Category: Entrepreneurship

Startup Review: City Dictionary

City Dictionary is a Madison-based startup that organizes user generated definitions for local slang and locations.  Co-founded by brothers and Wisconsin grads Thomas and John Carmona, City Dictionary is similar to urban dictionary, but location based and and city specific.  Thomas Carmona told me their “goal is to capture the subtleties of American cities that existing references leave out.”   From their website:

Have you ever gone to a new city and been confused by the way the locals speak? Whether it’s an idiomatic expression, a nickname for a local street, or the name of a local food, cities can have confusing language. For example, should you be offended if someone in Pittsburgh calls you “nebby?” In Philadelphia, will you know what to say if someone offers you a “whiz wit?” Will you be alarmed in Madison when someone says they drank a “boot” last night?  If you understand all three of these references, then you’re in the minority. For the rest of us, there’s City Dictionary.

They launched the site back in May 2008 as a Madison website, trying to “capture the eccentricities of Madison language and culture” but have since expanded nationwide.   They have made some great progress lately, including winning the Burrill Business Plan Competition and a cool $10,000 first prize, signing a deal to put dictionaries on over 60 local TV news websites and adding lots of new definitions.  

The site is interesting because it fills in the gaps that other sources like traditional encyclopedias, Wikipedia and others leave out.  Thomas Carmona told me that “eventually, we would like City Dictionary to be a valuable reference for all cities and towns–large or small–in the US, similar to the way Wikipedia is a powerful reference for, well, everything. Whereas Wikipedia and other existing city references give the “official” account of a city, City Dictionary will fill in the gaps with the subtleties that only real locals can offer.”  

City Dictionary’s market is a niche that had been previously underserved and  I really like their strategy of partnering with local TV stations to get more users and content.  If they are able to get enough partners, they will build a wall around their industry, making it hard for competition to break into the market.  The syndication deals are a promising sign because others companies realize the value that City Dictionary brings to the table and provides City Dictionary with a much larger presence across the web.

Currently, City Dictionary is ad supported and it will be interesting to see if they can find a way to squeeze revenue out of the page views that they generate or have to find another revenue stream as they move forward.  I’m excited to see how they continue to grow.  Check out City Dictionary and let me know what you think.

Startup Review: GeoBuzz

Yesterday, I reviewed, a Madison-based startup that launched earlier this week.  Today, I’m looking at GeoBuzz, a new product by the Madison-based startup PerBlue.  PerBlue was founded by a few UW students last year and already have had some good success with its mobile device, location based MMORPG Parallel Kingdom.

GeoBuzz is a really cool idea.  It allows you to post Buzzes, or messages similar to tweets on Twitter, to its platform that is visible t the people with the GeoBuzz application the area around you.  From their website:

GeoBuzz is a location-based, cross platform chat application that puts you in touch with the people around your geographic location. You can share thoughts on speakers or performances at live events, post restaurant specials, or get people together to meet.

All of what you see is narrowed down from people in your area. GeoBuzz brings back the idea of community and will help you connect with people that are literally around you. It is available on the iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, and Windows Mobile phones.

Forrest Woolworth, head of the GeoBuzz project, says that the goal is to bring people together in their own community.  “The internet has allowed people to connect instantly with others all around the globe, but it has pretty much ignored local connections.  GeoBuzz aims to change that and connect people, via social media, to others in their own community.”  You can follow their trials and tribulations on their blog, here.

GeoBuzz is especially innovative because it is cross-platform, meaning that the GeoBuzz application can be used across multiple mobile devices.  It brings together the fragmented mobile device market and allows all of these people to connect, regardless of their mobile device.  Its similar to Twitter, but location based and is divided into multiple channels where people can organize events, check out bar atmospheres before going and “live buzz” local event.  Its a really cool idea, and will be interesting to see how they promote it and expand to more users, as there is huge room for innovation with their platform.

I was also struck by how GeoBuzz could be used in the recent Iranian protests after the elections.  I wrote about the role of social media and the new media’s response to the unrest compared to the traditional media in previous posts and was thinking about how GeoBuzz or a service like it, could have been used to organize protests, disseminate information and show safe and unsafe areas.  The protestors could have buzzed about friendly locations, where riot police and basij were most angry and allowed people another outlet to connect.  Most likely, the regime would have tried to block a service like GeoBuzz from the start, but it would have been interesting to see.  As GeoBuzz and others catch on, and I believe they will, it will be interesting to see what they are used for.   I think it can be used like Twitter, but for more real time, location based information that can turn into action more quickly.

What do you think?  Would you use GeoBuzz?  What would you Buzz about and what situations would GeoBuzz be most useful to you?

Startup Review:

On Monday, was released to the outside word.  The Madison based startup, founded by the already successful Mark McGuire and Brian Wiegand, allows consumers to buy non-perishible consumer goods online and have them delivered directly to their door and never pay shipping.  The site sends reminders when it thinks you might be running low on different products so that you don’t run out.  From their blog:

Brian and I left Microsoft just over a year ago after they acquired our last start-up (news here). At the time, we set out to answer one question: “Why doesn’t anyone buy toilet paper online?” It sounds kind of silly—it did to me anyway—but that question was a metaphor for the larger challenge we wanted to tackle. Namely, could we figure out a way to get the mainstream consumer to buy Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)—non-perishable stuff like toilet paper, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and diapers—on the Internet?

Despite the enormous size of this market, the vast majority of people still don’t use the convenience and power of the Internet for this category. In fact, consumers buy items like clothing and shoes—that need to be tried on and often returned—more than they do these simple CPG goods that are bought repeatedly in chore-like fashion.

I attended a talk that Mark gave at the UW Business School back in December about his experiences starting businesses and his current work with Alice and have been following their blog ever since.  After their launch on Monday, I decided to try it out.

At first glance, I really liked the graphics and layout.  They are inviting, playful and fun, without overwhelming you with too much going on to distract you from the core use of the site.  The text has the same inviting, playful feel.  For example, Alice’s phone number is 877-Yo Alice and includes text like “start your free account” and “never run out of toilet paper,” instead of something boring.

Once I registered, I started inputting the products that I use around the house.   You can either find for products by typing them into the search box or selecting “my products” which gives you a “fish” for each type of household product you might use.  You can click on each fish to find a product, shop via search or shop by room in your house.  I did most of my shopping by clicking on “fish” (stand ins for each product until you select a one) and loved the inviting text of “lets go find some” to get to the products.  I also really liked the scrolling coupons on the bottom of the site that offer deals on different products.  At one point, I left my computer to come back later and had to sign in again.  On some sites, its bothersome, but on Alice, there was a funny graphic of a policeman telling me I needed to log in again.  I was fairly easy to sign up, select products and place an order and I really like the overall idea.

While I really like the site overall, the process of inputting all of my products took a pretty long time.  It would be cool to see Alice preselect branded products for each product type I am interested in.   In my case, brands don’t matter for products like soap, toilet paper, napkins, paper towels etc, as long as they get the job done.  It would not only save customers time and energy, but it would allow Alice to possible make more money by pushing customers toward certain products.

Alice asks you how often you think you will run out of each product, so that it can remind you to reorder.  I really have no idea how often I run out of most things, so it would also be nice to see examples of how often other consumers need to reorder the products that I am ordering.  A cool graph of x% reorder in 2 weeks, x% reorder in 4 weeks and so on.

The biggest change that I would like to see is the ability to sort each product by price, after the site coupons have been applied and the ability to sort by cost per unit.  I normally shop for products in the supermarket via a cost per unit comparison, but its not readily apparent on Alice.  Its also interesting that it doesn’t seem to be advantageous to the consumer to buy in bulk.  With many consumers trained to buy in bulk, its weird to see single rolls of paper towel have a lower cost per unit than the same paper towels in bigger sizes.  I wonder if this will cause Alice to have higher shipping costs than they otherwise would, as there does not seem to be an incentive to buy in bulk.

The Good

  • Innovative, needed idea
  • Inviting, playful graphics, text and branding
  • Clean layout
  • Free shipping
  • Lots of products
  • Low Prices

Suggestions for Improvement

  • Sort by cost per unit and cost after coupon
  • Preselect brands for each product to save consumer time and possibly increase revenue
  • Create incentives for consumers to buy in bulk
  • Add a graph with information on how often others reorder

I really like the site and will try it out for a few months to see how it goes.  I hate going to the store to buy these types of items, so hopefully it will work as well as I think it will.  Check out for yourself and let me know your thoughts.

How to Get Taken Seriously Running A Startup When You’re Under 25

Of all the lessons I learned running a startup, figuring out how to deal with people who did not take us seriously solely because of our age might have been the most important.  Many times, I could tell that the person on the other end of the telephone or across the desk was thinking “who are these kids and why are they talking to me?”  It was obvious that being young hurt our credibility before we even said a word.  We were confident in our idea and business plan and were  usually able to get past any initial credibility issues, but it was a definite obstacle.  In general, other entrepreneurs, VCs and angels were more likely to take us seriously from the start, compared to professionals or employees of other companies.  After a few shaky meetings and calls, we asked for advice from our lawyer and other successful entrepreneurs who had been through the same process.

We realized that many people who were older than us had an image of young people in their heads that was hard to break.  Many older people thought that young people were lazy, lacked direction and would not follow through on a project.  From the beginning, we always were professional, well dressed, on time and prepared, but we realized we had to overcompensate if we wanted to get through to people more quickly. Here’s what worked for us:

  • Do Your Research – We spent hours researching any possible question someone might have so that we would never be surprised.
  • Cut the Humor – In most cases, older people equate younger people with fooling around and not being serious.  Many times, jokes hurt your credibility
  • Schedule Morning Meetings – Many people were surprised when we would ask for meetings from 7-9am, as it shattered the mold of young people sleeping in.
  • Be Persistent – If you want a meeting, keep calling and leave professional messages.  You will be rewarded for your efforts.
  • Articulate Your Goals – We sent short lists of what we wanted to cover during meetings or calls the day before, as it put the person in a serious frame of mind.
  • Talk Less, Listen More – Young people are stereotyped as know-it-alls.  Talk less and listen more and people will take you more seriously.

While most of these are common sense and can be used with any audience whether they are younger or older, its important to remember your audience.  We used these strategies and success followed.  Have you ever not been taken seriously because of your age?  Do you agree that its necessary to overcompensate for youth for specific audiences?   What other strategies have you used?