Good Business is the New Business

Whilst on holiday in South East Asia, I came across two incredible companies. In each case, the proprietors and I chatted about how customers find businesses – and how businesses could find the right customers. See, in Cambodia, places routinely emblazon TripAdvisor signs in huge font outside their establishments to pull in the tourists. Even if it’s a 3.5 star review, it goes up on corrugated plastic on a sandwich board outside – I found the whole thing very interesting, as both the businesses below chose not to go that route.

Though I am not a big business CEO (yet!) I have been lucky enough to talk frankly with some pretty big movers and shakers in technology, manufacturing and more as part of my job. And tea and good food makes me very talkative. I was particularly intrigued by the places below because there was an extra element to them: the idea of running a small business with a degree of social responsibility built in.

Place 1: Haven, Siam Reap, Cambodia

Haven Restaurant is run by a formidable couple who after holidaying in Cambodia, decided to sell everything they owned, and pack in Switzerland for the ‘wet and sweat’ combo of Siam Reap – beloved home to Angkor Wat and hundreds of smaller temples. Sarah and Paul braved the complexities of setting up a business in a foreign country. They built (and now run)  a chilled-out restaurant that serves tasty cuisine at a reasonable price for tourists – the place also happens to train young adult orphans as apprentices as part of its business model. As well as a salary, graduates gain the skills required for re-employment, and have all their tips saved in a bank account so they also get a lump sum at the end of their year’s training.

The food is good too. So I asked if Haven could make me a fresh Vietnamese roll that I could triumphantly unpack and eat while everyone else looked on with undisguised jealousy. It occurred to me – if I (and other lovers of tasty food) could be discerning enough to seek out good restaurants then clearly we would be prepared to pay for a nice packed lunch. I suggested this to Stef, one of the staff members between mouthfuls of baked Oreo cheesecake.

My business-minded companion added that this is actually a well known strategy – to ‘expand into related revenue streams’ outside a business’s limitations – for example, in a restaurant, you can only sell to people physically sitting in a space, and when they are full of food and drink, that’s it. So, restaurants can offer cookbooks, hampers, packed lunches, food delivery, you get the idea. I’ll update this blog if I hear they’ve decided to do that – because my lunch was indeed triumphant.

Above: Pictures from Siam Reap, Cambodia

Place 2: Reaching Out Teahouse, Hoi An, Vietnam

A beautiful coastal resort, Hoi An is liberally scattered with tourists who forgive the ‘theme park’ nature of the Old Town because of its beauty and tranquility, that is, on certain days when they close the tiny streets off from motorcycles.

Side note: People who spend enough time with me know I have a serious thing for tea – notably pu-erh and oolong as well as good old builders (without sugar), not forgetting what I like to call a Picard (Earl Grey, Hot). These long-suffering types have accepted that passing a teahouse for me is pretty much impossible. They are resigned to the fact that, left to my own devices,  I am happy to consume tea until there is no tea left. Small wonder then, that the Reaching Out Teahouse and I were destined to cross paths. An artisan teahouse, complete with artisan biscuits. As far as I was concerned, this was where I would sit for the rest of the day. And so I watched the sun set, slowly bloating myself with delicious, high-quality tea.

Time passed. After a vast and quite frankly impressive quantity of tea – in many forms –  was absorbed, one of the owners of the social enterprise, Quyen, came to say hello. She explained that the staff here are deaf or speech-impaired, which is why it is in fact a silent teahouse. Everyone communicates with smiles, gestures, or wooden blocks with writing in English on one side for the customer which is held up to summon the staff member.  By the way, it wasn’t just the contentment gained from silently enjoying tea and biscuits which made me fall in love with this place. It’s also that the Single Estate Oolong tea might be among the best I have ever tasted. Readers of the previous paragraph will realise that is a very, very big data set indeed.

Above: Pictures from Hoi An, Vietnam

I like the “Good Business” business model!

Both places were so delightful, I visited them twice. And, in both cases, this was mainly because service and product were outstanding. I came away with the feeling that if places just had a good idea and ethical ‘feel good’ factor it might get people visiting – but repeat custom and earnest recommendations will only come if the product is ultimately desirable regardless of any worthy underpinnings. I wish both Haven and the Reaching Out Teahouse the best of luck in their endeavours.

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Above: Pics from the Heaven & Earth Bicycle Trip, Vietnam

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Las Vegas with Less Money

After my Nth time to Las Vegas, I get the odd request for the best things to do and see when first-timers go.

In fact, one came a few weeks after my most recent visit to the Consumer Electronics Show 2011. I duly sent off an email, and got told by reply that I should blog it, so – here you are! My tips on getting the best bang for your Las Vegas Buck.

ARRIVAL

When you come out of L.V. airport, if there are 3 of you or less (and you’ve not hired a car) consider getting the shared shuttle instead of the taxi. For $6 each or so you get driven to your hotel (if it’s on the strip) with a bunch of other people who are also doing the same – great place to start random conversations.

ACCOMMODATION

If it’s your first time, I’d recommend staying on the strip, some bargains can be had if you shop around. You’ll probably be visiting a lot of hotels on your trip, so don’t worry about paying top dollar for a top hotel unless you intend to stay in that one the whole time.

HOTEL SIGHTSEEING

Make a particular effort to see the Wynn and the Cosmopolitan – also mooch through the Bellagio, Venetian and Paris. If you ever watched the series ‘Las Vegas’ pop over to the Montecarlo hotel. There’s a pretty good sushi bar on the ground floor there.

Things you MUST MUST MUST Do in Las Vegas.

0. The best free thing in Las Vegas is the Fountain show at the Bellagio. Every time I watch it, I find it utterly breathtaking. 

1. Eat at the Wicked Spoon in the Cosmopolitan hotel – 29 bucks gets you fed and watered (more if you want booze) – prices are correct as at Jan 2011

2. Go see a show: it may cost a bit, but ‘O’ at the Bellagio is SPECTACULAR. you are best off getting blocks 203 (or 303 on the cheap). Section 10X will be cool, but you’ll be paying a premium for being closer to the stage. You may get wet in the first few rows. http://www.bestofvegas.com/Shows-Tickets/ go for the insider tour and for $260 you get great seats and a backstage tour – which I haven’t done ! Jan 2011 saw me with a ticket in section 303 at the back costing $100.

3. BARGAIN ALERT: if you gamble at tables in Paris or the Wynn, you will be given complementary drinks while you’re at the tables.

4. Yes, do the Fashion show mall, get 30mins at the oxygen bar but if you’re really into shopping, hit the PREMIUM OUTLET STORES for better prices. There’s an all you can eat japanese which is good value here if you’re not burger-inclined.

5. Other places to eat:

Margaritaville – surf food, and a brilliant evening out on the strip, try the tuna tataki – they also do lots of steaks.

There’s a Japanese restaurant in the MGM grand called Shibuya which is very tasty  – I was taken there for dinner and consequently have no idea about the prices.

I would stock up at breakfast time, generally hotels will have an all-you-can-eat buffet where you can stuff in food to last you the day. If you’re staying on the strip, you can also wander into Denny’s for breakfast 24 hours a day. That’s a LOT of pancakes and hash browns.

6. Ride the Monorail! it gives you a great idea of where things are. It’s a terrible attempt at infrastructure and not actually near that much but it’s fun. $12 day pass.

7. Go to the shops at the Venetian and eat italian food under the fake sky. The gondolas are nice but be warned v. expensive – unless you’ve got a yearning, don’t worry too much about it.

8. If you like roller coasters, then go to New York New York and stick everything you own in a locker near the coaster queue. Buy a re-ride, you’ll want it! Also hit the Stratosphere hotel – have drinks on the nearly-top-floor bar, and go up on the roof for some truly hair raising rides. I highly recommend the drop ride on the top of the tower at night, which gives you incredible views of the strip. Ask nicely to be facing it when you’re hurled into the air.

The rides are not for the faint hearted, but the bar is the nicest part of the hotel, and they do vitamin water Detox/retox cocktails.

9. If you’re into quirky, look up both the Neon Museum and the Pinball Hall of Fame. You could also visit Fremont Street (the old town) although I’ve not had a chance to get down there yet. If you want to shoot things with live ammo, go to American Shooters who will let you fire real guns on their range.

and finally

10. Learn how to play craps!

EXTRA ADVICE

It looks a lot like a city, so it’s easy to forget that Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert. So drink lots and lots of water. You might want to bring along some throat sweets too – a combination of dry air, lots of cheering and rollercoasters means you might be a bit croaky after a few days. At night it gets cold, so even if the sun is out, it’s worth packing an extra layer.

Have a lovely time, and let me know how you get on – Viva Las Vegas, baby !


London Snow Day – pics from last night

Here are a few pictures of the “extreme weather event” in London and the South East last night.  It took over 3 hours to make a 45-minute journey, complete with car-pushing and buses getting stuck.

london snow at the embankment by you.

London Embankment

city of london bollards by you.

City of London

snow in london by you.

Trafalgar Square

snowball fight in central london by you.

Piccadilly Circus Snowball Fight

london snow by you.

Near Charing Cross

Piccadilly Circus in the snow by you.

Piccadilly Neon in the Snow

london snow taxi on truck by you.

Taxi on Truck, East London

 

Safe journeys today, everyone! Back with more gadgets soon.

CES 2009 – battery! Nooooo

How incredibly ridiculous, I left 1/2 of my UK/US adaptor in the hotel, which means I’m on the clock with a minor uploading drama!  So the video might or might not make it up there, with 32 minutes remaining, it’s anyone’s game.

Highlights so far have been a proliferation of newer, greener display technologies (hold tight for OLED on the vid) and an emphasis on mobile content consuming, including a projector that’s been built into a phone.

In fact, the phone-projector from Samsung (using DLP technology) was the gadget I featured for BBC Click during filming last night, that’s going to be broadcast on BBC World, and perhaps even on the internet site too, which is very exciting.

RSS Readers / Can’t see the link? Click here

Today I’ll go to my appointments on the show floor armed with my (fully charged!) camcorder, and later I’ll meet with the rest of the BBC Click team.

…and tonight I might be attending the Sony Online Poker party which last year had Fire-Eaters and Acrobats as well as many different food stations.

Below are a few piccies from Flickr uploaded earlier:

in front of 150" panasonic tv by LJRich

In front of 150" TV!

phone projector showing kung fu panda by LJRich

Samsung Mini Projector - up to 50" screen size

phone with built in projector by LJRich

bottom phone is also a projector - to be featured on BBC Click

See you soon!

Las Vegas CES 09

Good morning  – at least, it’s morning here in Las Vegas.  It’s the day before CES 2009, the world’s largest trade show for Consumer Technology, and the largest annual trade show in the USA according to the data sheet next to me. 

070120091224 by LJRich

Las Vegas CES 2009

Apparently, people from over 140 countries attend the show, and its popularity is reflected by the packed plane I arrived on yesterday, where, believe it or not, the person sitting in the seat next to me ate my food whilst I was asleep – why? Because apparently, she didn’t like the chicken. 

here comes the monorail! Las vegas

Las Vegas Monorail - $5 a ride

CES debuts from years past include the VCR in 1970, the Camcorder in 1981, HDTV in 1998, Microsoft’s XBox in 2001 and OLED TV in 2008.  Consequently, this morning I awoke with 2 intentions – 1) get up early and have a look round and 2) hit the all-you-can-eat buffet with a vengeance.

all you can eat at las vegas buffet - 1st one to explode wins by LJRich

There are more stations behind me - a shrine to gluttony. Yippee!

So, after a filling meal of pancakes, french toast, potatoes, eggs, fruit and a cinnamon bun, I’m ready for some serious gadget input. 

lj rich blogging in the press room at ces 2009, las vegas  blogging this in the Press Room!Tonight’s party is the Pepcom Digital Experience, where many exhibitors are showing off their new stuff. I shall be bringing my trusty camcorder with me to record anything utterly bonkers or incredibly useful.

 

Please let me know if you’d like me to look up something for you.

Covent Garden Wishing Well

This is what I saw when I went to Covent garden to briefly visit a blogger lunch.
What is THAT????
I nearly bumped into a conspicuous gigantic triangular shaped structure that’s there till January.
big silver wishing thing by LJRich.

Spinvox Wishing Well

 
Spinvox, the people behind the structure, have left this silver wishing well in central London, the idea being that you call and leave a message from your phone, and it gets converted to text and displayed on the inside of the installation.
 – Here’s a shot  a bit closer in – you may be able to see me in it – I’m in the X box…
(Visual Pun! How I wish I did that on purpose!)
what is this doing in covent garden? by you.
Needless to say, there were many others there including my fantastic underground blogger mate, and of course whatleydude who kindly invited me along.

This is what it looks like inside – I stood in here for ages, reading what other people were wishing for.

inside there are messages from people calling in with their wishes by phone by LJRich.

inside the structure

I particularly like the fact that if one spoke a swear-word into the message, it would be replaced with &* ?*&!£ symbols, so even though the best words went, the sentiment remained. 

Of course, if you were one of those people who looked up rude words in the dictionary at school and laughed (English and other languages – oh, hang on, I still do that now) then you will appreciate the work that must have gone into creating the database to recognise them all.

I loved reading wishes ranging from “I wish for World Peace” to “I wish I had gigantic nostrils”.

If you’re in London, it’s definitely worth a look –  http://www.spinvoxwishingwell.com/

Nowhere is hot anymore when you’ve been to Dubai in July

cooling water fans and overheating passengers

Dubai Airport: cooling water fans and overheating passengers

OK, don’t try this at home, but hypothetically open the oven door on maximum heat, climb in (see, it’s hypothetical, I doubt you could fit unless 1. you’re really small and/or 2. the oven is really big).  Whilst looking out from inside your oven, try and imagine feeling cold again.  You can’t, because it’s so ridiculously hot your shoes are melting.

That’s Dubai, outside.  My body (and possibly yours) would register any temperature above 30C as Stupid Hot, including the 55 degree hit that smacks me in the chest on walking outside in the daytime in Dubai, UAE.   Landing at 11.30pm doesn’t let you off the hook – there’s no escape from the heat as it was a bonkers night time 35C! Just to give you an idea, the airline luggage labels on our cases had effectively melted to the handles in the 1 hour we’d been on the ground. 

“Don’t worry”, our intrepid (and well travelled) host said, “Your blood will thin at this temperature and you’ll be fine.” (EEEEEEWwwwWWW!)

Those first few breaths outside the airport’s fans were unbelievable, but intoxicating.  This place reminds me of Las Vegas a little, full of construction and contradiction.  I want more. 

Here are some piccies: