Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lovin' It

Norah Jones, you've done it again. First, it was your "Feels Like Home" album, which captured my heart while vacationing in the French countryside. Now, you've decidedly accomplished yourself as my blissful escape. Your new album, "Not too Late," is really going to take me to new heights. I look forward to soulful nights spent visioning of great successes. Thanks for attuning my ear to great music. Keep it coming. Keep it coming.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Heir to the Throne

We have all witnessed Microsoft's (MSFT)
rise to power and watched them rule the
world of operating systems for over a decade. It began with the release of Windows '95 OS which, at the time, was the be all and end all of operating systems and was quickly adopted as the standard for personal computers. Then came Windows '98 and Windows XP. Now a new generation of Windows operating systems has been born: Windows Vista.

Is Windows Vista superior to all others? The answer simply put is... no. Yet millions are confident that it will bypass all others and once again assume its role as the "standard" OS despite its relative inferiority to others. In reading other blogs and business news websites I feel that it is safe to say that the general consensus is that Vista only offers a few new and unique options and is extremely similar to its predecessor, Windows XP, excluding its aesthetics appearance.

Bluntly put, I am not here to write a research report about Vista, rather I am here to give my unique perspective on Windows and its future in the realm of operating systems. Based upon my research of Microsoft's newest member, not my own personal experience with it, I believe that Microsoft's realm will endure until another operating system can provide a quality far superior to that of the Windows operating systems and a usability which is significantly more user friendly. Until then, the world of technology and consumers alike will continue to set Windows operating systems as their default.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Great Industrial Design

On Friday, I was able to sit in on a University of Michigan Ross School of Business seminar with Co-Leader of IDEO's Consumer Design Practice, Iaian Roberts. Iaian is originally from London, where he went on to pursue a career in industrial design. After developing the Dyson vacuum with James Dyson, Iaian caught a job with the revered IDEO design agency in Palo Alto, Callifornia. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the agency, IDEO is the innovative, product development firm that brought the world the Apple mouse, Poloraid's I-Zone instant camera, the Palm handheld, and hundreds of other cutting-edge products and services. IDEO also helped create the newly established Stanford Design School. IDEO's practices and cultures have been detailed in best-selling business books.

Anyways, Iaian's presentation was very focused on the impact IDEO's design strategy has had on its clients. Iaian provided a great illustrative model as to how it conducts business. Below is a composed sense of IDEO's guiding principles:

Aesthetics ---> Empathy
Ergonomics ---> Experiences
Manufacturing ---> Connections

This diagram (if you wanna call it a diagram), illustrates in simplistic terms, how IDEO intrinsically views each of its projects. First, it's necessary for IDEO to gain full understanding of its client, not only on an operational level, but more so on a deeper, almost spiritual level. Once, IDEO seems to resonate with its client's sensibilities on an emotional level, then it is time for IDEO to proceeds with creating exhilarating experiences.

In the case of Amway, IDEO mapped out how a passenger runs through multiple progressions before actually boarding a train. Thereby, IDEO was able to design the new train cab to accommodate each of these stages so to speak. Also, when it comes to experiences, IDEO seriously believes that the customer must come first; that any new design concept must be centered on the customers need and wants.

After working with Dyson, Iaian recognized that James Dyson never really had the customer in mind while creating his vacuum. Rather, Dyson was more concerned on creating the best damn vacuum imaginable. Another instance of great experiences is IDEO's new project with the NHL to help totally revamp its image. While the project is still in progress, IDEO remains focused on the experiences to which the NHL should serve. The third and final step is the actual, physical creating of the product or service.

But in order to successfully put a product on market, it must have achieved the prior two stages. Apple Co. excelled at following this approach, given that it started from the bottom-up, instead of the tradition top-bottom approach. Once, Apple had visioned the ultimate mobile devices, it made sure that the design of the phone was uncompromisingly sleek. However, in the case of the Motorola Razr, designers spent too much time on the appearance of the phone, instead of the actual internal characteristics of the phone. Fascinating yet understandable, it's the IDEO way.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Collaboration: The Way of the Future

Dear Reed Hastings [CEO of Netflix(NFLX)],

I am an avid user of your product and have been for the last year or so and I love the service. Recently, your company introduced an online system of digital dvd rental which is a great idea with tremendous potential, but I believe the idea of viewing movies on the computer would not be too enthralling to all your customers, me included. Movies are meant to be enjoyed in the comfort of one's sofa or recliner on a big screen TV, not in an uncomfortable computer room.

Therefore, I'm proposing that you join forces with Apple(AAPL) in order to improve the viewing experience for us all. My plan is simple, but extremely rewarding.

  • Utilize the new Apple TV, a device hooked up to your TV, which wirelessly syncs to your iTunes library so that you can view movies on your television
  • This would make both the consumer and your wallet happy
  • Your movie database would be accessible from the iTunes Music Store and only members of Netflix would be able to take out movies
  • iTunes users would see your product and quite possibly try it out due to their constant exposure to it
  • Also Apple would benefit because the reverse scenario would apply; introducing your members to their products
  • Your consumer pools would combine and result in increased profits for both companies
  • Focus on getting the movies to the consumers, let Apple worry about its presentation

Such a partnership would allow you to make great strides in your newly acquired race with Blockbuster Total Access. Not only would this deal benefit your company, but also Apple because it would strengthen their hold on the online movie industry, an area which it has started to develop since its introduction of the video iPod.

Mr. Hastings, we're living in an era of collaboration in which companies must work together and combine there capabilities and influence in order to achieve success. Now that the world has become "flat", as Friedman adeptly asserts, American products must be able to match the cost and quality of those around the world. This means that our companies must put their heads together because 2 is better than 1.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Proven Hospitality

Sorry for the delay in new postings, but the last few weeks have distanced me from my laptop. Now that high school finals are finally over, and I'm home from a weekend business trip "Up-North" (Michigan), I'm ready to get things rolling again. After spending some time with Kevin, we've constructed a newly planned vision as to how we can better serve our readers. Our hope is that we can satisfy these three main objectives:

-Personality and Specificity
-Interactive media that promotes community
-Engaging content that is clear, consistent, and fresh

Hopefully soon, then, you should be able to recognize a noticeable improvement. Meanwhile, I want to share with you a recent experience that Kevin and I went on. As mentioned, the two of us drove four hours north for a two night visit at Crystal Mountain Resort. The intention of the trip was to fully immerse myself within the hospitality business. Why? Because, as of summer of last year, I began works on a proposed new concept for a Zingerman's Bed and Breakfast in Ann Arbor, MI. To give you a little history, Zingerman's is world-renowned for its local deli and eight other food-related businesses. In January of 2o03, it was named "The Coolest Small Business In America," by Inc. Magazine. So, after picking up a ton of business knowledge from Zingerman's, I started work on establishing a business plan for the B&B. Currently, the businesses is making rapid progress towards opening the new business in August of 2009.

So, by visiting the successfully run Crystal Mountain Resort, I was able to better understand the business from its top executives. Noted as the #1 Resort in the Midwest by Ski Magazine, Crystal Mountain generates $35 million in total sales through its real estate, lodging, winter and summer sports. Yet, after meeting with Rick Schmitt, VP of Group Sales, I came to learn some valuable insights about the resort and its industry:

1) Pricing is critical, especially when it comes to room rates. Crystal Mtn conducts weekly meetings to discuss pricing and packages. Given the seasonality of the business, Crystal Mtn has the ability to change rates on a daily basis, if needed.
2) In order for a new development project to be approved for construction, 75% of funds must be collected in advance.
3) While Crystal Mtn is predominantly a golf and ski destination, the resort actually makes more from its conferences and banquets.
4) RevPar is one of the most commonly used terms in the business. It stands for "revenue per average room," and is used a universal index score. It is calculated by:
-(price per room x percent occupancy) divided by (# of available rooms in same period)
5) The hotel business is often compared to that of the food industry since both businesses view its product as perishable from day to day.
6) In determining its target customer group, Crystal Mtn believed that it could make more money by remaining a three diamond resort. 4 diamond resorts require specific services like laundry cleaning, valet, food delivery to rooms, etc.
7) Crystal Mtn has maintained a 55% occupancy average, and has total margins of 35%.
8) Crystal Mtn doesn't actually own the rights to any of its lodging areas. Rather, Crystal Mtn has approximately 430 individuals owners.
9) It's common for resorts or hotel to sell its real estate through two common methods. The first is full ownership and the second is time-shares. The latter allows certain people or companies to purchase a certain amount of room nights per year. An example of this would be Google who would elect for 100 room nights for its corporate visitors to Ann Arbor.

Stay tuned for further updates on my status with the B&B.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Is David Beckham Really Worth It?

It's official. David Beckham will be playing for the LA Galaxy for five years starting in August. Alderac Entertainment Group(AEG), owner of the LA Galaxy, is working on deal with Beckham that amounts to $250 million over five years. In addition to his yearly salary and endorsements, Beckham will receive a stipend of ticket sales as well as 40% of the jersey sales.

AEG believes that this contract will largely increase their overall revenues, so much so that his profit will exceed his cost. Thus far, their assumption is coming to fruition much as they had planned given that season tickets for LA Galaxy games are practically sold out. Do I think that David Beckham will change the attitude about soccer throughout the United States? Depends. Look at the influence Tiger Woods has had on the business of golf. Surely, Beckham is an iconic athlete, but his soccer roots aren't embedded in the United States like that of Tiger Woods. Additionally, American's aren't altogether as religious over soccer as European counterparts. Speaking from a consumer perspective, Americans aren't going to hold the same ardent connection toward's Beckham and his projected brand image. So, while I'm certain advertising and marketing campaigns will be huge in the U.S., how are American's going to respond. Are they going to feel a highly compelled to rush Adidas stores. Again, it runs back to the status of soccer in the U.S.

So, a move like this might take time to adjust to. Yet, Beckham's move to the U.S. might have some significant residual effects if other elite soccer stars follow similar suit. If others realize the marketability and possibilites that the U.S. offers, the commercialization of soccer could gain dominance.

While Beckham contends to affect change over face of soccer in the U.S., it's clear that his intentions for joining the LA Galaxy are purely money-driven; he's a sellout. But does the AEG's contract with Beckham make good business sense?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Taking a Stake in Coldwater

It's time. I'm ready to fiscally kick-off 2007 with a new position in a company that promises multiple upsides. Last year was kind to me, as I banked a 55% profit off my portfolio of three major holdings. But instead of continually adding to my existing positions, I want to develop a little more "diversity" with a stock like women's retailer Coldwater Creek (CWTR). Given the natural volatility of this stock over past months, I've been waiting prudently for a solid entry point. Now that the stock is approximately 25% off its 52 week high, I relish over the opportunity of buying an undervalued growth stock. While the company has been around for nearly 25 years, I wasn't until recent years that Coldwater reinvigorated it's vision of rapid growth. After supremely establishing its catalog and On-line business, Coldwater is greatly optimistic over the expansion of its retail stores. Over the course of the next year, Coldwater looks to double its retail locations across the U.S. Coldwater's intrinsic value, however, is projected in its total leverage over the female baby boomer generation. Coldwater certainly does a nice job at directly appealing to the 50+ market, through it fashionable apparel as well as its strong customer service. It should also be noted that Coldwater was the first real company to offer clothing in sizes that weren't labeled as 13+, but rather 1x, 2x,3x, etc. Additionally, Coldwater has begun to campaign for 100% energy efficency in all its operating stores. So, clearly Coldwater is a socially responsible company that understands its niche well. Earnings are estimated to grow at 30% this year, while revenues are seen to improve 19%. Like all of my holdings, I am playing this one long-term (3-5 years). CWTR will account for 1/4 of my portfolio. Limit orders only. Long term = multiple bagger.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Apple Co.mmunications?

Say you’ve just downloaded Good Will Hunting from your iTunes. Instead of huddling around your computer to watch it, you walk into the kitchen, make some popcorn, walk into your tv room, sink into your recliner, turn on the TV, and use your Apple Remote to play the movie that was, just a few minutes ago, in your iTunes library. While you were preparing your popcorn, your new movie had wirelessly synced to your Apple TV and readied itself to be viewed. As the people at Apple would say, "Give yourself a hand: You've just changed the way you watch digital media."

Apple wants to create new consumer possibilities through digital media. With a rekindled focus towards entertainment, Apple has extended its product offering with the latest announcement of the iPhone at the MacWorld conference. This "revolutionary" device integrates the technologies of a mobile phone, a touchscreen iPod, and an Internet communications device. Yet, by the looks of it, it remains puzzling as to whom the phone directly appeals to. Some have asserted it to be more of a "lifestyle" phone that offers cell phone capabilities with enhanced iPod features. Moreover, critics claim that the phone lacks the scalability of a Blackberry or Palm, in that its vibrant touchscreen doesn't scale up to Qwerty keyboards of its competitors. Also, at $499, the iPhone runs a pretty penny considering that it values at the same price as the MacMini. But like the iPod, this phone should take time to grow on consumers. It's important, however, that Apple establishes itself in the communications business before it becomes possibly "too late."

According to Wall Street, investors like Apple's products developments considering that the stock skyrocketed 7.10 points, a gain of 8.31%. What truly adds benefit to Apple value, is the wide-ranging possibilities that Apple can exploit to attract other companies to buy into its entertainment business. TIVO realizes the advantage of a joint partnership with Apple, in which it just agreed to offer TIVO capabilities via iTunes. Similar moves like this should bring Apple big business, and with continual product advancements, Apple looks to be virtually "untouchable."

Monday, January 8, 2007

Raw Marketing

Want an inside peek at future of brand marketing? Look no further than Fahrenheit 212. This New York firm was just started in November by former Saatchi & Saatchi executives, Mark Payne and Geoff Vuleta. Both gurus wanted to spinoff their own agency in hopes of working more intimately with clients by establishing more creative control. Within months, Fahrenheit 212 has attracted clients from the likes of Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Hershey, Samsung, and Proctor & Gamble. Why such the immediate success? Because Fahrenheit has develop a unusual business model that ensures clients a completed project within five months. Focused on product development, Fahrenheit serves the combined role of being a management consultant, advertising agent, and design house. Thus, Fahrenheit is known to acquire a deep understanding of the overall operations of each business before proposing big ideas. Also termed, as the "idea company," Fahrenheit has developed a system called "the hive," in which eight people with specifically sharp marketing skills convene to tackle clients' marketing problems. As a mode of conceiving radical ideas, Fahrenheit stresses "multiple intelligence theory," a philosophy rooted in the belief that all forms of marketing should stimulate the eight discrete forms of human intelligence:
-Verbal, Mathematical, Visual, Spatial, Physical, Worldly, Emotional, & Musical

Among it latest projects, Fahrenheit worked with the largest global liquor company, Diageo. Contracted to work on its depleted Smirnoff brand, Fahrenheit totally revamped its current product line-up to include a refreshingly new beverage called Smirnoff Raw Tea. As example of the boldness and initiative of Fahrenheit, the firm took the trouble of going to a bartender/mixologist to concoct the new drink. Moreover, Fahrenheit over-achieved by creating the actual bottle design and advertising campaign called "Tea Partay." While its tactics may seem provocative, its effect on the brand has been tremendous. Considered one of "the most memorable ads of 2006," by Contagious Magazine (check earlier post), Fahrenheit has shocked audiences with its humor and whimsical sense of prestige.

So, don't tell me... I know what your initial reaction is. Mind you, this spot is really a clear example of smart, innovative marketing. You've just got to draw the inferences. Clearly, Fahrenheit wasn't afraid of stepping "out of bounds." Remember, this took Fahrenheit only five months with eight executives on board. As a result, Fahrenheit is receiving myriad of product request companies who have received positive reference from global investment banks.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Brands That I Love

Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, has recently published the sequel to his bestselling business book, Lovemarks, titled The Lovemarks Effect: Winning in the Consumer Revolution. In inspiring fashion, Robert asserts that companies no longer want their brands to be solely "respected," but want to be both respected and "loved." When brands have achieved such acclaim, they are to be termed as being "lovemarked". Moreover, Roberts's contention is that companies must use insight and foresight to best promote powerful, emotional connections. Below, I have made a personal list of lovemarked brands, all of which resonate with me on an "emotional level of engagement."

My List of 30 Irresistible and Irreplaceable Brands

Vineyard Vines
Trader Joe's
Whole Foods
Barnes & Noble
Cliff Bar
Fiji Water
Hennes & Mauritz
Research in Motion (aka Blackberry)
U2 (Yes, Bono deserves his own brand title)
Trek Bicycles
Burton Snowboards
Suunto Watches
Four Seasons Hotels
Life is Good(R)
SouthWest Airlines
The New York Times

I would love to hear feedback and comments on your own list of favorite brands. Are there any of my mentioned brands that you agree or disagree with. I'd really like to open up discussion on this topic. As I continue reading The Lovemarks Effect, I will try to keep you updated on my overall impressions of the book. I will also post some original thoughts and insights as to how Robert's principles hold certain relevance.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Google: In a Class of It's Own

Over the past week now, I have become greatly intrigued by the steps and methods Google is employing to ensure future corporate success. In a Sunday Times article, I came to discover the pure eccentricity surronding the Google culture. While the Mountain View, CA office is prominent for its distinctive employee benefits, it appears that Google is expanding upon the Silicon microcosm, to include the same luxuries in New York. Yes, Google is growing a satellite campus in downtown Manhattan. To accommodate the chaotic daily life of its average employee, Google is offering unique services like daily yoga, sushi and espresso bars, Thursday night socials, and much more.

This development coincides with the recent announcement that Google is searching for sales executives to help turn a profit on the newly acquired, YouTube business. Google is looking to grow office divisions in Detroit, New York, and Boston.

I also discovered this morning that Google is developing a new admissions system to better manage job applications. Sounds strange, doesn't? But in order to continue attracting the elite caliber of talent necessary, Google has established a extensive "biological" survey which includes an index score meant to detect how well a person will fit in. Google believes this new, objective approach will allow its business to distinguish aspiring leaders. Prior to this advancement, Google relied solely on onslaughts of personal interviews, some of which amounted to 10-12 visits before confirmation.

So... Have you ever:
-Turned a profit at your own non-tech side business (dog walker, catering, tutoring, etc.)

-Started your own non-profit?

-Started a club or recreational group?

-Set a regional, state, national, or world-record?

Next... Please indicate your working style preference on a scale of 1 to 5.

1 = Work Alone (A personal espresso machine and a box of Toblerone and I'm ready to go!)

5 = Work in a Team (Ten voices at once, egos colliding... ah, the challenge of getting work in edgewise)

When your employees rate has doubled, and thousands of jobs are up for grabs, new actions must to be taken. Yet, with the intention of continually creating a "better place to work," employee demand remains incredibly high. Figuratively speaking then, Google bleeds the "Ivy League" of job prerequisite, and the "utopia" of cultural dynamic. (Yahoo, beware!)

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Second Life: A New Era of Advertising

Many claim that Second Life will revolutionize advertising by providing its users with a completely interactive service in which users can visit an ever-growing amount of businesses via their avatar (simulated game character). Users in Second Life can purchase LindeX -the official currency of Second Life- with US dollars in order to pay for the virtual items and do business in this virtual world. Although the LindeX is relatively invaluable, it has its own exchange rate, comparable to the US dollar. Companies such as Adidas and American Apparel have already taken advantage of this virtual economy by displaying their products in 3D virtual stores which display their current products. At these stores users can outfit their avatars in the latest styles or peruse the store's products for items that they may want to purchase in reality. Other stores are using websites like to insert yet another aspect into this virtual marketplace; that of being able to purchase item from stores and have them delivered to your house in real life.

Another feature of Second Life which I found to be quite interesting was the ability for companies to showcase concept items in order to see if the concept product would be worth it based upon Second Life user response. One such company that has utilized this facet of Second Life is Adidas.

Austin and I were fortunate enough to have attended an informational and interactive presentation on Second Life at the Ann Arbor IT Zone. Believe it or not, there is a Harvard class which is experimenting with the Second Life technology through holding discussion groups in the virtual world. One of the men at this presentation was even pursuing the prospect of creating his own virtual library via Second Life.

Although the program has not gone error free, its programmers are slowly perfecting the technology and building up protection against hackers. Since its opening to the public in 2003, Second Life has acquired 2,337,620 residents and a great deal of excitement.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Promise of Design

David Armano, VP of Digitas and leading contributor to the revered Logic + Emotion new marketing blog, posted a tremendous presentation on the future of design and creative thinking. In effect, Fresh + Squeezed will strive to best emulate these insightful tools and principles. Also, look forward to a wide range of blog features including slideshows, videos, sketches, and more. This is just the beginning. We're trying to get our feet wet, first. Enjoy!