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Trezr sold on eBay for over $30K

I am back from my trip to Ukraine digging through the news I missed while on the move. This interesting bit has just attracted my attention: Trezr, the deals site I reviewed in the past, has sold on eBay for an impressive $30,100.01.

The auction (link) started on July 5 with initial price of $1.00 and gradually attracted bids over the 6 days period (I am sure this coverage at Techcrunch helped to float the price).

Trezr launched in October, 2006 and failed to ride the social revolution other deal sites enjoyed. It sports impressive design and some interesting features (profit sharing and a widget) however fails to implement certain key features a successful deal site must have. I have been following Trezr in my monthly list which it dropped out of in February when its Alexa rank fell above 100K threshold.

According to the auction description the website traffic at the time of sale was mere 4,000 visits and 7,500 pageviews per month and the service had 900 registered users. Other interesting details: Trezr was written using Ruby on Rails and is hosted on a dedicated server ($950 a year expense).

Trezr screenshot

Social price comparison shopping at Hawkee

HawkeeScott Aikin is the heart and soul behind Hawkee, a social portal which is steadily making inroads into the busy price comparison niche. Scott frequently comments on ProBargainHunter and I asked him to tell us more about his online business.

You launched Hawkee in 1997. What was it like to run a website back then?

It was just as exciting as it is today. Technology was impressive for the time and online communities were going strong. Everybody wanted a forum and many successful communities relied on them. Despite the lack of comments, feedback forms were very common and supplied a steady stream of compliments and accolades. It was just as exciting to receive feedback as it is to receive comments today. Internet communities were very new, but remain to this day to be just as cohesive and supportive as they were in the past. You didn’t need to think about monetizing your site because CPM ads paid very well under any niche. In retrospect that was the major flaw that burst the bubble, but times have changed and webmasters have learned from their mistakes. What made a successful website 10 years ago still makes one successful today. The only difference is the technical bar has been raised.

Hawkee has always been a place for developers to share code snippets. Why expand to shopping?

This is part of our plan to become a fully featured technology network. Since we are self sustained we need to work on our bottom line to remain profitable. Shopping directly affects the bottom line and has managed to sustain our company without any outside support. We use this freedom to implement social features requested by our community. Their suggestions and ideas are invaluable to us so we strive to give them exactly what they want. Without a sustainable business model we couldn’t do this. In the future we plan to balance out our offerings with more technology based features that won’t necessarily have anything to do with shopping or scripting.

There are a lot of price comparison websites out there. What makes Hawkee special?

Our price comparison is entirely unique. We establish our own relationships with sellers and do all of the maintenance and price matching on our own. We don’t use any API services like Shopping.com so our results are one of a kind. We’ve also been aggregating reviews from major retailers and offer a very comprehensive database of reviews. Our unique review system allows customers to vote on the reviews they find most helpful and leave comments. Customers can browse reviews by category rather than by product. For example a customer can read reviews on “black Mp3 players” or “32in HDTV LCD” TVs without choosing a specific model. We also have a unique tagging system that automatically tags products based on their technical specs. For example a 17in LCD monitor might have the tags “17in lcd black”. This allows for very specific filtering and digging through our product offerings. Besides these key features we also maintain current coupons and deals to ensure our customers are finding the latest discounts.

Hawkee Screenshot

You officially launched the shopping engine at the end of 2006. What has been the feedback so far? Do people like what they see?

The feedback has been very positive. Customers have no problem finding what they’re looking for and we’re seeing a month by month improvement in our search usage. Our merchant partners love the site and have nothing but praise for it. We’ve become very attractive to many major online retailers and will leverage this in the months to come with more exclusive content.

What were some of the technical challenges as to adding the shopping functionality?

The most difficult challenge is organizing all of this data quickly and efficiently. With every new seller we increase the size of our database and the need for more server resources. When traffic is high during the holiday seasons we need to ensure that we can produce results quickly without any lag. Keeping the site snappy has been a focus since the beginning. Another challenge is organizing all of this data well enough that customers can browse, search and find exactly what they’re looking for. The data we receive from our sellers is not very cohesive and it’s up to us to bring it all together in a way that people can understand.

It is people who make social websites work and looking at product comments there doesn’t seem to be a lot of participation. What makes you believe Hawkee will succeed?

We will succeed because we’ve got the relationships and community to make this work. We’ve got partnerships with many major brand names and we’ve got a thriving community that’s growing monthly. As they become more aware of our newer offerings they’ll begin to adopt and utilize them more. And most importantly we’ve got the technical know-how to evolve and build a product that’s truly spectacular.

Do you run the website for living or is it a hobby? If you have another job, what is it?

Hawkee is a full time business. This website is our primary property, but we’ve also got a handful of smaller sites as well as some upcoming projects.

What are you like outside of Hawkee? Please share some fact from your personal life.

I’m a very laid back individual. I enjoy my peace and quiet most of the time, but I love to travel and socialize. You might catch me at events like the Linkshare Summit or Affiliate Summit. I’m a gamer at heart and put a lot of time into my Wii while I’m not working. I enjoy camping and visit the mountains several times a year to get away from my computer. Sometimes I tend to overwork myself, so if you catch me sending emails late at night please remind me to take a breather.

If you were to give just one money saving advice to ProBargainHunter reader, what would it be?

Definitely shop around. Don’t just check just one price comparison site, check them all. Find the lowest price between them and always double check the sellers for fraud reports. Keep an eye on the current promotions and check sites like SlickDeals and FatWallet. Don’t forget your local stores. Sometimes you can avoid high shipping charges by purchasing at a lower price online and picking up your purchase in the store. Keep a close eye on free shipping offers and always check for rebates and special offers. For example you can sometimes get a free notebook case when you buy a new notebook computer. And lastly always compare online and offline prices.

Dealspl.us — social bargain hunting that works

This post continues my weekly series of website reviews. Next candidate probably gets disproportional amount of attention from my blog. In fact the very first post on ProBargainHunter was about this website.

Dealspl.us launched in July of 2006 and quickly became a popular destination for bargain hunters after showing up on the Digg front page. To further stimulate participation the owners ran a series of contests where you could win an iPod or a USB Flash Drive for submitting deals. In fact your humble servant got one of these drives as well after playing with deals submission for a while.

The website launched with the premise that the content is community driven — anyone can submit shopping deals to be featured on the website. As I mentioned before, communities like these need a critical user mass to survive, and Dealspl.us is one of the few who are close to the point to become self supported (a couple of other sites worth mentioning are Dealigg and Modoshi).

Dealsplus Thumbnail

The website has a very clean layout. The front page displays most popular deals in a grid fashion. You can navigate through the categories using the menu to the right. This is all Dealspl.us had when they just launched. The team gradually added features turning the website into a true social network. If you take a closer look at Dealspl.us now you will notice that being a registered user now means you can do a number of other things in addition to submitting or voting for deals.

You can participate in discussion groups, you can invite friends / relatives and identify them as such in your profile, you can browse the B&M store Sunday ads in the circular section. When Black Friday shopping season was in full swing Dealspl.us offered one of the most comprehensive Black Friday ads references, which brought even more attention to the site (see that second spike on the chart below).

Dealsplus Alexa

The team has re-launched daily contests — a sure sign they are serious about gaining the momentum. The site has been holding position #16 in my popular bargain sites list pretty steadily however if you recount the traffic generated by these websites in proportion to the actual user shopping activity, they might as well be in the top 10. This is due to the fact that other sites in the list have some sort of side business which brings them most of the visitors, a good example is ResellerRatings who I reviewed last week.

Dealspl.us success is partially due to the fact that it is backed by the experience of Ben Chui, the owner of BensBargains, who co-founded Dealspl.us with one of his friends. Here is how he describes in his November interview what kick-started the idea:

I was approached by my former graduate student instructor about starting a new Web 2.0 AJAX site. He was entirely new to affiliate marketing and such, so I offered to help him break into the market. He’s a brilliant guy and he was able to get dealspl.us together in about two months! BensBargians.net is more of an editorial type site, which definitely has its place in the scheme of things; but with the hotness of Web 2.0 and user driven content, we felt like we had a winning idea with dealspl.us. So far, our projections have been spot on!

What can I say… well done, Ben. Give it some time and the child will overgrow its parent. ;-)

Save on college textbooks with Chegg

Comparing book prices may sound like a good idea to save a few dollars on that bestseller you want to have on your shelf. But it may not be enough for the college students who struggle each semester to come up with a few hundred dollars for a new set of textbooks that University professors require to take their courses.

Students don’t have the money to buy textbooks, to attend the courses, to get a degree, to find a job, to earn the money as the result. Sounds like a chicken and egg problem, isn’t it? That is what Chegg is all about and that is where the name came from.

According to 2005 Government Accountability Office report textbook prices almost tripled between 1986 and the end of 2004 — rising by 186%. On the other hand teenagers and college students are probably the most active age group on the internet who are not afraid to try new things and experiment with new online services.

Chegg is the biggest of a several websites who try to monetize on this combination. The idea is very simple: build a community where college students can freely buy/sell used textbooks from each other and then use that community to make money by selling new textbooks and other merchandise. Here is how the marketplace works according to Chegg itself:

Chegg

The diagram for non-students is slightly different and involves a small fee — one more way for Chegg to monetize the website which in turn has gained so much momentum that Chegg is receiving another round of funding ($2.2 million) from Gabriel Venture Partners and angel investor Mike Maples.

But the team didn’t stop at the local market of University campuses. They went further and have made it easy for the students to publish their books for sale at Facebook — the biggest high school and college oriented social network. Isn’t it smart?!

What can I say — where was I when it all started in 2001 at Iowa State by one of the university students? Wherever I was — it was the wrong place to be. ;-)

Source: Web Sites Challenge the Textbook Goliaths at BusinessWeek

Why Modoshi will beat DealsPlus

Over the past 2 years I have seen many social bargain hunting sites launch. Most of them had very distinct features and quality design. Yet their flawed marketing strategy made their life very short. If I were to list a few you would most likely have to admit that you never heard the names.

The new kids on the block have been more fortunate in the sense that they started when Digg was already popular and many Internet users have adopted the idea so well that they were not shy digging things anymore. However if you look closely at these websites you will notice that they all suffer from the same problem: they have not built an active community — a community of users who would find and digg up the deals — the kind of community that only FatWallet and SlickDeals currently have.

This is not surprising at all. Bargain hunting is a very narrow niche. It took Digg over a year to become as popular as it is. It will take even longer for these sites if they follow the Digg model.

Social bargain hunting is plagued

We all know that Digg is not community driven in the sense that less than 1% of users control most of the front page news. This is partially due to the algorithms Digg has put in place to favor the top submitters but mostly due to the fact that only a small percentage of users is capable of devoting themselves to the long hours of sifting through the news looking for that Digg-worthy scandal story.

It is obvious that all of the bargain hunting sites currently don’t have even a fraction of the half a million Digg users. I will bet my car that the owners of these sites keep them on life support by searching and submitting deals daily and maybe even by manipulating the ratings to bring the most promising offers to the top for better visibility (for that same reason these websites usually don’t show who voted for the deals. Some don’t even show who submits the deals, at least not on the front page).

The conclusion — social element is there mostly to satisfy your feeling of freedom, to feed your desire to be in control, to create an illusion that you can make a difference. At this time the social part doesn’t do a good job of building a supply of fresh quality submissions for these websites.

How can this be fixed? What can be changed to make the system work? What will compensate for the lack of active users?

It sounds like Modoshi has the solution.

Who are the folks that submit news to Digg? They are mostly teens — school children and college students. They have a very strong feeling of community, they have the time and curiosity to try new things, they are willing to do it for free or for a very small pay. Modoshi is a community where users who submit or pick the best deals are financially compensated. Right now each user only has one shot a day at winning the two daily prizes — $5 for submitting a new deal and $5 for digging an existing one — however as the site growth the prizes will grow as well, according to Modoshi co-founder Vaishali Anga. $10 a day doesn’t sound a lot at all however keep in mind that Netscape was able to sway the top Digg users with a mere $1000 a month — and working for Netscape sounds like a full time job to me.

Modoshi Contest

This is not all however. With each new deal the submitter has to verify 3 existing deals for accuracy. This just sounds like a terrific idea! Once the bugs are worked out the only thing that Vaishali will have to worry about is that his servers are capable to support the crowds of teens who will flock to play the game and earn that penny towards next Wii. By the way, about Wii, the top Modoshi user in January will get one for free — it is another contest the team is running and the prize selection only proves my guess at what the target age is. Seriously though enforcing verification should hugely improve the overall deals quality and as the result will make the site more attractive to those who come to use those deals.

Different game requires different rules

According to Vaishali when Modoshi launched in November it “started on the premise that it was high time contributors to the Internet community in general (who) got a share of the revenue”. The team quickly abandoned the concept though. “Pricier items such as TV etc got unfair advantage. Deal (submission) was based primarily on commissions, not quality”. The contests in contrast provide “a uniform model irrespective of what deal is posted, be it a $10 toy or $1000 hdtv”. Makes a lot of sense to me!

Now what about that rank that social sites display next to each entry? It usually more or less reflects the number of votes the entry accumulated. It makes perfect sense in the Digg case — how else can you judge the value of a news story? It sounds like for shopping deals you could use more data to calculate that number. The item price (compared to the average price for similar items), the item popularity (number of clicks or sales it produces), the submitter credibility — all of these can be factored in to compute the deal rank. Isn’t it brilliant? I wonder why no one else has done it before?

Conclusion

I have been playing with Modoshi over the past month or so and the more I play the stronger the feeling is that they have implemented the best marketing strategy to make a social bargain hunting site a success. I am not saying they are already the best — the site navigation and functionality could be improved quite a bit — but they currently have the best bets at coming out the leader. Sorry DealsPlus, you are not my favorite any more. ;-)




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