Scale means never having to say you’re sorry?
AT&T had me locked in as a customer the other day. As far as I knew - following quite a lot of research on the interwebs - they were my only choice for broadband. I had just spent an hour getting bounced around by Comcast (including one woman who sounded like a Russian expat living in Delhi) before being told they could not help me. So, I surrendered to the less good DSL being promised by ATT.
Which is where they totally screwed up. I spent 45 minutes trying to get to a real person, but the website runs in circles, and there are no numbers to call. So I drove to an ATT store (to get DSL in my house). I waited for 30 minutes, and started tweeting my displeasure - which led to very nice and totally ineffectual responses from ATT. Fast forward to my discovery that, not only can ATT not deliver the faster version of DSL to my apartment (1.5mbps max down is what I’m offered), but they can’t “install” it until February 8. Install, mind you, meaning someone at a remote location pushes a button.
So I said fine, angrily, and then talked to the previous tenants and neighbors and discovered a much better solution.
This isn’t meant just as a rant against some of the worst customer service I have ever seen. It’s meant more as a cautionary example of what scale often does to customer service organizations. A lot of what we do at Tutorspree as it relates to customer service will be hard to scale. And, as you get larger, inertia can convince you that you don’t have to service your customers in a quality way. But to that line of thinking, I point out Dell. Once the pinnacle of their industry, and the best customer service around, they lost their customers in large part by treating them like crap.
We have a challenge - maintain that quality of service and interaction (5 different tutors thanked me today for prompt/good responses to questions) while continuing to grow. I haven’t yet figured out how we do that, but I’m sure as hell going to keep trying.
ABCD some more: Craigslist, stolen parking spots, and other ways of meeting great people
Turns out that picking up Craigslist items and using the wrong parking spots can be a hell of a way to network. Recently bought an air mattress and a futon from two different startup CEOs. Then, when Josh and I got back to the apartment, we parked in a spot that turned out to belong to the head of the science department of a local high school who loves the idea of Tutorspree and wants to talk more.
I won’t even get into the Trader Joe’s checkout guy who grilled us on our business plan. Turns out you really do have to be ready to talk about your company at the drop of a hat whenever, wherever, and no matter how tired you are.
Who am I? Identity in the cloud and the new nightmare
I’ve always had my fair share of nightmares (literal, here…you know, wake up in a cold sweat kind of thing). They ranged from the truly terrifying upon waking (big big dangerous spiders), to the nearly farcical - trapped in a cage of excel? Yep, that happened several times and probably reflects some of the pain I experienced as an entry level investment banker.
Every time one of these things happen, I can fairly easily trace it to something in my life causing me anxiety. Obviously, sometimes there is an element of obscurity there (hi Freud!), but the relationships between fear and dream have always been pretty traceable. Which is why a dream I had last night is so eye opening.
The heart of the dream: traveling in South East Asia, and my wallet is stolen without my noticing. It is returned, also without my noticing, but, when I pull it out, I notice the money is fake. It dawns on me that my credit cards have been stolen, and, with it, my identity. Cue the cold sweat wake up.
And sitting and thinking about that dream now, it’s incredible to me that I haven’t already had that dream. I live, sleep, eat, dream the internet these days. Everything I do is contained in a series of linked techno-social constructs that are me because…I have the passwords to them? I have several bits of unique information that let me access them and use them? But those elements are disjointed enough, and there are enough people out there who have no meaningful experience with flesh and blood Aaron Harris, that those identities could just as easily not be me. With the regular compromise of various security systems all over the world - from blogging platforms to major retail outlets - the digital bits that we point to as “us” are increasingly at risk of becoming…not us? Or, perhaps, some small piece of that identity could be hijacked without our even realizing it.
Which is to take a long winded run-up to a fairly old existential crisis. This time, though, that crisis is effectively projected outwards. It’s no longer simply a question of losing/finding oneself within one’s own mind. There’s an increasingly large element of not knowing where the basic anchors of one’s identity are, or if they are even secure. And I think that points to one of those startup ideas/themes that always plays around in my head (especially as I spend hours looking over the tutors signing up for tutorspree and running screens and talking to them): we need a better solution to personal identity, and it has to be secure. Does that mean everyone gets their own RSA key? Biometric scanning at every computer? Star Trek style voice/code word combinations to set off the self destruct?
I’m really not sure. But until that does happen, I’ll still probably wake up in a cold sweat every now and then, wondering if I’m still me.
the mobile web is rewiring my brain
My trip to California last week brought an ugly truth to light: the way that I interact with the world has changed because of the mobile web.
It’s not often that I can so easily trace behavioral modification to a specific event, or series of experiences. Sure, I know that I love Led Zeppelin because my brother forced me to listen to it when I was 7 (he was scared I would be sucked into a world of crappy music). But as an adult, the daily barrage of experiences, and the slow rate at which we generally change tends to mask shifting behaviors - at least to ourselves. This is the sort of thing that social scientists study and unravel, and I am neither. Mostly, we are not nearly self-aware and objective enough to realize what happened.
But last week, I had something of an epiphany. It came between the time I booked a hotel room by using a kayak mobile app (the same one that led to victory over rental car agencies) and taking the train to San Francisco without any real idea of where I would be meeting people. Now, for some people, I realize that’s something of a norm. Land in a new place, and figure things out. That’s not me. I tend to travel with a small notebook filled with confirmation numbers, train schedules, addresses, key phone numbers, and times, and alternate routes. Type A traveler? Absolutely 100%.
And I started thinking hard about what the hell had happened. Why was I running around without a clear idea of where I would be. Walking down the Embarcardero with my friend Jini, we started talking about it. It was clear to me that my iPhone was at the heart of the problem, closely followed by the increasing ubiquity of wifi. In my head, I know that anywhere I go, so long as I have a signal, I can find my way to wherever I need to go.
That’s an incredible safety net, and a testament to the way in which our world is changing. But it’s also dangerous. There are still many places where the signal won’t cut it, where planning is critical, where it leads to faster, better decisions. There are places where the perception of convenience can create a false sense of security.
But then again, on the whole: holy crap! Just thinking about the world we live in makes me giddy sometimes. I can land in a city I don’t know, blindfolded, and, 10 minutes later know where to get a sandwich, a local microbrew, and a hotel room. Zounds!
So what that really means is that I now have choices I never had before. Those options are seductive and they have to be consciously considered. Not planning = exciting, fast paced, and sometimes more convenient. Planning = more sure, safer, generally more efficient. There’s some mix of the two towards which I am moving, testing the balances along the way. Now I’m doing it far more consciously than I was.
Living in the future is awesome.
(6) INTERNET.—The term “Internet” means collectively the myriad of computer and telecommunications facilities, including equipment and operating software, which comprise the interconnected world-wide network of networks that employ the Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol, or any predecessor or successor protocols to such protocol, to communicate information of all kinds by wire or radio.”
— definition of the internet as per the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998.