Austin Ride-sharing is a micro-monopoly

Regulation in Austin, TX is preventing a free market to exist for ride-sharing. The best companies (Uber and Lyft) cannot compete here because of an onerous regulation put over the town like a dark cloud. Dark indeed, for it creates a micro-monopoly for Fasten and RideAustin, who by their strangeness (and willingness to operate more like a cab company), are allowed in Austin.

I was recently quoted on NPR radio on this topic, and I argue that this micro-monopoly is the only reason they can compete in Austin right now. This monopoly does not exist outside of Austin (except a few other weird cities). As a result, for Fasten or RideAustin to work beyond Austin, they would have to compete in the “REAL” market against Uber and Lyft.

A monopoly gets established whenever there is regulation, unique capability, or brute force creating a disturbance in the natural order of modern economic forces: e.g capitalism. In fact, monopolies are the opposite of capitalism which emphasizes the concept of creative destruction to encourage entrepreneurs and what today we call “startups” and we once called “business” to flourish and compete against each other.

The loser in this war is the consumer, and always is. We are forced with sub-par ride-sharing experiences and higher prices. That’s what happens in a monopoly.

So… catch a ride; kill monopoly! Compete without a monopoly and you will find there are bigger markets than just Austin, waiting for you to come help.

Rural Ride-sharing anyone?

Selling Sucks. Do someone a Favor instead!

In the past, I’ve blogged about the SPIN Selling Technique.  I think this is definitely a great technique for selling, but there is one very important thing to remember.  Selling sucks.  Nobody likes to be sold to.  Instead, the whole point of SPIN Selling, the whole point of “transacting value between two peoples” is a POSITIVE exchange of value.  E.g. the result of the sale should be of MUTUAL value.  So, when you find yourself in need of selling something… DO not sell it… simply see if “the exchange” would be mutually beneficial or not.  The whole point of SPIN Selling, or selling of any kind, is simply to determine if you or your company would be benefited by buying this.  When I SPIN Sell, I try to discover, truly with an open heart and mind, would you or your company benefit from buying this (product or service).  I like to think of it like this: Would you consider my selling you this thing or service like “a favor”?  If not, maybe there isn’t a match.

By the way, if you don’t believe in your product or service enough to think of it as “a favor”, you should take the time to learn more about your product and who it was built for, or else get a new job ASAP.

Engineers Need to learn Diplomacy

Diplomacy is not just a great game from the 1950s, its also a vital skill, that so many engineers (myself included) lack proficiency in.    Sure we know what it means, we may even have the “theory“, but we suck at it.  We engineers are too “black and white”.  Diplomacy is not about black and white/right or wrong.  It’s about understanding and mutual benefit.  My recent read of How to Win Friends and Influence People has led me to start thinking hard about how I communicate with people.  Read on for some situations that may apply to you!

Here are some situations where Engineers have the wrong idea & how to correct them:

  1. “You are wrong, and I am right.”
    • Wrong!  (hehe, see I’m an engineer).  You can’t put the real world into right and wrong.  There are shades of gray.  
    • A better approach: “I’m sure there is much to your statement that is correct.  However, I have a slightly different understanding.  Lets discuss till we can at least see each others viewpoint.”
  2. “This is a negotiation, I will try to get what I want.”
    • Wrong!  A negotiation should be a mutual discussion to find where both parties can find benefit (1+1 = 3).
    • A better approach: “I would like to tell you what areas we really need, and where we can be flexible   If you can do the same, perhaps we can find some win-win agreement, or just move on otherwise”
  3. “This is a sale, I will try to sell the other person, by convincing them this is the best for them.”
    • Wrong! A Sale situation should be about “qualifying” the person, and truly helping them determine if the sale is right for them.  (they have to decide, you can only ask questions and point out benefits that are relevant to their situation).
    • A better approach: “We are a X company, and we help people with Y.  Do you have any problems with Y or would you like your Y to be better?  Maybe I can be helpful, but if not, no worries.”
  4. “This is a rule, do not break it.”
    • Wrong!  Rules are for science & children.  Being flexible to the situation and listening to peoples concerns is the diplomatic way.
    • A better approach: “I’d like to understand what happened better to see if this rule is still applicable, or if there is some situation where it is broken.”
  5.   “Why should I bother helping this person, when they are clearly incompetent?”
    • Wrong!  This one is hardest for me.  But diplomatic way would be to learn more about the incompetence to be able to prevent the problem in the future or create a learning system that fixes the incompetency.
    • A better approach: “I’d like to discuss the problem further and understand how you get here so I can prevent it from happening in the future.”
Can anyone recommend a good book on Diplomacy?
I think I can use a good refresher as well!

Why Selling Products is EASIER than Selling Services.

I’ve sold both products and services.   I’ve sold them together, and separately.  Without a doubt, no question about it, selling a product is far easier than selling services.  Here are some examples of stuff I’ve sold, and why products were easier than services:

At the age of 10, I was the youngest kid in Lima, Ohio (where i grew up) to ever have their own paper route.  My job was to deliver papers (the easy part, and fun on my bike), and to “collect” payment…  People see newspaper as a service… and collecting that $5 per month was the bane of my existence.  People just didn’t want to pay me.  “The kid is knocking again” would be their complaint… when I came knocking, door-to-door to collect the monthly fee for the Lima Newspaper.  The problem: they weren’t “getting a product” at that moment.  Those same houses would gladly fork over $1 for a candy-bar sale, or $5 for a dinner plate…but newspaper service… “ah, come back tomorrow when I’ve got some cash”.

At 16, I went door-to-door selling “Ariel Photography”… it was much easier than selling newspaper service!  I could show them a picture of their home… in full color and a huge picture.  “Yours right now for $100”, I’d start out.  Surprisingly many would say yes!  (even though I’d go as low as $25 for the sale).  Why? It was a product.. it was done.. it was right there…  and I would “fake-walk-away” to close the sale all too often.  Don’t get me wrong… walking door-to-door is always hard… but selling a Product was far easier than selling the service.  Imagine: “Hi, I’ve got a plane, and would like to fly over your home and take a photo for just $100, can you please pay me now, and then I’ll send you your picture?” —> yah, that wouldn’t work at all!

Selling Killer NICs from my startup Bigfoot Networks was easy too: list the product at the store… tell people it’s there… get some press… watch sales happen.

Same for selling Psyko 5.1 Surround Sound headphones: get listed, get decent reviews, market a little… watch money come in.

Now try selling “social marketing”.. such as I do with Karmaback.  Selling it as a product: “click here to setup your sweepstakes now for $49” vs. a service “call us or email us for a free quote in 24 hours”… which do you think is “easier to sell”?  The product is easier to sell (as long as it satisfies the needs of the customer)…  unfortunately a Sweepstakes alone often doesn’t satisfy…  customers often want more… (how to turn it into sales, how to customize how it looks, strategy, iphone apps, coupons, etc. etc.)…    these additional needs DO mean additional revenue opportunities.   But selling them is harder: figure out needs, work up a proposal, develop a relationship, build a plan, get consensus, get internal acceptance/approval, etc.

So, if you can possibly “productize” your “service offering”.. go for it!  Karmaback is sure trying to do just that: stay tuned!

p.s. buy the t-shirt here:

Karmaback, my Seth Godin inspired company.

Sometimes, we forget where inspiration comes from.  I am a Seth Godin fan.  If you don’t believe me, read my blog… check out the movie I made… or consider my company: Karmaback.  Yes, almost everything about Karmaback is inspired by Seth Godin’s principles.  Permission Marketing is really the core of Karmaback.  We’re trying to match up companies that care about their customers with customers who appreciate permission marketing.  We want to leverage peoples social networks, WITH their permission, and help companies create great end user stories.  And the really exciting part: Karmaback is working GREAT for a bunch of really happy companies.

Here are a few “Seth” principles we live by:
Permission Marketing? (Very much so… we give points for permission!)
Purple Cow? (We think so, although our colors are green, we are unique in several key ways)
Linchpin Commitment to Service? (our customers think so, and I work dang hard to keep it).
Meatball Sundae?  (We’re different and we’re getting our word out “the right way”.)
Giving? (Yes, we frequently go above and beyond for our customers.  Plus, we have some amazing free programs, and frequently give our services to others at little to no cost).

Also, At last night’s Austin Seth Godin Linchpin meetup, I met Pace from  Pace is building a company to try to “change the world”.  She’s got a Linchpin factory that turns people with world-changing ideas into world-chagers.   It was speaking with Pace that got me re-jazzed about permission marketing.

Stay tuned for some “little tweaks” to Karmaback to get us back in line with Seth Godin’s principles.  We want to be the BEST place for Permission based Marketing on the Planet.