiththeat
Via Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com