AltSchool: New SF Bay Tech Startup is Creating the Future of Education

Altschool, a San Francisco Bay area startup founded by former Google product manager, Max Ventilla, is an innovative new school system that combines advanced technology with traditional education. AltSchool’s “micro-schools” are modeled after the one-room schoolhouses of the past. Students aged from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade learn together in classrooms with no more than 25 students and two teachers each. For a tuition of around $20,000, students study a curriculum focused on project-based learning and real-world lessons. “The point of education is to prepare our kids for the world that they’re going to actually experience as adults,” Ventilla explained. Students go on weekly field trips and complete activities like designing irrigation systems and building drones. Micro-schools have no principals or other administrators, but instead use technology to connect teachers with students and parents. Engineers and software developers work closely with teachers in their classrooms to constantly improve the AltSchool platform. “All engineers have ‘buddy teachers’ and study what’s going on in the classroom so they can learn about what’s most effective,” said Director of Education, Carolyn Wilson. “It lets us iterate very quickly and improve very, very quickly and validate for others that this is actually an approach that can …

Lazy Bear: An Elegant Dinner Party Every Night

Once the San Francisco Bay area’s best kept culinary secret, Lazy Bear is now the hottest ticket in the Mission District. What began as a series of underground dinner parties in 2009 became a legitimate dining establishment in August of 2014. Far from a traditional restaurant setting, Lazy Bear offers a “communal dining experience,” where diners sit together at long tables, all enjoying the same tasting menu of about 12 courses plus extras. Twice per night, 40 lucky ticket-holders file into the chic gastropub-style venue for an exclusive dinner party like no other. The festivities begin in the cozy upstairs mezzanine, where diners lounge on couches, enjoying drinks and snacks. Dinner is served downstairs at two communal tables. Each course is explained in detail before a team of waiters quickly pass around plates at designated times. Lazy Bear’s FAQ explains that the dinner party setting means that the pacing of the meal may be different from what diners expect, and that the course explanations “might interrupt your conversation a bit.” Lazy Bear’s communal style dining is designed to foster a more social, energetic atmosphere, where guests share stories while enjoying the modern American menu. Purchasing tickets in advance makes dining less …

From Idea to Launch: How to StartUP!

Do you remember when Mom would tell you to eat your peas if you wanted to grow UP big and strong? Now that you are grown up and have a great idea for a product or service, do you think Mom’s advice can still help? It can! If you are like many would-be entrepreneurs, the problem you’re running into with your great idea is not knowing how to get it off the ground. This problem does not have to stop you from getting your idea up and running, though, as long as you remember to eat these three P’s: Plan, Prepare, Proceed. Plan In this P, you’ll start by examining your idea very closely, and run it by a few friends or family members. Is it really something that you can do? After all, the best idea in the world for a new type of rocket can’t really be executed by a veterinarian with no background in aerospace engineering, ya know? Make sure the people who know you best have at least some confidence in your ability to take your idea from the drawing board to the production line. Next, start planning what you will need to make your idea …

Video Marketing – Increasingly a Must for Small and Mid-Sized Businesses

As an increasing number of businesses even in medium-sized and small communities have finally caught on to the principles of search engine optimization, social media marketing, and more, making local search an increasingly competitive game.  Whereas even new a company could build decent results in a six-month window or so, it is getting harder to reliably build results at all, and it is taking longer and longer to do so. Video marketing is one way business owners can sidestep these trends, and still get a tremendous bang for their buck in terms of investing in their content for organic site promotion.  Video marketing just isn’t saturated the same way regular text-based SEO is, not yet anyways.  While video optimization is a growing industry, for the foreseeable future it will be one of the most reliable marketing tools that small businesses can use to economically build results in terms of inbound marketing in a very short time. What makes video marketing so great?  Here are a few factoids about it: Engagement stats are simply superior comparing video to text, there is no way around that inescapable fact. Conversion rates are also far superior in video content than text delivers. It’s easier …

The Importance of Having an Accountant

Many small business owners are experts in the specific product or service that they offer, have no doubt about it.  However, an equally common feature of the small business owner is that they lack several of the necessary skills to completely administer a business.  Someone who is great as a floor manager at a manufacturing company may not be as great at balancing the books; some bean-counter who is a whiz with numbers may not be good at operating machinery or equipment.  Whatever the circumstance, everyone has a weakness. One of the most common weaknesses businesses owners have is lack of financial planning and accounting skills.  These skills are quite unrelated to most other tasks an owner is called upon to do, so if they haven’t received specific training on how to do it or perhaps studied it in school, they may simply not know how.  Or worse, they many know just enough to be dangerous, and end up getting themselves in hot water with the IRS through some questionable deduction practices. That is why I recommend that nearly every small business owner who doesn’t have experience or a degree in finance hire an accountant; they bring a huge variety …

Your Business Needs a Review Strategy

It is no secret; local SEO is getting harder and harder to successfully perform.  It looks like all the low-hanging fruit has basically been plucked at this point, and now small businesses are beginning to run into the same stumbling blocks that affect larger businesses regarding their SERP results. One method that many companies still have not yet implemented that will likely pay off big dividends in upcoming years is a review strategy.  Google has explicitly commented that they want to see reviews and engagement on social sites that grows in an organic, holistic manner.  So why have nearly 80% of businesses still not implemented a review strategy? Basically, a formal review strategy is a process for soliciting feedback from your customers.  Much like sales funnels or any other part of a marketing campaign, it is modular in nature, and can be simple or very complex. An example of a very simple review strategy is simply appending a link to Yelp, Facebook, or wherever you are trying to promote yourself to every invoice or receipt you put out.  This will encourage customers to hopefully visit these sites, give you a good rating, and share any helpful feedback they have for …

Business Should Learn some Lessons from the Video Game Industry

There have been a number of encouraging developments recently in the video game industry that can provide an example to businesses in other niches regarding developing new markets, products, and revenue streams.  Let’s take a look at some of these trends, and the lessons the general business community can learn from them: Huge Discounts Can Create New Customers – Steam is a popular online sales and distribution platform for PC games and software.  They recently ran a holiday sale in which some titles were discounted at rates of up to 90%.  Several developers reported that despite a 90% discount, the exposure they received due to the Steam sale resulted in sales figures greater than the rest of their year combined. Valve Creates New Market Out of Nowhere – Valve, the company behind Steam, recently debuted their living room ‘Steam Machine’ series, intended to compete with gaming and media consoles like the Xbox One and the PS4.  Bringing PC games to the living seems like a no-brainer, and little actual new technology or infrastructure was required to make this happen, just the idea itself. Taps Untapped Demographics – Video games tap those elusive dollars from males in their teens through their …

Some Challenges for Small Business in 2014

So far we have taken a look at some of the positive trends that small business can take advantages of in the coming year, but today we are going to take a look at some of the challenges and difficulties they are likely to face in the new year as well: Raising New Revenues – Companies that cannot take advantage of trends in online marketing will likely face increasing pressure to find new sources of revenue that may be difficult to locate and develop.  The growth of online shopping relative to traditional shopping is simply a game changer for almost every business and industry on the face of the Earth. Labor Difficulties – You may have heard about companies having difficulties finding qualified people to fill some of their most important jobs, particularly in extremely skilled positions like high-tech manufacturing.  While this is hardly new to 2014, the trend seems to be intensifying, and despite strong jobs numbers if your business finds yourself facing a critical shortage in terms of human capital it can be devastating to your organization. Health Care Expenses – Even if you delayed compliance with the new health care laws by renewing your policy at the …

New Year, New Markets

Hello everyone, and welcome to 2014.  We wish each and every one of our readers a prosperous and successful new year, with many interesting opportunities to take advantage of.  Today, in the spirit of the New Year, we are going to briefly touch on a subject we don’t often speak about: new markets.  ‘New markets’ as in going global, or expanding to literal new geographic marketplaces. The reason we don’t often speak about this is that it can be difficult for smaller businesses to engage in these tactics, which makes it essentially niche advice, but I believe there is a reason for addressing it now: mid-sized businesses.  You see, mid-sized business is positioned now better than ever before to take advantage of models like franchising, and really begin making the transition from local/regional organization to national/global. If you’re not sure how this can happen, watch the behavior of the Coca-Cola Corporation over the next five years or so in India.  While they are not exactly a mid-sized business, they are so alien to that market compared that the natural cultural disadvantages they face could possibly be insurmountable, regardless of budget.  Sales of Coke are actually lower than sales of ‘Thumbs …

What Will 2014 Reveal in the Marketing World?

As final retail figures have finally come in from all of the extended sales, one thing is certain; while Black Friday and other single-day centric paradigms may be coming to a close in the era of online shopping and shipping, online marketing is clearly the way of the future. We’ve discussed it in several articles over the course of this past year, and pointed out how even truly massive companies like Amazon and EBay are continuing to post astronomical growth figures based almost entirely off of online operations. While we haven’t often gotten very technical, we have also discussed some of the massive sea changes to the SEO landscape precipitated by Google and other search engines making changes to the way information is available. Together, this adds up to a boom time for online marketing in general; in many industries and niches it is still possible to lead the pack from an online perspective, as many older and established companies simply aren’t using their websites as anything other than glorified business cards currently.  Look for these opportunities to begin to slowly dry up and disappear now though, as even the most obstinate of companies is bound to recognize the trends …