Tag Archives: Startup

“To Done” Smartphone App

16 May

"To Do" list 2.0, but with room for improvement...
Everyday, we wake up with a list in our heads of things we need to do that day. There are groceries to buy, errands to run, work tasks to complete, and happy hour beers to drink – some things on our “to do” list are more of a chore than others, but they are all things that need to get done one way or another.

Some of us write reminder notes on our hands, scribble grocery lists on sheets of paper or use our smartphones to remind ourselves of what we need to do. Oftentimes any or all of these methods are sufficient to remind ourselves what we need to do , but just because we remember to do a task doesn’t mean it’s not a pain in the ass to do so. We’ve successfully leveraged technology to make our work more efficient (I agree, this is highly debatable), so why not use it to make our “to do” list easier, cheaper, and more fun?

The “To Done” smartphone app I envision does just that, and has a unique business model with multiple revenue streams to boot. Yes, there are literally dozens of “to do” apps and productivity-boosting apps out on the market, but none of them fully leverage the inherent capabilities of our wallet sized computers. What these apps lack, and what I’m jonesing for, is the ability for the items on my “to do” list to proactively reach out to me at the most opportune times and remind me that I need to buy X, do Y, or go to Z. Phone alarms and calendar-synced alerts are a step in the right direction, but what good is it for me to have my phone remind me at 2pm that I need to buy toothpaste when I’m in the middle of an afternoon of meetings? Not only will I forget by the time I’m actually out the door, but I’ll also be annoyed by the inefficacy of the system and abandon it.

What I propose is to leverage the geo-location services of smartphones and a database of product SKUs and conditional commands to build a better and more proactive “to do” list: the To Done app (because it makes your tasks so easy to check off that you might as well consider them done! Thanks but no thanks Mr. Draper, I have this one covered).

Take my list of tasks for example. What if I could choose from a host of SKUs for my favorite toothpaste brand, my laundry detergent of choice, or anything else I need to buy? To Done would partner with retailers like CVS, Target and Harris Teeter, among others, to create a vast database of all the SKUs carried by those retailers. I could then choose a specific product, and anytime I walked by a CVS, for example, my phone would ping me: “There are 6 items on your To Done list at the CVS 150 yards away at 888 Smith Street.” At that point, you could pop into the store to pick up your items, or even better, you could purchase the items on your phone and scoop them up. The latter would require a closer partnership with the retailer’s POS system, but this is clearly where the mobile payments industry is heading anyways, so perhaps a third party developer could be brought on board to add this functionality.

Retailers such as nation-wide pharmacy chains and grocery stores would be great partners for the development of this app, because it would give them incredibly valuable insights into the purchasing habits of local consumers. Over time, they could identify trends such as “Washingtonians love Crest more than Colgate, and they buy a ton of Cheerios in January but not so much in August,” trends that could allow them to make strategic decisions about their inventory management systems. Access to consumers within a close distance of their stores is very valuable to retailers, who would be willing to share a percent of sales – or perhaps pay to join a platform to access these consumers  – made through the To Done app. Additionally, retailers could provide targeted discounts or leverage their customer loyalty systems incentive app users to buy shaving cream at this CVS, rather than that Duane Reed across the street: “Hi there, it looks like we have 6 of your To Do items in stock; why don’t you buy them now and we’ll give you 15% off!?” Sounds good to me.

In addition to facilitating the purchase of products on your “to do” list, To Done could help you with other tasks based on your location and/or pre-defined parameters. For example, let’s say you need to water your house plant. Why not have that be a recurring To Done item and have the app ping you every other Tuesday when it detects that you are at your house? The applications of this type of proactive, location-based offering are endless, and with the right algorithms, the To Done app could get smarter over time by drawing insights around patterns in your purchase and task history, making recommendations where it sees fit.

Developing the app itself is not a significant investment itself, but landing the high-level retail partnerships that truly make the app a valuable tool would require a talented business developer. Additionally, partnerships with players such as Foursquare, Google and others would ensure the app is a truly innovative offering, and not an “also ran.”

What do you think – anything you’d love to see checked off your To Done list??

“Retail Experience” Innovations at LivingSocial

15 Feb

On Monday, LivingSocial announced the grand opening of a “first-of-its-kind live events venue” in downtown Washington D.C., where the rapidly growing daily deals business will offer customers unique experiences to its customers, and a testing ground for its merchant partners.  The “retail experience” space is an innovative move for the company, who is looking to expand its image beyond that of a “coupon company.”

   (image courtesy of Washington Post)

The company’s new venture is notable for many reasons, and I am particularly anxious to see how it pans out, as I’ve long been bullish on the daily deals business model and do not think it is sustainable in its own right.

Even though the company has expanded its user base to more than 60 million members, and offers deals in 647 markets worldwide, LivingSocial and its closest competitor Groupon have yet to turn significant, sustainable profits; figures from Amazon’s 10-K report imply that DC-based LivingSocial suffered a net loss of $558 million in 2011, on revenues of $245 million (Amazon has a 31% stake in the company). Those 60+ million consumers are proving to be very expensive to acquire as repeat customers.

Is a retail experience venue like that of LivingSocial a one-off innovative initiative, or a game-changing model?

Most of the criticisms charged against daily deals businesses have been around the lack of long-term gains conferred to their merchant partners. Mom and pop shops often find it challenging to keep up with the demand created by a one-off deal, and they receive only a fraction of the proceeds from those deals (usually 25% or less of the face value of the goods and services the coupon offers). Additionally, cost-conscious consumers have little reason to be loyal to one daily discounter over another; as long as they can get half-off pedicures and sushi rolls, it doesn’t matter what company sells them the voucher.

What is interesting about the retail experience, however, is that it allows merchant vendors to more proactively manage their expenses and the customer experience. Rather than providing consumers access to a brand at a discount, the retail experience space gives brands access to consumers (albeit still at a discount, for the most part).  This subtle distinction, where vendors have more control over the customer experience, means that local companies are better positioned to lock patrons in as loyal customers. Who do you think will revisit a restaurant more often – a consumer who buys a 50% discounted meal, or one who pays to experience a new tasting menu with a restaurant’s chef?

LivingSocial’s press announcement for the retail experience space at 918 F Street didn’t explicitly state whether the new venture would be repeated throughout the hundreds of other markets where the company is present, but one can imagine that if the model proves successful, they will roll it out company-wide – that is, if LivingSocial’s competitors don’t copy it first.

Mytinerary – A Smarter Way to Travel

14 Nov

Is there anything more fun and rewarding than traveling to a new city or a new country? Not in my book. Everyone and their mom loves to travel, but there are definitely a few pain points along the way that don’t necessarily take away from the trip, but they do create an opportunity to improve the overall experience.

What does the average travel process look like for most people? There are several stages of each trip that can each be as frustrating as they are exciting, which is why I’ve been thinking about an idea for a travel website and app called “Mytinerary”. For most trips, there is a meaty research and planning phase. This can be especially difficult if you are arranging a trip with a group of friends. WHERE do we go? WHAT do we do? WHEN do we go? WHERE do we stay?  There are myriad travel planning books, websites and tools that assist in the process of research and planning, but they do not address many of the intricacies of traveling – especially traveling abroad. More on that later.

After planning, the real fun begins – the actual trip. I can only speak for myself, but arriving in a foreign airport spackled with advertisements from unknown companies in foreign languages, navigating a different public transport system and finding your way through unmarked neighborhood after neighborhood, and settling down in your temporary digs before taking off to explore, work, feast, drink, meet up with friends and party (or whatever else one might do on a trip) is better then Christmas morning, Thanksgiving dinner, and other analogy-worthy awesome events all rolled into one.

Finally, upon returning home, you share your experience. You upload your pictures to Facebook, email them to grandma, and tell everyone within earshot how crazy that one night was when you met a few locals, or how much better the gelato was in that small Italian village than in your boring American city. You’re so cultured and everyone knows it!

The thing is, these three phases are all addressed by different platforms. What I propose is a comprehensive website, largely integrated with existing platforms and networks such as Facebook, Foursquare and Yelp (no need to reinvent the wheel!) that goes beyond aggregation of resources to actually provide targeted recommendations for your travels.

What inspires you to travel, or to choose a particular destination over another? Increasingly, our travel decisions are influenced by our friends. How many times have your friends posted pictures of exotic locales, prompting you to ask “Where was that? What did you do there? Would you stay there again?” Sure, we can go to Lonely Planet and similar travel sites to research, but we are more inclined to value the opinions of our friends, because we can identify more closely with their experiences. A young college student looking to hostel jump and party until 6am will have a different agenda than a married couple looking to indulge in the local foodie scene, yet each is presented the same “top 10” lists for the cities in which they plan to travel. What I propose with Mytineray is a more targeted, recommendation-based travel planning and sharing application that understands your individual travel needs and preferences, and allows you to build a trip that will be more fun and interesting to you.

Recommendations can be based not only on your travel profile – which could be built by answering a series of questions, or reflecting on your previous trips – but also your location. For example, if you are planning a trip to Washington DC and staying in the Foggy Bottom area, it would be valuable to know the travel time required to get to a restaurant on Capitol Hill, or how long it might take to get out to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. I envision Mytinerary having a “drag and drop” feature, where you add activities to you itinerary, and a schedule is created based on the average time it takes to commute from your current location to the venue, participate in whatever event you choose (a recommended 1 hour to tour the Phillips Collection, 1.5 hours to dine at the fancy French restaurant, etc.).

There is a significant “local” component inherent in Mytinerary as well. Just as millions of Foursquare users check in at sites as often as possible to achieve the coveted “mayor” status, I would imagine that those local gurus would be interested in sharing their favorite local spots with adventurous tourists. Personally, I love when friends and family come to visit me in DC, because I enjoy showing off our unique city, from the Mall to the many unique, vibrant neighborhoods. It doesn’t take a significant change in behavior to take that tour-guide approach to your Mytinerary profile; after all, you want to become known as the local travel guru, right?

I think that to have the best chance for success, Mytinerary would have to be very tightly integrated with Facebook. After all,  you are trolling through your friends’ photos to decide where to visit, then posting your own photos after your trips, so why not embrace where all the eyeballs – and wallets – are? The close integration of Facebook would also allow for tagging, not only of the people in the pictures but also for the location and time of the picture itself. After you get back from your surfing trip in Costa Rica, you would be able to post your Mytinerary photos and share exactly where and when each picture was taken; going a step further, if your Facebook friends were inspired by your photos, they could drag and drop that particular tagged location into their Mytineraries.

All of these behaviors are currently happening in some corner of the internet, in books, or by word of mouth, but Mytinerary presents an infinitely more comprehensive way to manage the entire travel experience, from planning to sharing. As far as revenue streams are concerned, there is clearly a significant opportunity for targeted advertising and referral fees from travel booking sites, but it doesn’t end there. Normally, you might not appreciate getting spammed with Rosetta Stone advertisements ad nauseam if you have no interest in learning Spanish, but you might not mind a weekly email with common phrases and valuable vocab words if you did just book a two-week tour of Argentina. The data gathered from millions of Mytinerary users is valuable not only to the website/application itself, but also to the myriad companies involved in the travel industry that desire a more robust understanding of their potential customers.

I think this is a great idea with a log of legs, and a lot of wings (travel reference, get it?). Travel books and guides are so 20th century, it’s time to sign up for Mytinerary!