My friend Tito has a small biotech hardware company he’s run on the side for several years. He wanted to do a quick refresh of the website so we took a crack at a redesign and after a couple of hours of work, here are the results:
After (the redesign)
What really blew me away was how powerful Bootstrap is for whipping together a simple, static website. Basic layout, buttons, cross-browser compatibility, modals—most major components just work and are bundled for easy use. Tito had been using Wordpress to manage the site but it was way to bloated and overly complicated for his use-case.
I wonder if Wordpress will adapt to create a more lightweight version to serve a lot of the smaller, single-author projects being produced, or if another tool will eventually supplant them? Maybe Weebly?
Last week, Grid View showed up as an option on search results pages. As the name suggests, the feature allows you to see large listing pictures in a grid layout. For anything remotely unique (furniture, etc.), it is a god-send and makes browsing much easier and more enjoyable. Having built a similar tool for eBay (http://rumma.ge/), I’ve always felt that visual browsing was one of the main missing features on the site.
I had been using Craigslist Preview, a fantastic chrome extension that shows listing images inline in search results. Since ListPic was shutdown in 2007, browser extensions and mobile apps have been the only tools available to browse listing images. With Grid View, you’ll be able to get that same functionality, across all browsers and devices.
Here’s some fun searches to get you started (in the SF Bay area):
I’ve received two pieces of direct mail recently from ING DIRECT, inviting me to open an online checking account. It’s interesting to see how optimization of direct mail parallels web optimization.
While the majority of the text is similar, the value propositions are very different.
Amazon just launched coverage for Amazon Locker delivery service in Mountain View so I decided to give it a try. I’ve thought a lot over the past year about how package delivery could be better for apartment dwellers—I’m always paranoid about packages being stolen from my doorstep, or having to be home to sign for something. This seemed like an awesome solution and amazingly, it’s completely free.
Hell hath frozen over. Craigslist started testing mobile and tablet-optimized formats of their website starting last week.
On account pages, you can see the following links at the bottom of the page:
Clicking one of the options sets a cookie that dynamically modifies the page source whenever you visit a Craigslist page (this means that the classic version is visible briefly, before the elements are rearranged).
What’s the verdict? The mobile version actually looks pretty useful—more readable text-sizes, better layout and navigation on a small screen (scrollable images, etc.). However the tablet version is awful. They try to use panels to break out category navigation, search results and listings, and the result is pretty much unusable. Hopefully it will go through a couple more iterations as I could see it being very helpful going forward. I’d have to imagine that there is a pretty large contingent of Craigslist users who browse exclusively on mobile devices/tablets. If you have any feedback, be sure to let Craigslist know:
Now on to the screenshots…
Rumgr is a location based marketplace with a very unique twist: No prices. To post a listing, you simply take a picture—if you don’t have an account, your listing is queued until you sign up. If you’re logged in, that’s it—your listing is live.
Buyers and sellers can comment publicly on listings—this facilitates discussion about item condition and details. Buyers can make an offer which sellers can accept. Once you make a comment on a listing, you start “watching” it.
All of your listings are stored in aptly name “garage”. I like this concept of all of your possessions being for sale at any given time. Instead of being active in selling things you don’t want/need, you can be more passive and wait for the right buyer to come along with the right offer.
Rumgr does a lot of things really well. I love the way that they are reinventing the posting flow. Since listing items is so fast, its easy to just walk around and snap photos of things you’d love to get rid of. In a couple of minutes, you could probably list most large items in your garage. Location is also awesome in Rumgr—if there’s a listing nearby, you’ll know about it (location is the default sort—and only sort for that matter—in the browsing area).
There are some significant areas for improvement:
- It’s hard to know if listings are still live. Since listings don’t seem to expire, there’s a lot of old inventory, and the sellers may not even be active on Rumgr anymore. Many items had been listed for months.
- It’s hard to know if people are serious. A lot of listings look like people are testing out the site (at least in the San Francisco area—it’s difficult to know if they actually want to sell, since posting is so simple.
- There’s no peg to start out price negotiations. It’s nice to have a reference point when it comes to price. Not having that is disorienting, but maybe that’s because I’m so used to Craigslist.
Overall, I really like the construction of the app and concept. I’m curious to see if I’ll get any offers on the listings I posted. For an example post, check out this Sphero I’m selling:
And now for the screenshots:
How many emails do you send in day? If you use Gmail/Google Apps Mail, you can now easily find out detailed usage stats. There’s currently two methods for quickly pulling out stats: (1) Google’s Account Activity Dashboard or (2) the Gmail Meter.
I’m always impressed by the willingness of entrepreneurs to candidly share learnings, failures, and experiences. Andrew Warner does a fantastic job of showcasing this at Mixergy (I’ve personally listened to hours of interviews there). Although everyone provides new insights, it’s exciting to hear the same lessons/learnings repeated over and over—either many people are on to something, or they’re all running over a cliff together (I like to think the former).
A friend forwarded me an interview with Noah Kagan (of AppSumo/Mint/FB fame) onFounderly and I was able to take away a ton from it. The most profound thing that I’ve heard Noah say in multiple interviews is marketing needs to be done in parallel to any development work (i.e. it’s not build then market, it’s market and build). You can look at his track record for ample evidence that he understands that principle. In the interview, he covers the origins of his current business, how he works with others, and things he’s learned along the way.
I’m still trying to work out the best way to aggregate my learnings from interviews so posting this on my blog is an experiment. If it helps me (and perhaps others), I’ll post more. I’ve embedded the videos below with my key takeaways.
Trader Joe’s knows marketing. They don’t want you to know this however. Their displays, signage, and advertising (including their kitschy “Fearless Flyer” newsletter) all convey the message that Trader Joe’s is just like the simple grocery store of yesteryear—healthy food, friendly staff, and a store that has a personality.
Nothing demonstrates this better than the beautifully hand-drawn price tags that adorn every product display in the store. That’s right folks—in this era of nearly ubiquitous digitization, Trader Joe’s hand-draws every single price-tag. Keep in mind it’s not just numbers and text, but often artistic elements, depictions of food, and other designs. They are amazing.
Based on some numbers sourced by Fortune Magazine, there are roughly 4000 SKU’s (stock keeping units) in a typical Trader Joe’s store. As of April 2011, there were 355 Trader Joe’s locations across the US. That means that there are over 1.4 million hand-drawn price tags—price tags that will change and need to be recreated based on season, promotion, and price fluctuations.
Who makes them?
According to an employee I spoke with at a San Francisco location, there are 4-5 artists on staff for that given store, who work full-time on producing artwork. I had a friend ask for a job application, and the manager said they were on the lookout for artists that do good, fast work. Wait. Trader Joe’s is actively looking for artists? Isn’t the job of creating in-store art best left to a graphic designer at TJ’s headquarters?
Why hire artists?
One of the key elements of any Trader Joe’s location is it’s strong ties to the local community, which furthers it’s ‘small-town grocery’ feel. Artists are able to incorporate depictions of local geography, places of interest, and subtleties that an employee in Monrovia, California (Trader Joe’s HQ), would have never heard of.
Having a personality is part of the plan
Trader Joe’s is a Fortune 500 giant. They generated sales in excess of 8 billion dollars in 2009. However, you don’t get that feeling inside a store. The illusion is a cleverly orchestrated masterpiece. I don’t say this as a critique of their model, because I am a loyal customer that eats up every bit of their marketing. They could clearly afford to follow every other major grocery chain, but their decision to hire local artists is an expensive, conscious, and brilliantly astute one.
Now back to you: Does your company have a pulse?
If a company with 5500 employees can feel human, then your startup of 10 or 5 or maybe just 1 person needs to feel human too. I don’t think that customers necessarily want to find new friends through the businesses they work with or shop at, but they certainly want to make sure they see signs of life. If you want some more examples of online companies that do this well, here’s a brief list:
- Zappos - a joke of the day over the phone. Just call and follow the prompts.
- Woot - pretty much any writing they do is the best. For a stellar example see Woot Minions.
- Groupon - before they did Super Bowl commercials, they did this.
Any more suggestions? Post a comment or send me an email.
AvantLink is an Affiliate Marketing network—think an intermediary between merchants who want to have an affiliate program and publishers who want to make money off of their content. If you need some more context about affiliate marketing, this video may provide some further clarification. As a long-time affiliate on the AvantLink network (i.e. somehow who makes affiliate commissions through merchants working with AvantLink), I’ve grown religious in checking my stats. Thanks to an Android app, I can see my daily commissions whenever I have 10 seconds to pull out my phone.
While AvantLink has made some cool tools for Firefox users, I primarily use Google Chrome, and there wasn’t anything to allow me to get my stats fix while I was on my laptop (other than actually disrupting my workflow to login to the AvantLink site). I spend a night whipping up a Chrome extension and figured that since I got some good use out of it, I might as well improve it to the point that others can use it too.
Here’s a basic rundown of what it does:
- Your daily sales are overlaid on the extension icon
- The daily sales icon-overlay updates every 15 minutes
- You can view all the stats you can view with the AvantLink mobile app simply by clicking on the extension icon.
You can install the extension by visiting the following crazy URL:
You’ll need to enter your Affiliate ID and API Authorization Key to configure the extension, but both are stored securely on your local machine and are never logged externally. Also keep in mind the that AffiliateReport API module (which the extension uses) has a limit of 1000 calls per day. If you get a little click happy, you may find your access temporarily disabled (I’ve spent a while debugging the extension—read clicking many times—and haven’t yet run into an issue).
If you find this useful, or have any feature requests, please let me know and I’ll try and add them in a new release.