Archive for April, 2008

The Easiest Way To Get A $10k-$100k Cash Loan

First Again logoWhile the title of this post may seem like this would be some sort of paid review, I am actually writing about a company from personal experience. I love to speak out about companies that I have good experiences with, because I want others to do the same.

Many of us are business owners, or people that are thinking about starting a business. Many times cash is a hurdle, and many times getting somewhere between $10,000-$100,000 is enough to overcome that hurdle. Or say you want to buy a car, dealing with your bank or a company like Capital One Auto Finance can be a huge hassle, especially if you’re not buying from a dealership, as there is a lot of back and forth.

When I was buying my Dodge Viper, I was also selling my Corvette at the same time. Since I wanted to pay cash for the Viper, I also wanted to make sure I had a safety net of money in case it would take me longer than I thought with my Corvette. I started to look for a loan option with a low APR, and came across a company by the name of First Again. The concept behind this loan company is awesome, and here’s why:

  • You can only get approved for a loan if you have excellent credit
  • Since they only accept people with excellent credit, it enables you to get way lower rates. I got at least 3% lower than what I could find for a used car from an actual person.
  • It doesn’t matter what you use the loan for. You can use it to finance your business, buy a car, pay your credit card bills, do home improvements, etc. They call it an AnythingBill.
  • Your loan comes in the form of cash. You don’t have to get a check to write out to a particular person or play any sort of waiting games.
  • If you apply for a loan, and get approved, they transfer money to you right away. I literally applied for a $10,000 loan, got approved, and the next day I had $10,000 extra in my bank account. This was a huge selling point for me.
  • There are no fees for paying the loan off early. I ended up selling my Corvette two weeks after getting the loan…I simply paid off the total loan right away, ended up paying that first months interest, and that was that. It was quite cheap for the peace of mind that I took the loan out for.

This was by far the best loan experience I’ve ever had, and I can easily personally recommend First Again for your next loan.

If you have any other companies that you recommend, post a comment and let me know (let me know why as well)…or if you’ve used First Again, let me know your thoughts.

Lexus Performance Driving Academy

Thanks to a post on Autoblog, I found out about Lexus offering a performance driving school…just an hour away from where I live! There are two different programs to choose from and 4 different locations. The locations/dates of the academy are the following:

  • May 9th-11th – Joilet, Illinois – Autobahn Circuit
  • May 30th-June 1st – Fontana, California – Auto Club Speedway
  • June 27-29th – Summit Point, West Virginia – Summit Point Motorsports Park
  • July 11-13 – Hampton, Georgia – Atlanta Motor Speedway

There are two different programs that are available:

Regular Driving Academy

This is a 2-hour session that is absolutely free. It’s by invitation only, but you’re able to register and put yourself on a waiting list to try and get in.

You’ll learn some of the basic fundamentals of high performance vehicle handling. You’ll have a chance to drive Lexus IS 250, IS 350, GS 460, and GS 450h. Afterwards you’ll be able to ride in the passenger seat with a pro driver behind the wheel, and experience a hot lap in Lexus’s new 416hp IS-F. You’ll also be provided with a meal and snacks/drinks anytime during the day.

Lexus IS-F

Ultimate Driving Academy

The ultimate driving academy is a 4 1/2 hour event and costs $295. This is the one I’ll be doing (If you’re going to the Summit Point event on Friday June 27th, let me know). There’s quite a bit more that you get over the regular driving academy:

The ultimate session is focused on advanced competitive driving skills, utilizing Lexus’s 416hp ~$60,000 IS-F. Part of the time is spent at the chalkboard going over grip dynamics, contact patch, line theory, the 100% rule, and more. Then you’ll compete in a relay rally race where you’ll work to get the best team time on the track. Afterwards, you’ll get behind the wheel with a pro driver in the passenger seat providing personalized coaching and technique instruction to shave those seconds off of your autocross times. Then you’ll do a lead/follow event on the track, utilizing braking and acceleration skill. You’ll also have a chance to sit in a hot lap with a pro driver. The event also includes a premium gift bag, award ceremony, 2 meals, and snacks/drinks throughout the day.

For those that have looked into race driving schools in the past, you’ll know that everything you’re getting for $300 is quite a bargain.

I’m very excited for this event, and will surely be taking some video and pictures to post here.

Dodge Viper In The Reserved For Hybrids Parking Spot

For earth day, part of the effort that the company I work for did was to make a bunch of the closest parking spots in the garage reserved for hybrid vehicles. As a joke, I thought it’d be funny to take the extreme opposite car and park it in one of the spots. I only parked it for a couple hours, and within 30 minutes I already got a parking violation. After I moved my car, the spot was open for the rest of the day as I guess there were no other hybrids in the garage…so no harm no foul :)

Viper in a hybrid parking spot

Viper in a hybrid parking spot

One Loud Viper Please

Last Friday I had a Corsa catback exhaust system and Random Technology high flow cats installed on my GTS Viper. The reasoning behind doing this was three-fold:

  1. The new Corsa exhaust looks way better
  2. The new exhaust sounds way better, and is much louder. It’s a V10, it should be loud!
  3. Performance gains :) The new setup should have added about 25-30 horsepower to the wheels. That should give the Viper about 410whp (estimated), which is about 475hp to the crank (estimated).

Since video blogging is the new thing lately, I made a little video showing you the before and after…as well as my buddy’s Viper which has a full exhaust system (including the headers). Enjoy!

Above And Beyond Customer Service Experience

Some of you may remember the horrible shopping experience I had a couple weeks back when trying to buy an exhaust for my Viper. I ended up buying the catback exhaust, as well as high flow cats from PartsRack…who specializes specifically in Vipers. The owner, Jon, went out of his way in all aspects of the sale to really help me out and make sure I was getting everything I needed.

He kept me up to date, and gave me various options to help reduce costs of shipping. On top of that he gave me a multi-part discount, and threw in an extra little freebie part I had asked for ($40 value). I received a call a day later letting me know the high flow cat I had ordered that he had was actually damaged (didn’t affect the performance), and that he would give me the better/more expensive ones (which cost over $100 more) at no cost if I wanted. While I appreciated the offer, I decided to wait it out because the more expensive ones would give a raspier sound…and wouldn’t make a difference performance wise unless I was pushing out over 650hp.

I received e-mails with tracking numbers, it was pretty much everything I wanted out of an online purchase. The above and beyond experience is when I received an envelope in the mail which included this:

Viper freebies from PartsRack

Jon had sent me some freebies, a little Blue/White Dodge Viper keychain, diecast toy, and sticker. This was awesome, considering that’s my actual car! The business card included said “Compliments of JonB at PartsRack”. This is going above and beyond, and while this little package may have cost Jon like $10 or whatever, it will definitely keep me as a customer…and I will recommend him to others. We can see it was enough for me to make a post about it!

While this is not something I would expect every retailer to do, I think it’s definitely something that niche retailers should think about. PartsRack sells parts specifically for Vipers, his business is considered very niche. It’s important to do things like this to stay in-tune with your customers. Sometimes not being a huge retailer, Jon may not be able to offer the best prices, but he knows his stuff and can make sure you are ordering what you need, and you will get taken care of.

Well done Jon! I know I’ve learned something.

The New eBay Partner Network Potentially Has Major Issues

On April 1st eBay moved off of Commission Junction, and onto their own platform for managing their affiliate program. Their new platform goes by the name of “eBay Partner Network” (EPN). This was potentially a great move by eBay, offering more direct support, better reporting, better tools, more customized administration, etc.

Now it’s 15 days into the new program, and from what I’ve seen, there are some potentially major problems going on with the program in the name of revenue earned by its affiliates.

Revenue Issues

The biggest issue seems to be the amount of revenue generated as compared to the previous CJ program. My own personal experience shows the same issue. I normally generate at least 1 transaction per day, and average about $2-$5+ per day. I converted my links over to the new program on April 1st, I didn’t see my first transaction until April 10th. It’s now April 15th, and I’ve generated 6 transactions for a total of $6.80 or a $2.27 EPC. On Commission Junction I would generate about $10-$15 EPC. So we’re talking about a pretty drastic difference here. I don’t want to come to any conclusions based on my experience just yet as I’d like to wait it out until the end of the month. Expect an update to this from my end come early May.

This seems to be quite a bigger issue, and eBay seems to be somewhat ignoring it. If you take a look at their partner network forum, it just has a ton of posts with people complaining that their revenue is way lower than what it was on CJ. One thread with the title “Has anybody seen and commissions or leads yet?” has 237 posts (at the time of this writing). eBay representatives have responded, basically saying that there is no problem, but they will continually monitor everything to make sure nothing is wrong.

I don’t like to use myself as an example for the issue since I really don’t do that much in affiliate sales just yet, but I’m happy to use others to prove a point:

Username flyinglotta: This user is one of the bigger affiliates posting on the forums, that was doing about $500/day when the program was on Commission Junction. He is now seeing a 50% drop, doing about $250/day, a loss of close to $8,000/month. You would think that an affiliate generating this much would be able to get some sort of personal support from eBay, but he can’t even get a direct e-mail address or phone number to get help. He’s forced to wait on public answers on the forum from representatives that probably need to have a lawyer go over any response they give before they post it.

My other concern in this realm is that there is no third party anymore. What I mean by this is that there is no company overlooking to make sure commissions are accurately paid out and tracked for. Essentially an auditor. eBay could realistically just do whatever they want and pay whatever they want, and nobody could really argue with that. Commission Junction was the third party before.

Contact Issues

There are all sorts of stories similar to this not only on the eBay forums, but also on other forums. One of the arguments eBay is using is that there are thousands of affiliates, and relative to that number, not enough seem to be contacting them with issues to make it an issue. The other side of this story is that not everybody is complaining on their forums, and there is not exactly an obvious way to contact eBay.

The forum link is only on the dashboard homepage. Not everybody wants to post publicly. There is no “Contact” link of any kind in the admin section…making it a bit hard for somebody to complain. The only thing that I have found to contact eBay directly was to go into the help section, click a category, which will also have a link to contact them if it doesn’t answer your question. I did this earlier this month, only to receive a canned response that didn’t answer my question, and was obviously outsourced and not somebody directly working in the program.

Report Issues

I think there is a lot of room for improvement on the reports that eBay offers. Now that everything is in-house, reporting capabilities should be way better in terms of tracking where links are coming from, what is being bid on, where they clicked to bid, etc. I don’t want to get into this right now because eBay seems to be working to continually improve the program, and I have a feeling this will be worked in the future as there are now more affiliates to give feedback.

Are There Really Issues?

I think this is the question of the day. I think there are generally enough complaints from people that literally have switched over and are seeing lower numbers after the switch to say that there is a problem. At this point in time, it’s less about the affiliates like me who think there are issues as I don’t do high enough numbers to make an example…but some of the bigger guys seeing a difference and complaining should say something is up. I think for the smaller guys, we should give it the full month before starting to really complain there is an issue.

For now, those of you having issues, please respond to this post with a comment (there is no need to register, so it’s easy to post) and give a little background on the issue you’re having. The most important information you should post is the following:

When did you change your links to the new program?
What were you averaging per day in February and March 2007?
What was your EPC for Feb and Mar 2007?
What kind of results comparatively have you been seeing in the new program?

Maybe if enough people respond and comment, and compile it one place, we can take it to eBay and make some changes.

College Humor Does An Ad Takeover Right

Yesterday I went to go take a look at the original content section of College Humor videos, as they produce some pretty good high quality stuff like the popular internet comments in a boardroom series. When I went to the video, I noticed that the page had done an ad takeover for AirTranU.com, which is a flight standby program specifically for people between the ages of 18-22 aka college kids.

By doing an ad takeover, there were quite a few elements that took place (That I noticed):

  • The background was changed to match the AirTran U branding (blue)
  • The AirTran U logo was placed next to the College Humor logo
  • The AirTran U logo is provided along the right and left rails of the page
  • The video is surrounded by the actual “ad”, promoting a contest to offer free flights until you’re 23 from AirTran U.
  • Prior to the video playing (pre-roll), there was a quick few second branding spot with the AirTran U logo stating that the video was brought to you by them.
  • After the video was finished (post-roll), it automatically went to a 15 second commercial for AirTran U.
  • Everything, including the background, was clickable.
  • The only thing that didn’t seem to work was the 300×250 ad spot just said “Loading Advertisement”. I’m assuming either the 300×250 ad from AirTran U was not working, or they didn’t have one, so did not load an ad for competitive separation/exclusivity reasons.

Here’s a screenshot of the page, feel free to click it to see the full version:

College Humor ad takeover

I have to say that this ad takeover was really done right. It was very effective to me as a consumer from a performance, targeting, and branding perspective. On top of that, it also looks good. I definitely noticed the ad/brand (enough for me to write this article!), and ended up clicking through just to see what it was all about. I wonder what the cost of a takeover like this is, and what the CPM works out to be. Anybody in the industry care to chime in?? It would be interesting to see more of this in the blogosphere, as long as it’s done right.

What are your thoughts?? Is it too much?

Dining At The Chop House In Ann Arbor, MI

I was extremely lucky when I found my new Dodge Viper, in that the car was located about 20 minutes from where a good friend of mine is attending law school. She was able to check out the car for me, and ensure that everything was legitimate. While I was out picking up the car, I stayed at Lisa’s place for a few days since I never get to see her. In return for helping me out, I wanted to take her out to a nice dinner, so we decided to go to The Chophouse in downtown Ann Arbor.

The Chop House

The restaurant was interesting, it actually had a separate section to it called “La Dolce Vita“, which was a lounge type area for desserts and coffee. Before I get into that, lets get into the dinner itself.

All week Lisa was saying that The Chophouse had the best filet mignon. I’ve had a good amount of filet before, from some really nice places…so I definitely wanted to give it a comparison shot. So of course I ordered the 12oz filet for my entree, and Lisa had some sort of filet special which had crab cakes and something else on it. We also split a side of the cheddar au gratin potatoes with a nice bottle of wine.

Filet mignon & crab cake from The Chophouse

Potatoes au gratin from The Chophouse

I have to say, Lisa was right. This was probably one of the best filet’s I have ever had. I have never seen such a tender piece of cooked meat this size. It was also a huge piece of steak, I could only finish about half of it…and I hadn’t even eaten anything else all day.

We boxed up what we couldn’t finish, and headed over to La Dolce Vita for some dessert. Since we were both already full, we decided to split the chocolate melt cake…unfortunately I didn’t remember to take a picture until we were halfway done with it. Trust me, it was good though :)

Chocolate melt cake from The Chop House

The dinner was great overall, it was about $200 all said and done with a bottle of wine. If you’re ever in the Ann Arbor, MI area…make sure to stop by The Chop House.

The Garage Toys Video

The weather on Saturday cleared up to become a perfect day in the afternoon, so Jason and I decided to take the Vipers out for a little drive around the town. I took some video so you can see how the new Viper looks. Interestingly enough I found the video got an honors on YouTube, as it was the #7 most popular video the day I posted it in the autos section. Somebody even noticed I was wearing my SmashMyViper.com t-shirt (that I haven’t worn in about a year).

Another part of the reason I wanted to make it was because John Chow was raving about his little Flip camera…and I just didn’t get it. While I realize it takes 2 gigs of video, basically everything digital camera takes good quality video as well. Why carry around two things, when you can do it in one? So just to prove it, I created this video using my Canon Powershot SD900 digital camera, and quickly editing it using Windows Movie Maker.

Google Analytics Adds Day/Week/Month Graphs Finally

Do you think that Google may have read my “How Google Analytics Can Be Dramatically Improved” post from back in October? Even if they didn’t Google released an update to Analytics that included this, and possibly other features (anybody else notice anything??)! There is a beta label next to it, but you can now view your graph by day, week, and month…instead of just day:

New Google Analytics chart

New Google Analytics chart

A simple improvement, that makes a drastic difference. Thank you Google…it’s about time.

Update: Apparently you can see hourly charts too…as seen here and here.