Category Archives: Reality checks

Sharing Isn’t Caring

Suppose you are depressed or maybe you want to quit a bad habit – smoking, for example. Well, of course, there are apps to help you fight depression or to quit smoking. Maybe you want a discount on your car insurance so you agree to install what the industry calls a “telematics device.” As one report explained, these things report when the car was used, distance driven, and time spent driving. They also want to know how fast a driver typically drives and any incidents of hard braking, both of which are indicators that the driver takes risks and doesn’t pay attention. Finally, and perhaps most controversially, the devices can track a car’s location.

Since you’re a fairly literate person, digitally speaking, you know the apps collect some data and obviously so does a tracking device. What you don’t know is what happens to the data that the apps collect. If you go through the app’s privacy policies (you know – the thing you clicked through when you signed up), you’ll probably find that the developer might share data with third parties. And, in fact, a study just released shows that of 36 top-ranked apps for depression and smoking cessation available in public app stores, 29 transmitted data to services provided by Facebook or Google, but only 12 accurately disclosed this in a privacy policy.

Does this concern you? It should. It is not difficult at all for someone who has “non-PII” – anonymized personal information – to trace it back to a real person with a name, address, and other information. How many auto insurance companies also offer life insurance? How many share data – even anonymized data – with health insurers. And wouldn’t those health insurers love to know if you think you’re depressed, as would a life insurance company? Am I paranoid? Yes indeed, and you should be too.

As it turns out, while many of us are more wary about what companies are doing with our data, we’re still not DOING much about it. As eMarketer reports, Internet users are clearing cookies and sharing less on social media. Ad blockers continue to gain popularity. But nearly one-third of US internet users are still willing to sacrifice privacy for convenience.

Clearing cookies, using a VPN, making sure that apps don’t get permissions that they don’t need (why does a flashlight app need your contacts?), and other things can help but at the core of this issue is many companies’ philosophy to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. They have a laser-focus on making money and are woefully blind to their users’ concerns. That’s what really concerns me. You?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Reality checks

Your Ideas Suck

One thing I’ve done over my decade in consulting is to go to tech events. Many of these attract dozens of budding entrepreneurs as well as we consultant types who are always on the lookout for a new client. Inevitably, as you’re making small talk and new connections, someone will tell you about their earth-shattering, world-changing brilliant idea. All they need is some seed money. Most of the time, their ideas…well…suck. Let me explain why.

First of all, they can’t explain the problem that they’re solving. They have a vague idea of who might have the problem but they can’t really explain what the problem is since they’re not the customer. Then they can’t exactly explain how they’ll scale – how they will attract a large enough customer base to get them to positive cash-flow and profitability. Lastly, they can’t explain the revenue model – how they will monetize the enterprise.

Major suckitude, in other words.

If you can’t explain how your idea takes in someone’s money – an investor’s or a customer’s – and spits profit out the other end, you’re in big trouble. An idea isn’t a business, you see.

One thing I’ve learned in consulting on franchises is that a lot of food franchises want you to have some food experience. While specific industry experience is less of a requirement in other categories, having relevant experience is a huge help everywhere, even if it’s just demonstrating skills that can help in your new business. If you don’t have the basic skills you need to germinate your idea – leadership skills, sales skills among them – or relevant industry experience, you are going to fail. Was that mean? OK, it was mean, but your idea still sucks because you are hanging it out there all on its own with nothing to support it. No money. No experience. No skills.

By the way. Most people who have been around for a while (your potential investors and others) can figure out very quickly if your buzzword-laden pitch is BS. Dressing up your sucky idea with a fancy presentation laden with jargon is lipstick on a pig.

What ideas don’t suck? The best businesses come from someone trying to solve their own problem and having the business acumen to grow that solution into something that can benefit others if the problem is a big enough one. There is a plan to make money, acquire customers, and generate a profit. Got an idea with those things? THAT doesn’t suck!

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

The Buffet Bill

Happy Foodie Friday and a Happy Easter and a Zissen Pesach to those of you who celebrate one or the other (or both!). I spent much of this week in Las Vegas, one of this country’s great food cities. I know – how can I say that about a town that’s built pretty much just to separate you from your money? Well, you gotta eat in between all of that spending and it seems as if every big name chef has a place in Vegas. There is also an awful lot of great local places too.

While the food is very good at most places in town, it’s pretty expensive. Obviously, the high-end, big-name chef places are pricey but even some of the small local joints I patronized ended up costing quite a bit of change. While I realize that the prices I pay in my little North Carolina town aren’t “big city”, I’m quite used to NYC pricing since that’s what I paid my entire life. The prices in Vegas are beyond that when you total up all of the ala carte items you order.

One thing that’s a real tradition is the Vegas buffet. Every hotel has one and there are many stand-alone buffets in town as well. They’re not inexpensive either. The one at my hotel was $31 including the tip. Yes, even bottomless mimosas! As I was running through the massive food service area (for the third time), I realized that I’m very much a buffet guy and I think most consumers are too.

What I mean by that is that we seem to be living in an age where everything is ala carte. Your airline ticket may be your protein, but you might want some veggies (an assigned seat), a salad (a checked bag), and a starch (fuel surcharges, booking fees, etc.) which will make up the real cost of your meal.  Sure, your hotel room is $139/night, but the “resort fees” and fees for things like having a safe in your room or built-in tips for the housekeeper can inflate your bill quite a bit.

Everyone complains about what most ticket services tack on to the base price of a concert ticket. Look at your cable or telephone bill and I’m sure you can find quite a bit of dough you’re being charged that takes your monthly tab beyond the advertised price that drew you in as a customer in the first place. I’m a buffet-pricing guy. Tell me the entire price upfront and let me decide. Sure, the lower price might get me in the door once, but the anger I feel when I see the final bill will assure that I won’t be back.

You might be fine with ala carte pricing. In theory, I am too because why pay for something you won’t use? The problem is that you really don’t have the option. When an airline charges you for carry-on bags or for checked bags, there is no “option” unless it’s a day trip without luggage. You’re paying the fee. why not include it in the price?

Enjoy your buffet this weekend!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

What Kind Of Cold Cut Are You?

It’s Foodie Friday, which means that the weekend is upon us. Maybe you’ll use the downtime to catch up on your reading or non-work web activity. I’ll bet you might even fall into the trap of taking one of those online quizzes.

If you go on a site like Buzzfeed, you won’t have to read very far before you’ll encounter a food-related quiz of some sort. “We’ll Guess Your Exact Age If You Take This French Fry Quiz” or “Your Subway Order Will Determine Where You Should Live.” By the way. according to them, I’m a 23-year-old who should be living in Seattle…

Food quizzes and others are all meant to be good fun, or are they? When Facebook asks me what Harry Potter character I am, don’t I really want to know? Actually, no, I don’t. Let’s think about the “innocuous” quizzes cited above. Asking me about my preferences in fry style, favorite fast-food fry outlet or condiment provides a great deal of information both in the aggregate and about me personally when it comes to targeting me with ads. How can they do that when they don’t know who I am since I didn’t log in? Well, I really did sort of log in since both the Facebook pixel and Twitter pixels are active on the site. They can sell the aggregated information to producers of fries and condiments and fast food chains and they can sell my “pixel” to advertisers of the same.

Then there are the quizzes that ask you to give them an email to send you the results. They’re even more dangerous, as are the quizzes that ask you to answer questions that might be used as security questions (Where did you go to middle school or what was your first car?). We need to understand that since we’re living in the age of surveillance capitalism, everything we do is worth something to someone other than ourselves. Since we don’t have any control much of the time over who is collecting – and selling – our data, we need to be especially wary of every action we take. A “like” is a vote, a “share” is an endorsement. If you don’t believe me, go to your Facebook ad settings and check out what they think your interests and other tidbits are.

What kind of cold cut are you? The kind that gets sliced quite thinly and sold by the pound. Forewarned is forearmed!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Something Could Be Gaining

I was watching TV last night and on came a commercial break. There were 5 commercials in this pod along with a couple of promo spots for the network I was watching. When the pod was over, something dawned on me and that has prompted today’s thought.

Not one of the five companies that were advertising was in business a decade ago. Every single one of them was digitally-based and every single one of them was disrupting an existing business sector.

There was an online realtor who would buy or sell you a house without using a local agent. There was the online employment site that would find you a job and serve as your headhunter. There was a site that would pack your pills into individual doses and mail them to you, no trip to the pharmacists needed. The next company would book your next vacation and notify you if now was not the optimal time to book.

I wonder, a decade ago, if the pharmacists thought that they would be threatened by a company that could fill prescriptions in a way no drug store could and at prices that are reflective of their no physical outlet cost structure? Why bother going on interviews with headhunters when you can post your resume and let the algorithm find you interested employers? Why spend on a recruiter when you can have candidates screened electronically and only see the best?

Satchel Paige is quoted as reminding us “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” I think that’s optimistic. If you are in any business these days, something IS gaining on you and they may be the advertisers whose commercials you watch as they go by. Disruption is a fact of business life and unless you’re thinking about how your business could be replaced, you’re missing the boat.

Make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Every Day Is April Fools

How many head-scratching headlines have you seen today? Google’s Files app now cleans your phone screen from the inside? Guy Fieri has been brought in to cater the Champions’ Dinner at the Masters? Roku announced a remote designed to be dog-friendly?

None of those things are true, of course. They’re just three of this year’s batch of April Fool’s jokes that seem to run rampant across the interwebs. Actually, HelloFresh’s announcement of a Unicorn Box, which they say is a “brand new, first-of-its-kind experience will let you eat like a mythical creature. Brush away the confetti to find a box full of farm-fresh rainbows, smiles, and joy right at your doorstep” sounds kind of yummy. It’s so obviously silly that you can ignore it safely. Others, like the Google video of the screen cleaner, are close enough to plausible to have you wondering if they’re a joke or a scientific breakthrough.

So you’re probably dialing up your BS detector as you surf around the digital world today. You probably have seen odd announcements from your friends on social media saying they’re leaving their jobs or investing in gold mines. You know they’re kidding but there is an excellent reminder in all of this.

Every day is April Fool’s Day. There is an awful lot of made-up garbage floating around out there and if we’re not skeptics we’re going to have the proverbial wool pulled over our eyes. Unfortunately, it’s rarely as obvious when something is fake the other 364 days of the year. Check facts using reputable fact-checking sites. Ask yourself who has an interest in what I’m reading being the truth and how does it affect them if it’s not? Read and listen carefully. What’s not being said? Does it seem as if a fine line is being walked with how the words are chosen and phrased?

If you can’t dazzle them with the facts, baffle them with your BS is my paraphrasing of the old W.C. Fields quote (he used brilliance instead of facts).  You need to remember that more people and businesses think that way than you’d expect. Make every day April Fool’s when it comes to picking up what they’re putting down. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

I Think We Failed

I’ve been doing “digital” as a business since the mid-1990s. Back then it was a bunch of walled gardens that featured mostly text-only content. Those gardens also suddenly made email widely available and I, like many, was really optimistic about the potential the coming digital world would hold in terms of communication and information. The Information Age was dawning, right?

The walls came down from around those gardens and the open internet bloomed. Soon everyone had email and nearly everyone began spending time catching up with old school chums and distant family via this thing called social media. Every content provider had a website, and many people would read the newspaper or a magazine off of a screen rather than off a sheet of paper in their hands. Video soon entered the mix as the pipes got bigger and the devices faster. Today pretty much everyone carries a powerful computer/communications tool/web device in their pockets and are connected non-stop. Technology has become ubiquitous, just as many folks envisioned.

Except that we failed. Social media is anti-social. Many of my friends and I suspect of yours spend hours arguing about things they have little or no ability to change. Of more concern is that their arguments are often based on sketchy facts that they found in their digital travels. Kids sitting at the same table don’t look at one another and would rather Snapchat one another than talk face to face. We don’t have relationships with people because relationships need to have a face-to-face component in my opinion. If you believe what you see in your news feeds, everyone’s life is fabulous and fun yet we know everyone has the same problems from time to time. Their kids aren’t perfect, their meals aren’t all perfect-looking, almost everyone has worries of some sort (yes, non-political ones!), and not every day is spent traveling to exotic locations.

I think we failed. I don’t think most of us appreciated the dangers inherent in the overuse of technology until the last couple of years. We’ve become less social, less open to thinking that doesn’t mirror our own, and too connected to the screen world in front of us while we’re disconnecting from the fabulous world beyond our screens. We’ve learned to code and we’ve not learned history. We go to concerts and watch them through a screen while shooting a video instead of losing ourselves in the music. We text our kids to come to dinner and don’t make them put down the phone and talk, mostly because we’re catching up on our own social streams.

I don’t know if I have a point today because I don’t know that this is “fixable.” We live in a world of surveillance capitalism and the companies that profit from it not only aren’t going to go away any time soon but are aggregating into a very few behemoths that know everything about us. What have we done?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud