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When Heather Murphy had her first child she looked forward to visiting the zoo, the children’s museum and other family friendly places. But she was concerned that the junk food, gift shops and merchandising were overly commercial for children. And while the kids-only activities were fun for her son Max, she would have also enjoyed a more “adult-relevant” experience. So Murphy created Baby Disco as a way for kids and big people to have fun together. She rented a local club for a Saturday afternoon, decorated it with balloons and equipped it with a bubble machine, diaper changing station, egg shakers, healthy treats, and a professional DJ to spin disco tunes. Two hundred people attended the first Baby Disco event. Just over two years later, Baby Loves Disco has spread from Philadelphia to eighteen U.S. cities, and will soon head over to Europe to open in London, Manchester and Amsterdam. Parents can enjoy a glass of wine while their little ones nosh on crackers and string cheese. Local businesses provide parents with on site pampering including massages and facials. Baby Loves Disco hires local parents to organize the dance parties, gives them a share of the profits and helps them with their first event. Toys, giveaways, insurance, cleaning and food run between USD 2,000 to USD 4,000 per event, says co-founder Andy Hurwitz. Organizers keep expenses low by contracting with nightclubs, which are normally empty during the day, and offering them a percentage of ticket sales. Given BLD’s expansive growth over the past few years, mom- and dadpreneurs might want to set up something similar in their own city, getting local business owners to offer samples of their services or wares at the events. And why not offer baby discos as an alternative to kids’ birthday parties? Legions of parents will no doubt thank you. Spotted by: Sarah Rottenberg Patrons at select pubs and restaurants in Israel, France and Australia no longer need to worry about change for the jukebox or bugging a dj to play their favourite tunes—they can queue up their music choices via text message from their cellphones. SMS jukebox technology, such as c|station by Australian Rippamedia and SMS DJ by Israeli YCD Multimedia, puts song selection literally at customers’ fingertips. Customers simply select from a menu of available tunes—which may be promoted on menus, coasters or other collateral throughout an establishment—and send in their requests via SMS for a small fee. The service plays their requests over the in-house speakers and can even complement the music with videos, or promotions to download ringtones. Once a customer has sent a request, he or she can also access the full library of available songs. YCD launched their version in cooperation with network operator Orange in Israel and France, splitting revenues from the premium text message service between the mobile operator, the owner of the location, and YCD. The concept is fun and interactive for customers, which can mean longer stays and return business for bar owners, who can also avoid the hassle of guessing (sometimes wrongly) what music their patrons might like to hear. They also can take advantage of SMS messaging to promote their own events to customers who have used the service. The music industry should take note as well: how about sponsoring the jukeboxes at a bar, letting customers pick from a range of new tracks at no cost? Considering how glued so many of us already are to our cellphones and Blackberries, and how committed both network operators and music labels are to finding new sources of revenue and promotion, we wouldn’t be surprised to see SMS jukeboxes popping up everywhere. Time to contact Rippamedia or YCD if you own a bar or a mobile network? Spotted by: David Steel Related: Drinks by text message and Text it loud & local Back in 2004, MetroNaps launched sleep pods for bleary-eyed New Yorkers in dire need of a nap. New Yorkers who need to relax and recharge can now also duck into Yelo—a new sleep salon offering 20- to 40-minute power naps and reflexology treatments. Research has shown that napping can boost productivity and performance, and Yelo offers more than just a light snooze. Patented private sleep chambers called YeloCabs feature purified air, 500-count linens, cashmere blankets and Yelo’s own YeloChairs, which are specially designed to elevate the legs above the heart for optimum relaxation. Customers can select relaxing music or soundscapes to fit their moods, and can personalize lighting and color in their chambers. Aromatherapy is also available. Priced at USD 12-14, YeloNaps are an affordable indulgence. Customers who want the full Yelo experience can also choose from a menu of reflexology treatments: 30-, 60- or 90-minute sessions with certified therapists start at USD 65. While currently serving a single location in Manhattan, Yelo is already creating quite a buzz and has plans to expand. Since there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of stressed out overachievers, exhausted parents of young children, and other fatigued folks, catering to their relaxation needs is a concept that could catch on in most major cities. Spotted by: Theresa Duffy iLetYou lets you, and anyone else, set up a NetFlix-like video and game rental store in a matter of minutes. The San Diego-based start-up is aiming to give consumers access to an estimated 10 billion DVDs that can be found in US households alone, allowing both individuals and independent brick and mortar stores to set up shop online. There’s no minimum number of DVDs or games to get started, which means that anyone with a collection can start renting out to people with similar tastes. The rental economy, as described in trendwatching.com’s transumers briefing, caters to consumers more interested in experiences than ownership. iLetYou lets minipreneurs (another term coined by our sister site) take advantage of this growing trend, earning repeat fees from an item instead of putting it on eBay for a one-time sale. Small entrepreneurs who have a knack for curation and can add personality to their stores, should be able to compete with NetFlix, creating the online equivalent of small, indie video rental shops with a personal touch and unique selection. Pricing and terms are set by the stores themselves, and there are no listing fees. iLetYou takes a small cut of every transaction, from USD 0.40 per rental, in exchange for providing the platform and payment processing. Store owners handle shipping, but can order 2-way disk mailers from iLetYou (USD 190 for a case of 1,000, plus applicable shipping). iLetYou hopes to expand to different products and countries in the future. Get there before they do! 😉 Spotted by: Aaron Sugarman Peasy.com is an online marketplace for parking spaces, enabling drivers to search for and book spaces before they leave home, and letting British homeowners monetize unused parking spaces by adding them to the Peasy network. To rent out a parking space, the owner needs to register and enter all relevant details, including price, when the space is available, and whether it will be rented out daily, weekly, or both. Those who require parking can then search for suitable parking spaces and securely book them online, or first negotiate a better price. To protect the privacy of owners, searchers can’t view exact addresses. Instead, they’re given the street the space is on, as well as its postcode and location on a map. Once booked, the renter is provided with the exact address. If booking on a weekly basis, renters are also given the owner’s contact details, enabling them to introduce themselves and arrange for collection of keys or remote controls if required. Any off-street parking spaces can be rented out: driveways, garages and secure allocated spaces. Peasy estimates most people will earn GBP 10-30 a week, for an extra stream of income of GBP 500-1,500 per year. In prime locations, spaces can go for as much as GBP 3,000 per year. Listing a parking space is free, and Peasy takes a commission fee of 12% for each rental transaction. We wrote about a similar initiative last year: in the United States, SpotScout was about to launch a mobile exchange for parking spaces. SpotScout still hasn’t officially launched. It plans to begin operating in Boston, New York and San Francisco very soon, and has a database of more than 1 million people who are interested joining up once the service goes live. With no end in sight to the scarcity of urban parking spaces, and consumers increasingly accustomed to using online marketplaces to rent or buy whatever they need, we still see the concept going places. Spotted by: CMC For consumers who aren’t interested in delving into a wine’s expressiveness or pinpointing whether a Mourvèdre’s hints of blackberry are outweighed by its overtones of black pepper, what matters most is how well the wine goes with their food. Making it as simple as possible, the Amazing Food Wine Company has launched a fool-proof line of Wine That Loves. Each wine is specifically suited to one dish, which leaves no room for error; these are wines that singularly ‘love’ pizza, grilled salmon or pasta with tomato sauce. The dishes were chosen based on popularity in American households. Wine That Loves takes the guesswork out of food and wine pairing, while promising “world-class quality, distinctive character and winning style that will also delight wine aficionados.” The wines were picked and paired by Ralph Hersom, a wine expert and professional wine taster, who was Wine Director at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant for seven years. Opportunities? Start up something similar in your own neck of the woods, or take another difficult or elitist product and make it easy for the rest of us. Just don’t dumb it down too much, and do keep it playful and well-designed. Spotted by: Channing Hancock With an overwhelming number of cosmetics in the marketplace and the high price tags on many department store offerings, it’s no wonder customers are wary of plunking down their hard-earned dollars without first trying a product. Department store make-up counters have long offered samples and testers, but not without a sales pitch. Cosmetics shoppers in Tokyo now have an alluring alternative—sampling salons like Club-C. Customers at sampling salons are invited to take their time and try as many make-up and skin care products as they like without any pressure to buy. They can test-drive different brands and varieties side by side and make their purchases later on at traditional sales counters or over the internet. While some salons employ a staff of knowledgeable consultants, there are no salespeople onsite. The concept—a perfect interpretation of tryvertising—offers a relaxed shopping experience for consumers and expanded product exposure and market research for manufacturers. Salons get revenue from manufacturers who pay for their products to be displayed, market research organizations and sometimes from the customers themselves, who pay modest membership fees. Already quite the rage in Japan, this is a concept we can expect to see more of in other parts of the world—and one that could be applied to other product categories as well. We’ve written about peer-to-peer lending marketplaces before: Zopa (UK) and Prosper (US) both allow people to lend money directly to others, cutting out banks and other middlemen. Which means better interest rates for borrowers and higher returns for lenders. Described as eBay for loans, the P2P money exchanges work as follows: borrowers list loan details and a personal profile, and lenders bid on the loan. Lowest interest rates win. Lenders bid in increments and minimize their risk by bidding on numerous loans. A study by Online Banking Report predicts that by 2011 person-to-person lending in the US could surpass 100,000 loans a year, worth more than USD 1 billion. Unlike eBay, which can connect buyers and sellers from around the world, peer to peer lending is generally bound by local financial regulations. Which means there’s ample room for national or regional versions. A quick run-down of our most recent spottings from the realm of social lending: Boober | Launched last month, Boober is bringing peer to peer lending to The Netherlands. The start-up works much like Zopa and Prosper, with prospective borrowers listing the amount they want to borrow, their credit rating, purpose of the loan, interest rate they’re willing to pay, etc. Credit ratings are determined by credit report agency Experian. And loans to AA and AAA borrowers are guaranteed by debt collectors Intrum Justitia, at 90% and 99.5% respectively. Investors are required to distribute their capital over at least 10 borrowers to minimize risk. Borrowers pay EUR 19.95 to have their credit rating determined, and if their loan is funded, they pay Boober a yearly fee of 0.5% of the loan. Investors pay a yearly fee of 0.5% over the funds they’ve invested, as well as an annual contribution of EUR 9.95. Boober’s founder, Guus Drijver, doesn’t hesitate to share his feelings about why Boober is better than the Big Banks: “Boober doesn’t work with hidden costs and is completely transparent. We don’t sponsor yacht races or soccer teams, and don’t have expensive headquarters or pay thousands of people high salaries.” Boober isn’t alone in this sentiment; many consumers are equally discontent with banks and their high profit margins, driving interest in alternatives like p2p lending. After a beta phase in The Netherlands, Boober hopes to expand to Belgium and Germany. Smava | In Germany, Boober will have to compete against Smava, which launched earlier this month. Smava currently allows loans of EUR 500 to 10,000. The company charges borrowers a 1% fee of the loan amount and EUR 10 for a credit check. Unlike Boober, Smava is following Prosper’s lead by encouraging borrowers to form groups. By adding a level of peer pressure and control, tight-knit groups help lower the risk of defaults, boosting a group’s reputation and attracting lenders at better rates. Smava’s backers include Stefan Glänzer of Last.fm and ricardo.de. CommunityLend | Set to launch in Fall 2007, CommunityLend hopes to revolutionize the way lending works in Canada. A test phase over the next few months will let users set up profiles, manage loans, bid on auctions and create groups without using real money. One to watch! Or invest in 😉 Wiseclerk.com | Meanwhile, feeder businesses are starting to pop up, too. Just as eBay spawned offline drop-off shops to facilitate online selling, Prosper has led to the creation of Wiseclerk.com, which aims to provide extra information to help borrowers and lenders make smart decisions: “With currently approx. 103,432 listings in over 989 groups created by over 46,779 borrowers and over 8899 loans successfully funded, it is hard to identify overall trends and find the pearls. Wiseclerk.com is dedicated to serve as an automated clerk, offering you the information you need.” Spotted by: Marijke Krabbenbos So, you’re in San Francisco, and you want to do a little sightseeing. But the thought of wrestling with maps, getting herded about with dozens of tourists, or asking random passers-by for directions just isn’t appealing. Luckily for tourists to the City by the Bay, there’s GoCar Rentals, home of the “first ever storytelling car.” The GoCar looks like a tiny yellow two-seater car, but is actually a three wheeled moped. Two people can hop in, and are required to wear helmets. An on-board computer and GPS (global positioning system) serve as a back seat driver, directing the humans in front to places that few visitors get to see, along with the famous sites. The system provides running commentary in a choice of five languages, allowing tourists to motor along at their own pace, exploring places a tour bus can’t go, and stopping for lunch, photos, or shopping whenever they like. The GPS tour guide will make suggestions for good stops and direct the driver if he or she gets lost. As the company says, the GoCar is “a tour guide, a talking car, a trusty co-pilot and a local on wheels.” A GoCar rents for USD 44 for the first hour, USD 34 for the second and USD 24 for each additional hour, with no further charges over five hours. GoCar drivers must be 21 or older with a valid driver’s license. This fun concept offers entrepreneurs a great opportunity in any tourist destination. Ready to get started? You can license a GoCar Rentals franchise for USD 50K-USD 100K; the company’s first franchise has already opened in San Diego. A second franchise is scheduled to open in Miami in April and several other locations will open later this year. GoCars also sells new and used GoCars—buy one and launch your own brand of GPS tours. New vehicles run about USD 6,000. Other business opportunities? Creating tours for regular rental cars, aimed at tourists who would rather blend in with the locals or want to go on longer expeditions. Or walking tours, as provided by Digi-Guide in Paris. If you’d like to focus on the tours and not the technology, Node offers content creators a complete platform to work with: server, software and rugged handheld GPS units. And what about soundtracks/audio-tours for people to download to their own navigation device or GPS-enabled PDA? Last but not least, there’s also plenty of room for location based media catering to niche audiences, and not just tourists. In Australia, HearHere offers GPS soundtracks for test driving cars. The company’s Drivetracks guide the driver around a pre-determined route of any length and location, using challenging driving sections along the way to show off a car’s features right when the driver is experiencing them. (“Let’s move across to M mode and give it some acceleration up these hills.”) HearHere is targeting automobile manufacturers, enabling them to communicate their key selling messages to journalists at a car’s launch, consumers out for a test drive, or dealership teams on sales training. Spotted by: Leonardo Consumers in San Francisco now have a handy resource to turn to for information on eco-friendly restaurants and retailers—and one that will save them money to boot! The Green Zebra Guide is a shopping guide and coupon book, offering savings of over USD 12,000 at more than 250 local organic restaurants and shops, spas, yoga and Pilates studios, independent bookstores, bike shops, museums and more. Priced at USD 25, many customers will find that the guide pays for itself in just a few purchases. Not only are customers inspired to go green, but the Green Zebra Guide is a great marketing tool for participating businesses, many of whom are local independents whose brands aren’t as recognizable as their larger chain competitors. The Green Zebra Guide’s outreach to the local community doesn’t stop there. Green Zebra donates a portion of their profits to the Conservation Connection Project, an environmental science initiative for area public schools. Schools and non-profits also can sign up to sell the guides as a fund-raiser, earning USD 10 for each copy sold. The guide also features articles and tips on eco-friendly living, including a list of 20 steps you can take today for a greener tomorrow—all in all, a great reference for area residents who want to feel better about their impact on their community and environment. Currently, the Green Zebra Guide is limited to the San Francisco area, but as consumers everywhere become more environmentally conscious, this concept could gain popularity in almost any major city.