Going Cash Free? It’s Not Just for Consumers Anymore…

Yesterday I went to a soft opening for a new artisan bakery, Hewn Bread, in our suburban Chicago community of Evanston.  (Full disclosure: We knew of the soft opening precisely because we know the owners, but I’m a fiend for fresh-baked bread regardless, so I probably would have discovered it by smell alone if I hadn’t already known about it.)

Besides the expected shelves full of fine goods and the nostalgic “throwback” mental association I get from the growth of new businesses using good old-fashioned quality and simple, traditional methods, I was a little surprised to find myself paying for my rustic French Wheat Loaf with a debit card on the bakery’s iPad-style PDA.  I’d gotten used to seeing this at farmer’s markets and other parts of the “smaller” economy, but it was certainly new to witness such technology at a traditional retailer.

Part of the surprise was my own choice to use a debit card for a such a small purchase, which I generally disfavor as a consumer, because it’s typically unnecessary when I’ve got cash.  The other part of my surprise is really less unexpected the more I realize that modern business has changed.  I’m normally sensitive to the fact that the added costs of debit and credit transactions for the merchant are ultimately passed along to us consumers, and I always hear gripes on that subject from small business owners.  However, the social media interaction between this new business and its prospective customers seems well-served by this innovative technology.

At checkout I was given the option of having a printed or emailed receipt.  While I declined both options to avoid adding to the vaults full of paper and electronic receipts that drive my wife crazy, I suddenly got why cash-free or “cash-less” has become just as attractive for some businesses as it is for many consumers.  Small Business Matters recently posted an article on PayPal’s newest entry into the point-of-sale (POS) market that reflects this growing trend.  -Paul for SMBMatters  BTW, the bread was great!  What else would you expect to hear from a bread junkie?

PayPal encourages small retailers to ‘lose your cash register’

Summary: The mobile and digital payment company is running a competitive trade-in under which it will help retailers get outfitted with an iPad solution in exchange for old cash registers.

ipad_checkout_here

PayPal has launched a competitive trade-in-program designed to get more small retailers to use iPad point-of-sale (POS) solutions that happen to use its payment processing services.

Under the Cash for Registers initiative, companies will receive free PayPal payment processing services for the remainder of the year when they turn in their old cash registers and start using an iPad-based payment solutions, such as PayPal Here. The offer doesn’t just apply to the transaction fees for PayPal services, it covers them for credit-card, debit-card and check processing, according to the company’s information about the program.

PayPal Here encompasses an iPad, card reader, iPad stand, cash drawer and printer. There are a number of pre-integrated solutions that PayPal has organized to help with the transformation.

Some of the companies that PayPal is working with include Erply, a POS and inventory management software developer; Leapset, which integrates POS information with a company’s customer relationship management systems; Leaf, which develops customer loyalty  and business intelligence solutions; NCR | Silver, which provides POS hardware;  ShopKeep POS, which sells an iPad POS system; and Vend, a POS and inventory management software application developer.

The program officially kicks off in June, according to a blog post written by David Marcus, president of PayPal.

“In addition to this great offer, we will make participating businesses known to our 55+ million U.S. (128 million worldwide) and growing customer base, and drive meaningful incremental business to them, stimulating the vibrant small-business community in America,” Marcus writes.

The rise of the tablet computer has signaled a turning point for small-business POS solutions, a trend that began accelerating in 2012 and is continuing to gain momentum.

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Reblogged from ZDNET.

By Heather Clancy for Small Business Matters

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Indie Capital? It’s a Movement, Not a Place

By Bruce Nussbaum Indie Capitalism

Here’s a shocking truth: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party actually agree on something. They both hate crony capitalism, and they both love Steve Jobs. If this sounds freaky, let me add another weird fact: Practically all my students at the New School in New York, where I teach a course on creativity and capitalism, want to start their own companies. The New School is renown for being a bastion of lefty thought, going back to the 1930s and ’40s. My students want to be entrepreneurs. They want to be Kickstarter, kickass entrepreneurs. These students want to belong to what I call Indie Capitalism.

creative intelilgence by Bruce Nussbaum

I use the term Indie deliberately to reflect a new economy that shares many of the distributive and social structures of the independent music scene—and the value system as well. Indie bands are hyperlocal, and Indie Capitalism is a post-global, local economic phenom (think 3D printing, locavore eating, and crowdfunding new products). Indie capitalists are über-urban, too, feeding off the cultural/entrepreneurial energy of cities—New York, Portland, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin. And they are, of course, super-participative. Indie Capitalists believe in our making of all things, with no clear boundaries between consumer and producer, investor and shopper. We are all of them.

There are many Indie Capitalists already among us. Alice Waters’s groundbreaking organic restaurant Chez Panisse has served as a model for the “source-local” food movement. Blue Marble Ice Cream, “Made in Brooklyn,” uses only local New York State cow milk and hires folks from the neighborhood. Chrysler Group tapped into the Indie culture when it hired Wieden + Kennedy to come up with the “Imported from Detroit” ad, with a song by Detroit-born Eminem.

My favorite Indie Capitalist is entrepreneur Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal (EBAY). He’s handcrafting Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules to take people and cargo to the International Space Station—and even to Mars. His company SpaceX integrates creativity, creation, and capitalism. So does his other company,Tesla Motors (TSLA), which is assembling and selling all-electric sports cars and four-door sedans out of an old California factory.

Indie Capitalism has three foundational principles:

• Creativity generates economic value. Creativity is the source of profit. Yes, efficiency can squeeze more out of what exists, but creativity gives us originality, which translates into a market advantage and big margins.

• Creativity drives capitalism. These past few years we have been victimized by the disastrous results of “creativity” applied to the financial sector (mortgage-backed securities, for starters). What we lost sight of is that the scaling of creativity to actually make things of value sold in the marketplace is the true heart of our economic system. It is the true generator of net new jobs, wealth, and tax revenue.

• Creative destruction is crucial to economic growth. Crony capitalism, which relies on monopoly and political power, is antithetical to entrepreneurial capitalism. A faster cycle of birth, growth, and death of companies boosts creativity, economic value, and growth.

The contours of Indie Capitalism are only just coming into view. They will change over time, as my students and millions of others build this new economic system. But in the reconnecting of creativity to capitalism, we have something to look forward to.

Nussbaum, a former assistant managing editor of Businessweek, is a Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School of Design and author of the forthcoming book, Creative Intelligence (HarperBusiness, March 2013). Follow him on Twitter or visit his Tumblr.
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Double Your Twitter, Double Your Customer Satisfaction

“Sorry, I was sending a tweet”Photo - Ted

One of the funniest scenes in the recent Seth McFarlane movie Ted is when the titular ursine character crashes his car and then offers this feeble apology to his victim.  This incident reflects the ubiquity of Twitter everywhere from business, to politics, to running.

My SMB Matters colleague Richard Lee recently mused about the US Postal Service’s poor customer relationship management practices.  In contrast, I’d like to share an episode that illustrates exemplary customer service, enabled in large part through Twitter.

Take the Good, Take the Bad
I’ve mused before about the consulting profession, wherein the unparalleled intellectual opportunities, exposure to diverse organizations, and network building co-exist with the challenges of a peripatetic lifestyle.  As I’d noted at Built in Chicago, there are a host of products to help manage these issues, but at the end of the day they can still be taxing.

Photo - DoubletreeIt goes with saying that the hotel stay is a central element of the consulting lifestyle.  On the recommendations of a few colleagues, I recently stayed at a DoubleTree.  The burnt cod and limp, flavorless asparagus I had for dinner at the hotel restaurant one evening left much to be desired.  My dissatisfaction was compounded by two other factors that greatly reduced my productivity:

  1. Dysfunctional wireless service that made the days of dial-up seem like science fiction
  2. Disinterested waiters whose turnaround time would frustrate even Rip Van Winkle

Inspired by Dave Carroll’s now-classic video diatribe against United Airlines, I took to social media to voice my discontent, firing off this angry tweet:

Barking up the Right Tree
While I’d previously used Twitter for a variety of purposes, customer service hadn’t been on the menu.  DoubleTree definitely changed my viewpoint that evening.  They quickly responded to my tweet, sent me an email, called me, and made every effort to rectify the situation.  The pièce de resistance was an assortment of wine and cheese waiting for me that evening in my hotel room, along with a handwritten letter of apology.  A cursory glance at their Twitter feed reveals that it is standard operating procedure for DoubleTree to keep close tabs on all customer feedback (positive and negative) and respond quickly.

Obviously, for a hotel with so many locations, (along with the fact that there are many travelers with axes to grind and Twitter accounts), there is a high degree of automation to the process.  Nonetheless, the human followup was excellent, and a nice contrast to the disinterested “yeah, not our problem” responses I’d previously received from the front desk.

Not a Game Changer, But…
Between the two hotels I’d recently stayed at, I definitely preferred the Marriott to the DoubleTree – mainly because of the high number of Marriott Rewards points I’ve socked away over the years.  However, the highly responsive, proactive behavior of the DoubleTree increased my satisfaction with the chain.  As such, I made sure to sing their praises the next day via Twitter.

Having witnessed the perils of TWD (Tweeting While Driving) that befell Ted, I also made sure to put my car in “Park” first.

APPetizing: Tidbits #17 – Apps for Foodies

Gotta admit…   I was nowhere near close to being a foodie until I got married.  For me food was means by which we add calories to our bodies so that we don’t fade away.  And the cheaper the fuel, better the outcome…

As I’ve said before, all that changed when I said “I do.”  Now a perfect Friday evening for me is sipping a nicely chilled bottle of Sonoma Cutrer’s Russian River Valley selections with Jenna while mixing up an aesthetically (as well as gastronomically) pleasing bowl of kamut salad with fresh spinach, strawberries, blood orange and, of course, dried kamut.   So when Food and Wine magazine announced their favorite apps for foodies, I had to give their suggestions a try.  Below are my 3 favorites –

  • Intelligentsia Coffee – [Full disclosure, I am addicted to caffeine and I need to give props to this Chicago-based company.]  It’s like having your personal barista – you will always brew up a perfect cup of coffee with this app.
  • WineStein Pro – [Full disclosure, I love wine.]  It’s like having your personal sommelier.  The app provides wine paring suggestions based on ingredients in your dish.
  • Ness – [Full disclosure, I love food.]  It’s like having your personal restaurant concierge.  The app suggests RBC (restaurants, bars, coffee shops) based on your location and food preferences.

PURE JOY!

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Against the Wind – Tidbits #16

Have you ever wondered why planes at times take off and land in a seemingly less efficient direction, e.g. flying from Chicago to Dallas, a typical departure takes off to the northern runway vs. southern and lands in the same trajectory?  Asides from an air traffic controller’s prerogative to better manage the flow of the traffic, the answer is simple (without going into the details of Bernoulli’s Principle or Newton’s Laws) – wind direction.  Since wind flowing over the wing provides the necessary lift to go airborne, headwind during take-off or landing reduces not only the requirement for runway length but also the speed, according to United Airline’s pilot Captain Mike Bowers.  It’s a bit counter-intuitive but he assures, it’s all physics.

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Requiem / Paean for a Dot-Com Darling

It’s a tale that unfolds more than we care to count, but is heart-wrenching to see nonetheless.  We’ve seen it many times: a young star meets with great success early on.  Their ascent is met with many accolades and kudos.  Then, they fall from grace.  Scandal; missteps; a change in public sentiment.  No matter how hard they try, they can’t reverse their fall from the great heights.

Sock puppets and search engines

yahoo pets.comI’m talking, of course, about Yahoo!, the once-revered icon of the late 1990’s dot-com era.  Two young Stanford grad students, Jerry Yang and David Filo, unleashed on the world an indexing service that would help navigate journeys on the increasingly congested “information superhighway.”  In this context, Yahoo! was nothing short of revolutionary.  Even its silly name seemed to capture the slightly irrational, but very fun, mood of the time.  This was when “burn rate” was a proxy for a company’s growth prospects, Herman Miller chairs and foosball tables represented credibility, and Jack Welch could get upstaged by a sock puppet as a company spokesman.

I have fond memories of that era: it’s when I moved to Chicago, fell in love with the woman with whom I just celebrated 11 years of marriage, and arrived at the very satisfying answer to the Frequently Asked Question, “what the hell are you going to do with a History and French degree?”  It’s why I still have a great deal of affection for this Sunnyvale company, even after the Microsoft acquisition debacle, the dustup over Carol Bartz ignominious departure, and the Scott Thompson resume kerfuffle.

Having logged time at two financial services companies, I was obviously a big fan of Yahoo! Finance.  There were two services, however, that capture the era well.

Yahoo! MailWashington University alums will recall standing in line waiting for the sterile “green screen” terminals to check their “Pinemail” in the Olin Library.  I quickly tired of the clunky interface I used to check my email after leaving St. Louis, and abandoned my “@wustl.edu” account for a Yahoo! one.  Granted, I am on the whole underwhelmed by Yahoo! Mail, given their glacial pace of introducing upgrades, and the fact that their integration with Outlook is a joke.   However, my Inbox is an ever-evolving scrapbook, a digital collection of moments I’ve shared with friends, family, and professional connections.  It’s why even though I have a Gmail account I’m still not parting with my Yahoo! account.

Geocities.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram have found a captive audience in folks looking for exposure – sometimes a little too much, as in the case of the “oversharenting” moms and dads examined in The Wall Street Journal.  It wasn’t always this easy.  I hate pulling out the “in my day” card, but you had to sort of know what you were doing in the late 90’s to publish content.  Geocities was the middle ground between Facebook and WordPress, that offered some primitive drag and drop tools for building and maintaining Websites.  Through Geocities I was able to share pictures with relatives in India, develop a Web portfolio to show hiring managers that a liberal arts grad could write code, and acquire a minor following from folks interested in sound clips from Goodfellas (one of my all-time favorite flicks).   Geocities has unfortunately gone the way of Delicious, Briefcase, and other sunsetted properties.

Holding out for a Hero (or a Good Product)

Ashton Kutcher was recently tapped to play Steve Jobs in an upcoming biopic.  At time of writing, if we were to associate a celebrity with Yahoo!, it would unfortunately be the likes of Lindsay Lohan or some other misstep-prone, washed up train wreck.  I’m holding out hope though.  Few seem to recall that the Apple of today was very much like Yahoo! before Jobs rescued it from the brink in the late 90’s – incidentally, while Yahoo! was riding high.  To win over the hearts and minds of customers and investors, Yahoo! needs to completely reinvent itself like Jobs did with the iPod, as opposed to half-baked, poorly executed attempts at innovation such as Livestand, and now Axis.

I’d like the next chapter of  the Yahoo! story to unfold like the amazing scene in Limitless when Eddie Mora shakes off the cobwebs, gets to work, and starts kicking some serious butt.  It would be nice for Yahoo! to replace “LiLo” with Bradley Cooper as the star with whom they are identified.  As talented as he is, however, I’m not sure Cooper could pull off the Jerry Yang look.  There’s always Eddie Murphy.

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Finer Things in Life: FTIL #9 – How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee

One of my favorite java joints is Intelligentsia.  Yes, I am biased towards local craft (Intelligentsia is Chicago-based), but their coffee is really good, not to mention their baristas winning several titles in the World Barista Championships.

At Intelligentsia Coffee, in the Monadnock Bui...

As I learned, there are a few simple steps you should follow to brew up a really good cup of coffee at home.

  1. 1. Grind just before brewing – use burr grinders that use steel plates to evenly grind vs. blades that could unevenly chop the beans.  Fine grind for espresso, medium for drip and coarse for French Press.  Many recommend not storing the beans in the freezer. but as long as your seal the bag tight and put it in a proper freezer bag to avoid seepage of odor, I prefer freezer storage.
  2. Don’t skim on the amount of grind – I remember re-brewing used grind when I was a starving graduate student (come on, admit it – you’ve done it).  Err on the side of putting too much grind, if any – you can always add hot water and make it semi-Americano.  Rule of thumb – 2 tablespoons for 6 ounces of water.
  3. Use filtered water – even if you have good tap as we do here in Chicago, let the tap run about half a minute to let stale water out of the pipes.  But cold, filtered water is always preferred to get chlorine other metals out of the brewing process.
  4. Ensure the water is hot enough and “steep” – this is crucial since hot water should not just pass through the grind, rather grind should sit in hot water for a specified amount of time.  The biggest culprit in less than ideal home brews – most coffee makers do not have sufficient firepower to heat the water to the desired 200 degrees and do not steep as they should.

I currently have a Breville grinder / coffee maker combo – little expensive, but worth every penny…   Here’s to enjoying finer things in life!

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