Sharing customer data with third parties –companies should think about it

sharing dataI received the following email from Pinterest this past Monday –

Hi there,

Soon, we’ll launch buyable Pins to U.S. Pinners on iPhone and iPad. Today, we’re rolling out a few updates to our Privacy Policy to help you understand how these buyable Pins will work. Here’s a quick look at those updates.

  1. When you buy something on Pinterest, you’ll need to share some payment and contact info with us so that we can complete your order. We’ll save this info so you don’t have to type it in next time you make a purchase. We’ll also share this info with the seller, and they’ll treat it as if you bought from their website directly.
  1. We also hope to make Promoted Pins even more relevant and useful to Pinners like you. For example, if you purchased a camping tent on Pinterest, we may show you Promoted Pins for other outdoorsy products.

If you don’t want your purchases to be used to customize Pinterest, just go to “Order history” from your account settings and swipe to hide your purchases.

To see these updates, visit our Privacy Policy. To learn more about buyable Pins, check out our Help Center.

The Pinterest Team

Points off Pinterest for not at least writing, “Hi Mark, (instead of Hi there), but aside from that I saw this as a good clear explanation of Pinterest’s policy with regard to data collection and usage and how users can make changes.

If had you received this email from Pinterest (as a user) would you have been offended? I think not. And yet read it clearly. Pinterest is offering that in order to make your experience easier when purchasing a pinned product, they will keep your card data AND share it with the seller. Additionally Pinterest might share offers for other products based on your past buying behavior.

People like to think that they want ALL of their data to be protected and not shared. But what people really want is the ability to understand and then manage how their data is collected and shared.

That same day an article in the New York TimesWhen a Company Is Put Up for Sale, in Many Cases, Your Personal Data Is, Too” Natasha Singer and Jeremy B. Merrill, reported that companies like Hulu that declare that it “respects your privacy”, might not do so if the company is ever sold or goes bankrupt. In fact of the top 99 websites (as ranked by, with English language terms of service or privacy, 85 said they might transfer users’ information if a merger, acquisition, bankruptcy, asset sale or some other transaction occurred.

This is disturbing since undoubtedly customers have no idea that this possibility is even remotely possible!   This is far from being a best practice as I am sure you would agree.

Customer privacy in general and protection of sensitive customer data has to be a baseline corporate policy.   However I offer this advice to companies that have a blanket “we don’t share your data with anyone, anytime, anywhere” policy. If you are truly adhering to this policy (and it would never be stated as such after the lawyers got through with it), you are missing opportunities to create a better customer experience as well as increase the bottom line.

There’s value in your customer transactional data. If a company clearly indicates its policy (and adheres to it), with regard to collection and storage of transactional data, and gives the customer an opportunity to modify its default preferences, that company is giving up more than it probably realizes.

Wouldn’t it be advisable to better understand what value is being forsaken when you have having a privacy policy in which you do not share customer data?




Posted in Best business practices, Data driven marketing, Consumer Behavior | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Some Angel and VC investors are averse to cold water

Silicon-DragonThis past Monday evening I attended my fourth NYC Silicon Dragon event hosted by Rebecca Fannin of Silicon Dragon.  Rebecca (author of the 2011 book Start-up Asia ) always puts together an interesting program and she conducts these programs all over the globe but primarily in the U.S. and in Asia.

This was by far the most well-attended event (and well-run too) in NYC that I have attended and the venue – at NASDAQ is perfectly appropriate for the subject matter – what’s happening in the startup world in Asia and the United States (primarily).  Panelists and speakers from China and the U.S.; as well as Israel and Hong Kong offered opinions on the general state of the tech and startup investing environment.

Some of the panelists and speakers:

Jim Robinson, Co-founder/Managing Partner, RRE Ventures
Alessandro Piol, Partner & Co-founder, Alphaprime Ventures
Nihal Mehta, Founding General Partner, Eniac Ventures
Claudia Iannazzo, Partner, Pereg Ventures
Brian Cohen, Chairman, NY Angels
Annemarie Tierney, VP, Head of Strategy and New Markets, NASDAQ
Moderator: Rebecca Fannin, Silicon Dragon / Forbes

Francesco Rulli, Founder, BitLanders & BitCharities
Sarah Martin, VP, Digital Currency Council
Tatiana Moroz, Founder, Crypto Media Hub
Alan Yong, Founder, DNotes
Moderator: Porter Bibb, Managing Partner, MediaTech Capital Partners

Mark Hookey, CEO, DemystData
Ronald Li, Founder, Novoheart
Ding Ding, Founder,

Mobile photos of Beijing lifestyles and culture taken through the lens of China tech guru Frank Yu

I enjoyed the straightforward style of Brian Cohen (co-author What every Angel Investor Wants you to know) and Jim Robinson (who I’ve met before), as well as Alessandro Piol (co-author of the 2013 book Tech and the City), Claudia Iannazzo, Annemarie Tierney and Nihal Mehta.   It was mentioned (out loud!) that most angel investors do not make money on their investments.  In fact more than most – nearly all angel investors invest in companies that ultimately are unsuccessful.

So why do Angels invest?  Besides having the money to do it (“Stupid money” as Brian Cohen mentioned on multiple occasions), Angel investors have belief, ego and desire, (my words not theirs, and not necessarily in that order).

In prior posts on this blog I have cataloged my own work with Chinese companies and the main reasons why that work has not been sustained.  To top off my own experiences many of the panelists noted that the market within China is so large, and yet still untapped to a great degree (think Tier 2,3 and 4 Chinese cities for unrealized opportunity), that there’s less and less reason for Chinese companies to make efforts to do business in the U.S. or other western countries.

When I started on my own path 6 years ago that was not even a consideration.  Things change fast in the world of global commerce and that pace is not slowing down anytime soon.  India is still in its own early stage of having a majority of its citizens using smartphones.   And for that matter there still are another 600+ million Chinese who have yet to come online.

Having little infrastructure to replace (unlike the U.S.) India (and China for that matter) will skip steps in the economic development chain that more established economies have had to endure.

The possibilities are intoxicating and the energy in the room was palpable.  Until the very end, when Brian Cohen pointed out an industry legend in the audience – Harry Edelson of Edelson Technology Partners  who per Mr. Cohen was there at the outset of the VC industry as someone to be respected and admired.  Shortly thereafter in a brief Q & A Mr. Edelson raised his hand to make a point.

The point he made was that many of the panelists were smart, earnest and honest. They discussed the upsides and downsides of investing.  But in Mr. Edelson’s opinion they were all talking about a bull market that would be eventually followed by a market correction.  There had even been a mention by Jim Robinson that a correction of maybe as much as 20% is in the not-too-distant future (my sense was 2 years or less overall).  But none of the panelists/investors mentioned a bear market which Mr. Edelson advanced was inevitable and the risks therein should be highlighted to a much greater degree than he had heard that evening.  “What goes up still must come down”.

For ten seconds you could have heard a pin drop.  It was a delicious few moments.  It reminded me of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s “Irrational Exuberence” speech back in 1996.  And we all know how that turned out.

The program resumed and was completed shortly thereafter but the residue of the cold water that was splashed on all of us remained.  To be clear this is an extremely exciting time in the world of startups, investment capital and new ideas.  I am no less excited from having attended – in fact I am even more excited as a result.  But I still have a little taste of that cold water in my mouth and I think that may be a very good thing.


Posted in Angel Investing, Business in Asia, Business in China, Innovation, International business, Start ups, Venture Capital | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Social media can and does provide users with true utility in the real world

faces-fans-watching-game-remotely-are-displayed-robotsWhen people think about all those lost hours on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or any other social network do they think about the true utility or value in passing time engaging on these networks? The answer is a resounding no. Most employers however feel much differently.

This week I had yet another occasion to experience a true benefit of social media – and this happens to people all the time. I attended a NY Met baseball game at Citi Field and a Facebook push notification popped up that a friend of mine whom I see rarely was at the game as well. I let him know that I was at the game and he came over to my seat later in the game and we watched the last couple of innings together. Without FB this in person social meeting would not have happened. And by the way neither of us looked at our phones the entire time we sat and talked and watched (a gritty 3-2 victory for the home team).

In person social networking was and is far better than virtual social networking. was trying this years ago with check-ins by friends that you would see on your phone leading you to actually SEE them in person. This is why I thought when it launched in 2009 that Foursquare had a real chance to be something I would use for a long time but that’s not the way it turned out as I have written in a prior post.

As far as I am concerned unanticipated (and spontaneous), meetings with people I like and know are worthwhile and act as serendipitous opportunities to truly connect with those people on the most personal level – IN PERSON!

Watching people’s lives go by via social media applications is better than not knowing anything at all (provided you are actually interested in them and not practicing social media voyeurism which is all too typical) about their lives.

However it cannot be argued that those virtual encounters are in anything close to an in-person meeting. In the future our avatars will virtually meet and engage (think about the movie Avatar) but if we begin to believe virtual interaction is a replacement for in-person interaction, the apocalypse is a lot closer than it is has ever been before.

Tell me if you think I am mistaken.

Posted in Networking, Social Media, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

WalMart tightropes the brick and mortar world to the online world

Wal-martMaybe you missed it last week. The little Article in the New York Times – Reporting that Wal-Mart is falling behind in the area of online sales – far behind for example. In the world of online sales WalMart already is a titan, ringing up more than $1 billion of sales a day. Read it again. $1 BILLION of sales per day! And they are falling behind.

From the article on June 5, 2015 and reporter Hiroko Taguchi

“But in the online world, the retailer’s business, while growing, remains far behind Amazon. With less than one-sixth the online sales of Amazon, Walmart has been repeatedly outgunned and outsmarted by Amazon’s price-matching, robot-utilizing, competition-crushing machine.

And now that sluggish sales are persisting at its supercenters, and with consumers spending more and more time shopping online, Walmart’s need to play catch-up in its online business loomed large at its annual shareholder conference on Friday.

Doug McMillon vowed to tackle that quandary as part of the changes he outlined as the company’s relatively new chief executive.”

“One customer can shop with us in so many different ways — in stores, on their phones, at home,” Mr. McMillon told 14,000 shareholders and Walmart workers gathered at an arena outside the retailer’s Bentonville headquarters. “We’ll win one customer at a time.”

“As part of its effort to become competitive on the web, Walmart has made a flurry of tech hires, committed to a billion-dollar war chest and announced a delivery program to challenge the king of online orders, Amazon Prime.

Walmart is set to start sending invitations this week to a pilot program called Shipping Pass, which offers unlimited, free three-day shipping from its online store for $50 a year.

Shipping Pass is a direct challenge to Amazon Prime, which charges shoppers a $99 annual fee for unlimited, free two-day shipping. It is also a desperate bid by Walmart, analysts say: The retailer is unlikely to make money on such a cut-rate offer.

Walmart, however, needs to make up for lost time online, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a New York-based retail consulting firm. “ has been severely mismanaged,” Mr. Flickinger said. “Walmart would go a few years and invest strategically and significantly in e-commerce, then other years it wouldn’t,” he said.

“Meanwhile, Amazon is making moves in e-commerce that’s put Walmart so far behind that it might not be able to catch up for 10 more years, if ever.”

Looking up at the leader is an unfamiliar perch for Walmart, which for decades had dominated retailing with a vast supplier network, stripped-down supercenters and rock-bottom prices.

Before Amazon, Walmart was the retailer that undercut everyone else with impossible-to-beat prices and hefty scale, muscling them out of business.”

It’s understandable to me that most of Walmart ‘s customers are conditioned to shop in the store.  Changing that behavior is difficult to say the least. So WCWMD? – What could Walmart do?

Well one thing that could be tested is to analyze customer transactions (with permission of course) that could assist shoppers in better understanding their own personal behavior as Walmart customers.

Take dry goods for instance. Purchases of paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, all could be segmented and then buying behavior over a period of time – three months minimum but better yet six months or even a year. The resulting data would then allow Walmart to offer to deliver the goods on a timed schedule. This would be done on the website.

But the offer could be made via and email, on a store receipt, even a direct mail piece that points out the many ways auto-shipping could save Walmart customers time, money, and needless effort. Less time at the store, less money for gas and transportation to and from the store and less hassle for things that one does not need to see before buying.

The message from Walmart to its customers is – yes we want you in our stores, but we want to make your life easier! Moving in-store shoppers to purchase more online is a long-tail strategic initiative. Walmart cannot afford to wait any longer s the stakes are high with the shift to online purchasing well underway.

Do you think this can be done by Walmart without them appearing to be creepy?

Posted in Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Outdoor advertising in the U.S. has room to grow

outdoorads01Earlier this week I had lunch with a smart OOH (out-of-home advertising) executive.  His company is one of the largest OOH companies in the business. Not all that long ago (twenty years) OOH advertising primarily consisted of billboards and stadium signs, which are really another type of billboard, and the tops of taxicabs.

Today OOH exists in many places that when first noticed appeared a bit out of place. Like elevators and bathrooms (above the urinal displays are becoming more popular every day). Digital OOH advertising has been game changing both for advertisers as well as media providers. The new darling term of display advertising (and now television) – programmatic buying has already begun in the area of digital OOH ads.

The OAAA Outdoor Advertising Association of American reported that in 2014 OOH constituted 5.1% of total advertising spend. Below is the list of the 2014 top 20 OOH USA advertisers.

Top 20 OOH Advertisers
McDonalds Restaurant
Metro PCS
Warner Bros Pictures
20th Century Fox Pictures
Cracker Barrel Old Country Restaurant
Universal Pictures
Paramount Pictures

My associate and I were discussing that creating interactive OOH ads have a long way to go before they provide true utility to passers-by. OK maybe that was my having said that. But he understood my point and did not disagree that creating easier methods of interaction on the part of viewers of an outdoor ad was a work in progress. When it comes to an OOH many people feel that the average viewing opportunity is less than seven seconds. Not much time to get a message across at least not one that requires any deep interaction.

When you look at the list of the top 20 OOH advertisers it becomes clear that all of those brands have no need to ‘explain’ what is their brand and it’s promise. They advertise in OOH platforms because driving the brand toward top of mind is effective. And as he and I talked about it’s even more effective when part of a multi-channel marketing effort.

Because of the specific geography of OOH product, distributors like to see outdoor advertising near the places of business of their customers since it allows them to point out that there is support for their business right around the corner. If we are talking about a coffee shop that makes sense as the message is easily understood. However if the OOH unit is for a new product, or something that is somewhat complex it would less than ideal (to say the least). Unless there is other channel in-market support that would offer some point of reference – don’t do it. Remember – in OOH advertising there are less than seven seconds to get your message across.

With attention spans diminishing by the day I believe OOH advertising can actually be ahead of the curve since it plays into the snackable content shift. For that reason I believe there are better years for OOH ahead as the move continues away from traditional static roadside billboards.

Do you notice pass certain OOH ads on a regular basis?

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Alibaba’s U.S. based online shops site hangs in there. Why?

11mainNot only do I have deep interest in all things Chinese, (or at least a lot of things Chinese) I also have a soft spot for a once and former client My experience with Alibaba was in helping them with some of their U.S. based marketing efforts in 2012.

I did not realize it in 2012 but from what I am seeing from Alibaba’s U.S. focused shopping mall site Alibaba’s U.S. approach is to hang around without really making a commitment.

What makes me feel this way? Back in 2012 we helped develop content and graphics used to generate interest on the part of U.S. entrepreneurs and purchasing managers so that they would consider strategic sourcing via the platform – which was the main business of Alibaba prior to and

Our work was in advance of the public offering by almost 24 months. What surprised and disappointed us was that Alibaba did nothing to follow up on the leads we generated.

Last June 2014 Alibaba began beta testing an ‘exclusive’
Invitation-only (for vendors) shopping platform hosting virtual stores offering interesting and quality-oriented products. appeared (by the lack of any comment) to be not all that worried.

It was my opinion at the time that it might be interesting to pitch selected clients of ours as possible store operators as an alternative outlet to the big shopping sites or stores like Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart. I applied and was politely turned down and asked to wait for the right opportunity. Last week I received a voice mail from someone at in regard to one of the clients for whom I had written an application.

I called the number back the next day and it was – a fax tone (and I hate getting the fax tone sound don’t you?) I found another number to call and someone answered and I asked the question about the person who left me a voice mail (hey it was a long shot) and the man answered that he’d pass the message along as that person was not around at the moment. A week later I am still waiting for that call. I am not holding my breath.

Even last summer Forbes columnist Walter Loeb wrote that 11 Main was already a ‘Flop’

What I failed to realize was that the platform would not be supported – by advertising or really in any other way. I venture a guess that 99% of the people that read this post will never have heard of CEO Mike Effle has the right pedigree having founded (and sold to Alibaba)  Don’t even get me started on the email ‘offers’ I receive and the opportunity to buy that blouse…

If I could ask Mr. Effle one question it would be – what was the strategic plan?

Posted in E-commerce, Internet Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t get it’

big-tom-hanks-robotI don’t know about you, but the 1988 movie BIG starring Tom Hanks has stayed with me since I first saw it in the theater and it’s one of those movies that when stumbled upon on television I always end up stopping and watching at least for a while.

Frequently, a particular scene from the movie comes into to my mind when I hear what is simply a bad idea from a client, partner, or even a service provider.

The scene link here has protagonist 12 year old Josh (Tom Hanks) inside the body of a 30 year old man (I figure I cannot give away a plot line that happened more than 27 years ago). He works for a toy company (run by Robert Loggia’s engaging character in the movie and who wouldn’t want to work for a guy like that?) and in a boardroom meeting on a new product development Josh raises his hand as if he is in a 6th grade class and when called upon:

Any questions? Yes? Yes?”


“I don’t get it.”


“What exactly don’t you get?”


“It turns from a building into a robot, right?”




“Well, what’s fun about that?”

Clear, concise and dead-on. In marketing as in just about any other area of business, the simple sentence “I don’t get it” is not stated nearly enough.

Too often people fall in love with an idea without considering it’s actual intended use. Making it worse is the people around them that propagate a bad idea and fall in line behind it. We all like to read and hear about the disruptors and the rebels that won’t accept the status quo. In truth we’ve all been in far too many meetings at which a bad or non-workable idea is promoted and it’s just easier to let it go and fall in line than challenge it for what it is.

Of course if actually raising one’s hand in a meeting and declaring, “I don’t get it” borders on corporate suicide then I would not recommend it. There are many more subtle ways to make that point but maybe, just maybe, there will be a time when the plainest and simplest response to an idea that has little or no merit is to say – “I don’t get it”.

You know you want to. When will you?

Posted in Best business practices, Career Development | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments