Fixing a Business Relationship With a $30 Cake

Resolving a billing dispute with big companies can take some creativity. Robert Kaye, of the MetaBrainz Foundation (operator of MusicBrainz), shares his breakthrough, and the adventure that went along with it, as he worked to get a three year old (!) outstanding invoice taken care of by Amazon.com:

For the last 6 months I’ve stepped up my pestering to get this resolved. I’ve been assured progress for the past 6 months, but nothing has happened. Promises of progress, then nothing. Again and again. I finally had an idea how to make change happen: Send Amazon an anniversary cake and post a picture of it publicly!

I even told my Amazon contacts about this idea, but it didn’t really catalyze anything. Then I finally set a deadline of Dec 2nd. The deadline came and went with more unfulfilled promises, so on December 2nd I picked up the phone and ordered a cake.

`11 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business’

Stephanie St.Claire shares some gems. My current favorites are 7-11.

My name is Stephanie St.Claire, and I am an unfunded entrepreneur. I’ve been in business for 3 years, after engaging in my own personal and tenuous renaissance (uh…divorce) and rediscovering my Divine Core Purpose. In other words, I grew a pair of ladyballs and started living the life I always wanted to while making money doing it.

But there was a LOT to learn, and some of those things weren’t covered in Who Moved My Cheese.

The Evolution of Major League Baseball Scheduling

Holly Stephenson, baseball schedule for 25 years, in a new ESPN Films short:

It was impossible to actually meet all the requirements. So the secret really was to know how to break the rules.

A husband and wife team, Henry and Holly Stephenson, managed the Major League Baseball league-wide game scheduling for about 25 years. They were recently replaced (yes, with some more advanced computer scheduling, albeit still outsourced to a small team of individuals).

This 30 for 30 Short on The Schedule Makers was more fascinating than I might have expected.

The team who replaced this couple are those at the company Sports Scheduling Group. Michael Trick, a member of this team, had this to say on his blog after seeing the short:

It was fascinating to hear the story of the Stephensons, and a little heart-breaking to hear them finally losing a job they obviously loved. I have never met Henry or Holly, and they have no reason to think good thoughts about me. But I think an awful lot of them.

I began working on baseball scheduling in 1994, and it took ten years of hard work (first Doug and me, then the four of us) before MLB selected our schedule for play.

Why were we successful in 2004 and not in 1994? At the core, technology changed. The computers we used in 2004 were 1000 times faster than the 1994 computers. And the underlying optimization software was at least 1000 times faster. So technology made us at least one million times faster. And that made all the difference. Since then, computers and algorithms have made us 1000 times faster still. And, in addition, we learned quite a bit about how to best do complicated sports scheduling problems.

Another way to see this is that in 1994, despite my doctorate and my experience and my techniques, I was 1 millionth of the scheduler that the Stephensons were. Henry and Holly Stephenson are truly scheduling savants, able to see patterns that no other human can see. But eventually technological advances overtook them.

Software Company Abuses Customer Computers, PR Opportunity Lost, and An Idea Someone Should Steal →

This is actually kind of clever, if they’d gone about it differently and looked at the bigger picture.

Robert McMillan for Wired.com:

A gaming software company has been slapped with a $1 million fine after secretly adding bitcoin mining software to a product update earlier this year.

I would have disclosed it, promoted it as a feature, and split any profits with customers. They probably could have made more Bitcoins (from the built-in use incentive and larger user base), avoided the fine, and gotten some great publicity (ties well into a popular tech topic right now), coming out not only more profitable in terms of Bitcoins and sales, but also untainted.

Oh well. Guess someone else will just have to steal the idea.

And:

Back in the spring, those 30 bitcoins were worth only a few thousand dollars, but at today’s rates, it comes closer to $17,000.

The botnet’s haul was so good because six months ago, serious gamers like ESEA’s customers made excellent soldiers for a botnet army. Gaming machines have powerful graphical processing units that are pretty good at bitcoin mining. Since the spring, however, the bitcoin mining game has become a lot harder, and miners now use custom-designed chips to earn payouts on the bitcoin network.

This also reminded me of using my (then) employers load testing computer lab to participate in the distributed.net / RSA RC5-* cryptographic brute force cracking contests in the late 90s. There was even talk of porting it to our platform’s proprietary/quasi-proprietary silicon, but I’m not enough of a programmer and my savvier colleagues were intrigued but too busy to do it in time.

Amazon and Postal Service Partner for Sunday Package Delivery →

Ron Nixon for the New York Times:

The cash-short United States Postal Service, which has failed to win congressional approval to stop delivering mail on Saturdays to save money, has struck a deal with the online retailer Amazon.com to deliver the company’s packages on Sundays — a first for both, with obvious advantages for each.

For the Postal Service, which lost nearly $16 billion last year, first-class mail delivery, particularly on Saturdays, is often a money loser, whereas package delivery is profitable.

Only the Freshest Chilies for the Sriracha Rooster →

A bit of a puff piece, but I learned a couple things and was moved enough that I stood up, grabbed the bottle from the cupboard, and enjoyed a spoonful.

Roberto A. Ferdman writing for qz:

If David Tran were a more conventional CEO, he would be a fixture at conferences, a darling of magazine profiles, and a subject of case studies in the Harvard Business Review. Sriracha hot sauce, made by Huy Fong Foods, which Tran founded 33 years ago in Los Angeles, is one of the coolest brands in town. There are entire cookbooks written to celebrate Sriracha’s versatility; memorabilia ranging from iPhone covers to t-shirts and all sorts of other swag; a documentary in the works to chronicle its rise; and innumerable imitators. Sriracha sales last year reached some 20 million bottles to the tune of $60 million dollars, percentage sales growth is in the double digits each year, and it does all this without spending a cent on advertising.

Yet Tran shuns publicity, professes not to care about profits, hardly knows where his sauces are sold, and probably leaves millions of dollars on the table every year. His dream, Tran tells Quartz, “was never to become a billionaire.” It is “to make enough fresh chili sauce so that everyone who wants Huy Fong can have it. Nothing more.”

Buying an Apartment Specifically to Rent Out on Airbnb →

I’m a sucker for clever, yet simple, business models.

Jon Wheatley:

In 2012 I bought an apartment specifically to rent out on airbnb. I’ve been managing it remotely for the past year. This post includes everything I learned as well as some revenue numbers.

And:

The place I found was in Las Vegas and it cost $40,000. It’s a 750 sqft 1 bedroom, 1 bath. There’s a shared pool with a hot tub and even a tennis court. Perfect for the weary traveler who wants to relax after a long journey.

Former Designer of the iPod Develops the ‘iDetector’

It’s almost embarrassing what little it takes to innovate in some sleepy industries.

Steven Levy for Wired:

When smoke or carbon monoxide reaches a government-specified level of peril, the device performs like every other alarm. But what sets Nest Protect apart is its vocal warning before things get that bad. This feature has the potential to save lives: Millions of people intentionally disable smoke alarms because they’re fed up when the alert blares at the slightest hint of charred bacon. Nest’s verbal alert gives owners a chance to head off a heart-palpitating klaxon call when none is warranted, making it less likely they’ll rip out the batteries in disgust. And the Nest Protect will never wake you at 3 a.m. to inform you that the battery is low—instead, when the lights go down at bedtime, its gentle ring of light provides a status report. A green glow means all is fine; a yellow circle tells you that it’s time to replace the battery.

This is the essence of what I love about the entrepreneurial mindset. A dedication to real innovation – often with a fundamental thing or frustration that others take for granted. All the better if combined with an exquisite design orientation, good taste, sound engineering, and excellent editing skills.

How to innovate fundamental pieces of life:

  1. Take any industry, product, service, or situation that a lot of people despise, outright hate, struggle often with, or take for granted.
  2. Spend a few days/weeks/months/years pondering the biggest issues in it.
  3. Tackle one of the top three.
  4. Repeat.