The Big Starbuck’s Scam of 2008

No, I’m not talking about charging $4 for a latte. I’m not talking about the fact that Starbucks has wormed their way into so many of my MBA classes as a company to be fawned over. I’m talking about their much trumpeted 3 hour employee training that closed every single U.S. Starbucks tonight. I called shenanigans when I first heard about it – this seems far more likely to be a marketing move – get everyone to talk about Starbucks focusing on “quality”, and maybe they’ll come back to Starbucks a bit more often.

There’s no logical reason you have to close a store for 3 hours to provide decent training, and it’s even less likely that you’ll be able to provide decent training at 7,100 different stores at the same time.So what’s involved in this “training”? Apparently it meant watching a DVD on a portable DVD player. I’ve attached a picture of this, though it didn’t come out all that clearly from my Treo, and I felt hurried as the manager inside glared at me and contemplated chasing me away.

I passed by this Starbucks several times during this training. I saw them looking at paper, watching a DVD, sitting arround, but never did I see them actually touching coffee. Not that I saw the whole thing. But it seems really strange that a company that pays above market wages and benefits can’t teach their employees to properly push the espresso button on the machine, write my name on a cup, and read my name aloud when the drink is ready without kicking out customers. Bad stores need better managers, not 3 hours without customers for one day. Does this look like service-revolutionizing training to you?

Starbucks “Training”
Music, Technology

Hunting for a new MP3 Player

I have long been a customer of Yahoo Music Unlimited, a subscription music service competing with the likes of the new Napster and Rhapsody.  When I first signed up, the service was compatible with the RCA Lyra 1070, a small, flash-based MP3 player with an SD slot to expand the capacity.  You could copy any song from their library of millions of songs to the Lyra, so long as you periodically connected the Lyra to a computer to re-authorize the music library.  At some point, I begin going to the gym less, and Yahoo & Microsoft made some DRM “enhancements” that rendered this device incompatible with that feature (and they made support of this feature an add-on cost).  Now that Yahoo is quitting the music subscription business and handing my account over to Rhapsody, I’m looking at Rhapsody’s higher base monthly rate ($13/month) and thinking the meager $2/month add-on to copy any tracks to a portable MP3 player looks pretty nice.  To do this, I’m going to need a new MP3 player.

My main criteria for this new MP3 player are a) supports subscription music services, b) accepts flash memory cards to upgrade capacity, and c) costs less than $100.  Presumably a device meeting these criteria will be small enough that size isn’t an explicit criterion.  The subscription issue is non-negotiable for me.  The whole idea of paying $1/song has never sat well with me.  I like listening to the entire discography of an artist I’ve never heard of – I recently became a huge fan of Explosions in the Sky doing this.  I enjoy listening to entire albums, even the less popular songs, to discover hidden gems.  It’s awesome to be able to queue up a few hours of obscure Australian or Greek music to set the ambiance for a themed dinner party (and not have to buy the music).  With some nagging exceptions (Metallica, movie soundtracks), almost all the music I could ever want to listen to is immediately available at no additional cost.  Upgradeable capacity is another hot-button issue for me.  Upgradeable capacity takes away that temptation to pay $50 more for a $20-30 memory-upgraded-model now, and $200 more when the capacity of the shiny new players on the market are an order of magnitude larger than yours.  Buy a 2 GB player right now, and by this time next year, a $30 SD card will probably take you to 10 or 18 GB.

So far, my search is pointing to the Sandisk Sansa e250, which can be had refurbished for $40.  It has a color screen and video playback – I honestly don’t care about this since I don’t care to load TV and movies onto it – if I could find an audio only device like my old Lyra, I’d take it, though I’ll probably find a reason to like the video.  It comes with 2 GB of internal memory and is upgradeable with a microSD card (I would prefer a full-size SD card for cost/capacity reasons).  It has an FM tuner and can record FM radio – not a big draw, but interesting.  It has an internal, rechargeable, user-replaceable battery – another nice plus.  Anyone have good/bad experiences with this player?  Good experiences with another player that seems to hit the criteria?  Just want to tell me to suck it up and buy an iPod nano instead?  Comment away.


Blu-ray wins, customers will lose for years to come

Best Buy and Netflix have hammered the latest nails in the coffin of HD-DVD in the high-definition video format war.  HD-DVD had the more intuitive name and a broader group of companies behind it.  Blu-ray had a strange describe-the-color-of-the-laser-you-don’t-see name, was pushed primarily by Sony, and was the superior technology on paper.  Sony sold Playstation 3s containing Blu-ray players at a loss and allegedly threw lots of money at movie studios to entice them to release movies in their format.

A technically superior product winning a format war isn’t tragic.  Format wars themselves are.  Customers end up buying expensive doorstops.  Companies on the losing side are locked out of a wave of technology.  Retailers are caught in the middle.

This result is especially troublesome because few companies have been as aggressive in fueling format wars as Sony.  Betamax (vs. VHS), MiniDisc (vs. CD-RW?), ATRAC (vs. MP3), Memory Stick (vs. SD/CF), SACD (vs. DVD-A), SDDS (vs. Dolby Digital/DTS), and power outlets (thankfully a joke).  Every single one of these prior format wars resulted in Sony ending up with a loser’s share of the market, and presumably a lot of wasted cash.  Typically, Sony tried to push a premium price on the consumer.  I was hopeful that Blu-ray would be Sony’s Waterloo, the end of their format war ambitions.  Instead, they’ve “won”, all but assuring consumers more decades of Sony pushing proprietary “standards” in the hopes of conquering a market so they can charge premium prices for that generation of technology and render many consumers’ expensive hardware useless in the process.

What do I want?  Formats that appear open and obvious to the consumer.  DVD.  CD.  TV.  HDTV.   Even HD Radio (proprietary, but consumers will never know this).  More time building a market for new tech.  Less time gambling for the right to “own” a small piece of a big market.


SoCon08 – 5 Events That Changed Our Lives Since SoCon07

Jeff Haynie is kicking off the day at SoCon08 with a quick hit talk on the mega events that have transpired since the last SoCon

  • Facebook Platform  – the critical mass on Facebook and the explosion of apps on the Facebook platform have changed the internet dramatically.  As I mentioned before, I think this is more interesting as an idea than as a direct advantage for Facebook.  Facebook will struggle with democratization of social applications across the web, someone else will embrace this and out-innovate Facebook on the distributed social app and platform front.
  •  iPhone – The iPhone has taken the lead in the smartphone market at a remarkable pace.  I don’t fully understand the phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean I can’t observe it.  Much like the iPod, there are tons of pre-existing competing products that had a superior installed base last year, but the iPhone, like the iPod before it, has been the rock star that can attract peripherals and applications at a rate other, more “open” (install an app vs. Jailbreak), platforms have not.
  • Radiohead – released their album digitally on a “name your price” basis.  Thisis a potential tracer bullet in the modernization of the music industry.
  • Guitar Hero – Guitar Hero III was the largest game product launch ever.  The game industry is growing, the definition of who is a gamer is growing.  Wii is probably a big factor, possibly a bigger factor than Guitar Hero.  But Jeff’s folks play Guitar Hero on a Wii on Fridays anyhow, so it’s easy to mention both in the same breath.
  • MySQL – Sun bought MySQL for $1 billion.  To me, this is an ongoing validation of the open source business model.  The valuation is the big game-changer here.

A decent rundown, recognizing that not everyone in the room is neck-deep in technology every day.

Leonard Witt is following up with things he has learned in the passed year:

  • Pay attention to the frivolous – things like Twitter seem silly at first, but once they find their place, they can be tremendously powerful.  Given my recent adoption of Twitter, I totally understand this point.  So what’s frivolous right now?
  • “Free Revealing” – Give your ideas away. Len mentions that he blogged an idea he didn’t have time or money to pursue, and someone pursued him to give $50k to make the idea happen.

I’ll cut it off here – we’re about to get into some crowd-driven conversation about “what will be your big event for 2008”, and how far we’ve come from 2007?  I don’t think my blog fu will be able to keep up.