Ahoy! Shore Excursions with Liquid Alaska – Port Promotions: A Chat with Founder & President, Jeff Fanning

After a long, azure stretch of open ocean, cruise ship passengers are often looking for the best means of stretching their restless sea legs. Founded in the spring of 2009 by Jeff Fanning, Liquid Alaska Tours saw the opportunity to create more value in that space where cruise tourists can find their adventurous bearing on land during their sojourn at port. After having worked in the industry for several years, Jeff was surprised that no vendors had taken advantage of the opportunity to centralize tour sales. Previously, vendors either sold tours to cruise ships – who in turn sold them to passengers at a substantial mark-up – or to passengers directly. A centralized system that provided all tours available at a given port that could be accessed in advance of arrival (usually online), as well as a kiosk on the dock for those who failed to book in advance, would provide better access, service, options, and prices for eager tourists.

The crux of their value proposition is how Liquid Alaska disrupts the pricing of tours in this market. Typically cruise lines offer the same tours that vendors sell on land but at a far higher price, whereas shore-bound vendors would rely on higher volumes but at lower margins. By creating an online marketplace where passengers could book in advance, it rewards them with lower prices and a reserved position on a tour, and it provides the seller the means to smooth sales revenue in advance of the inundation of tourists when a cruise ship arrives at port. Fortunately, Jeff’s entrepreneurial acumen proved insightful, and in five years, the Alaska native was able to grow his company substantially, ultimately acquiring the assets of a global tour provider and bringing them under the umbrella of his company. Now, Liquid Alaska – Port Promotions operates in over 200 ports around the world and favorable winds are blowing it toward even greater expansion.

The company has fundamentally positioned itself as a comprehensive tour broker that offers shore excursions at wholesale rates. It is difficult to segment the target consumer in this space, given the nature of the cruise ship industry, but broadly speaking it is the cruise ship passenger looking for an onshore excursion. Jeff pointed out that his ‘target’ demographic is between 30 and 70 years of age and, generally speaking, the younger half is more inclined to access his services online and the greying half can be found in port, at the kiosks. Very early on, the first customers were acquired the old fashioned way: in person, on the dock. However, that quickly gave way with growth and today Liquid Alaska – Port Promotions reaches out largely through digital channels, from online publication advertisements to Google AdWords to the standard players in social media.

It is an exciting industry but is not without its quirks – such as a near non-existed customer retention rate (as expensive cruises tend to be once-in-a-lifetime expenditures) – but the growth and promise of new ports ahead make sailing these entrepreneurial waters rewarding, exciting, and full of new horizons. Land, ho!


Be a Great Mind and Fall in Love with the BEST in BEAUTY!!!

Late into fall quarter my entrepreneurial strategy team was tasked with conducting some mild research on Birchbox, the send-you-free-samples-for-$10-a-month cosmetic company. Although this company can furnish classy, gentleman-colored boxes of a viridian hue, the bulk of their wares are shipped in a Mexican pink enclosure much more amenable to genderbirch-stereotyped shades of the lady consumer. A tragic byproduct of this “research” I conducted is that a seemingly omnipresent glare of the Birchbox magenta stalks me from page to page, whether I am looking up guitar tablature or checking out Facebook. What has struck me most about this is the stubborn longevity of their targeted advertising. I really thought (and hoped) that, by now, this cookie-guided box ad could be packed up and shipped to some other corner of the web. Instead, I keep asking myself if I want to ‘fall in love with the best in beauty’. Fortunately their efforts have failed to curtail my aversion to their product, but how long can I hold out? Falling in love can be so rewarding! The thrill of it all! The excitement! It can also, however, leave you with unwanted eyeliner, mascara, and associated sundries cluttering your bathroom countertop and an empty sense of feeling used.

EconAs a subscriber to The Economist, I will from time to time post interesting articles on my Facebook wall, copying the URL from the online version of the publication. Today, I was pleased to see that a song lyric site I visited bore the welcome catchy white text of my favorite news periodical. Seeing as how their advertising already succeeded in roping me in, their advertisements only reinforce my appreciation for their pithy, witty articles punctuated with epenthetic ‘u’s and other archaic Britishisms. This ad in question even helps trump up myself esteem, allowing me to identify myself with the sultry erudition of The Economist. By Jove, it’s a cheeky one, it is!

Lastly, for several months I contemplated making one of the largest retail expenditures of my life: a pair of Wolverine 1000 Mile Boots. Being the son of my father – through no fault of my own, mind you – I am prone to the Knackstedt proclivity of researching, studying, and open-mindedly reading every review of a product imaginable and, upon more consideration, devoting near-equal commitment toward price comparisons before any notion of a purchase is executed. As such, I have wanted a pair of this objectively sublime footwear for over two years. Longing indeed makes the heart grow 1000fonder, but the equally stylish ads have, with some sly regularity, popped up on various websites I have perused and engendered an even deeper yearning. Here, though, I can say that their algorithmic persistence paid off and that this story – and blog post – are wrapped up with a happy ending of me purchasing the shoes three weeks ago. There is now a noticeable spring in my step (although that could be complementary from my now much-lighter wallet, too).

Doughbies: Become the Cookie Monster

When you supply freshly baked chocolate chip & sea salt cookies, pumpkin cupcakes, and rainbow rice crispy treats, it is only reasonable that there will be a responsive and ample demand. Daniel Conway saw this potential and created the market-clearing mechanism of Doughbies, a San Francisco start-up billing itself as “the world’s largest local bakery” capable of delivering delectable indulgences within 20 minutes of ordering. The impetus is simple: people all around are keen to indulge in high quality, distinctive and piquant offerings from local bakeries. Most often, however, these prospective consumers are tied up at their desk, swamped with work and unable to satisfy and satiate their buttery, Maillard-reaction lusts. Now, with Doughbies, these culinary hedonists can assuage their cravings with a few easy taps on their smart phones finding that, in the digital age, ‘A’ is for ‘Accessible’, ‘B’ is ‘Brilliant’, and ‘C’ has – and always will be – for ‘Cookie.’

Bloggers or members of the press that I would consider reaching out regarding Doughbies would include the following:

Liren Baker (@kitchconfidante), founder of Kitchen Confidante. Her blog emphasizes the artisan food scene in the Bay Area with a special emphasis on the role that food plays with the people most important in one’s life. Kitchen Confidante has a robust following and Liren’s blog has been recognized by PBS as one of the “Ten Food Blogs You Should Be Reading, But Might Not Know About”.

Jessica Hunt (@HowSweetBlog), founder of How Sweet It Is. Although Jessica focuses primarily on pastries and sweet-treats, her blog is not limited to diabetes-inducing snacks alone. Based in Pittsburgh, her interest in Doughbies could help spur interest for the company on the east coast as it looks to expand.

And, lastly, Sarah Perez (@sarahintampa), who is a writer for TechCrunch. TechCrunch’s readership includes smartphone-savvy cookie-consumers who are generally predisposed to exploring the latest benefits that technology can reap. Sarah’s writings tend to suggest a proclivity toward food-related innovation and interests, and her support could reach a wide base of prospective customers.

From the Battlefield to Brooklyn: Voxer aims to simplify complicated communication

It is difficult to coordinate a firefight against Afghan insurgents when the military-issued walkie-talkies do not allow you to speak to your entire platoon. This challenge inspired the former special-forces sergeant, Tom Katis, to co-found Voxer, an application that diversifies the channels through which one phone can communicate with another. His company, founded in 2007, positions itself to be the leading platform for effective, secure communication with additional productivity enhancements to supplement its utility. It provides many of the same services a standard smart phone may come with en suite – including group texts, location and photo sharing, and recorded voice messages – with group-chatting, walkie-talkie mode, and military-grade encryption for communication that can extend beyond a standard network.

Although Voxer attributes the bulk of its growth through word-of-mouth channels, engendered by its high-profile attention through TechCrunch, their online presence primarily targets a younger audience (for their free services) and small, geographically-diffuse businesses (for the pay-service). The walkie-talkie mode has proved particularly resonant with individuals in their late teens and early twenties through the help of sports icons like Kevin Durant and musical heartthrobs like Harry Styles who both have shown affinity for the app. In the B2B space, their promotional materials boast of the efficiency gains that the New York-based company Future Cab has gained through use of the Voxer platform.

Voxer’s value seems to lie in its functionality to both young consumers and businesses as the premier multi-channel communication platform because of its trans-local, scalable, and dynamic capabilities. At first blush it would appear that the eight year-old company has not stormed the market, but in fact they have met with a great deal of success. Their viral campaigns, presence in print and online media, and Dropbox-like customer acquisition strategy has proved fruitful, roping in legions of customers in the US, Germany, England, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Canada. However, this strategy may struggle as the company focuses its growth strategy toward government, medical, and corporate segments, three areas that tend toward more conventional, 20th century channels to be marketed toward.

Kymata: Bringing the internet everywhere it needs to be

Kymeta, a Seattle 10 Startup winner featured at the Geekwire Gala in 2014, has deployed cutting-edge metamaterial technology to enable satellite-connected broadband to reach, conceivably, anywhere in the world.  Based in Redmond, the company’s primary product is a small, energy-efficient broadband receiver that is, essentially, a flat antenna capable of sending and receiving in the Ka-band spectrum common in commercial satellites.  During their first demonstration in Vancouver, Canada, one year ago, former CEO Vern Fotheringham demonstrated the high-speed potential of the product through a video skype call to his employees at the company’s headquarters.

Although its applications are far reaching, it would appear that Kymeta’s executives are most keen to target the maritime segment of the market, both commercial and leisure, in the near term.  Early adopters are expected to include cruise ship operators as well as merchant vessels, both of which would provide proof-of-concept in a real world environment.  Expansion would then follow into both the automobile and aviation industries.  This is evinced by the development of their mTenna 4 Panel configuration, providing a low, aerodynamic profile, suitable for commercial jets or car roofs, to bring affordable highspeed internet to travelers of both land and sky.