Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tusk Fairy Feedback

I've been getting some feedback on my Tusk Fairy project, and just posted this response to a group who has been providing a lot of comments. I though I would also share it here:


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Many thanks to all of you who have taken time in the last few days and shared your thoughts on Tusk Fairy.


In appreciation of the comments I received, I wanted to share a few of them as I think they are generally applicable, and might be interesting for some others;

Trust - "if you want me to buy something online I have to trust the website" is a comment I heard a few times. In an effort to make Tusk Fairy more trustworthy, I've taken a number of steps which are by no means a lot of effort but can go a long way (I hope); 1) contact details - including a brick and mortar address, 2) an easy way to get in touch - I've implemented a chat window which hopefully means when someone has a question they can speak to a real live human - zopim.com, 3) social proof - in it's simplest form this is the facebook button for liking, which demonstrates other people's interaction with the site (granted 3 "likes" isn't great, but hopefully this comes with time), 4) feedback, which hopefully leads not only to consumer insights but by making it public helps with social proof and community building - uservoice.com.

Lower barrier to customer interaction - i.e. paying for a subscription is a fairy costly step for the customer, meaning that many visitors could be interested, might not want to sign-up yet, and leave the site never to return again. While you could easily implement re-targeting advertising, this assumes you have the budget, and are comfortable "stalking" your customers. Also it misses filtering people who are interested from those who aren't after visiting your site. A lower cost interaction could be a mailing list or again the facebook "like" button - in both cases the customer isn't paying for anything, and is signaling a desire for you to keep in touch - the hypothesis then becomes that these are more easily convertible customers.

Design - "it could be better" or "why don't you do this..." I certainly don't dispute this. My two comments here are 1) design is a question of taste, and yes you want to appeal to as many people as possible, but that can become costly, which leads to 2) a minimally viable product doesn't need to be perfect. I would encourage folks to launch early, cheaply, and iterate - proving the idea - before settling on a final design. 

Product offering - "more please!" indeed it would be nice, but see my comments on minimally viable product above.

Path to customer - "how many people are actively looking to buy a toothbrush online?" This has been an important point for me to appreciate. While initially I was leaning towards online advertising, I am now thinking a different route might be better. In more general terms, experiment to test your thinking and pivot when you identify a hypothesis which is proved false.

Again many thanks to all of you for your comments. I hope one or two of you find some use in my ramblings above.

If you're interested in following the development of the Tusk Fairy, please do signup for the mailing list =o)

Regards,
Simon

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Movember 2.0?

It's September, and the UK Movember twitter account has started coming back to life. This can mean only that there are about to be a lot of mustaches sprouting. I've been toying with the thought of trying once again, and seeing what grows - are we ready for me to make a fool of myself again?

Monday, September 06, 2010

International Driving

I haven't owned a car in nearly 4 years, and I haven't driven regularly since I graduate from college over 5 years ago. Partly, because I've been fortunate to live in big cities like New York, and partly because I've lived in cities where they drive on the other (wrong) side of the road like Hong Kong and London. In the past two months I've suddenly been faced with an uptick in driving, and must admit it's been a bit of a challenge.

I'm currently in Munich, where I've clawed my way through narrow city streets during rush hour with a stick shift. I surprised myself with how quickly managing the clutch came back to me, but have to confess that the narrow streets are painful, especially in stop and go traffic. More noticeable, however, are the difference in driving rules in general. For instance, on the highway you can't pass on the right. At first this is of little concern, until you're trying to merge to the right and have someone hovering in your blind spot, and are waiting for him to zip by, only to have him slow down with you because he isn't allowed to pass you. Also, the idea of only travelling in the right lane and using the left lane only to pass takes some getting used to - until a S 500 appears out of no where right behind you, brights flashing, making it clear where you belong.

I also must confess that I still haven't managed to drive in London. I can, without a doubt, say that I'm a terrible passenger. It turns out that lane dividers are mere suggestions, and that parked cars take up about 3/4 of a lane - meaning that when sitting in the passenger seat those cars get awfully close (I'll let someone else fill you in on my reactions).

In both cases, I can say that I miss the American sized lanes and slow moving traffic of the Mid-West. I'm sure 20 min behind some slow grandma and I'll feel different, but right now I'm cravings a boat that fits on the road and makes me feel like I can enjoy the ride rather than being in a constant state of heightened alert while behind the wheel.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

mikolayczyk.com

Since I started this blog, it has been hosted by godaddy, and the only complaint I ever had was that http://mikolayczyk.com went to one of their landing pages, and you had to use http://www.mikolayczyk.com to get here. Alas, this problem has been solved!

For those who are curious:

  • setup the forward for www as per the instruction on the site you're redirecting to
  • on the main godaddy DNS control panel, hit forward
  • set it to forward to http://www.{yoursite}.com
  • done!
This is one of those incredibly stupid easy fixes. I'm sure someone with more knowledge can explain why this isn't a default, and why I'm forwarding my own site to itself - but hey; it works!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Starwood Brussels - an open letter

Updated: response from Starwood's Assistant Property Manager in the comments. Mr. Bannon, and several of his staff, have been very kind, prompt, and professional since they've become involved. I do appreciate their efforts in dealing with a challenging series of event. 

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We spent the weekend in Brussels. Below is the letter I have sent to Starwood (Roeland Vos) on the back of our stay at their Sheraton property, an incident which transpired there, and how we were treated by the hotel staff. I share this as it is the kind of incident, which cannot simply be overlooked.

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Dear Sir,

I am writing in regards to our recent stay (May 14 – 16) at your Sheraton Brussels property, and the unacceptable manner in which we were treated by your staff while there. As the police report, which your security assured me would be filed, should detail;

While walking out of the hotel lobby a Middle Eastern man approached us and began verbally assaulting us in French, English, and a third language (possibly Arabic). We would later be informed that he had moments before done this to one of your baggage handling staff members, who felt threatened enough to return inside the hotel – but did not notify security. After walking about 10 paces from the hotel entrance the man became physically aggressive towards us, and mimed having a weapon in his coat pocket. Fearing for our physical safety, we returned into the hotel’s revolving door, which he forced to a stop as he pursued us. After forcefully pushing the aggressor away several times, we managed to get into the lobby of the hotel, and repeatedly shouted for help from security. A concierge stepped in between the man and us at this point, but the individual continued to verbally assault us. He proceeded to expose himself, having pushed through into the lobby as well. He then pulled a mask over his face, and began pulling at his clothing. Finally, a security guard came and pushed the man back through the revolving door, from where he fled.

I can assure you, there was no provocation from our side. This was clearly the continuation of an event that began with one of your staff – who felt threatened enough to return into the hotel, but did nothing to inform guests of the danger outside.

While I find the level of security at your property to be largely insufficient, I can accept that situations like these are outside of your control. I, however, cannot accept the manner in which your staff responded to the situation and treated us.

In the aftermath of this series of events, your staff began raising their voices and trying to blame us for the incident. Statements they made included:
  • This is the way Brussels is; it’s a dangerous city. The security guard was stabbed 15 days ago – so it happens to everyone
  • It is not their responsibility what happens outside the hotel
  • As two Americans we should expect to be treated this way

Taking each of these comments in turn;
  • As a guest, I expect not to be shouted at by your staff. Situations like these are incredibly stressful, and I would expect them to be trained to handle them in a professional manner, instead of inflaming a tense moment by blaming us for the incident.
  • If it is such a dangerous city, then security should be more visible and faster to act. Several minutes and repeated shouts for help should not be the requirement for them to protect your guests.
  • While I would not hold the hotel responsible for what happens to me in Brussels, we were at no point further than 10 yards from the hotel door, still on hotel property. I would strongly suggest the well being of your guests is your responsibility in such proximity, and certainly in the lobby.
  • Profiling us as Americans is entirely inappropriate. Our nationality should not matter to, or affect the level of service from, your staff. If they believe that Americans deserve to be treated this way that is extremely disappointing. 
I would strongly encourage you to discuss this incident with the property manager. While he was kind enough to apologize on behalf of the property, it leaves a lot wanting.

The staff members involved in this incident were:
            Pierre Dewalz – Concierge
            Alain Verbeke – Baggage
            Youssef – Valet
            Nesir – Security
            Luc – Security
            Nezic – Baggage
            Annie Budally – Reception
            Vanessa Metais – Reception

I choose to stay at Starwood properties because I feel safe there – this has done a lot to damage that image. I choose to stay at Starwood hotels because the service is friendly and competent – this has destroyed that reputation. I choose to travel to Starwood destinations because things like this should not happen there.

I trust I will receive a follow-up from you detailing the steps taken to prevent this from happening in the future. I would specifically appreciate a written apology from the concierge who profiled us and said we deserve this kind of experience.

Kind regards

Android (2.1)

When I moved to London about 9 months ago, I signed-up for mobile service and bought a HTC Hero. Within the first few days I had it, they pushed 1.5, and for the next 7 months I was utterly content. The phone works great - multi-tasking means I can track my run and listen to music or read email and have gchat going at the same time, the interface is smooth and responsive, you get the point; nothing seemed to be missing.

Over those 7 months, I heard grumblings that 1.8 had been released then 2.0, then 2.1. Just dandy - HTC is said to be working on updates, and frankly I didn't care. At least until I realized that there was a world of apps out there that only run on the newer versions - the dreaded Android fragmentation that has been mentioned frequently. While I can't say there was one app that made me envious, I can say that the sum total made me more and more discontent.

Earlier this week, with HTC having again pushed back the release date of any update, I took the plunge, rooted my Hero, and installed a 2.1 rom on it. Having now used it for 3 or 4 days, I am overjoyed - it's like having a new phone all over again. Not only is it running faster, but the new apps are very nice to have. The process took me about an hour, and although not without risk, would seem worth it for anyone running an older version. Yes - there are a few stability issues, and my UMTS radio has some signal problems, but all in all the experience is improved enough that this will overcome my urge to buy a new phone in the coming months - instead I'm now waiting on a 2.2 rom eagerly...

Friday, May 14, 2010

NOLA

After a few days in Chicago last week, I had the chance to take my first trip to New Orleans. Prompted by a stag do, it seemed an appropriate venue. I can say without doubt that going for any other reason would have been inappropriate. The mixture of heat, humidity, and beer that hits almost immediately is a clear indication of what the place is all about. Don't get me wrong - there's a lot of fun to be had - it's simply a question of whether you want the beer sloshing, hurricane chugging, crystal burger eating type of fun.

Having not ventured far out of The Quarter, I can't speak to what "real" life in this city is like, but I imagine it can be compared to real life in Hong Kong vs. LKF in Hong Kong (or possibly Wan Chai is more appropriate?). Regardless, durring the day, the buildings are interesting, and a stroll from eatery to eatery is very enjoyable. Once the light come on, the place lives up to its TV stereo types.

I won't be going back anytime soon - there are too many other places to go see - but if you're inclined to make the trip, a few tips:

  • closed toed old shoes - you'll want to burn them after
  • unlike many places, smoking is still par for the course - be prepared to stink
  • the locals are friendly (largely) - chat 'em up

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eyjafjallajokull

As you may have noticed, we are all watching this volcano thing with riveted attention. In the past 18 months, I have simply come to accept that on any given weekend either I, or any number of my friends, will be travelling - this has suddenly come to a complete stop, with no clear indication of how much longer the situation will continue.

While I could go on lamenting the situation, I am actually more fascinated by the reaction to it:

  • TEDxVolcano; speaker event tomorrow night presented by a number of folks stuck in London,
  • First Round Capital; office hours in London for startup to go meet with them,
  • Efforts to get people where they need to be
While I would encourage everyone to take advantage of these, and any other offerings, I would also propose a moments thought to whether you can help anyone out (space to work on Monday, place to sleep if hotels are getting to expensive, etc.)

In the meantime, let's hope Eyjafjallajokull decides to quiet down again soon...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pacific Coast Highway



We spent a chunk of our vacation a few weeks ago driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. It was an amazing trip, and you can see a few of our notes from along the way here. I just got my pictures back, and have uploaded a few of them here.

I would recommend the drive to anyone. Take your time, go slow, and enjoy the scenery. It's a fantastic bit of America.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Return of the Mac(k)

After taking the apple store's advice and buying a netbook (a Samsung N210) 6 weeks ago, I picked up my MacBook from repairs earlier this week. It was an interesting 6 weeks back in Windows world, and I thought I'd share a few of my observations.

Battery life:
My Mac gets ~3 hours per charge, the N210 gets ~8 hours. This difference is noticeable in just about everything you do. With an 8 hour charge, I can justify the $12 for gogo inflight wireless on a cross country flight as I'll actually be able to use it the entire time. Also, it means not having to carry around a charger all the time (a good thing too, as the Samsung charger is hideous).

Screen size:
A netbook is tiny. The screen size is reduce proportionately - you have to scroll all the time, including sideways on some sites. More concerning, the quality of the screen is a lot worse. For the first two days I kept trying to adjust the brightness, but nothing seemed to make it improve. It's torture on the eyes to look at for any lengthy period of time.

Speed:
When everything is working, and there's only limited background activity, both machines pur along nicely. However, as soon as anything starts happening in the background on the PC or the Mac gets a bit hot they both come to a screeching halt. I guess it's hard to say one really has an advantage over the other, except that the Mac can stream video - which makes all the difference if it's a primary machine.

Windows vs. OSX:
I can't find where I read it, but a recent comparison I saw likened Windows to living in the bad part of town with bars on the window and OSX to living in an open barn in the country side with no neighbors. I can't agree with this more - Windows is constantly doing something to remind you of security, and when you have a machine that can't handle much background activity that can get very annoying. OSX is a much more enjoyable experience, but in all honesty Windows 7 has come pretty far and isn't half bad.

All in all, I'll miss the battery life, but I'm happy to have a snappier machine back that works how I expect. I'll keep the N210 around for the next time the MacBook gives out, but beyond that it'll have to suffice as an expensive paperweight in the meantime.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway)

Next week, we'll be starting our drive down the Pacific Coast Highway and per usual I'll be doing my best to try and document some of the experiences. However, rather than post a sudden burst of stuff here, I've set up a posterous account for this trip. This has a few advantages in my mind: For starters, I usually feel that things which are posted here need to have a bit of substance, and hence many a casual observation never gets shared. Additionally, the posterous account makes it possible for both of us to post - this should hopefully result in a more interesting read, as the same experience can be seen from two perspectives. Finally, we'll be mainly on our mobiles, and the ability to simply email in content is interesting to me - again, I'm hoping this means that not only will we be sharing some text, but also photo (and maybe video).

Anyway, we start driving on Tuesday night, so be on the lookout for notes from our Pacific Coast Highway road trip here.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Quotes from the Apple store

I've shared my thoughts on Apple's repair process before, as well as their "update" problems. But today I took a 3rd trip in a week to the Apple store to try and get my 6 month old macbook air fixed, and the experience was beyond comprehension. A rep named Magda at the Oxford St store and I had the following conversation:

me: when do you think they'll be able to get to the repair?
Magda: In about 5 weeks
me: the guy on Wednesday said you could do it same day
Magda: he shouldn't have promised you that, as we're in no position to do that
me: is the part that had to be ordered after my last visit here at least?
Magda: no
me: the guy on Wednesday said it should be here by Friday, and that's the only reason I came here today - for the third time
Other rep chirping in (with pride): some people come here to 20 times to get their computer fixed
me: doesn't that say something about the quality of your products?
Magda: so do you want to go ahead with the repair?
me: what am I supposed to do for a computer in the next 5 weeks?
Other rep: you can buy a new one

So to recap: I was lied to, my computer remains broken, and I was told to buy another computer, all in a tone that can only be described as snooty.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Haiti

Similar to many other people, I've been following the events in Haiti over the past two weeks and had the desire to do something to help. As a student, with plenty of time on my hands but little cash to give, my first thought was to "go and help." As I started looking at what exactly that might entail, I discovered that flying there, now or in six months, is probably one of the worst things that I could do. In this excellent post from "Good Intentions Are Not Enough" the big reasons for staying away are touched on.

Convinced that I'm better off staying here, I'm still left wanting to contribute - and I mean doing more than simply hitting "donate" on itunes (which you should still do if you haven't yet). While I haven't found something to sink my teeth into, there are a few projects I wanted to share for those of you with language skills or technical skills:

All of these provide ways to help, without leaving home. I'm sure there are many other options. I would encourage you to think about your skills, how they can be applied in this situation, and then try to put them to good use. While it may seem like it's on the other side of the world, you can reach out from wherever you are.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

UK OnDemand Websites

I've been missing Hulu.com ever since I left the US. Finally found a decent set of alternatives - although some sort of aggregation would be a plus:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/4od
http://demand.five.tv/WatchNow.aspx
http://www.itv.com/itvplayer/
http://www.adultswim.co.uk/video/
http://www.mtv.co.uk/videos

These probably all just work in the UK, but if you're floating on this island not a bad set of choices...