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  • Defending what's Wrong for the Right Reasons

    3:11 pm on August 20, 2015 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Cook County, , , MasterCard, , sex trafficking, Sheriff Tom Dart, Visa

    It’s been many years since Geebo removed its personal ads section and I’m happy to say that, over the years, many other sites have followed. But not all of them. One, in particular, has continued to successfully fight legal efforts to shut down the site’s personals section, considered a facilitator of illegal prostitution and sex-trafficking industries.

    That site is and, under most circumstances, I’d use some pretty choice words to express my feelings about the site and its legal team, which invokes the First Amendment to protect its sex-ad revenue pipeline, even at the expense of human lives.

    But this week, as Backpage finds itself back in court over another effort to derail the questionable ads, I find myself having to support Backpage in its legal battle – not because I support what they do but because America is a land of laws and I believe that even the government – especially the government – should abide by them.

    In this case, the government comes in the form of Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, Illinois. In his effort to cut off the lifeline of Backpage’s advertising business, he sent letters to both MasterCard and Visa, calling on them to cease business with the site over concerns about the adult services section of the site – and a short time later, they did just that.

    To me, those letters sure do feel like government overreach, a threat by the head of the law-enforcement agency of the second-largest county in the nation. Naturally, Backpage wants a court injunction forcing Dart to rescind the letters, which is what a federal judge will be considering during a hearing later this week, according to USA Today.

    Meanwhile, the site has filed suit against the sheriff, accusing him of violating free speech rights of individuals who use the service to post ads, according to the Wall Street Journal.

    As much as I would love to see Visa and MasterCard pull the plug on Backpage once and for all, just as American Express has already done, the credit card companies would need to decide that out of moral conscience or what’s best for business or even and organized public pressure campaign. But this sheriff should not be allowed to bully the largest credit card companies a key player in the financial engine that keeps the dollars flowing in and out of a business, so long as that business is operating within the law.

    It pains me to note Backpage’s success in fighting off legal efforts to take it down, but, by all rights, this latest effort should be a clean win for them again. The courts should grant the injunction and force Sheriff Dart to rescind his letters.

    If that happens, I can only hope that MasterCard and Visa executives decide that doing business with Backpage isn’t worth the headaches that come with their relationship and they’ll just keep those ties severed for good.

    Then, I’ll truly feel like I’m back on the side of good again.

  • Trump's Political Push Exposes Bad-For-Business Behavior

    11:02 am on July 15, 2015 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Election, Immigration, Mexicans, President, The Donald, Trump

    As a business owner, I understand that my customers and business relationships are key to the long-term success of my company and I want to do everything I can to maintain and expand those relationships. At the same time, I also need to be able to maintain my voice and speak up about issues that matter to me, both professionally and personally. That’s one of the best things about having this blog.

    Still, there’s a fine line that must be walked when a business owner starts sounding off on the controversial topics of the day – and. boy, are there plenty to choose from these days. The country has been a hotbed of controversial issues this summer – same-sex marriage, Obamacare, the Confederate flag, religious liberty, immigration and, of course, Donald Trump.

    Everyday, I look for ways to grow my business, to extend my reach and let more people know about my service and what I can do for them. I’m not looking to debate a customer on the rights or wrongs of same-sex marriage and I’m certainly not looking for a heated debate over our powerless opinions about immigration, either.

    Frankly, that would be bad for business.

    When it comes to “bad for business,” Trump’s entry into the race for President is an interesting case study. For weeks, Trump has been going on and on about Mexicans and immigrants, making blanket statements – and offending – large groups of people, calling them “rapists” and “drug dealers.” It was only a matter of time before some of his business partners wanted to distance themselves from him and his statements.

    First it was Univision and NBC Universal, pulling out from beauty pageants and giving him the old “You’re Fired” from his Apprentice TV show.. Then came Macy’s and Serta, which both halted sales of products with the Trump name on it. A high-profile golf tournament was moved at the last minute from a Trump property. Top-name chefs have changed their minds about building their restaurants in Trump buildings.

    Trump, of course, has threatened to sue everyone who has turned against him. And, who knows? Maybe he’ll even win a couple of breach-of-contract lawsuits.

    But in no way does this make him a winner. He’s tarnished his brand. Who would want to do business with The Donald now? Are there other celebrity chefs looking to step in and fill the void from those who walked away? Is CBS or FOX (maybe) interested in putting him on the air in a different type of reality show? Is Nordstrom looking to make room for his ties in their stores?

    Sure, Trump may not care today about the business side of his life. After all, he’s rich – so rich that he’s funding his own campaign, a point that never gets lost during the countless interviews he’s done since announcing his candidacy. But, he’s also a long-shot for the presidency, what with his short-on-details, big-on-rhetoric presidential promises, such as building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and making the Mexicans pay for it.

    At some point, Trump will likely find himself in the dark as the 24-hour news cycle starts focusing on the more serious candidates. It’s a long way to the election and while Trump’s 15 Minutes certainly still have some time left on the clock (at least until the first debates), it’s unlikely that he’ll make it all the way to Election Day.

    What will he do after he’s blown millions of dollars on a campaign that went nowhere? What will he do when he finally realizes the financial fallout from the lost relationships with Univision and NBC and Macy’s and the others? What will he do when the restaurants in his buildings are vacant and his golf courses are empty?

    What will he do when other companies pass on the opportunity to do business with him? File bankruptcy? Again?

    It’s one thing to make bad business decisions and learn from them. But doubling-down on bad behavior when solid business relationships start to unravel because of what you’re saying in the public forum probably isn’t the smartest move.

    I may not have agreed with – or had a lot of respect for – Donald Trump’s positions or the brash manner in which he chose to share them. But at least he always had my respect for being a smart businessman.

    Now, he doesn’t even have that.

  • Today's state of sports: Kids could teach the pros a thing or two

    3:28 pm on June 4, 2015 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , FIFA, , futbol, New England Patriots, , , soccer, Sports,

    Over a recent weekend, I spoke with a friend who had spent the past couple of months coaching a little league team of 8-year-old boys. The kids had a good season, he said, emphasizing that “good” didn’t necessarily mean “winning.” Sure, they won their share of games, he said. But they lost a couple of heartbreakers, too.

    Still, he said, all of the kids had a good season. Some really improved their skills. Others picked up some confidence in their abilities. And at the end-of-the-season party, the kids talked about great catches and good hits instead of victories or losses. For these little kids, the game was still just that – a game. And winning wasn’t everything.

    The grown-ups today sure could learn a thing or two from these kids.

    A few weeks ago, just after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down his punishments on the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady for their roles in the “deflategate” scandal at the end of last season, I started to write a blog post about my disgust with the whole episode. But what could I say that I hadn’t said in an earlier blog post?

    But then came the next scandal – corruption at the highest levels of FIFA, the organization behind professional soccer. I’m not as much of a soccer fan as I am of the NFL but you had to admit, this scandal had all of the juicy elements of any good scandal – charges of racketeering, bribery, money laundering and fraud, the organization’s president suddenly resigning and confessions starting to emerge.

    I’m not naive enough to think that corruption – whether bribery or cheating – is new to the world of sports. And I certainly recognize that the outrage over FIFA’s bribes and Brady’s deflated footballs will eventually fade, especially when the next not-yet-known point-shaving scandal or juicing-gate something or other surfaces.

    Already, the New England Patriots have said that the team won’t fight Goodell’s punishment, choosing instead to “move on” and focus on the upcoming season – without admitting any guilt, of course. But, still, I found myself searching for the right words to express the betrayal and disgust I had been feeling about all of this.

    That’s when I read a quote from Andrew Jennings, the journalist and author who, for years, has been crying “foul” about corruption at FIFA and is largely being credited for sparking the downfall of the FIFA leadership. Shortly after the headlines broke, Jennings spoke to the Washington Post about the FIFA executives. He said:

    “I know that they are criminal scum, and I’ve known it for years. And that is a thoughtful summation. That is not an insult. That is not throwing about wild words. These scum have stolen the people’s sport. They’ve stolen it, the cynical thieving bastards.”

    Finally, someone spoke the words that I’ve struggled to find for months. These grown-ups are stealing our sports – and not just from us. They’re stealing the game from little kids,too. I can’t help but think of those 8-year-old little-leaguers and how they were perfectly content with winning some and losing some this past season.

    I know a lot of young athletes look to the pros as role models and aspire to be like them some day. But for once, I wish the tables were turned. I wish the grown-ups would take a look at some of these kids and behave more like them. It might bring some of the integrity back to the game.

  • Don't be a Craigslist Killing: Raising Awareness for Safer Face-to-Face Transactions

    10:21 am on March 23, 2015 | 2 Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Awareness, SafeTrade, Safety, Scams

    Craigslist KillingsConducting business with a stranger always brings a certain amount of risk – both for buyer and seller. But, in this digital age of classified advertising, where individuals are conducting one-on-one transactions for used cars, sports tickets, furniture or even intimate relationships, the risk of harm grows exponentially.

    Consider the recently-published “Craigslist killings,” a list of 84 people whose lives were cut short over the last 8 years through encounters with people they met via the online classifieds site. Some were involved in encounters that were already risky enough, notably drug transactions and prostitution. But others were innocent victims, using the site to conduct transactions that have been part of the classifieds culture for generations – to buy or sell a car, inquire about a job, find a place to live or just sell personal items.

    The point of the list was not to bash Craigslist itself, though critics often call on the site to take more proactive steps to educate their visitors about safer ways to conduct their transactions. Instead, the list’s authors – a group that’s promoting an initiative called “SafeTrade” – is calling on law enforcement agencies to open their facilities as trading stations where people can meet to conduct their transactions.

    The idea is that anyone looking to take advantage of a would-be buyer or seller or is otherwise looking to do harm to another person likely won’t want to meet in the parking lot of a neighborhood police station. Already, the group has successfully lobbied more than 50 police agencies across the country to open their facilities and/or offer some sort of assistance to help make these transactions safer.

    Simply said, I applaud these efforts – not because the police agencies have become involved and not because this group is highlighting the violence that has taken place as a result of craigslist encounters. Instead, I applaud any effort to raise awareness around the steps that people should take to keep themselves safe.

    That’s one of the reasons I include a prominent link to a “Scams and Shams” page on Geebo. My list of tips on how people can protect themselves when engaging in transactions that originated on the Internet is helpful – but it’s also meant to raise awareness, so that people understand that they should always be aware of people who may be looking to take advantage of them or otherwise cause them harm.

    Obviously, there are some situations where risks will be higher. Those who are meeting about a home rental, for example, have no choice than to meet at that home. But people can minimize their risks by bringing someone with them when they meet the other party, by meeting during daytime hours when others are more likely to be around, by letting others know where they’ll be and providing the information they have about the other person they’ll be meeting.

    There are great bargains to be found on the Internet and it’s safe to say that most people are just looking to make an honest and simple transaction. But there’s also a criminal element out there looking to harm someone else – and being proactive can help keep your name off a list of victims.

    Awareness is key and everyone can do his or her part – even something as simple as sharing this blog post with your social media friends or bringing the SafeTrade Station idea to your own local police department

    If any of this saves one life, it was worth the effort.

  • Cheating in the NFL: Here's One Simple, but Tough, Question for the New England Patriots

    8:33 am on January 26, 2015 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: AFC Championship, Bill Belichick, Cheating, deflated, , , New England, , Patriots, ,

    skirtingI have only one question for the person who deflated 11 of the 12 footballs for the New England Patriots when they played against the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC Championship earlier this month.

    Was it worth it?

    I mean, here we are, counting down the days until the Super Bowl, the biggest game of the year, and instead of listening to radio hosts and TV analysts talk about the strengths of a running game or weaknesses in the defense, I’m listening to questions about quarterback Tom Brady’s integrity and suggestions that Coach Bill Belichick be suspended from the Super Bowl.

    Was it worth all of this just to gain an advantage that the Patriots really didn’t need? After all, what were the chances that the Patriots were going to lose to the Colts – at home, in 50-degree (instead of 15-degree) weather? They were the better team going into that game – and everyone knew it. The fans knew it. The pundits knew it. Even the Las Vegas oddsmakers knew it. And you know what? The Patriots played like the better team. They played hard. The executed plays. They earned that win, fair and squ… er, wait. Well, maybe not fair and square.

    And therein lies the problem. I’ve read blog comments from those who say this is a silly debate, that the deflating of the balls didn’t even make a difference in the outcome of the game. But they’re missing the bigger point. Every game – whether football, baseball, Checkers or Tic-Tac-Toe – has a set of rules. That’s how the integrity of every game is maintained, knowing that even though there is always a winner and always a loser, no one side had an unfair advantage going into the matchup.

    When you try to skirt the rules, you’re labeled a cheater. And, as we’re rediscovering in the aftermath of this particular NFL game, no one likes a cheater.

    Sure, the NFL has promised a thorough investigation and the Patriots have offered their full cooperation – but does it really matter? Even if the truth never comes out, there will always be an asterisk next to that win and next to the Super Bowl score if the Patriots win it. Their wins are tainted because trust has been lost. When the Patriots take the field on Super Bowl Sunday, plenty of people tuned in to the biggest sporting event of the year will have an opinion on the integrity of the Patriots.

    It won’t be a very nice opinion, I suspect.

    Let’s face it. The New England Patriots have betrayed the trust of sports fans everywhere and now have to work extra hard to shake that perception of being a team of cheaters. Did you see how that works? The perception of being cheaters is how the court of public opinion works. The court of public opinion isn’t always fair and rarely does it wait for investigations to be completed before it issues its own ruling. That puts the NFL and the Patriots in the uncomfortable position of trying to restore trust to a public audience that has already reached a conclusion. .

    So, again, was it worth it to deflate those balls – or have them deflated? Is it ever worth it when the risk is being labeled a cheater?

    That’s actually a question for life, not just sports. Is it ever worth it when you try to rig the game, when you try to cut corners or take advantage of others, just to get an edge that you really didn’t deserve? Is there ever a way to justify deception? Is there a way to move past it quickly?

    Look at the examples that are taking place in everyday life.

    One of the most divisive issues that the country is facing right now is income inequality – not because some people have or make more money than others, but because of allegations that the playing field isn’t fair. Some argue that the wealthy are unfairly given the advantage of tax loopholes that help them to acquire even more wealth at the expense of the middle class. What about the arguments about people who unfairly get government handouts that others don’t get? In both examples, it comes down to a fairness issue, the feeling that someone else is cheating the system to get ahead.

    And what about the ongoing fury over policing in America? Some communities argue that police unfairly treat some groups of people better than others, that they are quicker to shoot in some communities than in others. Are people upset because they feel they’re being unfairly profiled and targeted by police? Or are they upset that the rules aren’t being applied fairly, that police treat one community different than others? In the end, it’s all about fairness – and when one group cheats for their own advantage, it really makes others angry.

    Whether government or business or sports or just life in general, no one wants to feel that they’ve been cheated because someone else was given an unfair advantage. We’re a country of equal opportunities, right? That’s what we’re taught as children – work hard, do your best and play by the rules and you can succeed.

    But when cheating leads to winning or when winners turn to cheating, it ruins the whole “game” for everyone, whether that game is football or business or taxes or even a relationship. Getting that trust back, clearing your reputation or just trying to shake that stupid asterisk from the final score of your victory seems to be so much harder than just playing by the rules in the first place.

    So, again, I ask the question to those behind this deflating: Was it worth it?

    I suspect it wasn’t.

  • Slashing journalism won't bring new readers, more revenue to newspapers

    8:25 am on October 14, 2014 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: content, digital news, employment, jobs, journalism, newspapers, newsroom, NYT

    newsroomNearly 20 years after the Internet became a thorn in the side of newspapers, the old-school print industry continues to take steps to soften the blow that the Web has had on its business model.

    The problem is that newspapers, as part of their effort to become one with the digital side of news, keep making the same mistake. They keep chopping the journalism side of the business, the side that creates the original content that keeps visitors – and the eyeballs for their ads – clicking on their sites.

    This time around, it’s the mighty New York Times that’s slashing newsroom jobs so it can “shift more resources to digital news products,” according to a recent post in USA Today.

    Let’s not be mistaken, though. By digital news products, they’re talking about products that help drive revenues and increase profits – things like mobile apps and “native ads” that are paid by large advertisers. They’re not talking about expanding the types of journalism that are reaching a broader audience of readers.

    Look, I’m not naive enough to think that the newspapers make money by simply producing quality journalism. It’s been long understood that advertising is what brings the money into a news outlet. But in an age where content is king, the NYT and other newspaper companies shouldn’t necessarily be slashing the newsroom for the sake of making their bottom lines look better.

    At the New York Times, it’s 100 newsroom jobs – or about 7.5 percent of the newsroom. It’s a small percentage, I realize. But the quantity of the cut isn’t what matters here. In the USA Today post, it’s noted that The Times is also shuttering a recently launched mobile app of opinion content because it wasn’t getting enough subscribers.

    Is subscriptions really the problem? Or was it advertising?

    I’ll applaud the NYT for giving a mobile app of opinion content its own platform but that was more of an experiment in what might work – and less of an way that reflects the way people find content today. Today’s news readers click on links in social media and news feeds for their information. Sure, there are those faithfuls who open the NYT or the WSJ or the Washington Post every morning – but a new generation of readers is clicking on a link in Twitter.

    Does a reader really need a mobile app just to read opinion content? Or does the reader want to read a compelling, well-thought opinion piece that has some viral pickup across social media, that provokes social chatter and sparks some national debate over hot topics?

    At the end of the day, newspapers – or news companies, as they should be called – should stay focused on creating quality content that educates and informs the readers about world, national and local issues, They should strive for timeliness and relevance. They should extend their reach across a number of different platforms to grow an audience that puts value in their words.

    That’s what not only brings the audience, but what also keeps the audience. If the audience is there, the advertisers will follow. That’s been the drill since Day One – and, despite the struggles that newspapers face in a digital age, it should continue to be the drill.

    The Internet didn’t arrive yesterday. News companies realized long ago that they have to adapt for a new business model. And yet, they continue to make decisions that are bad for the long-term.

    Nearly 20 years later, there’s no excuse for cutting journalism for the sake of an investment in digital. In the short-term, it may help the bottom line. But in the long-term, it just hurts the brand.

  • NFL Under Fire: What Happens after the Buck Stops?

    6:24 am on September 23, 2014 | 1 Comment » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: abuse, Adrian Peterson, assault, news media, , Ray Rice, , violence

    perceptionFor sake of full disclosure, I’m a big fan of NFL football – the rivalries, the loyalty of the fans, the final-second plays that lead to victories and upsets. What I’m not a fan of is the off-the-field behavior that has dominated headlines early in this season.

    In a league as large as the NFL, there’s bound to be a few bad seeds in the bunch. But the gravity of these allegations – domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual assault and more – have put a spotlight on the NFL’s inability to control bad behavior. Sure, the league issued fines and suspensions – but for the most part, those sorts of punishments are just for show. As soon as a player makes a big play on the field, the coaches, the owners, the league – and even the fans – are quick to forgive.

    But as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has learned in recent weeks, there’s no touchdown or interception out there – no matter how dramatic – that is going to give the NFL a free pass on this latest controversy.

    That’s why Goodell, the guy who stands where the buck stops, held a press conference to announce the efforts that he’s taking to… actually, we don’t really know what he’s going to do to make things better. He talked about making mistakes and learning from them. He mentioned something about committees and policies and changes that should be in place by the Super Bowl.

    It’s no wonder that Goodell’s face was splattered across newspaper tabloids with headlines that read: “That’s it?”

    Goodell summoned the press because his old-stand-by actions of issuing meaningless fines and minor suspensions wasn’t enough to make all of this go away. By the time he faced the press, the story had shifted away from the players and their bad behavior. Instead, the public had made Goodell the face of the controversy.

    Goodell missed an opportunity to make things right with that press conference. He could have stepped up and talked about zero tolerance policies and mandatory training programs that were being put into place across the league, effective immediately. Instead, he went on and on about making mistakes and how changes were coming – months from now, once we get to the end of the season and fans start shifting their attention.

    Earlier this year, I chimed in about the controversy surrounding the now-former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling. At the time, I noted that the boss – even if he’s the owner of a professional sports team – always answers to someone. There is no free pass against bad behavior, no matter who you are. Fast forward to today and the Sterling is no longer the owner of the Clippers.

    It kind of makes me wonder if Goodell is next to go.

    Maybe it’s unfair to compare Goodell to Sterling. After all, Sterling let garbage spew from his mouth and then made no apology for it. Goodell, by contrast, hasn’t been videotaped smacking a woman around in an elevator.

    But, in the court of public opinion, is there any difference?

    It’s never good when the boss gets busted spewing racist remarks. But some might say it’s even worse when the boss knows about bad behavior – and then seems to turn a blind-eye to it. You might argue that point with me – but, perception is a real thing. And it definitely matters.

    Let’s be honest. Goodell’s press conference had nothing to do with the off-the-field actions of its players. It had nothing to do with Goodell’s softball response to those actions. No, this press conference was all about Goodell saving his job and saving face for the league.

    Given his handling of the entire situation, it seems that the only way the league can save face on this one is to start thinking about a new commissioner, someone who will get it right when it matters most.

  • Free to a Good Home? A Bad Idea Online!

    10:46 am on July 8, 2014 | 1 Comment » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: animal abuse, animal shelter, dog fighting, horses, pet adoption, pet sales, pets, , spca

    nopetsAny business owner needs to stay ahead of the trends, and unfortunately, that applies to trends in crime. I’ve said before in blog posts and TV interviews that we don’t carry personals because they can be used as a front for prostitution and human trafficking. We don’t carry pet sale ads, as they often trade in animals that have been bred through puppy mills—breeders who literally breed animals to death, leaving them undernourished and caged without proper exercise or loving contact. We simply won’t even take a chance at supporting criminal industries, so we don’t run the ads that market them.  
    Recent stories are showing that it’s not just online pet sales that can pose a threat to pets, but online pet adoptions, as well—often posted by well-meaning folks, under the heading, Free to a Good Home. Ads giving away dogs, cats, bunnies, and other animals to “good” homes may be posted by owners for a number of benign reasons, though they may lead to a life of pain and misery, and even death, for pets. 
    Remember the days of summers past when you’d ride down the street of your neighborhood in the back of your parent’s Pontiac or Buick, probably without a seat belt, and definitely without a car seat? You might pass a lemonade stand or a kid and his mom or dad on the corner with a cardboard box reading, “Kittens For Sale,” or, if you were really lucky, “Free Kittens.” No one thought anything of it. We survived, and for all we knew, so did our pets. But if not monitored, the reality of today’s digital marketplace can be a whole lot scarier for animals, just as it is for humans.
    The SPCA reports that animal abusers troll online classified sites looking for free animals, and they know just what to say to put unsuspecting pet owners at ease. Some abusers have even brought unrelated children to meet pets and pet owners in an effort to appear nonthreatening. Small animals offered “free to a good home” or to be “rehomed,” such as rabbits and cats, have been used as live snake food. Dogs have been found used as bait to train other dogs for dogfights. And crooks or kill buyers sell these free animals to research facilities or for slaughter.
    It’s not just household pets that face danger: While slaughtering horses for meat is illegal in the United States, it’s not in some other countries, such as neighboring Canada and Mexico. Kill buyers can often outbid adopters, and have taken advantage of the financial downturn to buy up horses on the cheap for transport and slaughter for meat. This poses a serious health risk to humans, as horses in the US are considered companion animals, and as such are often medically treated with drugs toxic to humans.
    A pet is a member of the family. Be sure you’re financially and emotionally prepared to keep companion animals—healthily—for the duration of their lifetime. Though if you must rehome for an unavoidable reason, it’s simply not safe to give away or sell animals to strangers via online ads without conducting strict home assessments and background checks. Most folks aren’t equipped for that, so volunteers at the SPCA suggest that anyone looking to rehome a pet work through their personal networks first—friends, neighbors, coworkers, church groups, their vet’s office etc.—maybe that’s why the neighborhood “Kittens For Sale” seemed to work fine back in the day? We all knew each other! 

    If your personal network doesn’t yield a reliable home, a reputable rescue group or shelter with good statistics in rehoming animals can help. Doing the right thing by your pet may take a little longer, may require just a bit more time and attention, but their health and safety is in your hands, and it’s worth it. We care about your family as we do our own, and that includes your pets. That’s why we don’t run Free to a Good Home ads at Geebo, and we hope you won’t anywhere else.

  • The Boss Always Answers to Someone - Even in Professional Sports

    8:37 am on May 6, 2014 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply

    damage controlI sometimes hear people say, with a tone of envy in their voices, about how great it must be to own a company, to be the boss, to call all the shots and not have to answer to anyone.

    Those perceptions of what life as the boss is like – especially that last one about not having to answer to anyone – are kind of funny to me, largely because, at some point, we all answer to someone.

    As the owner of a small business, I’m the one who makes the business decisions for Geebo. But in reality, I’m far from being the one who calls the shots. The customers – whether they’re the the people who post listings on Geebo or the ones who scour the site in search of products or services – are the ones who are really driving the business decisions. I answer to them.

    That brings me back to my point, that we all answer to someone. CEOs answer to their boards of directors, who, in turn, answer to the shareholders. Police chiefs answer to city and court officials. Politicians answer to their constituents and risk losing their jobs when voters head to the polls.

    And then there’s a guy like Donald Sterling, owner (for now) of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team.

    One might think that, as the owner of the Clippers, a guy like Sterling – who found himself in hot water when his racist comments made their way into the public arena – might be untouchable, free to say whatever he wants, especially with the team heading into its first playoff run in decades and fan fervor at an all-time high.

    But, alas, we were all reminded that Sterling – like all of us – does answer to someone else. The National Basketball Association is made up of franchises and its operations are overseen by a commissioner who has to answer to the other owners, the players, the advertisers and even the fans. It’s his job to look over the health of the NBA as a whole. And, just in case anyone is confused, it should be noted that professional sports is just another form of business. Tickets, merchandise and advertising all impact the bottom line – and as the commissioner, it is Adam Silver’s job to make sure that anything that might compromise the NBA’s ability to make money is dealt with, quickly and swiftly.

    When a doctor treats a cancer patient, it’s his job to remove the cancer as quickly as possible before it spreads and takes over the whole body. In a sense, Sterling and his racist rant became the cancer of the NBA – and Silver needed to go to extreme measures to get Sterling out of there, before resentment toward the whole NBA started to grow, before advertisers started to distance themselves (even more than they already had), before fans stopped buying tickets and merchandise or stopped tuning in to games on TV.

    Banning Sterling from the NBA for life was just the type of action that Silver needed to take to minimize the damage – and the praise for Silver’s swift action was immediate. Yes, Sterling is still around, but the message was clear that he’s not welcome in the NBA. The wheels are in motion to get the Sterling cancer out of the league as soon as possible. The fans expressed their support and approval and, so long as the league is taking action to get rid of Sterling, there’s little fear that the league’s cash flow isn’t in any sort of real jeopardy. Silver was smart enough to realize that, even though he’s at the top of NBA’s org chart, he has to answer to many people. He may make the decisions – but he’s definitely not calling the shots.

    As soon as Donald Sterling comes to the same realization, the NBA – and its fans – can start the healing process and put this ugly chapter behind them.

  • Risky Business: Watch for Business Models that Boost the Bottom Line but Tarnish the Reputation

    2:30 pm on April 14, 2014 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Airbnb, Eviction, Rent Control, Rent Ordinances, Rentals, San Francisco

    When Terms & Agreements Don’t Mesh with Local LawsThere’s an interesting debate going on in San Francisco with Airbnb, where a crackdown on short-term rentals – especially those being advertised on online sites like Airbnb – are leading to lease violations and eviction notices.

    The site, Airbnb, connects people looking to make a few bucks by renting out space in their own homes with visitors who are looking to save a few bucks by using alternative accommodations when they pop into a city for a short visit.

    It’s kind of like they’re hotel rooms, except that they’re not. They’re residential homes and apartments. And in San Francisco, the two – residential units and hotel rooms – are not allowed to mix, by law. In a city with tight housing and even tighter rental laws, the crackdown is sending some otherwise law-abiding citizens to the streets, evicted for letting a stranger crash on the couch every now and then.

    It’s an unfortunate story, though it appears that the city and Airbnb are working together to provide some better clarity around the ordinances, including a hotel tax on Airbnb transactions, which will certainly change the dynamic of the debate down the road. That may not change things for those affected – but at least it recognizes the problem. And that’s a start.

    In the meantime, at least one lawyer has raised the question about Airbnb’s share of responsibility in what’s happening to its customers during this crackdown. Is it the responsibility of Airbnb to provide each person who submits a listing with a notice of all laws and regulations – whether local, statewide or national? Or is it enough to remind people to check their local laws and leases before renting the spare room for a weekend?

    It’s a question that the company has faced before. A few years ago, I chimed in about some growing pains that Airbnb was experiencing as it was dealing with reports of people who were trashing rental units. The company rode that storm nicely and went on to see some amazing growth, with listings now expanding in Europe and investors suggesting a $10 billion valuation, bigger than some hotel chains.

    Airbnb, a site much like Geebo in that it connects two parties with a common interest, should have a responsibility to inform people of the risks they are about to engage in and, in some certain circumstances, take extra steps to ensure that people are compliant with the law.

    Geebo is a site with listings from cities across the nation across a wide range of categories. For the site to specify each of the laws and ordinances for each of the cities and each of the categories of products or services is unrealistic. In that sense, I understand Airbnb’s defense. On the other hand, I also understand the need for a company to be accommodating and to take action to be better safe than sorry.

    Years ago, I removed personal ads from Geebo’s listings, in part because I felt that what was being advertised wasn’t appropriate for my site. I’m not suggesting that Airbnb block listings with San Francisco addresses (or am I?) but perhaps it could do something else to drive home the point, maybe an extra acknowledgment prompt before the final submission.

    I want to make sure that my visitors have a good experience and that they return the next time they’re looking for something specific. I would think that Airbnb would like the same.

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