Thursday, 19 November 2009

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

My Proposal for Wal-Mart to Replace the US Postal Service

“With this program, we’re able to provide consumers in every rural town or big city across America with … a convenient, free mail delivery system.” – John Agwunobi, Wal-Mart division president

In continuing my mental exercise on replacing the USPS I was stuck with solving the problem of delivery and drop-off for rural America.

Especially deep rural America – where the roads are still gravel.

A I commented on earlier – Wal-Mart’s based its success on serving rural America remarkably well.1

With more than 4000 stores nationally, 3000 stores worldwide, and a highly efficient network of distribution centers – there are few organizations with the presence, passionate customer base, and logistics experience capable of competing with the USPS.

Even half a mile down a dirt road in rural Wisconsin – a Wal-Mart is still a quick 15 minute drive away. And has been for 15 years.

Let’s say Wal-Mart returned to the days of small town packaged good store.

As part of your weekly drive into town for clothes and groceries, you drop your outgoing mail – bills, personal correspondence, everything – off at the customer service desk.

For the personal correspondence – you provide an email address or phone number of the recipient and you go about your shopping.

Wal-Mart – in their characteristic price cutting manner – charges nothing for this service2.

The outgoing mail is picked up by the existing incoming delivery trucks and their first stop is the nearest Wal-Mart distribution center. Where the mail is sorted for delivery to next closest Wal-Mart distribution center to the final destination2. And so on, and so on, until it’s delivered to the Wal-Mart closest to the intended recipient.

Once at this last Wal-Mart – a email (or voicemail) is sent to the intended recipient notifying them that an item is ready for pick-up during regular business hours.

What else would that quote at the top of the post be about?

Oh, how Wal-Mart is transforming the prescription drugs market.

1. Yes, I’m aware my original question was about a competitive non-profit. I do think that’s an more interesting idea – but I landed on Wal-Mart. So let’s explore this for a moment.

2. Just like email.

Mental Excercise: Replace the US Postal Service

Yesterday, NPR discussed the challenges of the US Postal Service after reporting a $3.8 billion revenue loss for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009.

The revenue loss corresponded to a reported 13% decline in mail volume.

I’ve noticed a significant decrease on my end since Dec 2007 as well. For the 2008 and 2009 – the number of credit card offers and direct mail catalogs arriving daily was 0. This number is only now picking back up – maybe one per week. Nowhere near the multiple items per day we received in 2006 and 2007.

We’re even transporting Netflix DVDs less.

I have a hard-time imaging the USPS returning to profitability with first class stamps less than 50 cents a piece. Then again, none of the bulk mailings I mentioned above had first class stamps on them. So, either first class stamps are the USPS’s only profit – or they’re a loss leader.

My bet is the latter.

This puts the Postal Service in a tough spot. FedEx and UPS are taking the high end of their business. Email, Facebook, and 37Signals are taking the low end.

There are a few things we send via the USPS – things that aren’t easily digitized and not urgent enough to send via a private carrier:

  1. ‘Thank you’ notes from the kids.
  2. Holiday cards.

Leads me to some interesting questions:

Who else could handle that exchange?

What would a non-profit competitor to the USPS look like?
Even one that didn’t sell first class stamps or provide service to every address.

Or, restating the questions –

What would US Postal Service look like if it started today – with FedEx and the internet already well-established ?

Three ideas that immediately come to mind:

  1. More sub-stations within other existing businesses.
  2. Email/IM/voice mail notification of letter/package arrival.
  3. Scheduled home pick-up.
  4. Co-op business structure.

How would you change the USPS?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Innately Index Me


This morning Andy Parkinson pointed to his Innate Index project. And since narcissism is the perfect way to start a Monday, I indexed myself.

That’s the graph above.

“The Innate Index is a brief personality inventory based on the five factor personality model that has been shown to be associated with a variety of school, life, career and relationship success outcomes. The Innate Index is intended to provide you with information about key aspects of your personality and style.”

That’s nice and while self-reporting can provide satisfying results – it’s one of the least accurate methods of reporting. So, I’m very pleased to see Innate Index make it easy for others to index you.

Yes – Innate Index makes it easy for your friends and fans to rate your personality, with a simple link to 45 multiple choice questions.

I’m intrigued. If you are as well – innately index me.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Please Exit the Silo in a Calm and Orderly Fashion


In my world – Twitter and Facebook streams seem to be slowing down, while I’m hearing rumors of more people “using” both services – it’s not translating to me seeing new faces. Hell, I’m even seeing fewer familiar faces.

And half expecting to hear Whit Stillman‘s next project is titled “Social Network”.

Not a bad thing. Scenes change. The exciting pieces turn bland.

We know that. One of the first social networks – Geocities, launche in 1994, recently closed down. Five years from now it could easily be – Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, FourSquare, or Tumblr.

“I can’t blame Myspace, YouTube, Facebook or any of these sites for creating such a genius trap. I mostly blame myself for relying on these things like everyone else has for so long.” – Brian, musician

“But we don’t have NEA1 with Twitter, and that’s why tweeting is starting to stagnate, and developers like Dave are working on getting past it.” – Doc Searls

1. Nobody owns them, Everybody can use them and Anybody can improve them

Mental Exercise: Armored Trucks


Sitting in traffic yesterday, an armored Dunbar truck drove by in the other lane – not unlike the one in the photo above.

All I know about armored trucks is that carry cash. Everything I know about cash is that it’s going digital (debit cards / automated deposits & withdrawals, etc). At some point I suspect the demand for armored trucks to transport cash will be nearly non-existent.

In that world – what would they transport?

Best I could come up with: database servers loaded terabytes of archival financial data.

Then it struck me: servers only have value when plugged in and turned on.

Disconnect something from the internet – and it’s value inherently falls, say, 90%.

If the inverse is true – put an asset on the internet and its value increases 10x – I’m even less concerned about a shrinking manufacturing sector.

I am however still searching for how armored trucks could serve us when all currency goes digital.

Any ideas?

Thursday, 12 November 2009


I grabbed a coffee with Matt Thompson last week to catch up.

Since then – something he said about the challenges of financing news organizations kept rolling through my head. I’m paraphrasing: ‘pick the website of a major news organization – look at the headlines and stories – which ones will you pay for?’

That’s the problem.

He expands on the idea in this transcript from his talk at the Twin Cities Media Alliance.

“…of course people pay four bucks for a cup of coffee. They can’t imagine getting through a day without it. The product is that valuable to them. When [news organizations are] producing something so consistently valuable our communities can’t imagine going a day without it, I suspect we’ll be able to feed ourselves.” – Matt Thompson

Monday, 9 November 2009

Prediction: Dow 12k By End of Year

The Dow hit a 13-month high today closing at 10,226.94.

A 200+ point rally today.

While I’m still concerned about the 100+ point fluctuations in Dow’s daily closings, I’m confident we’ll close 2009 by recovering the ground lost in October 2008.

That’s 1800 points in 7 weeks, ~30 trading days, an average of 60 points per day.

It’ll take work and – given the volatility of the market these past couple weeks – the absence of any slightly unfortunate news1. As I mentioned in my last prediction – I see the Dow undervalued below 12k.

1. While I’m confident we’ll hit 12k in the next few weeks, I’m not confident that everything to guarantee it is currently priced in. That’s why this is a prediction. 🙂