If you haven’t seen the new Zaarly Storefronts, you should take a look. It legitimately might change ecommerce forever.
The team of geniuses at Zaarly has tackled a few big peeves we’ve all had with the legacy ecommerce establishment:
- Traditionally, online merchants focus on products and are horrible at selling services
- It’s hard to find local products/services which due to their proximity may be more relevant to what I’m looking for
E-commerce isn’t totally broken today, but it doesn’t really provide a good avenue to finding good local service providers (house cleaning, outsourced chores, lawn mowing, personal chefs, et cetera), and it is no good at helping you find Services (major ecommerce sites like Ebay/Amazon are much more focused on selling products). All the daily deal sites made ecommerce more local, but they only gave us deals on restaurants, spas, and some other things that we don’t really want or need. Zaarly Storefronts changes is. It is local (which makes its service offerings more relevant), it includes products (which is what most of us buy online, anyway), it makes buying services easy, it provides a clear visual introduction to the service provider or product, and does all of this in one place.
The gist of Zaarly Storefronts is that it is local products and services with with engaging descriptions and photos/visuals that give you a good idea of what you’ll get.
Here’s an example: you want someone to clean your apartment every two weeks because you don’t have time to do it yourself. Zaarly Storefronts says “Meet your new cleaning lady, Geannie Meckler!”:
See, read, click, buy. Now your house is clean. It’s intuitive and effortless. I think that Zaarly’s ecommerce innovations are going to drive its competitors to change the way they list products and services, so perhaps Zaarly Storefront will change the way commerce happens even on platforms outside Zaarly.
Here’s an example of some of the local products available on Zaarly Storefronts (which reminds me of a sort of virtual farmer’s market):
Kudos to the team over at Zaarly for building a hyper-relevant ecommerce platform!
For the first time since May 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has closed above 13,000, an important psychological and technical level.
What does this event say about the economy, if anything?
Simpletons might be inclined to identify the breaking of 13,000 as a sign that the US economy and the world’s economy are returning to vibrancy. Such an explanation is overly simplistic, ignoring the complexity and the myriad variables that lead markets to behave the way they do.
US stocks are being driven higher for two reasons:
1) Fear of exposure to European sovereign debt
2) Fear of exposure to European banks
Both of these drivers have led investors to seek safety in US Treasuries, which has driven down Treasury yields, causing many treasury investors to seek potentially higher returns in stocks due to the low returns offered by Treasuries. As a result, I believe it’s safe to say that the recent breaking of 13,000 is not caused by bullish sentiment on stocks, but rather is simply a consequence of insanely low-yielding debt, which has made stocks look like a bargain in comparison.
Investors are faced with heightened global uncertainty due to fears of low growth in the Eurozone and the United States, slowing growth in China, high energy prices, and the threat of inflation. The obvious play in this environment would be to buy gold, TIPS, and Treasuries and wait out the storm until it’s safe to wade back into the equity markets. However, there is little opportunity to make gains using said strategy because our relatively efficient markets have priced gold at stratospherically-high levels and have done the same to TIPS and Treasuries, some of which are currently sporting negative yields (including the 5, 7, and 10-year TIPS).
So what might an intelligent investor do to best position their portfolio with regard to risk and return?
1) Buy leveraged real estate funds, REITs, apartment home operators, and senior living operators
With the cost of financing going through the floor, healthy demand for apartments and rental housing, and low prices for single-family homes due to the poor health of the US housing market, real estate is cheap. Cheap asset prices and dirt cheap financing? Sign me up.
2) Buy energy services firms
Energy prices are high and will likely remain high, barring a global recession. Oil production in the Bakken shale and other areas in the heartland of North America is increasing quickly due to recent advances in horizontal drilling and fracking. Increased production will drive higher revenue and margins for energy services firms.
3) Go bargain hunting in Europe
European equities are cheap, and by spending some time prospecting through them, you might just discover some hidden gems.
Fashion’s Night Out last night was a monumental success, thanks to both its hardworking organizers and the boutiques and restaurants that invited us inside for a luxurious evening of shopping, crudites, cocktails, and the city’s best-dressed.
We began our evening at Mario’s, Seattle’s landmark luxury shopping destination.
We perused their impeccably-chosen lines from Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana, Kiton, and Isaia, sipped Caipiroskas provided by 42 Below, and enjoyed delectable bite-sized steak sandwiches from Morton’s.
Then, we ventured over to The Finerie, where we chatted with owners Michael and Tanya and sipped mojitos while we perused their racks.
Then, it was off to Barney’s, which kindly offered nibbles and a selection of cava and prosecco to us. A big thanks to Barney’s impeccable staff.
Nordstrom’s twitter team, led by Shauna Causey, held a tweetup at Nordstrom’s Flagship Store’s Nordstrom Grill, which was a real treat. A big thanks to Nordstrom!
Can Seattle’s retailers step it up again next year? Here’s hoping they do.
…this country has always been about selling. To make the most money with the least amount of effort. “Hey, Bill. Love your tie. That was some fun last night, huh? Let’s hope our wives never find out. How about signing here on the dotted line so I can wrap this up and move onto the next prospect who’ll happily listen to me tell him the exact opposite of what he really is.”
Via The Trad.
“… the open circulation of ideas was practically the founding credo of [...] eighteenth-century coffeehouse culture [...]. With the university system languishing amid archaic conditions, and corporate R&D labs still on the distant horizon, the public space of the coffeehouse served as the central hub of innovation in British society. How much of the Enlightenment do we owe to coffee? Most of the epic developments in England between 1650 and 1800 that still warrant a mention in the history textbooks have a coffeehouse lurking at some crucial juncture in their story. The restoration of Charles II, Newton’s theory of gravity, the South Sea Bubble–they all came about, in part, because England had developed a taste for coffee, and a fondness for the kind of informal networking and shoptalk that the coffeehouse enabled. Lloyd’s of London was once just Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse, until the shipowners and merchants started clustering there, and collectively invented the modern insurance company.”
Steven Johnson’s The Invention of Air, pages 57/58.
Prolific blogger Om Malik posted this provocative, loaded question for his readers to answer:
Does anyone else feel that World Economic Forum in Davos is elitist, all talk, no action, and a perfect representation of crony capitalism? The off the record nature of conversations only bolsters my argument. Talk away folks.
The older I get, the more I realize the value of conversations conducted in secret. One doesn’t have to worry about the oversensitive media creating an overblown polemic over some logical, agreeable, yet also out-of-context and outwardly controversial statement (Ex. Harry Reid’s observant remark that Barack Obama became the country’s first black president because he had “no Negro dialect.”)
Likewise, Obama’s meeting with House Republicans this week in Baltimore should’ve been (and indeed was initially planned to be) conducted in secret in order to foster dialogue, but was opened to the media as a result of secret meetings’ perceived incompatibility with Obama’s pledge to be the most transparent administration ever.
It just goes to show that even seemingly universally-positive values like transparency can become negative as you approach their extremes (liberalism, socialism, libertarianism, and conservatism are also examples of ideologies that become dysfunctional, regressive, and destructive as you approach implementations of their extremes).
Anyways, getting back to Davos, you are exactly right to call them elitists. Davos is where elitists feel comfortable amongst their brethren. And you’re also correct in your characterization of Davos as “all talk … no action.” Davos is basically a week-long press conference for elitists to trumpet their ideas and pat themselves on the back, coupled with receptions and parties, networking, and a little skiing. Little is actually accomplished AT Davos. However, the value of Davos can be seen in two key ways:
1) its benefit of expanded dialogue between business/political/cultural leaders,
and 2) the inception of many relationships between the elitist attendees that flower into real-life business relationships, which “greases the wheels of capitalism,” by the creation of useful partnerships.
I write this on a BlackBerry engineered in Canada and built in China, inside a centi-million dollar condominium building financed by major transnational banks. The existence of these two simple things (a cellphone and a condo building) are shining examples of the benefit to society that comes from cross-border business relationships–some of them made at places like Davos. So complain all you like, but the truth is that you likely benefit greatly from the World Economic Forum in Davos, whether you recognize it or not.
(I should note that I am not advocating corrupt crony capitalism between business and government. Rather, I’ve tried to illustrate my belief that elitists hosting a meeting like this and fostering incestuous business relationships is not in any way negative, nor should pejorative words like crony capitalism be used to describe the WEF.)
FemaleExcelPowerUser: Oh how you tease me so with your .XLS whispers in my gchat window…
Cameron: ‘Tis a proven way to seduce the ladies, methinks
FemaleExcelPowerUser: Clearly, I’m fantasizing about embedded “IF” statements, and don’t even get me started on defined ranges
I can’t even type anymore
Cameron: Can we do it in Excel ’07, so we aren’t limited to 65,000 rows?
FemaleExcelPowerUser: Baby I love it when you round
But its 65536
I think I’m in love.
There is a very cliche expression that often makes the rounds of economists, which holds that “we live in a knowledge economy,”—having knowledge pays.
A man who died yesterday, Jeffry Picower, has made that abundantly clear.
You probably haven’t heard of Mr. Picower, but that’s just the way he would’ve liked it. A lawyer and an accountant, Picower was known as an expert in tax shelters. He was famous for making things invisible. For example, on January 2, 2003, Picower withdrew $1,378,852 from a curiously named account, “Jln Partnership”, which was managed by none other than Bernard Madoff. When withdrawals across all his accounts were totaled for that day, they amounted to exactly $250 million. Nothing he did was by accident.
Mr. Picower achieved something amazing. He discerned that Bernie Madoff was a fraud years before securities regulators did, and he was able to profit massively from that knowledge. Picower knew that he could go public about Madoff’s ponzi scheme at any time, and therefore held enormous negotiating leverage over Madoff, who would do anything to avoid the disclosure. What Mr. Picower asked for (in exchange for his silence) was substantial: enormous returns from his investment with Madoff, paid for in dollars that belonged to other investors. Picower could demand precise annual percentage gains for his account–much higher than the returns given to other Madoff investors. Picower would pick the number, and Madoff’s people would dutifully backdate trades to update the account balance to Picower’s satisfaction.
Although Madoff ostensibly produced eerily consistent 10-12 percent annual returns for his clients, the returns he provided Picower were other worldly:
In 14 instances between 1996 and 2007, a group of Picower trading accounts experienced annual returns of more than 100 percent. On 25 occasions, the annual return exceeded 50 percent. During this same period, the biggest annual gain in the S&P 500 was 31 percent (1997). The S&P’s annual average for that period was slightly under 9 percent. In 1999, one of Picower’s accounts earned 950 percent.
On April 18, 2006, Picower wired $125 million to Madoff to open a new account. Madoff’s office began “purchasing” securities in the account, but “it backdated the vast majority of these purported transactions to January 2006″ when the stock market was at its lowest for the period. Twelve days later, the net equity value of the account was $164 million, a gain of $39 million – or more than 30 percent – in less than two weeks.
From 1995 to 2008, Picower made 670 withdrawals totaling $6,746,066,548. Initially, he’d invested some $1.6 billion with the fraudster, so this amounted to quite a return on his initial investment.
Was much of his wealth stolen from others? That’s a question that the courts are trying to find out right now, but considering Picower’s prowess for financial sleight-of-hand, we may never know.
Clearly, Picower’s gain from his knowledge of Madoff’s fraud is not an something to look up to, but it surely illustrates the benefits of having more information than others. After all, Picower died a very rich man.
Chace Bank’s Redmond, WA branch is trying to stiff me for $385 due to the manager’s error. His behavior is pitiful. It looks like I’m not the only one who is fed up and closing my account:
internet dollars – /ˈɪntərˌnɛt/ /ˈdɒlərs/ - pl. noun
1. the exposure and web-visitor traffic showered upon internet startup companies’ websites, which earn the company legitimacy and fame but generate little to no actual revenue.
2. what 90%+ of internet companies thrive on.
3. the lack of a real business model or end-game.
2004; English compound phrase theoretical + internet + dollars, “South Park”, Episode 12041
1. The [South Park character] boys post a music video on YouToob and go to what looks like an employment office to collect their money. In the waiting room, they encounter many Internet sensations including Tay Zonday, the Numa Numa guy, and the sneezing baby panda. They were all waiting for their millions in Internet theoretical dollars.
What moral does “Southpark” leave you with? Kyle said, “We thought we could make money on the Internet. But, while the Internet is new and exciting for creative people, it hasn’t matured as a distribution mechanism to the extent that warrants a trade of real and immediate income opportunities for the promise of future online revenue. It will be a few years before digital media distribution on the Internet can be monetized to an extent that necessitates content producers to forego their fair value in more traditional media.”2
dollar /ˈdɒlər/ noun
1. a paper money, silver or cupronickel coin, and monetary unit of the United States, equal to 100 cents. Symbol: $
1545–55; earlier daler < LG, Dutch daler; c. German Taler, short for Joachimsthaler coin minted in Joachimsthal in Bohemia.
1. a vast computer network linking smaller computer networks worldwide
2. a series of tubes
1990-1995; Albert Gore, American politician3. Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn, creators of TCP/IP protocol.
3. “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the internet.” -Albert Gore. March 9th, 1999. CNN’s ‘Late Edition’ with Wolf Blitzer. (link)
I’ve called it (wrong*) twice before, but this time, I’m significantly more optimistic for the economy, credit, equities, consumer confidence, et cetera. FINALLY!
*Statistically, you shouldn’t listen to me. I’m 0/2 on this one, so far. The sample size is so limited that it shouldn’t be extrapolated, however.
I’m a very effective Google searcher, and after meeting a new contact, it takes me less than a minute to find out everything I want to know about that contact using Google. I call it being well-informed, but it could seem a little stalker-ish, depending on if you’re the one being Googled, or the person Googling.
A new startup, Gist, is attempting to kill my information advantage over the Search Plebes. Their product rifles through your email inbox looking for names, and comes up with tidy little reports for you that will help you know your contacts better before your meeting with them. It’ll show you all your communication with that contact no matter the platform (email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs). It’ll tell you what is being said about them in blogs. It’ll tell you what they’ve been writing about in blogs. It can tell you so many things that, in reality, your future in-person meeting with them will be just a formality, because all your questions for them will already be answered by Gist in advance. Skynet will then hunt you down.
I love their idea. The inbox is the ultimate tool, and hasn’t seen much innovation. I think, ideally, Gist would be bought NOW by Google, who could integrate Gist into GMail, negating the need to use any other messaging platforms by way of integrating communication in one place. Google has already been doing that with their additions of GoogleChat, AIM, and GoogleTalk into GMail.
This is an amazing time to be alive, what with all the things that are changing, evolving, improving.
A major step was just taken that will revolutionize how video is produced and consumed. It’s called the Panasonic GH1.
It dispenses with the traditional SLR mirror and optical viewfinder, allowing a shorter lens-to-sensor distance; in turn enabling smaller, lighter, and quieter cameras. The platform, called ‘Micro Four Thirds’, maintains the same-size image sensor as a traditional DSLR, and uses similar (though smaller) interchangeable lenses that allow for shallow depth of field, which is one of the defining characteristics that DSLRs have long had a monopoly on versus point-and-shoot consumer cameras.
So it’s smaller. Why is this camera so revolutionary, then?
Well, size is not the revolution. HD video functionality is.
Though hardly the first digital camera to shoot HD video (notable examples include the Canon 5D Mark II and the Nikon D90) the GH1 manages to provide jaw-droppingly-good HD video (1080p) in a smaller and less-expensive package* than its predecessors and rivals. This means that any idiot with a thousand bucks, a subject, and a PC can become a movie producer.
Here’s the freshest example of HD video shot off a Panasonic GH1 (if you watch the HD version closely and notice the shallow depth of field and fantastic quality, you’ll understand how revolutionary this is!):
What we’ve seen with print media–the replacement of the top-down newspaper/magazine model with a more democratic, user-generated model–is exactly what is going to happen with digital video. With the increased accessibility of cheap HD video recording, sites like Vimeo and FunnyOrDie are going to be swimming in quality user-generated content (if they’re not already). The losers are going to be the big studios, whose only advantages will be 1) bigger budgets for marketing/production, 2) star power, and 3) existing distribution channels (movie theaters, et cetera). The studios, however, will be at a massive disadvantage on the internet, coming up against small niche players who will be able to undercut them on production cost AND content pricing, providing the content for free (ad-supported). If the big studios eschew the free-content route, as print media did, and they’ll lose market share to the internet upstarts.
This is a MASSIVE opportunity for anybody with film-making experience. You have the opportunity to be involved in a revolution. Yes, the democratization of HD video will mean declining prestige, and an increasingly flooded content marketplace. But at the same time, it allows content creators to put more professional-looking creations on the web and garner maximum exposure before the big studios begin to adapt to the new platform.
If there is to be an internet video production star made, he/she will be made king very soon. As I said earlier, this is an amazing time to be alive.
*Note: the Panasonic GH1 may be priced similarly to the Nikon D90. We’ll have to see.
My prognostications for 2009/2010:
-After cutting costs in 2008/2009, corporate earnings stabilize and recover (this is already happening, with 60%+ of earnings reports coming out in the last few weeks beating analyst expectations*
-Growth from China, as well as growth from nations currently/formerly in recession, will spur lending and increase economic activity.
-Banks will be slow to recover because their balance sheets have been so damaged by bad loans, BUT the help they’ve received from government WILL enable them to lend earlier and lend more than had they never received any assistance at all.
-Companies will begin hiring more, unemployment will fall to 6 or 7% by January 2011.
*I know, I know–50% would be the expected beat-rate, so relatively, 62% doesn’t sound that bullish; that said, numbers don’t lie.
by Rigoberto Morfin
Meeting successful people has helped me analyze my career, and has motivated me to continue trying especially during these hard times when many of us are unemployed. On Thursday, April 23rd, James Fernandez, the CFO from Tiffany & Co., gave a speech about “The Path to Professional Success” at ALPFA Baruch Chapter’s 2nd Annual Business Banquet. He warned us: “Be careful when you give your opinion, don’t give it freely. Be thoughtful and insightful. Your opinion says a lot about you.” Later that night I was told more about the dangers of opinions by Alberto Flores, an executive at Deloitte and one of my mentors in New York City. “Miss California Carrie Prejean is a perfect example,” he said. “She shocked the audience by saying same-sex marriage should not be legalized. That is probably what cost her the Miss Universe 2009 crown.”
I’m no beauty queen, but I know we’ve all had similar experiences when we’ve expressed an opinion that we regretted. My friends often joke that I always give my opinion regardless of whether it’s politics, religion, or other potentially sensitive matters. This is fine in your personal life, but it’s something I’ve learned to be careful about on the job.
While working at a Forex brokerage firm, I was talking with a rich prospect from South America. I told him that my mother was from Caracas, Venezuela. “That is where I live,” he said excitedly. “What is your opinion of Hugo Chavez?” Without thinking, I told him that President Chavez was too socialist for my taste. Afterwards my rich prospect stopped returning my calls. A few weeks later I heard from the Geneva office that he opened an account with a Russian coworker.
Another time the director of global sales asked the currency brokers to agree to a monthly sales target during a meeting. I quickly spoke up with my sincere opinion. “I don’t think we can reach the monthly target after the firm just cut their marketing budget completely,” I said with frustration. “We are barely getting any leads – from fifty leads per day to less than five.” Later that day, I found out that the director thought I was being confrontational, and his attitude toward me soured.
At the end of the ALPFA event, I ran after Mr. Fernandez to introduce myself and ask him the same question I’ve asked Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and former N2h2 CEO Philip Welt. “Do successful people suffer more from mental turbulence and stress when they go to sleep than regular people?” I said curiously.
“That is an unusual question at these types of events.” He considered my question thoughtfully. “Well, it is basically the same. Through life you learn how to leave work behind when you go to home.” We firmly shook hands and I took his business card. After that I walked away, pondering what I’d learned.
Before moving to New York, I had the opportunity to analyze employees’ performance with customers at various Seattle branches of U.S. Bank. At the end, I gave a presentation to all the branch managers. I told them that most cashiers at a specific branch lacked customer service skills. The manager for that branch interrupted me. “Most of our employees have been working in this industry for many years and have been trained from upper staff,“ he countered. I didn’t give a contrary opinion and at the end of the presentation recommended boosting interaction with customers to create brand loyalty and lower employee turnover. Afterwards, the northwest regional manager congratulated me and told me that if I ever wanted to work in a bank to please consider them.
During his speech, Mr. Fernandez described his frustrating first interviews out of college with top firms. He couldn’t get a job offer. “Maybe I was a bad interviewer or I said the wrong things,” he said. If anything the job market has become more difficult since then. Now it pays to be extra careful with your opinion.
Rigoberto “Rigo” Morfin is a seasoned finance professional residing in New York City. He graduated from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, and has worked as an account executive at leading foreign-exchange investment firms. He is currently on the lookout for his next big challenge. You can email him at email@example.com