When you live less than fifty miles from Silicon Valley, new technology is a way of life and a conversational staple. The pace of innovation reminds me of the capabilities of the mind and encourages me to keep my wits about me. Be it cloud computing, big data analytics, intelligent marketing, smartphones, tablets, iThis, or iThat, new product launches are a daily occurrence around here (as are the overblown pomp and circumstance that surrounds them). Every company has “the best product” that “no one else has developed yet,” leaving them with “no competition” in some “multibillion dollar market cap” vertical that they “invented in a garage/apartment/park/napkin.” Yada yada yada.
And yet, there is another side of the Bay Area that is far less glorified and talked up in the press and blogosphere, which is every other business around here. For every savvy small business owner swiping your Coin card through their Square mobile device, there are ten who are still leery of anything newer than Windows XP. Sure, “cash only” might be heard in some chic SoMa restaurant as some attempt at “alternative” street cred (I’m looking at you, Garaje.) But you can hear it all the time in small mom and pop shops too, places where slick tech account executives are only seen when getting their hair cut. It seems as though if there is a problem in Silicon Valley that the hyper-intelligent leaders of the tech community should be able to solve handily, it is fear of adoption amongst the population right in their capital. I mean hell, as soon as I’m done writing this I’m going to tape my receipts from last week to blank pieces of 8.5″x11″ paper, fold them neatly into thirds, fit them in an envelope addressed to a PO box, and mail (physically) my expenses. While I’m doing that, I’ll be staring at the (probably expensive) printer/scanner that my company sent me for my home office. Am I missing something here?
Now on the other hand, a good dose of caution when dealing with anyone in tech is usually healthy. The number of times I’ve had a salesperson tell me that there is no competition for me to shop around, or that their product has some ridiculous ROI that is actually cited from a hypothetical study that their own company self-published is equal to the number of tech salespeople I’ve spoken to. As soon as I told someone I had a marketing budget they all came a-callin’. Yet once you wade past the front lines of pseudoinformation and find out what is really out there and how you can accelerate your company in so many ways… well, let’s just say mind = blown.
So how can we help mom and pop overcome their fear and get with the times, especially now when the economy is so fragile and jobs are so scarce that not doing smart business is not an option? It seems that having some sort of platform through which local businesses of varying sizes and types of sales points could critique business services they use would be awesome, something similar to Yelp but where the business you’re searching isn’t location-based. I met a company doing something similar at Dreamforce a few weeks ago, although they still seemed a long way off from providing the kind of information one would need to make an informed business decision. Hopefully I’ll see more of them around.
In the mean time, though, I’m still going to be staring at all these damned ATM charges I get every time I walk into some shop and find out after I’m checking out that the piece of plastic in my pocket that’s been around for decades doesn’t jive there. Full disclosure: I wouldn’t have ever wrote this little rant if I hadn’t had to look at my bank statements to make sure I had taped all the right receipts to my expense report this week.