Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Last Tuesday (10/19) our class had the rare opportunity (it seems to be a recurring theme up here, don't you think?) to visit a company that is both young and extremely successful. "Groupon" (group + coupon) is a company that has spurred out of The Point. The concept of The Point was originally intended to be based on collective social activism, but never had the success Groupon has (and probably will ever have). Just to give you little background on the founder, Andrew Mason, here's his brief profile (halfway down) on Groupon's website.

Groupon is a fantastic upcoming business that has been launched in 2008 and has increased IMMENSELY during the two years since starting up. We were able to have a meeting with the president of Groupon, Rob Soloman, who was previously a vice president of Yahoo, and it was an amazing experience to talk with him. Since starting up, Groupon, according to Forbes magazine, has been the fastest growing company. EVER. Here's the article from Forbes. Even over Google, Yahoo, eBay, you name it. In 2008 there was a staff of 7 people, and today the company employs 2700 people. Walking through their building it was seriously like a small city living on that particular floor. There were ROWS and ROWS of twenty-somethings working (all on Apple iMac's) , but in a very laid back manner. The atmosphere within the "office" seemed more like a school's computer lab when the monitor (or student working there) isn't present. It was loud, dysfunctional, fun, all of which while the people were staying extremely engaged in their work. It was a perfect work/play combination. On the walls there were dry-erase boards where employees can draw and be creative within the office (there also was a lot of pranks that were being made between co-workers). At least from what I saw when walking through the office there seemed to be a comradery between the people working and there were cliques working within this "city" of Groupon connoisseurs...Grouponoisseurs!! Did I just come up with a new word? One last thing to add to this thought...Groupon has been hiring (according to Rob's recent figures) about 100 people per month, so if YOU want to be involved with this exciting and young company, drop in a resume to them! It's worth a shot!

Groupon features an unbeatable deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in a city. By promising businesses a minimum number of customers, customers get discounts they won't find anywhere else. The theory is based off "collective buying power" and has businesses wanting to join because it is a way to get more customers that they have never thought possible. I've (and probably some of you) have experienced this type of "collective buying power" at my internship, working with the Carrotmob group in Evanston, Illinois (here's the actual link to the Carrotmob event in Evanston I helped promote). According to Wikipedia the Carrotmob is a:

A form of consumer activism where a community buys a lot of goods from one company in a small timeperiod to reward a business's commitment to making a socially responsible change to their operations. Often the changes are of an environmental nature, such as energy efficient upgrades.

From this idea, Carrotmob is a unique concept that is able to engage both the customers and the businesses because they each are seeking to have their respective needs/wants met. The businesses are trying to sell more products, become more profitable (through energy efficiency, as well as appeal to a demographic of the population that is environmentally conscious. The consumers are merely using their collective buying power to initiate socially responsible changes in the businesses they would, most likely, buy on a regular basis anyways. ANYWAYS, back to Groupon.

You can subscribe for Groupon for free and designate which city you're in (as long as Groupon offers their services to that city), then each morning you will receive a "Groupon" for a different product/service (typically a small and local business) where the deal is typically around 50% off the original value. The businesses use Groupon as new-age marketing strategy, where they reach many more customers (Groupon has around 25 million subscribers) than they would have ever imagined.

Groupon isn't a place that businesses are necessarily looking for short(er)-term profits because of how the profit-sharing system is set up. Groupon usually receives 50% of the profit, and the business receives the other half. The companies that are looking to do business with Groupon are looking at the longer-term growth of the company, because they often will tap into markets that have never been explored. In the short run, they're going to break even or make a small profit, but more importantly they get the publicity that conventional advertising (tv, billboards, signs) can't compete with. With Groupon, the businesses KNOW that they are catching the public's eye, while advertising (on posters, billboards, etc) can't be quantified in our society's new age of marketing. If a company puts up a new advertisement, it is difficult to attribute an increase in sales to that distinct advertisement. With Groupon, the company knows EXACTLY where an increase in sales would be coming from.

Isn't this such a simple idea?? If coming up with an idea like this is so simple, why can't I do it? Groupon also has been expanding to other countries, 26 to be exact, and Rob stated that he has hoped to grow to 35 within 6 months. Rob was referring to managing the fast-paced growth of Groupon as just "holding onto the reigns" and trying to control (but not limit) the growth of the company. With the status of being the fastest growing web-based company in history, the next few years are going to indicate how Groupon will maintain their "first mover advantage." Imitators have been popping up all over the place trying to offer the same service, but don't have nearly the subscriber base that Groupon has. Maybe you can expect to see the Groupon deals in your town sometime soon (hopefully Galesburg or Peoria too...where I'm from)!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Threadless! 10/14/2010

Today....well last Thursday (It's impossible to keep up with this Chicago pace) we were given the opportunity to visit Threadless, which is an innovative business based in Chicago that relies heavily on the concept of crowd-sourcing. For those who are not aware of the definition of this term, the wiktionary dictionary defines crowd-sourcing as :delegating a task to a large diffuse group, usually without monetary compensation.

The concept behind Threadless is simple, but is GENIUS. Threadless has been able effectively "crowd-source" (not to be confused with out-sourcing) the design and selection process. What this means is in laymen's terms is that...ANYONE can create shirt designs for them. Their website has an almost cult following (of mostly artists, designers, or fanatics of the company) where anyone who signs up (for free) can upload their design to compete against other designs. The Threadless community then votes for their favorites designs and whichever receives the most votes, well.... wins. The artist who uploaded the design then receives $2500 for winning the competition and a certain percentage of the t-shirt sales. This idea has been EXTREMELY successful for this business and is a great model for other businesses as well.

Threadless has also been able to grow organically and by the word of mouth, so they have been able to avoid any marketing costs associated with traditional business models. This has been possible because of the cult-like behavior of the current community. The marketing director for Threadless stated that the only mainstream marketing they've participated in was a 15 second commercial on Comedy Central, which didn't result in a real increase in sales. Since it's beginning in 2000, Threadless has been able to exponentiall grow. ALL WITHOUT ADVERTISING AND MARKETING.

Another thing that Threadless lacks is the structured work force/drone type business. The videos we watched in preparation for the visit gave me the impression of a very laid back feeling among the Threadless workers. They had videos of playing ping-pong, riding around the warehouse on go-karts, and throwing around a football while working; it looked like the dream job. Once we were in the Threadless warehouse/building, the atmosphere was far from what it had been advertised. This was largely in part to the fact that it is getting close to the holidays, so there is an increase in the sales for the company. The company has also been growing exponentially within the global marketplace, so the business has had to keep up with the demand for t-shirts, while still maintaining the cool and hip image in the eyes of the customers. This is one of the major limitations of the Threadless community. The people who are key in this business are the “Threadless Community” and they have been extremely opposed to the idea of Threadless becoming a mainstream t-shirt company. They pride themselves in the idea of owning “original” t-shirts and the idea of few people owning the same shirt. As Threadless grows, the Community will play an integral factor in what new markets are going to be “tapped into”. If the Community doesn't approve of decisions made by the management, then the company is going to lose the “soul” of what has made Threadless successful. Traditional business models (for the most part) had to deal with these issues, because consumers haven't been as interactive with the actual company. By creating a community that is extremely involved with the business functions, they have a level of emotional attachment to the company. This is like a double-edged sword to a certain extent. It creates an extremely dedicated following of people who help Threadless Community immensely because of their involvement within the company. The company is able to adapt effortlessly to the consumer demands because they know EXACTLY what the consumer likes through the structured voting (for designs) system. Threadless doesn't need to spend a dime on market analysis or market research, because the customers provide everything they need to sell the designs. The warehouse manager stated in our tour that Threadless always (most of the time) sells out of the t-shirts because they already know that the customers are demanding them. The benefits of having a very loyal customer base is obvious, however, once the business goes “out of line” and does something the Community doesn't approve of, there will be many disputes to deal with. Traditional model business do not have to deal any of this, because most people are not “attached” to the concept of the business. Most will view the company as an entity that is seemingly untouchable because of the bureaucratic nature of corporations. Most customers won't (often) complain if there any questionable decisions made by the management of the company.

Whew, well anyways. Threadless was a great visit for us (like most of our visits are) and is just another notch in my belt of learning about businesses here in Chicago. Peace.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Visualizing the BP Oil Spill

Well, this link is a little out of line in regards to my blog.....but that's the beauty of it being MY blog!! Muahahahaha! For all you that have been heated on the oil spill in the Gulf, here's something to add a little more fuel to the "fire". Good analogy for the oil spill don't ya think?? Check it out.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Get your name out there!

Networking. Easy concept right? Of course it is! This whole time of being in Chicago, it's been a GREAT time just to meet people because there are so many opportunities out there! Living in central Illinois, I never had an idea of HOW to get my name out in a positive way. There were opportunities, but they were limited because of how small Cuba (and Galesburg) is.

Before I get into what I have actually done, being here in the Business and Entrepreneurship program has given me enormous opportunities just to connect with people I would have never thought possible. Everything is about making a genuine connection with someone and finding some common ground to establish a friendship or relationship.

My personal belief is that one must ALWAYS be on top of their "game". I view networking as an extremely effective tool in creating a personal as well as professional connection with someone. Every field of profession can benefit from networking and is a simple way to stay connected with your colleagues. Establishing a network of professionals with the same career aspirations/goals is a great way to get advice into the industries. Period.

I prefer using the concept of "connecting" instead of the idea of "networking". Connecting with people has a much more personal and human feel to it. I believe this is a much better way to establish relationships between people. You must be able to find some common ground to connect with and be most importantly, to be GENUINE. The ability to connect with people as well as maintain those relationships is a skill that one must be constantly working on to improve.

In terms of networking in a professional field, exposure is one of the most challenging things to overcome (for most). For example, networking (in the right way) with many people will always prove to be fruitful. Also, pursuing the right types of networks will improve the “success” of that networking. A great example of this would be to connect with professors, friends, classmates from college, high school, grad school, etc. An important distinction to be made between business networking and social networking (LinkedIn vs Facebook) is that you will have a personal life and then a professional life. Of course there is some overlap between the two concepts, so finding the perfect medium between the two is key.

In the networking field, being shy or timid is one of the biggest obstacles for people to overcome. Being sociable MIGHT not be someone's strong traits, so practicing these skills to overcome them are going to be necessary. I luckily have not had that problem. Being a go-getter in regards to networking is one of the strongest qualities I possess. Attending networking events has been one of the greatest aspects of being here in Chicago. There are so many opportunities to get your name out, so why should you sit back and wait for people to approach you?? MOST people enjoy giving guidance to others, so the only obstacle is finding them. Asking for help or guidance in the professional field is not a sign of weakness and is sometimes how people feel. I think that is ridiculous. In this (student) stage of our life, learning from “elders” within specific fields is a sign of maturity and knowing that “you don't know” will open up doors you never would have known to exist.

During this past summer interning at Country Financial, I have been able to really broaden my network in the professional field. Most of the agents I have worked with are Knox College graduates and I can not stress how easily it is to network with alumni from your respective colleges. Using the resources you have available to you is one of the easiest ways to get help and guidance. Since being here, the Knox College connections have been invaluable. I have already been interviewed for jobs because of the recommendations I have received from these connections. Also, if you want to meet with someone to learn from them, then go do it! Pursuing someone about an interview or meeting will give you a great image of being proactive in your professional career. As an article I recently read, more than half of job openings are not advertised, so establishing connections and relationships BEFORE a company is hiring will give you a competitive advantage over other applicants for that job.

One last point I want to make is that networking is also two-sided. What I mean is that being a resource for others seeking information/jobs is one of the (I think) most rewarding aspects of establishing relationships and connections. This summer while I had been working at Country Financial, one of our company clients for our 401(k) plans was Advanced Rehab (physical rehabilitation company). As a friend and a trusted business partner, he was searching for a part-time student employee for this school year and would be looking to gain some insight to the physical rehabilitation field. It just so happens that one of my good friends is looking to become a physical trainer and I became that resource for my friend. What I am trying to say is that in establishing connections, you must have a give-and-take mindset where you're willing to help as well as receive help.

Now, it's all about YOU and how you make/maintain those connections. GO!

Monday, September 20, 2010

America's Dog!

So far, my Chicago experience has been one of the chaotically enjoyable times in my life and there have been SO many things to do while up here that it is so difficult to keep up (with blogging at least).

Throughout this whole program, we've been hearing about the concepts of innovation, entrepreneurship and the like...And in our "class" Tuesday, September 21st, we had the amazing opportunity to meet with the founder of America's Dog. This is a hot dog restaurant located in Chi-town that has been growing in size since it has started in 1996. He was such a great guy! It was a great to get his perspective on being an entrepreneur and as he stated, "I like making money" and well...I want to make money too! But his message to all of us was far from impersonal and cold. In developing his business, he has been able to keep a level head by realizing that there will be ups and downs and nothing will ALWAYS go as planned. You just have to be able to "weather' the tides of business because nothing will be for certain in the cut-throat world of being an entrepreneur. Aside from that, the food's great there! (He bought the whole class anything they wanted for lunch) I would definitely recommend the Tuscon Dog and the sweet potato fries were pretty decent. I think the part of his personality that allows him to be so passionate in the restaurant business is that is he completely GENUINE. He tells things as they are and doesn't sugar coat anything, which has been one of his strong suits in looking for investors in his business. Go America!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Friday Sept 17th

By now, most people (unless they are living under a rock) in the United States has at least heard of the corruption of the political system associated with Chicago and we had the opportunity to meet with one of the few "good guys" in that system. We (the ACM program) have a great contact with one of the Aldermen for the city of Chicago and he was gracious enough to give us a brief summary of the job he does. His name is Joseph Moore, who was a Knox College graduate (woop woop!) of 1978 and participated in the ACM's Urban Studies Program while at working on his undergraduate degree in Political Science at Knox. He is an Alderman for the 49th ward of Chicago, but let me give you a little introduction to what we have learned. In Chicago, there are a total of 50 different wards, where each ward is assigned one alderman. The aldermen of these wards are appointed by elected officials, so each aldermen are, in essence, mini-mayors of those wards. It was amazing to me the way this political system (in Chicago) is controlled, because it is unlike any other city in America (and probably why there is so much corruption. Joseph referred to the political system of Chicago as actually being in a Fuedal State. This is because the aldermen of the city are comparable to being lords over their "serfs" and the mayor would be comparable to the King. Each ward is populated by around 60,000 people, so each ward has equal political power, but we were told has had much controversy around this idea of equal power. In part of his speech, we were informed that EVEN DEAD PEOPLE have historically voted in Chicago as part of political fraud. In order to control more votes in Chicago, many corrupt politicians used dead people's information to win elections or they would "hire" homeless people to vote in many different wards in return for a cash payment. There was a lot of controversy of this when Mayor Daley (Richard Sr.) was in office. Here's a great article talking about the corruption when Richard Nixon was running for office if you have time. Another amazingly awful fact about previous aldermen in Chicago the past 30 years, 27 (rough estimate) of the aldermen were sent to jail. Those odds are...well... not exactly too great.

Friday afternoon we went on a Chicago Film Tour, where we were taken around the whole city in a charter bus and toured the places where many of the famous films have been taken. The city of Chicago was not well known for movies during Mayor Daley's (Sr.) term. The big film industry in Chicago was almost non-existent until around 1970, when Mayor Daley died in office. He didn't want that kind of exposure on the city because he was afraid the film industry would attack and point out the political corruption within the city and didn't want Chicago seem like the gang and mafia (even though it actually was) center of the U.S. Aside from the corruption, the movie that really jump started the Chicago film industry was the Blues Brothers which opened many more opportunities for films to be hosted by Chicago.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 16th: SENDaBALL

We had a great experience today where we hosted a guest speaker who came to talk about her business and is a "real life entrepreneur". She operates a home-based business that has been seen on the Today Show, ABC's Shark Tank, and was featured in Donny Deutch's book "The BIG IDEA" and started it all from scratch. The business she "stumbled upon" came from an idea in her everyday life. For her friends and family, she had a signature gift where she would send an inflated ball with a message written on it, which was like a novelty present. These balls she would send would often be funny and would get a laugh by the recipient. One day, she was standing in line at the post office to send a ball for one of her friend's birthday. While she was in line, another person saw the ball she was holding and thought it was a pretty clever idea. This person asked her to send one of those balls for him/her (not sure which) and would pay her $5 for it. That's when she had the idea that she could make a business out of it. It's a completely innovative and simple idea within the greeting/holiday/birthday card business and has a fun twist in it because...well, it's a bouncy ball! It was a perfect niche in the market that she saw and seized that opportunity. She started off very small and has been growing it since then. She opened a website where people can order these balls from the click of a mouse. It's not a very big and profitable business, but that's not what she's been concerned with and prides her business on. She enjoys it because it brings joy to people who send and receive the balls. That's it. She has had a lot of publicity and has grown her business from appearing on the show Shark Tank on ABC. Here's the link to that show (It is shortened, so you don't have to see all the boring parts). It still remains a business that is run from within her own garage, without any fancy equipment or technology because she really enjoys owning her own "destiny" and the soul of her small business. It was a really great experience to meet a "TV star", so to speak, and actually gave me a sense of empowerment if I would decide to own my own business. So far, I have realized the value of finding your own "niche" within a market and the meaning of entrepreneurship. It's about offering a great service that is feasible as well as something you really love to do. You can't own a business without having a passion for it... Plain and simple. You have to be transparent, ethical, and willing to adapt to the consumer's needs. Because frankly, they're YOUR boss. You have to have an open attitude to change and be humbled by the fact that in this field (of entrepreneurship), you need adhere to the never-ending desires of the consumer.