Brian Shaler

Occasionally Interesting

Gravity is for chumps

Archive for August, 2008

StartupWeekend Comes to Phoenix, AZ

If you haven’t heard of StartupWeekend, check out the site: A brief summary:

Startup Weekend recruits a highly motivated group of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and more to a 54 hour event that builds communities, companies and projects.

It’s that simple. A large group of people get together and work through a weekend to start a company. It’s bazaar, exciting, and fantastic.

I think they have held at least two dozen of these events in various cities around the country. Finally, Phoenix will get its turn! It will be held October 17-19 in Chandler, AZ, and tickets are $40 (to help cover food, drinks, etc).

Here are all the links you need: main site
Idea gathering/voting

If you would like to assist in planning or offer to sponsor part of the event, let me know! Along with Gregg Drennan, Justin Crossman, Derek Neighbors, Sean Tierney, Steven Shaffer, and others, I will be helping organize Startup Weekend Phoenix!


Sometimes I think about how I would improve companies I see around me. I dream up advertising campaigns, I figure out how to improve user experience on their web sites, and sometimes I consider possible alternative revenue streams that leverage existing assets. Yes, I am already aware of the fact I think too much and over-analyze things.

If I don’t talk to anyone about these ideas or post them online, it seems as if the thoughts have gone to waste. Generally, the ideas are specific to one company and do me little or no good keeping secret. The purpose of writing about the ideas would not be to get through to the target company, but to share with others my thought process and possibly provide inspiration for others who may have similar opportunities.

I received a coupon in the mail from Blockbuster a while back, and it got me thinking. The coupon was part of a promotion they were running for an upcoming motion picture award event (Oscar, Emmy, or Academy). It was pretty obvious they blasted this bulk mailer out to just about everyone. This type of bulk mailing seems to be a shotgun approach to get people into the stores. Aren’t there more efficient ways of doing it? I go to Blockbuster a couple of times per year, and that coupon didn’t seem to be enough to inspire me enough to increase my patronage.

There are, however, people who rent movies regularly and thus would be more likely to participate in a promotion like that. Realizing this difference in behavior between me and a movie aficionado, I thought about different ways of increasing activity in each group. The mailer I received was likely to be more effective on the active movie aficionado group than on the group I fit in.

The key to grouping people by behavior is right down my alley. You’re dealing with abundant data (millions of customers’ rental habits) and identifying trends. I would imagine a rental behavior graph would look something like this:

Graph: Hypothetical Rental Behavior

Expressed in that graph is a common philosophy recently promoted as the “long tail.” I am going to blindly speculate that out of 50 million households renting from Blockbuster, less than 1 million rent an average of two movies per week (100+ movie rentals per year). A larger segment is likely to rent an average of two movies per month (25 movie rentals per year). The largest segment, or the long tail, probably rents zero to ten movies per year.

In a mailer targeted on the upper two percentile (the 100+ crowd), if it results in one additional movie rental, it will increase sales with 2% of your customer base by 1%. Now, if you target the sixty to eighty percent of customers who rent less than ten movies per year and focus on increasing their rentals by one per year, you will increase sales with 60-80% of your customer base by an average of 50%.

One additional rental per customer in the lower sixty percentile is much more valuable than one additional rental per customer in the upper two percentile. It may take a more significant discount to get those less active customers to go out of their way to rent from Blockbuster, but there are two very important factors at play.

First, the most obvious, if you discount something enough to eliminate 90% of the profit and sell it to 30 million people (lower sixty percentile), you are still making more money than you would if you reduce 10% of the profit and sell it to 1 million people (upper two percentile). Second, if you double someone’s yearly activity, you are taking a step toward forming a habit (like weekly or monthly “movie night”).

Beyond targeting segments of people with bulk mailers, Blockbuster should be able to react to behavior changes. There is no reason why they shouldn’t notice and react when a customer who rents movies every month misses a month. Why not drop them a coupon in the mail to make sure they haven’t forgotten about you?

There are tools and people available these days for any company to perform intensely detailed behavioral analytics on their customers. Reacting to a specific customer’s behavior is traditionally some a small, agile business owner would do. Today, large corporations have the ability to be agile on a per-customer basis. They will need to perfect the art before their competitors do.

And again, I already know I think too much!

Send Phoenix to South by Southwest! (SXSW)

Please take a moment to support some of our local (Phoenix, AZ) tech heroes and heroine in their effort to become SXSW presenters/panelists. To help out, click the links below and rate them five stars. Registration is required, but it’s quick and painless. Also, if you have a second, leave a comment about any of them you find particularly interesting.

Biray Alsac
Reduce MySpace Between Waist & Thighs So Wiki Live Longer
When NY Times covered blogger Om Malik’s heart attack, it was a wake-up call to Web 2.0 community about our lifestyle. Is being ‘plugged in’ destroying our health? We beg to differ. Consider using the internet for fitness! This panel will debate which next generation technologies are helpful in ‘exercising the web.’

James Archer
Brand Tribes: The Art of Creating a Community
Learn how to promote your product or service using the concept of “brand tribes,” which smashes the old “Us vs. Theme” marketing mentality and replaces it with a consumer-driven branding framework. Learn how to create a cult following with specific, real-world examples and hands-on exercises.

James Archer
Out of the Bedroom and Into the Boardroom
You’ve enjoyed the home office life, but it’s time for your web design business to grow up and get serious. Discover the top ten truths that successful businesses have learned the hard way, including ideas on office space, employees, business partners, cash flow, and staying sane.

Francine Hardaway
Fire Your PR Firm: Brand it Yourself
Social Media Club interim board members will give advice and anecdotes about how PR and branding have changed because of social media and how, as an entrepreneur, you sre empowered. You can now market your own product or company better than any PR firm. And you should. This is for technical people, to teach them the DIY of social media as a branding tool. You would be surprised how many engineers don’t know this.

Derek Neighbors
Collaborative Development Environments
The interactive industry has been exploring online/virutal social networks over the past few years, but are just now starting to delve into physical collaborative development environments. We will look at social group dynamics in a number of arenas including open studio space for architects, collaborative class room models, green dev houses, collaboration based musical acts and co-working interactive facilities. We will be inspecting how existing collaboration models can be used to help improve the interactive industry.

Brian Shaler
Distributed Computing: Let the Client do the Work
Traffic surges on the Internet can topple newly popular web services; it’s a common side-effect of success called “Growing Pains.” Web services can provide more functionality while consuming fewer server resources by distributing the workload to end-users’ computers using desktop applications and browser plug-ins.

Brian Shaler
Future of Video on the Internet: Interactive Experiences
Networks are getting faster, servers are getting more powerful, software is getting more advanced, digital video production hardware is getting more affordable. In 5-10 years, how will end-users be experiencing video content? The key is interactivity.

Pamela Slim
From Blog to Book Deal: How-To
Is traditional publishing dead? Apparently not, as many bloggers are landing book deals that extend and enhance their online work. Learn the ins and outs from bloggers who have done it including how to shape a coherent book from tons of posts and involve your readers in your writing.

Joshua Strebel
FAIL As If Your Life Depends On It
It does. Last year we bankrupted your company on the whim of a Unicorn, this year we show you why failing in your startup/life/project is the first step in truly succeeding. FAIL early- FAIL often. Your success is measured as the sum of recoveries from near disaster.

Joshua Strebel
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
You are a nobody – Become a somebody. A strong personal brand can create business opportunities, boost your income, and even make you interweb pseudo-famous. But where do you start? Learn how to cultivate a powerful personal brand online and offline and leverage it for your professional success.

Sally Strebel
5 Common Misperceptions of Technological Creativity
Drinking the creation koolaid can sometimes be deceiving. It’s like trying to acclimate your taste buds to dog crap. 5 successful panelists share with you the ways to get results rather than reaching into a risky over populated grab bag.

Sally Strebel
Climbing the Corporate Ladder in a Mini Skirt
Powerful tech women share their secrets regarding kicking ass, moving up the ladder, dealing with jerks, and helping other girls reach the top.

Steve Swedler
How Social Networks Are Killing the Revolution
Social networking sites today do as much for real world action as paint on the walls does for the structural integrity of your home. Come discuss how we are creating a false majority-view mentality and how to overcome this to achieve large scale change in the world.

Sean Tierney
Miracle Grow for Communities: What Makes Them Thrive?
Why do some groups thrive while others sputter and die? We’ll explore the preconditions and ingredients that contribute to an engaged community, whether online or in person. You’ll learn core strategies and guerilla tactics to turn your anemic group into a flourishing community.

Of All the Times to Forget Your Wallet…

I recently returned from an 8-day trip to the Bay Area. I got a ride to the airport to save on parking. I got a ride home last night and went straight to bed.

Today, I woke up and got up and went straight to work — in my living room. I had an energy drink, but didn’t eat breakfast. It’s a mistake I make all too often. I might not ever learn.

So I’m working away and 2pm rolls around. That’s approaching “now or never” time for lunch. Any later and you’ll spoil your appetite for dinner.

I decide to go to a nearby Arby’s, due to a craving for their jalapeño poppers with Bronco Berry dipping sauce.

Walking up to my car, I notice the doors fail to unlock when I hit the button on my remote. Great, I think to myself, my remote’s battery is dead. I unlock the door manually with my key for the first time since I bought the car brand new in 2006.

I get in and turn the key in the ignition. Nothing. Now, the keys are chipped, so if the key is malfunctioning, you can’t start the car. Granted, this shouldn’t be the case with a dead remote battery.

I went inside and got my never-before-used spare keyfob. Alas, that didn’t work, either.

Now it’s pretty clear the car’s battery is dead. I call my brother in Chandler for a jump start (I had something to give him anyway).

With no food in my condo, I still need to get to Arby’s. The only thing standing between me and my jalapeño poppers is a half mile of 111 degree heat.

With my trusty Razor scooter, I hit the road- err… sidewalk.

Keep in mind that I had an almost empty stomach, containing only some energy drink. That, in addition to some physical activity and heat, makes for an unhappy stomach.

I finally made it to Arby’s and order my poppers.

And of all the times to forget your wallet.

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