My Aldi E-Bike broke down. I called customer service. You won’t believe what happened next.

(Haha, this is my very first Buzzfeed/Heftig.co inspired headline. Did you notice? Let’s see whether this headline increases the number of views and shares ;)

I am totally blown away by a customer service experience that happened today I simply have to share it. Great customer service deserves attention! And it needs to be emulated by as many companies as possible!

aldi-suisse_01

The ad that inspired me to buy this Aldi E-Bike

Two months ago I bought a mid-engine E-Bike at Aldi Suisse by Prophete for the unbelievable price of just 999 CHF. Recently I had an Error Message on the display, so I had to check the warranty terms. There is a 3 year (!) repair-at-home warranty for most sensible parts (engine, electronics etc.). There is a 10 year (!) warranty on the frame and the suspension. The Samsung battery has a warranty of 1 year.

Then there was the indication that I need to call Buchner GmbH, as they are the company with the service level contract. The person was super-friendly, filed my problem within 2 minutes and promised that a mechanic would visit me at home to repair the bike. First WOW moment! I never had a mechanic visiting me at home before. Feeling like a king :)

aldi-suisse_02

Personal visit of a bicycle mechanic. Feeling like a king :)

Today I had my appointment with the mechanic. It turned out that he was coming all the way from Austria and was performing all this work in Switzerland by coming by car from Austria, visiting all clients personally. He would spend 3-4 days per week in Switzerland, servicing 4-6 clients per day. He was probably the most friendly mechanic I have ever worked with.

He replaced the display and fixed some other minor things. Everything, including a test-drive and a nice conversation took about 45 minutes.

The most interesting part was the conversation with him. I have learned a lot:

  • It’s not Aldi Suisse that is paying for the repairs, it’s the manufacturer, Prophete, a German company.
  • He doesn’t know, but he and I estimated that Aldi Suisse probably sold more than 10’000 E-Bikes in Switzerland
  • The engine is a Bosch engine. The battery is a Samsung battery.
  • These sort of E-Bikes generally don’t break down a lot.
  • The E-Bikes are manufactured in Asia. There must be a very healthy margin if they can afford to offer such an outstanding warranty. First there is 8% VAT. Then I would guess a 20% margin for Aldi. Buchner needs to be paid. Production needs to be paid. Headquarters in Germany need to be paid. Seems like a healthy business.
  • Every repair is documented in great detail. Every report goes back to the manufacturer. If Prophete is smart, they will use this feedback to create the perfect E-Bike. They also need to interview those mechanics, because there is a lot more knowledge in their heads about the strengths and weaknesses of the product. I would LOVE to see those reports. Then I would go and create the perfect E-Bike that would blow everything away :)
  • He even recommended that I might upgrade the bike with Magura H11 or Magura H33 breaks. I probably will do that!
  • He also recommended that in winter to always take the battery inside. Cold and wet temperatures are not healthy for these kinds of batteries! I will probably do that as well.

He then went off to the next client. What a fantastic experience! And what a great feeling to have peace of mind for 3 full years!

I love you Aldi. I love you Prophet. I love you Buchner!

@All: Please emulate this experience! Your clients will love you and write blog posts like this one about you!

Street Living Experiences 2014


These are the experiences of my second Street Retreat. Click here to read the experiences of the first one in 2011.

Last Update: 14 September 2014

street-2014_008

Taken at the end of the Street Retreat. We started with nothing. In the end we were packed with bags, blankets and cardboard.

In 2011 I did my very first Street Retreat. This year I’ve decided to invite Zen-Buddhist Monk Claude AnShin Thomas to Basel and to organize a Street Retreat in my home town. So from Sep 6 to Sep 10 2014, in a group of 11 people, I lived on the streets of Basel, without money, without a sleeping bag, sleeping outside and begging for everything. Street Retreats are a spiritual Zen practice.

Press coverage

Donations
The nine non-monastic participants have collectively raised 8’489 Swiss Francs, therefore on average 943 Swiss Francs per participant. After the retreat, the group has decided to donate the funds to seven non-profit organizations with the bulk of the money going to small organizations in strong need of financial resources, plus 100 CHF as a thank you to the church St. Anton that invited us to sleep one night in their facilities. The money wasn’t distributed evenly. We used a democratic approach to first decide which organizations to include. After deciding on 7 organizations, everyone had 7 votes that could been placed freely, and out of the votes the contributions were calculated:

(1) Gassenküche Basel, soup kitchen for homeless (1’864 Swiss Francs)
(2) Plusminus Budget- und Schuldenberatung Basel, help for people with financial problems and debt (1’465 Swiss Francs)
(3) Schwarzer Peter – Verein für Gassenarbeit, various services for homeless people (1’465 Swiss Francs)
(4) Tischlein deck dich, collecting food and distributing it for free (666 Swiss Francs)
(5) Verein Anlaufstelle für Sans-Papiers, help for immigrants without valid documents (932 Swiss Francs)
(6) Verein Surprise, offers jobs for homeless and other services (266 Swiss Francs)
(7) Zaltho Foundation, promoting mindfulness and non-violence (1’731 Swiss Francs)
(8) Church St. Anton Basel, a small thank you for letting us sleep there (100 Swiss Francs)

The money will be handed out to these organizations within the next 14 days.

Preparation:
As a preparation for our begging, we had to beg for 1080 CHF in front of the retreat. This time, this was difficult for me. It’s already my second street retreat, so I’ve decided to not ask the same people that I have asked the last time. Some of them were extremely generous the last time, so I did not want to exploit the trust and relationship with them. I also thought about cheating and not beg at all, paying the money myself. As the organizer I felt bad to remind all participants of the begging and then not do it myself, so I decided to finally surrender and just do it. I’ve written an email to 83 people, and in the end 26 of them decided to support me, with the range of 10 CHF to 200 CHF. First, I’ve written to only 20-30 people, but as the initial response was quite slow, I soon had to increase the number of people. In the end, I’ve managed to raise the 1080 CHF in 12 days. As I am quite impatient, those 12 days actually felt more like 30-45 days, so I was quite nervous whether I will be able to raise the full amount in time. This year I’ve decided to include a PayPal-Link to make donations more convenient, and it paid off, as the majority of donations came in through PayPal. Also, in my text, I emphasized quite strongly that the money would be donated to charities. I’ve realized during the retreat that my begging could have been purer: To simply tell what I was going to do, and then to ask whether this person would support me, therefore making it more about supporting me personally rather than something external.

St. Johanns-Park:
Our Zendo and “headquarters” was located at St. Johanns-Park, a beautiful park near the Rhine river and the city center. It turned out to be the right place. On our second day we learned that this park was a former hospital cemetary where poor people were buried and that there still would be skeletons in the earth.

Our Zendo

Our Zendo in St. Johanns-Park

Difficulty to find a sleeping place:
It was very difficult to find a sleeping place outside. We were looking for places with a roof and that offered a certain protection. Usually abandoned buildings, schools or construction sites could fit those criteria. Most construction sites and abandoned buildings were locked up quite heavily. In the end we were only able to find two places: a temporary wooden bicycle and motorbike stand near the University, and one large party tent that we slipped into.

street-2014_004

Our sleeping place for two nights

street-2014_005

Our sleeping place for two nights

It’s cold by the water:
One night we slept near the Rhine in a party tent. This was my coldest night. The surface was grass, so it got quite wet from below, and the humidity also came from the water. It’s better to avoid placed near the water, as they are usually wet and windy. It’s also advisable to avoid grass as this gets wet as well.

Cardboard:
It was more difficult to find cardboard in Basel than in Bielefeld. We were lucky and found some right in the beginning. The other option would have been to go to storage rooms of supermarkets and ask there.

Church bells:
This time, church bells were an important tool. Every quarter of hour there is a bell, so if you don’t have a watch, you start to listen more carefully to the bells to know what time it is. I didn’t sleep much during the first night, so I was listening to the bells impatiently and waiting for the morning to come.

Cuddling:
When you don’t have a blanket or sleeping bag, it gets cold at night – even in summer-time. The more experienced participants knew how to support each other by cuddling. However I realized one more time that I am not a cuddling person. So I made the decision to sleep on the side and not cuddle. I preferred being cold but having my own space, instead of being warm and feeling restricted, not able to move. When temperatures would have been painfully cold, I probably would have cuddled as well, trading sleep quality for warmth.

First evening:
The retreat started at 5pm and we arrived at the park at around 6pm. So we had about 45 minutes to beg for dinner, which we usually do in groups of two. That first begging round was very difficult for me. I felt embarrassed. We have been rejected in the first few places, and we also asked at a place that already gave something to someone else from our group – which felt even more embarrassing. We then asked at a small focacceria and were welcomed very warmly by Italian owner Sylvie Mazzeo. She asked her husband to make us two “pinsa romana“, an ancient pizza from roman times. Our first success, we were very happy! The others in our group got three additional pizzas, a bottle of Coca Cola, fruit and many other things. So we had pizza for dinner. Claude AnShin reminded us that we might want to leave some leftovers. That was a helpful suggestion, because we would have eaten everything, which would have left us with no breakfast. So we left one pizza and were happy to have it for breakfast. Lesson learned!

Drunk person vomited next to us:
About 30 minutes after we went to sleep on the first night, we were visited by a very drunk person. About five meters next to us the person vomited and continued to do so for the next few minutes. The sounds and smells were not very pleasant. Nevertheless, it was manageable, so we stayed.

street-2014_006

Brushing teeth:
The most difficult thing for me this year was not brushing and flossing my teeth for 10 days. I could feel strongly how unhealthy this was for my mouth and teeth. One person in our group had the idea to beg for toothbrushes and toothpaste. Claude AnShin was okay with it, as long as we begged for it. Some of our group went to dentists and were able to get some toothbrushes and paste. I have tried to do it in two pharmacies, but they were not willing to give away brushes, they only gave some samples of paste. Note to self: If you do another Street Retreat, beg for brushes and paste on the very first day! Also, think about giving some brushes, paste and floss to the next homeless person you see!

Health and illness:
One other challenge when living on the street is illness. I was not feeling very well and had some severe headache. At home I would just take a painkiller. On the street the only option I had was to drink as much water as possible and to lay down. Of course, I could have tried to go to a pharmacy or doctor to beg for a painkiller, but in that moment I didn’t had the energy to do so. Imagine you are living on the street and having a fever, or having diarrhea. It’s quite a challenge. Note to self: Give some paracetamol to homeless people!

Public toilets, Toilet paper:
Simple things like toilet paper, and free public toilets. Normally I never think about these things. I’ve learned that there are 52 free public toilets in Basel. There are already 30 modern toilets that are self-cleaning, but cost money. The city is planning to continuously replace the free conventional toilets with self-cleaning, paid ones. I’m not sure that this is such a great idea. Also, toilet paper. We were very lucky that the toilet we were using was maintained very well. It was cleaned every day and every morning there was one new toilet paper roll. Sometimes, the toilet paper would be used up during the day. What if you don’t carry any kleenex with you? Note to self: Put an additional roll of toilet paper to some public toilets. Give a homeless a pack of kleenex.

McDonalds:
We begged at a McDonalds. While the manager said they wouldn’t give away food for free, he was willing to buy us two cheeseburgers with his own money. As we don’t eat meat, we gave the cheeseburgers to the next homeless person.

Hotel Hilton:
It was very difficult to get blankets or sleeping bags in Basel. We asked at some dry-cleaners whether they’d have stuff that wasn’t picked up, but didn’t have any luck. Then we asked at 8 different hotels, no luck. We even asked at the most exclusive hotel of Basel, Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois. We had to courageously pass the portiers and security guards, which went quite smoothly. The receptionist was very nice. She asked at two different departments of the building, but in the end no luck. The last hotel we have asked was Hilton Basel. The receptionist referred us to the front-desk manager, who was extremely kind and gave us two high-quality blankets as a gift of the house. He insisted we should not return them. We assured him that we would donate the blankets afterwards. He shook our hands and with a huge smile wished us all the best. What a nice person!

Street Pilgrimage:
One part of the Street Retreat is to walk a lot. We would divide into groups of two and then walk through the city, to beg for food, blankets and to find new sleeping places. Usually we did this between 9am and 12am in the mornings and then between 3pm and 6pm in the evenings. So usually we walked between 4-6 hours every day, which turned out to be a beautiful street pilgrimage. I have visited places in Basel that I have never visited before. And I have visited places that I have not visited for 20 years, for example my elementary school when we asked for a place to sleep in their backyard.

Begging together, Eating together:
After begging for food, we would meet in the park and share everything. The feeling of solidarity and community was very strong. So even if one group was not lucky, there were always others that have received more. So no one would go hungry, no matter whether we was lucky or not. We would sit in a circle, put everything in the center, and then share everything. The sharing was a beautiful experience. We would take a falafel, take a bite, and then pass it on to the next person. We would fill a cup, take a sip, and then pass it on. This made a huge impression on me. In my ordinary life it’s just me, so I eat what’s on my plate. Here, the “I” was replaced by “We”. It was a powerful experience to share food in this way.

Food:
What kind of food did we get? Pizza, falafel, warm Pakistani meal, warm Indian meal, apples, oranges, grapes, lots of chocolate, mango jam, cherry jam, lots of bread, sandwiches, cheese, Coca Cola, lots of other soft drinks, Rivella, popcorn, croissants, cake, orange juice, grapefruit juice, mango juice, bananas, mineral water, Panettone cake, and so much more I can’t even remember. We had everything! And plenty of it! We even had to give some food away.

Krishna Take Away:
When we were visited by the television reporter, he asked us whether he could film us during begging. The first place we went was the Indian Restaurant Krishna Take Away. The camera made them feel very uncomfortable. Actually they were quite upset with the reporter, because they assumed that in this way he would abuse or exploit vulnerable homeless people. I could feel that they felt pressured by the camera, so they prepared two complete meals for us. The next day, after the retreat was finished, we went there for our closing meal. Therefore, giving away two meals brought them 8 paying customers the next day. Karma doesn’t always work like this. Here it did.

Basel’s Social System:
We tried to find out how it works to be homeless in Basel. We visited the Heilsarmee Männerheim and the Caritas Second-Hand shop. The salvation army told us, that they would offer three nights for free without registration – as an opportunity to settle down for people that for example came from abroad. If you want to stay longer, you need to register with the city. The same was true for Caritas. In order to get clothes, you need to register with a social worker. The goal of this process is to find out why people ended up on the street and to initiate a process of rehabilitation. While I like the intention to offer support and a process, I don’t like to be pressured to talk with social workers, just to be “eligible” to receive food, clothes or shelter. I wonder how many percent of the homeless are registered and how many choose not to. I would also be interested to learn how homeless people perceive the process of “registration” and “support”. Note to self: Talk to a homeless person about this.

Loneliness:
The greatest asset we had was that we were not alone. We were supported by the group, by our Zen teacher, and by our meditation practice. Being alone on the street must be terribly lonely. Note to self: Take the time and talk to a homeless person. Give him/her a feeling that he/she is not alone. Listen to their wisdom. Learn from them.

Meditation:
An important part was our daily meditation practice. At 7am and 7pm we would do sitting meditation followed by recitations. That was an important practice and offered us structure and stability.

street-2014_002

street-2014_003

street-2014_001

Clothes:
How do you distinguish a homeless person from an ordinary person, especially in summer? The homeless person is wearing a winter jacket! We were fortunate that the weather was very warm and that it didn’t rain. Had the retreat started one or two weeks earlier, it would have been much colder and much more wet. I was wearing the following: a t-shirt, a thermo-shirt, a warm hoodie, pajama pants, a winter jacket, a cap and a baseball cap. And still, although it was 27 degrees during the day, the 12-14 degrees during the night felt very cold, especially if you don’t have a blanket or sleeping bag, and if you are sleeping on the floor. I can only imagine how cold it must be when it is 5 degrees, or 0 degrees, or -5 degrees. It must be a huge challenge. During the first two nights without a blanket, I discovered that I could use my winter jacket as a blanked. It was much more comfortable to use it as a blanket than to wear it, as you can also squeeze a part of your legs underneath it. That made all the difference. A long winter coat would have made an even better blanket. Note to self: When it’s cold, buy a homeless person an additional blanket or winter coat from a second hand shop.

street-2014_007

During day it was up to 27 degrees Celsius. During night it gets cold if you don’t have a blanket.

Giving back to the place that serves us:
One beautiful practice that we did every day was giving back to the places that served us. The Street Retreat started with a one-day meditation retreat at the Swisspeace Academy. During the part that we call ‘working meditation’ the 11 participants cleaned the whole building: floors, toilets, windows, picking up trash and leaves outside and much more. The idea is to (1) not leave any traces, and to (2) leave the place in a better condition than before.
When being on the street, we got up between 6:00am and 6:30am. We then would go to the St. Johanns-Park and spend 10-20 minutes to pick up trash. It’s incredible how much trash a group of 11 people can pick up in this time. I wonder whether the people from Stadtgärtnerei Basel noticed when they arrived later to clean the park. Picking up trash and giving back to places is a beautiful practice, and I wish I am able to make this a habit.

The Street:
Claude AnShin Thomas, after he returned from the Vietnam war and from the hospital, lived on the street from 1970-1972, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So for him, it was not an “experience” or “adventure”, it was a reality. And now, as a mendicant monk, he continues to live homeless, only staying where he is invited. For me, his guidance was authentic, and I am very grateful for this experience.

WDR Documentary about the Street Retreat in Leverkusen in 2010

More information about the work of Claude AnShin Thomas

English: http://www.zaltho.org
German: http://www.zaltho.de

Book by Claude AnShin Thomas

Claude AnShin Thomas has written a book about his path from soldier to Zen-monk and his experience with violence. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

English version / German version

   

ZenFriend Project Log

Inspired by the fantastic developer log by Amir Rajan, developer of #1 game A Dark Room, I have decided to try something similar for ZenFriend, our new meditation app project. The same way that Amir inspired us, we wish to inspire others by sharing our experiences with this app project: Here is the ZenFriend Project Log

The Business Model Canvas

This talk – plus the posters I see at my coworking space every day ;) – has started me off to the world of the Business Model Canvas and I have to admit that I fell in love with the concept.

In the meantime I have finished the book Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder et al. to deepen my knowledge of this concept:

  • It’s a very simple, yet powerful framework how to think about businesses and business models
  • It allows you to generate a big-picture description of a business idea or established business in a matter of minutes
  • It provides a common language to talk about and analyze businesses
  • A “Business model” is not just the part that generates the revenue. It’s the complete picture of a business, including the cost structure, key partnerships, key activities etc.
  • When reading the book, I discovered how important it is to start with either the customer segments (who exactly am I serving? Who is my customer?) and/or the value proposition (what problems do my customer segments have? How can I solve them?).
  • Based on the Customer Segements/Value Proposition it’s very important to see the bridge between the two: the channels. How exactly am going to reach those customers? Do I need salespeople? Will I do pay-per-click advertising? What is my assumption regarding conversion rate? What will be my customer acquisition costs?
  • From that, you can derive your needed resources (e.g. sales people), your key partners (e.g. Google AdWords freelancer or agency) etc.
  • Another great angle is the key resources, key activities and key partners triangle that leads to your cost structure. Do you really need to do everything in-house? Can you use off-the-shelf components? This analysis made me realize, how strongly web-companies rely on open-source. PHP, MySQL, Apache etc. are very crucial building blocks for today’s businesses. So far I took these things for granted. But in reality they are the basis for many things.
  • When I look at my former businesses/products I have to admit that I didn’t think enough about the customer segments, value proposition, and channels. Knowing your customer and providing real value is the basis for every business. That’s why Lean Startup and the concept of validation is so important. I really like the following essence offered by Eric Ries: The question is not: Can it be built? The question is: Should it be built? Very powerful question.

How Product/Market Fit Feels Like

Great conversation with Marc Andreessen and Eric Ries about how product/market fit feels like, and some deep thoughts about the Lean Startup methodology.

  • People who ask themselves whether they have achieved product/market fit usually haven’t achieved it
  • You know when you get there. You feel it. The space ship is taking off. Customers are pouring in. The wind has turned. It’s not ‘OMG it’s so difficult to get customers’ anymore. It’s more like ‘OMG, so many customers, we’re exploding’.
  • A great pre-requisite to product/market fit is product/founder fit. When the founders are power-users themselves, that’s a good sign. When the product is used by employees enthusiastically, that’s a very good sign.
  • Before Gmail launched, they made sure the product made 100 Google employees very happy (watch the talk by Paul Buchheit, co-creator of Gmail). They have iterated so long until this was achieved. Once they made those 100 Googlers happy, they knew they would make happy many more.

By above standards, I have to admit that I have never reached product/market fit so far in my career.

  • In 2004 we had some serious traction with webmasterforum.ch but unfortunately this traction got killed by a stupid mistake of mine that cost us 80% of our traffic (we changed the domain to ayom.com and fell out of Google – our main traffic source – because the domain has been burned by the previous owners. The worst thing: before switching I felt there was something fishy because we tried to index something and it didn’t, but I didn’t take any action. Very stupid mistake, hurts until today. This product would have been 2x, 5x or 10x more popular without this mistake.)
  • In 2005/2006 Parlaris lost traction because we didn’t have any working revenue model. Should have pivoted earlier.
  • In 2007 Trigami was very close to product/market fit, but we didn’t really get there. The main issue was Google again. 6 months after launch Google launched it’s attack against paid links (and several of our bloggers temporarily lost some or all of their PageRank – ouch). As backlinks were the main value in the eyes of our customers, our value proposition got much weaker. Probably should have taken this opportunity to pivot. We did introduce new offerings (many of them, probably too many) but failed to kill off the non-working ones. On a sidenote: whenever someone starts offering ‘consulting’ services, that’s a sign that something might not be working ;)

We’ll keep experimenting. Maybe someday we’ll get there. Without Google getting in our way :).

Lean Startup Essentials

Even though I have pre-ordered the Lean Startup book in 2011, and started reading the first few pages in 2013, I have actually never finished it. So recently – as a usual Late Adopter – I have started studying the methodology. And I instantly fell in love with it.

Here are some essentials if you want to get started with Lean Startup – or get a refresher.

Great talks by Eric Ries (you can find more here):

Great case study of how to validate a business idea in 24 Hours instead of 6 Months:

Lean Canvas – Capture your Business Model in 20 Minutes

Bonus:
In case you get excited (like I did), I highly recommend the videos of the Lean Startup Conferences