Original Post Date; September 9, 2008 (Now we know who is responsible for Excel!)
Every day there’s a new invitation to a network here in NYC. Some groups are “out of the wrapper, still have styrofoam peanuts in the nooks and crannies” new, others have been laboring online for years. Few have hit the sweet spot combination like The New York Tech Meet Up. Started only a few years ago, the numbers of registrants increases every year. In June 2009, the Meet Up had over 10,000 members. Held in the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT — gotta love it!) Auditorium, attendees listen to speakers from every aspect of application development.
I was pleased to see the presentation by Dan Bricklin, founder of the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc. Now a spreadsheet does not sound sexy, but think about how much can not be achieved without a cell to hold important information (Update: Here is an All Analytics post “Don’t Toss Out Excel Yet” that notes how far Excel plug-in development has come). Zimana’s business, along with many other analytics tools, business firms, consultancies and organizations, rely on the ol’ spreadsheet as a starting point for data analysis. This movement owes much to VisiCalc.
But Dan did not bore the audience with just column-and-row talk. His autobiographical book Bricklin On Technology covers the early days of his start up and serves as a window into the early days of the computer industry. Bricklin spoke to the New York Tech audience about entrepreneurship, how many people are looking for the pot of gold, but should just try to run a solid business. Says Bricklin, “You’ll end up in an nice home, just focus on what you love to do.” I personally like that statement!
Some posts have criticized Microsoft for not having the same number of stores as Apple. But is that really necessary? It’s worth a case study, but so far Microsoft needs to provide distinguishing experiences that galvanizes its loyal customers first. That focus can help create the right buzz, essential against daily posts on Apple and Google.
Many small businesses run into the similar choice of how to run online and offline. How fast show we be growing? What do we offer online? A few following points put in context being online vs. offline.
1. There’s been some criticism that Microsoft is expanding too slowly. In comparison Apple did not place stores everywhere, either. I spent nearly three years in Alabama, and no official Apple retail store existed in the state ( Apple certified retailers in Alabama existed, however). You had to drive to either Atlanta or Nashville to see one. Apple eventually came to Huntsville and Birmingham. But my point is that the need to scale is relative to a business model, and a slow role out is not a bad one if the stores are being managed well to satisfy customers.
2. Despite the fact that people do research companies online, what is most essential is what connects to the business model. Amazon proved that its model of retailing online was scalable. Apple uses its stores to create an experience for new and old buyers alike.
In short there are different ways to retail. It’s up to you to determine what channel fits your business model. A business model is not a list of products or services. A business model is planned by the way the service or product is delivered to the customer.
3. Do not think of offline and online as strictly being separate activities. What you can do is figure out what syncs well between the experience online versus in store, and execute these syncs with social media where applicable. Facebook can be a source of updates. Combined with Meet Up, Facebook can be used to gather people for special events, be it a fund raiser for a non-profit or a panel on an industry subject at your location. Twitter can be used to share updates around a particular hashtag — for hashtag inspirations, see the post on using Twitter at a trade show at Allbusiness.com
There’s debate about having a Facebook page to retail a product or service – in short, whether people will purchase on Facebook rather than a site. IMHO I don’t believe that it will replace a website, and you should not eliminate a website entirely. Think of Facebook as a channel on which you need to understand if you customer is willing to purchase. Do they spend so much time there that a website is not? What would drive people from Facebook — as popular as it is, there are still things that can happen that can reduce a business’ chance of success. And what about search engine optimization advantages from having your own website? Gone if there’s no website.
5. Notice that when I stated the locations, I said Microsoft is near Chicago, Phoenix, LA, and Seattle. Even a cash-flush company like Microsoft selected locations that had visibility but did not jump into lavished locations. For a small business, there’s a great takeaway: No one said you have to be downtown for the first store. If you choose to be downtown, just make sure the location advantage is clear and can be quickly applied to the bottom line.
This week in New York I had the pleasure of sitting in one of several Taste of Technology sessions. Held at the Samsung Experience retail store in the Time Warner building and hosted by Small Biz Technology editor Ramon Ray, the Taste of Technology sessions showcase new tools to help small businesses integrate technology in a meaningful, practical way and to discuss the direction the technology industry is heading as a whole.
The May 2010 session panel consisted of Jonathan Rochelle, Group Product Manager for Google; John Conklin, Business Productivity Solutions Specialist for Microsoft; and Steve Greenwood, Head of Products for start up DropIO. Each covers how their products rely on the cloud to deliver quality service. Highlights included a review of Google Apps, discussion on the upcoming SkyDrive for Office Live (my personal favorite, it is additional storage and free features with Office 2010), and an explanation of DropIO, a new online storage service in which uploaded files & video which can be shared regardless of file format. Given the Apple-Adobe battle over Flash (A reminder was announced today as NBC and TBS declined to place their content on the iPad: see the Marketwatch article), DropIO gives a means to share video without concern about the format available to the user, although DropIO is used privately and meant for a few user, as opposed to video sharing sites like YouTube.
Much of the discussion turned to browser usage, with many questions from the audience regarding reverse compatibility and how much that reverse compatibility — browser, internet capability — may hold back some segment of internet users. Security of course came up as well.
While in California during a surprise visit to a friend, I got a surprise of my own. Spotted at The Shops at Mission Viejo, a mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Mission Viejo, is one of the first two Microsoft retail stores; The second store is located in Scottsdale Arizona. Despite my best attention to news and recalling drips of information and rumor, I had not seen much fanfare on a Microsoft grand opening, so I walked in and took a quick look around.
Now one can make a strong argument that the Microsoft store bears a lot of resemblance to a typical Apple store. A number of Window-based computers abound, with expert helpers and user training sessions, all at the ready. So on first glance, it just seems as though there is not a real difference beyond the product itself.
One interesting arrangement is a table size tablet with touch capability. Cameras allow touch response similar to the hand gestures seen in movies such as Minority Report, Matrix Reloaded, and Star Trek. In the video above, gamers move defense satellites against alien probes, with play similar to Missile Command.
Microsoft has a long build out, when compared to Apple, which now has 180 stores worldwide. But it is a wise move from a business standpoint. First, Apple has proven that combining a great retail consumer experience with compelling electronics (iPhone, iPod) alongside equally compelling computers (iMac, MacBook) has provided a strong revenue base and consumer buzz. The result? A stock price that exceeded the $200 mark for the first time in 2009. Of course Microsoft has also introduced consumer products, like Zune and Xbox, and still has the lions share of computer software share and retail space.
But adding retail stores allows Microsoft to continue its appeal to customers and manage its image, as industry interest has shifted from an aw-shucks-it’s-just-software focus to developing a number of products that must enhance customers’ entertainment and utility.
Running a retail channel is not easy, as sales must justify the overhead and staffing. Witness the Warner Bros Studio stores, which like Disney, provided clothing and merchandising with themes based on beloved characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, as well as then-new characters from the WB network. Started in 1991, Warner closed its stores ten years later.
Do you think Microsoft’s entry into retail outlets is a wise move?