Monday, December 28, 2009

Deriving the Most Profits from "Free" Space

I have been spending my past week in Hong Kong, finally having enough time to spare to see my hometown. 

It has taught me plenty of things about:
  • Logistics: try taking transit or taxis here, it's a whole new experience - if you don't jump out quick enough the bus might close its door on you - it has happened before, look it up in the news; 
  • Economics: that they might be wrong about there being some sort of recession, since there are approximately 500 million people shopping at 11pm at night - the stores don't close here!
  • Efficiency: The elevator, MTR, restaurant, or just ANY space in general can always fit more people.  I saw people literally pour out of the MTR cars and elevators.
  • Profit Maximization: Taking a look at the MTR stations in Hong Kong, they use every available space for advertisements.  Walls beside the elevators going up, ceilings, round pillars...everywhere you look there's an ad.  This generates a lot of profit for the MTR stations, and whoever built our skytrain stations out in Vancouver should do the same.  Olympics are coming up, tons of people will be taking the skytrain so why not put ads in the stations?  I've taken the skytrain a couple times and it's quite boring standing there waiting; give me something to look at, that will make me spend more, buy stuff and help the economy (this is the Florence economy stimulus plan..haha).
I think it's because space is so precious in Asia that we make the best use of it; scarcity stirs creativity.  North America can seriously do better maximizing its use of free space.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thank You Globalive

I got my phone bill from Rogers today.  It's $300.

I blame it on the many long distance calls I've been making and my time away in the US.  I need to stop making phone calls and sending text messages + checking emails while I'm outside of Canada.

What I just said, is what a customer would say if they have been conditioned.  It's hard for me NOT to be conditioned when roaming minutes are at $1.45/min and international text messages are $0.75/message.  I added $150 to my bill from international activity.

Now, because there's a new wireless carrier on the playing field, I may no longer have to pay a premium for Rogers' services.

Thank You Globalive.

Globalive will offer wireless services as soon as this week in Toronto and Calgary, according to this article in the Globe and Mail. It will operate under the Wind Mobile brand, which helped it make the regulatory cut to be recognized as Canadian company. 

Wind Mobile CEO Ken Campbell says Globalive won't charge its customers system access or 911 fees. Though it will not offer Apple's touch-screen iPhone, available from competitors, it will offer the BlackBerry and other smart phones.
As long as they don't charge that $7 system access fee I'm good.  To this day I have no idea what I'm paying for with I paying to cover their overhead for keeping me as a customer?  Ridiculous.

I know it's going to take some time for them to get a firm footing and to make the industry much more competitively priced than it is now but at least there's hope.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Empowering Your Employees

I think this concept has been around for quite a while and many would back this and say that it's an effective way of motivating employees to do more for the company. 

Question: is MORE always better? 

Often times you get employees that love the feeling of being in control of what they contribute at work...BUT, don't know what they can do to contribute to the overall BIG PICTURE that you're building.

Don't get me wrong, the whole empowering people concept works for people that see the big picture as you do and know what they can do to enhance it.  That's your problem, developing the ability to see who these people are that "get it", and are able to manage their goals to create an opportunity where 2+2 = 5 (yes, I like simple math, don't you?)

Most of the time company executives read about great management concepts in a book or from a blog and decide to throw it at their employees for implementation, and what happens?  Employees run around like chickens with heads chopped off.  Before implementing ANYTHING, figure out whether your team of employees can handle it.  It goes back to who you hire.  The right people can handle the right concepts and make them great.

So should you be a dictator and tell your employees what you want them to do?  Or should you let them take full responsibility of how and what they create and give you what they believe creates value for your company?

I think the balance should be to set the overarching vision for your company yourself.  For example, the vision statement for Walt Disney is "To Make People Happy".  So if this is your vision, make sure everything your employees create and put in front of customers has that impact.  Your vision should be simple to understand for everyone. 

Internally you would need to provide more detail on your vision, because just telling your employees that they have to create things to make people happy is pretty hard to ensure that they would be creating anything similar to what you had in mind.  Narrow it down for them by telling them who you want to sell to - kids, teens, adults, females, males, single/ get the picture. 

In conclusion, choose the right people to empower; not everyone is made for it - some people do need directions.  One of the toughest jobs of running a business is selecting only the best to work with yourself.  Good luck with that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Secret Santa Online


It seems like everything is moving online nowadays.  My friends and I were chatting about playing Secret Santa for Christmas since for once in three years we will all be in the same part of the world, so getting actual gifts and hand-delivering them just seemed like an awesome thing to do.

Our issue: all of us are super busy workaholics, so...who wants to manage the Secret Santa game? 

No problem - there must be something online - and there it was,

Apparently it has a patent-pending algorithm that does the matching.  I love how even secret santa can be patent-pending.  For all the investors out there are go googoo gaga over IP, maybe they should consider investing into that - it's patent-pending after all :)

Oh I just had to get a cheap shot out of that - I still love all you smart investors out there.

Friday, December 11, 2009

An "Affair" Service Site?

I'm definitely not endorsing this but I just thought it's extremely interesting how people are identifying "new markets". 

The Ashley Madison Agency promotes dating for married couples.  So....encouraging people to have affairs. 

It was on the news this morning on CNN after a segment on the Copenhagen summit.  Interesting that they would promote such a service after something like that.

What are your thoughts on something like this?  This in my opinion really crosses the ethical and moral borders...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Witty Advertising

I was just wondering what I should blog about when I saw this commercial on TV for  Quite a clever set of commercials since I've seen a couple of their TV spots over the past weeks. 

It makes fun of the fine print in credit card applications and offers.  The fact that many things are "limited offers" or have many "offer restrictions" is emphasized in their ads.  Here's

There are many things that people are frustrated with in the financial services industry, mainly that the whole services part is missing.  There are many opportunities to improve on existing services and that's exactly what these new companies are doing - it makes me wonder how existing service providers will react?  If at all.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Back from a Short Break

So I'm back from a short break away. 

Technically I never made it away from work - felt more like I was working remote from another country.  My Blackberry never left me so my emails kept reaching me.  Sometimes I admire people who are able to turn off their cell phones, PDAs or any other device that promotes instant communication. 

Maybe next time I should leave the Blackberry at home and travel without it.  I might just try that when I head over to Asia next week.  I intend of having some actual time away, so this means I will be working around the clock before I leave - fortunately I have our team taking care of things while I'm gone.  Good to have reliable people around.

One interesting note is that on my way back from San Francisco I was flipping through National Post and saw my friend's company featured in one of the articles.  The company is called Polar Mobile and it looks like they're doing really well - congrats!

Good things happening all around :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Website Refresh Update

I'm liking the look of our new site. 

Right now we're integrating the social media components into our news & resources section so it'll be easier for us to keep everyone up to date with our progress.  I love how we get emails from people following us on different channels expressing their interest in our business.  It's definitely encouraging for us and 2010 looks like it will be a GREAT year!

With the new website design launching in January 2010 we will need your feedback on this one too! Keep 'em coming!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Awesome Salespeople

Lately we've been working on bringing on board salespeople.

I've been chatting with a few people from different companies that are at the front line ie. they're the salespeople bringing in the cash.

It's interesting how companies motivate their staff. One case I came across that was inspirational for me was my friend that works for a large printing/document management company. Over 80% of my friend's pay is in commission payments.

It makes me wonder why it's been so hard for us to find salespeople that can be motivated by commissions. I've been told that great salespeople are motivated by the challenge of performance-based pay and understand the concept that they will earn more when they deliver more for their employers.

My friend is obviously a great salesperson and is able to deliver month after month of increasing sales. I guess only a salesperson that is awesome at their job is motivated by performance-based pay - since they know they can earn a lot of money. For those that whine and complain about being on commission, those are the ones that can't sell and eventually get fired.

As my friend very bluntly put it:
"If I'm on salary, then a bad month for sales is a bad month for sales; if I'm on commission, a bad month for sales means I don't have enough to pay my mortgage."

You always need to see the needs and psychology of both parties to the deal - in this case it is our company and potential salespeople. We want sales, dedicated effort and minimal up front cost. They want more initial up front security (base salary, contract, etc.) and a floor to their downside (so that even if they don't perform for sales it can't be so bad).

In a start up company you have no room for dead weight, if you have salespeople that have the above characteristics: can't perform, are taking your base salary for granted, and whine and complain about being on commission - get rid of them.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

There's Still Time!

Yes - that is definitely very encouraging to hear from a fellow entrepreneur who is further down the road than I am.

I'm 2 years into building my business to take over the world (really, think big right?) and it's great to hear that other entrepreneurs have struggled along the same path. In fact, the main idea of the session was that there's still time for entrepreneurs who are just starting out - it takes time to build great companies.

So here's some context for this post: I attended the Vancouver Enterprise Forum event 2 days ago and the speaker for the event was Mike McDerment (CEO and Co-founder of FreshBooks).

There were a couple things that stuck with me from his talk since some of those points are especially relevant to me right now.

1) Rebranding made a huge difference for their sales. They used to be called 2ndsite. Mike himself admitted that the name didn't do anything to differentiate themselves.

here's a reflection point for your own brand...if you told somebody your company name, would they know what you do for a living and does the brand name differentiate you from the other providers of the same product/service?

The reason I ask for both of these things is that if your company is PLUMBING COMPANY, it really doesn't differentiate you from the other plumbers. How are people supposed to refer you to others?

"Hey I know this PLUMBING COMPANY does great work." Do you think the potential customers can find you easily online with a name like that? It will have more results returned as when you look up Michael Jackson on Google.

2) Do you need Venture Capital? It made me think about my own business model. We've been on the lookout for funding and were actually pretty close to signing with angel investors in the past. Here's the thing, PeerFX is labor-intensive and actually does not require a huge capital investment up front. Even if we were to grow, the speed of growth would be dictated by sales coming in. Ie. More sales = need for more salespeople, customer service, servers, etc.

This means that we will be able to survive with a constant influx of operational capital support from the government, friends and family rounds, etc. Some up front cost that we will incur are marketing costs to get the word out, but we find that as start ups, the best way to grow is through word of mouth. These customers usually bring recurring transactions, which is what is needed to keep a business afloat.

Reflection point: Do you own a product/service that generates recurring sales? Ie. Do you sell refrigerators, where people buy one every three years? Or do you sell online software, where people pay a fee to use it every month? (of course another factor here is the durability of the product, where refrigerators is a durable product...)

How would that drive your customer service? For monthly recurring sales, it's likely that you will have to spend time getting in touch with your customers every month to make sure they know you're still around (you always, always want to be top of mind).

Anyway, there are more things I learned from the event but that's all for now - will continue this tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What are You Selling? Increasing Search Convenience is a Google Thing

Got this passed along to me by my advisor.

1-800-goog411. (a.k.a. 1-800-466-4411)

Google is offering a free service right now that allows you to search and connect with the company you're looking for by calling the number and answering 2 questions.

They ask you for City and Province and you answer ie: "Vancouver, British Columbia"
They then ask you for the Business Name or Type of Service ie: "Avis Car and Truck Rental"

It will tell you that it's connecting and Avis picks up the phone - extremely convenient service and I'm going to start using this.

Google's development efforts have focused on making search engines more efficient, and with this new service, they've just made searching even more "mobile". We don't even need to manually type in the phone number or go online to find these places.

Technology should make life easier and this application appears to do that pretty well. So what are you selling? To be successful you have to make sure you don't lose focus of your core benefit. For Google, it's all about making Search efficient and convenient. What's your value proposition?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Exclusivity as a Marketing Tool

Making something exclusive seems to make something more desirable.

In my opinion I think a lot of marketing tactics are based on psychology - how can it not be when most of the buying decisions that we make are emotionally driven? Or the fact that marketers like to speak of segmenting by psychographics in addition to demographics?

It seems to work for some businesses though, and here are some examples:

  1. Exclusive by-invite only events that are limited to X number of attendees (and the attendees have to apply to get selected to attend) - usually these fill up fast. There have been a few business conferences that are like this, like the Impact National Conference.
  2. Online eCommerce websites that have sales for brand name designers at a discount price - membership is by referral only. I remember seeing a company that does that when I went to the Online Retailer Conference. They went from zero to close to a million accounts in less than 2 years.
  3. Car manufacturers that design a model with only 10 of those cars available in the world - usually this can drive prices through the roof since the product is so limited.
So does this mean if you only produce 10 units of our product you're going to be able to sell it for a million dollars a piece. Nope. That's not the only ingredient to make your product sell; your product needs to deliver after the customer buys it.

What I mean is, your product can't suck.

Imagine lining up for 2 days to buy this exclusive, limited edition product only to find that it doesn't deliver on its proposed benefits. Or ever attend an event that had tons of buzz but didn't turn out to be as great as you had hoped?

So yes, exclusivity may work only if your product is just as awesome.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Everything's OK

I woke up this morning to a couple emails asking if the site is OK.

Regarding my post from yesterday with my hosting service provider...yes, PeerFX has been running smoothly thanks to our developers that took smart precautions.

So in conclusion, everything's good :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Declining Clients that have a High Cost to Serve

Many of you are probably reading this post thinking that it's my company declining clients that cost us too much money to serve.

I actually meant it the other way around - we were declined hosting services because our hosting company didn't charge us for the 90 hours they spent fixing a problem that they caused. They saw that we cost them too much (well if they didn't mess up in the first place we wouldn't have cost them anything more than they expected).

About 2 weeks ago our server was down because of a hardware meltdown. I did mention this in a previous post. We keep backups both at the external host and also internally with our developers. Let's just say it was extremely fortunate that our developers helped us do that (thank you Boris!!! You are our savior!!!) and to our clients - I reassure you that all your information is safe and secure on our backup servers.


We were in the midst of putting together a meeting with the hosting company to get more detail on what happened and discuss a compensation package when we got an email from them indicating that they no longer "desired to provide services to us" and that "I have had my team work about 90 hours for you since the issue arose for a small monthly fee but we did this without complaint or threats of billing you overages typical with any other provider."

I definitely got the sense that I had done something wrong instead of them screwing up the server. I paid for server hosting services and expect it to work. So, if YOU screw up, and need to fix stuff, I am the one to blame? There is no logic behind this since it was written in contract that the down time is a MAXIMUM of 47 MINUTES per year. In our scenario it was more like that multiplied by 100 (yes, really). So, I'm pretty sure this constitutes as a breach of contract, and I get an email saying that you don't want to provide services to me and that I should be thankful you didn't charge ME extra?! My apologies for this post bordering on a rant, but what would you do if this happened to you?

Should all the businesses purchasing hosting services out there be equally afraid that they may suddenly be charged extravagant fees if their server hosting providers fail tomorrow?

If you're reading this and you are a hosting service provider...what would you have done to regain the trust of your customer instead of ending on a sour note?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brand Transitioning

The past couple weeks we've been gearing up for the brand transitioning that's going to happen over the next 2 months. I can say I'm liking the new look, which is much cleaner, has larger font and has incorporated much of the feedback that we've gotten from our awesome early adopters.

Learned a few things about designing along the way that I thought I would share with my fellow entrepreneurs:

1) Before you even think about the layout of your website, choose your colors right. Our brand started out with two pretty catchy colors: lime green and creamsicle orange. When we launched the website, we launched it with a Beta group, consisting of a younger customer base that was willing to put a thousand or a few hundred at a time through the system to help us show that the concept worked.

2) Expect your colors to evolve. When PeerFX launched to the public, the heavy users were people ranging from 30 all the way to 85 years old. This meant that the lime green and creamsicle orange was too hard to read (and so was the small charcoal font). I loved the brand but things had to change in order to cater to our customers; people that actually PAY for our service.

3) Expect your layout to evolve. If you initially start with a 3 column page or a horizontal top menu bar, you can expect that to change as well. It's really amazing how YOU think everything is so clearly laid out while your customers are emailing/calling you day and night asking you where everything is on the website. If you thought your site is easy enough to be used by your grandparents, think again (or actually get them to test it, which we did).

4) Change Takes TIME. Even though our awareness isn't huge right now, there are still customers who are used to seeing the lime green and orange. So if you are changing your website layout, font, colors and content....try to phase it in so existing customers don't get confused and think they've landed on the wrong website. We're doing it step by step, sticking with the primary colors in the first transition and making the layout cleaner and the font easier to read.

The new design will be wrapped up end of this month and will be integrated in early December. Stay tuned for the latest news here!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Market Volatility

I'm sure that everyone knows about the crazy volatility that's been going on in the currency market recently for the CAD and USD.

Of course, being in the business, we have to keep a close eye on the rates, and just this morning there's been a 1% change in the rate in less than 20 minutes. Back in the day the 1% change usually happened over the course of one day.

This creates more opportunities for people to earn big money. Just imagine.

Selling $100,000 USD at 1.055 (high point over the past few days) = $105,500 CAD


Sell the $105,500 CAD for USD at 1.0426 = $101,189 USD

You just earned $1,189 USD over a 2 days! Trust me, we have had clients call us up asking if they can do that with our system. The quick answer is yes you can - however, you will need to consider the turnaround time, since we do spot foreign exchange and settlement, and it takes 3 business days for the entire transaction to be completed.

Now in the example above, it looks like easy money, but it also means you have to sit there in front of the computer the whole day; not a hard task that's impossible, just time consuming. You also need to be able to predict which direction the rate's going to go; if it was really THAT easy, everybody would be millionaires doing this.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Retail Marketing in our Daily Lives so fascinating.

Even my brother knew about the Jimmy Choo X H&M shoes. He even googled them and told me that people were reselling the shoes for a much price; kind of like flipping houses but now..."flipping shoes".

I'm sure all female readers of this blog post know about Sephora (and probably all the guys do too since they wait outside for their female friends). They had a weekend sale with 20% all purchases for their V.I.B s (very important beauty). The checkout line was continually at 20 people, even my mom bought something. With this 20% off, a lot of buyers actually ended up buying much more than what they would normally. Hooray for sales!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Technology - the "never have only one of anything" principle

So I wanted to take a look at our website before I went off to bed last night and discovered that the PeerFX website was down.

Weird, I thought. The contract guaranteed 99.9999% of the time the site would be up (this is a reminder for all of us to look DEEP into the fine print, I'm sure somewhere in there is a provision that says they will base this on a "best efforts" scenario). So I thought, oh well, it must be that there's this short lapse in our server hosting; woke up this morning and went online to check again 6:45am. Still not up.

I'm definitely concerned now - since our business comes in usually during the morning hours. My biz dev guy should be even more concerned because he's on the hook for a sales quota and burning up his entire day with a down website.

I send a couple emails and call the owner, letting them know that this is essentially a whole business day gone down the drain for us. Of course I get the usual apology and the "whole team is on it" explanation but it's been another 2 hours now and still nothing. Well, I guess not nothing, since we know that the interruption is caused by hardware breakdown. BAD. Just form a customer perspective, a hardware breakdown seems really bad because it takes much more time to move our stuff in the box over to another one and get the system back up again. Nothing really has been done to reassure me of an actual progress timeline as to when the site will be up again, besides the guarantee that it will be back up as soon as humanly possible.

Hopefully that's in the next couple minutes.

This is a point in time where I wish I had a backup server ready to go for the front-end site at a snap of my fingers. Another lesson learned on the "never have only one of anything" principle.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Interesting Use of Cell Phones in Developing Nations

Came across an interesting article in Google Reader stating that food coupons are now given out via SMS to 1000 Iraqi refugee families.

I think this is a very good use of existing technology; and the additional fact that African farmers can now use their cell phones to find out where they could sell their crops is another useful application.

One point that struck me in the article was this:

As Foreign Policy remarks, "We've reached a very strange point in human history when it is assumed that people who don't have access to food will have working cell phones."
I wonder if we can classify this as great "market proliferation"? With the want of having a cell phone now becoming a need of having one?

You can read the rest of the article here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Profits Made by Social Networking Companies

I would agree with their headline of: "At Least One Company is Making Money off of Social Networking".

I've seen the ads for this company's games on facebook too and it seems like they do put quite a bit into advertising. A lot of my friends are playing the game and it's showing up on my news feed all the time.

An old friend of mine is also part of a company that produces similar games and is enjoying quite a bit of success as well - being venture-funded and expanding into different geographic regions.

Very cool. Read the rest of the article here on Zynga.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Building a Product so that all Parties Benefit

Saw two similar complaints pop up on my iGoogle feed and makes you think about product design.

When you come up with a business model, you are trying to solve a need; if it's just "really cool" but doesn't solve a need for customers, then you might as well forget it. This product that's being talked about and labeled as "dumb smart meters" by Fast Company are the smart meters that have been installed in millions of homes by PG&E amongst other companies that sell similar products.

What the product has done though, is raise hell for customers that are claiming their fees have gone WAY up for no obvious reason (now we should note that these customers also neglected to realize that there were rate hikes in 2008 and March of 2009). The other twist is that the meter company did screw up and ended up having to pay back $240 million in fees.

Long story short, smart meters didn't achieve the anticipated objective of reducing energy consumption, instead its accuracy increased customer fees, generated a ton of complaints and caused a headache for the party that originally wanted to install it.

In this case the product obviously pissed off its end-customers, but keep in mind that there are other parties that you should aim to please (or at least don't piss them off). Think of your business partners (don't screw up your system integration), think of your internal staff (pissing off your operations or customer service people cannot do any good for your sales figures) and even your competitors (heard of something called retaliation or predatory pricing?)

So in a sense all of these parties matter because they are involved in the success of your business; make sure you keep all of these relationships healthy, and you are always trying to design your product so that there is buy-in at all levels - here's what I it so that:
  1. Customers will PAY for it
  2. Business partners will endorse it and promote it
  3. Operations won't have a headache trying to manage the day-to-day workflow (does your product make it easy for your ops people to make it work?)
  4. Customer service is actually providing customer service and dealing with hate mail from customers (if you can't make your customers love your product off the bat, at least don't make them hate it - like in the case of these smart meters)
Now to think about my own product strategy so it meets all the above criterion. Easy to say, hard to do! Good luck!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Customer Sales Process

Right now customers come to our website and book transactions. We process it and within a couple days they see the converted funds in their bank accounts.

Emails are triggered and sent out during the transaction process at the following points:
1) When you book the transaction you receive an email stating that your booking was successful;
2) When we receive the funds for your transaction we tell you that we've received it via email;
3) When we send out the converted funds to your bank account we let you know that it's on its way.

There's a missing piece here that we should have put in - an after sales component.

Why aren't we sending our customers an email say a week or two weeks after their transaction to encourage them to book additional transactions? We have seen customers who have exchanged with us once and left their accounts sitting there for months at a time before they do another transaction. Given that our customers are NOT speculators I wonder if our after sales tactics to drive more volume would even work - BUT, as a customer myself of other online services, I like to see that once in a while those services send me a value-add email.

With all these online services right now - an email with a catchy subject line would be a good reminder to the customer that your company is still up and running.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What Security Means for Your Brand

An interesting episode that happened over the weekend.

I checked my blackberry in the morning and over the course of one day I got about 2 dozen emails from Central 1. All of them weren't sent out by Central 1.

Which is weird. Because I thought only Central 1 administrative employees would have access to my direct email. Now everyone else on the Central 1 customer list had my direct email because people started replying to that thread wondering if someone had hacked into Central 1's system.

As a customer, I was wondering why over the course of an entire day that nothing was being done about it. OH. You know why? It's because people were all on HO-LI-DAY. Yup. This is more important than making sure that your customers knew what was up with all this email leakage mess.

I'm surprised that there was nobody monitoring this at all and waited until the long weekend was over to fix the issue. Seriously?

This probably was detrimental to Central 1's brand, and made me learn an important lesson - never let EVERYBODY go on vacation at once - somebody's got to "take one for the team" and monitor the system. Even though they apologized and said this would be a one time has already happened once and this erodes customer confidence in the brand; so of course the conclusion is to not let this happen to your own brand by implementing preventive measures.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rule of Thumb: You Never Know

I was a speaker over the weekend for a class for Certified Management Accountants and at first I wanted to present there to share my experience with the class and also get their input on how to develop our marketing strategy to achieve our target goals.

Little did I know that I would meet contacts with connections all over the world, to different national banks, ethnic communities and potential advisors. The CMAs were all

So. You never know. These speaker sessions have definitely put me in touch with a lot of people that can open a lot of doors for PeerFX. Oh, the power of people!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Paying Fees Online

Just a sudden thought popped into my head. So...does me paying fees or paying for events/tickets online make it easier...just for me? Because I'm the only one getting charged for it. Ie. I go online to pay for an event I'm attending through Eventbrite, and the fee is $10. Doesn't it make it easier for the organizers to collect my fees as well if I pay online? How come they aren't paying for it?


Somebody enlighten me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Work Life Balance

There is none.

At least for me anyway.

I did a short presentation at the New Venture Design class that PeerFX originally came out of on Tuesday night. I have to admit it feels awesome to know that I'm sharing my little tidbit of lessons with an aspiring group of students in the audience.

One thing though. There were repeat questions related to this "work life balance" thing. The standard answer from a speaker would be it's important, we all take vacation here. What we don't tell you and what I did tell them was "It's tough as heck in the beginning of starting your business, so wave BYE to vacations and put in the required hours to get where you want to be."

In my opinion, you can take as much time off as you wish, it's just a matter of how long it will take for you to get where you want to be. You want to work the 9 to 5 instead of 9 to 9. Great. Go right on ahead. Just expect that it will take you 6 years instead of 3 (I may be exaggerating I may not).

If you want one thing, quite often you give up another because you only have so much time in one day. Do you want your business to grow or more time to veg in front of the tv?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Branding for Financial Sites

I'm reading a marketing classic called "Positioning" right now. I've already read it once but think I need a refresher, as I'm trying to think hard about PeerFX's branding efforts.

I did some research the past 2 days on other online financial sites and how they brand themselves. I saw the usual, green, white. (uh oh. those are the colors that we were thinking of too). The key thing that I noticed was the tag lines for their logos.

Here are a few:
"The Currency Site"
"The World's Favorite Currency Site"
"Foreign Exchange & International Payments"

After reading that I really can't blame people to saying that our industry is boring. BLAH.

Some of the claims made in those tag lines are similar to the corner store that says their pizza is "famous".

I love our tag line - Changing Exchanging

The one thing is that since we've commercialized the platform we saw that the people using our service aren't the ones we had expected. We had designed the website for a younger crowd in their 20's, and here we were attracting groups in their 30's, 40's, even 50's. We figured it's because the youngsters aren't transacting enough to see significant savings.

What this means for us is that we need to go through a mini-rebranding process, while we can still afford to make the changes before a push with our national marketing efforts. Any ideas? What does PeerFX make you think of now? What should we change in order to attract the right customers? Which are males age 30 - 55 who are owners or management in a small-to-medium sized business with US business relations? We also have consultants selling services across the border getting paid in USD but have Canadian do we add spice to our brand so that people remember us (and of course use our service)?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Trust in Business

Trust No One.

You hear this one often enough right?

It holds true to a certain degree. The people that whine and complain about how they can't trust anyone in business just haven't realized and accepted the reality that everybody to some degree have their own agenda/motives behind each decision.

Take for example, even an "innocent" introduction for a friend into your own company, these thoughts may flash across your mind:
"Do I think this person does good work and has good work ethics so that I will not get in trouble for introducing him into the company? It's my reputation on the line here and what he does indirectly reflects on my performance as well."

How about an introduction to connect 2 businesses? Jim may ask Bob to connect him to Jane for a business deal. Bob considers his experience dealing with Jim in the past and also what impact this will have on his business relationship with Jane if Jim doesn't deliver on his business promise.

It's not really a "trust" issue we are debating here - it's more of an issue of whether you get how the business world works or not. What you need to do is understand the interests of the other party and evaluate whether they match or are complimentary with yours. If yes, great, you make a business connection; if not, then move on to the next potential. Remember, the key lies in the INTERESTS of both parties, it's up to you to uncover it; you whine about them not telling you outright what their interests are, well I'm here to tell you that 9 times out of 10 business breaks down because of "communication" issues. Have fun with that.

Every day, and I repeat, EVERY DAY, we are making these decisions, and we think through the consequences of making these business introductions, doing somebody a favor, because of their actions will impact our business reputation. YES. This means that the same goes for the person at the other side of the table.

Are you asking them for a favor? You can bet on the fact that they are evaluating what the impact is for their business and for themselves if they say yes or no.

So why be a hypocrite? If you are making business connections based on what these people can do or could potentially do for you in the future, why are you whining and complaining when they are also looking out for themselves?


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Even though I've graduated from Sauder back in 2007, I'm still pretty involved with the school's activities relating to entrepreneurship.

It's interesting since I've been asked to speak at 3 different events in the next couple months. They all want to know how it's like to build a business. I can probably summarize it with one word: HARD (for all the other entrepreneurs out there I know you feel like adding "descriptive" words in front of that word).

I'm playing over a couple ideas in my head right now as to what I want to say for my speaker session - I want to give them a dose of reality and at the same time encourage them to keep trying. Building a business really does require determination and persistence; if you thought revenues come within the first month for this great business plan you have, chances are you can multiply that timeline out by 5 times at least.

Here are the ideas that I have so far for the speaker session topic:

- bootstrapping your business in tough economic times
- two sides of the coin: investors vs. entrepreneurs
- the entrepreneurial curve: expect things to go downhill for the first little while

Given that I will be speaking to budding entrepreneurs I think the above topics will be suitable. Thoughts?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Confusing Activity with Productivity

I think one of the things as an owner of a start up that's challenging and interesting is you always have to figure out what to do next.

Let's say we had an increase in our budget for the next month:

Should you bump up your marketing budget?
Should you increase the number of direct salespeople?
Should you use the budget to improve your website/product?

I believe that most start ups nowadays are constantly torn by these decisions that they have to make.

Some people end up doing all three - and most of the time this is when all three components suffer from a mediocre improvement. The key is figuring out what's most important. Will you get more customers if you invest in more sales and marketing if your product sucks? Probably not. So instead of dumping money equally into the three components, you should prioritize. Have a list for what you want to achieve and number them.

  1. Improve Product
  2. Bump up marketing
  3. Increase number of salespeople
Here's the rationale behind these choices:

  1. With a product that sucks, bumping up marketing first means telling MORE people that your product sucks. Go figure.
  2. Yes - bump up marketing after your product has been improved, then at least you have progress to show to your existing userbase and a better chance of attracting new prospects that have higher standards than your version 1.0 product.
  3. Lastly you increase salespeople after you bump up marketing because you don't want to send them in to die. Literally. Have you tried knocking on a buyer's door and telling them that you are from P&G [or insert other big name recognizable brand]? Now, have you also gone knocking on doors when you first started your business? It's much easier to get in the door when people have at least heard of you.
Here are some stats to prove it.

We had a list of people who had signed up for Beta testing back in December of last year - we couldn't fit them into the testing group given our constraints, so we emailed them back when we launched our commercialized version. More than 30% of them converted within 2 days.

We then got a list of importing businesses in Canada, and tried emailing and calling them; we had about 3% call us back or at least take our call - because they had never heard of us. Plus, we're asking them to trust us with their money - what do you think happened?

So go through that process to prioritize the tasks for your company and the results will differ by a great deal. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Unveiling our First Partnership!

On Yahoo! Finance:

On Reuters:

On Forbes:


Needless to say I'm excited!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What are you doing for marketing?

I was revisiting this over the long weekend while everyone else was out enjoying the holidays. It's great. Holidays are actually the only time I get to think quietly about the "big picture" for PeerFX.

So here's what we're doing for marketing:
  1. Website
  2. E-mails
  3. Press Releases
  4. Facebook
  5. Twitter
  6. Adwords
  7. Youtube
  8. Blog
  9. Online game
There might be even more than that but that's just off the top of my head. We've been so involved with the day to day operations of the company that we haven't slowed down to figure out exactly what we want each of these channels to do. Specific channels may be more effective for distributing information such as press releases, special promos, etc. Whereas other venues can focus on branding, customer-relationship building, etc.

I went through the exercise of listing the above marketing channels, labeled each of them "push" or "pull" (which just means whether you're pushing your product DOWN through your distributors via discounts to the vendors, etc. or if you're pulling your customers to you via promos to end-users, etc. there are may examples of push and pull in marketing) and also the function that I expected each of these channels to be responsible for.

Then evaluate each channel on its effectiveness based on conversion rate to actual transactions (or whatever is applicable in your case indicating a "sale" of some sort that generates revenue)

At the end of this you should have a clearer picture of where you should be spending more effort and money to promote and hopefully have a more consistent branding/marketing strategy - remember, you should always have an overarching objective that you're trying to achieve.

Get specific - is your strategy supposed to get you 200 new customers (actual conversion)? or simply spread the word to 20000 new potential customers (awareness)?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

JailHouseFire Hotsauce

You can take full advantage of your situation - whatever your situation. This is exactly what the inmates at Florida's Hillsborough County Jail did, using the peppers grown on site to develop 3 flavors of hotsauce which they are marketing under the brand JailHouseFire. I love the fact that they've used their situation to help brand the product, naming the three different flavors Original, Smoke and No Escape.

Each brand tells a story, and their is definitely an interesting one that stands out from the everyday brand you see the at the supermarket. You can read the original article here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gmail has Failed Me

I forward most of my emails to my gmail inbox.

Today it failed me. Server error was what it said. GREAT. I keep most of my communications with my development team and marketing side of things in this inbox. I'm trying to get access to one of the development documents to confirm something but it just won't load.

It says I should try again in 30 seconds. I've waited probably more than 900 seconds now and it's still. not. working.

This is what happens when we get too tied into our blackberry's, emails, etc. but I can't really save a copy of all my emails on my computer - since that would mean I need 3 external hard drives -_-"

Crossing my fingers now and hoping that gmail will be back up soon. PLS!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Tylenol of Currency Exchange

I finally figured out what our appeal is to our customer segment - we're the Tylenol of currency exchange.

The simplicity of PeerFX lets our users breathe a sigh of relief. With our focus on spot trades and 3 click booking process compared against the large menu of services provided by other forex services and financial institutions - right away our users know what they can get from our service - spot currency exchange.

Sometimes I wonder whether financial institutions and other services make it extremely hard for a user to understand what choices they have. The worse thing about this is that even though we are actively trying to understand all the combos and choices we're given, 80% of regular people would NOT want to take the time to understand it.

Pitfall: Customization doesn't always mean bombarding your users with choices.

You can customize your service to one group and market the heck out of it to THAT group. Instead of them making the choices, you make a choice for them (of course given that you've done the customer research and you know they will BUY your choice).

Nowadays most people don't want to take a lot of time to make a choice; and with things like financial services, they often rely on people whom they believe to be more knowledgeable (ie. supposedly...YOU) to help them make the decision. Most people just don't seem to trust their own judgment when it comes to financial service selections.

This is why I find marketing so interesting, it's different in every industry, market segment, location, etc. Alright, back to work.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

PeerFX New Sign Ups!

So I finally feel we're at a point where we can market the service to our original list of Beta (testing group) users. We had quite an extensive list of people signed up, but felt that we wanted to keep the testing group small so we can go through the operational process and ensure everything is secure and that the process works before opening up the service to the general public.

So we sent out the newsletter and got more signups in the past 2 days than in the past 2 months combined. I'm on cloud 9. Thank you all supporters. Can't believe that you have kept us on your radar after 1.5 years. You are all amazing!

Things are finally falling into place after years of hard work :)

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Partner System

We have about a week and a half left of August to prep for the September partner system rollout. Super excited about it. The system lets us sign up multiple partners for a revenue share program. We figured that we should give people an incentive to help us out right? So we give them a new revenue stream that they could easily exploit by directing their users to our website and having them sign up :)

We pay commissions based on the transaction volume pushed through our system by the people you referred to us.

If you're an online website with customers that need currency exchange services OR if you're a salesperson that thrives in competitive environments, where compensation is based solely on commission, we want to hear from YOU!

This feature will be released in early September, so drop us a line in the comments section or at

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Just because you didn't cash my cheque doesn't mean I didn't pay you

I get this account statement from one of my credit cards today along with a letter saying that I didn't make any payments for my last statement.

I momentarily thought that I was the one that had forgotten to mail in the cheque with all the other admin stuff swamping my I went to check on my record of payments from the beginning of the month. Thank goodness I found the cheque stub attached to the statement from last month.

OK. So this means I did mail in a cheque.

The next step I went online to my online banking to check whether they had cashed it. They had.


The letter was dated on the same day that they cashed my cheque. WELL. Is it my fault that YOU received my cheque and YOUR accounting department forgot to cash it? I'm sure it didn't take 7 full business days to get mailed to you. AND you had to hold it for a couple days more until you deposited it.

Because of your lack of operational efficiency I had to read that accusative letter stating that I had not made a payment.

Things need to change for credit cards. I'm getting around to it. Right after PeerFX. haha.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

SO...I'm Not So Crazy After All

Read an article called "You Aren't Crazy...You're an Entrepreneur" by Pamela Slim. LOVE how the bracketed term right next to her name says (Escape from Cubicle Nation) - friends that know me know I'm ALL ABOUT THIS. hahaha.

So here's an excerpt:
Once you get over the initial rush of your launch, certain that everything is going to go according to plan, you run into some snags. Your website developer disappears with your site half done. A sure-thing client cancels his project. Your Mom wants her dining room back and you have to start to pay for office space.

The only thing that hasn't happened yet is my mom still lets me use the dining room (YAY mom!)

Last December our developer disappeared.

A sure-thing client disappears before completing sign up - YUP. People forget about sending in their ID documents after signing up online.

So there have been some snags, but if I had the chance to do it all over again, I really wouldn't do it any differently. These things DID give me heart attacks when it happened, not going to lie. BUT, the heart attacks get less and less severe when you realize that "OH, so this stuff is supposed to happen...on a daily basis." Then you start fearing for your health if you had a heart attack every time something like this happened. You learn to deal with it and eventually eat stress for breakfast. AH-HA! That's the life cycle for an entrepreneur running a business!

Reading through the article, apparently I'm in square 3:
Square Three: The Hero’s Saga

Description: You whittle down your big list of business ideas to one that appears to be viable. You launch the business. Everything goes wrong. People criticize you. You question your sanity.

Mantra: This is much worse than I expected, and that’s okay

Recommendation: Don’t get flustered. Expect that things will go wrong. Do not beat yourself up when they do. Focus on tweaking, learning from mistakes, and moving forward. Surround yourself with smart people and good support.

Well things aren't going horribly wrong. In fact, better than I expected. At least we have customers at this point (a big smooch to all of you - THANK YOU). We also have haters. Which is good. The theory is, if the brand/service isn't crazy enough to get lovers AND haters, people are going to neutral about it. We all know what happens to these "neutral" products/services, they are in the middle of nowhere.

I am tweaking, learning from mistakes and surrounding myself with smart people and support. Employees, contractors, lawyers, advisors, somehow everybody is starting to feel like they all belong to the PeerFX family (cheesy I know, but you really need that in a startup).

Lastly, I love the fact that square 3 is Hero's Saga. I'm a Hero! (Yes, that's my ego coming in right there)

You can read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Should I Trust You With My Money?

Julien suggested that I respond to some burning customer questions through our blog, since we update this pretty frequently and I'm sure most customers Google us before signing up for an account so they would probably come across this anyway.

The question of the day is:
I've asked several people about you and they're hesitant about using your service. I think it's a great idea but the big thing is how can I trust you with my money?

Because we work to ensure that you know where your money is at all times. You can actually CALL us instead of clicking on a live chat button.

Because we've chased for over half a year to secure a big 5 bank to handle your money. We didn't take the easy route and go with an online bank - you know you can walk into a BMO branch today and know that your money is being handled by them through their online electronic system.

Because we make sure that our footprint is plastered all over the internet; our presentation is posted on YouTube, so you know who we are, you can attach a face to the people providing the service, a name to the people handling your transaction, and know that other customers have trusted us with their life savings and business income.

Trust and Credibility is built through three key channels for us: 1) Partners 2) Transaction Volume (past business results/history) and 3) trustworthy security channels (integrating with banking system etc.)

For example, how would you feel if I told you:
1) We are partnering with the largest business organization in the world to provide foreign exchange services for their website


2) We've transacted over $400 million through our system


3) We're integrated with the banking system and your money is monitored through the entire transaction process so you know where your money is at all times

YUP - undoubtedly this is what all customers would look for...but please bear in mind these key things you are looking for are found with large, established businesses.

Let me share with you how much it costs to integrate with a bank. They require that you pass all their "risk assessment evaluations". Now this includes having the assets that they could take as collateral, surpassing transaction thresholds on a daily basis and also assessing when they could recoup their costs of integration (psst! That amount is around $1 million bucks! YAY!)

So we're definitely not just avoiding security measures or making our process more streamlined, it's because it's all we can do within our power right now, and everyday we're taking the largest steps we can to improve in all the areas that will increase the level of trust for our potential customers.

We hope that we can post testimonials from our customers soon so that potential customers can see what we have done and what the experience has been like for our current customers.

Thanks again for sending us these questions, because without them we cannot respond to the issues that are keeping you (our potential customers) from signing up!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

$1 Million in Net Income

Ambitious? Yes. Crazy? Maybe. This is what I want to do by year end.

But "I can believe anything given it's quite incredible." - Oscar Wilde

I love business. I love getting business. I love seeing transactions being booked on our website. If I get enough programmers onto our team I would probably start linking the admin function of showing new transactions direct to my Blackberry, so I can keep seeing our transaction volumes go up, up, and UP!

They say that people who publicly discloses their goals are more likely to achieve them. So now that I've shared it with all of our blog have to hold me to my word. In the past month we've seen our transaction volumes grow by a considerable amount, and
we. beat. projections.
in the last month (according to Guy Kawasaki these three words are the most powerful ones you can utter in a board meeting...haha).

We aim to do it again, by doubling our online sales and opening a new stream of sales with our direct sales team - if you're interested in earning some extra income on the side, shoot us an email at to apply for the commissioned salesperson position.

I'm all for the theory of growing the pie together and sharing it with others. If we all make more money in the end. Why not?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Economy is Screaming HELP

Some interesting things that I've seen lately is that as unemployment soars in some of the provinces, the government decides to increase taxes (they're going to start taxing me on food too. Gives me another excuse to go on a diet) and grant higher minimum wages.

First rant: The economy is going down the hole - WHY do you want to tax people on basic necessities? We HAVE to eat. As if we're not paying enough taxes already. Now when I buy $100 in food, I don't really get that amount, since $12 goes towards taxes. Adding a tax to previously PST exempt services it going to be great for businesses, it also means more restaurants are going to go out of business as fewer people eat out. Just great for the economy - what kind of geniuses are representing us now?

Second rant: Higher minimum wages. Great idea (NOT). Employers are already struggling to keep their companies ALIVE, and all you want to do is for us to pay higher wages? Do you know how much we PAY to the CRA for each employee? Employees only see the deductions on their paychecks and moan and groan about bringing home a paycheck that's been literally cut in half by CPP and EI deductions.

They may not know, or are oblivious to the fact that their employers are paying the CPP and 1.4 times the EI amount to the CRA. This is where employees think it's "unfair" when they're sitting in the office twirling their pens, going on facebook and leaving work at 4pm. Yes, employers know about that, we just don't have enough "cause" to fire all of the deadwood yet. This economy gives (or already gave) some employers the perfect reason to "downsize".

That's enough for now. Must be heat that's making me rant - 37 degrees outside right now. Enjoy the heat!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A BIG Thank You to our Customers

Over the past 2 months, we've seen transactions sizes grow from $400 to over $50,000. This is extremely encouraging and shows that our customer are developing a trust for us. We have tried our very best to be as diligent as possible in all aspects. Keeping in touch constantly with customers to let them know where their money is. Communicating all issues with our customers and recommending solutions fit for their needs.

Someone once told me that the business of forex isn't about competing on the lowest prices - it's about helping customer solve business problems. Cheesy but true. If you can provide the customized service and attention to each customer, it does help to build the long-term relationship needed for them to become advocates.

On the other hand, there's also the theory of "firing" your customers when they become too much of a burden and cram your customer service line. So it does require a delicate balance; and as you come in touch with more customers, you'll discover that some are sincerely trying to learn more about your business, rather than just calling to complain - try to identify them because they will start spreading the word for you, and they can be the "WORM" to their friends (Word of RESPECTED mouth).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pre-Authorized Debit

I just realized that we haven't actively been promoting the fact that our customers can sign up for a pre-authorized debit (PAD) agreement with us and have it make their lives so much easier.

When we first launched our service, we had required our customers to send in funds for their transactions using bill payment - which is the cheapest method (or it could be free depending on which bank you're with).

In May, we set up our system so that customers could select PAD as a payment option. This means all you need to do is book a transaction online, and PeerFX takes care of the rest. What do we mean by that?

Before: You book a transaction and you need to go to your online bank website to send a bill payment to us. The converted funds show up in your bank account after 4 business days.

AFTER: You book a transaction and see the money show up in your bank account after 4 business days.

Of course there's a reason why I have the before-after scenario, because I know that the AFTER scenario is much easier! Plus, it's not at an additional cost to the customer. Pretty sweet huh?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Establishing Trust

Since our official service launch, we've been steadily establishing trust with our first batch of customers. There are a couple things I find that are especially effective, and I think I may be stating the obvious:

  1. Provide efficient customer service: I actually give out my personal contact number to my clients, so if they have an issue they can wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me that burning question.
  2. Follow-up: Don't expect a client to keep chasing after you for their issue; that's YOUR job. You want to keep chasing after your clients until they are satisfied with the issue, don't leave your customers chasing you. It's much easier to see why when you put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Have you ever been frustrated when you called a company multiple times and you never get the problem fixed? YUP. You don't want your clients mumbling profanity about your company whenever they think of you.
  3. Keep Customers in the Loop: this applies especially for a service like ours, where we are dealing with people's money. There are customers that are trying online currency exchange for the first time, and we spend the time getting them on board with the service, even if it means we get on the phone with them at 6am in the morning. We reassure them that we know what we're doing and that we're always here to help.
It's so simple to write about it yet so hard to apply it. Customer service does consume a lot of our time and it makes sense, since as a new service to the industry we need to take the time to educate our customers on what makes us different, and customer service is a major component in the highly competitive forex industry.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's Never QUITE the Same When You're Chatting with Someone Actually IN Your Shoes

So I had an awesome meeting with a friend of mine Sam Araki yesterday. It was definitely an interesting talk since both of our companies are in the forex industry and it's always different when you're chatting about someone truly passionate about their business.

As an entrepreneur, do you ever get the feeling that people working in the corporates or even your contractors/employees don't know the amount of stress you're going through on a daily basis? No one's to blame for this! Just like I mentioned in a previous post on Ruthless Management, as owners, we just have different priorities as employees. The priority list is totally different since owners sink, time, money and everything else they have into the business.

We also chatted about training people into jobs and making management decisions too late into the game. There's been times when we think we could help a person "develop" a skill set that we know is just non-existent for that person; don't get me wrong, I'm a strong believer that everybody has an awesome skill that they can contribute - whether it be the fastest shelf-stocker in North America or whatever - it's still a skill that an employer can use. When we find out that a person does not have the skill set to match the job description, we often struggle to keep them, train them and have our fingers-crossed that they would improve. I've learned the hard way that this is cruel for both parties, since I'm keeping them from moving onto a job that actually suits them and they would hate me for not letting go of them sooner (well they would "dislike" me despite the timing of my decision to let them go...)

Which is why if you find that a person isn't fitting into one "job", then figure out what their strengths are. Stop expecting people to be like yourself. I've fallen into that trap. I'm a numbers person who measures EVERYTHING in the business, and I can't expect the same business-oriented bean counting quality from my programmers, marketers, salespeople, etc. THEY WERE HIRED TO DO THINGS THAT I DON'T DO! So what good does it actually do when everybody I hire is a clone of me? Ask Julien, he would probably run away if there were more than one of me in the business :)

Tons of ideas just sprung up out of our conversation and this is how ideas are generated people - instead of you sitting at home and staring at 4 walls (or maybe you have more?)

I'm glad that I've progressed to a position where Sam and I could share ideas and help each other out...compared the initial time we met, where I was the one mostly asking for advice.

As a follow up to my post yesterday, this is what I would classify as good "networking". You maintain a long-term business relationship and help each other out as you are each building your businesses. I think many books have been written recently about how small businesses should create their own network and that's the only way they can compete? I'm not saying the theory is valid, but in my personal opinion it's the way that I work, and so far so good!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I think lately the whole craze has been about "networking" in the business world. Or maybe it was always like that and I've been camping out on Mars. Personally I've tried it a couple times and it seems to not really be my "thing". Maybe that's why I'm not doing the sales calls for my company right now :) [thank you Julien]

But I think when someone calls a meeting a networking event it instinctively tells me that it's rare to develop a real business relationship at the event. The thing about networking is you get a ton of follow up calls from people who don't really know what they want from you and what you can give them.

I've had meetings where I sat through most of them with my pen poised ready to write down whatever "synergies" were proposed by the person sitting across from me in the initial email to set up the meeting. Of course, most of the time the piece of paper remained blank.

It's partly my bad for not having clarified with the other party once I visited their website and realized there were probably minimal (read: ZERO) synergies to be realized. But who knows? I had attended those meetings with fingers-crossed hoping they saw something that I totally missed.

So...what are some effective tips that you use to make sure networking works?

I know that following-up with the right people at the right time is key. Julien and I probably got 500 phone calls from companies that saw us at a conference last month, when we told them it might be better to connect again in half a year. Maybe they interpreted that as..."let's keep calling them at 6am in the morning until the half year point". Oh great.

Another thing is to know what you want. How can they help you? How can you help them? If you have REAL answers to both of these questions (ie. the answers are tied with some money-making ideas/actions) THEN you can go ahead and set up a phone meeting first. Don't waste time meeting in person. I can't tell you how much time is wasted on commuting to and from meetings (plus all that caffeine intake from cafe meetings can't be healthy right? I once had 6 mochas in a day and I usually don't drink caffeine at all - I was wired).

If you have other tips you can share with our readers, do post it in our comments! :)


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer = Vacation?

Just a thought. Why does it seem like everyone classifies summer as THE vacation months of the year? Why does everyone refuse to work during August? Why are these the 'quiet' months for businesses?

For all I know, IF it holds that summer is a vacation month, then businesses like mine should be BOOMING with business. Why? Because we're not targeting huge corporate sales, where everybody gets a summer vacation no matter how brief. We're targeting small businesses that probably won't trade off 2 months of business activity/$INCOME$ for 2 months on the beach. Seriously, unless small business owner CURRENT Bill, wants FUTURE Bill to be in a lot of trouble come September.

I wonder if there's a correlation between the theory of summer being a staple vacation period and third quarter sales? Because if these are the quiet months, then revenue should have slumped as well right? But I don't think people would want to write in their annual report something like this:
"Due to the massive amount of people that took a vacation during the summer months, our third quarter sales have plummeted by 30%."

On Reality - Dilbert

I'm glad that I still have a sense of humor - being busy 16 our of 24 hours a day with the business. I was reading the Dilbert book "Slapped Together - the Dilbert Business Anthology".

I think I get a kick out of reading this because this is what actually happens in those big corporate offices - or any offices with cubicles, many layers of unnecessary management, etc. You get the picture.

I've heard MANY stories from friends working in those types of companies complaining about these things:

  1. My boss doesn't know what they're doing (this is the no.1 complaint I hear; especially in tech companies)
  2. I waste most of my time in meetings to "recap" things. How about telling me what to do in this week instead?
  3. My boss loves to strategize but nothing ever gets done.
  4. If I ever hear the words "touch base", "moving forward", "let's shelve this for now", "strategic paradigm", I will literally start throwing up right here, right now.
  5. I came up with this great idea and my boss 'ran with it'. Sure enough, he always ran off with my credit for coming up with the idea.

Now in defense of these companies, the 'boss' of the tech department is probably a project manager and not a always a great developer. They are probably better as a project manager - ie. making sure things got done on time, people were accountable, etc. this is why their job isn't to develop now. Of course, developers hate to be managed by someone who isn't great at developing. I think this is where the frustration arises. I honestly do feel their pain but let's say one of the developers were promoted to the management position, would they do just as well as their current boss in managing the team? That's an unknown. (Most developer right now are probably banging their hands on the table yelling and screaming "Of course I can do a better job!" STILL. It's an unknown until you're promoted, so keep your fingers crossed.)

On meetings: You can make them more productive. Make it your goal to drive the meeting forward instead of chatting about one topic endlessly. Make sure the meeting ends in 15 minutes, if you see that the purpose of the meeting is to decide ONE thing - and then move on to do actual work. Use action items. My team and I have a running list of action items that we cross off as we complete them, so we track progress and add this week's action items during the weekly team meeting. It's up to YOU to make it efficient.

On Taking Credit: If your boss takes credit for having implemented the idea and you didn't actually participate in that, stop fuming. What your boss SHOULD do, is give you credit for having come up with the idea. That's fair. I'm a believer of the fact that implementation of an idea far outweighs just coming up with the idea.

Here's an example. I thought of the iPhone too. Way before Apple did. Now they're selling a gazillion of them. They definitely need to write a blogpost about me having come up with the idea before. It was MY idea!

As you can see, there's a reason WHY you're not sharing in the gazillion dollars they're making, you didn't take part in the actual implementation.

So, this is what Dilbert has inspired me to write. If you work at a company similar to the ones in this post, good luck. All I can suggest is to keep a level head when things like the above complaints happen to you and try to do something about it. I hear enough whining and complaining from supposedly 'helpless' employees but never heard of them taking any action to change the situation. What is causing the headaches you experience at work? It is a person? Is it a situation? Read the book The 48 Laws of Power and apply those principles to change things to YOUR way - every person in every position within a company holds SOME sort of power/value for the company or they would've been fired already; use that power to your advantage.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Oh! The Places You'll Go!

Lately I've been trying to squeeze in more reading time but that was a complete failure. So I decided to read a book that shrinks 100 books into 1! Genius. Time saver. Some of the books I would definitely want to read the entire book instead of just a summary, but the one that caught my eye as one of the Best Business Books of All Time was Dr. Seuss' "Oh! The Places You'll Go!"

I received this as a graduation gift from my mentor 2 years ago and I have to admit that it has been the book that I have read time and again when I encountered difficult times in building my own business.

The concepts are so simple yet encouraging that I recommend that anyone that needs a boost in their day (if it's one of THOSE days...) to get this book. According to the summary I read, the entire book has less than 600 words! So, I can definitely say that it's an "easy" read. Here's an excerpt I like:
And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PeerFX Approved for Government Funding

We've waited a little bit to announce this on the blog but we're extremely excited that we've been approved for government funding for the next 10 months of our development efforts. This morning we distributed a press release through CNW newswire to share the news and it's been picked up by Yahoo! Finance and other trade networks.

Our IRAP representative was super helpful in guiding us with the application and you can read the press release here:

Monday, June 22, 2009

On Ruthless Management

Recently I read a book titled "Ruthless Management". Not that I'm encouraging you to manage that way but I think the key takeaway I had was that as much as we don't want to, we have to measure everything and align employee's interests with the company.

The most illustrative example they had was a chart that outlined an employer vs. an employee's priorities.

How much profit can we produce today?

  1. Taking care of kids
  2. Holding marriage together
  3. Planning for the weekend
  4. Planning night out with girls/guys
  5. Who will win American Idol?
  6. Social relationships at the office; who's a b*tch, who's my friend
  7. Getting to work on time
  8. Getting off work right on time or early if possible
  9. How much profit can I produce for the company today?
Clearly we see a mismatch of priorities, and you can't blame them! YOU are the one running the business with your blood, sweat and tears and sadly, on the other end, they are here for a paycheck. So the best you can do is try to motivate and provides incentives for them to help build the company.

Don't get me wrong - there are employees that will be with you through the good times and the bad, take a cut in their paycheck to help out your cash flow issues, with an understanding that they will be rewarded in the future for their loyalty (and you should definitely reward them).

The bottom line is that as employers, we shouldn't impose our priorities on our employees; just remember that when you were an employee you were probably wanting to get off right on time as well. This teaches us a lesson that we should spend time figuring out what motivates each employee and act accordingly.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

International Retailer Conference & Exhibition - Boston

The largest conference of its type. We definitely learnt a lot from the conference speakers sessions, but the most rewarding component was talking with other online businesses. Some key takeaways were:

  1. Accountability - with the widespread use of tools to make your online marketing more efficient, you can also use these tools to hold your marketing agencies accountable for your website conversions, sales numbers, etc.
  2. Affiliates - it seems like with the dominance of online retail giants, it's hard for small businesses to compete. This is why the use of affiliates is so important; online growth is largely depending on the size of the network that you are able to create. Are your services/products beneficial or complimentary to other online services? Creating affiliations and partnerships can raise sales and positively impact the bottom line for both companies. The golden rule still applies: If the partnership or affiliation doesn't have any impact on your bottom line it's a no go - you're either partnering for your ego's sake or to impress your investors.
  3. Functionality - what did people come to your website to do? The pretty colors and design are appropriate only when they compliment the functionality of your website. Background graphics that overlap the website navigation menu are a distraction and detract from the main function, to sell, sell, SELL!!!
Those are just a couple of things we picked up from the conference; I would definitely recommend other online retailers/services to attend this conference next year since you will learn current techniques to improve your website, bounce ideas off potential partners and customers, and see how other businesses manage their websites to maximize ROI on their marketing spending.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Website Traffic up....5333% ???

That sounds like a HUGE number.

Which is awesome.

And no...we're NOT talking about the type of growth like this: "We have DOUBLED our viewership over the past month!" (When you only had 20 in the first place...haha)

So I'm guessing that the Adwords campaign we're running is doing pretty good. Or from the first batches of transactions that we're running, our users are helping us spread the word since they've seen the results and the savings. I'm actually hoping it's the latter, since that means we're delivering on what we promised - savings on currency exchange.

We're encouraged by the fact that users have tried out the system with smaller amounts, proven that they get their money as promised, and are coming back with larger transactions. We have these early adopters to thank for helping us build credibility for our service.

We're in the midst of setting our sales goals for the upcoming months, and since it's been proven that sharing goals with others will make people adhere to them better, I'm hoping that I will be able to share them on this blog so our readers can keep us on our toes.

More to come on this later!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Become a Household Name

Best selling author, entrepreneur, and agent of change Seth Godin blogged today about the importance of being a familiar name to your prospective customers and I couldn't agree more.

Being a familiar name takes you miles closer to closing a sale. People like to buy from companies they've heard of.
As a web entrepreneur that runs a hyper-local technology blog reliant on advertising revenue through banner ads, this is often a benefit I tout when dealing with sales objections. While click-through rates wallow across many industries and banner ad blindness has become a threat on many high traffic sites, Godin still believes there is immense value in brand-building awareness campaigns.

It turns out that this is an overlooked benefit of banner ads. Banner ads are fairly worthless in terms of generating clickthroughs... you have to trick too much and manipulate too much to get clicks worth much of anything. But, if you build ads with no intent of clicks, no hope for clicks... then you can focus on ads that drill your name or picture or phrase into my head. 100 impressions and you're almost famous.
Repetition breeds familiarity and eye-catching graphic banners ads still get noticed. So if you're breaking into a new market or just trying to remain relevant in your local scene, pick a couple sites serving your demographic and give banner advertising another chance. You're be surprised at just how easy it is to become a household name.

Daniel Pink

This past weekend was re-reading one of my favourite light-hearted commentaries on thinking creatively. Daniel Pink had a nice little hit with his "A Whole New Mind" and there is definitely some fun value in his stories and structure. Perhaps my favourite chapter in the book is his call to action on "play" - the idea that to engage the right side of the brain and become more creative we need to learn how to play again. Something that is sadly beaten out of most of us throughout our education experience (see Sir Ken Robinson on that one). The chapter fizzles out a bit by focusing simply on games, humor, and joyfulness - but it still strikes me that stress and "busyness" that we often embrace in our activities (especially our entrepreneurial ones) limits our ability and desire to playfully let our mind wander. So the challenge to lay down on this blog entry is that each of us should take some time this week to just get silly, play with some leggo, or use some jump rope. To see new possibilities and find opportunity in the world around us we need to foster a playful attitude that enables openness, creativity, and imagination.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Serial Killer or Serial Entrepreneur?

Hi all, it is Raymond To again. I thought the Title would get your attention!
Having worked closely now for 6 months with the PeerFX management team, I am amazed at how much has changed and how much stayed the same. I know it sounds boring but us old guys who have been around the business block a few times have a need to make sure the next generation combine tried and true methods of success with their own ideas. So read on...

Why did I use the title? Serial Killer or Serial Entrepreneur? During the early days of starting my business, there were times when I thought being obsessed was the key to success to any start-up. Well, it is not. A quick recap of my career so far. Got my B.Sc in Biochemistry, then an MBA in 1990 from UBC. Then failed at 3 start-ups from 1989 to 1992. One was an education company I started during my last year of MBA. Another was an advertising agency called Left Brain Right Brain Marketing and the third was a plastic bag distributor importing bags made in Korea and selling them to convenience stores. After these failures, I needed to find a real job so I sent my resume to Corporate Recruiters who at first didn't want to hire me. Understandable given I was only like 24 at the time with no polish or experience. However I convinced the owner to give me a shot. Not much risk on his part actually because I offered to work for free. I ended up staying there for 10 years recruiting for many tech start-ups. Then in 2002 during the last economic downturn, I left to start GO Recruitment. I guess I was never cured of my entrepreneurial bug. Ask me why I did it during a downturn.

Looking back, I am blessed to have failed so early in life. What did I learn?

1. Be mad at something. Does this sound like a serial killer? Well, I don't really know but it sounds provocative and you will remember what I wrote. When I say "mad at something", it means there is something about the status quo which you don't like and chances are you are not alone. If there are at least 100 others feeling the same way and you can solve or reach these 100 people with the a low-cost or high value solution, then you likely have a potential business.
This was one of my drivers when I left my old firm to start GO Recruitment. People were complaining about what they didn't like from traditional recruiters and I ended up creating a business from their pain.
So Lesson # 1: Ask people what pisses them off and if you start to see a pattern, this is the seed for a start-up

2. Carry a weapon. Sheesh! This is all unintentional I am serious. This is your secret sauce. That idea that can solve the problems you heard about in your mission to finding that makes people mad. For me, it was changing the way companies engaged a recruiter. In the past, it was very transactional and brokerage based. I created an ongoing monthly or on-call hourly relationship which tipped the industry on its heads.

3. Find a Customer. Duh! This one is obvious but most start-ups forget to do this in parallel to building a product. Now a customer does not have to pay a lot and some you may have to pay to be your customer. Huh? I know. :-)These are called Beta customers.
The point of having customers or a customer is to validate whether your idea stinks or not. In my case, I was blessed to have 1 client immediately use my new "A la Carte"/Relationship-based model. That was Class Software which is now Active Networks after their founder Ralph Turfus sold it like for gazillions of dollars. Ralph continues to be a big supporter of our company. I just got an email from him today referring us 2 new clients.

4. Be thankful. It is corny but I still have that first invoice which my client paid me. I also still have all of my business cards. This can help you reflect where you have been and to contently smile during those days when things go well and to remind you also during those days when things all go to shit.

5. Build a board or at least a group of trusted advisors. You can't go it alone. When I left to start my own firm in 2002, I was a bit arrogant to think no one could be as good as me. A healthy dose of denial is good but there is always someone smarter. Ask them for advice. Ask them to connect you with their people. People are very willing to help. Be careful though, because smart people may not always make the best entrepreneurs.

What do you think?