Why I Will Succeed

I write this post with a heavy heart. I recently lost a close relative, in tragic fashion. As untimely as death is, this one really was untimely. My wife and I spent the past seven days with family in Florida and NY.

In the midst of all this I had a board meeting, some deadlines, and other work activities that still needed tending to. Thankfully my team at Citysquares had things well under control and I knew I could count on them to make sure things run efficiently and that the impact of my absense would be minimal. I found myself confident that I could be away from the office. Of course, having a BlackBerry sure helps.

Anyway, during the past several days, having the confidence that the company was running on its own, and disconnecting myself from day-to-day operations, in addition to mourning the loss of a loved one with my family, I found myself being reminded of why I’m doing this entrepreneurial thing. I was reminded not of fame and fortune, not of career advancement, not of fancy boats or cars. I was reminded of the importance of family. I’m 31 years old, I’m married. We want children. I have a big family, here in New England, in NY, and in Florida. I have a life to build and to live.

I’m doing this Citysquares thing for good reasons, reasons other than fame and fortune. The #1 reason is so that I can build a life for myself, my wife, my family. And that reason makes it all the more important that I succeed.

Google’s Feet On The Street

On Monday Google announced their Google Local Business Referrals (LBR) program in which “local representatives” (essentially 1099 contractors) are paid to a) collect local business information, b) submit that information to Google’s map/listings services, and c) spread the word about AdSense. Google will pay it’s local reps $10 for each business submitted, but not so fast. Here’s what Google says:

You’ll visit local businesses to collect information (such as hours of operation, types of payment accepted, etc.) for Google Maps, and tell them about Google Maps and Google AdWords. You’ll also take a few digital photos. After the visit, you submit the business’ info and photo(s) to Google.

You can earn up to $10 for each approved, verified referral you submit. This includes $2 when a business referral is approved by Google; and $8 when an approved business verifies that the information you submitted is accurate. Referrals are approved by Google based on the completeness and quality of data supplied by representatives. Businesses verify their information either by sending us a response postcard or verifying their information online. As long as your earnings total at least $25 a month, you’ll receive a monthly check.

Well woopie-doo! Donna Bogatin articulates quite well what I think of all this:

Google has announced various partnering schemes with the goal of piggybacking on small business sales force and distribution assets of other companies, such as 1) a Verizon SuperPages.com partnership to “marry its “sales channel opportunities with Google’s vast advertising network” and 2) a Intuit QuickBooks referral button deal to “help small businesses to attract new customers.”

Despite Google’s efforts to leverage the sales efforts of third-party companies, however, the local ad market remains elusive. Not surprisingly, Google can’t even garner sufficient “freebie” Google Maps listings it offers local merchants.

Google is undeterred. Sheryl Sandberg, VP Global Online Sales & Operations, said of the local opportunity last year:

As people do more local search on Google, we provide greater opportunity for local advertisers. In that area we think the market is widely under penetrated, it sounds surprising to a lot of us, but even in the United States, arguably the most developed market in the world for ecommerce less than 50% of businesses even have a Web site, or let alone advertisers, so we think there is tremendous opportunity to bring those people online and bring them into our advertising product.

Is Google biting the “feet on the street” sales force bullet, then? NO! As usual, Google believes it can get away with playing by its own business rules.

I think Google is way out of it’s league here. I’ve often believed that Adwords doesn’t really even make sense for much of the local merchant market, unless they’ve got an active eCommerce function.

Donna goes on:

The Googley local ad sales solution is to offer slave wages to U.S. residents: $2-$10 for hours of labor intensive one-on-one cold-calling, prospecting, ad creative development and sales closing.

What is the going local ad sales market rate? Erron Silverstien, former Citysearch exec and founder of local search play YellowBot recently told me a successful close of a local merchant entails, on average, a $500 investment.

Does Google know better? NO! Google believes it can get away with solicting U.S. adults with a pennies on the dollar pitch: That is the Google Local Search $10 pipe dream!

Greg Sterling takes a practical approach:

Yet unless there’s radical simplification (”just tell us how much you want to spend monthly and we’ll do the rest”) there’s still the issue of the learning curve and complexity of self provisioning for local businesses.

But this is one more piece in a diversified Google strategy to reach the local market.

Matt McGee has quite a bit to say about this matter, and in summary he also believes it will be a failure. Matt says:

I think it’s naive to think that people are going to jump at the chance to knock on the doors of local businesses, take photos inside, promote Google Maps and Google AdWords, fill out paperwork, submit it all online when they’re done, etc., out of the goodness of their heart. You have to provide a better benefit than “you’ll be helping your community find local businesses.”

I just don’t see Google coming into this space, sprinkling it’s Google fairy dust on the marketplace and voila – cracking the code. OK, so maybe Google’s isn’t trying to crack the code, but just penetrate the market a bit more than they’re able. Google should want to penetrate this space, of course they should, but doing it themselves? Gimme a break! And this approach is just silly. I kind of get the sense that this is a desperate move by an increasingly clumsy and goofy corporation that will yield very little. Next step for Google? Snatching up local search players.

Success in the local search market will not come from a giant like Google or Yahoo or Microsoft. It will come from the small startups like, well, like CitySquares.

Reset the Mojo

It’s been a while since Ali and I went on a real vacation. I don’t mean a trip to the Carolinas to see the in-laws, or the occasional trip to one of the New England states for a wedding. Those really aren’t vacations. Neither is going to New York or Florida to see the family.

We just returned last night from a vacation – one of those real vacations like the kind the soul needs often but if often starved of. During our vacation I got exactly what I expected from it, mostly because I’ve been going to Moosehead since I was barely able to walk. But now that I’m in my early 30s, times change, and time has a way of changing us. It seems it takes a lot longer for me to deflate. It wasn’t until about Tuesday that I felt truly relaxed and disconnected from society, from technology, from professional Ben, and back in tune with a much greater reality. Of course, being surrounded by a thriving ecosystem doesn’t hurt. I mean, we were spending most of our days on a glacier lake brimming with life. We spotted bald eagles, deer, hawks, loons, turtles, herons, amazing insects and monarch butterflies, gophers, muscrats, and of course fish like small and large mouth bass, northern pike, perch, sunfish, etc etc.

Anyway, before I unleash the Henry David Thoreau inside me, I’ll move this forward by adding that I was fully expecting to come back from this vacation like I have in the past – not only relaxed, renewed, and refreshed, but also inspired with new creative ideas and innovations. That’s how the last two were. I came back with some pretty clever ideas that ended up making a positive impact on business and on my professional self. This time though, I don’t have any clever ideas or innovations. Instead, I feel like I just hit the reset button in my brain. Like I was rebooted. I feel totally back in the groove…

Back a few months ago when Citysquares raised our money, I think I sort of lost the groove – lost my mojo. I was kind of going through the motions, acting it out and waiting to maybe snap back into the groove – to rediscover my mojo. When I left for vacation I felt confused, almost lost like I didn’t deserve it. Yet now, upon returning, I feel a total sense of purpose again, I’m totally inspired. I am totally excited and eager to go in to the office tomorrow morning.

So while I may not be inspired with some new twist to our business model, or some innovative new method for selling our product, or for generating traffic, I have something more important and more valuable – I have my mojo back and I’m ready to get back into the groove and do what I do best – execute, get the job done, make things happen.