SmartPrice.com 14 Years Later

SMartPrice T1, VoIP, Data Solutions for Businesses and Consumers.It was fourteen years ago this week that I joined with two very smart gentlemen as we pushed forward to seek funding and launch SmartPrice.com. At the time my first daughter was about to be born, we had just purchased a new home, yet I decided to throw caution to the wind. I left a great role with a major consulting firm – the same firm that had taught me all about the burgeoning world of eCommerce and digital marketing.

Living in Austin, Texas there was a buzz around start-ups and a sense of confidence that any business model could be successful. Companies were raising money left and right. Concepts were derived on scraps of paper and anything was possible. Austin was the epicenter in Texas of venture capital backed ideas leading to the moniker “Silicon Hills“.

The two gentlemen I mentioned previously were Jeff Hoogendam and Jim McKinley. Both were/are wicked smart and determined. Little did I care that we ended up taking five months to get funded (and just as the door was closing on funding for new businesses and the dotcom bubble was expanding to that point of elasticity where stretching makes a squeaking noise). We were having fun and developing a revolutionary business that would help change the way people shop for goods and services.

SmartPrice was simple – visitors go to a website, put in basic information about telephone usage and location and multiple options of varying prices are returned. On average, SmartPrice customers saved 30% or more on long distance telephone service (in 1999/2000 that was important before cell phones proliferated). In exchange for providing the information and a conduit for switching, SmartPrice was paid a commission by the new carrier. SmartPrice is still a working company today; though not active in acquiring new users.

Now, as I look back, I would not have changed anything. While my risk aversion has increased, I still crave the chance to start another company. Perhaps it is time…what will I look back on fourteen years from now?

Open Coffee Club (#BigDOCC North) Debuts in Frisco, TX

As the start-up community in Dallas continues to grow and mature, more events are starting to take place where entrepreneurs, those aspiring to start companies and others who are curious and want to learn more come together to share ideas and conversations. This morning, many gathered at the Global Peace Coffee Factory in Frisco to do just that. The event is called Open Coffee Club (OCC) (in Dallas, affectionately called #BigDOCC) and it originated in Boulder, Colorado – home to a buzzing start-up community and the renowned TechStars incubator.

Michael Sitarzewski, originally from Dallas – transplanted to Boulder and back again – is the seed to this recurring event. OCC will happen weekly and rotate between the north area of Dallas and the south/central area of Dallas. Next week, OCC will be held at Ascension located on Oak Lawn Avenue in the Design District on Tuesday September 10 at 8:00am. Going forward, the event will be every week; alternating between central Dallas and North Dallas in the locations noted above.

The event is simple –

  • New people introduce themselves and tell how they came to know about the event
  • Any open positions with companies related to the attendees are shared openly
  • Current items of interest in the tech or start-up community are discussed

The process builds camaraderie and gets the day moving. The meeting/event lasts until 9:00 am with a hard stop then. As Michael said this morning – “We could all sit here and talk for another 2-3 hours about anything and everything, but we all have things to do.”

And off everyone went…until next time!!

p.s. adding pic –

BigDOCC Inaugural Event

Junk in Your Trunk Club, Part II

Yesterday, Trunk Club and their unique business model was the topic of discussion. This innovative model cuts out the process of going to a store and selecting items. Instead, clients can work with a stylist via phone or e-mail and have items delivered to try on and either keep or send back.

Intrigued by this opportunity, I went forward and ordered a “trunk”. The items I received were nice. I liked the styles. The items all went together well. The sizes were mostly right and fit well. Then, I looked at the prices. For eight items (3 l/s shirts, 1 s/s shirt, 1 sweater, 2 jeans, 1 pants), at full retail price, I was looking at a bill >$1,000. Those that know me know that I rarely pay full retail price and would not ever spend $1,000 on eight items of clothing. So, I sent the box back (postage paid by Trunk Club) and opted out of future service.

While I still like the prospect of selected items that can enhance and build my wardrobe, I am not willing to sacrifice my wallet for it. I am not cheap; I just know that there are better offers/deals/promotions out there to make the purchase more value oriented. Having previously run the wildly popular DealTaker.com website, my next step was to look up all of the items on my invoice online and see if I could source them in a way that was better for the pocketbook. After a short review, I was able to determine that I could indeed get all of the items online and at about a 30% discount on the total by using promotion codes or just seeing lower prices direct from the clothier.

Now to the title of these posts – Junk in Your Trunk Club. It may sound harsh and I may be exaggerating for effect. However, three of the items in the trunk I received were over a season old. I found the exact items on discounter websites for >50% off. Granted, I liked the items; however, why would I pay FULL retail price for items that companies had already jobbed out to discounters? It seems to me a “stylist” would factor in current trends to provide “style”.

Certainly this is a model ripe for disruption. I now move forward in that quest.

What is HandShake 2.0?

I had the privilege recently to write an article for a site called HandShake2.0.  The article was about my experience in selecting a college and is entitled “Making College Count“.  It was fun to reminisce about what I went through (the odd path that I took to get through college).  Many thanks to Z. Kelly Queijo (the founder of SmartCollegeVisit.com – I love her tagline — The Educated Way to Visit Campus) for asking me to write this and getting it posted.

HandShake2.0 is an interesting site that caters to the interests of business people in an online social media way.  In their words –

“Handshake 2.0 is a business news, social media public relations, and business development site featuring new developments in entrepreneurship, best practices in business principles, business models, innovation, and the latest on company leaders and companies, from start-ups to moguls.  Handshake 2.0 synthesizes the personal, the social, and the technological, adds the fundamental business risk reduction principle of “It’s who you know,” and shares its clients’ corporate messages in multiple, well-established social media channels and mobile applications, resulting in “word of Handshake” leads and referrals for clients’ companies.”

Kstraw Walks AGAIN

I have been a little less public about my upcoming Avon Walk this year.  When I walked last year with the Affiliate Marketers Give Back Team I wanted to make sure I could keep up with that amazing group that was assembled.  Walking with Missy, Chris, Brook, Melissa, and Lynette was an awesome experience.  I was proud to support such a great cause and humbled by the giving spirit of our team.  Because I know better what to expect this time, and because many people have already graciously donated to the prior walk (and this one), I have focused more on the training and am trying new fundraising efforts.  This year the walk is in Chicago June 5-6, 2010.

To that end, this Saturday (5/29/2010), I am partnering with Jersey Mikes Sub Shop in Frisco/Plano and a portion of the proceeds from the 11-3 lunch hour will be donated to our cause.  I love their food and it is great that a business like this will partner with its patrons for charitable causes.  If you are in Dallas, please come by and help support this cause just by eating lunch (as you normally do).  In addition to the food, we will be giving away DealTaker.com t-shirts and other swag.  It will be a fun time.  If you have read this and cannot make it by, please consider a direct, tax-deductible donation – Avon Walk Chicago Kstraw – thank you for your support.

My Column – Seven Tips For Saving When Shopping Online

One of the great things I get to do each week is write a column for Media General that gets published in multiple outlets in the SE United States.   This week’s column is good one for everyone to use.

KEVIN STRAWBRIDGE TIMES-DISPATCH COLUMNIST
Published: November 15, 2009
Ten years ago, online shopping was finally taking shape after a few years of experimentation. A few companies had ventured online to see if there was a new frontier to reach consumers, and a little company called Amazon.com was in its fifth year of selling books and diversifying into a broader range of products.

It was not the first time retailers tried to reach consumers beyond brick-and-mortar stores – catalogs had long offered the chance to shop from the comfort of home. But technology to make shopping easier was growing, and now anyone could go online, click from store to store and find products and services in a sea of Web pages.

But the Web lacks an overall organization of information, which can lead to wandering around. Today, with online shopping being a way of life, the key is navigating quickly through a wealth of information to find what you are looking for, at the best possible price, and for it to be delivered as soon as possible. Here are some suggestions:

  • Step 1: Have a general idea of what you are seeking. If you know what you need, you are likely to stay focused and home in on the right item. Specific items are good, but you also can broaden searches to categories such as apparel, home, shoes, etc.
  • Step 2: Use a search engine to narrow down ideas. Everyone knows Google, but other search sites exist and could lead to better choices. Check out Yahoo.com, Ask.com and Bing.com (Microsoft).
  • Step 3: Look for deals; they are not always apparent. Narrowing your search by adding terms such as “coupons,” “promotional codes” and “deals” to your primary search terms can yield a wealth of savings.
  • Step 4: Check the home pages of retailers. Sites like to show storewide offers on the home page but may not refer to them again at other parts of the site. This is where you may be able to find promotional codes for savings at checkout.
  • Step 5: Pay attention to purchase details/requirements. Make sure you understand what is needed to get the best deal – “buy one, get one free” (BOGO’s), gifts with purchase, quantity price breaks, etc.
  • Step 6: Be alert at checkout. If you did not do step 3 above and the site has a box that says “Promotion Code” or some other coupon input, open a new browser tab, go to a search engine and do a search for that store name and the term used on the site (e.g. Buy.com and Promotion Code).
  • Step 7: Always look for free-shipping offers. Other alternatives include shipping to a local store for pickup or shipping directly to a recipient to save the cost of reshipping (many retailers offer gift wrapping and split shipments). This is a great way to save.

Online shopping is a great way to save time and money. Use the medium for its primary strength – information. Consumers today are more informed than at any other time in history. That knowledge is the best advantage to have when shopping.

Along the way, you may find other steps. Share those with me and your friends so everyone can save.



“King of Koupons” Kevin Strawbridge is president of DealTaker.com, an online shopping Web site owned by Media General that collects and shares online coupons and deals. E-mail KingofKoupons@gmail.com or follow @dealtaker on Twitter.

Kstraw Update on the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer LA

Having been mostly focused on a secondary blog to update daily event related to the Avon Walk, it is time to share a very avonwalk_logopositive update here on MindCradle.  BTW, the other blog is located at http://kstrawwalks.wordpress.com.  The support I have received has been overwhelming.

Today I, representing DealTaker.com, passed the initial goal ($5,000.00) set for the fundraising portion of the walk and am now sitting at $5,287 and looking to go higher.  Our Affiliate Marketers Give Back team is also doing great, on the whole, at just over 50% of our $50,000 goal.  We have an auction ending tonight that should raise well over $10,000 in additional funds.

For me, the fundraising has been a blessing, but the training has also been amazing.  Knowing that I am walking for such a substantial cause has kept me motivated to train each and every day (well, I am taking off one day a week to recover after long walks).  Knowing that I just walked 10 miles each day for the last two days (on top of the weeks of training before that) is incredible.  I am looking forward to the 40 mile walk in two days to see just how far I can push myself.  Two weeks from this Sunday I will know.

Thanks to all those that have supported me with the kind words, the encouragement, and the donations.  I know that I do not walk alone.  Finally, I build my support through Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.

Kstraw Walks – The LA Avon Walk for Breast Cancer

I have been so busy focused on getting updates to a new blog, posting information on DealTaker, and tweeting that I overlooked MindCradle.  I am participating in the Los Angeles Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.   I started training 17 weeks ago (just walking to get into shape again to start playing indoor soccer) and about 8 weeks ago the opportunity to participate in this walk came up.  I am joining the Affiliate Marketers Give Back team which consists of affiliate marketers from the affiliate side as well as the merchant side.  The walk is 40 miles over two days and will be quite a challenge.  As part of the walk, I am also working to raise awareness and money.  If you are interested in helping out with a donation of any size, please go here –  http://tk2.us/donate4AvonWalk.  To see more of my updates on a blog I have dedicated to this event, please go here – http://kstrawwalks.wordpress.com.

Thank you for your support.

dealtaker_pink_h1

Finding Shopping Bargains Online

At DealTaker.com, we have coined the phrase “couponing 2.0”.  Before it used to be that individuals would deal with saving money in a behind the scenes, “clip the coupon” and passively use it sort of way.  Now, with the expansion of marketing efforts online, people are coming together to share deals, savings techniques, and tips on how to save more.  This is never more evident than during Black Friday each year after Thanksgiving when people share and find all kinds of great deals.  In this economy, that is now becoming an everyday occurrence.  Check out this news story just done on us that reinforces that notion…DealTaker on NBC5i – DFW

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