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 Montreal-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.