Apple Watch customers could wait months.
by Robert Liljenwall
Apple Watch customers could wait months.
by Robert Liljenwall
How will fans love thee? Let us count the ways.
by Robert Liljenwall
Am I going to get the Watch? Yes. When? Not sure. I have gleaned myself from the frenzied rush to stand in line for hours or dial 17 times to reach an Apple order taker after the clock strikes Midnight. I’m older now…and besides I have learned that, like with the Watch, I don’t really need it. I want it. And yes, it’s my destiny.
by Robert Liljenwall
Pasadena has always been a technology center in an “old sort of way.” Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology are two venerable brands – institutions that continue to lead space research and produce Nobel Prize winners and provide the nation’s top-ranked scientists. Pasadena is also home to the Art Center College of Design, which continues to be a world leader in graphic, industrial and automotive design, and creative arts. And there has been a surge in Pasadena in recent years of startup high-tech firms such as EarthLink, eHarmony, Idea Lab, and more than 300 other notable high-tech companies in the past several years.
Pasadena’s ‘brand’ has always resonated well throughout the world because of its beautiful neighborhoods and civic assets, including the world-famous Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, nearby Huntington Library and the restored “Old Pasadena” – a booming retail, dining, and entertainment center now ripe for its next phase – infusion of trendy high-tech entrepreneurs who want these amenities close by. In short, Pasadena is a great place to live and work.
Pasadena hasn’t always been “top of mind,” however, for high-tech startups compared to other California tech havens such as Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach, which is a relatively new concentration of high-tech firms in the coastal corridor stretching from Santa Monica through Venice to Playa Vista. Silicon Beach is a brand that has ‘stuck’, and it attracts techies who love to be near the beach, palm trees, the strand, and soak in the California sunshine. The area epitomizes the best of California for many. And with nearby Hollywood, entertainment-oriented tech firms thrive in this focused community. It would seem that Silicon Beach has a hefty advantage.
But this is going to change. Enter David Sacks and Rising Realty Partners who have joined together to create an “answer” to Silicon Beach. Starting with a quiver full of technology and environmental assets, Pasadena is perfectly positioned to exploit new opportunities being created by these two visionaries. They are confident they can make an appealing case to entrepreneurs who want what Pasadena has to offer – an intellectual, high-tech, high-energy culture along with its traditional community values that attract a young, upward mobile entrepreneurial elite.
Partners with pedigree brands
David Sacks brings a pedigree high-tech startup background to this venture. Sacks was the first chief operating officer for PayPal, which was later acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion, and the founding CEO for Yammer, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2012 for $1.2 billion. He has an eye for successful startups as an early investor in Facebook, Inc., Twitter, Uber, Space Exploration Technologies, Palantir, Houzz and Airbnb. He knows how young entrepreneurs think and what they want.
Rising also has a gold-edge brand as well – headed by CEO Nelson Rising, former CEO of MPG Office Trust, and a senior partner for Maguire Thomas Partners. And he served as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. His son, Chris Rising, serves as chief operating officer and has a strong background in investment management and hands-on project management. He is supervising the Pasadena project. RRP also has a reputation for preserving and restoring older, historical
“First of all, while we’re starting off with three century-old buildings as the cornerstone of this new technology center, we’re insuring that these buildings will have the most advanced fiber network available. We’re also making Wi-Fi available to the nearby public park so that our tenants can work in a variety of nearby locales and still conduct business,” stated Chris Rising, president of Rising Realty Partners. “We know that tech companies prefer access to the highest speed Internet services, and we’re providing 10GB fiber for every office.
“But we also know that young entrepreneurs are attracted to older, restored office environments that have been popular in San Francisco, Austin and Seattle. We’re preserving the original facade and brick-wall interiors,” he said. Office sizes will range from 5,000 sf to 15,000 sf. But it will be the intangibles that make this venture a success: “We’re looking to group together spirited, ambitious high-tech entrepreneurs who share the passion for a new vision in a complex that breeds successful ventures. We’re here to support their quest to achieve their startup goals. And we’re willing to provide below-market rates to these startups,” Rising said along with other superior support services.
This landmark buildings – known historically as the Pasadena Plaza – were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the heart of Old Pasadena, which until the late 1970s, was the rundown section of the city. But like many cities across the United States, commercial and retail visionaries came into Pasadena in the early 1980s and restored many buildings – whole square-block sections – which attracted national retailers, specialty shops, fine restaurants and theaters. The area is one of the hot spots in Southern California today.
So why is this an intriguing brand and technology story?
This is a classic brand case of “old” versus “new.” Pasadena was and is considered “old money” – the original founders of the city came from Indiana in the 1800s with their strong, conservative work ethic and Midwest values. They created a master plan based on classic European cities – large civic plazas, wide thoroughfares, and provided for a variety of large estate and smaller residential parcels. Ask anyone what they think of Pasadena, and for those who have been here, they ‘love that city.’
The LA business elite settled here, too – such as the Chandlers, who published the Los Angeles Times, and most of LA’s prominent lawyers and bankers made their homes in the idyllic neighborhoods of Pasadena and nearby San Marino. The Wrigley’s and Gambles built their winter homes in Pasadena. And, of course, there was always the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game … still iconic brands after more than 100+ years.
Old Pasadena is not unlike other re-inventions going on in other American cities but the partners know that the city holds some outstanding trump cards – CalTech, JPL and Art Center, plus a growing tech sector. To Silicon Beach, Rising and Sacks are saying – Hold on! We have something to offer high-tech startups that is as good – if not better – than what you’re going to get in Silicon Beach. What Rising brings to the table is development and management expertise that is critical to building a critical mass of the ‘new’ tech that is driving the rapid expansion of startups. Sacks brings the necessary mindset of what is “new tech” and the challenges of starting a high-tech business. Together, they intend to be very competitive and give these fledgling companies the added expertise of their experience.
“Our strategy is to not try and steal firms from Silicon Beach. We’re after the many young companies who are looking for help. Innovate Pasadena is one of the strongest community-centric organizations that is providing a broad range of startup services and support to these entrepreneurs. We’re an integral part of that initiative,” Rising said, who is a member of the Innovate board. Innovate conducts a broad spectrum of education and networking programs every month in Pasadena.
One last thought … transportation hub advantage
Rising had one last observation that bears watching. He aptly noted that California is the automobile manufacturer’s best friend. Nobody takes public transit. “But not anymore,” he stated. Ridership on the expanding network of Metro Rail is growing steadily every year … the Gold Line stops just steps away from the new Rising/Sacks project, and is being extended eastward. Santa Monica will soon have an extension of the Expo Line, and this is where young, hungry entrepreneurs are using these days – it’s cheap, and it beats crawling on the freeways. Rising fervently believes that the high-tech firms of the future will want to be next to public transportation hubs. “And we’re practically sitting on one in Old Pasadena,” he said with a smile. “Pretty soon, one can take public rail transit from Pasadena to Silicon Beach. Who would’ve thought?” – RJL
Helping creatives and engineers communicate and collaborate
A helpful new book demonstrates the power of skillfully blending branding and technology. It’s already a part of my regular reference library.
Author Vinay Trivedi is an entrepreneur, investor, and tech enthusiast with a computer science background from Harvard. Through his experiences, he realized that nontechnical individuals often struggle to understand the basic technology. This can be especially true for brand marketers and agencies as they try to express their ideas and creative brainstorms on the palette of modern technologies. Like Imagineers and computer geeks at Pixar, it takes a common platform of communication to make the magic stories come to life in the digital age.
Vinay’s new book, How to Speak Tech: The Non-Techie’s Guide to Technology Basics in Business (Apress Media) spells out the essential technical terms and technologies involved in Internet startups and web applications in a way that almost anyone can understand. Nontechnical readers will find their digital literacy painlessly improved with each 10-minute chapter of this illustrative story of one successful technology startup building its Web-based business from scratch.
But this book goes beyond just being a “Tech Talk for Dummies” approach. The world is hardly divided between folks who are fluent in all technologies and folks who know none – far from it. In these increasingly specialized times, many of us are much more conversant in some technologies than others; and that’s where the added value of this book really delivers. Maybe you have a firm grasp on Cloud and Hosting technologies, but need a clearer understanding of what’s involved in defending your project’s environment against security threats; or maybe for you it’s just the other way around. In either case, Vinay’s guide offers quick reads to help you get ready for your next conversation, so you don’t sound like a … well, like a dummy.
“Success, creativity, and efficiency will lie with people who understand how to match the needs of users with the basics of technology,” said Joe Lassiter, Harvard Business School professor and Faculty Chair of the Harvard Innovation Lab. “Through the simplicity of his presentation, Vinay shows that the basics can be straightforwardly understood by anyone who puts in the time and effort to learn.”
Best of all, Vinay demonstrates his conviction in the importance of bridging this communication gap by promising to donate all proceeds from the book toward supporting tech education. Better to light a Rosetta Stone candle than curse the digital darkness. – JTS
As we wrap up another round of holiday shopping mania, there’s a powerful force at work behind the scenes. For more than 30 years a company you may not know has been quietly helping you shop every day, and lately they’re ambitiously working to change the way you’ll shop tomorrow. In the ‘Emerald City of Retail,’ the hidden Oz who’s helping to enhance your shopping experience (while not bothering to attract your attention) is a company called Inmar, and their ‘Intelligent Commerce Networks.’
Sometimes the brands you know and trust deliver on their Brand Promises by relying on other brands. Think ‘Intel Inside®[i]’: a great advertising slogan, catchy, memorable, succinct and effective. When you buy a computer, you’ll hopefully never even have to see the Intel chip, much less actually touch it; but the little sticker on the outside telling you it’s in there could easily sway your purchase decision. Another example, wordier but similarly powerful, is BASF’s old slogan:
We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better®[ii].
In both of these cases, the B2B company wants you, a consumer, to value their brands in order to make you feel better about buying – not from them, but from their customers, the B2C companies that sell finished consumer goods to you. It’s unlikely that you ever bought a chip directly from Intel or a drum of chemicals from BASF (unless you’re a bigger geek than the editors of BrandTech News, or go by the street name “Heisenberg.”)
But while you almost certainly know who Intel is, and probably have heard of BASF – the largest chemical company in the world (even if you don’t know what the letters stand for) – you might not know who Inmar is. And you might be surprised to learn that the financial transactions they process en masse daily have an annual aggregate value of about $44 billion across their promotion, supply chain and health care networks.
If you’ve ever clipped and used a paper coupon, chances are good that it was processed by Inmar. This was their first competency, and remains a major component of the company’s business. They started handling coupons back in the early 80’s, as Carolina Coupon Clearing, a company formed by the son of a Reynolds Tobacco exec who brought in a team of former IBM associates to elevate the process from one which, at the time, relied on weighing masses of paper coupons by the pound. The solutions they built, and the refinements that have evolved since, now enable a smooth, secure processing of billions of coupons from thousands of brands in countries around the globe. They currently process coupons for a large share of US companies; and they serve a global customer base with their broader promotional solution portfolio that has grown to include not only paper coupons, but also rebates, sweepstakes and now digital coupons – more on that in a minute. This approach of harnessing technology and smart thinking to improve complex processes still steers the company.
“It all starts and ends with people,” explained Inmar CEO David Mounts, at a recent interview. “We strive to find the best minds and intellectual capital we can, then we direct our investments to make it easier for bright people to deliver great solutions to our customers … and ultimately great experiences to consumers.”
In the coupon world, paper still dominates in sheer volume, but the most impressive growth percentages there days are being posted by digitally discovered coupons. Digitally discovered coupons fall into two major groups. The already familiar Print-At-Home (PAH) coupons – those discovered online and printed with home computers – increased in use by more than 12 percent in the first half of 2013, relative to 2012. The newer kid on the coupon block is the use of completely paperless “e-wallet” coupons, where the reward is either loaded to a consumer’s loyalty card or stored on a smartphone app. While still a small segment, the use of these promotions increased by more than 230 percent in the same period.
The targeting and personalization capabilities of these digital offers provide powerful new ways for marketers to engage and entice consumers with increasingly relevant offers, and to gain insights on what consumers preferred (and what provided the best return on investment). But with this new sophistication comes the matter of new complexity. To help brands and retailers cut through the cyber-maze, Inmar has developed their Offer Management app, which lets marketers easily create offers, aggregate performance data and score the promotional effectiveness of multiple offers across all channels.
The rapid development of these solutions by Inmar has, in part, been accelerated by two recent acquisitions: the first, a company that pioneered an innovative technology to facilitate the secure distribution and redemption of digital promotions; and the second, a company with deep expertise in shopper behavioral analytics. By combining Inmar’s own knowledge and experience of couponing and promotional strategies with the added power of analytics and shopper insights, and with the real-time, on-demand delivery of offers to smartphones and tablets, Inmar’s innovations are changing the promotional game for brands and retailers – and delivering offers to consumers on products they want, with promotion types they like, across the digital platforms they individually prefer.
One shopper insight that everyone knows is that shoppers in the checkout line don’t want to be delayed. Retailers are keenly aware of that, and they are particularly (and rightly) sensitive to the impact of any new technology at checkout that might slow things down. So the big hurdle that digital couponing has had to clear has been one of achieving a seamless and super-fast digital redemption when the paperless coupons are presented. No one wants to download a coupon offer to their loyalty card or unique identifier, then have to wait for an elaborate network to validate the coupon, in a setting where passing seconds feel like minutes. But the validation can’t be skipped, either, because coupon fraud can cost retailers millions. Inmar’s point of sale technology, developed by acquired company M-Dot achieves secure, accurate, real-time redemption by leveraging the speed and scalability of cloud technology. In fact, prior to Inmar’s acquisition, M-Dot was chosen as the winner of Amazon Web Services’ Startup Challenge. The solution is so scalable that it has been demonstrated to execute over a million concurrent transactions in a 10th of second.
More recently, Inmar built on that impressive back-end integration with a promising new front-end partnership. They recently announced a strategic relationship with NCR, one of the top Point Of Sale (POS) system providers for retail. The new offering will integrate Inmar’s digital coupon solution with NCR’s marketing and POS applications, providing retailers with a powerful new platform for quickly and easily planning and implementing digital coupon campaigns, offering paperless coupons to shoppers across multiple touchpoints … including mobile phones and tablets.
According to Mounts, “Retailers that ‘opt in’ will be able to introduce digital promotions into their marketing efforts with remarkable speed – and at minimal cost.”
It’s a win-win-win solution: shoppers get the added savings of digitally discovered coupons, without slowing down their checkout experience; retailers get an easy platform for implementing their digital coupon campaigns; and consumer goods manufacturers get a much more targeted delivery mechanism that can yield new insights in minutes.
For all the technology focus, Inmar hasn’t lost sight of its ‘human goals’ either. Ever since opening shop in Winston-Salem, Inmar has remained true to its community, where it is one of the area’s major employers. This part of North Carolina has seen economic decline over the past decades with the erosion of three of its major industries – tobacco, textiles and furniture – the latter two primarily declining due to relocation of the industries to cheaper offshore markets. Inmar, by contrast, has stayed in the game locally, opening three different offices as headquarters for its coupon, product returns and pharmacy solutions groups. Supporting operations in the supply chain, health care, and coupon redemption networks occupy around 30 additional facilities across North America.
Now the company is upping its ante by consolidating all three local offices into a beautiful new complex in downtown Winston, with almost a quarter million square feet of modern office space, renovated from an old tobacco processing plant. Located on the edge of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, a cornerstone of the Renaissance of Winston-Salem, the new facility clearly underscores Inmar’s corporate social responsibility and its commitment to the local jobs it has created.
When Mounts says it all starts and ends with people, he clearly means it. – JTS
by Robert Liljenwall
Perhaps the biggest ‘noise’ generated since Apple introduce its Fall Lineup of new devices and software was the iPad Air. It’s lighter, sleeker and faster. But its Retina display makes it so pleasing and attractive to the eye; one can’t help but want to plunge right into the screen.
I have an regular MacBook Air now and while I love its lightness and quickness, I don’t love the screen, and I am tempted to get an iPad Air. But then what? Honestly, with my current Air, I still enjoy the luxury of the lightest-weight laptop out there that can take all of my applications, like Microsoft Office – which has become a major battleground between Microsoft and Apple. As long as Microsoft is in the tablet business, they’re not going to let Apple have Office – regardless of how Microsoft’s sales for its Surface are not setting any sales records. Does this really go back to Jobs versus Gates “days”? Probably. Can you imagine the day Microsoft announces that they have struck an Office deal with Apple for the tablet market? My suspicion there was someone in Seattle who made the statement … “over my dead body.” (Bill is only 58, so don’t hold your breath.)
But getting back to the iPad Air. Macworld‘s Jason Snell (11/6) couldn’t say enough good things about the new iPad Air – “they made the best tablet better!” And while initial sales figures have not been released, according to Chinese suppliers, the initial sales response is nearly three to four times that of the iPad4 (a year ago) … which means that the iPad Air will most likely be the holiday’s premier, high-end gift under the tree.
With the world’s fastest processor – A7 – the iPad Air will most likely not sway too many iPad Mini owners to switch since it is expected that Apple will convert the Mini to a Retina display come early 2014. And then there’s the issue about “hand-ability” – the Mini is easier to hold with one hand versus the Air or regular iPad4.
But in the end, I know if I wander into the Apple store, I will be reaching for my wallet. I’m still unhappy with iOS7 and its pastel-colored, hard-to-read screens on its apps … but I’m patient. – RJL
The Piedmont Triad of North Carolina, formed by Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point, was once the dominant hub of furniture manufacturing in the US. High Point still tags itself as the “Furniture Capital of the World,” boasting some of the largest showrooms in the country; but the manufacturing core that fills them has moved offshore to lower cost facilities in Asia. Much of the area now has a ghost town feel, with shuttered factories – and shuttered local businesses that once thrived when furniture-making drove a vibrant local economy.
In the middle of this arid business landscape is a bright, thriving oasis of success: Simplicity Sofas. Starting with a small factory in High Point in 2007, they’ve already had to relocate to a bigger facility to keep up with the demand for their specialized product, shipping more than $4 million of furniture to thousands of customers … without a single negative review. Along the way they’ve been a finalist for the Customer Experience Innovation Awards, received two “Best of Market” awards at the International Home Furnishings Market, and been recognized with a $20,000 Grand Prize as Small Business Innovator of the Year. All without moving out of town.
How have they pulled off this commercial miracle?
The answer is twofold: niche and innovation. Back in 2003 designer/inventor/master craftsman Glenn Laughlin and furniture industry veteran Jeff Frank teamed up to create a line of high quality, quick-assembly upholstered furniture that fits into small rooms and tight entranceways where normal furniture cannot go. Glenn and Jeff spent four years perfecting the revolutionary technology and building the first prototypes. Locating in High Point has allowed them to tap into a deep local talent pool. They custom build one piece at a time using solid oak frames, and back their product with a lifetime warranty.
I experienced the ingenuity of this solution firsthand a year ago, when I ordered a full-sized couch, oversized chair and storage ottoman from them. The whole shipment arrived in the back of a van, with room to spare. Because we’re local, a company employee delivered it and assembled the furniture in our living room, in less than 15 minutes. For those outside of the Piedmont Triad, they offer free catalogs and fabric swatches, and shipping across the US.
Watching the assembly process, I realized that I could just as easily have done it myself – and that’s saying a lot, since I’m all thumbs. See for yourself: here’s a video of an 8-year-old boy assembling a couch in less than five minutes. Not impressed? Then how about a 7-year-old girl assembling a chair in a minute? Go, Sydney!
This fall, the company is innovating into another ‘tight spot’: the RV (recreational vehicle) market. Simplicity began to hear of customers who were installing their furniture in RVs, easily navigating the extremely narrow door width and avoiding the headaches and cost of the previous solution. The old way? Remove the windshield. No wonder they love Simplicity Sofas. But what the RV enthusiasts said they really wanted was a convertible sofa bed that could fit into the same tight spot.
So Simplicity Sofas innovated for this new niche, designed one, perfected it and launched it earlier this month at the largest RV show in the country, the Annual Pennsylvania RV & Camping Show in Hershey, PA, drawing more than 40,000 attendees. It takes a little longer to assemble, and probably isn’t a project to delegate to the children, but it’s still … simplicity.
“Everything we develop is designed to meet an existing need,” said President Jeff Frank. “Our sectional sofa is another example. We had a customer whose family room was at the end of a particularly difficult staircase, so even our sofa couldn’t navigate the turn. We went back to the drawing board and developed an easy-to-assemble sectional [just see Sydney’s video] that solved their problem. Today they’re another happy customer, and we’ve got another successful product line.”
Therein lays perhaps the simple key to Simplicity Sofa’s success: fanatical devotion to understanding and satisfying their customers. They listen to customers, innovate designs to solve problems no one else addresses, and then delight buyers every time – all right here in the former heartland of American furniture making. As William Shatner (yes that William Shatner) recently observed, “Simplicity Sofas furniture boldly goes where no furniture has gone before.”
And by the way, I love my sofa. Maybe too much. – JTS