Monday, February 20, 2012

Using Rapportive to Discover Someone's Email Address

Let's say you want to email someone. You know their name and where they work, but you don't have their address. You can guess at it, since for most companies it follows one of a limited set of patterns:

  • First_Last@
  • first@
  • [first initial][last name]@
  • etc.
This is kind of annoying to do in practice: it's slow, it might result in your email arriving in the wrong person's inbox, etc. Using Rapportive, all you have to do is type each guess into the To: field, and Rapportive will immediately look up that email address and give you the results.

I discovered this in the best possible way - by accident. Use it and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

14 Ways VC Fundraising Is Like Dating

A lot of first-time entrepreneurs scrutinize the web-o-sphere and the blogs of folks wiser than I like Fred Wilson and Mark Suster for advice on how to come up with the perfect pitch to VCs, but they miss the most basic truth: VCs are people too, and people are all about relationships. So, in honor of February 14, Valentine's Day, I've put together a list of 14 ways VC fundraising is like that oldest of human relationships: dating (or love, if you want to get all historical on me):*
  1. You start with coffee.
  2. There are lots of "dates."
  3. If you're not interested you try to let the other side down gently - "I don't want to lead you on."
  4. The side that starts off aloof can be the side that ends up falling in love - and the one that gets its heart broken.
  5. Begging the other side to give things another chance rarely works.
  6. You can't reason your way into a relationship (aka He's Just Not That Into You)
  7. There may be numbers involved but ultimately it's based on a feeling.
  8. Timing is everything - "This just isn't the right time for me to get into a relationship."
  9. "You remind me of an ex" (another company/investor that left a bad taste).
  10. It's not about one side choosing the other but about both sides finding the right match.
  11. You hope it's about more than the money.
  12. The holy grail is a true partnership.
  13. When the relationship is ready to be consummated there is paperwork to sign.
  14. Moving too fast often produces bad results.
Happy Valentine's Day!

* Please have a sense of humor when reading these. They were written to play off of well-known stereotypes about dating rather than any opinion of how dating should be.

    Saturday, February 4, 2012

    Coupons vs Gift Cards

    I read a Quora question that asked "How do the economics of gift cards compare to coupons for retailers?" Since I've worked a bit in the gift card and payments space* and am super nerdy when it comes to business models and other behavioral incentives,** I wrote a lengthy answer and copy-pasted it below:


    From a revenue perspective, it depends on the size of the transaction to which the gift card or coupon is applied. Most gift cards don't change the amount of revenue a retailer receives. That is to say, there is no discount given with the gift card so a $50 gift card represents $50 in revenue to the retailer. The retailer may pay for distribution of the gift card, in the form of a discount to face value, but this is a separate question.*** From an accounting perspective I don't know if the retailer can recognize revenue at the time the gift card is sold or has to wait until it is spent. A coupon cuts into their revenue, as by definition it is a reduction in what the customer would otherwise have paid for the same items.

    The above, of course, assumes that the customer would have bought the same items at full price regardless of whether an incentive (gift card or coupon) was offered. There is a lot of research and writing on how gift cards and coupons affect purchasing behavior, but that is beyond the scope of this question. What I have anecdotally observed is that versus gift cards, coupons tend to drive more spend outside of the item on which the coupon is used. I.e. I'm more likely to walk into a store to use a coupon and find myself buying more things than just what the coupon is for than I am to do the same with a gift card. To use one example, if I buy $50 of goods in a store and use a $10 coupon, the coupon will directly reduce revenue to the retailer by $10, but it may have indirectly increased revenue by $40. The real question on the use of coupons and other discounts is not their effect on current-period revenue but their effect on margins and as a customer acquisition tool (see for example AT&T's argument that while it loses money on each iPhone it sells at a discount to what it buys them at, it makes up for that loss by the lifetime value of an iPhone subscriber).

    With the gift card in fact I may never spend the full value of the gift card, a phenomenon called breakage which benefits the retailer and is built into the business model of the gift card industry.

    Balance Sheet

    Coupons do not generally affect the balance sheet. Gift cards on the other hand represent a liability, as their balance is indeed owed to the gift card holders, much like a bank deposit. To continue the bank deposit analogy, it is unlikely that all gift card holders would ask for what is owed to them at once. The exception would be a run on a bank, or in the case of a retailer, fear of a bankruptcy. For this reason retailers whose outstanding gift card liabilities represent a material part of their assets should disclose not only the size of this liability but how quickly they expect it to be redeemed (I don't know if this is actually required by the SEC).

    The outstanding liability is one reason that gift cards expire after a certain period. One can imagine an extreme case for an older retailer that if there were no expiry date, the sum of all of the gift cards ever issued that were lost or otherwise not redeemed might end up being more than the rest of the retailer's balance sheet! (the other reason is the breakage component of the gift card business model that is mentioned above)

    Which Is Better for the Retailer

    The answer to this one, like all good questions, is "it depends." This is really a narrower form of the question "What is a good pricing strategy?"

    As Aditya points out, a gift card preserves brand equity better for luxury or higher end brands. On the other hand, for a retailer whose brand positioning includes being low cost - e.g. Walmart, T-Mobile, most grocery stores and pharmacies - a coupon might enhance their image.

    For more directly financial advantages to each form of shopping incentive, the answer is completely dependent on the particulars of the campaign, including the size of the coupon/gift card, the nature of the incentive, the item or items being discounted, the distribution channel, etc. For example, a coupon can be for a percentage vs fixed discount; for a particular item vs run of store; have variable expiration dates; have a minimum spend to trigger the coupon (e.g. $10 off your purchase of $100 or more). 


    * I helped Univision launch their gift card in addition to broader experience w/ other forms of payments.

    ** Because isn't that what business models really are - ways of influencing consumer behavior?

    *** If you are interested, this is referred to as B2B gift cards - as opposed to B2C that are sold directly by the retailer to the consumer - and includes channels such as employee incentives (when a corporation buys gift cards to give their employees), gift card malls (online or offline locations that offer a wide selection of gift cards in one place. You'll often see these in drug stores near the checkout areas), and scrip (gift cards used as fundraising solutions, wherein community organizations such as schools buys gift cards at a discount and then resell them to community members at face value, collecting the difference as a donation). All of these channels share the characteristic that there is a wholesale buyer of the cards, who receives an appropriate wholesale discount.