Predicting Sales by Following the Tweets, New Research from McCombs

Can you use Twitter to predict your sales? New research from UT Austin says yes.

Fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal by three researchers at the McCombs School who claim they have developed a new tool that can help companies predict sales, or decide whether to increase inventories or put items on sale, all by following Twitter’s keywords.

To test their model, they conducted a study in which they used Twitter to predict box-office receipts for three different movies that came out on the same day: “Land of the Lost,” “My Life in Ruins” and “The Hangover.”

Can anyone use their technique? Well, they used about 20 servers to collect the data, so this likely requires a bit of sophistication to execute.

Huaxia Rui is a doctoral candidate, and Elizabeth Winker is a research associate for the Center for Research in Electronic Commerce at The University of Texas at Austin. Their faculty mentor is none other than Dr. Andrew Whinston (photo) who is the director of the center as well as a fascinating and brilliant expert on computer science, economics and information systems. Video of a Whinston lecture is here.

WSJ article here.

Moot Corp and the Austin Technology Incubator: Launching New Business Ventures at UT Austin

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Isaac Barchas, Director of the Austin Technology Incubator

“We’ve never passed on working with a Texas Moot Corp winner, they are terrific companies.”

The new venture news last October in this corner of the world was the acquisition of eVapt by India-based billing software company, MagnaQuest Technologies. The discovery of a successful exit strategy in this perilous economy was encouraging news for any entrepreneur, and especially sweet for the venture program at The University of Texas at Austin. Just ask Rob Adams, director of Moot Corp, who is a walking bundle of enthusiasm these days thanks to eVapt and several other funding success stories on the horizon.

eVapt was founded in 2006 by two students at the McCombs School, Divakar Jandhyala and Ranjit Nayak, formerly of BMC and IBM, who went through the Texas Evening MBA program, forged their idea into a company in the furnace of Texas Moot Corp, and later refined it within the robust environment hosted by the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI). Nayak speaks fondly of Moot Corp and ATI in this panel discussion, and that endorsement is echoed by other entrepreneurs who have spoken at startup events here recently.

The New Venture Engine at UT Austin

Isaac Barchas, director of The Austin Technology Incubator and associate director of its parent, the IC2 Institute at The University of Texas at Austin says the incubator has worked with 24 companies that have raised $28 million in investor capital in fiscal year ’07-’08. While the financial pressures of the following year slowed investment to $10 million, ATI worked with 28 companies and accounted for half of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund’s investments.

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Closing the Marketing Accountability Gap; An Interview with Ramesh Rao

“Marketing is more important than marketers say it is, but not for the reasons they give us.”

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Dr. Ramesh Rao believes in the ROI of marketing, but don’t ask him to acknowledge its value based on industry assumptions or gross sales figures. As a professor of finance at the McCombs School, Rao demands proof that marketing boosts a company’s financial performance. The kind of proof that will convince shareholders, boost market value, and provide direct guidance on levels of marketing investment. Absent that analysis, he claims, marketers are doomed to lose accountability and a place at the table when corporate strategy is being formed.

Rao’s research on marketing accountability was featured in EXCHANGE magazine in 2008. In the article Marketing ROI written by Sandie Taylor he says, “You have to go beyond brand equity and find tangible outcomes. Marketers don’t have a consensus definition of customer equity and brand equity. If they want to argue these concepts are important they must articulate a mechanism by which they can add value. Otherwise it’s all stories. For example, marketers claim that customer equity and brand equity create ‘marketing assets’ and lower the firm’s working capital, but they have provided virtually no justification for this claim. Marketing is more important than marketers say it is, but not for the reasons they give us.”

Learning that a second phase of his research on the topic was nearing completion, I asked for an update on his framework for measuring the value of marketing.

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Example of How a Branding Brainstorm Works

Little did they know they had already discovered their organization’s future name.

When an organization, whether a small business, corporation, or nonprofit, determines that it needs to sharpen and strengthen its brand, one of the first things everyone wants to do is get together and have a branding brainstorm.

I’ve written in the past about an effective technique for starting that discussion called a forced relationship (or forced analogy) exercise. I’ve found this to be both a productive approach and an enjoyable ice-breaker for a group that might be working together for the first time on something about which they don’t feel naturally comfortable. It allows everyone to express their initial perceptions about the brand in an organized way that eliminates the stress of being “serious and consequential” right from the start.

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Skyler Kanegi’s Life of a Young Entrepreneur

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Photo by Edilsa Lopez

“Robert Heinlein said specialization is for insects. Be as much of a renaissance man as possible.”

Skyler Kanegi wants you to know who he is, and if you have any doubt about that just look here, and here, and here, and here, and over there. If there is any online or social media venue where his smiling face isn’t found, let me know. I asked him about this extreme level of online visibility and his answer was simple, “If you know how, you can find all this information online anyway. So why not make it easy?” (He’s an MIS major at the McCombs School, so go figure.)

Besides, Kanegi has grand plans, entrepreneurial plans, and he desires connections with others who share similar dreams. When I mentioned Gary Hoover, the Kelleher Center’s Entrepreneur in Residence, his eyes brightened. Kanegi and Hoover have already connected; both share an insatiable curiosity about the interplay between culture and business. Both believe business is an enterprise for people with broad interests and goals that stretch beyond profitability.

That Kanegi is a second-year undergraduate student doesn’t moderate his perspective or enthusiasm. This is a young man with full-bore intentions and a work ethic to match. I was fascinated to listen as he talked about the life of a young entrepreneur.

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