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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Disappointing results for Fall textbook season

The fall textbook season at Xavier University is just about done. This year's numbers were 25% of last year's fall semester (that's a 25 index for those corporate types that talk like that). Of course my reaction to that was to say "time to move on to another idea, this one is dead." But that's not very entrepreneurial. Plus after reading about all this stuff about failure and how one should learn from it, I really should try to learn from this!

So I started coming up with hypotheses as to why this was happening:

Competition. First, it seems like textbooks are a hot topic nowadays. Tons of sites out there are trying to get student's attention. The latest one is Chegg, which is a textbook rental site. As an aside, back in '07 when I was conceiving NOTtheBookstore.com, I also had the idea of a textbook rental business. I chose this model because it required a lot less capital to work with. So maybe there was a lot of competition, and people weren't using my site to buy from Amazon or Half anymore.

New textbook info requirements. The government passed a law requiring a school to post required textbooks and prices at the time of registration.  Maybe this meant my site wasn't providing enough value for people to click through to, since one of the discerning features was it showed you what books you need. Now they already tell you!

Students now know to buy online. This was another value I thought the site brought, that is to tell people to buy online. When I started the site, I had no idea I could buy the same book for much cheaper online!

Finally, and I think this is probably the 80 for the 20 reason...

I didn't have any on-campus marketing presence, other than Facebook and newspaper ads. The Marketing Club and I took a break, and initially revenue was doing fine. So I concluded that it was self-sufficient. I'm thinking that conclusion has been disproven.

Some other supporting data... The drop in revenue corresponded to a drop in traffic. I haven't run the numbers yet, but by eyeballing it, it seems like the revenue per visit numbers are the same. So it's not that students came to the site and was disappointed in it. People who showed up bought something at the same rate. People also saved on average 50% off the bookstore price, which hasn't changed (in fact, I use that number in my ads). So it's not that book prices online have gone up either.


On campus marketing through the Marketing Club was essential. It's one thing to see something advertised on Facebook or in the school paper. It's another to have fellow students telling each other about it.

One opportunity for me is to put in a new "killer feature." Educating students on getting books online and having my site be their site isn't what it used to be. People already know about it. I need something to add value for the students to give them an incentive to use my site. I have some ideas, but not sure any of them are "killer." One is to provide a place for students to post tips for other students on whether the books are really needed, or cheapest places to buy the book.

Next action:

This is a no brainer. Get back in touch with the Marketing Club. I'd like to run a focus group and test some of these conclusions with them to see if I'm right.

Any thoughts? Suggestions?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

5 hours a week = iPhone 4

I've been captivated recently on Neville's blog on his project to blog every day for a month. He gave himself a punishment if he didn't do it... he would make a $300 donation to a local homeless shelter that he hated. If he did it, he'd spend it on what he called a "money experiment."

That got me thinking... what a cool concept! What can I do? His goal was to write more consistently. One thing I'd like to do better is to be more consistent in working on stuff outside of work. I recently canceled my cable, so I've got time. One goal I've been trying to hit is 5 hours a week of good solid work on my entrepreneurial exploits. It's not asking for much... I'm thinking 2 hours on Saturday, 2 hours on Sunday, and 1 hour spread out through the weekday.

So there's the goal... 5 hours a week of good solid work. What should the reward/punishment be? I just found out that I'm eligible for the iPhone 4. So the reward will be, if I can get 5 hours a week for 5 straight weeks, I will buy myself the iPhone 4. For the punishment... I'm thinking a $100 donation to the charity of one of my hated team rivals... Either the Yankees, the Bears, or the Minnesota Vikings (I'm a Brewers/Green Bay Packer fan). Well I checked out the Chicago Bears site, and they have a charity called "Bears Care." The Minnesota Vikings site talks about some outreach stuff, but doesn't exactly make it easy for you to donate money. (I see all kinds of headlines about rumors of Favre being on a plane to Minnesota... GOSH I HATE THE VIKINGS. I wish Favre would just retire!). Well, "Bears Care" wins out because I can't find any info on donating money on the Vikings site.

I will start this next Monday, 8/23. 5 hours of solid work a week. If I can do 5 weeks straight, I buy myself an iPhone4. If I can't, I make a $100 donation to the Bears Care foundation. (I don't know what's worse, giving up the money or being on their mailing list so I hafta get Bears stuff all the time. Makes me really motivated).


Sunday, August 1, 2010

My fears

A few weeks ago, an email came out at work that announced that voluntary packages were being offered to employees with certain criteria. Basically, the package is a way for a company to get rid of employees in a nice way... they basically pay you a good chunk of change to leave. I fit the general criteria, which got me to thinking if that would be something I'd want to take advantage of. A combined feeling of excitement and utter fear came over me. I'm at a point where I've saved up enough money, plus with the benefits that were being offered, I could survive for over a year at my current lifestyle assuming no income. Not a bad buffer to have as I try to figure out how to make an income outside of a corporation.

I was in this excited but utter fear state for a few days until they had the meeting to explain the program. I couldn't help but tell my dad, which if you remember from the sabbatical experience, probably wasn't the best person to tell first. That same look of "why are you doing this to me" came over him.

It turns out I wasn't eligible for the program, because in my department my position wasn't included in the offer. But it got me thinking, why was I so scared? I know I have skills that aren't being utilized. If I were picture myself on my deathbed looking back to where I am now, I would absolutely be disappointed at myself for continuing with the status quo when I have nothing to lose. I decided to read
 Making the Courage Connection by Doug Hall for the second time, which helped a lot.

In the book, it talks about bringing your fear out and looking it right in the eye. In one of Martha Becks books (either Steering by Starlight or Finding your North Star, I forget which) she talks about the "Fear Dragon." So today, I'm going blog what my biggest fears are... I'm going to put those dragons out in the blogosphere and exaggerate the crap out of them, so hopefully you all can help me shrink it down to size.

Fear #1: My dad will be pissed/scared/hurt

I've blogged about my dad before. He loves me. I love him. But he just doesn't understand why I would even think about giving up all the security of a great paying job. He's going to be so worried about me all the time that he'll have health problems. He'll call me all the time in that worried, "why do you do this to me" tone.

Fear #2: I'll fail miserably and hafta take a job that's much worse than the job I left

My current Fortune 50 company pays very well and takes great care of their employees. If I leave, and then it turns out things are worse, I'll need to take a job at a worse corporation that doesn't treat their people as well. Plus I'll probably need to move cities and start completely over socially. I'm someone who likes a core group of friends and doesn't really like to mingle for the sake of mingling. This fear has really been accentuated by the last time I did something that went against my parent's advice and was risky: I got a puppy. I was scared to do it. My parents weren't real keen on the idea of me getting a dog, but I felt like I had done my homework and was ready. I was an emotional wreck with the puppy, feeling like I was neglecting it and all stressed out because of all the time it required. I was bailed out when my best friends were looking for a dog and took him, but that experience weighs on me whenever I have a risky commitment to make.

Fear #3: I just don't have the drive to do what it takes.

I have an issue with getting things done. I have a hard time starting things or getting this done because I'm so afraid that it'll just be a waste of time. I'm also afraid that I'll need to stick my neck out there and risk looking stupid. And finally I'm afraid I'll hafta ask people for help. I don't really like asking people for help, I just like to take care of it myself.

Fear #4: I'll never find a mate.

Most of my friends I've met through the company I work at (we are a major company in the city). I have no idea how I'd meet people to date if I'm working on a project at home without the company providing me a social circle. I'm not a bar guy. Plus if I did meet someone, instead of being able to say "I work for (Fortune 50 company)" I'd hafta say something like "I'm trying to figure out this entrepreneur stuff but still working on it" in which she would think "unemployed loser." It also doesn't help that I just ended a year long relationship recently.

So there they are, out in the open. Be happy to hear if others of you have had similar fears and what you did to overcome them.


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