Updates from October, 2013

  • Note to Washington: Don't Play Chicken with US

    11:04 am on October 22, 2013 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Congress, , Government Shutdown,

    I usually try to keep my politics out of my business decisions – but after the Great Government Shutdown of 2013, I think it’s time to speak up.

    You see, when it comes to running my business, I am neither Republican or Democratic. I make decisions about how to run my business based on things like market demands, competitive forces and industry outlooks. I invest in my company when I can. I scale back when I must. But I never stop working.

    I may be my own boss – but I answer to many others when it comes to running my online classifieds site. My clients expect their products and services to appear in the right places so they can reach the right audience. The visitors to my site expect a certain experience when they arrive. My partners expect me to deliver on my end of our agreements.

    I guess that’s what frustrates me the most about the 16-day shutdown of the federal government. We are the people who the elected officials must answer to. We are their bosses, the people who put them into these positions of power and can have them removed. We are the ones who need to remind them that, if they continue to fail to do their jobs, they will lose them.

    I can’t imagine telling my partners that I won’t be paying my bills this month or turning away visitors to my site because of some internal strife among the grown-ups who make decisions about the future direction of the company.

    Frankly, that’s no way to run a business. And while I’ve never subscribed to the idea that a government can be run like a business, it’s also an unacceptable way to run a government. It doesn’t matter what the issue at-hand may be. You don’t shut the doors because you can’t make difficult decisions.

    Yes, Washington is in shambles. Yes, the politicians have corrupted themselves by allowing their motives to be driven by special interests with big checkbooks. Yes, we’re probably looking at another showdown on Capitol Hill when the next budget battle and debt ceiling fight come up again early next year.

    But the message we send now, ahead of the next big showdown should be that it’s never acceptable to use the country – whether it’s the credit rating or day-to-day operations – in a political game of chicken

    Certainly, we can all agree to disagree when it comes to how our government is run. Whether you think we can spend our way out of a recession or believe that drastic spending cuts are the way to prosperity doesn’t matter. How you feel about Obamacare, Medicare or the Department of Energy should not come into play.

    The message that all of us should be sending to Washington – regardless of our political leanings or beliefs – is that it’s never OK to shut the door to government or to become a deadbeat nation. It’s a good thing for the politicians that the government isn’t run like a business. If it were, they’d all be fired.

     
  • Considering a Consultant? Five Tips for a Good Experience

    7:30 am on July 24, 2013 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advice, Business Growth, Consultant, Expansion, Small Business, Tips

    For a small business owner like me, hiring a consultant can sometimes be the best way to get into a new market, grow the company or even understand the latest social media tool. And now that the economy is starting to rebound, an investment in a consultant may make good business sense. After all, I want to be able to tap into the same sort of brain power and strategic thinking that large companies are using to grow their businesses.

    I know that, in tough economic times, many out-of-work professionals turn to consulting, providing insight and knowledge that they otherwise would have provided to a full-time employer. That presents an opportunity for a guy like me. But with an abundance of people offering their expertise and advice in this current economic environment, it becomes a lot tougher to find the consultant who’s the right fit.

    Over the years, I’ve worked with a few consultants and learned a few things, sometimes the hard way. As such, I wanted to share a few of my own tips that can make hiring – and working with – a consultant a smoother process.

    1. Know What You Want: Before you can hire a consultant to develop a plan for you, you must have some idea of what you’re hoping to accomplish by hiring this consultant. It seems obvious but these big ideas need focus and clarity. Increase sales? By what percentage and over what time? Invest in Marketing? To increase brand awareness or promote a single product? What exactly are you looking to do and how will you measure the return on your investment?

    2. Have A Conversation: A good consultant will want to learn more about you and your goals before offering any advice or talking about fees or rates. Let the prospective consultant ask some questions. Picking your brain is a good way to understand how you think. At the same time, you’ll want to be interviewing the consultant about techniques and approaches, philosophies around his/her work and a general attitude. Be prepared for that conversation with questions jotted down and a way to take some notes. And, above all, don’t shy away from tough questions.

    3. Ask Tough Questions: Don’t be afraid to ask about things that otherwise might be uncomfortable, such as details about their work history or time on a specific job, for example. Ask them about the biggest lesson they learned from a mistake or misstep. We’ve all had them – but what have we learned from them? Consider a quick “work exercise.” Give them a scenario and ask for a few ideas off the top of head – just to get a sense for how they think.

    4. Online Consultant Check: Certainly, a good consultant should have a Web site and/or online portfolio that showcases their best work and their services. Beyond that, social media is where people live today – and your consultant is no different. Are they doing something cool with YouTube or Pinterest? That showcases their creative side. Are they positioning themselves as experts on Facebook or Twitter or are they just posting pictures of themselves in the bathroom mirror. This will give you some insight into their maturity level, as well as their commitment to their work. Check their online performance – and behavior – to learn more about them as an individual – and that might give you some deeper insight about how they work as a professional.

    5. Experience Matters: Some of the toughest experiences with consultants have been those who offered more than they could deliver – and it was clear that they’d bitten off more than they could chew. For example, a consultant may tout his experience at a big-name firm when, in fact, he was actually an summer intern his second year of college. Likewise, working on a project for a big name product or company is impressive – but how big was your consultant’s role on that project. Ask for specific details to make your own determinations. Certainly, you don’t want to question every element of a person’s resume, but you do want to be careful about hiring a young and inexperienced consultant to lead a team of 10 in the development and implementation of a new sales strategy

    Hiring a consultant can be a smart, efficient and effective way to grow your business. Don’t be afraid to invest a few dollars in a consultant – but also know when to cut your losses and move on. Know what you’re getting yourself into and, more importantly, be clear about what you’re looking to get in return.

    Good luck.

     
  • Site scraping may be bad business, but courts say it's legal

    8:51 am on May 13, 2013 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: advertising, , courts, , , , partnerships, ruling, Scraping

    The purpose of a classified ad is to reach the largest audience possible, casting the largest net, if you will. After all, whether you’re selling a car, renting a home or advertising a service for hire, the goal of the classified ad is to make sure that a large number of people see that ad

    So, why would anyone want to hinder the ability to reach the largest audience? Through a lawsuit, that’s exactly what craigslist was trying to do by arguing that it held copyright on the user-posted ads that appear on its sites. But, earlier this month, a judge ruled against the large classified site, noting that the site itself – craigslist, in this case – does not hold copyright over an ad unless it’s granted exclusive rights to it.

    Call it a victory for the “scrapers” in that the courts have defended the ability to take an ad from one site and repurpose it on another. As a site owner, I’m definitely not advocating the idea that a new site could steal ads from Geebo and make a profit from it. But I also understand the importance of large net.

    By law, scraping may be allowed – but I think of it as the lazy approach. At Geebo, we take pride in our syndication efforts. We create solid business relationships with other sites to maximize the exposure for the people who have something to advertise. Geebo has relationships with real estate sites and car buying sites, for example, to not only put Geebo’s ads into bigger nets but also to put other ads in front of Geebo visitors.

    For us, syndicating content is good business. We’re open and upfront about it, making sure our customers know what we’re doing and why. To us, scraping content is not a good business practice, despite the widespread practice. It’s a free ride on the sweat of someone else’s work. Still, the court was right in noting that the ad itself does not belong to the site publisher but instead to the user.

    We know that publishers are constantly looking to harvest Geebo’s content. But instead of blocking them, we reach out directly and try to establish a bona fide partnership that includes cost-per-click/lead pricing, something that’s fair to both parties.

    Bottom line: The content is out there for the taking. But site publishers can either attempt to block the practice of scraping the way craigslist did or they can embrace it as a new business opportunity, the way Geebo has.

    The courts have spoken, leaving the ball back in our courts so that we can embrace the best business practices. The goal is to make sure the user – whether someone looking to buy or sell – has the best experience.

    That’s good business.

     
  • Raising Awareness to Aid the Fight against Human Trafficking

    9:05 am on March 19, 2013 | 4 Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , journalist, Kamala Harris, personal ads, San Diego

    A friend of mine, knowing that I closely follow news about human trafficking, introduced me to a new resource – a sharp journalist out of San Diego who is doing more than just following criminal cases that involve human trafficking.

    This reporter, a woman named Elizabeth Aguilera, is also looking at the trends around labor and sex trafficking – putting names and faces on the victims and, more importantly, illustrating how this isn’t just a crime that victimizes immigrants. Human trafficking is impacting kids right in our own neighborhoods, the kids we’ve seen grow from toddlers to teens before our very eyes.

    Earlier this month, Aguilera published a piece in the San Diego Union Tribune that raised awareness around a trend that, sadly, isn’t new. The headline of that story speaks volumes: “U.S. sex trafficking victims are mostly American kids.” The headline is based on the revelation in a report released by California Attorney General Kamala Harris last year that 72 percent of human trafficking victims are Americans, not foreigners. More importantly, it was also revealed that victims are now younger – typically ages 12-14, officials said.

    Statistics can be funny things. People like to twist facts and stats to meet the definitions of the point they’re trying to make at any given time. As a journalist, it would have been easy for someone like Aguilera to post the stats, find some official to talk about them and then write a simple story that might easily be overlooked.

    But Aguilera instead focused the beginning of her story around a typical teenager who found a job as a bookkeeper for a small, home-based business and instead found herself forced into a months-long ordeal of beatings and sexual slavery. Her employer – a pimp who set a $1,200 daily prostitution quota for the 17-year-old girl – is now serving 30 years in prison.

    As the owner of a classified ads business, I understand that people are being victimized through the Internet. I understand that predators use classified ads to find their victims and evade authorities. As such, I refuse to give these predators a place to lure victims into worlds of slavery. Geebo does not host personals ads where many of these encounters originate. Sadly, some of my counterparts in the industry still turn a blind-eye about the ads that are running on their sites, so long as the ads generate revenue.

    In the end, it all comes down to awareness – making our young children aware of the dangers on the Internet, making our law enforcement officials aware of the way predators use the Internet and, most importantly, making the public aware that these sorts of things are happening – not just in third-world countries, but in our own neighborhoods with our own kids.

    Trafficking cases are up across the nation – that’s the bad news. The good news is that, through education and awareness, this trend can be reversed. It must be reversed. I applaud journalists like Aguilera who work on the front lines every day to make sure that we, the people, are aware.

     
  • Geebo's "No Pets" Policy: Animal Lovers Understand Why

    1:30 pm on January 15, 2013 | 5 Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Animal Welfare, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Online ads, Puppies,

    Everyone loves a puppy – but you won’t find any for sale on Geebo.

    It’s not that we don’t love puppies. It’s because we love puppies, kittens and other animals that we won’t allow animals to be sold on our site. You see, we learned years ago about puppy mills, the commercial breeders that sometimes put profits over the welfare of the animals themselves, and made a decision that we would not provide a marketplace platform for these breeders.

    Now, a report released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, finds that the majority of the puppies advertised for sale over the Internet are from commercial puppy mills where dogs are raised in unsanitary conditions without adequate food or water or even veterinary care.

    The organization tracked ads on a number of online sites and found that, among the hundreds of thousands of ads on those sites, the vast majority of animals were from mills. The group looked at a number of factors, including pups under eight weeks old being offered for sale, more than 20 puppies being advertised in a single post or the use of sale slogans such as “Christmas Pets.” In some instances, as many as 62 percent were believed to be from puppy mills.

    Certainly, we aren’t looking for validation for our business decisions in this report. But it’s a telling tale of what’s happening in the classifieds industry, all for the sake of money made from those advertisements. The report reads, in part:

    Dogs are not just another commodity to be purchased from an anonymous seller online. They are living, breathing, thinking creatures that can experience happiness and suffering. And the Internet is unfortunately a platform ripe for exploiting these animals. Remember that each click to purchase a dog over the Internet could be building incentive for a puppy mill breeder to continue their operations.

    Geebo is already known for taking strong stances around the types of ads we accept. We’ve called on other sites to follow our lead in taking steps to stop online human trafficking by refusing to accept personals ads. We consider this issue around the sale of puppies to be just as important.

    I realize that it’s unusual – or even unwise, from a business perspective – for the operator of a classified advertising site to refuse so many types of ads that could prove lucrative for the company. But I didn’t start Geebo to become a forum for the transactions of the underworld, a marketplace for any living creature, whether an immigrant forced into the world of slave labor or prostitution or a harmless pup who may someday bring joy to an animal lover – but is forced to live in cruel conditions until that day comes.

    If that means I lose business over my moral values, then so be it.

     
  • Can a Company Become Unique via Acquisition?

    3:28 pm on January 3, 2013 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: acquisition, Facebook Marketplace, , Oodle, QVC, shopping

    One of the keys to being successful in business is keeping an eye on your industry – and your competitors. Over the past several years, the classified ads industry, like so many others, has been through its own periods of challenging times. Some of the companies – Geebo included – have adopted new strategies or developed new partnerships to bring something unique to the playing field.

    Geebo, for example, partners with a site called wegolook.com so that buyers of big-ticket items listed in Geebo’s ads in other parts of the country can dispatch an inspector to take a closer look before the transaction is finalized. It’s a differentiator that helps make Geebo unique.

    For some time, I’ve been watching Oodle, a competitor that’s steadily been focusing its business model around social networking, specifically Facebook and its marketplace. Bringing buyers and sellers together via their online friends, as well as their friends of friends, was Oodle’s differentiator. And it seemed to be working for them.

    So, imagine my eyebrow raise when I read last month that Oodle was being acquired by QVC – yeah, that QVC, the shopping company. In blog posts, just as anyone might expect, both companies praise the deal, playing up each other’s strengths and how this will impact the growing world of social commerce.

    It’s definitely an interesting approach and one that probably still has a lot of potential to be shaped, re-defined and groomed.. But I will admit that I also wondered if this is a case of big company swallowing smaller company, tapping into the best of what it does and sacrificing the rest of it down the road. Certainly, I don’t know that to be true, but a post on Techcrunch last month suggested that QVC was especially interested in Oodle’s mobile platform – which would make sense. The question is how much of the rest of Oodle is QVC interested in. At some point we’ll find out.

    I’m a big believer in independence for a company, an investor-free approach that allows a founder-executive to call the shots for the long-term good of the company, instead of for the quick return. I only mention this because, Techcrunch also notes that, in an earlier interview, Oodle execs believed that, through social, they could compete with and possibly even become a major challenger to the biggest players in the classifieds business.

    Is that the way this will play out for Oodle now? Or will the dream that a small company once had be reduced to a bullet point on an annual corporate goals strategy presentation?

    Who knows how this will turn out? Like any good businessman, I’ll be watching to see what works and what doesn’t in my industry.

     
  • Geebo reaches site traffic milestone as focus on job listings attracts visitors

    1:31 am on October 24, 2012 | 1 Comment » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Economy, , , Milestone, Site traffic

    When you run your own business and the economy turns sour, there are tough decisions that you sometimes have to make. Some owners look at ways to scale back their operations. Others look for opportunity to expand.

    And still others – like myself – look for ways to adjust.

    Over at Geebo, we understand the diversity of a site that hosts classified ads. Some people are looking for a more economical car while others may be in search of a roommate. What we noticed was an uptick in searches for jobs – and immediately shifted our own resources to focus on job seekers.

    I identified the most visited area of the site and focused all of my efforts in that one section. Direct employers, recruiters, employment specific advertising agencies and stand-alone jobs boards are always looking for new outlets to distribute their jobs and, with that growth in job volume, the eyeballs to those listings followed.

    It appears that shift in strategy was a good call. In August, Geebo reached a site traffic milestone of more than 1 million monthly unique visitors. That’s a 180 percent increase over the same month a year earlier and enough to land Geebo in the second-place spot for most-visited classifieds site, excluding craigslist, according to market research firm compete.com.

    And, as the projections for economic conditions in the coming months appear to be brighter, Geebo is well-positioned to ride the wave. Earlier this month, a CareerBuilder survey found that 26 percent of employers have plans to add permanent full-time employees in the fourth quarter, an increase of five percentage points from 2011 and closely mirroring pre-recession estimates of 27 percent.

    Through various marketing initiatives, Geebo has been working to ensure that job seekers are kept informed of new vacancies in the job market the moment new listings are posted to Geebo. Likewise, we’ve identified new job distribution partners and implemented efforts around Search Engine Optimization in an effort to drive job seekers to Geebo.

    Sometimes, in business, it’s not just about understanding the challenges that are ahead but how to adapt and adjust in a way that allows you to turn those challenges into opportunities.

     
  • Beyond Email: Face-to-face meetings are still good for business

    2:35 pm on August 29, 2012 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: CNBC, Entrepreneurs,

    When you’re an entrepreneur, the level of success for your business is largely connected to the amount of effort you put into it.

    Some business owners tend to celebrate a strong business relationship and work to maintain it. After all, when business is good, there’s no reason to rock the boat. But others – especially those of us with a true entrepreneurial spirit – are never satisfied. We’re constantly looking at ways to take it to the next level, to make a strong business relationship even stronger.

    Earlier this month, CNBC published a business feature story with the headline, “Secrets of Successful Entrepreneurs.” I am proud to say that I was one of the entrepreneurs they highlighted. The portion that focused around me was centered around an already-solid business relationship I had with one of my clients.

    I wasn’t concerned about the business relationship I had with this client. We were working well together – so much so that our correspondence was pretty much limited to phone and email communications. But in an effort to learn more about how my site could jump to the next level, I scheduled a face-to-face meeting. The CNBC post explains it nicely:

    “Both sides were happy with the relationship, and as a result had done all of their communicating through email and the phone — but this time, [Collier] decided to make the trip out to see them in person. While there, he learned that the conversion rate for the company’s job postings wasn’t the 20 percent he thought, but closer to 50 percent — and the company was eager to do more business with the site.”

    That one meeting was such an eye-opener that I started setting up other face-to-face meetings with other customers. Just by sitting down and talking with them, really getting into the heart of the relationships, I was able to drive a 700-800 percent increase in revenues over 18 months – all because I actually took the time to sit down and chat face-to-face with my clients.

    Too often in business, we let technology drive the relationships with have with our vendors, partners and customers. While the Internet and all that it offers has helped us expand our businesses geographically, well beyond our physical location, it has also forced us to communicate with each other over middle-of-the-night emails and faceless conference calls.

    The idea of having a face-to-face meeting with a client is as old as business itself. Yet, in an age where business relationships are sealed over e-mail, it’s important to take a step back from time-to-time and take an old school approach.

    If that’s what it takes to stay one step ahead of a frenzied, always-on business environment, then so be it.

    Related Posts:
    Social responsibility: Yes, supporting a cause can be good for business
    An investor-free company has flexibility to adapt, grow and succeed

     
  • Judge should uphold state law to require age-verification for adults ads; Other states should follow.

    9:05 am on June 10, 2012 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: age-verification, , , , lawsuit, ,

    There aren’t many business owners who might cheer for more government regulation, but I can’t help but applaud legislators in Washington state for standing up to protect their young citizens from falling into a world of human slavery and prostitution.

    The new state law, which was set to take effect last week, allows classified advertising to be criminally prosecuted for publishing sex-related ads peddling children, unless they can prove a good-faith attempt to verify the age of the advertised person. Days before it was set to take effect, Backpage filed suit against the state over the law and won a 14-day restraining order, pending a judge’s decision.

    I continue to be just appalled by the reasoning that Backpage applies when it defends its actions publicly – and I certainly hope that the judge in Washington sees past Backpage’s morally-questionable arguments about being a friend to law enforcement or human rights organizations that are working to help victims avoid the traps of human slavery.

    Also see: CNN: A lurid journey through Backpage.com

    The company argues its site is not a haven for prostitution but instead one that provides a marketplace for a legal sexual encounters between consenting adults. That may be true – just as neighborhood bars provide a place for adults of legal drinking age to drink liquor. But the owners of those bars are required to check the identification of the people who enter their businesses, especially if they have reason to believe that the customer is under the legal age. If they fail to do so, they can be criminally prosecuted – as it should be.

    The argument is the same for classifieds, whether online or a community-based publication. Backpage should be required to either check IDs or shut down that portion of its site. Otherwise, someone should go to jail the first time a child is advertised for sexual favors.

    Backpage makes a lot of money – tens of millions of dollars – through the sex ads on its site and is certainly not afraid to spend some of that money on a gang of lawyers that will argue jurisdiction and First Amendment and attack the law itself for being unconstitutional or vague. The lawyers have already issued a reminder to the judge that, just because a law has a laudable goal doesn’t make it valid.

    While I have continued to be dismayed at other judicial decisions I’ve seen in my time, I have to believe that the judge in Washington will see past the hot air that Backpage has been blowing and uphold the state’s law. The states have an obligation to protect their citizens, especially those too young to protect themselves.

    We have rules about the types of businesses that can – or cannot – be established within certain distances from schools. We have labor laws that are designed to protect children from excessive work and there are social agencies that remove children from their homes when neglect or abuse are suspected.

    And yet a company that publishes sex-ads can’t be held responsible for accepting an advertisement that clearly offers children for sale for sex?

    It’s hard to imagine that there isn’t already a law.

    Earlier Posts:
    Backpage.com can’t pretend to fight a war that it keeps alive
    Keeping the Fight Alive against Online Sex Ads

     
  • Responsible Classifieds Sites: Yes, We Exist

    4:46 pm on May 22, 2012 | No Comments » Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , OLX, online prostitution, PennySaver, Recycler

    There’s an old expression about the squeaky wheel being the one that gets the oil. It’s an an analogy that’s widely used in different scenarios – the school officials who pay attention to the trouble-maker but give no recognition to kids who pay attention in class or the boss who deals with the complainer in the office but takes little notice of the employee who meets all of his deadlines.

    In recent months, the attention on the online classifieds news business has focused pretty much on craigslist and backpage – and not in a good way. Mind you, I’m not complaining – and I’m guilty of also focusing on them - because it puts pressure on these sites to recognize the harm that they’re inflicting on society simply because they seem to turn a blind eye to human trafficking, child prostitution and other morally-objectionable crimes that flourish on their sites.

    I’ve spoken out on this time and time again and I’ve made no secret of how I feel about these sites. But what I – and the news media – have failed to do in our awareness-raising reports is to shed some light on those in the online classifieds business who are providing safe online marketplaces where prostitution – disguised as “personals” ads – are simply not allowed. Much like Geebo, sites such as recycler, pennysaverusa and olx.com, which followed Geebo’s lead and also dropped personals ads, have operated in a responsible manner. Though these sites are competitors to Geebo, I also like to think of them as allies in the fight to clean up online marketplaces and provide safe forums for people to advertise everything from job listings and car ads to real estate listings and garage sale items.

    It’s sad that the face of classifieds has taken such a dark turn. There was a day, back when newspapers dominated the industry, that these sorts of taboo activities that have become the mainstream were isolated to red-light publications and neighborhoods. Sure. it was a problem back then, too, but it was isolated. We could warn our children to stay out of those neighborhoods and away from those elements. Law enforcement officials were able to monitor the areas and enforce the laws when it was so warranted.

    Today, those sites have put these criminal activities into the mainstream, in a place where our children can easily access bad people with bad intentions without any supervision. Despite what the operators of these sites claim, their efforts to monitor are laughable.

    We should all take a lesson from the pioneer of classifieds ads – the newspapers. Mainstream family-oriented newspapers, which provided a forum for news and community on their pages, never would have allowed such ads on their pages. They were the gatekeepers that set the rules and standards for what was appropriate and what wasn’t. As an operator of an online classifieds site, I believe in following in their footsteps when it comes to serving as that gatekeeper for my own site.

    I continue to be both amazed and saddened that a handful of sites can disregard that gatekeeper role and let criminals roam freely on their sites to seek out victims. At the same time, I am proud to be part of another group of sites that have chosen to take the higher road and provide safe marketplaces.

    Today, I applaud them and encourage people to patronize them. Let them know that you appreciate what their efforts and responsible business practices.

     
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