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How I built a flight price tracking business, thanks to accidentally running into my wife.

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Hello all,

I've been working on https://TripFate.com and thought it might be a good idea to share the story and motivation behind it.

So I met my wife exactly 4 years ago – all thanks to being on the right flight at the right time. Funny thing is, I wasn't really supposed to be on that flight to Rome. As much as I loved traveling, I was a poor college student and I couldn't really afford the expensive flights.

And then it happened. I was looking for flights to random destinations after wrapping up my project report at 4 AM, and I found a round-trip ticket to Rome (from NYC) for ~$110! It was crazy because the usual prices are at least in the $350-400 range (if you're lucky).

I got super hooked! After I returned from my trip, I registered on a bunch of websites to get alerts if there was a price drop. I did get some good deals, but nothing was as crazy cheap as the one I had found for my trip to Rome.

I continued to manually find flights to 'random' destinations on Google flights and other websites, but it was a painful process. Plus, there was no way I could keep an eye on all these flight trackers 24×7 and create alerts for all the places that I really didn't know existed, but are AMAZING for travelers!

Being a student of Computer Science, I figured there must be some way for me to automate my process of looking through multiple travel sites for amazing deals to random destinations I wanted to travel.

So that's what I did. I created a service for myself that'd look for flights from across the internet that really were 'great' for their price. In the beginning, it simply sent API requests and had a bunch of if-else statements. However, over the years, I've added a bunch of Machine Learning and Deep Learning tricks to the algorithm.

Moreover, I have instances of my 'smart travel finder' running on around 14 different servers around the world (who knew looking for a flight from India is cheaper sometimes!).

I started getting lots of really interesting flights: ~$170 round-trip to Cancun, ~$230 to Paris, ~$340 to India… and so I decided to share it with family and friends and friends of friends. Once the list grew to over 200, I thought maybe people would be interested in paying for the service, and that's how TripFate was born.

TripFate can be tried for free (for as long as you want) and costs $25/year for the premium plan to cover the costs of the servers and allow me and my wife to dedicate more time for further development and support. I am not sure where this brainchild of mine will eventually end up, but it's definitely been a great experience so far! If you'd like to try it, please register on https://TripFate.com.

Thanks for reading!

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How To Perform A Competitor Analysis (And Why It’s Important) by @BlairKaplanPR

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by Blair Kaplan Venables

There’s nothing like a little healthy competition to light a preverbal fire under you. With the increase of businesses moving online during this COVID era, you need to make sure that your business stands out online. If you’re one of the 1% of entrepreneurs who managed to create a business with no direct competitors, congratulations! If you’re like 99% of the rest of us, it’s time to do some homework. Stat. It’s important to know who your competition is, what they are selling, how they are selling it, where they are marketing and what they are doing right. If you know this information, you are able to work on a strategy to potentially capture their clients and grow your business.

A good place to start your investigation is by performing a social media competitor analysis. By scoping out your competition, you will be able to see where their weaknesses may lie, which is information that you can use to you advantage. For example, if you see that your competition isn’t on a specific social media network and you know that your target demographic is spending time on that social media network, you may want to build up a presence there.

 

Identify Your Competitions

What other companies are competing for the business that you seek to obtain? You should be able to identify at least five companies that are your competition. You can do this by Googling key words, asking friends and doing your own research.

The best place to start finding out information about their social media presence is via their website, where these links should be posted. It’s also helpful to go into each social media platform and search their name because sometimes websites aren’t up to date with social links.

 

Document Your Findings

Creating a competition chart is the best way to record your findings. Open up your favorite spreadsheet program (I’m an Excel or Google Sheets gal, myself), open a new document and make rows listing your competitor’s names. Then create columns for the following four key pieces of information about your competitor’s online presence:

  1. Where are they on social media? Don’t forget about LinkedIn, TikTok and other surprising places they may be.
  2. What type of content are they creating? Is it instructional or do they share personal stories?
  3. How many followers they have on each social media network?
  4. Any notes you may want to reference later.

Determine Key Opportunities

We aren’t just cruising social media to be a lookie-loo. We now need to analyze the stats that we have found. Once your chart is filled in, you will be able to see what your competition’s social media strengths are (which may be places you don’t want to compete with them) and where their weaknesses lay (which may create opportunities for you to lead the pack).

Keep in mind you’re not trying to replicate someone else’s strategy. Your social media approach should be unique. But you are looking for opportunities. You may also find content ideas that your top competition isn’t executing yet, which is fantastic news. Learn what they are doing and you can figure out how to do it better or differently. There are always opportunities on social media to create great content and grow your brand’s presence.

 

 

Blair Kaplan Venables is an expert in social media marketing and the president of Blair Kaplan Communications, a British Columbia-based PR agency. As a pioneer in the industry, she brings more than a decade of experience to her clients, which include global wellness, entertainment and lifestyle brands. Blair has helped her customers grow their followers into the tens of thousands in just one month, win integrative marketing awards and more. She has spoken on national stages and her expertise has been featured in media outlets including CBC Radio and Thrive Global. Blair is also the author of Pulsing Through My Veins: Raw and Real Stories from an Entrepreneur. When she’s not working on the board for her local chamber of commerce, you can find Blair growing the “I Am Resilient Project,” an online community where users share their stories of overcoming life’s most difficult moments.

The post How To Perform A Competitor Analysis (And Why It’s Important) by @BlairKaplanPR appeared first on She Owns It.



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A Bigger Truth About Restaurant Food Delivery

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Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

I was listening to Dan Primack’s podcast on Pro Rata and he was interviewing Senator Klobucher who is now publicly and vocally speaking out against Uber purchasing Grubhub and has tried to mobilize against this.

Her argument is that if Uber buys Grubhub (which itself once merged with Seamless) it would mean that Uber Eats / Grubhub would control half the market and that with DoorDash the two together would control 90% of the market. I think that’s a largely flawed fight to be picking and of all the uses of Senator Klobuchar’s I could think of some much more productive fights to be having.

For starters Uber itself has had to lay off 27% of its workforce due to the pandemic and has been severely impacted financially from the crisis with no immediate respite in sight. Its core business was already struggling to become profitable, so having tertiary businesses like food delivery that can deliver needed profits would be welcome to their financial stability. And the market would still have DoorDash and PostMates duking it out as well as the potential that players like Instacart broaden their business one day or Amazon gets into food delivery.

Even more likely is eventual technology disruption where drones deliver foods and make it hard for existing car delivery services to compete. It won’t happen right away but I’ve seen some innovative companies doing exactly this in places like Australia where they are taking a more liberal approach to allowing drone deliveries. Therein lies the advantages of free markets and competition and if we really believed it were that easy to buy off your largest competitor and be a monopolist we’d all be surfing on AOL TimeWarner portals.

But the broader issue that hasn’t garnered much press attention is how the restaurant industry itself is being transformed and what tools a modern restaurant will need to compete. What is the Shopify of the restaurant industry? I have some compelling data that suggests it may just become ChowNow.

We know that the restaurant business already operates on thin margins and many struggle to survive. So when delivery services came along many were willing to pay the fee to try and increase business. It was only about 10–15% of their actual total revenue per month so for many it wasn’t a battle worth fighting — they just put up with the food delivery company fees. Customers were happy and restaurants focused on their in-store business.

The problem for the restaurants is that the more successful the “aggregators” of customer demand become over time, the less power the restaurants themselves have individually. This will largely be true whether you have 2 strong competitors or 5 because unless a delivery company can make a profit it won’t continue to stay in business.

The delivery companies own the customer relationship and can drive traffic to the most profitable restaurants for them. Obviously if you have a great restaurant brand with differentiated food people search for you by name but for many people looking for pizza, sushi, Mexican food, Thai food, whatever, you might go with the choice put in front of you if it’s being recommended or delivered more quickly. The delivery companies also own many of the assets like the photography so they can make certain options look much more attractive.

So just like when Groupon came out many small merchants welcomed the uptick in traffic, without owning the customer you lose the most valuable asset — the ability to re-market to your customer base and encourage them to become more loyal and more frequent customers. You lose the ability to up-sell and cross-sell products. And just like with Groupon the small businesses ended up having many unprofitable customers.

At Upfront we always took the approach that we wanted to back startups that enabled merchants to own the customer relationship and to increase profits by becoming excellent at marketing and serving ones most loyal customers.

So several years ago we backed a company called ChowNow that enables restaurants to offer self-service ordering for pick-up or delivery and the restaurant owns all of the customer information and relationship — ChowNow is simply a SaaS enablement product.

The company has done well over the past several year but never really captured the same press mindshare as the food delivery companies because when a company shows up at your house you get to know that brand rather than the tech that enables restaurants.

Covid-19 has changed all of that. Whereas pickup & delivery may have been 10–15% of a restaurant’s business before it’s currently 100% and when it’s your entire business the thought of paying huge commissions to a third-party delivery service becomes much less attractive. So while many restaurants knew they eventually needed to invest in better order management software, many had been putting it off.

But just as many product or apparel companies were happy selling at Amazon, Walmart or Nordstrom in the past and have lately realized the importance of Shopify and serving customers directly — so, too, are restaurants. Enter ChowNow.

What data do I have to make the case?

  • ChowNow now has 17,000 restaurants using its SaaS platform for take-out and delivery and is adding more than 2,000 / month right now (and trending up)
  • 10 million diners now use the ChowNow ordering platform vs. 24 million for GrubHub, so like Shopify while they built the customer base slowly and with capital efficiency they are now rivaling the bigger players in footprint
  • Last year they were serving 50,000 customers / day through their platform and did approximately $500 million in GMV (the value of the orders placed), this year they are on track to do $3 billion (with a B) and expect to end the year at a revenue run rate that may top $100 million (yes, I asked for permission to publish these numbers).

If you want to see a short spot that outlines the importance of the restaurant industry arming itself with better software tools to serve and market to their customers you may enjoy this 60-second video that makes it clear why it matters. It speaks volumes to why we all love our local restauranteurs and want to see them survive …

https://medium.com/media/dab8c9b98b12a45a4b06435888cc7fc0/href

Or if you want to see the argument laid out clearly by a customer, look no further than Motorino Pizza in NYC who posted this note that appears before you enter their website:


A Bigger Truth About Restaurant Food Delivery was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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Tips for Leading Your Best Video Conference

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As a business leader, you’ve probably mastered the art of hosting a meeting in person. But how are your video conference skills? With much of today’s professional workforce going remote, it’s a good idea to get up to speed on best practices for video conferencing.

While many smart policies carry over from in-office to online meetings, there are distinct tips that apply only to the virtual realm.

Here are the top do’s and don’ts of video meetings.

DO research your tech options. Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, join.me, Webex, Microsoft Teams or Skype—oh my! The choices seem endless. To find the right one for you, focus on the functions you need.

Expecting a high number of attendees? Check how many participants the application allows. Depending on your subscription, apps allow a varying number of participants—with one option going all the way up to 500 people.

Hoping to encourage attendee interaction? Compare screen sharing, annotation, captioning and user interface.

DO practice. You’ve probably seen video conferences gone wrong—child interrupts dad’s BBC interview, roommate walks by wearing no pants or meeting participant fails to turn off the camera while using the restroom.

Why risk it? Get comfortable with your video conference application by first using it with friends and family members. Practice turning off and on the video and mute functions. Check out the lighting, background and noise levels.

DON’T forget the record option. Presenting on a hot topic or new training? Be sure your platform offers recording.

For example, on Zoom, recorded files can be uploaded to a file storage service such as Google Drive or Dropbox, or a video streaming service such as YouTube or Vimeo.

DO make use of the tech features that support your meeting’s mission. Put another way, don’t sacrifice your meeting’s quality by skimping on digital features.

Breakout sessions are a great function for boosting productivity and brainstorming in large meetings. If you’re trying to promote group involvement, get up-to-speed on your platform’s annotation tools.

DO take advantage of shortcut commands. Familiarize yourself with the keyboard cues on your conference platform to help your meetings run a little more smoothly.

Here are hotkeys in three popular video conference apps:

Zoom
Skype
Google Meet

DO lay ground rules. If your team hasn’t spent much time on video conferences until now, it’s a good idea to set expectations. (Even better, show what you expect of your team by practicing what you preach.)

Nonverbal cues make up a large part of communication, which is a good reason to ask that attendees keep their cameras on. Make the organizational preference clear by always leaving your camera on and consider creating a short list of video conference best practices that you share via email or on a corporate chat platform.

Other items of etiquette you might consider adding to your organization’s video conference must-do list include:

  • Meeting hosts should introduce everyone during the meeting.
  • Focus on the meeting. Avoid distractions, including your phone or emails while on a call.
  • Limit your use of the chat function while on a video conference, unless the host of the meeting invites you to do so or you have an urgent query.
  • Test all technology (including camera/video, Wi-Fi and screen sharing) before the meeting.
  • Come prepared. Hosts should share an agenda and participants should read it.
  • Have related materials on hand.

DON’T forget the basics of facilitating successful meetings. Just as with in-person, in-office gatherings, video conferences must have a clear purpose and goal.

Begin with an agenda, introducing attendees and clarifying why each person was asked to attend. Be sure every participant has reference documents—by attaching them to your invitation, emailing them before the meeting or being prepared to share your desktop.

As the host of the meeting, look out for introverts who are trying to speak up. Be aware of staff who are uncomfortable in front of the camera.

End the meeting with a summary of key takeaways and next steps as needed.

DO build a sense of security. Whether you’re a meeting host or participant, you can contribute to a feeling of encouragement and well-being. Allow space for attendees to share concerns, questions and learning. Reply with curiosity and open-ended questions.

DO make time for casual interactions. Camaraderie and connection is particularly important in these unprecedented times. Just a few minutes of personal interaction before kicking off the agenda can make all the difference in team building and engagement.

Another way to strengthen culture among your team members is by scheduling a recurring, open meeting on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons. Some leaders find daily huddles work well. Simply set up the meeting and encourage colleagues to drop in if they can to catch up on non-work topics.

With video conferencing quickly becoming a critical part of our work day, be sure to make the most of the technology available and explore new ways to promote teamwork and culture in the virtual realm

For the latest resources and training related to supporting your business through crisis, visit the #EOTogether platform.

The post Tips for Leading Your Best Video Conference appeared first on Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs' Organization.



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