Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Signup forms

Some innovative signup form ideas in this post.

The ones I like:

  • Auto-Fill City and State Fields Based on User’s ZIP Code
  • Auto-Complete the Country Field
  • Don’t Check the Newsletter Option by Default. Offer a Preview Instead
  • Combat Spam by Hiding a Text Field With JavaScript, Instead of Using CAPTCHA
  • Log Users in Without Leaving the Page

via @nativedigital

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tech Talk - Alex North of Posse

A couple of Friday's ago we invited Alex North of Posse to come in to the Shoes of Prey office to present on Posse and what lessons we could take from their experiences to Shoes of Prey.

It was an excellent presentation and we had around 30 people come along. Following are my notes from what Alex shared with us:

Why does Posse exist?
- Fans looooove their favourite bands
- Reciprocity - fans love their bands and want to help their bands. Bands love their top fans and want to reward them
- Social proof - bands provide social proof for their fans and a community for them to be involved in
- Fans sell tickets for their favourite bands and earn a commission

Posse's next step
- Fans are motivated by things other than money eg. backstage passes, t-shirts, signed t-shirts etc.
- Posse is building a platform for bands to offer unique rewards like these, in exchange for completing challenges like selling a number of tickets, t-shirts etc.
- Alex saw at Google that people love numbers or getting feedback. Fans will have a score/number for their Posse which also ties to rewards
- This model can work beyond bands. Eg. fashion. Fans of fashion brands are passionate about fashion brands, and rewards like early access to new styles, involvement in design decisions etc. could help engage fans.
- Restaurants.

Before Posse
- Social commerce - comparison to group buying. Group buying is not necessarily sustainable for all businesses, rewarding passionate customers who refer other customers can be sustainable.

Posse are hiring.

Thanks again to Alex for coming in and presenting to us. I was particularly interested to hear about how Posse are utilising the game mechanics and point systems to reward their customers. It's something we've discussed quite a bit at Shoes of Prey before and provided some more food for thought.

We'll let you know when we've organised the next TechTalk.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Shoes of Prey Japan - Marui Department Store Partnership

This is a guest post by Yusuke Mitsumoto, co-founder of Bracket Inc. our partner for Shoes of Prey in Japan.

We are delighted to announce that we have just launched a small shop inside of the department store called Kyoto Marui, one of the largest department store chains in Japan.

It's been almost a year since we have launched Shoes of Prey Japan, and with our focus on customer service and localising the packaging for the Japanese market Shoes of Prey Japan has been growing steadily. In the last half year we have received significant media coverage, and our service has been used by many well know Japanese celebrities and fashion models which has helped get our name into the market and has really helped us to increase the number of shoes we sell.

However, as we operate the service in Japan, customers often comment that they'd like a place to see the actual shoes and to be able to try them on. As an online service we haven't been able to do this. We have been selling leather samples so that customers can see and check the actual leathers, preparing leather movies to give a clearer indication of what the leathers look like, and we offer a generous return/remake policy if the shoes don't fit or the customer doesn't like their shoes for any reason.

Even after we offer these services, we can clearly see that there are still a lot of potential customers who feel uncomfortable purchasing shoes online without seeing the actual product and being able to try them on.

Because of this "barrier" we feel that those customers who do purchase are still in a minority group of peole, with high IT/online literacy. Operating as an online only retailer we still have not been able to approach and sell to the other majority group of people, who do not use internet services so much and usually purchase shoes at offline retail stores.

Thus, as Michael wrote on this blog last year, we've been curious to know how Shoes of Prey will do if we open a retail store and Marui's opportunity was a great chance for us to try this out.

The biggest challenge that we had before we opened our small store within Marui, was to determine how best to explain Shoes of Prey to people who have not come across our service before. If we only show and display our sample shoes, customer may view us as a usual ready-made shoe store, and it might be difficult to communicate about our service to the people who might get interested in designing their own shoes.

We thought about displaying many PCs at the store, but since our store was placed in the ladies shoe section of the department store, and most of the people who came to this floor were looking for shoes, we thought a store with many PCs and few shoes would not look attractive and thus we might lose many people coming into our store space.

As a result, we came up with an idea of displaying many shoes together with the captured image from the designer's page so that we can communicate the "idea" to the customers that these shoes were created based on the illustrations.

Did it work?

We still do not know.

The sales from the store for the first 10 days since the launch have been very good, and most of the customers who have ordered our shoes from the store were the people who have never purchased any products online before. This is showing that we are capturing the new customers who would not order shoes if we only had the website.

Also, since most of the communications that we have with our customers are online, we have never had a chance to speak to our customers directly, face to face. It has been a fresh and interesting experience for us to see our customers' direct reactions and feedback towards our service.

As I said, its only been 10 days since we have opened the store, and we do not know yet if our service will work in an offline environment or not, but we are sure that the learnings from this experience are valuable and will help us to continue to improve the service.

We will keep you posted about the progress of the store, and if you have a good idea for how we might improve our display or the offline experience for Shoes of Prey Japan customers please let us know in the comments.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Culture Memes - Do You Have a Duck of Awesomeness?

Great blog post on culture within startups and the importance of language in helping shape this from the OnStartups blog: Culture Memes - Do You Have a Duck of Awesomeness?

I particularly love the "Duck of Awesomeness" concept for team recognition.

"Being Scrappy" is a common phrase that's developed within Shoes of Prey over the last 3 or 4 months and it seems to align with "Getting Sh*t Done" at Distilled or "Hustle" within the hacker news community.

Via @ivanmelvin

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Niche Online Retail

Great post by Wai Hong Fong of OZHut on Power Retail about how niche online retail provides a better shopping experience for customers, and thus a great opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Developing a media strategy for your startup - Part 1: The story

This article was originally published to Nett.com.au.

One of the best ways to promote a startup is to have the press write about you. In this series of 3 posts we thought we'd share our experiences on doing this with Shoes of Prey.

The single most critical factor in getting the media to write about you, and one that is so often overlooked by businesses in their boring, drab press releases, is that you must have an interesting story to tell. The media aren't just going to write about you out of the kindness of their heart, they have a business to run too which requires them to cover interesting stories that people want to read. You need to give them that interesting story.

Zappos do this incredibly well with their approach to corporate culture and customer service. Offering new hires $5,000 to quit in their first week is a great story. Having customer support staff who go so far out of their way for customers is a great story. A record 8 hour and 3 minute customer service call is a great story. All of these things have been covered by so many different media helping to make Zappos a household name in the US and a $1b+ revenue company.

Closer to home experience gifting site RedBalloon tell a great story. Co-founder Naomi Simson has made it her personal mission to change the way Australian companies treat and reward their staff. Championing this cause leads to a constant stream of speaking at events, speaking to media and her blog provides a great insight into Naomi's thoughts on these issues. She also promotes how in our age of rampant materialism, it's experiences rather than material goods which define who we are and make people the happiest. RedBalloon walk their talk consistently ranking amongst the best places to work in Australia.

Australian online retailer Kogan is another great example of a unique story. In the crowded and competitive electronic goods sector Kogan pitches itself as a great value for money, direct to consumer brand acting as the underdog in a market dominated by major brands and large, traditional retailers. To this end Kogan, and particularly founder Ruslan Kogan aggressively and often humorously take aim at large electronic goods retailers like Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi through stunts like challenging Gerry Harvey to a debate on the merits of online retail, launching a new and innovative pricing model for electronic goods and offering JB Hi-Fi customers free cables for their TVs to highlight the astronomical margins traditional retailers make on these accessories.

An important thing to note is that in all of the above examples, in addition to being great stories, each story is highly relevant and related to what the business does. For Zappos the stories all relate to offering great customer service. For RedBalloon the stories relate to gifting experiences and for Kogan the stories relate to offering great value for money in the electronic product category.

Having a story to tell was a key consideration of ours prior to actually settling on the concept of selling custom women's shoes. Inspired by Seth Godin's Purple Cow and Mark Hughes' Buzz Marketing we wanted to start a business with a unique story at it's core. Offering women the opportunity to design their own shoes online is unique and we're fortunate that we've had a lot of media coverage, particularly from the fashion media, based on our product concept. Gradually we're also adding to our story. Our blog www.22michaels.com acts as a public record of what we're working on in our business and the successes and failures we've had along the way. Few other businesses or startups are this open and some of what we write about has been of interest to business media, leading to more press about our business.

It's important to remember that a story won't be exciting and unique forever, so a business needs to develop new ones. Zappos, RedBalloon and Kogan are all constantly doing new things and creating new stories and over time as our business evolves we plan to do the same.

In the next post we'll discuss the importance of having a process for reacting to media requests.

Update: Part 2 here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Welcome to the Shoes of Prey team Ken!

It's with great pleasure that we introduce Ken Chan to the Shoes of Prey team as the manager of our China operations!

Ken completed a Computer Science degree at UTS in Sydney then went on to spend 7 years at the consulting firm Accenture. During that time he worked on and managed projects at Australia's largest telecommunications company Telstra, Hong Kong's largest container terminal operator Modern Terminals Ltd, Nokia in Beijing and Accenture's retail solutions arm in Shanghai. Most recently he spent 6 months working in china for a major ladies and children footwear exporter to the US. Ken also joins us with significant entrepreneurial experience. While studying at University Ken and some friends opened and ran a successful fashion retail store on Oxford St. in Paddington, Sydney - a popular high end fashion strip.

As Ken's title suggests he will be managing our China operations and Qun, Penny, Holly, Jophie and James will all report into Ken. Ken spent his first week with the business in China last week, and has today joined us in the office in Sydney for 2 weeks training before heading back to China on Monday 6 June.

We're so excited to have Ken join the Shoes of Prey team!

Thanks to Matt Ho for introducing us to Ken.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The risk of not failing

Great post by Niki Scevak on StartupSmart and this fits spot on with our experience. Even if something disastrous happened and Shoes of Prey failed from here, I think Jodie, Mike, myself and the rest of the team would all be better off longer term compared with having stayed in our previous jobs.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Welcome to the Shoes of Prey team James and Jophie!

James comes from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, and joins us as our principal shoe master. Shoe production has been a passion of his for over 16 years, and he has been involved in shoe making for some famous shoe brands, such as Adidas, Nike, Converse, Timberland, Nine West and Coach. James has also worked in the shoe industry in Vietnam for more than a year as a technical director. His personal philosophy is that, in order for a shoe company to succeed, the craftsmen must treat each shoe with the care of a newborn baby. Outside of work, he enjoys reading and exercising.

Jophie started with us 3 weeks ago, and joins us as a shoe curator. Jophie comes from Yueyang in Hunan province the same with Penny. She finished college last year in June, her major is Business English. Previously she worked as a translator for another company. She likes reading novels and watching English movies in her spare time. Her goal in life is to take care of her parents, whom she adores very much.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

TechTalk - Alex North - Posse - This Friday 20 May!

We've had to juggle some dates around so despite my post yesterday, we're now holding the next Shoes of Prey TechTalk this Friday, 20 May.

We'll be joined by Alex North, a product manager at Posse. Posse is a platform for bands, artists, and venues to reward their fans for being their best promoters. Fans promote their favourite bands and earn rewards, from cash to unique items and experiences. Posse's initial focus is live music, but you'll need to come to the talk to hear about a much broader potential.

Alex is passionate about making things that make people happy, turning research & technology into products and services that delight people. He was a tech lead on Google Wave before joining Posse as product manager, and earlier founded a few business ventures of his own. Alex is also a mentor in PushStart's collective, specialising in product design and implementation.

You're welcome to join us from 5:15pm. Alex will present from 5:30pm-6pm and we'll aim to finish up around 7pm. Our address is 12/285A Crown St. Surry Hills. For those who can't make it or who aren't in Sydney I'll aim to summarise Alex's presentation for a future blog post.

You can RSVP either in the comments below or by email to michael@shoesofprey.com Thanks!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Style Tread takes $4m investment from Nine Entertainment Co

The Financial Review is reporting this morning that Australian online shoe retailer Style Tread has taken an estimated $4m investment from Nine Entertainment Co for a 20% stake in the business - a $20m valuation for the business.

Style Tread launched late last year and the model is based off Zappo's with free and fast 2 way delivery encouraging you to buy multiple shoes and return those that don't fit. Taking an investment from Nine is a good move for their business I think. There's some competition in this part of the market and as with Zappo's in the US, the winner will do well. A sizeable investment from a large media company is certainly a good way to take the lead.

We're in quite a different space to Style Tread - our product offer is different for obvious reasons, and our focus is more international with 2/3 of our sales coming from overseas, but for Shoes of Prey this sort of investment helps to validate the market that we're operating in. We've bootstrapped Shoes of Prey to date however we regularly speak with both angel investors and VCs and while we haven't taken an investment yet we're certainly open to working with the right parter. Seeing Style Tread move in this direction is both validating and inspiring for us.

Congratulations to Mark Rowland and the Style Tread team!

Tech Talk - Jeremy Levitt of Service Seeking

A couple of Friday's ago we held our first Tech Talk at the Shoes of Prey offices. Jeremy Levitt, co-founder of the very successful startup Service Seeking came to share with us some of what he's learnt along the Service Seeking journey.

We opened the event up to anyone who wanted to come along and in addition to 5 of the Shoes of Prey team we had another 12 people join us which was great. The event was a success so we plan to hold these semi-regularly, and the next one is planned for Friday May 27. Feel free to add that to your diaries and we'll post details of the topic and speaker shortly.

I took notes during Jeremy's presentation and here's what he shared with us:

How to get stories in the press
  • PR agencies can help, but the press wants to speak to the founders.
  • Data makes a newsworthy story. To this end Service Seeking use quotes and pricing data in their press releases
  • Network. Get to know key reporters who report on your industry / in your space.

Customer Service

  • Love your customers, they keep you in business.
  • Jeremy still does customer service all the time. Important for everyone in the business to understand what customers want.
  • Be the last person responding to an email chain. This shows the customer that you have time for them.
  • The Service Seeking refund policy = no questions asked. Unhappy customer = send the money back then try to win them back.
  • Staff are empowered and have a budget to make customers happy.
  • Books Jeremy recommends: Delivering Happiness & Flip the Funnel - use your customers to gain new ones.
  • Reward customers who spread the word about your business.
  • Developers and product team talk to customer service to find issues to work on.


  • Include key business data into the sales pitch on your website, gives customers certainty around what they're getting.
  • Founders need to know and be involved in the sales process.
  • Everyone needs to talk to customers to understand what they want.
  • Cold calls - work out a way to call people. Service Seeking use the following when calling a new electrician: "I've got 3 customers in Darlinghurst needing electrical work and we don't have people to do it. Do you have time to take on some extra work? Could I send you some information, we're Service Seeking etc."
  • Ask questions where people say 'yes', gets them in the habit and they're more likely to say yes throughout your call.
  • Trial strategies and develop KPI's around sales. Track and know the numbers.
  • Provide good training to the team.

Trade Relationships

  • "Stand on the shoulders of giants". If you're a startup, partnerships with big players can boost you into the limelight. Service Seeking had partnerships with TrueLocal, eBay, News Ltd, NRMA early on. Their size rubs off on you.
  • If it's an advertising related deal, only remunerate partners based on performance - revenue sharing relationships are ideal.
  • Set realistic expectations, partnerships don't always work out as planned.

Thanks to Jeremy for being so generous with his time and sharing some excellent lessons from his experiences with Service Seeking, and thanks to everyone who joined us for our very first Tech Talk! We hope to see you again on May 27.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Customer Survey - What do you think?

We've been talking to a few potential investors of late and a question a few of them have asked us is: 'Who is your customer?' We have a reasonable idea from customers we meet in our office or speak to over the phone, but being an online retailer we don't have as clear a picture as a traditional retailer might.

We're also keen to understand from our customers what we can improve on so that they enjoy the Shoes of Prey experience even more.

So we thought we'd survey the customers who have made a purchase from us.

Following is the list of questions we were planning to ask. We'd love to hear your thoughts, anything else you think we might want to find out?

1. What is your date of birth: (pre-populated if we have it)

2. How many pairs of shoes do you own:
  • less than 10 pairs
  • 10-30 pairs
  • 30-50 pairs
  • 50-100 pairs
  • 100+ pairs

3. What is the average price you pay for shoes?

  • Under $100
  • $100-$200
  • $200-$300
  • $300-$500
  • Over $500

4. How often do you shop online?

  • Shoes of Prey was my first online shopping experience
  • I shop online a couple of times per year
  • I shop online most months
  • I shop online a couple of times per month
  • I shop online most weeks

5. Which industry best describes the one you work in:
[Dropdown box]
Agriculture, Mining
Communications, Utilities
Finance, Insurance, Real Estate
Full time parent
Health Care
Retail, Wholesale Services

6. Prior to purchasing from Shoes of Prey did you know someone who had made a purchase from Shoes of Prey before?

  • Yes
  • No

7. Prior to purchasing from Shoes of PRey, had you seen a pair of Shoes of Prey shoes in person?

  • Yes
  • No

8. Did you come to the Shoes of Prey website with a specific shoe design in mind, or were you inspired by the site and shoe designer to create something you hadn’t considered before?

  • I came to the site with a specific design in mind.
  • I designed something I hadn’t considered before.

9. For what reason did you purchase your Shoes of Prey shoes? Tick all that apply:

  • I wanted shoes for the office/work
  • I wanted shoes for an event I’m attending
  • I wanted shoes to match a particular outfit I own
  • Shoes of Prey make shoes in sizes I can’t easily purchase in a store
  • Shoes of Prey make shoes in widths I can’t easily purchase in a store
  • I received a Shoes of Prey gift certificate
  • I didn’t have a specific reason, I just wanted to design something unique for myself
  • Other: [Text Field]

10. How satisfied were you with the experience of designing your shoes on the Shoes of Prey website?
Scale: 1 = very unsatisfied. Middle = neutral. 10 = very satisfied.

11. How satisfied were you with the level of customer service you received from Shoes of Prey?
Scale: 1 = very unsatisfied. Middle = neutral. 10 = very satisfied.

12. How satisfied were you with the packaging of your Shoes of Prey shoes?
Scale: 1 = very unsatisfied. Middle = neutral. 10 = very satisfied.

13. How satisfied were you with the quality of your Shoes of Prey shoes?
Scale: 1 = very unsatisfied. Middle = neutral. 10 = very satisfied.

14. How likely are you to recommend Shoes of Prey to a friend?

  • Highly likely
  • Likely
  • Maybe
  • Unlikely
  • Highly unlikely

15. How likely are you to purchase from Shoes of Prey again?

  • Highly likely
  • Likely
  • Maybe
  • Unlikely
  • Highly unlikely

16. Do you have any other feedback you’d like to share with us? [Paragraph text box]

[Submit button]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Online Retailer Roadshow - 3 Tickets to Giveaway

Online Retailer Roadshow is a one day online retail event visiting Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne in the first week of June. The event is tailored for retail executives who are responsible for e-commerce activities, digital marketing and multichannel operations and want to learn what's on the horizon in the industry, and learn the methods, technologies and strategies being used by other online retailers. The event is open to retailers only.

There are some fantastic speakers presenting at the event. Bob Myer, an online retail industry veteran having worked for JCPenny.com, QVC.com and now Sheplers Western Wear Inc is presenting a keynote on multi-channel retail. John Winning, CEO of Appliances Online (co-incidentally we just bought a fridge for our new office from them) will be presenting a keynote on pureplay online retail. Then there are presentations from Paul Marshall of Salmat, Grant Arnott from Power Retail, Steven Noble of Forrester Research and Dan Ferguson from Vista Print.

Jodie and I are on a panel (Jodie for the Sydney event, me for the Melbourne and Brisbane events) in the afternoon titled: Futureproofing: What Every Retailer Needs to Know About the Next Five Years. Our co-panelists are Daniel McMahon from Dick Smith, Cameron Poolman from GraysOnline and Mark Cowan from Facebook - should be an interesting discussion! The day finishes with an evening drinks reception.

Online Retailer Roadshow have been kind enough to offer us 3 tickets (1 in each city) to give away to 22michaels readers, and a promotional code you can use to save $100 off the price of a ticket: DISC108.

To win one of the tickets, send me an email (michael@shoesofprey.com) describing in 50 words or less why you want to attend and what you hope to take from the event, and which city you'd like to attend the event in. We'll pick 3 winners by Tuesday next week so if you miss out you still have time to buy a ticket using the promotional code.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Handwritten v typed letters - what do you think?

Since we launched Shoes of Prey we've included a bespoke hand written note that comes with your bespoke custom shoes and customers love it. It's one of those purple cow touches, an extra talking point when women are telling their friends about the shoes they designed for themselves.

The trouble is it's not scalable, they take quite a bit of time to write, and we're not sure they look as professional as a typed letter. This has us thinking about alternatives and we like the idea of a tailored, old school type writer font letter.

The type writer font letter is more scaleable and looks neater, but our concern is we might be killing a touch of the purple cow.

What do you think, do we stick with the written letter or move to the type writer font letter?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cult Creation

One of the best articles on building a team at a startup I've read in a long time: Cult Creation. It's a long read but stick with it.

My key takeaways:

  • Hiring super A's - Super A's are well connected A level performers. They'll help your startup hire more A level performers.
  • Try New Sh*t All the Time - be willing to try new things and equally important, be willing to publicly admit and rectify your mistakes.
  • Try Before You Buy - where you can, offer new hires a 1 month contract so your startup can evaluate them before hiring permanently.
  • Founder's Veto & Double Unanimous - Anyone on the team has the right to veto a new hire. Everyone has to say 'yes' to a new hire.
  • One Mile Rule - Extra pay for people who live within 1 mile of the office.
  • 4:20 - Anyone on the team can ask the founders anything about the business at any time.

Via @nativedigital.

Friday, May 6, 2011

BRW AMP Capital Australian Retailer of the Year Awards 2011

After a little negativity in Wednesday's post I thought it might be nice to post something more upbeat!

We're very excited to be a finalist in 3 of the 6 categories in this year's BRW AMP Capital Shopping Centres Australian Retailer of the Year Awards. The finalists are as follows:

New Retailer of the Year
  • Glamazon Shoes
  • Jimmy Jim Watches
  • OPSM Eye Hub (Luxottica)
  • Mall Music

Innovation in Retail

  • OPSM Eye Hub (Luxottica)
  • The Athlete's Foot
  • Shoes of Prey

Sustainable Retailing

  • Bakers Delight
  • Salvos stores
  • Todae

Successful Retailing Marketing Campaign

  • Grill'd
  • Kogan
  • Mondial Newman
  • Shoes of Prey

Best Use of Technology in Retail

  • Appliances Online
  • Eyeclarity
  • Kogan
  • Shoes of Prey

Outstanding Retailer of the Year

  • birdsnest
  • Gloria Jean's
  • Lorna Jane
  • Matchbox
  • Oroton
  • Pie Face
  • The Athlete's Foot

We're up against a couple of our favourite retailers, Grill'd and Kogan, so we certainly have some stiff competition! What particularly excites us about these awards however is they're not just online retail awards, they're straight retail awards, so most of our fellow finalists are traditional bricks and mortar retailers and it's exciting to be recognised amongst them.

BRW is a magazine I subscribed to for about 10 years through high school, University and my early working career and it contributed greatly to my leaving law and moving into the business world. Reading about successful Australian entrepreneurs in some of their lists like 'Fast 100', 'Fast Starters' and their 'Rich' lists was no doubt an inspiration to us starting Shoes of Prey. While we've not made it to any of those lists (particularly the 'Rich' ones!) it's humbling to be getting a mention.

The awards will be announced at a dinner on 18 May and published in a special edition of BRW on 19 May. We'll let you know how we go!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Milk and Honey Shoes Copied our Online Shoe Designer

We're all for competition. Competition is good for consumers, competition is exciting and competition helps spur on innovation... most of the time.

2 weeks ago a US based competitor of ours, Milk and Honey Shoes launched a new version of their online shoe designer, and it looks remarkably familiar - it's nearly identical to ours.

We're torn between being angry, annoyed and flattered and we're not entirely sure how to react. We have a friendly relationship with most of our competitors. Jodie and I have had lunch with Tanya from Princess Chic and we shared a spot on A Current Affair late last year. We even refer customers to each other for types of shoes we each don't offer. I've had coffee in London with Julia Grinham from Upper Street and I've spoken with at least 5 other entrepreneurs looking to enter the custom women's shoe space when they've contacted us to learn more about our experiences in the business. We've also blogged about our competitors (prior to Milk and Honey Shoes and Upper Street launching).

While we don't mind well meaning competition, we do mind the outright copying of the work of others. Here's a picture of the original shoe designer Milk and Honey Shoes had on their site:

It was fairly clunky to use, but Dorian and her sister Ilissa the women behind Milk and Honey Shoes, had come up with it themselves and it did some things arguably better than our designer - namely it encouraged users to design in a step by step fashion making smaller decisions along the way - something that we've thought might help solve the problem of too much choice. Rather than re-iterating on what they had, or taking the time to innovate and develop something new, they've instead blatantly copied our work. Here's some side by side shots of their designer with ours:

1. The starting page:

2. The designer:

3. Even the 'drawing to finished shoe' image on their new home page is completely different to what they had previously, and is similar to the feature images on our home page.

The functionality on the new Milk and Honey Shoe Designer is identical to our designer, and entirely different to their original version. Clicking on the 'toes' arrows scrolls the user through different toe types, same with the 'embellishment' and 'heels' arrows. You select a leather from the scrollable box and paint the different components of the shoe in that leather. Their original designer did none of these things. About the only thing that's different is that they've put the functions on the left of the screen.

On the one hand we're flattered. Milk and Honey Shoes are clearly impressed by our work, what we've achieved and would like to emulate that. However there comes a point where emulating the work of others becomes unethical and in our view Dorian and Ilissa have crossed that line. It's ok to take concepts and improve upon them, or to borrow good ideas and meld them into your own. It's not ok to take someone else's work, move a menu from the right to the left and call it your own.

I was reading about a very similar case 2 weeks ago where Movieweb, a movie comparison site copied some functionality from Flickchart, a similar site. Flickchart have commenced legal action against Movieweb and the brief is embedded in that blog post.

Legal action is not normally our style, but then neither is allowing our work to be ripped off so blatantly. From a straight sales and long term business strategy perspective we're not too concerned. If the best Milk and Honey Shoes are going to ever be able to do is copy something we launched on our site 18 months ago we have little to be concerned about. However what does annoy us is offering our user interface on their website might help them get some 'design your own shoes' press coverage from journalists who might instead have covered us. For customers visiting both sites it also begs the question 'are Milk and Honey Shoes and Shoes of Prey the same business?' - a question we were asked by a customer a couple of days ago.

We're unsure how to proceed. What should we do?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Assistly - Customer Service Tool

As our customer service team has grown we came to the realisation that we could no longer manage our customer support from our Google Apps Gmail account. Using different coloured stars for emails that Susie, Carmen or I were working on was getting too difficult to handle.

In January we started exploring different options for customer support tools. We saw this article about Assistly on TechCrunch and when we looked into it, it looked like a fantastic tool.

We switched to using Assistly in February and it's been fantastic. For those who have not used an email support tool like Assistly before, at the most basic level, one of the biggest advantages over a traditional email interface is that it allows emails from one customer support email address to be assigned to different users, and each user has a different view of the interface showing them the emails they've been assigned and giving them access to answer new, unassigned emails. So Susie, Jonaye, Jodie, Mike and I can all be answering emails from our hunter@shoesofprey.com email account and we each don't have to try and spot replies coming into us amongst the replies to everyone else.

That's just the start though. Assistly offers some really powerful features that we've started getting into that allow us to improve the support we offer our customers.

Priority Emails
Assistly allows us to create different rules to prioritise different emails. We have a VIP club for customers who have purchased 5 of more pairs of shoes from us. We've set a rule in Assistly so that all emails from our VIP customers are given a higher priority rating and jump straight to the top of the queue so that VIP customers get their emails answered quickly.

Draft Responses
We have certain questions that we're asked quite regularly. 'How do I work out my shoe size?', 'What happens if my shoes don't fit?', 'How long do your shoes take to make and deliver?'. We like to tailor all our email responses but it helps that we've got draft responses that we can use as a base when answering these questions. By typing 'size' and hitting enter in Assistly's quickcode box I have a draft email I can use as a template to let our customer's know how to work out their shoe size. The draft email even automatically pulls in the name of the customer and can automatically include an attachment.

Pending Cases
Sometimes a customer will email us and we need to follow up with our supplier to answer their question. We can set these cases as 'Pending' in Assistly which reminds us to follow up with our supplier if they're slow to give us a response.

Assistly offers some great reporting tools which among other things allow us to measure our response times to customers. Measuring key metrics like this allows us to set goals and improve the support we offer our customers.

Like most of our favourite software Assistly operates 'in the cloud' so we don't need to install any software on our computers and we can be answering customer questions from any computer with an internet connection and web browser.

There are a few things that could be improved. It would be great to be able to include hyperlinks in emails and an email address book that allowed for auto-completes for our frequently entered email addresses would be helpful too. However often when we've submitted requests for features like these they're implemented by the Assistly team very quickly, the tool is getting even better each week.

The final thing we've loved about Assistly is their customer support. They're incredibly responsive. We get quick, details responses to all our questions and on the few occasions where something has gone wrong with our account the Assistly team are quick to get things up and running again for us. 'Joe G' seems to answer most of our questions and he's up there with one of the most knowledgable, responsive customer support people I've dealt with at any company anywhere - which is great coming from a company that offers customer support tools designed to help other businesses offer great customer support.

I can't recommend Assistly enough as a customer support tool. I'd be interested to hear what other people use.