ScanCafe: Great Service, Lousy Spam

That’s yours truly on the left in full glory, albeit a bit scared at a photographer’s studio.

Why black-and-white, you may ask?  Well, there was no color photography back in 19xx (date censured).

This formerly black-and-white photo has turned sepia, but that may just be acceptable over 4 decades (oops, I let it slip out), but I was shocked to see some of my student-back-packer-trip color prints turn in the same shade, even though they were some 20 years younger. (I must have picked a cheap lab back then…)

I’ve long been thinking of digitizing them, but every time I got the urge I quickly realized that scanning in thousands of photos – prints, negatives and slides – would take me forever, and even then the result would be of questionable quality.  So I was really happy to read raving reviews of ScanCafe, a service, that takes care of it all at reasonable prices.

Anyone can buy a bunch of scanners and start a digitizing business, but ScanCafe brought a twist to the process: they perform all processing in India, (their own employees and facility, not outsourced), which allows them to be the price-leader, yet add a level of human post-processing that ensures the best quality.

You initiate the ordering process online, where you get abundant information on the process, packaging requirements..etc, then, after paying half the estimated price you print a UPS label.

Your package first goes to ScanCafe HQ in California, where it’s examined, re-packaged and shipped off to India. You can track progress every step of the way.  A few weeks later you can review the low-res scans online.  Here comes the good part: you can discard up to 50% of what they already scanned in. This is a life – OK, just budget – saver, when you consider how difficult it is to pick good pictures especially from negatives. Chances are you – like me- didn’t bother, just threw the whole bundle in an envelope, and would waste a lot of money paying for all of them, without the “select the best 50%” option.

Next you wait a few weeks, until you receive a package with your hi-res pix on DVD and all your originals back.  You’ll be amazed at just how good image quality is – and now your photos are preserved in digital safety.  Well, relative safety, at least – I suggest you read my older post on decaying digital media.

If it’s such a good service, is there anything not to like about ScanCafe?  Yes, indeed.  Although more annoyance than real pain (thanks to junk filters), ScanCafe turns out to be a major spammer.  I’ve been receiving their email offers just about every second / third day ever since the first order.  They are persistent – but I’m not sure persistence in this case is a positive virtue.  If this was a proper marketing campaign, shouldn’t they have noticed that I am not responding ever?  But it’s just brute force email spam.

In fact the story gets worse…  Is it even possible that they are not aware of their own business model?  Let’s see.

  • How many photos did you shoot this holiday season?
  • Did you drop the films off to be developed?
  • Has the lab lost any rolls?
  • Are you happy with the prints?
  • Have you kept the negatives?

Yeah, I thought so. And now, I’m not crazy, I know those questions belong to the 90’s.   Which is exactly my point: film photography is almost dead. History.  Which means most of us won’t become repeat customers for ScanCafe, not because we’re unhappy with it, but because they are in the one-time (or a few times)  conversion business. Eventually there will be nothing left to digitize, since we’re not producing printed photos anymore.

That’s not to say ScanCafe is a doomed business.  There’s still enough to digitize to keep them running for years, but unlike say ShoeBox, which does the same for your paper receipts, there’s no endless re-supply of analog photos, so eventually ScanCafe will need a new business model.  And in the meantime they might as well stop spamming their (former) customers.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve )


Why Cambrian House Failed – it’s All in the Pizzaz

Cambrian House, the poster-boys of Crowdsourcing are essentially dead – assets being sold in a garage sale for a fraction of what investors put in. TechCrunch and Mark Evans speculate the House collapsed due to poor execution.

Of course.. in fact they were doomed to fail, and it was obvious ever since the 1000 pizzas episode. This is what I wrote back then:

They are not afraid of unusual publicity stunts, although frankly Feeding Google was more about noise than being smart: followed by cameras, completely unannounced, they descended on the Google campus with 1000 pizzas at 3pm.
Did you get that? Google, as in Google the company famous for it’s free gourmet food, at 3pm, as in just after lunch, before dinner – no wonder they were soon escorted off campus.
Cambrian guys, I have a free idea for you: next time set up camp with your 1000 pizzaz at Stanford, you’ll be heroes and won’t leave without 100’s of new ideas…and I don’t even want 75 points, just invite me for the pizza-fest.

OK, I admit I am being sarcastic. And I liked the concept, too bad it did not work.


SVASE Event: How To Build A Lean, Mean, Global Operation From The Get Go

(reposted from SVASE)

The traditional model for startups of gaining traction in your home market and then expanding internationally is under extreme pressure. Some VCs say they only look at deals that come to them with well defined global strategies, and it’s no longer unusual for a startup to develop its technology in Israel, Finland or the UK, secure its funding in the U.S. and have its founders to be first generation immigrants from China, Europe or India.

Offshore? Onshore? Nearshore? Noshore?

VCs who once bragged about never driving more than half an hour to visit a portfolio company are jetting to Australia for optical engineers, Israel for security whizzes, India and Kazakhstan for brute software coding, South Korea for online gaming and Japan for graphics chips. And many say a global view is required just to keep pace with foreign firms quick to copy an idea.
• When does having a global strategy become a strategic imperative?
• How can cash strapped startups realistically address global markets without blowing up their limited resources?
• Is offshore product development really effective for a startup? Or is it just an endless wait for S/W that never quite works as you’d like?
• Do you really need to create different products for each international market?
• If you’re planning on operating on 4 continents, where does your management team reside?
• How important are international patents? Are they worth the time & cost?
• How do you gain traction in an unknown geography?
• What added value can the right investor bring to the party?

The Panel:
• Andrew Filev, CEO, Wrike
• Girish Gaitonde, Founder & CEO, Xoriant Corporation
• Faraz Hoodbhoy, Founder, EVP & CTO, PixSense, Inc.
• Peter Rip, General Partner, Crosslink Capital
• Sridhar Vembu, Founder and CEO, Zoho
Moderator: Peter Laanen, International Trade Director, Netherlands Business Support Office

Thursday, November 1
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Networking and hors d’oeuvres
7:00 – 8:15 pm: Panel discussion and Q/A
8:15 – 8:30 pm: Additional networking

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR Campus), 950 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304

Register here.


Do Airlines Outsource their Frequent Flyer Programs?

I’ve never noticed this before .. .or perhaps this is the first time it’s happening? Anyway, I’ve today I’ve received email statements from United, American, US Airways, Delta, Southwest and British Airways. Could this be a coincidence, or are all these airlines outsourcing the management of their Frequent Flyer program to the same provider?

I suspect Vinnie will know Thinking


Little did Jeff Clavier or Brad Feld know just how timely their posts on “Shared Nothing Architecture” would become in days now that the granddaddy of all on-demand software, was partially knocked out for almost a day.

The Typepad outage that prompted Brad and Jeff write their piece was just storm in a teacup; this is the real thing, the Perfect Storm. Real business customers could not conduct their business for a day. That something like this would happen was inevitable, but didnt’ we all expect it in the form of a major Internet outage? After all, on-demand vendors are likely to do everything in their power to avoid such outages – or do they? In the case of, the answer is probably a yes: Earlier this year, announced it would spend US$50 million to set up redundant East Coast and West Coast data centers with rapid data replication and failover capabilities, an initiative it dubbed “MirrorForce.” (source: IDG).
That’s exactly the kind of commitment Brad and Jeff are asking for, and not all (smaller) providers can afford it. Not that they all should… their core competency being in developing innvative software, not running data centers, which should be outsourced to the “pros” like Vinnie Mirchandani pointed it out numerous times.

Back to our “Perfect Storm”, it will have an effect on the entire on-demand industry, since is such an icon for this segment. SAP, Oracle etc… will no doubt refer to this “vulnerability” in their sales pitches. Rival NetSuite will not brag about it on their homepage, but their salesforce will likely be trained to point out to prospects why this could never happen to them …

What exactly happened is still unknown – which in itself is quite a customer communications fiasco on’s part. I bet it will soon be fixed though: the company will come forward with an explanation of what happened, what they do to avoid it in the future, and what they do to accomodate their customers who suffered from the outage. My bet is on Marc Benioff – he will somehow manage to turn this fiasco into a PR victory.

Talk about communication, I am amazed the blogosphere is not abuzz with this story – in fact it’s hardly being mentioned, in sharp contrast to the recent Typepad outage. Isn’t this the type of imbalance Chris Selland and Brad Feld just complained about? Or is everyone out Christmas shopping? 🙂 Ohh… stores close soon .. gotta run now:-)

P.S. is a valid site – I just bought it. (not that I know what to do with it… )

Happy Holidays!

Update (12/21): Others on the subject:

Update (12/23): Unlike Salesforce(less).com, TechCrunch is not mission critical software, just an extremely popular blog, yet when they have an outage, Mike finds it important enough to go public right-away. Way to go!

Update (12/31): Reuters talks about Web Services outages, citing Typepad, … etc, not even mentioning Salesforce(less).com. Funny… Nice-to-have services appear to be more important than mission critical business applications?