Snow Blahg Experiment

This is a record of my pathetic attempt to try and break into the snowboarding industry, or "The Industry." I make myself feel better by calling it an experiment. Plus, if I ever have to make an ass out of myself, it’s for the sake of science, right?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pool

Over the weekend I was able to take a short excursion down to Garden Grove, California, to attend a Vietnamese friend's wedding. Vietnamese weddings take the form of booking a restaurant for the evening while 100+ guests eat, throw money at the new couple, and karaoke until they're blue in the face.

The trip was broken up by a stop-over in Las Vegas on the way down and on the way back. On the way back we stopped by the Pool Tradeshow, a fun fashion tradeshow for hip, new companies. The last time I was at a tradeshow in Vegas was for SIA, the annual snowboard industry tradeshow for North America. I was able to attend at the benevolence of Josh Reid, founding partner of Rome Snowboards. It was during their first year of retail and I volunteered like an eager beaver to help in any way possible. I was amazed that he actually returned my emails, gave me his cell phone number, and then ultimately invited me down to meet him at the show. He was also the only person who gave me more than quick glance at the entire show. I felt like a kid in a candy store walking around to the different booths and looking at all the fresh, new product that was going to hit the stores next year. But just like a kid in a candy store, I got the cold shoulder and was treated like an loitering brat. Everyone was so focused on looking cool, being cool, knowing someone cool, that it drove me crazy. All anyone was saying was a mumble of "Bro, brah, blah, blah, blah." I guess I wasn't cool enough to participate.

Pool was different, though. There was a combination of two things at work. First, most of the companies were young start-ups that were hungry to talk to anyone. If you made eye contact with anyone, be prepared to have a 10-minute conversation about their new designs, how their company is the next big thing, so on and so forth. It was refreshingly fun. Second, I was able to attend the show with a press pass. That's right, Geoff Tice has officially been recognized as the publisher of snowblahg.com. You'd be amazed how differently people treat you when you have a lanyard with the word "Press" hanging around your neck. Seriously, stop looking at my chest, my eyes are up here!

We also met up with our good friends from Amadeo Decada. It was a real eye-opener to hear the horror stories of starting your own apparel company from the ground up, especially in this day and age. Off-the-shelf software programs like Adobe Creative Suite allow anyone to become a designer. Cheap, global manufacturing and electronic correspondence have also streamlined the production process. A guy working out of his living room can produce clothing comparable to any of the big box apparel companies. Kind of sounds like blogging, right?

In the forgone time before the 00's, self-publishing was a little more laborious, and therefore naturally filtered out a lot of crap. Think back to 1517 when Martin Luther self-published the Ninety-five Theses, or when Hamilton, Madison and Jay distributed the Federalist Papers. Even when technology like photocopy came along, zines would often be carefully crafted together as a work of art and thought-out expression. Way back in the 90's, when the Internet became a hit, creating your own website required some programming and technical savvy. But nowadays, anyone can easily publish their thoughts for the whole world to view, or in most cases, ignore. Hey, I'm just waiting to get more than a dozen responses to any blog post I've written. If I should ever get to the point that I have 55 responses, then I'll know I've made it big and I'll retire and live the good life: riding my bike around the hills of Switzerland.

Friday, February 10, 2006

No More Developments

Tonight is the season finale of Arrested Development, in my mind one of the greatest network TV shows. The show has had a rocky history from the beginning. The show first aired on November 2, 2003. While the ratings weren't too spectacular, Fox decided to keep season two going because the show won several Emmys. When the ratings didn't increase much that second season, Fox announced it would pull the plug on the show. After a wave of fans wrote in, the station decided it would move forward with season three, but on February 9, 2005 reduced the episode order from 22 to 18. After airing nine episodes (#9 being a brilliant attempt to save the show and mock the standard formula for boosting ratings), Fox decided to end it quickly and silently. Having four produced episodes in the can (equaling a total of 13 for season three), they decided to show them all in one unpublicized, unimportant, throw-away night -- during the same time slot of the Olympic's opening ceremonies.

Here's a quick lesson on how the ratings system works. Arthur Nielsen, founder of Nielsen Media Research, developed a system in the 60's when TV programming was on the rise. The Nielsen Ratings are now the gold standard that broadcasters and advertisers use to determine what program is being watched by who and how many. There are an estimated 110.2 million television households in the United States. Each rating point indicates 1% of this estimated total. For example, Super Bowl XL had a rating of 41.6. That's 41.6% of all the households with TV's or 45.8 million households!

Arrested Development's ratings have hovered around 3.6 for season three. Hey, when American Idol Tuesday is pulling 16.9 and American Idol Wednesday is pulling 17.4, why bother with shows like AD?

Perhaps AD was never meant for broadcast TV. In the network comedy genre, stations favor contained episodes over continual story lines. It makes it easier for people to hop in mid-season and understand what's going on. Continual story lines do make for good DVD watching, though. DVD sales have proved the show to be very popular among it's small niche of fans (currently #26 on Amazon).

I am sad to see the show go, but what makes it worse is the way it's going out. 55 episodes is a lot of content, and I'd be happy with 55 wonderful episodes of a good story any day. But with it's sudden euthanizing, the writers never got to fully tell the end of the story. It's a sad fate that's happened to other shows, like My So Called Life and Freaks and Geeks (which only ran one season, RIP). Later on when I saw Lindsey Weir appear as Nurse Sam Taggart on ER, in my mind I concluded that she actually did graduate with good grades and end up going to a good college, despite burnout friends like Daniel and Kim. If you're going to end a show, at least the writers know well in advance so we can say goodbye to our fictional friends with dignity and coherence.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Stupid Businesses

So perhaps the fall of 12 Daily Pro has gone to my head, but I feel like ripping apart another business: LoveSac. It was announced recently that LoveSac has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Many of you know LoveSac's CEO from Fox's The Rebel Billionaire, a lame knock-off of The Apprentice (what? Dancing with the Stars is a hit? Well how about Skating with Celebrities!). Anyone could have seen this bankruptcy coming years ago.

In order to form a viable business, you have to answer two questions. First, will our revenues be more than our expenses? And second, do we have a competitive advantage?

Let's look at the first question. LoveSacs sell from $159 to $529. I'm guessing the total cost of materials is less than $25 per bag. At manufacturing costs like these, we could stuff the bags with real dollar bills and be rolling in our own money! But the real cost doing business is in LoveSac's distribution and operations model. For some reason, Shawn decided to go retail brick-and-mortar, and not in the cheapest places either. Westlake Center in downtown Seattle, Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Those are not the typical places to sell stuffed furniture. It's not unusual for companies to open retail stores in expensive locations (Burton Snowboards opened a retail location in Manhattan with a reported lease price of $900,000 a month), it's just difficult to depend on that as your primary sales channel, especially for furniture. Add on to that all your staffing costs and a huge marketing budget, and your margins are pretty slim. If LoveSac is still in the black after all that, they have to look at question two.

What makes LoveSac different than any other bean bag? Bean bags have been around for decades, and for a lot less than $529. Sure LoveSacs are poofier than traditional bean bags, but what's preventing anyone else from making the exact same product? In fact, it would probably be a good idea to copy LoveSac, but instead of paying tons to be in hip locations and pay models to look sexy around my bags, I should just sell them online. It's such a good idea that about 100 companies are already doing that. Bean bags are a commodity, just like lettuce or toothpaste. Shawn thought that marketing could make people think otherwise. In his fantasy world, he sees teenagers going over to a friend's house, seeing the generic bean bag, and giving him a wedgie for being so uncool. I have a friend who has a LoveSac, and trust me, he's not getting any more popular because he has one.

Well, if Shawn can't make his business work, he can always try out for the next Fox reality show. It worked for Rob and Amber, right?

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Golden Ticket

So I know that the past two posts have been about 12 Daily Pro, but I don't think anyone minds. Since 12 Daily Pro announced that their Stormpay account was frozen, they've posted news updates about every two hours on their member's page. To me, it's just fodder for shutting down while trying to look innocent. Here's the most recent post from this morning:

"We have recieved notice that a group of 12daily Pro members who are students at a Utah university have created and have been promoting a website to fellow students, that falsely claims we are investment opportunity and urging students to contact them if they want to place an investment with our company. They have also been handing out business cards with our name on them. These students may have also given the impression that we are a pyramind scheme of sorts, which we cannot in adctuality be beccause we offer only a simple one level referral program.

Our terms clearly state that 12dp is not an investment opportunity and we have never presented it as such.

It seems that there are multiple sites and groups of our members doing similiar things. This has created a very difficult situation for us. None of these things were approved or sanctioned by our program.

Due to questions being raised, we want to be proactive in cooperating with any authorities that may want to ask questions. We feel at this time, it is best that we stop accepting upgrade purchases while we attempt to prove to whoever may question, exactly what our business model is and is not.

We are unsure what this will mean for the future of the program, but we want you to know we will do our best to communicate what is happening to you. We will also be formulating a refund strategy should that become necessary.
Our funds remain frozen with StormPay so we have no idea at this point how long that refund process will take.

Please know we are going to do all we can to prove that all we have done here is offer people a effective way to promote their online businesses and earn by engaging with the advertising of other members.

We will post news items as we have more information. Should the site need to be taken down for any reason as a result of these matters, you can still contact us by fax if needed. 1-866-308-0133

As I have supported and worked for you all over the past 10 months, I hope that I can count on your support in this matter as well.

Thank you"

All the typos really boost my confidence in 12 Daily Pro, by the way. It's kind of cute, like that guy in Nigeria who is always reaching out to Americans to help him get his family fortune out of the country and into a US bank account.

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned how multi-level marketing was prevalent in Mormon circles, i.e., Utah. It's no surprise then how some budding entrepreneurs at a Utah university would take 12 Daily Pro and run with it like it was their golden ticket. I think I can understand the tendency a little.

Being a devout Mormon myself, I served a full-time mission between the ages of 19-21. When I got back, I was a 21-year old freshman in college who didn't know what he wanted to do professionally. I had friends who were wrapping up Bachelor degrees and were looking at various graduate programs. Feeling a like I was in the slow lane, I made myself feel better by saying that my mission was an investment in skills, giving me real world sales and leadership experience. I even put that on my resume. Observing others who have served LDS missions, I think the mind set is pretty common. Missionaries think that serving the Lord for two years will somehow translate into getting kick-ass jobs that make them tons of money, so they will be able to give even more to the world. There's no flaw in that logic, right? Thank goodness we have rich, famous Mormons to bless the rest of the world who is wandering in darkness.

It's been seven years since I've served my mission and I think I can see it for what it truly was -- absolutely no help at all to my professional career. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret serving at all. Sure I would have done some things differently, but hindsight is always 20/20. I'm simply saying that serving a mission doesn't guarantee that I'll be financially successful. But then again, if I ever do become rich and famous, I'll probably go around to a bunch of speaking opportunities telling kids how it all started with my mission call.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Is the End Near?

My last post was in relation to 12 Daily Pro, the get rich quick scheme. Like most investments, high return = high risk. The questions was how much longer 12 Daily Pro would be around before they split.

In the stock market crash of 1929, Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy, was able to exit the stock market right before things came tumbling down. How did he know when to get out? In his words, "When the shoe-shine guy gives you stock tips, it's time to get out."

So Monday (1/30) I got tips from a "shoe-shine boy" about 12 Daily Pro. A good friend of mine, who is very smart but the farthest removed from online money-making schemes, was approached about 12 Daily Pro. When someone who has never even made an online purchase is getting recruited into the game, you know the speculation is at it's peak.

So look at the following news bulletin from 12 Daily Pro posted today:

"We wanted to take this time to update you on the status of our current Stormpay issue.

As of about 5pm yesterday evening, StormPay has suspended out account without notice, not allowing any member upgrades nor any of our staff login access to our account.

Between our office and our attorney, we have left 4 messages last night as well as 8 messages this morning with no reply. We also have received no email notification of any reaon for the suspension. We have also not yet received the promised bank wire of a portion of our funds that that at 3pm yesterday we were told by them we would receive today.

Until we get more information we are unable to provide any further update on our pending payment schedule.

We will keep you updated in our member news area as we have more information."

We'll see how this pans out, but I'm pretty glad I didn't throw my $6,000.00 at them. That's 6,000 Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers! I think I'll go have one for lunch. Oh yeah, and snowblahg is coming along too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Risky Business

So the other day I was given one the greatest promises ever: "Want to double your money without working?" I'm not talking about the black jack and poker that are taking place right now in Vegas during the SIA show. I'm talking about 12 Daily Pro, the new get-rich-quick scheme.

About six years ago, some folks I knew got involved with a money gifting scheme. Some made money, some made enemies. It seems that the scheme has become a little more sophisticated since then.

12 Daily Pro is an autosurfer -- a program that automatically browses various websites. The idea is to log into your account, then the program automatically visits 12 web pages a day. What do you get in return for this strenuous work? Money. A quick blog search of "autosurf" will reveal the multitude of "get paid to surf" programs out there.

So here are the specifics on 12 Daily Pro:

- You buy units at $6 each. You can purchase anywhere from 1-1,000 units ($6.00 - $6,000.00)
- Your units are active for 5 business days. Each day you autosurf 12 websites.
- They pay you 12% a day for those 5 business days (if you throw in $6,000, you get $720 a day for 5 days, or $3,600).
- 7 business days later, they pay you out the money you put in plus what you earned (so if you put in $6,000, 12 business days later you would get $9,600)

A 60% return on your money in just three weeks! In your face Warren Buffet.

The reason they can pay out (which they actually do, as opposed to some other autosurf companies) is they are floating the money. In the three weeks between your investment and payout, they are counting on other people joining in and giving money. So they are paying you out with other people's money. They can keep floating the payouts as long as people keep signing up and putting money in. So where does this end? This is from their website:

:: TERMS & CONDITIONS

When you pay a membership fee to 12daily Pro you are acknowledging that you have read and accept the terms and conditions outlined on our site.

A. There is never any guarantee of earnings or profits.

B. We have the right to change the terms and conditions of this site at any time.


From the FAQ:

:: What happens if 12daily Pro goes out of business?

We anticipate a long a lucrative life for 12daily Pro.com. However, if there comes a time when we feel it necessary to change our rates or to close our business completely, we promise to give you as much notice as we possibly can. We will also do everything we can to payout all outstanding balances should that occur.

Basically that means "We may or may not pay you back. Once we're sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, we're going to split."

So the trick is getting cashed out before they decide to split. If you get cashed out twice, it's taken six weeks but you've made 120% of your investment. After that, you can afford to have them steal your money because you've made more than they're going to steal. So the real question is "Are they going to be around for another six weeks?"

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Shredfest 2005

To quote Tevye from The Fiddler on the Roof: "Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as... as a fiddler on the roof!" Shredfest is tradition. The annual get-together of friends on December 31 for some great snowboarding goes way back to 2004.

For many of my friends, Shredfest is the one time in the season they get to hit the snow. It's a pretty interesting revelation when you realize that your list of hobbies doesn't exactly correlate with your list of activities. If that were the case, my top three list of hobbies would include changing diapers, pretending to work, and going to the bathroom. Those usually aren't options on the list when you're trying to fill out an online profile.

I guess that's one unique point about snowboarding. Most people who participate in snowboarding go less than five times a season. You spend way more time reading magazines, watching videos and talking about snowboarding than you actually snowboard. I guess that's why marketers have created the whole "lifestyle" category out of snowboarding. To fit into the snowboarding-lifestyle category, you don't really need to snowboard. You don't even need to live where it snows. You just need to be between the ages of 16-30, not listen to country music, and have money to spend on things like clothing and shoes.

Perhaps I'm making the transition into the lifestyle category of snowboarding and skateboarding. It's something that my mind rejects, but my body is already accepting. For example, my mind says "You can shred the pow all day and throw down some sick frontside 5's". My body, on the other hand, clearly gives up by noon and is satisfied with a gnarly straight air to late 70 (invented by the great Mac-D).