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Monday, 15 September 2014 16:45
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If you are like many people in the US, you are probably sick of seeing junk mail stacked up inside your mailbox. For many people, it just means taking an extra trip the the garbage can to throw it all away. However, a unique service has popped up to help you stop the junk before it can get to you.

The service is called SlotGuard. For a low annual fee, you can pick and choose which junk mail providers you would like put on your stop list. Once your list is complete, they go to work for you. They contact each company on your behalf, and get them to take you off their mailing list. It won’t take long before you will see a great reduction in the amount of junk you receive. You can say goodbye to credit card offers, catalogs, and even phone books from major companies.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Steven Rosson and Paul Ingram a couple questions about their service and the inspiration behind it.

Tell us a little about SlotGuard.

SlotGuard is a junk mail reduction service available to United States Postal Customers. It allows individuals to selectively reduce the amount of junk mail they receive by opting out of overall junk mail categories or mail from specific senders. End users can purchase the service for $9.95/year, or apartment complexes can purchase a community-wide contract that allows them to offer a “Junk Mail Reduction Service” as a free amenity to their residents.

How does it work?

The mechanism behind SlotGuard is simple: we ask the companies to stop. The direct marketing industry prefers self-regulation to government legislation and generally honors opt out requests. We automate this process for our customers so that rather than finding contact information for dozens of companies they can simply manage their preferences within their SlotGuard profiles and have requests sent automatically through our site.

What inspired it?

The impetus for starting SlotGuard was our own problem with junk mail. Paul and I were both frustrated by the amount of mail we received and, being privacy-conscious individuals, took issue on principle with the trafficking for profit in our personal information. When we began discussing potential solutions, our initial idea was a service that would allow users to send postal mail from their computers to help them send their own do-not-mail requests more easily. Through hours of discussion and planning we came to a more finely tuned idea that tackled the real problem head-on.

Will this have an effect on any mail or catalogs that people want to receive, but might be considered junk?

Our process leaves very little room for mistakes. While our categorical opt-outs are fairly inclusive, we also have separate “STOP” and “KEEP” lists that allow users to override their categorical preferences. For example, a user can opt out of coupons and would thus be removed from the mailing lists of many coupon providers. However, by adding a particular establishment to their “KEEP” list, that mail would not be affected. It is also worth noting that our process would never affect the ability to receive bills, account correspondence, etc.

What goals do you hope to accomplish over the next year or so?

Our plan for the next year includes some pretty bold initiatives to market our service and increase its visibility nationwide. While we cannot go into too many specifics at this time, the strategic partnerships we are currently developing will be vital as we move forward.

What separates your service from the competition?

SlotGuard takes existing opt-out mechanisms and services to the next level by expanding the scope of our service and offering simplified access to mailing preferences. Our unique “List Manager” feature lets customers edit their settings with us in real time without the need for human intervention. And unlike services offered by industry trade groups, our effectiveness is not restricted to member companies of specific organizations. We can assist any Postal Customer with any request, period.

What are some lessons your business has taught you?

Steven Rosson: One of the most important lessons we learned from SlotGuard is the fusion of in-depth planning with openness and adaptability. Paul and I spent hours developing our core business model and deciding on a path. Rigid adherence to our plans guided us well at certain times. But sometimes a new idea comes up that takes us in another direction, and it becomes necessary to set a part of the plan aside and make some changes. One of the biggest challenges for us has been identifying the ideas worth changing our model for. The apartment contracting angle, for example, was not a part of our original business plan.

Paul Ingram: Another big lesson was the importance of concise and accurate communication. Given how much we’ve learned about junk mail, it’s easy to forget that the average person knows very little about its mechanisms and industry. Although we perceived the SlotGuard offering as very straightforward, we received several inquiries and responses from people who thought we were talking about SPAM email or worried about whether we would keep them from receiving their electric bill. We worked hard to develop concise ways of describing our business and its benefits and we now have our “elevator speeches” down pat. Having a product offering that can have its spirit and purpose conveyed accurately, effectively, and quickly can be a big factor in how quickly it will grow.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

One of the things that has surprised me most is the intricacy of issues surrounding the use of direct mail, its effectiveness, and its role in sustaining the United States Postal Service. The issue as not as simple as it looks when we pull mail out of our boxes and either keep it or discard it. There are small fortunes being spent on lobbying activities by a wide variety of groups with vested interests on both sides of this argument, and millions of jobs hanging in the balance between self-regulation and government intervention. Ultimately the issue becomes one of political ideals and personal values, and it is important for us to keep in mind as individuals and business owners that our company is exists only to provide a service to consumers and not to take on a political agenda or adopt a stance on legislative topics.

Do you have any advice that you’d like to offer fellow entrepreneurs that are just getting started?

Fellow entrepreneurs should seek advice from people they trust – and never be afraid to ask for help – but always place special weight on their own instincts. And when times get tough and the plan seems questionable, do not let business decisions become clouded by emotional reactions. Sometimes it becomes necessary to take a few steps back, relax, and come back to the problem later with a different mindset. Find a good way to clear your head and repeat as needed to keep your mind fresh.

Monday, 15 September 2014 16:44
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Photo by autowitch

In Ahmadabad, India people sweep the streets for gold. Literally!

The town, in western India, is home to more than 5,000 gold and silver shops and factories. As the estimated 40,000 workers come and go from these businesses, microscopic gold flecks and powder fall from their clothing and hair into the street. Enterprising sweepers called Dhul dhoyas carefully sweep the streets for this dust.

According the Los Angeles Times, Dhul dhoyas can make as a much as five dollars per day, compared to a typical wage of $1.50 in the factories.

Since the age of 15, Gohel has been working this alley from late morning until dark, with Sundays off, a schedule driven by shop hours and the rhythm of the settling dust.

It’s hard, but at least she didn’t have to pick up her mother’s sideline: removing the burning coals and ashes from silver kilns, which she would crush and run through a sieve to capture the precious fragments. Now Gohel’s daughter Kasmeera, 35, is joining the family business, helping her mother collect waste on the same street.

Once she and her mother separate the gold-specked dirt from the betel nut wrappers, cow manure, stained newspapers and other trash, it’s sold for about $8 per bag.

Photo by John Biehler

Sad, but I’m glad to see that they’re pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. I don’t mean to sound callous, but they would really benefit from a good gold pan. Panning is a much more efficient manner for separating gold from other stuff you don’t want.

Photos by autowitch and John Biehler.

Monday, 15 September 2014 16:44
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Photo by skoestr

Does your lazy, overweight house dog dog tire of sleeping at the end of your bed and waiting patiently for you to arrive home each night really yearn to be a sheep dog? Probably. And, since people will pay for almost anything related to their pets, companies have sprung up to let your house dog herd sheep!

American Public Media has more:

ANN DORNFELD: On this chilly Saturday, half a dozen city-dwellers are lined up with their dogs along a muddy field. The dogs are waiting for their turn to chase a flock of sheep into a tiny pen.

Sylvia Griggs is the facilities manager at Fido’s Farm, an 80-acre spread with hundreds of sheep. It’s been in operation for seven years. Griggs says business is booming thanks to the growing popularity of herding dogs as pets.

SYLVIA GRIGGS: A large base is mainly Australian Shepherds. People have no clue how active those dogs really are. They’re not designed as a pet. The dogs are bred to work, to have a job, and they don’t do well if they don’t have some type of outlet.

Photo by skoestr.

Monday, 15 September 2014 16:44
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According to a story in Forbes, after a few long nights at the bar in 2001, Jeffrey Goldblatt decided he was tired of overhearing trashy pickup lines and withering put-downs. He teetered home and set up Rejection Hotline–a phone number women could dish out to their pursuers, leading them to this voice mail: “Hello, the person who gave you this number obviously did not want you to have a real number. Maybe you’re not this person’s type; note this could mean that you are short, fat, ugly, dumb, annoying, arrogant or just a general loser.”

The hotline, claims Goldblatt, fetched 600,000 callers in its first year, inspiring him to turn his Don Rickles prank into a business. The Atlanta company, now RH Brands, has morphed into a YouTube of sorts for the phone, offering 100-plus hotlines to inform callers, say, that their friendships have been outsourced to India or that their body odor is horrific.

Remarkably, there’s money to be made in this. Companies such as Sony Pictures, Blockbuster and Dish Network pay for audio ads that are played following the call, if the victim hasn’t already hung up. Other businesses like SendMe Mobile and Thumbplay send mobile text offers for ringtones and videogames. All this produced $2.5 million in revenue last year, up from $841,000 in 2008. Goldblatt claims the service got 69 million calls last year, fed by social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, 15 September 2014 16:44
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Parkite Rich Giles just wanted to help homeowner associations save money on road repair. Instead, he created a machine that does what he had hoped for and much more.

Known as the HeatWurx, his machine not only lowers the cost but it is also eco-friendly and durable, reports Park Record.

Essentially what Giles invented was a machine to break down the material, heat it up, add more oil, and lay it back down. He named it HeatWurx. It comes in two sizes for different-sized jobs. The small version can be loaded onto a truck and used on city roads or in parking lots. The large version is about the size of a truck and can fix interstate highways.

Regardless of the size of the job, HeatWurx does the job better and for less money, Giles said.

Traditional road crews heat the binding fluid with propane which requires a flame. Since the oil is flammable, the process is inefficient, he said. HeatWurx uses electric coils to heat the asphalt.

Whereas most potholes are “filled,” HeatWurx can use the loose or cracked material already on the ground and recycle it. This reduces transportation costs for road crews.

The patches created by HeatWurx are not only less expensive to create, but last longer than traditional patches, he said.

A promotional video is after the jump.

Photo from HeatWurx

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