Go East, Old Man

It will be inter­est­ing to see how this has changed since 2005

Well, I’m not quite old, yet, I hope, but I am going East, for about a week. Here’s the the plan: My fam­i­ly is hav­ing a reunion in Orlan­do, Flori­da next week­end, cel­e­brat­ing my Aunt’s Birth­day (suf­fice to say It’s a big one). In the week lead­ing up to that date, I’m going to vis­it some parts of the east­ern US that I haven’t seen since we left in 2005 (a year and 10 days ago, to be pre­cise). First stop is Dublin, New Hamp­shire, to vis­it The Walden School Sum­mer ses­sion. I’ll write more about this amaz­ing insti­tu­tion in my next entry. I’ll be vis­it­ing and hope­ful­ly soak­ing in the cre­ative juices there from Tues­day through Wednes­day. On Thurs­day I’ll be in Boston, vis­it­ing our old neigh­bor­hood in Cam­bridge and look­ing up some some old friends. I have to admit that while I con­sid­er Van­cou­ver my home, we did live for 14 years in Cam­bridge, and since we’ve left, every once in a while I’ll do a lit­tle dig­i­tal sleep­walk using Google Maps Street View to our old court­yard and the oth­er streets in the neigh­bor­hood. I know every crack in the side­walk between Hamp­shire Street and the Kendall Square T stop, or used to know, rather. I expect that I’ll be sur­prised at how things have changed. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to taste some Toscanini’s Ice Cream, or even an Emma’s Piz­za or Kendall Brew­ery beer, but any and all of those will be nice to sam­ple once again, just to make sure that they are all as good as I remem­ber them. I’ll also have no chance to hear the BSO, or go to any con­cert, for that mat­ter. Per­haps a ‘cul­tur­al’ reunion is some­thing I’ll have to plan for anoth­er time. In the mean­time, 3 whirl­wind days in New Eng­land book­end­ed by flights all around North Amer­i­ca will be how my week goes. Let’s hope the heat wave has bro­ken before I get there.

Ear­ly Fri­day morn­ing I fly out of Logan (which I must admit I’m not look­ing for­ward to see­ing again — I hate that air­port — often called the worst in North Amer­i­ca — with a pas­sion and hope that some­day they will mer­ci­ful­ly tear it down, but I’m not hold­ing my breath ) to Orlan­do, where Pam and I will join my par­ents, cousins and oth­ers in the Flori­da heat (although I sus­pect we’ll be in air-con­di­tion­ing much of the time).

Rogers About to Get Something they Didn't Want: Competition

I got a news-flash email from the CBC today (I’m no one spe­cial; I’ve signed up for alerts like this):

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is $4.2 bil­lion rich­er with the con­clu­sion of the cell­phone spec­trum auc­tion on Mon­day, while cus­tomers stand to win as five new com­pa­nies are now well posi­tioned to launch ser­vices over the next few years. The wind­fall is con­sid­er­ably larg­er than the orig­i­nal $1.5 bil­lion many indus­try ana­lysts had pre­dict­ed before the auc­tion began on May 27.

I linked to the relat­ed sto­ry on the CBC web site, and 3 pas­sages caught my eye. (in all cas­es, bold and ital­ics are mine) First:

The big win­ner — and biggest spender — among poten­tial new entrants was Toron­to-based Glob­alive Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Inc., which cur­rent­ly sells home phone and inter­net ser­vice under the Yak brand. The com­pa­ny has emerged from the auc­tion posi­tioned to launch a nation­al cell­phone ser­vice with 30 licens­es broad­ly dis­trib­uted across the coun­try.

Sec­ond:

The new entrants are wide­ly expect­ed to build third-gen­er­a­tion net­works based on glob­al sys­tem for mobile com­mu­ni­ca­tions (GSM) tech­nol­o­gy, which is what Rogers and its Fido sub­sidiary use, or its new­er fourth-gen­er­a­tion off­shoot, long-term evo­lu­tion (LTE).

and Third:

Iain Grant, pres­i­dent of the Seaboard Group telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tan­cy, said a nation­al car­ri­er could be up and run­ning by East­er at a cost of $500 mil­lion, although oth­er esti­mates say a launch could take a year or two. The trick­i­est part of start­ing up will be nego­ti­at­ing rights for trans­mis­sion sites, many of which will either be on top of tall build­ings or on tow­ers owned by Rogers, Bell and Telus.

So here we are, look­ing at a Spring of 2009 roll-out for at least one com­peti­tor to Rogers/Fido Wire­less, and did Rogers posi­tion them­selves well for such a sit­u­a­tion? In my hum­ble opin­ion, absolute­ly not. Any­one in Cana­da has seen this com­ing (any­one who was not in Rogers man­age­ment, that is). In the past years, months and weeks, Rogers has made so many Cana­di­an con­sumers so angry that they can count on no cus­tomer loy­al­ty what­so­ev­er. Their brand may very well be dam­aged beyond repair. Any new cell­phone ven­dor who sup­ports a GSM 3G net­work will be able to grab a large pool of cus­tomers ready to switch imme­di­ate­ly, or when their con­tract with Rogers is up (and you can bet that they’ll put that date on their cal­en­dar!)

How did Rogers screw this up so bad­ly? The recent his­to­ry of Rogers, par­tic­u­lar­ly with respect to pric­ing and mar­ket­ing tells some of the sto­ry. If you live in Cana­da and have had any deal­ings with Rogers, you’ll know much of this, so feel free to skip to the end…

First, over the past 3 or 4 years, Rogers charged some of the high­est data and call rates in the world. Then, in 2007, con­sumers and tech watch­ers crit­i­cized them for being slow to bring the iPhone to Cana­da after it was avail­able in the U.S. for a year.  In April of 2008, Rogers chief exec­u­tive Ted Rogers told investors the iPhone would arrive in Cana­da some time lat­er in the year. In June, Rogers set the iPhone’s debut for July 11 (along with sev­er­al oth­er coun­tries through­out the world), but were quick­ly met with harsh crit­i­cism about the data pric­ing plan, which was per­haps the sec­ond high­est in the world (with Swe­den being the high­est) . Some high-pro­file tech per­son­al­i­ties in Cana­da went on tele­vi­sion to announce that they were going to jump ship (in some cas­es pay­ing a siz­able penal­ty). Only after thou­sands of cur­rent and prospec­tive cus­tomers signed online peti­tions protest­ing these rates,  encour­ag­ing Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs to put pres­sure on the com­pa­ny, did Rogers relent with a drop of the high­est rate to a rea­son­able lev­el ($30 per month with a usage lim­it of up to 6 GB per month), but this rate is avail­able only until the end of August. On the day of the roll-out, Rogers’ reg­istry net­works crashed simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with Apple’s iTunes reg­is­ter­ing sys­tem after the new iPhone was unveiled. The Out­age last­ed into the after­noon at some loca­tions and it wasn’t until the next week before some cus­tomers could acti­vate their phones. Rogers rep­re­sen­ta­tives said they expect­ed record first-day sales, but declined to dis­close how many phones were shipped to stores or how many they had expect­ed to sell. As I write this, Rogers (through­out Van­cou­ver, at least) is still sold out of the iPhone.

All in all it was a high­ly vis­i­ble fias­co. Rogers utter­ly botched the iPhone roll-out in just about every way it could be botched. They could have final­ly made many cur­rent cus­tomers hap­py with a new device and would be seen today as the sole provider of one of the most sought-after tech gad­gets. Instead, they gen­er­at­ed sev­er­al days of bad PR, dis­played poor plan­ning, and missed immea­sur­able mar­ket­ing and sales oppor­tu­ni­ties. There have been numer­ous spec­u­la­tions that the rea­son they ran out stock is that Apple was so peev­ed at the high data rates that they actu­al­ly divert­ed iPhone ship­ments from Cana­da to more rea­son­able Euro­pean car­ri­ers. Whether or not this was true, Rogers’ lack of can­dor regard­ing avail­abil­i­ty, lack of under­stand­ing of the prod­uct, and com­plete screw-up of logis­tics and net­work vol­ume on the day of the roll-out is some­thing that will not fade quick­ly from the mem­o­ry of most Cana­di­ans (and prob­a­bly not by this com­ing East­er).

It will be inter­est­ing to see if the mass exo­dus from Rogers to what­ev­er new car­ri­er Glob­alive will fund will be as swift and mas­sive as I expect it will be. Rogers has run their busi­ness ‘like there’s no tomor­row’, but in the Spring of 2009, ‘tomor­row’ will arrive.

Beating the Rush

I was sur­prised, but not all that much by this arti­cle, pub­lished today in the Van­cou­ver Province:

Brain Drain a Thing of the Past as Amer­i­cans Flood In
(To quote Nor­ma Green­away of the Can­West News Ser­vice:)

OTTAWA — The num­ber of Amer­i­cans admit­ted to Cana­da last year hit a 30-year high, fuelling a pat­tern that sug­gests the drain of Cana­di­an brains south of the bor­der may be a shrink­ing phe­nom­e­non.

The num­ber of Amer­i­cans accept­ed in Cana­da reached 10,942 in 2006, almost dou­ble the num­ber admit­ted in 2000. By con­trast, the num­ber of Cana­di­ans admit­ted to the Unit­ed States in 2006 dropped sharply from the pre­vi­ous year, falling to 23,913 from 29,930.

The data were gath­ered and analysed by the Mon­tréal-based Asso­ci­a­tion for Cana­di­an Stud­ies. Exec­u­tive direc­tor Jack Jed­wab says an analy­sis of the num­bers shows Cana­da is enjoy­ing an upswing as a pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion for Amer­i­cans, many of whom are increas­ing­ly well edu­cat­ed.

Also, the trend is reflect­ed in the reverse (i.e. Cana­di­ans mov­ing to the US) as well, and leads to the fol­low­ing net num­bers:

Jed­wab cit­ed fig­ures that showed the U.S. accept­ed 4,447 more eco­nom­ic immi­grants from Cana­da in 2006 than the U.S. accept­ed from Cana­da. That was down from 14,223 in 2005, a year the U.S. opened its doors wider to immi­grants, and down from 6,916 in 2004.

I’m going to assume that first sen­tence should have read: the U.S. accept­ed 4,447 more eco­nom­ic immi­grants from Cana­da in 2006 than Cana­da accept­ed from the U.S. (oth­er­wise, it doesn’t make sense).

If this is the case, immi­gra­tion could be fol­low­ing the same route as the dol­lar, lead­ing to at least par­i­ty, and then per­haps the sit­u­a­tion where there are more peo­ple mov­ing to Cana­da from the U.S. than the oth­er way around. Also, the peo­ple who are mov­ing are typ­i­cal­ly the kind who would have moved the oppo­site direc­tion in the past:

In 2006, 4,498 peo­ple were admit­ted as eco­nom­ic immi­grants, which means they need to col­lect suf­fi­cient points to gain entry. This nar­row­ly also out­paced the 4,468 immi­grants brought in under fam­i­ly-reuni­fi­ca­tion rules.

Cana­da is undoubt­ed­ly nar­row­ing the brain drain,” Jed­wab said. “The most edu­cat­ed class of immi­grants we’re get­ting right now is com­ing from the Unit­ed States.”

We sus­pect­ed this might be the case from anec­do­tal evi­dence, but now it looks like it’s borne out in the actu­al num­bers. It will be inter­est­ing to see if the ‘sur­prise’ I some­times get from Cana­di­ans when I tell them our sto­ry will fade.

A Two Year Anniversary

While Pam and I have always cel­e­brat­ed our wed­ding anniver­sary in August (it will be 17 years, this year!), we also now cel­e­brate anoth­er anniver­sary today, which is the date we set­tled here in Van­cou­ver. Back in 2005 we arrived here with a bunch of suit­cas­es, an inflat­able mat­tress and blan­ket from Tar­get in Belle­vue and a cou­ple of lap­tops (includ­ing my ancient Tibook, not quite ready to retire).

It hasn’t been quite long enough for those first few weeks and months to take on the glow of ‘cher­ished mem­o­ries’, but they weren’t all that bad either. It did take an extra 3 or 4 months for our fur­ni­ture and oth­er belong­ings to final­ly make their way here from Boston (with quite a few bro­ken items), but we made do, camp­ing out in our near­ly emp­ty con­do and fur­nish­ing it for the sum­mer via a cou­ple trips to IKEA and Cana­di­an Tire.

This evening we took a walk along False Creek, just like we did reg­u­lar­ly in 2005. Some­times two years feels like a short time, and some­times it feels like a long time ago. So much has hap­pened, and so much as changed, that I’m think­ing it’s the long time ago feel­ing for me. No regrets, though (we both agreed).

A Local Online Tech Community Up for Sale

Tech Vibes o nWhen I first thought of mov­ing to Van­cou­ver, one of the piv­otal deci­sions I made was to come and make a pre­lim­i­nary vis­it and go to a sort of tech trade show, called Techvibes Mas­sive. It was put on by the web site and asso­ci­at­ed online com­mu­ni­ty of the first word in that name. As of today, Techvibes is up for sale on eBay. Accord­ing to the list­ing:

…why are we sell­ing? Our com­pa­ny orig­i­nal­ly had a diver­si­fied strat­e­gy and we’ve recent­ly moved towards a more focused one. Our web­sites include www.clubzone.com, www.techvibes.com, www.casinozone.com, www.petsmo.com, www.discovervancouver.com… but as of the 2006 we’ve decid­ed to focus our resources 100% on clubZone.com.

Techvibes’ Mas­sive Show was how I found my first job here, and even how we found the place we are now liv­ing in! (A chance con­ver­sa­tion with a stranger in the Beer Gar­den at the end of the day end­ed up with an invi­ta­tion to have a look at the con­do that he was sell­ing as he was mov­ing to Toron­to, and the rest…is Real Estate.)

Thou­sands of sites link in to Techvibes.com, help­ing the site achieve a Google page rank of 7, and great page index­ing. Alta Vista reports over 478,000 inbound links, with over 72,000 pages indexed on Google.

The site cur­rent­ly pulls in approx­i­mate­ly $5000 to $10000 per month in rev­enue from a vari­ety of sources includ­ing ban­ner ads, fea­tured list­ings, google adsense, and seo text links. In it’s prime the site pulled in over $10k per month alone just from Adsense but has dropped off in the past year from site neglect.

If some­one has the resources to build Techvibes back up, they could very eas­i­ly get the site up to in excess of $50k per month with only a few staff.

There includes a dou­ble opt-in data­base of approx­i­mate­ly 42,000 pro­filed mem­bers.

The brand name Techvibes is very strong in the Van­cou­ver, BC, Cana­da Tech­nol­o­gy com­mu­ni­ty and could eas­i­ly be lever­aged.

The cur­rent ask­ing price is $60,000 US (about $70,600 Cana­di­an).

Fol­low-up: It appears that there is some con­tro­ver­sy about this sale, with some mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty upset about the prospect of their emails and names, etc. being sold off to the high­est bid­der. The dis­cus­sion is going on, odd­ly enough, on the Techvibes site itself.

One more Fol­low-up: Appar­ent­ly the list­ing has been removed from eBay because:

Geesh, well who­ev­er com­plained to eBay — it worked. They removed the list­ing say­ing that it was ille­gal to sell a data­base of per­son­al infor­ma­tion.

I was actu­al­ly plan­ning on remov­ing the eBay list­ing this morn­ing any­ways because we’ve had so much inter­est and most of the inquiries require a fair amount of due dili­gence… so I don’t think an eBay auc­tion would work unless we were able to pro­vide a lot more infor­ma­tion (finan­cials, access to ana­lyt­ics etc.) to the gen­er­al pub­lic.

( -Mike Schwarz, cur­rent Pres­i­dent of Techvibes)

So the site is still up for sale, but now it will be a far less pub­lic trans­ac­tion.