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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The story of NOTtheBookStore.com

I've been mentioning a site that I've been focusing my efforts on, NOTtheBookStore.com I figure I'd blog a little bit more about it here!

The gist of the site is, it helps college students order textbooks online instead of at the campus bookstore. The site shows you which books you need, you can order from Amazon or Half, and then see how much you saved over buying from the campus bookstore (usually a lot).

Incidentally, the name of the site came to me in a half asleep state... I actually got out of bed, started up my computer, and drew up an initial logo. The name basically says that the site is NOT the campus bookstore and its high prices, instead it's on your side. The logo is eye catching, as it looks like "no BS" (or no bulls@#t) making it even more rebellious.

I started with a little bit of html code a few years ago, and created a site that looked like a 6 year old designed it. I entered in a few books from Xavier University (where I got my MBA) by hand, and then tried to figure out how to use Google adwords. It didn't really amount to much traffic, but then I got my first break when Facebook offered up "Facebook Flyers" that allowed me to advertise to Xavier students only. It was a cheap way to get the exact traffic I needed. I ended up with maybe 50 books sold that semester.

I knew I needed a better way to advertise on campus... it was so hard to do it during the summer when students weren't there. I tried hanging up some fliers, but it was hard to find places that allowed you to do that. Plus I didn't want the site to look trashy. I'm a big fan of student organizations (I was the president of my major's professional organization back in the day), so on a whim I contacted the Xavier Marketing Club. They responded immediately, and for the next year or so I've been working with them to come up with promotions for the site. The students loved it, as they were getting real world experience on a marketing project that was so near to their heart, and I was getting great exposure on campus and furthering the site's equity of being "for the student." I also revamped the site, buying a $25 template on line. That semester, I sold around 350 books... which all occurred during a vacation to Hawaii, where I got to track it while sitting on a wifi enabled beach (my 4 Hour Workweek moment).

This year, the Xavier Marketing Club did their thing again, and I ended up hiring a programmer to revamp the site and add some features. There were a good number of delays, to be fair much of it could be attributed to me, so the site didn't go live in time for this fall. The site ended up selling 400 books, which was a small increase from last year, but I was hoping for a 2X increase. The new site got up and running in time for me to add another school to the list, the University of Cincinnati. So far with only Facebook ads, the site has sold a grand total of 4 books.

So what's next? Well first, I'd like to see if a bigger school will bring economies of scale (UC has 4X the students of XU). I've already contacted UC's marketing club, and we're going to have our first meeting in a few weeks. I also think the site still needs a lot of optimization... I did get some features added, but now it takes a lot more clicks to get to a sale. And I'm not sure the features are intuitive. It's hard to deal with the website because someone else programmed it, and despite the fact that he did a really good job of being organized and giving me lots of documentation explaining what he did, it might be a bit over my head. So now I'm trying to understand what he did enough so I can make little tweaks to the site. I wish I had the programming expertise that Adam or Jason have!

So that's that. I'd love any advice or feedback!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Technology's long tail

Here's a great video about how technology slowly builds until a tipping point. This video is from the perspective of WIRED magazine in terms of how they cover the adoption of technology but also how critical mass of one technology (like DVD players) influences other technology tipping points like Netflix or Plasma TVs.

Chris Anderson, the editor of WIRED, explores the four key stages of any viable technology: setting the right price, gaining market share, displacing an established technology and, finally, becoming ubiquitous.


Monday, September 14, 2009

End of the first sabbatical trimester

It's been a little over a month since the sabbatical started, so about 1/3 of the way done. Here are a few of my thoughts/impressions at this juncture, and some updates:

The day goes by really fast. The first week or so, it was because I would wake up, read up on my fantasy leagues, play some Mario Kart Wii... But since then, I haven't watched any TV,  played any video games, nor sat around wasting time during the day, and a below average amount during the evening. Granted, the reason for that is because the Milwaukee Brewers fell out of the playoff race and the fall TV season hasn't started yet, but it goes to show that even when you're not wasting time, the day goes fast.

I set a goal to get 4 hours of business related work done a day. I'm still struggling very hard to get there... I'm still at 2-3 hours. I discovered that my house is not conducive to getting my work done, because it's a mess from lack of maintenance since I've been living there the last 8 years. So I've spent a good amount of time fixing it up, with the latest project decluttering (4 bags to Goodwill last week) and painting the kitchen. I want to make "pimp my home office" the next project. I figure if I can make my office an inviting place to work, it'll get me to 4 hours a day a lot easier. Right now I'm compensating by going to Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Panera, and trying to discover new places to work. I still plan on going to these places to work, but the home office might get me the incremental hours I'm looking for...

The biggest learning for me is to focus on one thing at a time. It's REALLY hard to do that. I'm a divergent thinker, lots of random ideas and thoughts I like to chase. It is one of my strengths, but I do need to hunker down and focus if I want any of those ideas to take off! So I've changed my line of thinking. My original goal was to start 3 ventures, to get failures out of the way. Now I'm going to focus on one project, NOTtheBookStore.com, and then with any leftover time in my 4 hour a day goal, I'll work on other things.

Overall, this has been a great experience. It's been a great mental break from corporate life. The work I do for my own ventures doesn't feel that much like work... it's more getting over fears. I think because of that, I'm not mentally drained at the end of the day like I am from work. Plus not having to fight traffic helps too. In the next "trimester" of my sabbatical, I hope to get to 4 hours of work a day or more, really driving NTBS, and making my house a place I love to work at.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The paradox of choice

Here's a great speech on the paradox of choice (it is also a great book). I think the entrepreneurial spin I would put on it is this: One of the many reasons it is so hard to start a business is because you just don't know what business to start.

I think many people never get started because they have the drive to be their own boss - but of what business? If you are looking for a job it's easy - there are only a narrow set of jobs that you are "qualified" for based on your degree or education. As for being an entrepreneur - there is no formal "qualification" to do anything - and sometimes that means nothing gets done if you don't know where to start. This video helps explain why...

Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.


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