Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

It’s been almost three years since we wrote about California-based Ghetto Gourmet, and the “wandering supper club” still seems to be going strong. Now, across the continent, a similar concept has been launched in the form of Charlie’s Burgers, an underground “anti-restaurant” in Toronto that hand-picks its guests and has nothing to do with burgers. Prospective diners who want to experience a Charlie’s Burgers dinner must first apply for an invitation, a process that involves filling out a survey about their interest in food. If they’re lucky, they’ll then be sent an e-vite to the next Charlie’s Burgers event. Neither the identity of “Charlie” nor the location of the event is disclosed, however; rather, on the evening of the dinner, invited guests are directed to a public spot—such as a newspaper box—to pick up directions, TheStar.com reported. The five-course meals are priced at CDN 110 including cocktails, wines, dinner and dessert, and the menus are reportedly a far cry from what the name would suggest. “Duck in a Can”—a signature dish brought in from Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon—is commonly featured, according to reports; also included in a dinner earlier this spring were an elaborate cheese tray, Malbec poached Bosc pear, and almond and walnut ice cream, according to a Chowhound blogger who attended. While only 30 or so guests are served at each four-hour event, applications can number as high as 250, another article in The Star reported. Charlie’s profit margins could be slim, many attendees seem to feel, given the quality of the food and the generosity of the portions. Also adding to the value of the events, of course, are the feeling of exclusivity—sure to generate status stories galore—the uniqueness of the experience and the off-the-beaten-path culinary possibilities. Yet with zero to little overhead required and virtually limitless creative opportunities, an underground restaurant could become an increasingly attractive option for chefs wanting to start their own business. One to emulate in a top-secret location near you…? 😉 Spotted by: Stas Zlobinski Services that send print mail from an online application are no longer entirely new. What’s interesting about Enthusem is that the printed greeting cards it sends can include online attachments. Using Enthusem, which was launched last year by Florida-based Prospect Smarter, any company or individual can create and mail a printed, full-colour card using their own images, content and electronic attachments. Users begin by uploading their own artwork or choosing from Enthusem’s library of images. Next they enter the message they’d like printed on the card. Then they can elect to include an online attachment such as a video, brochure or resume, and it will be hosted on the Enthusem site at no charge; a 5-digit code then gets printed inside the card along with a brief explanation giving the recipient the URL of the landing page where it can be found. Once finished, Enthusem cards get inserted in a transparent vellum envelope—allowing the recipient to see what’s inside even before they’ve opened it—and sent out via First Class mail. When the recipient views the attachment, an email notification is instantly sent to the sender, alerting them that it has been successfully picked up. There are no monthly or subscription fees on Enthusem, and the first card a user sends is free. After that, each individual card costs about USD 3, with bulk pricing discounts and corporate accounts available. Electronic and printed mail both have distinct advantages for both personal and business use, but Enthusem seems to go a long way toward combining the best of both worlds. Though the service currently sends mail only within the United States, international capabilities are coming soon; one to help bring to your part of the world? (Related: More free (and enhanced) snail mail optionsSnail mail sent directly from any app to any countryA paperless alternative to the postal system.) Spotted by: Rick Rochon Out of South Africa comes Great Guide: a GPS-triggered audio tour that hooks up to car radios. The system was designed for visitors to South Africa, and provides informative and entertaining sightseeing commentary for ZAR 99 per day. Customers order the service on the company’s website, picking it up along with their hire car at the airport. Driving past points of interest, the system automatically broadcasts interesting stories and facts, ranging from historic and geographic info to current affairs and pop culture trivia. Information turns to recommendations thanks to the Great Advice feature, which offers shopping and dining tips, while the My Itinerary option lets tourists input their travel plans online before they take off. Between points of commentary users can choose from a selection of music. Great Guide can be accessed mainly in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga regions, with conventional GPS functionality on offer in the rest of the country. The service is currently available in English only, with French following soon and everything from Arabic to Zulu is said to be on the cards. Similar services are popping up in other parts of the world, too. With its potential to infiltrate every niche, and the opportunities it presents savvy marketers and content providers, it’s a concept we’re following with interest. More on maps becoming the new interface? Check out trendwatching.com’s notes about mapmania. (Related: Ad-supported navigationSightseeing guided by GPS.) Spotted by: Bridget McNulty Combining try-before-you-buy with the luxury rental concept established by companies like Bag Borrow Steal and écurie25 is Guitar Affair, a service that rents out high-end and boutique guitars by the day or week. Guitar Affair refers to its rentals as ‘affairs’ to reflect the emotional experience that customers have with instruments. Customers pay a one-off USD 50 fee to join and then select and reserve a guitar to be shipped anywhere within the United States. After they’ve had their affair for the agreed time span, they return the guitar in its shipping container with an included UPS label. For those fond enough to commit to a lasting relationship, guitars can be purchased with some (or all) of the affair fee refunded. All of the guitars are memorable, with a cutaway XOX Handle carbon fibre guitar available for USD 75 a day or USD 300 a week, and a Sandoval Dot V costing USD 125 per day or 400 per week. In addition to guitars, customers can also rent a variety of headphones, amps, cables, straps, instructional items, backing tracks and road cases. The concept is perfect for a studio getaway, travelling musicians with fickle tastes or players who simply wish to experiment. And because the guitars are shipped back to the company, they’re always maintained and set-up to professional standards—which can cost a pretty penny on its own. Our sister-site trendwatching.com published a briefing about transumers back in 2006, focusing on consumers who are more interested in experiences than in ownership. It’s an enduring trend, and one that has extra power in today’s economy. Time to experiment with transient offerings of your own? Spotted by: Raymond Kollau Traditional search engines like Google excel at finding objective information in the vast network of pages on the web, but what about when you want a local restaurant recommendation? Going far beyond general reviews or even those of twinsumers with similar tastes is a new search site that aims to get more personally relevant by asking your own extended network of friends. Users of Aardvark begin by adding the service to their email or IM buddy list, and then sending it a question in plain English via either medium. Aardvark then checks the user’s social network of participating friends and friends-of-friends to see who might be able to answer it. Friends must have signed up with Aardvark to be considered, and they can control whose questions come to them, and when. Factors taken into account by the algorithm that chooses respondents include how closely connected they are to the person with the question, what topics they know about—gleaned from profile data on Facebook and around the web—whether they have similar tastes, where they’re located and whether they’re currently available to answer. After zeroing in on a small subset of the user’s social network, Aardvark finds someone who can answer the question in real time and, within 5 minutes or so, sends their answer back to the person who asked. “If someone’s looking for a recommendation on ‘great music’ or a ‘hotel room in London’, not even 20 percent of people are going to be satisfied with a search result” from a traditional search engine, ex-Googler Max Ventilla, now Aardvark’s CEO, told BusinessWeek. Rather than objective listings or the opinions of anonymous strangers on the web—which is mostly what one gets from Google—or the highly curated yet heavily numerical answers that are generated by Wolfram|Alpha, Aardvark aims to provide advice that’s subjective and customised to the person who asked the question. San Francisco-based Aardvark requires no software download or installation; there are currently more than 10,000 users testing out a private version of the site, according to BusinessWeek. Its revenue model includes referral fees paid by companies—including Amazon and Zappos so far—when answers include a link to their sites, BW reported. Will social search provide the new way to get answers to everyday questions? It seems likely, but only time will tell. In the meantime, one to watch, partner with—or generally get in on as soon as possible! 😉 Spotted by: Diricia De Wet Of all of the examples we’ve seen of upcycling—turning waste materials into new products—teddylux is undoubtedly the most adorable. Each plush teddy bear, elephant and bunny made by the Georgia business is fashioned from a discarded cashmere sweater. Cashmere animals can be purchased straight from the website for USD 50-60 each, with cashmere baby toys costing USD 15. For the same cost, customers can request the animal of their choice to be made from their own old cashmere sweater, which makes for a toy that’s both sustainably manufactured and highly personal. The site also accepts postal donations from kindhearted people clearing out their closets, reimbursing the postage for their offering. Brooke Serson Cernonok, the company’s founder, has been making the toys since 2004. She expanded the operation in 2008, adding more designs to her repertoire, along with cashmere headbands decorated with vintage jewellery. More examples of businesses using recycling to give their products a green edge and a stronger story? Check out Virgin Atlantic’s seat covers, reborn as bags and From 1950s pommel horses to 2008 gym bags. Spotted by: Josh Spear The economy may be a shambles, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a market for creature comforts, especially when travelling. With that in mind, a new hotel recently opened in Singapore to provide a bespoke, all-expenses-covered stay. And unlike all-in beach resorts aimed at holidaymakers, Quincy is a city hotel targeting business (and leisure) travellers. Situated just steps away from Singapore’s Orchard Road, Quincy is a 108-room boutique hotel where the room rate covers virtually everything. Guests begin their pampering visit with complimentary limousine pickup from the airport and free wifi during the 20-minute ride. Three meals a day at the hotel are also included, as are cocktails from 6 to 8 pm. Minibar supplies are free and replenished daily, and all the hotel’s studio rooms feature premium king-sized mattresses draped with feather beddings, separate bathtub and rain shower, and windows custom-designed with modular shapes that vary from room to room. Free internet, a laptop safe and a wardrobe stocked with amenities such as bathrobes and slippers are also included, and the hotel will even pick up the tab for two pieces of laundry per room per night. Rates for June currently begin at about SGD 218 (USD 150 / EUR 107) per night. It’s a smart move—cost-cutting measures have slashed corporate travel budgets, and those travelling for business might well be swayed by a hotel that will pamper them without presenting a long, itemized bill or unexpected charges. Since the hotel opened in March, it has reportedly enjoyed occupancy rates of about 76 percent, according to industry publication Hotels. Millions of teens around the globe are already well-acquainted with Habbo, the popular virtual world aimed at those aged 13 to 18. Now Sulake, the Finnish creator of the site, has launched Bobba, a counterpart designed for mobile phone users 16 and older. Launched into beta last month, Bobba bills itself as a “pocketsize virtual world” that’s designed for use on mobile phones. Much as with Habbo, users can create avatars, build and decorate their own virtual surroundings on the site, and meet and interact with other users. More than 11,000 accounts have already been created; supported phones include a variety of models from Nokia, LG, Samsung, Panasonic and Lenovo; support for iPhones and the iPod Touch is coming soon. Of course, besides enabling virtual product sales within the site, communities like Habbo and Bobba also provide a nicely targeted way for other businesses to meet and interact with particular segments of consumers—much the way Dutch Postbank did when it set up a presence on Habbo. After all, in today’s socially networked world, the effectiveness of advertising is limited at best. Instead, companies must reach out to consumers where they naturally spend their time—and for legions of mobile users 16 and over, that just might turn out to be Bobba. One to watch! Spotted by: John Greene What to do after being laid off? For 26-year-old Alex Light, there was only one option: head down to the beach and get fit. After losing his job in Dubai real estate, he set up Bad Times Bootcamp to help unemployed people get fit and get to know each other. A qualified personal trainer, Light set up his free fitness classes to help others stay active and stay positive. The group had its first session in March 2009, bringing together people in new but similar situations to share experiences and find the support they need. Light now hopes to spread the concept across the globe, welcoming the possibility of sponsorship in order to keep the classes free whilst supporting himself and his new social enterprise. And when the downturn ends, he hopes that his classes will offer the employed a more valuable way to network. (Related: Camp for laid-off professionals.) Spotted by: Bebhinn Kelly Hungarian travel site Joobili believes that timing is everything when it comes to planning a trip. Instead of asking users where they want to go, Joobili provides would-be travellers with inspiration by asking them when they want to schedule a trip, and then offers information about festivals, parties, sports events and other travel-worthy happenings across Europe. Users can either select a travel date on a slide rule calendar on the website site or search by country or keyword (Arts, Music, Family, Celebrations, Shopping, Food & Drink, Sport, Nature and Unusual). By clicking on an event on the calendar, searchers can view photos of an event and check out other events nearby. Members can also save their past and future events on a personal GoList and exchange comments with travellers who have similar interests. The website’s revenue model seems to be based on affiliate marketing, earning fees for referrals to hotels, guidebooks, rental cars and flights. Joobili’s ‘timely travel’ approach turns the way we book travel on its head by putting the activities before the destination. It’s a simple innovation, but one that’s likely to be compelling to an important audience for the travel industry: the adventurous. (Related: Trip planner lets customers create their own tours.) Spotted by: Tamas Kocsis