Speaker Phone

E-speak, mall rats, revolutionary rules.
This story appears in the April 1999 issue of Startups. Subscribe »
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Hooked on e-mail? Then you'll soon be addicted to Mail Call, which reads your e-mail to you over the phone using text-to-speech software.

Simply dial a toll-free number from anywhere in the world, and Mail Call logs into your POP3 account. Scan messages, listen and respond by either replying to the sender in a voice recording, faxing back a text-based message, or forwarding to an address in your Mail Call address book. When you're done, delete messages or save them to read later. It costs 15 to 33 cents per minute, depending on usage.

Although it mispronounced "Kinnard" every time it read a message, so did my third-grade teacher every day during roll call. Other than that, the text-to-speech software's ability to recognize differences in pronunciation (such as the adjective "content" versus the noun "content") is impressive. Listen for yourself by calling (888) MAIL-750 and hitting "1#,".

Shannon Kinnard (shannon@ideastation.com) is the owner of Idea Station, an editorial services company in Decatur, Georgia, that specializes in e-mail newsletters. She is the assistant editor of digitalsouth magazine (www.digitalsouth.com) and is working on her first book, which discusses marketing via e-mail.

Get Malled

With major chains such as BarnesandNoble.com and LandsEnd.com plastering the Web with banner ads and strategic partnering, what's a small online retailer to do? Throw around a little weight of your own . . . collectively, that is. By locating in an online mall, you can get additional advertising exposure and the support of a like-minded community.

Not all online malls are created equal, however, so choose carefully before you "move in." Begin by talking to current tenants of the mall you're considering. "Ask them if they're happy with the results," says Dave Taylor, president of strategic Internet consulting firm Intuitive Systems in Los Gatos, California, and founder of The Internet Mall. "In particular, ask how much they paid for membership and what kind of specific traffic they're seeing. Also, check references, and make sure you can bail whenever you want and that you get your own domain name."

Taylor also advises having realistic expectations. "Any mall that claims they'll drive tons of buyers to your site should be avoided," he says. "Your site will only be as successful as your product line, presentation, pricing, and return and privacy policies."

Some well-known mega-malls include Planet Shopping, iMall, The Internet Mall  and Shopping Zone . If those seem too overwhelming, you may prefer moving into a smaller, niche mall that narrowly targets its customers.

The Mommy Mall carefully screens tenants to ensure they fit the right niche. "The few malls that were online [when I created The Mommy Mall] were either too expensive, too large or not targeted enough to provide effective promotion," explains Julianne Gentile, 34. "I decided I could do better." A $40 membership fee includes text links, banners and button ads for six months, and business support through a discussion list.

Think Different

"Eat like a bird, poop like an elephant."

"Don't worry, be crappy."

They sound like the chapter titles of a handbook for the gastrointestinally challenged, but these are actually two of the guidelines in Rules For Revolutionaries: The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing New Products and Services by Guy Kawasaki (HarperCollins, $25, 800-242-7737), one of the wittiest business books to hit the shelves this year. In 10 chapters, Apple Computer marketing guru Kawasaki sets forth a manifesto for entrepreneurs who want to launch products in a climate changed forever by the high-tech industry. Robust with insight, this book is the push every entrepreneur needs to listen to that little voice inside . . . the one that says: "Create like a god; command like a king; work like a slave."

Edition: October 2016

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