Executive Wireless Inc.

Michael Grabham is what you might call a serial entrepreneur. He has a knack for starting and running (successful) businesses. He is the current Seattle director of Startup Grind, is actively engaged in one of his many start-ups, SendInBlue, and is also running his social venture, Survive the Streets. Michael is juggling many jobs, however, for the purpose of this blog I am going to focus on one particular business that Michael founded back in 2002, Executive Wireless Inc., an organization creating mobile apps at a time when that was not yet a common startup venture. As CEO and President, Michael oversaw the success of a real estate application that changed the way realtors did business. This product, Wireless Realty, allowed realtors to access their multiple listing service (MLS) on the go instead of heading back to the office, thus transforming the way the industry conducted business.

Identifying the Market

After creating the promising Wireless Realty app, Michael began his pursuit of brokerage companies in Vancouver, BC as his target market. His initial plan was to reach the top five brokers in Vancouver’s marketplace, and so he set out to talk to all of them. After his initial interactions with brokerage companies he began to realize that he was pursuing the wrong market for his product. He quickly learned that brokers are not the ones using the MLS, real estate agents were. Not only that, but he learned that brokers did not have enough influence over the realtors to push the product on them, due to the realtors’ status as independent entrepreneurs. Therefore he needed to change tactics and target the realtors themselves. He marketed his product directly to the realtors and was met with great success.

After his initial success in Vancouver, Michael was ready to expand and started to pursue markets in Seattle, Buffalo and a variety of cities across the country. He determined these geographic markets based on several factors: successful real estate markets, large urban centers, and existing relationships. His primary criteria for entering a new city was the number and quality of his existing relationships in that space. Having relationships and advocates pre-exiting within a city made the adoption of his product easier and more likely.

Disrupting the Market

When Executive Wireless Inc. came onto the scene, it disrupted the current real estate market. However, it wasn’t disruptive in the typical sense of the word; it did not result in displaced employees and lost jobs. It instead filled a need that wasn’t currently being filled and solved a pain point. Prior to this product, realtors were reliant on visiting their office to check on MLS.This application allowed agents to work remotely, instead of being tied to the office, freeing them up to spend more time making sales and showing homes.

Offering a mobile app for MLS had never been done before; Michael was throwing this new technology into an existing market. This product was completely optional, but received high adoption rates as realtors realized the convenience of the tool. Most realtors reviewed this new market entry as a positive change and contribution to their field. This product was a first step in moving the market to where it is today.

Positioning the Company

Executive Wireless, Inc. positioned themselves as being innovators, game-changers, and industry leaders. As the first company to enter the space, they experienced first mover advantages. Once competitors entered the field, Michael and his company were already seen as the MLS mobile experts, which put them in the position of being the trusted go-to company.

Channel Utilization

Michael relied heavily on relationships and communication to promote his product, a tactic he says has worked at every one of his organizations. He began in Vancouver due to the fact that he had many personal, family, and business connections. He attributes the leveraging of these relationships to his successful entry into the market. After initial adoption of his product, word of mouth allowed him to expand. Eventually his app became the status quo and was an expected tool of the trade, making marketing unnecessary. He expanded next to Seattle where he used the same relationship utilization, specifically with a close connection at Windermere who was already a huge fan of the product. This was an opportunity for success and he took it. Relationships were integral to his success in each consecutive city.

Panel Write Up: Optimizing Pricing and Distribution Plans

Panel Write Up: Optimizing Pricing and Distribution Plans
Team ClearHome (Heather Lewis, Jeff Kinney, Mary Ke, Sarah Abramowitz, Sungjoon Kim, Michael Pamphlet)

Introduction
This past Monday, our class was fortunate to hear from three very accomplished and visionary entrepreneurial thought leaders; Leigh McMillan, VP of Marketing at Avvo, Steve Banfield, Digital Executive at Rightside, and Brant Williams, Founder of Tenacious Offense and Guided Products. The panel was a split discussion, first focused on pricing and distribution and then around customer retention and referrals. Each of these topics is relevant to our class start-ups as we begin to explore what it actually  looks like to take our products to market, and retain the amount of growth and engagement that we have established through our digital marketing efforts thus far.

Key Insights
The speakers gave great advice during our discussions of pricing and distribution. They had a lot to say regarding the importance of choosing the right business model to drive pricing strategy, and understanding the pros and cons of online retail channels vs. brick and mortar stores,  as well as  the importance of SEO as part of distribution strategy.

Before landing on a pricing strategy, it is critical that we think about our business model. For ClearHome, we assumed that our product would be sold as a one-time purchase of the in-home air quality monitoring device and we would provide the app as just part of the deal. However, Brant Williams challenged us to think about whether we were selling the “razor” or the “blade”. In other words, are we focused on being profitable against the one-time purchase of the platform, or is the platform simply the open door for ongoing customer purchasing for services or add-on benefits?

In this vein, Leigh McMillan stated, “Once you have shown people there is something they can take advantage of, you have the ability to show them volume for other solutions. Get as many out there as possible and as we present problems to them with the mobile app, we make money on the backend as the entity providing the solution.” With just a business model, we may not price the device as high-end but instead competitively to increase our adoption. These were great points that our team has now taken into consideration. Similarly, she suggested that we make the app available for free download with limited functions. As users became more engaged with the app they would be encouraged to buy the hardware device in order to receive all the benefits of the product.

In thinking of distribution channels, it matters how we want to cut our profits across distributors and which channel would be most effective at getting the attention of our audience. Traditional retail may not make the most sense for us, considering the high margins taken by the stores and the fact that our potential customers are not yet aware of the ClearHome brand, and our device may suffer from bad placement on big box distributors’ shelves. Instead, we should leverage online retail to go directly to the consumer, and save significantly on shipping (single shipping for an online retailer such as Amazon, versus multiple shipping to a brick and mortar distributor). However, there are pros and cons to selling directly from our site and using other eCommerce platforms, such as Amazon. With our own site, we would not have the brand awareness to reach as many customers as established channels, like Amazon. However, with established channels comes cuts to profits. Online retailers are a friendlier place to distribute. Traditional retail usually results in a $10 sale price if the cost of goods is $1. Approximately 40% goes to distribution costs. Think about Pro.com and Porch, they are serving the connector role between consumers’ money and the services they want.

They also cautioned that if we do elect to go through traditional retail as a distribution channel, we have to be careful to avoid channel conflict. If we decide to later incorporate online sales and start selling our product online for a lower price than in stores, box retailers will be alienated and will be concerned about experiencing a drop in their margins.

We also were reintroduced to SEO as a channel strategy. This was a significant paradigm shift for many people in the class and on our team. Whereas, we often thought of SEO as the amplifier to a channel, Leigh McMillan positioned it as such a vital part of her lawyer business that it essentially was at the top of the channel strategy for her. According to Leigh,”You need to create liquidity in the market.” Her company created a free Q&A space, allowing consumers to get free answers to their questions from actual attorneys. This service was good for both customers (who received responses) and lawyers (whose expert answers worked as free advertising for their services). All the while this resulted in detailed, long-tail content which is valued highly by Google, particularly questions formatted as How Do I…? Leigh was strategic in her formatting, adding key words that would assist in the SEO, and she was careful not to tag duplicate content. Leigh also used referrals and offered a first-time complimentary service to new customers, resulting in more traffic and ultimately more search power to her site. Similarly, this quality SEO allowed her company to initially get around branding and recognition. Once this SEO strategy resulted in significant traffic, they then shifted to accelerating their growth which requires gaining consumer trust, by creating a known, recognizable brand. This multi-pronged SEO strategy could be a critical part of our ClearHome plan, especially with a new product space like home air quality assistants, because the market is not yet saturated.

Blog 4

Whenever I visit zennioptical.com to search for glasses, an ad from them will immediately show up on my facebook homepage. Not only will the ad be from Zenni, but it will show a picture of one of the exact pairs of glasses I had just looked at (example pictured). glassesAnother company whose ads always show up is Nordstrom. I regularly visit their website, and pictures of the items I have viewed will often appear on my facebook page. These ads can be effective when they remind me of items that I like and even considered buying. However, they have never resulting in me purchasing the pictured items. I don’t intentionally avoid buying those products, but the ads have never been effective enough to convince me to go back to the site and make the purchase. Also, I think it is important for companies to consider the downside of these ads. These ads often showcase not only items that I like, but also ones that I dislike and have rejected. Repeatedly showing me items that I have no interest in leads me to have a negative association with the company doing the advertising.

Blog #3: Exploding Kittens

I chose to look at Exploding Kittens. This is a game developed by the creator of The Oatmeal. The reason I find it so fascinating is that it a simple card game, yet it has launched the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever. So far the campaign has raised $5,057,070 and it’s not even done yet! It still has 18 days remaining to raise more funds.

This game is already receiving a lot of press and hype, however it wouldn’t hurt for them to continue to reach out to the press and bloggers to expand their reach beyond the kickstarter crowd. I would recommend that the primary creator, Matthew Inman, along with his fellow creators, reach out to the following bloggers in order to increase their visibility.

1) Eli Sanders-@elijsanders

In order to gain more traction in the Seattle area I recommend Eli, a fixture at The Stranger, a Seattle newspaper, website and blog with a large readership base. While he typically blogs about politics and hard-hitting news, he does occasionally post about lighter topics. A post from his could have a broad reach.

2) Jace Lacob-@televisionary

Buzzfeed’s Entertainment Editorial Director

3) Christina Bonnington-@redgirlsays

Staff writer for Wired.

Clarity

Clarity claims to be the “world’s first wearable air quality monitor.”

Clarity is focusing on a limited number of online channels, including a well developed and modern website, Facebook, and email updates.

Clarity positions itself as a device that can empower the user to take control of their health and even be a hero. The user becomes a hero by contributing to an increased knowledge of air quality in their home city through data sharing. This data can be used by lawmakers to understand and improve the quality of air in their geographic region.

Clarity promises to increase awareness of the air the consumer is exposed to throughout their day. As a wearable device, this allows them to understand the quality of the air in the places they pass through and frequent. Information allows them to adjust their habits to include healthier atmospheres. This product is being marketed mainly in India and China, places with high pollution levels in the outdoor environment. While most people know their air is bad, they may not feel as though they can do anything about it. This empowers them to take control of their health.

It is difficult to tell if Clarity is successfully communicating to their target customer. While their website clearly defines the problem they are trying to solve, and positions themselves as a smart solution, it seems as though their online marketing efforts are limited, so it is unclear if their website is reaching the intended audience. They do need to improve upon their search engine optimization. I could not locate their site through google, and even on the angel list, they were fairly low on the list of air quality companies. This indicates a need for an increased public presence. However, they may have on-the-ground efforts, not visible online, in their geographic targets, namely India and China.

Blog 1: Glympse

Glympse

Modern technology has led to constant communication with our family, friends, and colleagues, even when we are on the go. The myriad of available communication mediums has led to the expectation that we will be available and within reach at all times. There is no longer an excuse to be late for any event without first informing someone, or an excuse to get lost. Technology shows us where to go, allows us to inform each other of our expected arrival time and enables us to constantly update each other on our travel status. However, this expectation can lead to dangerous practices such as texting while driving, or to rude behavior such as constant texting during meetings or while engaged with others. It can also be a burden to keep others updated on our location and on our ETA. For the busy person on the go this can be stressful.

This is where Glympse comes in. This technology allows the user to send their location to anyone. The recipient will open the message and “glimpse” where the user is on a map and will see their location move in real time.

Glympse appears to have started by targeting the young, tech-savvy market segment. Glympse has not been heavily promoted and is mostly in use by those in the startup and tech scenes. Glympse has a presence at Meetup and other technology events, which has succeeded in increasing its visibility in that target market. As those initial users adapt the app, they send Glympses to their friends, thus spreading use and knowledge of this application. As awareness of Glympse expands and more people adopt the technology, I believe that Glympse will reach a wider target market.

I personally use Glympse, as do some of my friends, which leads me to believe that we are part of the initial and expanding target market. We are all busy people on the go, who want to safely, conveniently, and quickly let our friends, family, and colleagues know where we are at.

This leads me to the overall market analysis. Glympse has the ability to expand into the majority of the marketplace. This is not a technology that stands to benefit only specific demographics; it can help anyone who wishes to know where someone is, or wants others to know where they are. This includes virtually everyone.

Glympse could easily expand to include people in the following markets:

  • Families with kids. If a child sends a Glympse to their parents, it allows the parent to see where the child is at all times. The parents can monitor their progress. This may give many parents the peace of mind to let their kids venture out on their own, whether they are beginning to drive, or going out with a friend.
  • People in an unfamiliar place. Glympse can be used when the user is trying to meet up with someone but they do not know the address, or if one or both people are unfamiliar with the area. Rather than try to describe landmarks or search out an address, they can send the person a Glympse, allowing the recipient to follow the map to reach them.
  • People on the move. Say two users are taking a walk around Greenlake and they agree to meet in the middle. Glympse allows them to see each other’s progress and ensure that they don’t accidentally bypass each other.

These many uses imply that Glympse has the potential to acquire customers who are currently relying solely on Google Maps or other similar map applications. Glympse takes it to the next step, by allowing users to share where they are at without addresses or landmarks. Glympse also has the potential to take the place of other more expensive technologies that are designed to help parents keep track of their children and their vehicles.