Alibaba and Fulfilled by Amazon

This year I have tried to learn as many things as I can. I became fascinated as to what barriers of entry exist in real life and which ones only exist in my mind.

Someone said the word Alibaba to me once without me knowing what it is. Then I noticed that Jack Ma was on some inspirational video medley I was watching. After looking it up I see that it is the largest global IPO ever. Interesting.

So what is Alibaba? From what I see, it’s a business to business hub connecting buyers and producers globally. When I say producers, I don’t mean resellers like Wal-Mart or even Wal-Mart’s warehouses. This is the actual people that make the product in countries like China and Vietnam. I mean you’re connecting to people in the factories. You might catch a reseller in China but the goal is finding the actual factory.  You are cutting out the middle man as a normal Joe Schmoe. Is this hard? I set off to find out.

So what’s first and what’s hardest? It’s finding out products to sell. I mean that’s an infinity question right? EVERYTHING is a product. The chair you sit in, the computer you work on, the clothes on your back. Since I have a gym on the side, I thought I’d look up gym stuff.

But even that’s hard. How do you know what product is successful?

I stumbled on a pod cast that mentioned the product Jungle Scout.

Jungle Scout is a Chrome Add on that will pull the stats of any Amazon item that your screen is currently. Using this you can tell what items are doing well and what market you might want to compete in.

That’s one step in the process. I saw that mobility bands were sold at a very high volume from the top seller. So what you do from there is look for that item on Alibaba.com.

So now you’re in the Alibaba world. What the heck is going here. They have prices that I’m told are completely negotiable. They have an MOQ (minimum order quantity) that is also completely negotiable. Now I’m dealing with people directly from China. How do I know if I’m getting ripped off? How do I know the quality?

The first step is asking for a price list and MOQ. For some of the more expensive items you won’t even get a response because it would take a lot of capital to get a shipment. For example when I asked about mobility bands and knee sleeves I got a ton of inquiries and responses. When I asked for barbells I got no response because I was trying to do a small MOQ. For barbells they can’t just ship them to you via fedex or DHL. You need to get a crate that gets put on a boat. They’ll ask you for your origin port, whatever that is.

So the first step if this is your first foray is to find the product you want, mention an MOQ, and then ask for a sample. Surprisingly the sampling process is very very quick. You can pay via paypal and they’ll send you a sample within a week or so. So that’s what I did, i get several samples for resistance bands and knee sleeves and they all looked identical to me.

The next step was to actually risk money. Ali Baba has a guarantee process where you can get your money back if the arbitrator thinks that the terms weren’t met. That sounds pretty good but what is the exact definition of terms not meeting? At this point it was a leap of faith. I was very paranoid about talking it over with these distributors. I was trying to look for warning signals that they were ripping me off but still in the end, it’s a leap of faith. I eventually spent about $2000 on Knee Sleeves and $2000 on resistance bands. My first distrubtor I picked for resistance bands looked shady and then stopped communicating with me when I put down the deposit. I actually did use the arbitrator and got my money back.

Alexa Skill

I had no idea that independent developers created things called “Alexa Skills”. I had just assumed Amazon wrote all of these things. After hearing Gary Vaynerchuck talk about it quite often recently, I looked into what it would take to make my own Alexa Skill. What were the barriers to entry.

There’s a very easy to way to make an Alexa skill that’s just information. Those are called “Flash Briefings.” The gym I own has something called the “Workout of the Day” or “WOD.” I thought maybe it would be interested instead of looking up the WOD, they could ask Alexa.

Flash Briefings are the easiest Alexa Skill to make. You can connect to a Sound Cloud, where you can make it play audio that’s not Alexa’s voice, or you can make it read a feed. I chose to make it read a feed from my batcitycrossfit page. I set it up every Sunday by scheduling a new post for every day of the week at about 8:30 pm at night. The website feed only distributes the latest post so Alexa only reads the most up to date post.

This is what the feed from my website batcitycrossfit.com/feed looks like. Alexa just reads what’s listed between the description tags.

The Alexa skill for flash briefings is as easy as pointing it to the feed.

So that’s the super easy to get into Alexa.

If you want a real interactive Alexa skill, you have to go a little deeper.

What’s annoying was that I found some really old tutorials where I had to really get the node.js environment on my computer which was a lot harder than I thought it would be as it pertains to how you use to create Alexa skills. Now Alexa has a much easier interface.

What’s cool about these relatively new platforms is that they really try to help you succeed. By that I mean there are a lot of tutorials and a lot of stuff is free until you do something interesting enough to scale.

Amazon suggests you use their serverless service called Lambda. What’s “funny” to me is that to get to Lambda you have to log onto AWS.amazon.com and to configure your Alexa skill you go to developer.amazon.com.

As you might know, a lot of Amazon’s aws services are free for the first year. Some will continue to be free as long as you use the smallest of settings and it doesn’t get a lot of hits. Lambda is one of those free things that is open to scale.

Here’s where I’m working on a movie quiz. Kind of basic I know but I’m just getting started. You can either just ask when a movie was released or ask Alexa to play a quiz game that consists of 10 questions. To get started you to create a Lambda function. There is an Alexa skills template that gets you started.

You have to link this function back to the Alexa skill on developer.amazon.com.

Once you have that working you can test it on your personal Alexa at home as long as you link the Alexa App on your phone to your Amazon developer account.

I’m hoping to get this finished in about a week. I know it won’t get any traction out of the gate but I’m wanting to come up with a lot more features as I get rolling.

 

Podcast and Interviews

I went through a whole Tony Robbins period of my life where I thought a lot about the story people tell themselves. It’s that narrative where you kind of explain to yourself why you are where you are in your life. You can either break the pattern and change the narrative or you can go your whole life blaming others.

I knew some people in my gym had gone through some crazy tough times and emerged. Some of them in crazy, cinematic dramatic fashion.

I was still learning what to do with my camera so I asked several members of the gym to present their stories. It was amazing and humbling how vulnerable they were on camera to me and let me fumble my way into putting together something that was worthy of their openness. I kind of evolved as I went through each person and learned more and more about the interviewing and editing style.

I did get national attention from CrossFit.com on the 2 minute trailer I did but it doesn’t do their stories justice. These are stories about alcoholism, diabetes, eating disorders, losing a parent, and more.

As our society moves towards voice because it’s such a great, passive means of consumption, I converted these interviews to podcasts as well.

 

 

New IOS Swift / Java Android/ Firebase Application for Bat City CrossFit

https://github.com/tomdo98/

I finally released my app to the members of my gym on both IOS and Android. Initially, when I decided I wanted to create an app, I looked up more point and click platforms like Ionic and a host of out of the box configuration applications like AppiePie. Things like AppiePie were definitely not for develops as they were way too easy and had a very rigid structure. The features were very limited. Ionic had a lot more features where you can Javascript to it but it was still limited to what was compatible to the platform. The one thing that was nice about these platforms was that you could just “code” it once and then the platform would deploy it dynamically to the user no matter what platform they’re on.

As I got deeper into these platforms I decided that I had the skills to just learn the native language as these platforms were for individuals that did not have the time, experience, or ability to learn.

So I broke free from the box and downloaded Android Studio and got an Apple and installed the latest version of XCode. I had actually made an adventure game several years ago on Xcode called “Bygone City” but the updates stopped and I just stopped touching apps altogether.

I figured now I had a real purpose and a user base to get back into mobile programming. I was going to make all my gym members use this app so it had better be pretty decent. What I found was that there was no shortage of AMAZING tutorials for both Android and Swift. The main ones I used were on Udacity and it was free. This wasn’t just some YouTuber in some poor quality video. This was very well produced videos that were filled with animation, labs, and great presenters. It took me around 2 months to really get rolling but it was worth it. These apps are just a start but I feel now I have the confidence and foundation to go really deep.

Check out my git hub if you want to get in the code.

I’ll post the project’s “readme” here.

An Android Java app made for Bat City CrossFit that is integrated with Google Firebase, uses a QR code reader and GPS location, has basic chat features, and gym member statistics. It keeps track of class sizees, who is in a class, and when they checked in. It also has a feature to keep track of in gym purchases. There are also three punch card features.

When you click on the icon on this screen, the camera will be launched ready to look for a QR code. The QR code references the dynamic value in a firebase table. If the two values match, it will issue a successful check in. The app also records the user’s physical address. This can be used later to determine if the user has tried to spoof their check in.

This portion doesn’t actually process any credit cards. It just stores it in a Firebase table where the admin can manually charge the users for their in gym purchase.

The app hosts 3 types of punch cards separately.

Clicking on the punch icon issues a short vibration and then an icon is added to the ring. From this screen you can also recharge your card when it runs out.