Monthly Archives: June 2016
In Minneapolis, more than 5 percent of people bike to work. The bike culture has spawned a winter bike expo, a bike-related art poster fair and supports a community of artisan bicycle makers, independent bike retailers and accessory makers.
Shops like A Train Cycles, Appleman and Peacock Groove (no relation to me) turn out a variety of bicycles, including some designed for riding in the Minnesota snow. Brake Bread will even deliver fresh-baked bread by bicycle right to your door.
Today’s consumers crave unique and personalized products and services, and businesses like these are part of a massive new opportunity for small businesses to take on the big guys.
The bulging beer cooler at your neighborhood market is another perfect example. Craft breweries quadrupled their share of the U.S. beer market from about 5 percent in 2008 to now more than 20 percent, according to the Craft Brewers Association.
Niche grocers also are grabbing share. Fueled by hyper-localization and specialization — think local honey and small batch hot sauce — natural/gourmet stores are projected to grow 6.8 percent annually over the next four years. That’s more than double the growth expected for discount stores, according to a recent Nielsen report.
The North American Handmade Bike Show has grown to 180 exhibitors and thousands of attendees from its beginnings in 2005, when 23 exhibitors showed off their wares for 700 biking enthusiasts.
No matter what the business, today’s consumers want something unique. That means the huge scale of big chains and corporations has turned from an advantage to an Achilles heel that small businesses can take advantage of. It might seem daunting, but the opportunity is real.
According to a new study from QuickBooks, this rising demand for niche products and services is one of the key trends small businesses can leverage to drive success and tap new markets.
Access to world-class business infrastructure, valuable data, a talented pool of on-demand employees and cost-effective online advertising are also leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs who take advantage of them, according to the QuickBooks Future of Small Business report.
What I love is that these technology-driven shifts complement what has always been the essence of small business success — passion, community (now either physical or digital via social networks) and the personal touch. Technology has just set them on fire.
Custom wheels: The rise of the artisan bike shop.
Today’s consumers are not just looking for a product or a service. They are looking for experiences and personalized service, and they expect to be given the opportunity to shape the products and services they use. All of those things are right up the power alley of small businesses. That’s part of what has driven the rise of the artisan bike maker.
Is public Wi-Fi safe? The short answer: Hell, no. But if you must use the free wireless at your hotel or the satellite office (i.e., Starbucks), here are some precautions you should take.
Keep it impersonal. Never online-bank via public wi-fi. Obvious, right? But you shouldn’t even check email — that can give hackersaccess to a trove of personal info. This applies even to secure websites, those with https (hypertext transfer protocol secure) in the URL. “Public hotspots are susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks” — where the hacker intercepts communications — “which will strip out the ‘secure’ part of https,” warns David Lee, a product manager for mobile at security software company Norton.
Beware fake networks. Check the network name with the staff of wherever you’re working. “You might see ‘Free-Starbucks-wifi,’ but this could easily be a fake,” says Jérôme Segura, a lead malware intelligence analyst at internet security software maker Malwarebytes. You’d be able to get online like everything was normal, except all your traffic would be visible to prying eyes.
Turn off sharing. Your device’s sharing function is designed to be used in a collaborative work environment, making it easy to let other computers on the same network access your files — something you definitely do not want on public wi-fi. When you disable sharing, it makes your phone or laptop invisible to others, and thus a less likely target.
Get your own network. Install virtual personal network (VPN) software, which establishes an encrypted tunnel for your internet traffic. But VPNs aren’t invulnerable, so you should stick to using https websites (which, sigh, still won’t guarantee safety). Also, look for a VPN that offers an anti-malware scanner and a mobile app.
Use your phone. You can use your smartphone as a hotspot for your laptop (it’s called tethering), which offers a secure connection. It does have a couple of downsides, though: First, you’re at the mercy of your carrier’s performance and data rates. Second, the websites you’re looking at know who you are and what device you’re using, whereas a VPN will make you completely anonymous.
Every headline-grabbing hack is a stark reminder that your data isn’t always safe in other companies’ hands — or clouds. One solution: Create, and manage, your own cloud using the ZeroStack Z-Block.
Step 1: Plug it in. The ZeroStack system is a box (yes, like on Silicon Valley) that can quickly plug into a company’s network, transforming the system into a web-accessible cloud computer. “Customers can deploy a cloud in less than an hour, instead of days or weeks,” says Ajay Gulati, cofounder and CEO of ZeroStack. The price starts at $5,000 per month.
Step 2: Control your data. Your cloud can be accessed from any web browser. Because ZeroStack uses your company’s own server, you can keep a watchful eye on your data instead of trusting your valuable information to somebody else’s server farm. And while this doesn’t make you hackerproof (it’s not magic), you won’t be suffering collateral damage when some bigtime hack hits a tech giant.
Step 3: Say, “Bye, ITguy.” Keeping a fully private cloud afloat typically requires specially trained IT teams. Not this one. “Our management software monitors the cloud for problems and fixes them automatically,” Gulati says. And should you need help, service and support from ZeroStack are included.
Few industries are as competitive as ecommerce. Not only are online retailers competing with other online stores and brick-and-mortar locations, but also the overall noise that is the Internet. We live in a world where consumer attention span is getting shorter and shorter:40 percent of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load, and the average shopping cart is abandoned more than 68 percent of the time. I’m hard pressed to find an ecommerce site that is not constantly scrambling to engage more and drive more sales.
Technology is finally helping with those efforts in a big way. Artificial intelligence (AI), which has demonstrated its value in industries like marketing, healthcare and finance, is now making a splash in online commerce.
Related: Tech Moguls Such as Musk and Bezos Declare Era of Artificial Intelligence
Antoine Blondeau, CEO of the world’s most funded AI company,Sentient Technologies, once said, “Five years from now, we’ll see AI take a bigger role in making decisions, creating pre-emptive solutions, and delivering insights. Society will become much more efficient as a result. Think logistics, ecommerce, healthcare, finance — in all these domains and others we will start to see massive gains from AI. We’ll be able to leverage AI systems to help get things to where they need to go faster and cheaper, we’ll be able to enable people to see and buy things they weren’t even aware existed or even knew they wanted.”
Here are three ways AI will impact ecommerce in the coming years:
Shoppers, say goodbye to impulse control. Software platforms that drive ecommerce websites are creating visual search capabilities which allow consumers to upload an image and find similar/complementary products. The visual search capabilities, particularly via mobile, “reads” the item for clues — color, shape, size, fabric and brand. This helps consumers to find exactly what they are looking for right away.
“In the age of Snapchat, Instagram, and the rapidly reducing attention spans of the digital age, AI-driven platforms will be essential to ecommerce success,” says Akash Bhatia, cofounder and CEO of Infinite Analytics, a deep machine learning and predictive analytics platform for retail.