June 24, 2021

You’re the Boss Blog: My Competitors Don’t Seem Interested in ‘Coopertition’

Fashioning Change

A social entrepreneur tries to change the way people shop.

I recently had a conversation with a man from Spain whose wife runs an e-commerce company that is based here in the United States but serves the Spanish market. The business sells car accessories. He was telling me about a time when she ran out of a particular item and called up her competitors, who supplied the inventory she was missing.

Not only did they supply the inventory, they declined to charge her for it. And it was understood that she would return the favor someday. I asked him if this kind of cooperation — sometimes known as coopertition — was unique to his wife and the competitor or a common practice in Spain. He said that working with a competitor is not uncommon in Spain. In fact, he said, he finds it weird that businesses in the United States do not try it more often.

I’m friendly with some of my company’s competitors and reach out to them every six months or so to see how they are doing, to discuss challenges, and to see how Fashioning Change might be of help. The conversation I had with the Spanish owner reminded me that I had been wanting to get several of the other “shopping for good” marketplaces on a call together to discuss the landscape, to review opportunities to work together and to see what we might do together to help sustainable and fairly made clothing brands.

Because my company provides a platform for sales of emerging brands, it is important to me to make sure they understand the risks they take when they start discounting aggressively. I’ve chatted with some of these brands, and, of course, they understand the need to build their brand identities. But there are also times when they feel the need to clear inventory so they can go back to their fair-trade factories and produce another collection that will feed their workers’ families.

While this approach is understandable, I fear it can damage a business model. And this is what I wanted to discuss with the owners of other social marketplaces. I thought that we could talk about how to help these emerging brands. And that’s why I sent an e-mail to three chief executives in my industry. I heard back from only one — after the date of the proposed call. We set two dates to speak, and I was stood up both times. I know the e-mails were received by the other two chief executives because I spoke on a panel with one of them, where he acknowledged that he owed me an e-mail, and because the other has made multiple visits to Fashioning Change since the e-mail was sent out.

Personally, I believe there is more to be gained from building friendly bridges than working in opposition. The majority of online shoppers buy products that are not made fairly or sustainably. There is much social justice (and profit) that can be achieved by four companies with overlapping visions that work together — especially if we take market share from the thousands of e-commerce companies selling goods that are mass-produced in sweatshops with little concern for the workers or the environment.

The chief executives I reached out to are all running social ventures. For Fashioning Change, operating in this space means we pursue the so-called triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. As a result, we often do things that typical companies may perceive as crazy. When I first suggested reaching out to our competitors, Kevin, my co-founder, was skeptical but hopeful that the other companies would respond.

Given our experience, I’m wondering if coopertition in the United States is a pipe dream. What do you think? Have you tried anything like this with a competitor? If one of your competitors approached you, would you be open to the concept?

Adriana Herrera is chief executive of Fashioning Change. You can e-mail her at adrianah@fashioningchange.com, and you can follow her on Twitter at @Adriana_Herrera.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/12/my-competitors-dont-seem-interested-in-coopertition-2/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Fashioning Change: One Entrepreneur’s Favorite Start-Up Tools

Fashioning Change

A social entrepreneur tries to change the way people shop.

I recently had a conversation with someone who is starting a social enterprise to connect corporate sponsors with the social networks of activists, athletes, musicians and others. He was asking me for advice on learning to code so that he could start to build his site.

I recommended that he learn the fundamentals of coding so that he could find a great technical co-founder and that he test the idea without building the whole concept. Through the conversation, I ended up sharing a list of tools that I thought might help him get started. With the hope that they may be helpful to others as well, here are my favorite start-up tools. And of course, please share your favorites in the comment section below.

TO TEST AN IDEA

LaunchRock is a free landing-page software tool that allows anyone to create a page that offers something of value and captures the e-mails of those who are interested. It’s easy to run Google Ads to your LaunchRock page and see how many people sign up. For an e-commerce site, a 10 percent conversion rate is generally considered good enough to warrant the build out of a product.

Optimizely is an inexpensive A/B testing tool that connects to LaunchRock and other sites to test copy, feature sets and user experiences. Early on, we learned the value of testing various Web options and the huge impact it can have.

FOR USER FEEDBACK

Once you’ve tested an idea and built your minimally viable product, it’s important to get as much feedback as you can from the people in your target market. Early on, my technical co-founder, Kevin, and I would go to Whole Foods during lunch and ask people if they would test-drive what we had built. Getting direct feedback from our target market was instrumental in understanding how to optimize the shopping experience on Fashioning Change. The following tools are also great for early customer feedback.

Fashioning Change was featured on Beta List, a site that introduces select start-ups in Beta to a community of early adopters. As a result, we were able to gain feedback that helped us find bugs and fix our user interface. By analyzing the feedback, we were able to optimize the entire Fashioning Change experience.

I love understanding how people receive and perceive information. I recognize that it’s one thing to think you understand why someone does something and a very different thing to test cause and effect and check your understanding against hard data. And that’s why I love Survey.io. It’s a free tool that helps you create surveys and collect quantitative and qualitative data. Depending on the purpose of the survey, you can check it against site analytics and use it to form assumptions that can be used to set up a battery of tests that help you improve the user experience. Survey.io gives you lots of information, and it takes less than a minute to create a survey.

Zopim is a real-time customer-support tool that we’ve found to be extremely flexible to use. It has an online dashboard and a plug-in for Gmail so that you can provide support through Google Chat. The plug-in allows you to see where people are coming from to visit your site. Thanks to Zopim, I’ve chatted with Fashioning Change visitors from all over the world. What’s really awesome is that if you have Gchat on your phone, you can even provide customer support when you’re on the go. This can be a little overwhelming at times, but the level of attention we have been able to give people get through Zopim has resulted in lots of word-of-mouth referrals. One time, I was providing normal customer support and discovered that the “person” I was talking with was actually an M.B.A. class at the University of California, San Diego, that had Fashioning Change projected on the wall! The benefits of real-time customer support and feedback can be amazing if approached correctly.

We learned about Inspectlet from our friends at Mogl, a company that helps you earn cash back when you eat out and donates a meal when you use the app. They raved about Inspectlet, and we understand why — the tool allows you to generate heat maps of what people are clicking on and viewing. On our site, we learned that some people wanted to click on things that didn’t link anywhere and that others were not clicking on things we wanted them to click on. The tool is extremely inexpensive but priceless.

ITERATION PROCESS

Recently acquired by Evernote, Skitch is a free app that helps you capture, edit and mark up your screen captures and images with shapes and comments. Our use of Skitch has made it the unofficial language of Fashioning Change. We use it to support our product-development process. It helps expedite communication and reduce the number of misunderstandings. When we’re on deadline, Skitch becomes as important to us as air. No joke.

E-MAIL MARKETING

MailChimp’s interface is simple to use, and it allows you to segment lists, test e-mails, and analyze analytics. Free for up to 2,000 subscribers, MailChimp is a must for any beginning e-mail list. It’s also a great platform to customize. Rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars on a service like Sailthru, we were able to hack and customize it to our needs.

Unlike MailChimp, SendGrid is a transactional e-mail delivery service that makes it easy to make sure e-mails are delivered. We tell it what to send to whom, and SendGrid makes sure it gets there.

ANALYTICS

As the brains behind Fashioning Change’s lines of code, Kevin has no problem diving into the server logs to review a user’s or a set of users’ interactions with the site. For me, and for the other nontechnical members of the team, diving into the server logs is not so easy, but KissMetrics allows us to define reports that generate an easy-to-understand graphic on the data funnels of any subset of users we want to learn about — without having to dive into server logs. It’s a great tool to understand the paths people take on your site. And KissMetrics also offers one of my favorite blogs.

Similarly, Crazy Egg allows you to generate easy-to-understand charts that show where people are clicking on your site.

Google Analytics is a free and great tool to begin measuring the success of your advertising and the functionality of your site. It gives you insight to what is working, what is not, and where you should focus your attention.

Understanding search engine optimization is hard, in part because there are so many things to look at. SEOMoz highlights your important S.E.O. attributes and tracks their success over time (and it, too, has a great blog).

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Trello is a free and easy-to-use project-management tool that is great for managing nontechnical teams.

Pivotal Tracker is a collaborative tool that helps your engineering team manage project timelines, keep track of project iterations, fix bugs and enhance the accuracy of project timelines.

We have yet to find a great tool to manage product timelines for both our technical team and nontechnical team, which is why we use an internal Google Wiki. The Wiki gives us the free form we need to manage overlapping tasks, and it doesn’t cost anything.

STAKEHOLDER COMMUNICATION

I love meeting with people, and without Skype, there would be a hole in my heart. While there is no replacement for meeting in person, Skype is an awesome tool to use when that is not an option. I find it most fun to use when I am talking to someone who has never used it before. It has allowed me to meet our designers regardless of where they are in the world. I use the screen-share function to get feedback on product that isn’t live to the public yet. I’ve also used Skype to create video interviews that highlight the stories of our designers.

Rapportive is a plug-in for Gmail that gives you information on who is e-mailing you. It provides a list of all of the social networks associated with the person e-mailing you. Used creatively, it can figure out the e-mail of someone you want to reach. Additionally, if you want to learn more about someone copied on an e-mail, you can do so by highlighting the address and Rapportive will populate information linked to the e-mail (I assure you that I am not a stalker — just creatively resourceful).

I highly recommend the tools above to anyone in the very early start-up stages. As we grow, we recognize that there are always new resources we can use. Steve Blank, godfather of the lean start-up movement, has a great list of other resources that we drew from in putting together this post: Startup Tools.

I hope this list is helpful, but I am sure there are many other useful tools out there. Are there any that you have found invaluable to your company? Please share.

Adriana Herrera is chief executive of Fashioning Change. You can e-mail her at adrianah@fashioningchange.com, and you can follow her on Twitter at @Adriana_Herrera.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/01/one-entrepreneurs-favorite-start-up-tools/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Fashioning Change: Torn Between Two Start-Up Communities

Fashioning Change

A social entrepreneur tries to change the way people shop.

Most start-ups fail. It’s a fact. It’s also a fact that I don’t consider failure an option. I started Fashioning Change in San Diego where I went through the Founder Institute, a tech accelerator that connected me to some of the top technology minds in San Diego and around the country. I entered the program as the only social enterprise, as one of the youngest participants and as the only woman of the 23 entrepreneurs accepted.

The program was like drinking from a fire hose. It was tough — the intensity actually brought a couple of the guys to tears and only 11 of the 23 entrants went on to graduate. But the experience was invaluable and connected me to a network of brilliant advisers and mentors that taught me what I needed to know to get Fashioning Change off the ground. Most important, I was able to form relationships with mentors, advisers, and investors through the institute, and I anticipated that once I graduated from the San Diego chapter of the Founder Institute I would continue to build the same types of relationships throughout the San Diego community.

It didn’t take me long to realize, however, that the Founder Institute was ahead of the curve when it came to women in tech and that I was going to have to look beyond San Diego to find the capital and support I needed to build Fashioning Change. Based on my experience, I suspect San Diego suffers from what Brad Feld refers to as the “patriarch problem” in his book “Startup Communities.

“The first of the classical problems that stall progress in a start-up community is the patriarch problem. In moments of frustration, I call this the old-white-guy problem. At its core, it’s one of the key challenges of a hierarchical organizational model, one in which the most powerful people are the ones at the top of the hierarchy. In many cities, especially in the United States, these patriarchs are the old white guys who made their money many years ago but still run the show.”

As a San Diego native, I found it painful to see the patriarch problem persist at the expense of the start-up community. And because I wasn’t finding the resources we needed to help Fashioning Change grow, I began to seek them in other places — primarily in Santa Monica and the Bay Area. Last spring, I began driving up to Santa Monica two or three times a month. I instantly experienced a positive extension of the small adviser and mentor network I had met through Founder Institute in San Diego. In Santa Monica, I sensed far more excitement about helping one another and seeing the start-up ecosystem grow. Last summer, my drives to Santa Monica increased to two or three times per week.

The start-up ecosystem is exploding around Santa Monica, which is becoming known as Silicon Beach. To my surprise, I soon met several San Diego start-ups that had moved north only after they had reluctantly given up on San Diego. In Santa Monica, even as outsiders, they found mentors and resources to be far more accessible. Every trip north pushed Fashioning Change forward. I would drive up and then drive back filled with energy and information. As we executed on everything, we continued to build traction.

As time passed, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we needed a more permanent presence in Santa Monica. It’s a feeling I fought and struggled with for personal reasons. I didn’t want to turn my back on my city. Also, I’m extremely close to my family. In fact, the process of building my start-up helped me become closer to them because I gave up my cute two-bedroom apartment, sold all of my furniture, and moved back home so that I could cut down on expenses and extend the company’s runway. Living at home allowed me to spend additional time with my older brother who has a disability. On days when the start-up life seemed especially frustrating, coming home always put things into perspective.

Eventually, we decided to rent a Fashioning Change house in Santa Monica that serves as our local headquarters — although we still have an office in San Diego where our developers work. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in San Diego because my co-founder, Kevin Ball, just had a beautiful baby boy. The San Diego office is in a free tech incubator downtown. Last week I was told by the leaders of the incubator that Fashioning Change has to raise more capital.

The people making this demand know nothing about our day-to-day operations. In fact, when we send them update reports, the e-mails aren’t even opened (on MailChimp, you can see who opens the e-mails and how many times). The incubator’s interest in our raising money has little to do with our needs and everything to do with it wanting to report positive news to its own donors. But at this point we have no need to raise more capital, so we’re not going to do it — even if it means we have to move out of the incubator.

We recently heard of a hub of start-ups leasing space in another San Diego downtown building that might be a better location for our San Diego operations. We checked it out, and the leasing company seemed very start-up friendly. One plus is that we would get to be around other start-ups we respect. We will probably make a decision very soon.

Any suggestions? What is your start-up community like? Does it offer the kinds of resources you need?

Adriana Herrera is chief executive of Fashioning Change. You can e-mail her at adrianah@fashioningchange.com, and you can follow her on Twitter at @Adriana_Herrera.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/torn-between-two-start-up-communities/?partner=rss&emc=rss