Thursday, July 24, 2014

Disrupt yourself or be disrupted

You've probably heard of Uber, the car service that works like a cab—except better. You hail an Uber car from an app on your phone. On the app you can see how long the car will take to get to you. When the car arrives Uber texts you (so if you're inside finishing a conversation inside you walk outside and voila!, there's the car—I've used it a lot and it really does work this smoothly). You can select the size of your car (big SUV if you need to haul the family to the airport). You don't need cash and you don't tip. When you reach your destination you walk out the door and Uber automatically charges your card.

Uber is launching in city after city all over the planet and almost everywhere people are having a fit. Well, not most people, just people who drive cabs for a living. Cabbies are angry, ostensibly, that these "untrained," unlicensed Uber drivers are scooping up their business. I get why that sucks if it's true (in Boston, cab medallion prices, which are basically proxies for how valuable being a cabbie is, have gone up, not down, since Uber came to town which suggests it might not be true.) I think their anger is misplaced, though. They shouldn't be angry at Uber. They should be angry at their employers, the cab companies.

After all, there's no reason why cab companies couldn't do this. Uber's technology is not all that complicated. Any cab company could have done this for their customers years ago and can still do it now. I'm sure someone—or lots of someones—who worked at cab companies has thought of it; I'm sure it was brought up in meetings in cities across the world. All these things Uber does are clearly benefits for customers. So why haven't any cab company on the planet made their own app?

Well, it turns out instead of griping, one finally is. Seoul's cab agency is going to make its own Uber-style app. 

The DNA of Uber is, in practice, very simple. Its power lies in the fact that a huge number of people on the planet now carry a computer connected to the internet in their pockets all day long (we happen to call it a phone). When you use something like Uber for the first time it can seem so obvious you wonder, "Why hasn't this existed before?" The elegance and utility of Uber makes the cabbies argument against it seem archaic. Sorry cabbies, you don't stand a chance on this one. And there are dozens of businesses just like you that are next.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Recent Reading

What if UPS and FedEx were like Uber and Lyft, where regular people do the deliveries, not employees? She started a company to see if that can work. 

A 40 fruit tree. Hat tip to Spike. 

Ever wonder what a camel broker eats each day? Hat tip to Val.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Recent Reading

Dry aged burger map of New York City.

Same kind of map, this time for Prime Rib. Bonus: lots of useful butcher information on the cut itself.

You've been slicing cake all wrong. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recent Reading

Do you order fresh peas online? Not yet, but maybe soon. The online grocery business is booming.

This is the kind of talk about food you don't hear very often; the real business side of the good food business. Patrick Martins, our pork man, talks about meat, farming, food, and the praise of real craft.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Recent Reading

Microlending, meet micropayments. Square is starting a business loan program where you pay off the loan pennies at a time—with each customer credit card transaction.

There's no such thing as cheap food without consequences. The scary story of slave labor shrimp at Costco.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What do lean operations and New York bodegas have in common?

New York sometimes gets a bad rap for a mythical, brusque, who-cares kind of service, but speaking personally, I've almost never experienced it. What I've had instead usually combines professionalism (on-time, accurate, everyone says "sir" a lot) with individual customization. Take this instance.

Recently I stopped by the closest bodega to my house for a couple cans of beer as I do from time to time. They have a big selection and I always hope they'll have Heineken in a can but they almost never do. So I chatted with the guy who appears to be kind of like an owner — you know, he was the kind of person who acted like one whether he was or not —and asked if he'd take suggestions for beers. "Of course!" he said and agreed with me, "Heineken in a can is so much better!" He got the attention of the other guy in the shop and told him, "Let's get a couple cases tomorrow." This is 10pm at night. Next day, they were there.

That's what a corner store used to feel like. Or so I imagine. Frankly, I've' never experienced many corner shops in Michigan. In one way it's weird that there's this level of personalization in the biggest city in America. On the other hand, there are a lot of factors about shopping in New York that, when thought through, make its personal service seem not so odd.

In New York, everyone shops in the immediate vicinity of where they live because it's a pain to travel long distances hauling stuff on foot. You don't have a car and you have to carry everything yourself so you shop in small batches. This is a key factor that, like small batches in lean operations elsewhere, leads to beneficial and unexpected results. Because you shop in small batches you'll often be in the same shop several times a week.

The shops are different than many other cities, too—smaller, often run by adults, not the teenagers and college students you see working in big box stores elswhere America. The staffs don't turn over very much. I'm not a guy who is super chummy with everyone when I shop but it's telling that I know the names of the person who runs the laundromat, the florist, the wine shop, the cafe, several restaurants, the bodega owner and probably a few others I'm forgetting. In Ann Arbor I knew maybe two of the names of the people who ran their shops—Bob Sparrow the butcher and Mike Monahan the fishmonger. (They were there when I shopped.) Ann Arbor is a town a fraction of the size of New York but, to me, felt far more anonymous

Anyway, this is not meant to be a plug for New York. I wanted to point out a couple things. One is that smaller shopping batch sizes, one of the principles of lean, lead in this case to greater personal contact. That personal contact ultimately, in my case (and I know I'm not alone), led to better and more customized service. That service was not administered by a survey or a some other process. It was a question, an answer, and and act—all done immediately, just in time, on demand. It's a powerful way to run a business. These are great lean skills, hard to replicate and some of the reasons that, in spite of CVS and Rite Aid and other national chains trying to make a dent in the commerce here, small owner-operated bodegas in New York thrive.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Recent Reading

A gal walks into a restaurant wearing Google Glass, the new computer eyeglasses from Google. Restaurant says take them off, that's our policy. Gal says no. Thirteen Glass fans write nasty reviews of said restaurant. Then 500 more reviewers lash out against gal and Google Glass. Another reason wearable technology is going to have a rough go of it.

Electronic eyes may have a tough time, but illustrated eyes are just fine. Turns out if you put eyes on your packaging, it makes people buy your stuff. Makes me wonder what would happen if the eyes on the packaging wore Google Glass.

Fourteen great points about mass transit that you might want to know.