Business-like, isn't he?



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    Local online startups offer value-added services to compete with major players

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver March 30 - April 5, 2010 issue #1066

    High Tech Office column

    Over the past 10 to 15 years, a number of websites have managed to gain market- and mind-share, offering online replacements for traditional retail or face-to-face services.

    Looking to book a flight or hotel? Expedia or Travelocity come to mind. Looking for a job? Have you checked

    Despite the looming presence of these online industry giants, a pair of local startups hope that by providing something extra they can build a successful niche.

    New Westminster-based won’t get you the cheapest flight. What it will try to do, however, is find you a local resident who can give you personal attention when you do get wherever you’re going. The system has 499 guides enrolled in 186 regions in more than 50 countries worldwide.

    Paul Melhus and Dave Vincent got the idea while visiting an out-of-the-way section of China’s Great Wall. A pair of elderly Chinese women took them in hand and showed them the sights from a local’s perspective.

    They’ve made contact with local tour guides, interviewing each using online tools like Skype to ensure that they speak English and know about their locality. Guides are independent contractors, not ToursByLocals employees. The company receives a commission for hooking you up and processing the payments. They’ll also act as an intermediary if things don’t work out as planned.

    ToursByLocals’ service has lots of potential, for business and pleasure. Imagine you’re briefly in a foreign city on business and want to have someone acquaint you with the lay of the land before your meeting. Or your cruise ship docks in Civitavecchia overnight. Sure, the cruise company can (for an additional fee) put you on a bus with 40 other travellers for a five-hour romp through nearby Rome. ToursByLocals offers something that’s more personal and can be customized.

    While ToursByLocals tries to bring travellers together with local tour guides, Sean Donnelly’s new is trying to smooth out the experience of bringing job hunters and prospective employees together.

    As the name suggests, it offers a service where job hunters can post a short video resumé online. The service is free for applicants; employers are charged a fee, but are promised resumés targeted to their needs. The value-added bonus is that a short video clip can provide quality information missing in traditional paper (or online) resumés: a look at job seekers and a way to quickly evaluate their language skills, presentation and self-confidence. Employers can buy access to the resumé database for periods ranging from a week ($250) to a year ($4,000).

    The service sells itself to job seekers as an opportunity to make their job applications stand out from the crowd, noting that “if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million.” It offers employers a way to quickly weed through a large stack of resumés, avoiding the situations where, based on a standard resumé, an applicant is asked in for an interview, but it becomes embarrassingly clear in the first minute or so that it just isn’t going to work out.

    Uploaded video clips and contact information are not publicly available on the Internet. They are made available only to prospective employers. Currently, the service is targeting Canada and the U.S.; Donnelly is hoping to be able to expand it to other countries.

    Both ToursByLocals and ResumeVideoVault are innovative recent startups; hopefully there is room for them to exist alongside the well-established industry giants. Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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