Southwest Cleverly Upsells Perks

by jim on September 23rd, 2010

While I was waiting in line to security in the San Diego Airport, I noticed that the usual “pilots, crew, and airport personnel” line was replaced with a Southwest Fly By line (rather it was an aisle, because it was empty) for Business Select passengers. As I slowly walked my way up to the TSA security checkpoint, I realized that Southwest has very cleverly inserted a lot of upsells in an attempt to generate more revenue.

Whereas many airlines have gone the “ding you with fees” route, from fees for checked bags to RyanAir’s fees for talking to a human being, Southwest has gone another direction. They’ve taken their efficient “no assigned seating” boarding policy and given customers a way to spend $10 to get checked in early, and thus assigned a better seating order. They’ve given Business Select customers a perk of passing the security line at some airports, in addition to boarding first, since Business Select customers can’t really get better seats (all seats on Southwest flights are the same, no first or business class).

All in all, while it’s hurt their bottom line, they’ve built up brand support and been able to give people the option of paying more for these perks. It gets people to pay more without having them get angry (how many people would pay more to bypass the security line?).

Failure Is Good For You

by jim on April 4th, 2010

In business, there are some well known, often repeated mantras that always seem to draw the ire of critics. One of the more recent idea, at least to me in the last few years, is the idea that you should fail often or fail completely. Most recently, I read a post by the founder of Fooala, a Pittsburgh web startup that provides restaurant e-commerce services. He’s 22 years old, went to my alma mater (Carnegie Mellon), and his failure was with a web hosting company when he was 13.

David seemed to overemphasize the need to fail, which I don’t think was his original, or at least his most important, point. The key point is this one:

What’s one thing that stops inexperienced wannabe entrepreneurs from getting started? The fear of failure. The thought that your best idea is going to be wasted because you made some stupid mistakes. But if you think like this, I promise you you’ll always be that “entrepreneur” who is always talking about a business idea but hasn’t done anything yet. And you don’t want to be like that forever.

There’s discussion on Hacker News about how failure as a pre-requisite is overrated and I agree. David’s point wasn’t that a successful entrepreneur needs to fail, it’s that in order to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be an entrepreneur in the first place. The only way you can have a successful business is by creating a business in the first place. If you let the fear of failure stop you from starting anything, I guarantee you will never have a successful business… it’s simply logic. 🙂

Do you need to fail completely? No, of course not. But you have to accept the fact that you could fail and that in failure you will learn something about yourself, your business, and how to do better next time.

Don’t be afraid to fail, not because it’s your job, but because when you succeed, and you will if you are persistent, no one will notice or remember your failures.

On my personal finance blog, I shared my friend’s pleasant and frugal experience buying a house through Redfin. In that post, I mentioned that even if you weren’t comfortable with the more DIY experience (and not comfortable enough that splitting the buyer’s agent commission didn’t make you more comfortable), you could at least leverage their wonderful home search capabilities in your own hunt.

We aren’t in home buying mode, we probably won’t be for a little while, but with mortgage rates at historic lows, even if not absolute lows, and the housing market soft in our area, we’re always keeping our eyes open. So we both have

Here are a few things that Redfin does that I don’t know why others don’t:

  • Leverage Google maps. If you go on almost any other real estate company site to look for a home, you get little more than the MLS results. There is a map but oftentimes it’s to a crappy Mapquest map (who still uses Mapquest?). Redfin gives you an integrated map on the page with an outline, in red, of the property and its neighbors. In an instant you know where it is and what it is. The real question is why doesn’t anyone else do this?
  • Ability to save favorites and get updates. You usually can’t even register on another website so saving favorites is a moot point (so is sending updates). I think part of this is because they assume an agent will do this for you so they have little incentive for you to register and mark your own favorites. I’m waiting for the day that you get to mark down what you like (or they tease it out from your searches and your marked favorites) and Redfin tells you when new properties fitting that description are entered into MLS.
  • Keeps limited historical data on past sales. Here’s a house I marked as a favorite when I was first played with the system (it was put on the market in late 2009 and just recently delisted). Thank you for keeping some of the data around, even if they are from public records.
  • Posting a listing history & other important information. Go to any live, or historical, listing and you will see data pulled from sources other than MLS. I like the property history underneath the map. That’s useful information and thank you for not forcing me to go to the Maryland Real Property tax search (or your equivalent in your home state) to find out what it sold for last time around.

There are about a million other things I like about Redfin and I have yet to find a reason why I’d go to a real estate company’s website over their.

Please Rob Me (dot com)

by jim on February 17th, 2010

There’s a funny little site called Please Rob Me that scans the stream of Twitter updates for people checking into various places on Foursquare. When you check into a place on Foursquare, you aren’t home… so presumably a thief could rob you! While created in jest, it underscores an important point a lot of people miss: when you share so much information with the world, there are bound to be consequences.

While I have yet to see a news story about someone’s home being burglarized because a thief saw them check into a bar down the street, you know it will happen one day.

Be smart.

To Succeed, You Need an Advantage

by jim on January 27th, 2010

As I read this hilarious Cracked.com article about six full of shit professions, I wasn’t surprised to see stock market experts as the first one listed. The statistics they cite are the same ones index fund fans cite and I’m inclined to believe that 75-80% of stock market experts are pretty much useless.

However, the bigger question, especially when you’re talking business (investing is really just business, with tiny barriers to entry), is what is your advantage? What does your mutual fund manager know that everyone else doesn’t? When I read Trading with the Enemy, an insider’s look at Jim Cramer’s hedge fund, I saw that he had a huge advantage. Newspaper reporters would tip him off about a story before it was published. Analysts would tell him seconds beforehand of an upgrade or downgrade. I would’ve given my money to that Jim Cramer because he had an advantage. (if you don’t think insider trading happens… you’re mistaken, only the stupid people who made abnormally large bets get caught)

If a fund manager doesn’t have an obvious advantage, then it’s just luck. If it’s just luck, why are you paying an expense ratio?

Why does Warren Buffett outperform year after year? He has a clear advantage. Just look at some of the deals he’s cut over the last year during the Great Recession – he pumped $5 billion into Goldman Sachs, getting perpetual preferred stock, a 10% dividend, and warrants to buy $5 billion of common stock with a strike price of $115 (it’s currently trading at $148.44). While you could criticize him on timing, he gets access to deals very few people can.

How does this translate to entrepreneurship? You have to pursue something where you have an advantage you can exploit. That something could be your passion, what you love to do even if you weren’t paid for it, but you need an advantage of some kind or you will lose. It’s true whether you’re investing in yourself or in a stock ticker.

Don’t Work Weekends, Learn to Take Breaks

by jim on January 18th, 2010

When I left my full time job to manage Bargaineering.com with 100% of my time, I was both ecstatic and terrified. I was ecstatic because now I could devote 100% of my work time towards something that afforded me 100% of the spoils. I was terrified because now I was 100% responsible for every dollar entering my bank account. If things performed well, I reaped the rewards. If things didn’t, I suffered the losses.

My response to both was to work more. If I was going to go down in flames, I wanted to know that I did everything I could and didn’t shirk on a minute of work. If I made the wrong decision but I worked it as hard as I could, I’d be happier with the result than if I made the wrong decision and half-assed it.

The recession of the last year didn’t hurt our income one bit, which was surprising since financial services were destroyed, but likely contributed to smaller rates of growth than in year’s past. On the whole, I’m happy I pursued Bargaineering full time because I suspect, had I half-assed it, we’d have been hurt even more by the recession. On the other, my level of work life balance is a bit skewed.

I do spend a lot of time working on various projects, this site included, and many of them are passion projects. I write a scotch blog because it’s a fun hobby. My wife and I write a travel blog because it’s a chance for us to chronicle our vacations. But for bread and butter work, I’m going to restraint myself to the typical “work week.”

Free time has the capability to clear your mind and refresh you in a way that gives you a better angle on a problem. It also gives your brain a rest. As anyone who has ever pulled an allnighter knows, the studying you do at 5 AM just isn’t as good as when you started. 🙂

Shoemoney Affiliate Summit West 2010 Contest

by jim on December 17th, 2009

Jeremy Schoemaker is running an Affiliate Summit Gambler (or not) Contest where the winner gets a Platinum pass to ASW2010, 3 nights lodging, $500 airfare, and fun times with Shoemoney for the duration of the event. The wrinkle to the contest is that in addition to all that, you can get $1,000 to keep or $2,000 to put on a hand of blackjack or a spin of the roulette wheel. It’s a fun little twist to the usual conference giveaway and the real prize is hanging out with top internet marketing folks to really get your mindset shifted.

The Bet

If selected, I’d put up the $2,000 on a spin of the roulette wheel on red. If I win, I’d donate the proceeds to Operation Smile, one of the charities my wife and I support every year. It’s a fantastic organization that provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate, and other facial deformities in children. If you have this type of facial deformity, it’s becomes very difficult to eat (babies can’t breast feed, so many die), not to speak of the social implications.

These are life saving operations that change the lives of their recipients in very tangible and obvious ways. $4,000 can change the lives of sixteen children who suffer from these facial deformities.

Why You Should Pick Me

The first internet marketing-type of conference I ever went to was Affiliate Summit last year in Vegas. While I learned a lot, the real value in conferences is in what you can learn at the bar. I didn’t know anyone then and, as a result, my ASW experience was less than idea. I went to a few sessions, met some of the affiliate managers I had worked with, but didn’t leave feeling like I got the most I could out of it.

Compare that to two other events I went to last year – Elite Retreat (San Francisco) and ThinkTank (San Diego). They were considerably more expensive, a much longer flight, but I left with invaluable lessons, friendships and relationships with some of the smartest and most innovative people in the industry. The best is that with most of the people working in different verticals, everyone was willing to share the lessons they’d learned along the way.

For example, if you are a Bargaineering.com reader you probably are familiar with the Bargaineering Bucks reward process. You register, you get 10BB. You comment, you get a BB, etc. Those bucks can be spent in the Bargaineering.com store on books, software, or ING Direct referrals. That idea came from talking to Andy Liu at Elite Retreat and has resulted in significant improvements in visitor engagement.

I also bring to the table the experience of building a personal finance site from the ground up, from zero visitors to over 600,000 visitors a month. From revenues in the single digits to those in the six figures. The judges are all very strong in the paid search arena, either demand or supply side, but none of them talk much about organic search and community building. Of course, that’s based on what they publicly disclose, which is only a fraction of the work they do.

I think I should be picked because I won’t squander the opportunity and I’ll be sure to share the lessons I learned with you all here.

The Bargaineering Story

by jim on December 17th, 2009

This blog is, for the most part, a collection of my opinions and thoughts about a variety of topics. One of those topics is how to earning a living off the internet. I am one of the fortunate few, percentage-wise, that has managed to turned a hobby site into a moneymaker and been able to quit my full time job to pursue that site full time. The site I’m talking about is a personal finance blog named Bargaineering.com.

Here’s the story behind Bargaineering.
Bargaineering Logo

The Beginning

Five years ago, I started working at a defense contractor in the Baltimore Washington metropolitan area. My girlfriend, now my wife, is two years younger than me so in my first year of work, she still had a year of school left (I spent a year in graduate school). After work, I’d go home, spend about an hour at the gym, and then have three or four hours to kill before going to sleep. I didn’t watch a lot of TV, I didn’t read a lot of books or magazines, I spent that time surfing the internet and chatting with my friends online. I spent a lot of that time trying to understand the various financial acronyms I’d been learning since starting work.

401(k), IRA, taxes, investing, blah blah blah. It was a whirlwind and I felt like I needed to take notes. That’s when I discovered this funny thing called blogging and the free blogging platform named WordPress. So I decided to start a blog about personal finance.

There’s actually a bit of revisionist history in there because part of what happened was that my friend Ryan and I were very much interested in travel. We were going to start a website that would help people find travel deals, sort of a Kayak + Travelzoo, and to help pay the hosting bills I discovered affiliate marketing (after following one of CJ’s kkqdidlkfjlejflsd.com tracking links). That spawned easeoftravel.com, which is dormant today, which hosted the personal finance blog until several years ago.

Microblogging

At first, the site had three visitors: Myself while at work, myself at home, and my girlfriend. I was ecstatic when I had my first comment almost a month after my first post was published (Published Jan 31st, first comment was March 2nd) and I was ecstatic every time someone clicked on a Google Adsense block and I earned ten cents.

I would later tell my friend Fred, who runs oneprojectcloser.com, that anyone who starts a blog thinking they’ll be rich in a year will be mistake… it takes a lot of time. Along the way you have to celebrate the small victories, like the first time you earn a dollar in a day from Adsense, the first time you earn a dollar in a day for a whole week (those weekends can be tough), the first time you earn $100 in a month (to qualify for a payout), etc.

If I were to start it all over again, I would work on the early promotional aspects of blogging that I never did. I didn’t approach it like a business, it was a hobby site. Part of the reason for wangarific.com is to help bloggers who are at this stage get to the next stage faster.

Reaching The Next Level

The next few years the site grew tremendously, at least doubling the number of visitors each year to over 600,000 visitors a month (December 2009) and revenue growing even faster. Along the way I tested a lot of different things, many of which I’ll talk about on wangarific.com, and learned a lessons I hope to pass on to you.

Today, Bargaineering generates a healthy six-figure income that enables me to test and learn even more. I hope to share a lot of those lessons with you.

Why?

You might be wondering why I’m doing this… because that’s what I’d ask if I were you. There are a lot of smart people out there trying to game the system and earn a quick buck online. Just look at all the scammy types of advertising that have moved off late night 2 AM TV and onto the web. If you are willing to listen to what I have to say, if you are willing to work on a project for months, rather than days, then you aren’t that type of person. You aren’t a get rich quick scammer looking to the perfect demographic on Facebook to spam.

I want to help you become more popular so good content written by smart people can beat out scammy crap written by smart people. I want to help you make money, get more traffic, so you maintain that energy and motivation continue to share your expertise with the world so that people like you win.