jeudi 27 janvier 2011

Rework, a new business book

 Lately I heard a little buzz going on about a new business book, Rework, written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeir Hansson. They are the founders of 37signals, which is a collaborative software company with a few millions of customers out there in the world. I started to read it in the train, between Lannion and Paris, but its great typical-informal-american style of writing, its clear and strong ideas, and its attractive design forced me to keep my eyes on it until I finished it on the road. I will outline some ideas of the book in five themes: Scrum practices, ethical business, good & bad  habits, strictly simple products and culture.

 Through the pages of the book, I noticed that the writers praise alot the agile software development methodology Scrum, without naming it. They insist on the importance of having short term small objectives, and dividing those objectives into small tasks. This way we can build the product by making small "wins", which motivate the employees. Fast meetings are encouraged, and big abstract documents (specs, bla bla..) are highly considered inefficient.
 The second important theme of the book's ideas is the ethical business. According to Rework, the most successful products in the world are those whose creator wanted to solve his own problem (a REAL problem), a product he would use himself, a product that makes difference! Don't copy your competitors, forget them and focus on yourself. Forget all of the traditional marketing techniques, just focus on you product, let it talk for you, let your satisfied customers outgrow you! Stop worrying about growing, this should not be an objective! and specially forget about banks and out-money, try to avoid them to the maximum, because sooner or later they will confiscate the control over your business, and the focus on it, so your business will end up by being ruled by unethical financial logics. Finally, you have to be honest with your clients about your products, about on what can be done and what cant be done, just be your self!
 The third theme is about some good and bad habits at work. Bad habits: Meetings! avoid meetings to the maximum because they are a waste of time; Workaholism! reject working overnights, because it doesnt mean more productivty, but means burnouts; Planning! planning is guessing, so stop planning and start acting. Good Habits: Alone Time! give your self everyday some alone time to avoid interruptions and be more productive; Inspiration Time! start working directly whenever you are inspired, because inspiration doesn't come all the time.
 The fourth theme is about making your product and your company the simplest possible. Simple means less expenditure, clearer, more focus on the core business, on the most important. Simple means less mass, less inertia, more flexibility. This is why the authors advice the readers about working under some prefixed constraints to limit business drifts and avoid complexity.
 The final theme is about the culture of the company. Culture is not some few bla-bla nice words on the walls of the company, its not something that it is decided just after a managers' reunion. Culture is the result of the cumulative behavior of the company through the years. Culture is the sum of all of the decisions of the directors. If we are honest with our clients, our employees will have this attitude, if we are considerate to the environnement, our emplyees will be also. The intersting part of this, is that when you have a company with a strong culture, you never loose your time in taking decisions, because decisions are obvious. A Fair trade label distributor will never take more than 3 seconds to decide whether it should sell a Coka Cola product.

 There are many interesting ideas on other themes, like hiring, identifying by products... but I will not reveal anymore of this book, I strongly recommend you to have a look on it, and as the book cover says: "Ignore this book at your own peril".


mardi 11 janvier 2011

Ethical Shopping application for Android

To begin the year with ethical concerns, I developed an application for android that helps the consumer to choose the most ethical products while shopping.
The idea of the application is simple: whenever you decide to buy a product, in the mall for example, you use my application eShopper (e for ethical!) to scan the bar code of the product, and automatically the application will give you a score on a scale of 14 of the ethical behavior of the producing company. The score is fetched from the site and it is based on the behavior of the target corporate in the following domains:
   -Environment (Climate Change, Pollution & Toxics, Habitats & Resources..)
   -People (Human Rights, Workers' Rights, Irresponsible Marketing..)
   -Sustainability (Organic Product, Fairtrade product..)
   -Political activities 
 Here's some screen shots of the application:

There is a nice application in the market that offers a similar functionality: barcoo. barcoo is based on Rank a Brand, which obviously is website for ranking a brand, but based on the input of users and till now its database isn't big enough (cant find France Telecom for example!). This is why I prefered using the corporatecritic website, because their database is bigger and based on publications, communications, news...

Installation and usage

To install my app, you first have to install Bar code scanner app, because I use its library for scanning bar codes. Download eShopper from here and install it on your phone. To use it, just scan a product bar code, and wait for the results (you must have an internet connection of course!). When the results appear, verify that the found company in the title is the same one figuring in the bottom text.

Geeks Section:

eShopper uses Zxing library for scanning bar codes. I only limited bar codes to one line EAN codes found on most products. Once we have the results of the scan, I send the EAN code to GS1 website and parse the HTML response to get the name of the company that manifactured the product. Lets suppose I got "France Telecom Reseaux", then I send this string to corporatecritic and parse the response HTML to get the score. If I dont get the score at the first time, I retry with "France Telecom" and so on.. ( if  the app doesnt find "France Telecom", it will searches for "France" and will find unrelevant results, this is why the user has to verify that the found company in the bar code (title) corresponds to the company searched for (bottom text)).

I hope that you find the application useful, and I wish you a very ethical 2011! and don't hesitate to leave a feedback on the application in the comments.

Note well that the application will not be maintenained, it has been developped very fast (so might have some remaining bugs) and doesnt have any commercial purposes (otherwise it would be a freaky unethical ethical app  no?)

Achraf Souk

mardi 4 janvier 2011

Smart business usage of tablets in restaurants

In a couple of weeks, the HUMANITY will celebrate the release of the first tablet computer: the iPad. Since that date I haven't really found that killer use case of the tablet that will drive me to buy it as a consumer. Till now, what I cant do on my PC, i can do on my smartphone and vice-versa.
Reading eBooks and magazines on the tablet is a very interesting concept, from an ergonomic point of view (many books in one place, easy navigation, interaction..) , from business point of view (better reachability, DRM, CRM..) and from an environmental point of view (less paper). But this concept has a dedicated and optimized tablet (kindle) that was commercialized years before by Amazon.
Nevertheless, I found a great potential for tablets in restaurant business. This summer, I read an article about an Italian restaurant in Lille (France) that started using the iPad for his menus. In fact, when the server comes to take your order, he hands you an iPad, from which you can directly order according to your choice:

The iPad suits perfectly to this job, because it has the same size of a traditional menu, and offers enormous possibilities of interaction, and thus enriching the client experience. For example, the client would like to know more about a certain plate, what is it made of, what it would look like, maybe recommendations of other clients..Servers should not feel threated, because the tablet will not substitute to them, it is complementary to their jobs.
Today I read about a big restaurant in Chicago that is using the iPad for its wine menu. Truth to be said, it is a wonderful application, that helps the client a lot in its buying decision. From a marketing point of view, the use of iPad in this context is very coherent with the luxury character of the consumed drink. The Chicago restaurant owners explain that introducing the iPad for ordering wine has increased by 20% their bottom-line:

Using tablets also can facilitates payment (by credit card number, paypal..), ordering process (the order is sent instantaneously to the servers screen)...
Bref, A really innovative idea for business!