Omaha’s technology darling Silicon Prairie News featured Volano’s mobile compliance inspection app Action Card in a recent publication. Read about the role Action Card is playing in and franchise companies. Our combined expertise in the franchise brand space and our second-to-none technology team created the perfect synergy. Some pretty iconic brands realized efficiency and revenue opportunities through better standards management.
Last week’s New York Times Magazine featured a thoughtful article by Yiren Lu examining the ongoing rise of technologies new guard (software apps for consumers) versus the old guard (hardware and B2B enterprise software). Lu’s father was a Bay Area immigrant and engineer who worked for Cisco for most of his career. Lu himself is a grad student and former intern for Uber, an app turned logistics company. Lu asks, “Why do these smart, quantitatively trained engineers, who could help cure cancer or fix healthcare.gov, want to work for a sexting app?” His article explains from a personal level the appeal in today’s market for young tech talent to innovate for “fun” companies who are riding a wave of “democratized technology” through off the shelf solutions and easy to use programming frameworks and interfaces.
This is an interesting study in old versus new, though the newer technologies are still largely dependent upon older, less sexy applications rooted in semiconductors, data storage and networking provide the engine for many of the software as a service products and cool apps to exist. Lu points out that computer science course enrollment is way up which I think has to help the tech sector in general. However, a disproportionate amount of this talent gravitates toward younger tech companies innovating cool web apps. The divide between the older guard (Cisco) and newer technology movement then is one of age, culture and business model. The Facebooks of the world have a lot of curb appeal to young software developers.
I see this generally as a good problem. Ultimately the demand for goods and services will drive talent and entrepreneurs into the game. The younger tech culture strikes me as being one that at least states a greater level of altruism and a desire to make their communities and lifestyle better through innovation. An extension of this can be seen in many of the work places you see where technology-based incubator and accelerator programs exist. The widgets we make are ones that will help your company make more widgets at less cost and headache or provide some level of relief to consumers and businesses. Therefor the workplace should reflect that ethos. Lu points out that it is easy to see hubris in the nice bennies and often over the top headquarters of some of the newer and aspiring tech giants. But most business owners will tell you a function of the comfort they provide their employees is all about getting more code out of them and facilitating longer hours. Either way, if you can stand the noise, consumers ultimately come out ahead. The availability of new technology, especially with the advent of mobile devices will continue to provide more choices in the marketplace. And of course, 15 years from now, the new guard will already seem like an antiquated model.
This year Volano Solutions had the honor of serving on the Technology Committee for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Organization, or YP Omaha. The Omaha YP’s mission is to retain and attract young professionals to Omaha through engagement, opportunity and advocacy. This year’s YP Summit was the 10th and featured an impressive array of local and national speakers whose focus was empowerment. The goal of the summit was to not only inspire Omaha’s young to seek more meaningful involvement in their careers, civic lives and respective passions but to also facilitate in that involvement.
This year’s opening speaker was Mike Smith, a former Imperial Nebraska native who started The Bay and Skate for Change, creating a place for young people to get together with the mission of helping the homeless. Urban Revitalization Strategist Majora Carter challenged attendees on the imperative of reshaping blighted neighborhoods and social impact strategist Erica Williams gave an extremely well-received closing talk. In between this impressive line-up, a host of speakers gave break-out presentations that ranged from transcending drug addiction and the art of conversation to successful, local young entrepreneurs and founders of non-profits. The Summit, held at the Century Link Center downtown was well attended with over 1,300 YP’s. Attendance has gradually crept up since the first YP Summit. Post-summit buzz and media coverage was strong as well.
Omaha is a unique community and an ideal place to start a business. There are five fortune 500 companies headquartered out of Omaha and clearly a strong network and support for small business to connect. Volano Solutions made a decision early on to actively engage in the community and offer help where we can to support our peers and add our expertise to civic-minded programs that line up well with our mission and standards. YP Omaha was the perfect opportunity. The YP Summit was an ideal and well planned event. Meaningful change requires a lot of heart but a greater amount of patience, pragmatism, skill, leverage and execution. This year’s summit inspired action and then provided tactical steps and direction as to how to get involved in meaningful change, allowing for multiple subject matter experts to speak to smaller break-out groups interested in their particular mission.
Volano has and will always be a custom software consultant. But like many project-based businesses, we want to diversify our revenue stream to ensure long term, bottom line growth and sustainability. Developing software that customers can lease on a monthly basis or software as a service (SaaS) is an area where we have invested a lot of time and resources. While we continue to market and sell the most efficient and cost-effective workflow management solution on the market, Steelwool, we are starting to make ourselves known in the Franchise Industry with our latest mobile app, Action Card.
Volano returned from the pre-Mardis Gras festivities of New Orleans and the IFA Convention with some great takeaways and marching orders. The value of the convention cannot be understated. Between time on the convention supplier floor, break-out sessions, roundtable discussions, networking coffees, dinners and after hours talks, we were glad we made the decision to showcase our mobile brand standards review tool. Here are a few things we learned about the market fit and viability of Action Card, our brand standards mobile review tool.
Protect Your Brand
I sat in on a business roundtable discussion lead by the Vice President of Operations at the UPS Stores, Jim Hillquist. Since Action Card was built to help streamline the site review process, I wanted to listen to what franchisors and Jim had to say on that topic. He asked the group which consisted primarily of franchisors what the most important outcome of their site visits was. Answers ranged from relationship building to revenue generation. The answer he gave was “protect your brand.” James has thirty years of experience with UPS Stores and is responsible for over 3,000 nationwide locations. Whether the issues had to do with compliance and legal liability or simply the importance of following a proven model at each location for the sake of all of the franchisees who bought into a brand, it was agreed that the review process was critical to the integrity of the franchise brand.
Find the Right Franchisee
Dave Buzza, the Chief Development Officer with Alphagraphics wears a couple of hats, both recruiting good franchise owners and then managing their success. He discussed the three types of franchisees; the willing and able, the willing and unable and the unwilling and unable. Each required a different management style and protocol. Dave stated that since he has to ‘live with who he recruits,’ finding the right owners and screening them carefully is where brand standardization and success begins. Alphagraphics does not plan on seeing a return on investment from new owners for five years. The key reason for this is the shear amount of capital and resources devoted to recruiting (not selling) the right franchisees.
What Does Action Card Need to Do Next?
Based on feedback from our clients, prospects and brand experts with whom we spoke, we’ve decided to add some new features to Action Card.
• Grand Opening Reviews. Franchisors need help coordinating and tracking the many collaborative tasks involved from signing a franchise disclosure document to opening a new location. We can help.
• Customer Surveys. We already help franchisors with on-site franchisee reviews. Why not help them with customer satisfaction surveys? The two go hand in hand.
• CRM Integration. We are about to begin integrating Action Card and Microsoft CRM with one of our clients and look forward to being able to replicate that integration for other clients.
Volano forecast a modest 50 clients utilizing Action Card by the end of 2014. There is a great need in the franchise space for tools that help not only ensure brand standards but that facilitate collaboration and good will between the franchisor and the franchisee. We’re excited to continue working with our franchise partners.