October 29, 2013


empty seatsWhen you're organizing a free event, how do you get the people who register to show up?

That’s tough since  there’s rarely a penalty for registering or skipping. Both are easy to do (or not). Incentives guide behavior and “free” messes them up.

There's no such thing as a free event. Even if attendees don't pay with money, they pay with time. Since time is precious, not going is cheaper.

Here are four ways to deal with no-shows.

The “Will You” Strategy

The fourth universal principle of influence is Consistency. We tend to behave in ways that match what we did in the past, especially when others can see us.

A restaurant reduced no-shows from 30% to 10% by adding two words to their confirmations. When making reservations, guests were asked “Will you please call if you have to change or cancel your reservation?”

Your registration form could have an extra question: “Will you please email if you are unable to attend?”

Your event reminder emails can have a similar message. Isn’t this making cancellation too easy? Perhaps, but you’ll get a better sense of how many are attending. That’s valuable too.  By encouraging cancellations, you’re implying there’s demand for the seats. Scarcity is another universal principal of influence.

The Public Commitment

We’re more likely to do what we say in public. Eventbrite lets your Facebook contacts know that you're attending. Meetup does too. Others may even attend because of you. Now cancelling is tougher.

Eventbrite lets organizers show the names of the registrants. That may also help get more registrations and higher attendance. 

Refundable Deposits

Since people are loss averse, you can use the power of money as an incentive. Although your event is free, you can charge a deposit to reserve a (general admission) seat and give a refund to those who show up. The no-shows are then the only ones who pay. That seems fair.

The penalties may not be enough to cover the costs for refreshments. You could ask attendees if they would like to donate their deposit to help fund the event. That gives attendees an opportunity to help if they are willing and able. As an extension, you could ask for donations to get money from people who support the cause but can't participate.


“… it is our policy to overbook. In case of a full program, your reservation may not guarantee admission. Unclaimed reservations will be released to standby customers ten minutes prior to the start of the program. We recommend that you arrive early.” --- Toronto Public Library Appel Salon
As you hold similar events, you'll get a sense of how many people don't show up. You can then overbook and encourage people show up early to save their spot. For a popular event, you may have to turn people away. The rejected ones won’t be happy, but they have an incentive to arrive earlier in the future.


PS Maybe you make tickets available in pairs?

October 22, 2013


baby conquers bear
The desire for perfection and the fear of making mistakes both get in the way of launching a brand. They need not.

As a case study, you can watch me launch Money 50/50. It’s for a series of live TED-like talks with audience Q&A. The speakers are credible bloggers, journalists and authors known for objective advice. The intent is to make learning about money engaging. How’s that for a challenge?

I could have waited to make sure everything was ready before telling the world but thought the incremental approach would be more educational for you and more practical for me.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

If you're worried about theft of your intellectual property, the incremental approach may be ideal. The format for Money 50/50 isn’t the work of genius but seems unique:
  • 50% talking / 50% audience participation: that’s the key reason to attend in person. If there were no interaction, why attend? The audience could simply watch the talks on YouTube from home (which means they probably wouldn’t)
  • the speakers are writers: that means they have the courage to put their thoughts on display for public scrutiny. Because they’re local, they’re approachable.
As I started looking for venues, I became concerned that my format might be “stolen”. While anyone can use a similar format for their cause (please do!), I didn't want to look like the copycat. That's why the first public announcement described the idea and format: the perfect live event to master your money.

Step Zero

The very first step is finding a short name for the brand that’s available as a website and Twitter handle. That meant brainstorming and checking for availability with NameChk. This took days of elapsed time. You might want to get help from creative people you trust. You might need to fabricate a name (e.g., as I did with Riscario and Taxevity).

Eventually, I registered money5050.com even though a squatter has the Twitter handle @money5050. There are ways to reclaim a Twitter account from a squatter or impersonator. Showing you have a real brand helps.

Other Steps

imageEventually you will see these things in order:
  1. Website: money5050.com launched (using the same Google Blogger platform as this blog)
  2. Twitter handle: @50u50 (for now)
  3. Newsletter: powered by Mad Mimi (done)
  4. Branding: using a simple placeholder for now
  5. Ticket ordering: powered by Eventbrite
  6. Community: on Ning or Google+
Clearly, all these elements are not needed at the same time, especially when you’re doing the work in your spare time.

If you're afraid that the world will see work in progress, are you over thinking? The world is busy. You can relaunch when you’re ready. In the meantime, you’re taking steps that will help you get noticed. 


PS You learn more while doing than while planning.

October 15, 2013


netflix_defeats_blockbuster_by_plaidklaus-d30yuo4 500x320Netflix gives you unlimited access to all their titles for one low monthly fee. That's tough to beat or refuse. The Netflix model has been adopted elsewhere (e.g., to emagazines and ebooks). Why not your business?

Really Unlimited?

Netflix doesn't seem to care what we view (new vs old, movies vs TV) or for how long. Time is scarce and no one can watch 24/7. That means there are practical limits on usage.

If you have unlimited Internet, your devices can consume bandwidth when you're away. You can leave Netflix running and some titles might autoplay but there's no point. You'll lose the bookmarks which keep track of how much you've watched.

Netflix has ways to track consumption. Perhaps they make micropayments to the content providers based on what we watch. The revenue for each provider would vary but Netflix can probably predict the total expenses well.

Your Turn

How could at least part of your business be Netflixed? What can you provide that's unlimited for a fixed price? You may be too close to be objective. Consider brainstorming with outside help.

Whether you offer a product or service, maybe you provide unlimited support via email and/or phone?

What about information? If you develop content, maybe you give unlimited access to the old stuff (which may not be as valuable). Next Issue does for emagazines. The publisher likely gets a micropayment based on which issues is read and how much gets read. That's better than earning nothing from that catalogue.

New Incentives

If you were paid by the hour and now get a flat fee per month, your incentives change. You've now got reasons to become more efficient because time now costs you money. Maybe you create an FAQ or use email templates. You then free up your time for more productive uses.

Side Benefits

Offering fixed prices helps by
  • improving relationship with customers since you've removed uncertainty from their bills
  • making you remarkable, which gives you the benefits of word of mouth
  • providing market intelligence by showing what’s on your customers’ minds
  • providing a predictable (and perhaps larger) stream of income

The Fine Print

Netflix doesn't offer as much as you might think
  • the selection is limited
  • the selection changes (titles expire)
  • the selection varies by location (each country offer different choices with much less in Canada than the US)
  • the latest titles aren't available until later
You can introduce limitations too.


PS Your transition can take time, as when Netflix started streaming videos instead of only mailing physical disks.

October 8, 2013


boy showing muscles
"What happens in wars between the strong and the weak when the weak side does as David did and refuses to fight the way the bigger side wants to fight, using unconventional or guerrilla tactics? The answer: in those cases, the weaker party’s winning percentage climbs from 28.5 percent to 63.6 percent. To put that in perspective, the United States’ population is ten times the size of Canada’s. If the two countries went to war and Canada chose to fight unconventionally, history would suggest that you ought to put your money on Canada." — Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath

Who’s scheming to defeat you?

As Malcolm Gladwell points out in David and Goliath, you can’t fight conventionally … if you want to win. How strange that there’s still such desire in doing things the normal ways.
"When an underdog fought like David, he usually won. But most of the time, underdogs didn’t fight like David. Of the 202 lopsided conflicts in ArreguĂ­n-Toft’s database, the underdog chose to go toe-to-toe with Goliath the conventional way 152 times — and lost 119 times." — Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath
Maybe getting an A for trying is seen as better than doing what’s needed to win.


We can’t have a shoot-out without guns. We’d lose.
— Jason Statham (The Italian Job)
There are other ways to win. Consider advertising. That’s a conventional way to get attention. Maybe you can’t buy enough billboards or TV spots to make a lasting impression. Maybe you can’t afford any. Instead, you could earn attention by creating solid content that your network helps you spread. That is doable but less glamorous. You won’t win an award for the Ad Of The Year.

Google’s new Hummingbird smarter search algorithm helps smaller publishers with relevant content get found. YouTube puts you on the screen for free.

Old Boy Networks

Maybe you can’t make inroads into private clubs where big business gets done. New opportunities emerge.

Golf is considered essential for business … especially by golfers on expense accounts. Not every successful person golfs. I don’t. While the golfers are sweating or getting soaked outside, you can bond with the nongolfers.

Look at all the diversity in people these days. Which groups are a natural fit for you? If you get connected to the ‘rising stars’, you’re well positioned for successes the old boys won’t see. Besides, they’ll retire someday.

Bigger vs Better

Our cards were speed and time, not hitting power. — Lawrence of Arabia
The Goliaths are often slow and wed to the status quo. Be quick and experiment. They’ll know you hit them but not how to respond. You have a huge advantage when they’re unbalanced. Look at what happened to former giants like Blackberry.

UnderdogOther Battles

Maybe you’re not a good writer? That’s fixable. The nature of reading has changed as we’ve moved from paper to screens. There’s more skimming now (notice how I use lots of subtitles?). There’s also more tolerance for minor mistakes. Besides, you’ll improve with practice if you get started and keep going.

Maybe you don’t have 20+ years of experience? You’re spared from unlearning the old, less relevant ways engrained into yesterday’s experts. With less mental clutter, you’re better positioned to adapt. You might have skipped the step from typewriter to desktop computer to laptop. Does that really matter in today’s world of tablets and smartphones? Some new services don’t even run on computers or web browsers (e.g., newsreaders like Zite or Google Currents).

Maybe you don’t have enough customers? That means you’re not bogged down with the wrong kind of customers.

Maybe you don’t have time or don’t know how. Who does? You could start small by investing 15 minutes a day. The learning and doing become simpler. Baby steps help you win the marathon.
We think of things as helpful that actually aren’t and think of other things as unhelpful that in reality leave us stronger and wiser.
— Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath
You achieve a sweet victory when you turn perceived disadvantages into advantages. We root for the underdogs in the movies and real life.


PS Maybe your biggest Goliath is inside you.

October 1, 2013


TEDxToronto ambassador badge 2013When you face border guards, be careful about what you say because you may not get in.

The delegates for TEDxToronto get selected through an undisclosed process. Perhaps that’s why the Twitter stream at #TEDxToronto overflows with praise even for the weaker elements. Besides, the hard-working TEDxToronto team consists of volunteers.

It’s tough to give genuine feedback. What if you think the hosts were better last year and that next year you'd prefer David Newland over Maestro Fresh Wes?


The purpose of a geography-based TEDx event is to highlight local speakers and encourage discussions. The real magic happens in the halls during the breaks and afterwards. There was lots of discussion at TEDxToronto, which is a solid sign of success.


TEDxToronto 2013: The Choices We MakeOver the past five years, TEDxToronto has found things that work. Here's what doesn't need to be changed:
  • the venue: Koerner Hall in the Royal Conservatory of Music has three floors and feels just right. Last year's Sony Centre allowed more attendees (about 1,300) but didn't feel special. For some reason, conversations where more difficult to start. This time, there was more congestion, which made bumping into random interesting delegates easier. For instance, I spoke to Brian Goldman whose 2010 TEDxToronto Talk on the mistakes doctors make is well worth watching.
  • the delegates: last year, I talked to several people who didn't even know what TEDx was. One had never even seen a video on TED.com! Why were they there? This time, I met many first-timers who were eager to attend.
  • TEDxToronto note optionsthe printed program: last year we got program and notebook separately. This time, both are combined. There’s space to write beside the speaker's bio. The thick covers reduce flex. The only challenge is the lack of lighting in the hall. Maybe next year we can get pens with a soft glow at their tips?
  • the ambassadors: some returning delegates were ambassadors and got special black name cards. They were to start conversations and answer questions. This was my 7th TEDx event (third TEDxToronto) and I got selected. Normally I'd talk to fewer delegates longer. Given the role, I spoke to more delegates for shorter periods. The biggest "mistake" I saw delegates make was huddling with colleagues and talking about work. Split up and talk to strangers!
  • the timing: the doors opened at 9:30 AM for registration, coffee and mingling. The talks started at 11 AM. This gap was ideal — a nice, relaxing way to start the day.

The Speakers

The speakers were well prepared and spoke about topics they cared about. Some of that passion transferred to the audience.

Overall, the speakers were a tad depressing. I kept waiting for happy, inspiring outcomes. Here are examples of downers:
  • failing to get a prisoner of conscience out of prison (try selling that to Hollywood)
  • a suicide survivor (I wanted to know about the man who made the choice to stop him from jumping from an overpass, and how he’ll raise his 5-day old daughter)
  • challenges facing aboriginal people
  • violence against women in video games
  • dying children
These topics are difficult to discuss, which makes them easy to forget in our busy lives. The speaker selectors made brave choices but I would have preferred more good news.

Show us

Telling doesn’t work as well as showing. Some speakers lost the opportunity to make a bigger impact.
  • a blanket with embedded sensors is interesting but we only saw slides. Why not a live demo? Imagine the drama if someone is under the blanket onstage and we don’t know why until the end of the talk when we see the actual sensor readings.
  • three inventors from Thalmic Labs showed how the Myo gesture-controlled armband tracks electrical patterns emitted by our bodies. We also saw the previously silent man in the middle fly a model helicopter using the armband.
  • Rosie the hospital robot: Dr. Ivar Mendez controlled mobile robots in three locations across North America (Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and California).
  • Steve Mann wore what we might mistake as Google Glass. Could we have been shown what he sees in real time? Steve was thought-provoking though, contrasting surveillance (done to us) with sousveillance (we have the cameras).
  • Matthew Good created live music and told a story which felt more genuine than rehearsed. A nice way to end the day.
You can't top the anticipation of a genuine live demonstration. The speaker makes the choice to show more courage by taking more risk.

Which One?

TEDxWomen events in TorontoThere are now lots of TEDx events around the world (see calendar).  While each is different, there is also overlap. For instance, Toronto has three TEDxWomen events over two days in December.

Despite the choice, TEDxToronto stands out because of the volunteers, delegates and amazing videos.


PS I’m looking forward to seeing what changes next year … if I get in.