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What I’ve Learned Having 20 Strangers Sleep In My House

21 October

airbnb-logoOne of Derrick and my personal goals in life is to get our house paid off early. So after we got married and had cleared out boxes of plates, silverware, and mason jars for the event out of the spare bedroom, it seemed natural to think about using otherwise ignored space to generate some income.

So the day after we got married, we had our first AirBnB guests. (We warned them that the rest of the house looked like a bomb went off but our first guests, who happened to be German, were very gracious.) We’ve had about 20 people come through our house in the last month, hailing from places as exotic as Switzerland to more expected like New Jersey. Some stayed as short as one night and one as long as three days.

Our first reaction when we tell people we do this is that they think it’s weird. But hear me out, it’s actually kind of interesting.

You have a roommate… when you feel like it.
So I have a friend visiting this weekend so I blocked off Friday and Saturday night so AirBanB people couldn’t book the room. Unlike having a full on regular roommate, you just have a roommate when it’s convenient.

You set your price/expectation.
Between the photos, the profile, and your price point, you set the expectation for the experience.

I have taken a stunningly bad photo of the room, mainly so when people see it in real life, they are pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t look like the kind of room they will be murdered in.

And we priced ourselves cheaper than we thought we could get for a few reasons 1) Attract laid back and younger travelers (a relatively affordable option), 2) The room isn’t finished off yet so we didn’t think it was fair to charge full market value, and 3) We wanted to get some people to stay in the space and leave some initial reviews.

When we put in flooring and add a few extras to make it nice, we may up the price and get professional photos but until then, we are marketing ourselves in this way on purpose.

We have met some really interesting people.
The guys from Boston reminded me of my college friends while the couple from Bejing showed us how to properly do a Kung Fu tea service (no joke). We have met people who are thrilled to be in our town and it’s really rubbed off on making us enthusiastic in the same way. Some people who stay over want to talk a lot and we get to know them well and some just want a place to sleep and, as I say in the listing, we are fine either way. Everyone we’ve met has been really nice and grateful. I’ve even met someone who teaches website design and we plan on keeping in touch about work stuff. Networking without leaving my house, who would have thought?

It’s kind of inconvenient so be prepared.
Ever had to go to the bathroom while someone takes a really long shower? Yeah when four people share one bathroom, it is bound to happen. Also between Derrick and I, we’ve really had to coordinate changing bed sheets, cleaning the bathroom, welcoming guests etc. which has sometimes meant we didn’t or couldn’t do something. Adjustable shelves in the party closet? Cleaning out the pantry? On hold projects when you are sharing your space and not wanting to make a mess or a bunch of noise.

I bet now you’re curious. Want to see our listing? Click here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4120600 And if you have any questions, let us know. We are AirBnB fans, on the host and guest end.

Money and the Internet: Collaborating for Convenience

17 October

My most recent trip to Boston was basically one big learning curve, which may be apparent considering this is the third blog post dedicated to “Things I learned during Wordcamp weekend.” YikYak was fun and delightful, and learning about marketing is always a blast for me- but this latest topic is a bit daunting for me.

I’m about to talk money.

Internet_Money

That is, money and how it’s interacting with the internet, affecting the way we buy things or even interact with each other. Sure, there are online shopping carts and PayPal, but there’s an emerging realm of online currencies and payment processing tools that I was blind to pre-Boston.

A New Currency

To start, let’s think currency. When I first heard the term “Bitcoin,” I imagined the little coins on Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog, and that’s about as much thought as I put into it. But, when we were in Boston, I noticed that many stores had flyers in their window proclaiming “We accept Bitcoin.” Sure, I had the brief flash of Mario money, but it was followed by a few minutes of active contemplation. And then I asked someone out loud, “What is bitcoin, anyway?”

 

Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency (a very simplified explanation is that it’s a digital currency that isn’t governed by a bank). There are hundreds of different cryptocurrencies out there, apparently  (including but not limited to Litecoin, Dogecoin, Namecoin, and one called Chtulu), it just so happens that Bitcoin is the most popular and/or successful. It’s controlled by the people who use it.

Who is using Bitcoin? My first, naive impression was that this number would be low, as I assumed people would forgo this “Mario money” for “real money,” but the numbers proved me wrong. In the past 24 hours, there have been about 75,000 transactions via Bitcoin, or a little over 3,000 in the past hour.

There’s a couple reasons using Bitcoin appeals to people. First, what you see is what you get. There are no hidden or extra charges with transactions via Bitcoin. Also, vendors don’t receive any personal information from you (credit card numbers, addresses, phone numbers, etc.), which is ideal considering the amount of security breaches lately. If you’re looking to make some purchases on the sly, Bitcoin probably isn’t for you-all the transactions are logged online (it’s open source, after all). You’re not going to find the privacy of cash only transactions with cryptocurrencies, but then again, we are talking about the internet.

Exchanging Money

In addition to currency, there are new ways of exchanging money online. PayPal and Square have been around for a little while now, but Venmo is a mobile app designed for smaller scale transactions, mainly between friends and acquaintances.  Venmo allows you to pay a friend for lunch, rather than trying to make exact change, directly from your credit card account.  Venmo can handle transactions a couple different ways: a) if someone pays you, the balance stays right in your Venmo account, and you can continue to exchange money that way, or b) if someone pays you, you can choose to Cashout and have the money deposited in your bank. Whereas Bitcoin is available internationally, Venmo is only available to people in the U.S.

Venmo is especially popular among millenials, and was designed by a pair of twenty-somethings who were tired of settling up with each other all the time for meals and various activities. According to a Forbes interview with the co-founders, their goal is to”be accepted like Visa and used like Facebook.” It’s pretty ambitious, but $314 million went through Venmo just in the beginning of this year, and the numbers just keep going up.  VenmoUsers

What’s so great about online currency and exchanges?

There are countless other apps out there designed to manage money. Even most banks have apps available to mobile users.  As a culture, we have come to associate mobile accessibility with convenience, and that appeals to everyone. Don’t just take my word for it- check out this blog post on the current state of the mobile user. During my research process, the one overarching point I noticed is that people want what’s convenient. Trying to split a cash only bill when everyone in the group has only 20s is not convenient, but the ability to pay people back instantly without having to count nickels and dimes? Bingo. Another interesting characteristic shared by Bitcoin and Venmo is the idea of Peer to Peer (or P2P) transactions, or the idea that I could square up with you, and cut out the middleman altogether.

Thinking about money still stresses me out, but after learning a bit more about money and exchanges online, at least now it’s convenient.

Tech Thursday: How to Track Traffic to a Page on Your Website

16 October

…Now say that five times fast.

Every website has certain goals, whether it’s getting someone to buy a product, subscribe to a newsletter, or make a donation. There’s a page on your website where al this action occurs. How do you know whether people are getting to this particular page?

This is where tracking comes in. Using tracking tools, you can figure out how many people are getting to your website, how many are getting to that desired page on your site, and where they’re coming from (social media, Google searches, blog posts, etc.). What are some different tools you can use for tracking? We talk a bit about Bitly, analytics offered by your Web Host, and Google Analytics (keep in mind, these are by no means the only tools available- just the ones we use most).

BookIt Relaunch Is Good Will For A Company That Needs It

14 October

Pizza_Hut_Book_ItI was a kid who always loved to read. So when I was in first or second grade and I realized I could earn pizzas for my love of reading, I was pretty psyched.

Lots of us (ok lots of us nerds) have fond memories of the BookIt program where you’d read books to get personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut. There were also the buttons, the stickers, and other fun stuff. I remember this being an entirely positive experience.

With this 30 year anniversary of the program, Pizza Hut is looking to get a lot of nostalgic and social media goodwill from its latest campaign.

Here’s why they probably need it:

1) They have been at about 1% growth the last 3 years in the US (they’re doing much better in China). As anecdotal evidence, I was last in a Pizza Hut 12 years  ago and Kassie can’t remember the last time she was in one.

YUM-brand-comparison

Pizza-Chains

The second graph is from Bloomberg Business.

2) Even if you don’t count sales, Pizza Hut doesn’t do well in comparisons between the other popular pizza brands in the US.

I didn’t have to look far to find articles comparing the national brands (Papa Johns, Dominos, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesars) and none were impressed with Pizza Hut’s offerings.

http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2014/01/taste-test-pizza-delivery.html

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2010/02/what-is-the-best-delivery-pepperoni-pizza-dominos-pizza-hut-little-caesars-papa-johns.html 

3) Pizza Hut has had some PR problems over the last couple years.

It’s one thing to have declining sales (paleo and low carb movement, etc.) and a medicre product but it’s another thing to have PR problems added to that. From their 2880 calorie pizza to a worker recently fired for not so sanitary behavior, Pizza Hut hasn’t been in the news in a good way… until now.

Championing reading and supporting teachers is a pretty easy cause to get behind, and relaunching a well loved, widely popular program is one way there.

From their video story (see below) to their new app to their collaborations with authors and celebrities, BookIt is in it to win it.

And no need to be a student or a teacher. BookIt has an alumni program to get regular adults involved (a free personal pan delivery when ordering online- still waiting for the email to tell me how many books I have to read to get it.) But if Pizza Hut gets people like me back through the door to retry their pizza, I’ll be curious to see what the American sales numbers are next year.

They’ve certainly invested in this launch from an app to teacher kits to social media campaigns (#BookItKid). Here’s hoping this next generation of kids in school has some fond memories of reading and pizza… and here’s hoping this gives Pizza Hut the boost it needs.

Godzilla Cake Disaster of ’98, or How to Work With Your Limits

10 October

My brother’s 7th birthday party was Godzilla themed. The movie (with Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno) was alright in my opinion, but Stephen thought it was The Greatest Movie of All Time. Of course, this is the same kid that made fun of me for crying at My Dog Skip, so I’m inclined to question his taste in cinema. In order to make this party the greatest Godzilla party ever thrown, Mom decided NOT to consult Hannaford (Shop ‘n’ Save, at the time) for a cake. Instead, she asked a local cake-making woman if she could construct a cake that resembled Godzilla. The Cake Woman seemed a bit hesitant, but agreed to the task at hand.

It turned out awful.

I haven't located the original picture, but this is an eerily accurate artistic rendition a la MS Paint.

I haven’t located the original picture, but this is an eerily accurate artistic rendition a la MS Paint.

No one wanted to eat the Godzilla cake- including me, the cake-eating aficionado of the family. It was a one-layer cake, vaguely shaped like a t-rex, topped with a green, gray, and brown frosting combination, and a garish face that would give Stephen King nightmares. Mom clearly regretted not going the Hannaford route, and was a little peeved that the Cake Woman thought this offensive cake was appropriate to give to a customer. 

I don’t know why, but Godzilla Cake-gate has been on my mind a lot lately (so has cake in general, but that’s neither here nor there). Did The Cake Woman simply agree to a task she knew nothing about, thinking “Eh, how hard could it be?” Was it a personal challenge gone wrong? I refuse to believe that The Cake Woman simply made this particular cake and wiped her hands of it. What happened?  Why did she expose us to this cake horror show? 

One of the possible conclusions is that The Cake Woman agreed to do something she wasn’t 100% sure she could do. Honestly, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that. I agree to do quite a few things that I’m not absolutely sure I can handle (besides- how certain are we, really, of anything?). Should you be a certain percentage of surety before committing to something, on a work-related level?

Andy Dwyer, the Everyman.

Andy Dwyer, the Everyman.

“Never challenge yourself” is not at all the moral of this tale. If you never challenge yourself, you never learn. There are thousands of articles and blog posts out there asserting the idea that we must push ourselves in our search for improvement. In fact, that’s something that I really enjoy about this job: I’m learning something new on a daily basis. In fact, we have a set time once a week specifically dedicated to learning something new. The Cake Woman may have seen the Godzilla cake as a learning opportunity.

Giving yourself time to learn and execute a new task is also recommended. “Rome wasn’t build in a day” seems like a tired cliche, but it’s spot on. Maybe you’ve seen the various 30 Day Challenges out there. It’s worth noting that these are a) challenges,  and b) they are issued for a month long span. That’s some time and dedication. If The Cake Woman had put off making the Godzilla cake until the night before the birthday party, she probably didn’t give herself enough time. If she had instead started toying around with the idea a week or so in advance, she could have toyed with the general shape of the cake, the color of the frosting, how it was going to be decorated, and so on.

Here’s another baking experiment example: I was part of a group project for a class at Bates, and our project involved making amazing cupcakes for our entire class (it was senior year). Before the final presentation, where we brought in a few dozen cupcakes, we spent about a month practicing, toying around with recipes, different flavor and frosting combos, and figuring out how long baking actually took. Sure, it may sound like a lot of work for what it was worth, but we were able to deliver a polished finished product to our classmates. And everyone was psyched to eat cupcakes at 8 a.m.

Challenging yourself, whether in your personal or professional life, is something most everyone recommends these days. If your particular challenge involves giving a customer a finished product, give yourself some learning and executing time. Trust me, you don’t want to be in the position of giving a customer a product or service that is the equivalent of Stephen’s Godzilla cake.

That being said, I did totally eat some of that Godzilla cake. Waste not, want not, right?

Tech Thursday: An Introduction to SSL

09 October

Online security is a pretty important issue, especially if your website accepts any sort of information from customers. If you have an online store that accepts payment information, or even if you just have a contact form with names and addresses, you want to keep that locked down.

Having SSL on your website is a great way to protect your website AND your customers. Your site has an extra layer of protection, and people will trust you with their information. Win/win, right?

But what is SSL? SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer (and doesn’t sound super exciting, but we did try to make this fun!). Google has prioritized security in its rankings, and let’s face it- if Google thinks it’s important, then the rest of us probably should, too.

Let us know if you have any other Tech Thursday questions!