For the past few years, I thought that there might be a new entrant to Chicago’s Internet scene. It was exciting to me because Chicago could certainly use some geographic diversity in it’s leadership. For a long time, it looked like that person would be Mark Cuban, but it now appears that he will not be the high bidder for the Chicago Cubs. That is kind of a bummer as it would have probably made Wrigley Field a playground for the who’s who of the Internet people like Michael Arrington, Jason Calacanis, Gabe Rivera and many venture capitalists. BTW, you are still welcome guests irregardless.
They say that when one door closes another one opens and apparently Barney Harford is the gentleman that was actually meant to darken the doorway. He’s had extensive experiences in Asia and elsewhere for Expedia and more recently as an advisor to Kayak.com and eLong. As mentioned in the article linked to above, I strongly believe that geographical diversity is important to high performing corporate cultures and I praise the Board of Directors for this choice. It is my hope that this will effect Chicago’s landscape in a positive way far beyond Orbitz. Time will tell.
I know what it’s like to arrive in a strange new place from my experiences living in New York and Cleveland. I’ve always appreciated people orienting me to the cities I’ve moved to so I thought I’d return the favor before giving you a few thoughts on Orbitz. Here we go:
- Odd objects in parking spots that have been shoveled clear of snow: You managed to move to Chicago in the dead of Winter. It’s not exactly the most friendly welcome the city can give you. In fact when I moved back here in 1999 – we received 22 inches of snow on during the day I was supposed to move in – it took me a week to recover. Anyway, if you see a chair on a side street claiming a spot, my advice is to pass it by and go elsewhere as you never know what that person that put the object there might do. Of course this practice is chronicled in detail on a blog from Montreal.
- Orginal’s Hair Designers – Good haircut for $16 with the bonus of then giving you a touch up between hair cuts at no charge. You want John to cut your hair there. He arrives at 6AM sharp Monday through Saturday going there between 6-7AM is the best time to go. No appointment is needed. They are located at 134 North Wells.
- Shoe Repair – Beehive Shoeworks gives great on the stand shines and they do an excellent job with any shoe repair you’ll need. Ask for Sam.
- Lower Wacker Drive – A cab can usually make it to the Lakefront or Michigan Avenue faster this way, but they’ll never do it unless you ask as Chicago pays cabs partially based on waiting time. Yes, this is the same Lower Wacker Drive as in the movie the Blues Brothers!
- Free Valet Parking at Most Restuarants in Greektown – Take advantage of this, my favorite place is The Parthenon on Halstead.
- Pizza – As you likely know Chicago is home of the deep dish pizza. My favorite is Giordano’s, the one where the primary office of the chain at 310 West Randolph tastes the best in my opinion and I usually order it withcanadian bacon and mushrooms. If you want something a bit lighter near your office (my answer would be different in the suburbs) , I recommend Tomato Head Pizza at 945 West Randolph. They make their pizzas with a somewhat rare Faulds pizza oven. You may have experienced this special oven at Delfino’s Chicago Style Pizzeria in Seattle previously. I researched this as I’ve often considered moving to Seattle.
- Italian Beef – This is a rare sandwich that you’ll have to work hard to find anywhere outside of the Chicago area. It’s roast beef immersed in flavorful gravy that is properly presented on freshly baked French bread. If consumed at the right places, this can be heavenly. In the loop you will find this at a place called Luke’s (walking distance from the currentOrbitz office location) or Portillo’s. Like the pizza above, many will passionately advocate their favorite place over another. It’s kind of like a sport.
- Origin of the term Windy City – This is highly disputed. But I mention it because you can judge how much a person studies history by asking if they have any opinion on this subject. Statistically speaking, there are many places in the Midwest that are technically windier, so I personally do not favor this explanation. The most likely in my opinion is the explanation of the politicians being full of hot air. There are others that abound on the net.
- If Your Furniture is Damaged by Movers – Weber Furniture has been in business since 1950 repairing, refinishing and reupholstering fine office and antique furniture. I recently did some work on the site and it already ranks #1 for the term – Chicago furniture restoration. It still needs a bit more authority from off site factors but the link above should likely fix that. Thanks for the opportunity but I hope your furniture travels safely.
OK, now that you are oriented a bit, let’s talk business a little bit.
In terms of my thoughts and philosophy on Internet companies:
- The world is enduring rapid business transformation which historians will may one day judge revival the Industrial Revolution. Corporations need to constantly test and learn to create and maximize the optimal business model mix. Those who create rapid testing and learning cultures will outperform.
- Search engines are changing the foundation of branding from brand name to one of a brand’s attributes to be found by the searcher and user experiences when interacting with the brand. This is a fundamental shift from push to pull where the consumer controls the conversation and it’s about meeting those expressed needs.
- Quotes of business leaders I highly admire are on this page, they are my guide posts.
- I believe that corporations need to restore balance to focus on both revenue and expenses equally, recent focus has been on expense reduction and risk aversion is preventing focus on new revenue potential. This blog post sums up my thoughts.
Thoughts on Internet travel vertical in general:
- Too highly dependent on paid search, need to lower traffic acquisition costs (TAC).
- Desperate need to create long term relationships with customers outside of purchase transaction.
- Customer data models need to evolve to create niche experiences to create best in space customer experience to meet the evolution in branding mentioned above and to increase CPM advertising rates.
- Considerable business travel is booked manually via phone from legacy providers. This presents a potential opportunity.
In terms of Orbitz from a consumers point of view:
- Orbitz does yet not consistently win the price competition in the hotel + airfare category – for my three day trip to SJC to speak at UGCX at the same hotel – Priceline was $411, Expedia was $428 this morning while the Orbitz quote was $476.
- The current Orbitz Terms of Service appear to be in need of revision in regards to link policy in terms of winning the search engine optimization battle.
- I use a pop-up blocker, but I’m sure you’d win alot of points with people if you removed those completely.
There is other advice I have but will keep that private at this time. So again, welcome to Chicago! Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with as you settle in. Good luck with your role at Orbitz!
OK folks, sorry this post was a bit long. What suggestions do you have for Barney to improve the customer experience, customer acquisition and conversion rates at Orbitz while still reducing costs and improving profitability? I’d love to see your comments on this.