April 24th, 2009

Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food


Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food

Every once in a while, I get something stuck in my craw that causes me to get up on my high horse. Sometimes I then convince that high horse to climb up on a soapbox. And then I take on a holier-than-thou stance and pontificate on something which has been irking me.

This would be one such occasion. (And, fair warning, there’s another one coming soon. [UPDATE] And here that rant is.)

Something has been bugging me. And if you’ve got a sec, I’d like to lay it all out there.

And to be candid, remember I’m only taking the time to bitch about it because I think we could be fixing something that would help the Web and mobile startups in the Silicon Forest get the recognition they so richly deserve.

And it’s really easy to fix.

Think globally, buy locally

If you’re a startup on the Web or on mobile, I’ve got news for you: buying local isn’t just a mantra for purchasing food and goods, it’s a mantra I use for purchasing pretty much everything.

Let me give you an example: I could use Google Analytics and Woopra and MyBlogLog for free (and I often do), but I pay to use Clicky. Why? Because I’m an idiot? No. (Well, okay that’s debatable.) But I pay for Clicky because I like to buy local products. And I like to support local startups. And I like to put my money where my mouth is.

I would have to assume that I am not alone in this regard. I would assume that there are any number of Portlanders and Oregonians and Silicon Forest creatures who feel exactly the same way. And I’m sure there are people, like me, across the globe who want to buy products and services from their neighbors, before they spend their money anywhere else.

People like to support their local economy. By and large, people are proud of where they live. It’s kinda why they chose to be in the locality in which they reside. And they generally want to see their communities get better and better, not worse and worse. Spending money locally helps.

Here’s another little interesting tidbit: Personally, I happen to be more forgiving of local companies. I give them a little more leeway. Kind of like that crazy uncle. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Globally accessible markets cause local positioning problems

Now we come to the crux of the problem.

At some point, during the dotcom boom, we all discovered that anyone, anywhere could purchase our products and services over the Web.

As such, everyone tried to obfuscate their location. Why? Because in those days, given the choice between trusting someone on the Web and using a local brick-and-mortar joint was the bone of contention.

So Amazon wasn’t a “great Seattle company” and Google wasn’t “located in scenic Mountain View, California.” Instead we were all citizens of the Web. Part of the global economy as it were.

We didn’t want to highlight where we were because we wanted to seem accessible to everyone, everywhere in this brave new world.

That was fine when the Web was a new deal. But it doesn’t really play so well anymore. Today, I can choose from any 20 services that do practically the same thing on the Web—no matter what that thing is. Being on the Web isn’t so special anymore.

All things being equal, what’s the one differentiator I have to influence my purchase decision? That’s right: location, location, location.

Why I’m especially so effing whiny about this

Not only do l love to use local products, I love to write about local products. And I love finding local products that are either brand spanking new or that haven’t had time to promote themselves. I like to help developers who are doing unspeakably awesome things by, well, speaking about them.

But you see, when people aren’t obvious about where they are, it’s really difficult to figure out what is a local company and what isn’t.

How difficult?

Well, here’s the general workflow I go through every time I try to verify a new tip about a purported Silicon Forest Web or mobile startup (Hint: most of you are making it way too hard to figure out where you’re located):

  1. Go to the site. How often is the location on the home page? About 0% of the time. Not that it needs to be. Just being thorough.
  2. Go to the product’s or developer’s Twitter page. I’d say that about 10% of the time, this is a successful pursuit that results in verifying the location of the product—but that’s only if a Twitter entity exists.
  3. Go to the About page. Like the home page, there is rarely any information here about the company location. Maybe 5% of the time.
  4. Go to the Contact Us page. Ah ha! This is going to be the gold mine, right? I mean, there’s going to be a phone number or a mailing address or something, right? Dead wrong. So many people are still so wrapped up in the “try to look international and global by not telling people where we are” crap that you know what the contact page generally has on it? Right. A form. And little else. Usually, I have more luck with the Twitter page, but I’ll still give this a 10% chance of divining the location of a startup or project.
  5. Go to the Privacy and Terms of Use pages. WTF? Why would anyone go to the Privacy and Terms of Use pages? Well, I’ll tell you my friend: this is about the only spot that I can consistently find location information. I’d say about 75% of the time this is how I determine the location of any given site. Why? Because way down at the bottom of the Privacy and Terms statements that we all copy and reuse, there is a little section that talks about jurisdiction for settling disputes. This jurisdiction usually tells me they’re in the “state of Oregon.” Let me repeat that: 75% of the time, this is the ONLY PLACE THAT LOCATION IS LISTED. And that just makes me sad.
  6. My point of last resort? Run a whois lookup on the domain. But I have to be really, really interested in knowing where the company is. Still, I wind up doing this about 10% of the time.

Yes. I know that adds up to 110%. But I wasn’t counting the 10% of the Twitter profiles in the 100% of the site.

Quit trying to change the subject.

I only find this information because I’m extra diligent about trying to find the location. I can’t imagine a casual user is going to go to this sort of trouble.

That means you may be missing out on some very valuable local users and fans. And that’s extremely troubling to me.

Good news! Fixing the problem is easy

No one likes an unhappy ending. Or assholes who present a problem without presenting a solution. So, here’s the solution: consider adding your actual physical location to your About and Contact Us pages.

It doesn’t have to be major. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. But you should do it.

I can guarantee that there are any number of Silicon Forest types who will appreciate it.

I’ll thank you for it. Would be customers will become actual customers. And more people will realize how many exceedingly awesome products, services, and companies call the Silicon Forest home.

Actually, this goes for any startup. Anywhere. Period.

Location, location, location. Trust me on this one.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled startup cheerleading, already in progress.

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Background that may help (or may not)

23 Responses to “Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food”

  1. Jeff Katz says:

    Excellent, excellent, excellent post. Every reader this blog needs to send this post to all of their friends.

  2. Jeff Katz says:

    and if I could form a complete and accurate sentence, I would have said this instead: “Every reader reading this blog needs to send this post to all of their friends.

    Must be the sun :-)

  3. Diana Larsen says:

    I agree, and I think it’s important to walk the talk. That’s why we included our location on our website when we redesigned it last year.
    http://futureworksconsulting.com/get-in-touch
    So I RT’d your tweet too. :)

  4. In bloom: Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food http://is.gd/unAd

  5. RT @siliconflorist: In bloom: Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food http://is.gd/unAd

  6. RT @siliconflorist In bloom: Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food http://is.gd/unAd

  7. @siliconflorist post on buying from local tech biz (web focus). RT Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food http://is.gd/unAd

  8. Good blog on SiliconFlorist Buying local
    http://is.gd/unAd

  9. RT @siliconflorist:In bloom: Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food http://is.gd/unAd

  10. Lisa says:

    Thanks Rick for getting this out on the table. I share the same beef for companies that buy services from out of the state, or VCs who claim that “No one in Portland is suitable for (fill in the blank) job.” That thinking is so elitist and it must end.

  11. Rick,
    I immediately went to the About page on our introductory blog (http://party2point0.wordpress.com/about/)and disclosed our location, along with every location that is supporting the development of our new venture.
    I have notified the development team that we will have our address and phone number on each of the party game sites offered on the network.
    Thanks for reminding us that we are blessed to have the support of great local people.

  12. I really like it when you get “all effing whiny.” I’d encourage you to do it more often, in fact!

  13. Completely disagree. Web startups exist to serve people on the web.

    That’s great if you want to support them locally, but they have no obligation to alienate customers by putting a geographic spin on their marketing message (unless they serve a specific geography, like you).

    In this economy, most people just want to know within 10 seconds “what can you do for me?”. There’s decreasing tolerance for vanity pages like “Contact Us” and “About Us”.

  14. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Completely Disagree It’s a shame you posted anonymously, becomes I’m really curious as to how indicating your location causes one to “alienate customers.” I’d also love to know how providing a means of contacting you constitutes “vanity.”

    Hopefully, you’ll get the chance to swing back by and provide some additional insight in this regard.

  15. Right on, Rick. This was a major problem when I was doing tech reporting for The Oregonian. I went through the same detective work to find out the locations of companies. California and Washington companies were relatively transparent, but Oregon companies often operated as though they were in stealth mode. It was a major irritant, and it made me wonder whether they were ashamed of being based in Oregon. I felt I couldn’t quite trust a company that wouldn’t tell me where it was based.

  16. Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food: http://tinyurl.com/d327f3 [from siliconflorist.com].

  17. Here y’go! RT @siliconflorist: In bloom: Dear Web startups: Buying local isn’t just for food http://is.gd/unAd

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  22. [...] [Editor: Given the Startup America Partnership announcement, it seemed an appropriate time to release the latest post from guest writer Dave Chase. It's a piece calling the City of Portland to action by encouraging them to shop locally as far as technology. It's a similar stance to "Buying local isn't just for food."] [...]


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