Jonathan Brun

Satyagraha

Category: business

Looking for Business Partner – romance, e-commerce, social media, blogging, and more

I am looking for a business partner to build a great company; the foundations are laid, we just need muscle power!

In 2010, I started a project called Make your Girlfriend Happy that has been sitting dormant for two years. If you know a great writer who is passionate about content and technology, please, please put them in touch with me.

To get the site running properly again for Valentine’s day 2014, I am looking to find someone by September. Any names or tips are greatly appreciated.

Full details below!

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Make your Girlfriend Happy is a dormant startup in need of some love. Started in late 2010, the site has been sitting idle for the past two years. We are looking for an entrepreneurial new lead who wants to grow the company and take it to the next level! If you love startups, social media, technology and romance – this is the place for you.

You will be in charge – responsibilities vary from strategy to design to marketing. The site still receives lots of traffic and has thousands of members. There is currently no revenue, though some business models have been tested and work.

Significant equity will be issued to the appropriate person.
Some concrete tasks you will be responsible for:

  • Content creation
  • Social media strategy and content
  • Execute a business model
  • Deal with affiliate partners
  • Improve the technological infrastructure and features

The company is currently owned by Jonathan Brun, an experience web professional, who has technical capabilities and resources for further developing the site. He will advise on strategy and technological development, but you will be the lead decision maker. The position can be part-time or full-time and work can be accomplished at any time of the day, from anywhere. You should have experience and knowledge of online marketing, communications, public relations and basic analytics skills.

If you are interested in starting the relationship revolution, please send an email to cyrano@makeyourgirlfriendhappy.com with your LinkedIn profile, Twitter handle, and other pertinent information (CV, letter of motivation).

http://makeyourgirlfriendhappy.com/positions#leader

How to market your indie film or documentary

I have no experience in the movie industry, have never made a movie, and probably couldn’t make one either. But, I recently had an interesting email exchange with the creators of the documentary Buck. I contacted them to outline my frustration at trying to watch the movie in Canada. The movie had been on the festival circuit for many months, and was available on DVD in the United States, but it was not available in Canada. On their website, they mention a number of screenings in Canada, none of which were in Montréal.

Due to my frustration, I ended up illegally downloading the film to watch it. In this blog post, I plan to lay out my thoughts on how film makers can more effectively market their documentary or small indie film.

Let’s face it, the industry’s distribution model is completely broken – it is based in a world where the Internet does not exist. Film makers must fix their marketing strategy so that they can increase revenues and facilitate financing for future films.

1. Don’t waste 80% of your marketing budget!

Movies spend most of their advertising budget in the run up to the theatrical release. But ,by the time the film is ready for distribution on iTunes, NetFlix, and other large scale platforms – the public has forgotten your ads.

Time your advertising with easy access to your film. Since the best way to distribute your movie today is through online systems, not theatres, your marketing budget for online and theatrical release should be adjusted accordingly. Obviously leverage social media for promotion – Facebook, Twitter, etc.

You could also release the film online from the start to maximize exposure from reviews and critical acclaim.

2. Don’t release your film by country, eh!

With the internet, it’s insane to try and stagger your releases by country. When someone in Canada has to wait months to see your US movie, they will inevitably turn to a pirated copy, I did.

Most of your marketing will and should be done online. Because online marketing can easily link to a purchase or rental of your film, it seems wise to ensure it is available everywhere simultaneously. Because the producers of the Matrix 2 knew their audience was tech savvy and would pirate the film; they decided to release it globally at the same time. It worked.

3. Theatres no longer guarantee a better viewing experience

The traditional argument for releasing to theatres has been that the theatre provides the most authentic experience of the film as intended by the creators. In 2011, millions of homes have amazing HD TVs, surround sound and great seating: the theatre -quality argument seems weaker by the day.

As a side note, the move to 3D films in theatres has clearly been to keep consumers coming out to theatres, theatre companies are very aware of this HD TV issue. For traditional 2D movies and especially films that play in smaller artistic theatres, the home often provides a higher quality experience than the theatre.

It all boils down to this: someone has to break the control theatres and distributors have on movie creators. I understand the prestige of releasing your film in theatres, but if your goal is to have as many people as possible pay to see it; theatres are no longer the best approach.

Film production costs have been dramatically reduced thanks to HD cameras and high power computers. Filmmakers have un-rivalled distribution channels to millions of people; yet, they still seem set on the old model of festivals and theatres.

Your goal as a movie creator should be to earn a healthy living and have your film enjoyed by as many people see it as possible, not to get awards and help movie theatres. Simply stated, I think movie creaters should bypass the existing distribution traps, market your film directly to your audience, and retain ownership of the entire process.

It took the music industry a decade and billions of dollars to learn this lesson, how long will it take the film industry?

If you have not read the Long Tail by Marc Anderson of Wired magazine, please do.

Chocolate covered criminals

Chocolate is a delicious, delicious treat; however, it is far too often tainted with the sweat of child slaves. While slavery in the chocolate industry remains a small portion of the global slave population (~27 million people enslaved today), it is something that can easily be fixed.

Today, the cacao industry employees somewhere between 15 000 and 100 000 children in the Ivory Coast (as of 2002), which represents 40% of the world chocolate production of about 3.6 million tonnes. Hundreds (if not thousands) of children are trafficked every year from Burkina Faso, Ghana and other countries to work in the Ivory Coast, children go for 230 euros or less.

I don’t think anyone argues this is a good thing, so let’s move straight to possible solutions. To eat chocolate produced through slavery is to support slavery. Or as Frederick Douglas once said,

No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.

Chocolate is big business and requires a constant flow of cacao beans at low-cost. By making intelligent purchasing decisions and voicing your concern to cacao bean producers, the use of child labour can be addressed.

How can you help? The safest bet is to buy fair trade chocolate, though limited in availability, it does ensure a certain level of verification. Buying chocolate that uses beans from South America should also reduce your exposure to child slave labour.

The alternative is to try to avoid chocolate by the main companies who do not seem willing to enforce child labour laws in their supply chain (though some are doing more than others). Nestle (Nestle contact page), with 12% world market share, should be your first target, also consider Cargill (cocoa@cargill.com), Kraft (Contact Page), ADM (+1-800-558-9958 Contact Page) , Mars (Contact Page) and Barry Callebaut (Contact Page). You can also sign the Avaaz Petition here.

This comprehensive report from Norway lays out details of the chocolate industry in West Africa. A couple of organisations I fell upon include Slave Free Chocolate and work by the Anti Slavery group in the UK with their app (which seems to be down at time of writing) Choco-Coat.com (blog post about it here). Also take a look at this report on the chocolate slave industry entitled Bitter Harvest.

It seems high time to boycott or at least voice your concern to the main chocolate companies we inevitably purchase candy from. Turning a blind eye is no longer acceptable and a short email or tweet is an easy task we can all do. Some dare more.

To expose the truth behind our corner store candy, journalists risk their lives. In 2004, French Canadian journalist Guy-André Kieffer was kidnapped in Ivory Coast and is still missing. Just that should make us appreciate the risks that journalists take when filming these illicit industries. To better understand the situation, take 45 minutes to watch the great documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” which lays out the situation quite clearly:

For more information on the current global slavery situation, see this TED Talk by Kevin Bales from Free the Slaves.net

Help, I need somebody!

For the past year I’ve been trying to find a reliable software developer who wants to build a long-lasting sustainable business. Ok, that sounds a bit cheesy, but in contrast to most propositions that start that way, my main company, Nimonik, actually makes money and is growing at 100% a year. It is a painful growth with a long sales cycle, but when we do get a client, they always stick around. We need someone who has the technical chops to tackle iOS – Rails App synchronisation, verification of differences on remote pages, and dynamic linking to content based on semantic algorithms. Don’t say you won’t be challenged!

To better understand my approach to business and why I think this is a great opportunity, take a look at the founder of AutoDesk to his employees way back in the 80s here and see what Stephen Wolfram has to say about building a long-term company.

One main caveat is that we do not believe in external financing and are running everything with real revenues, sweat and our own seed money. Some might say that stunts our growth, but we feel it allows us the independence and freedom to build the business as we see fit. There is a lot of work left to do and a huge market out there, yet few people seem willing to take that jump.

Despite being active in the community, opening up government data, organizing open-data hackathons and personally emailing many developers, I have had a remarkably difficult time convincing them to join us. No doubt, their 150$ an hour rate is hard for us to match, but do people really want to be a consultant all their lives? I know I didn’t and that’s why I quit to start a company. Don’t people want to build a company that they can stand over with pride? Am I crazy?

We believe in long-term hard work, in independence and in doing for others as you would have them do for you. I clean the dishes of my employees, put their pay before mine and strive day in and day out to provide a challenging and dynamic work environment. People before products, but products before money.

We offer strong technical challenges, flexible work schedules and a great team of honest, nice, hardworking people – yet we keep losing talent to social media startups who are financed to the hill. What to do? Does any developer have an interest in building a long-term business anymore? Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but it feels like the ease of credit from banks, VCs, and angels has devalued sweat equity. We can pay a reasonable salary, but what we really want is someone who is passionate about their work and building something that will span generations.

Email me to chat jbrun@nimonik.ca about the job posting found here.

Make your Girlfriend Happy – my side project

Makeyourgirlfriendhappy.com Logo

Relationships are complicated. For one, they rely first and foremost on your understanding of yourself, your needs, priorities and desires. Second, they rely on your ability intimately understand another human being with equally complex emotions, history and feelings. If humanity were given a grade for its romantic relationships, we would fail. Over half of marriages end in divorce and the vast majority of less formal relationships don’t work. To paraphrase Anna Karenina, “Happy couples are all alike, each unhappy couple is unique”. With that in mind, it seems like a service which promotes the commonalities of happy couples might help pull us towards a passing grade.

For one reason or another, I have kept this little side project off my blog. But alas, it has engulfed much of my time and is now receiving thousands of visitors a day. As with all projects, the idea has been growing over time. The original idea was born out of a discussion with some friends in Paris and was centred around a reminder service and mailing list for men in relationships. The next addition to the site was a registry type service where women can indicate their sizes and preferred brands for shoes, clothes, jewelery and lingerie along with secret wishes. We have been adding videos, tips, and games to the site with some ambitious plans for the year ahead. With Valentine’s day in just a couple of days away, maybe take this opportunity to think about how you can make your girlfriend or wife happy. Visit Makeyourigirlfriendhappy.com to see what all the hubbub is about.

Feel free to send comments and suggestions to me jbrun@jonathanbrun.com or, cyrano@makeyourgirlfriendhappy.com.

We’re on twitter too, click here to follow us.

Heck, we’re even on Facebook too, click here for that!

And, here I am introducing the site!

How to end domain squatting

Domain squatting is a major problem. Companies go around picking up every imaginable domain name in the hopes of reselling it or placing ads that generate revenue. This land grab slows growth and drives people and businesses towards less intuitive names. Many registrars allow you to grab a trial period for a domain before purchasing it further increasing the incentive to bulk grab names to test traffic before splurging the 5$ on the actual purchase. To solve this issue, we could raise the cost of domain registration and renewal and remove the trial period. Nothing exorbitant, perhaps 50$ or 100$ per domain – the revenue from the increased price could be donated to charitable causes, schools, hospitals or some other worthy cause. The effect would be increased revenues for our struggling public services and a reduction in domain name squatting.

4 free business ideas to start 2011 off

Here are 4 crazy ideas, let me know what you think.

Membership for restaurants

Restaurants have cash flow problems, patrons often hesitate to go out because of cost. How about a membership (or time-share) system for restaurants. You create a subscription for restaurants where you pay a monthly fee and get x number of meals (table d’hôte – fixed meny). This allows for restaurants to improve cash-flow and for patrons to go more often. There are supper clubs for hard-core foodies, bit this would be for the normal folk.

Justify

Government, like many large organizations, are wasteful. How about we create a website to list the budgets of different government institutions and ask people to vote if they think the budget is worth it. Each institution should have to justify itself in relation to its budget, purpose and impact. As anarchists say, we should constantly question why an institution with power exists and if it no longer lives up to its requests, the institution should be changed or scrapped. Right now, budgets are hard to visualize. Where and why tax payers money goes is a mystery to even the most hardened government official. With this website, the people coulees vote on whether or not they agree with the budget in proportion to the justification.

TED Talk of the Week

When TED started out, they put out 1-3 talks a week, now, there is close to 1 a day. Sadly, I am having a hard time keeping up. Concurrent to the increase in talks, there has been a decrease in consistency. You still have some amazing gems that rock your world, but many talks are now average. What if we set-up a very simple website that allowed people to vote on their favourite talk of the week and propose a winner. This would allow some filtering and perhaps make the real gems stand out.

Contests Aggregator

There is tons of free stuff out there to be had. Local papers often offer movie premiere tickets, raffles give away gift cards and other contests offer innumerable items. Many people, sometimes elderly, spend their time combing through the papers, applying and winning these items. How about we build a simple aggregator for contests for free trips, movie tickets and other items commonly offered by newspapers and promo companies are offered. The site would be membership based with a 15 day trial period.

3 free business ideas

This is a follow-up to my last 7 free ideas, which you can read here. And the excellent discussion that happened on Hacker News.

Why give these ideas away? I have too many ideas and too little time. If anyone wants to take these and run with them, go for it! If you do, I would be keen to know how it goes.

1. Small claims website (class-action suits via the web)

Faulty products, misleading marketing and neighbourly complaints are all too frequent. Most people do not know their rights or how to defend them. Filling out government forms and filing in small claims court is very time consuming and unless the issue really caused harm, you are not likely to file.

There may be an opportunity to build a web platform where users could select a Product or Situation in their jurisdiction and the forms and filing procedures would be automatically populated. This is similar to the online incorporation or will creation websites.

Eventually, if many people file for the same thing (i.e. a faulty product), a class action suit could be taken up by a law firm. This idea is very rough but came about when a friend (who is a lawyer) described his situation. He had purchased  Kryptonite bike lock which is advertised as having “unbreakable bonds, blah blah” and he then promptly had his bike stolen.

He filed in small claims court for the replacement cost of his used bike (about 250$ and a lock 50$). As a plaintiff, it costs 70$ to file, to defend against an accusation, it costs 120$. He filed against two parties – the bike lock distributor and the store where he purchased it. As such, for them to defend, it will cost a total of 240$, make it likely that they will settle. Now, my friend is a lawyer and knows how to file these things and write scary letters, for the average individual, this task is to daunting. We could automate it with some pre-populated forms where users can “fill in the blanks”.

2. A Site for the Elderly

Old people like simple things! Think the Jitterbug telephone, but for the web. In a sense, the iPad is already doing this – but that market is still very small.

Someone could create a web browser homepage with a few basic links: Email, Photos, Telephone Numbers, Skype Video Calling and Other reminders. You could also have a system that allows them to enter their family members contact info and have automatic emails go out to them asking for a phone call, or to send photos, which can be pushed to the grandparent.

Huge market potential.

3. A Marketplace for students to do legal research

Basically like RentaCoder but specifically for law students. A lot of people have no idea where to start when it comes to legal issues, and law firms are very expensive. Even law firms are outsourcing their work to India. Many law students could use the extra cash, they just need a marketplace to connect with clients who want legal research (i.e. compile jurisprudence on a subject, find resources online, do a bit of digging), but the students would NOT give legal advice.

In the UK, they just passed a law (the Legal Services Bill, alternativly called the Tesco Law, see BBC article) allowing non legal firms to offer legal information, soon Tesco, Wal-Mart and other retailers will have a low-cost legal desk. Until then, an online legal service could be great (though it might be illegal in a number of jurisdictions).

Update: It seems someone already did this and even selcted the same domain as me, ha! http://www.rentalawstudent.com/

Knives, Santropol Roulant and Happiness

Last year, I spent a couple of mornings working at Santropol Roulant, a non-profit group in Montreal that prepares meals for elderly people. Every morning they prepare hundreds of delicious meals that are then delivered by bike and car throughout Montreal.

As a volunteer, I cut, chopped and prepped the food. It was a lot of cutting. As an amateur chef, I was amazed at the dullness of their knives. Any chef worth his Michelin stars will tell you that knives are your best friend and dull knives, your worst.

Santropol Roulant’s entire organization is centred around food, which is prepared by volunteers. Keeping the volunteers happy and efficient seems like the most important thing there, yet their most basic tool was horrible. They all complained, but no one did anything – not the head chef, the volunteers, or the management!

So, instead of donating money to the very good organization, I went out and bought a set of new, sharp, high quality knives. For about 60$, the knives made volunteers ecstatic. Efficiency, safety and happiness increased for a tiny cost.

Too often, we overlook the most basic elements, but when those elements are part of the core work – they really, really matter. On top of that, keeping your staff, or volunteers happy should always be your priority. Constantly ask yourself, how can I make my colleagues happier and more efficient; often, it takes very little.

Sharp knifes make volunteers happy.

To volunteer at Santropol Rouland, click here.

Relaxing when late for a flight

Flying out of Hong Kong is an amazing experience. You hop on a bullet train downtown and before you know it, you are whisking past rice paddies to the airport. Travelling is stressful, especially when you are a bit late. Waiting for a train to take you to your flight has a certain element of unknown to it – When will the train arrive? How long will it take? Will I make my flight?

Coming down the escalators at the train station, you see an amazing sign that truly does comfort you. The sign reminds you to relax, a train will be there in a couple of minutes. All airports should have some equivalent sign – for example, at the security check-in where lines can stretch quite long.  Brilliant!

Keep urinals clean on the cheap

In light of my promise to show some great design that has a big impact, here is a urinal.

I took this photo in the Copenhagen Airport (I think). Basically, the urinal has a little fly printed at the exact spot that, if peed on, leads to the least amount of spillage. This makes cleaning up much easier and less frequent – saving money and improving sanitation. Brilliant design that costs absolutely nothing. Of course, men being the simple beasts that we are, always aim for the fly.

Free business ideas

Ideas are worth little to nothing, execution is everything. So in light of that, here are a few ideas I simply do not have time to work on. If anyone wants to use them or build on them, go for it, if you want to join forces, send me an email at jbrun@jonathanbrun.com

Update: there is a good conversation going on at Hacker News.

1. Health Ticket Restaurants

Meal vouchers for employees that are only valid in “healthy” restaurants. In France, many companies offer meal vouchers to their employees – these vouchers are deducted before taxes (payroll, income, etc.) and so there is an incentive. The employee pays part of the cost and the company pays part of the cost. A similar system would be used for Healthy Tickets, though the financial incentives are less interesting than in the french system, the tickets could potentially have insurance premium advantages and be integrated into the company’s wellness program.

I have a more detailed document about this idea, contact me if interested.

2. EventChase (www.eventchase.com)

A website to find and organize pick-up sports games in the park. When you are bored on a Saturday afternoon, you would use this site to find a hockey game, ultimate frisbee, soccer, etc that is going on in your neighbourhood. I made a beta version of the site, found at www.eventchase.com and there are links to other similar sites that actually have a community. I think this is one of those problems that on the surface seems easy to solve, but is in fact very hard.

I have a more detailed document about this idea, contact me if interested.

3. Fight Bullies.com

A website dedicated to help kids cope and deal with bullies. We would post a help hotline, useful texts, videos and information on how to stop a bully. Also give the kids examples of people who were bullied in their youth and turned out to be great people. This would be a non-profit venture.

4. A Bunker for rich people during a catastrophe

I had the idea a few years ago to build a bunker in northern Canada that could be used in the case of an emergency. People would reserve their place in advance – like an insurance policy and be guaranteed a spot when they arrive. Capital costs would be fairly high and it looks like someone has beaten me to it, best of luck!

http://fr.news.yahoo.com/82/20100414/ttc-50-000-dollars-la-place-dans-un-bunk-29d0bca.html

5. Rent a Life for students

Basically, students who rent unfurnished apartments are in desperate need of basic items (plates, glasses, sheets, …). Since they have limited money and often go away for the summer (especially true of exchange students), they may be interested in renting the items rather than buying them. When I was a student abroad I would go and purchase the cheapest possible items because I knew that at the end of the year, I would probably throw them away. I would much rather have spent the same money on a rental of better quality items. Basically, we would stock small containers of items (two plates, two glasses, two sets of sheets, …) and the student would rent it out per semester with a deposit.

Once we have rented everything out for the semester, we could use the space to sell basic food items to the same students who have little cash. We would stock a very limited number of items – pizza, pasta, tomato sauce, … and offer them at very reasonable prices. We could hire reps who live in university housing to push the products and do marketing for us.

6. Airbnb.com for businesses

Create a website that allows companies with extra desks in the office to rent them out to small companies and freelancers.

7. Homeless people profiles

A website (wiki) that has the profiles of homeless or people in difficulty in your neighbourhood. We would conduct interview and post their info (with their permission) on the site. They could specify what associations help them and how you might be able to help them. This would be a way to humanize the people in difficulty in your area and allow you to reach out to them.

Project details (in french) here.

Via Rail ticket purchase user interface

I just purchased a one-way ticket to Toronto on the Via Rail website. The experience was decent enough, though one thing did baffle me. Take a look at the screen-shot below of the last screen before the purchase. It states that the ticket is “Non-exchangeable and non-refundable” and below it says it is “Fully refundable prior to paper ticket issuance…”. If this is not contradictory, I do not know what is – very confusing.

Vélo Villeneuve in Montréal is overpriced

Earlier this year, I had to service my bike. Tire was crooked and I had not done a tune up in two years of intensive use. Not knowing better, I went to Vélo Villeneuve on Villeneuve and St. Urbain. The team there is very nice and quite knowledgeable, but very expensive.

They overcharge for both parts and labour. An inner tube change = 20 $, 7 $ at McWinnie’s; brake cable = 10$, 4$ at Yeti; 65 $ Tune-Up, 30 $ at Yeti; the list goes on.

I do not recommend these guys, unless, of course, you have money to burn.

Alleviating Poverty through Markets

A June article in Harper’s magazine was fairly negative on the prospects of alleviating world hunger through the development of commodities market. Basically, the article outlines why markets do not work to alleviate poverty, citing examples such as the Irish Famine, Ethiopian famine and last summer’s spike in grain and other prices. The author is clearly coming from a socialist, markets can be ugly school. That does not mean he is incorrect, but I do think it contradicts the empirical evidence. There is very little starvation in economies with lubricated, but regulated, markets. If you are curious, the full article can be found here: Poverty Article

Since I have too much time on my hands, I wrote to the magazine and they published my letter along with a response from the author. Pick up this month’s Harper’s to see it (edited) on old fashion pulp and paper. Either way, Harper’s has some great articles and the subscription is a paltry 20$, I do recommend you check it out.

My response:
Last summer, I travelled to Ethiopia to speak with the people setting up the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange (ECX) and I can assure you that the goal of the program is not to encourage speculation. No one imagines an uneducated rural farmer becoming a sophisticated commodities trader. Currently, produce is mostly sold locally (within 10 kms of production) and is subject to huge fluctuations in supply and demand, as farmers in a region tend to produce the same produce, flooding a local market at harvest. In fact, a marketplace for agricultural commodities will in all likelihood help stabilize food prices compared to the huge variations currently seen in villages across Africa.
I encourage readers to consult Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin’s (the CEO of the ECX) TED talk where she explains the logic and purpose of the ECX. Also, the ECX will set-up numerous warehouses throughout the country to stock food – not a unique one in the capital as Mr. Frederick Kaufman claims. Currently, farmers are unable to reliably store food for future sale; they lack the knowledge and infrastructure to do so, unsold food rots and goes to waste. By delivering the produce to climate controlled warehouses, stocks will be built up – ensuring a consistent flow of food.
The Chicago Board of Exchange helped build the united states and the midwest into a world power – delivering cheaper and cheaper food to drive innovation in the cities that in turn helped the country prosper. Cheap, reliable sources of food is essential to the growth of a nation – and regulated markets are the best mechanism to deliver that food.
Markets are not the only solution to world hunger, but Mr. Kaufman is incorrect in his conclusion that they will not help alleviate it. Money can feed people and with farmers comprising 80% of Ethiopian population, it is high time they gain access to a stable and transparent market for their produce.

Globe and Mail Website Redesign

I work in environmental law, but I am also a web designer. Designing for the internet and it’s wide variety of users is very challenging, no one does it perfectly. That being said, it is becoming indispensable to design websites well. Users have many places to go for information, if you do not design well, they will just click on out of there. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s premier newspaper just redesigned their website and my verdict is: Disaster.

The previous version was not amazing, but this is truly a mess.

Below is a screenshot and here are a few notes. My main complaints, as a web designer and usability professional are:

1. Four!, different ways to navigate the site (see blue lines). More is not better, it is confusing.
2. Hideous banner as the first thing you see. I understand the need for advertising revenue, but this comprimises the entire reader experience – thus reducing readership and advertising. (see red lines)
3. Red headlines and Black headlines – consistency?
4. Red lines to seperate articles – drawing your attention to the lines instead of the articles
5. Confusing search options
6. Over 10 unique colours on the various design elements – 3 or 4 is the maximum.
7. Drop down menues where the top link acts as a link! It should only trigger the drop down or don’t do a drop-down.

I could go on. But, largely, this redesign looks like it was done on a small budget with no high quality designers. The Newspaper industry is dying because of bad design, see our post on saving newspapers through great design.

The best use of the internet to deliver newspapers is the recently released New York Times Reader (not the website). It is a truly well designed software that makes reading online as pleasurable as the print format.

The Globe and Mail is destroying it’s credibility with this low quality production.

Globe and Mail Highlighted

Globe and Mail Highlighted

Immigrants Welcome – Free Domain Names

Two interesting articles came my way today, one from the New York Times explaining the challenges with bringing talented foreigners to the United States to work. The other was an essay advocating for a new type of visa for people who want to found a business.

It seems obvious to me that Canada should open up our borders to talented people from around the world who are prepared to invest their lives in our society. Confusingly, some people think immigration is a zero-sum game. If you bring someone into the country, they will take the job an unemployed Canadian. Really, immigration is anything but a zero-sum game, new businesses mean new jobs, new wealth and new suppliers.

In fact, many of the greatest Canadian businesses were started by immigrants who came for free land; Seagram’s, Magna International, and many others. South of the border, over 50% of Silicon Valley businesses have been started by non-americans, I would imagine the same ratio holds for Canadian businesses.

As such, opening up our borders and offering our technological, legal and physical infrastructure to willing people will undoubtedly bring job and wealth growth. Let us not fool ourselves, at a paltry 35 million people in the second largest country in the world, we still have A Lot of Space. Just as we once offered free land to eastern Europeans willing to farm, we should offer easy visas to people willing to plant their intellectual seed in our nation.

If the world is flat, we should make canada the valley where the water collects – that is where the animals gather to feed.

Jay Peak has Lost its Way

I have been an avid Jay Peaker for years. Deep snow and a 250$ college ski pass was an easy sell, but they have lost their way. A couple years back, Jay Peak owner and my neighbour Jacques Hébert passed away, I think his management style went with him. In many ways, Jay seems to have come down with a case of “Vailitis”, a disease named after the famous Colorado resort. The disease afflicts resort owners who continually upgrade their sites with luxury hotels, golf courses, and other perks to attract the rich elite. The problem is that that elite is very small and very fickle.

Jay has installed new chairs, a new gondola, more condos, a golf course and is building a new hotel – all of which was needed. However, the new chair, named the “Flyer”, but nicknamed “The Freezer” is horibly designed and each lift up freezes you to the bones. Can’t they throw up some bubbles or wind barriers? In conjunction with these changes, they have hiked the ticket price to 65$ per day and cut down on the food quality; my poutine is now half the size and half as good – making it 4 times worse.

A good deal of research supports the idea that the two most important factors for contentment are climate and food. Jay is failing both  and in the process, driving away non-hardcore skiers. There has to be a better way for ski resorts than emulating IntraWest and Vail.

For example, over the past couple years I have asked Jay to offer some form of Young Professionals ski pass, they have not even replied to my emails. After you finish college, passes go from 250$ to 650$, a little dramatic. Can’t they offer a more affordable pass for the 24-30 year old market who does not have that much disposable income?

They also seem to have no regard for recycling or composting, everything in the cafeteria is thrown out (with the exception of bottles and cans that are worth $$). Last gripe, their marketing budget must be gigantic. Every year they rebuild their website, air radio advertisment and plaster the highways with ads. Ridiculous. Spend that money on a nice chair, better food and you will build more brand loyalty.

I will not be going back to Jay in the near future.

Online Only Marketing Company

I think there is a real business opportunity for building a new type or marketing company. One with much lower costs and a different corporate structure/culture. It would be a marketing company tailored to SME’s who cannot afford the big agencies and who do not fully understand the power of the internet. Essentially, “participative marketing” for old school companies, but not just guerrilla marketing. The marketing company would manage items such as:

  • Newsletters
  • Facebook/MySpace
  • Youtube/Make many small videos
  • Blogs and blog maintenance

Costs would have to stay under control and the agency would work through offering many different items in rapid iterations. Think 50 Youtube videos instead of 1 television spot, or 50 blog posts instead of 1 newspaper feature. Maybe this sort of venture already exists; if so, please point me in their direction.

Related: A recent book, DigiMarketing by Kent Wetime and Ian Fenwick, outlines what it takes to be successful online. I have not read the book, just the review, which I think is enough.

My Business Venture – Enterprise Web 2.0

Many people have recently asked me what I am doing, by which they really mean are you employed, getting dressed in the morning, and abiding by the rules of upper-middle class society. So here is my rough explanation of what is occupying my time these days. 
Until recently, I worked for EEM, an environmental consulting group. As a small portion of their business, they sold an online database of Canadian environmental regulations and simplified explanations. The product, NIMONIK, was originally designed as an enterprise (web-based) software for large multi-jurisdiction corporations. It was a break-even operation.
Some of the shortcomings were the high price structure, the old web 1.0 technology and the static 800 x 600 design - ultimately boiling down to the product itself. Since May, we have purchased the product from the consulting group and started renewing it as a more dynamic, simpler, and richer website that will (we hope) become a community hub for Canadian environmental managers. We want to build an affordable web 2.0 application for companies - not currently a common sight.
On this project, I am working with Yves Faguy, a lawyer who was at the consulting group, and Paul Maclean, the president of the consulting group. We also have two fantastic people working on the content and the software with us.
Part of our strategy is to reduce membership fees, allow users to import/export ISO 14001 information, and upload corporate documents. Furthermore, users will be able to add comments, rate articles, and generally speaking – participate in the content to create institutional memory for their companies. The great thing about the project is that it comes with cash-flow (not much), a reputation and a lot of rich content – more than what 90% of web start-ups can claim.
Soon, NIMONIK will become a web 2.0 enterprise community driven website for Canadian Fortune 5 000 000 businesses.