My Olympic Experience

Last month I wrote about the shifting fortunes of China, and how excited my wife, Debbie, and I were to have tickets to attend the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. I promised to report what we found there, so here’s what we experienced: nothing. We didn’t go. As it turned out, the “company” that we purchased our tickets through last year turned out to be a scam. From what we’ve been able to learn, this “front” created an incredibly elaborate network of physical and online attributes—offices, phone numbers, Web sites, messaging—that fooled thousands of others around the world.
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According to recent reports, the principals of this con made off with more than $25 million.

These guys did a fantastic job, albeit an illegal one. The Web site offered a professional, exceptional user experience. From the time we purchased our “tickets,” we received regular updates via e-mail: athletes’ status, venue conditions and locations, what to do in Beijing, and news and updates on the U.S. team.

You might think that Debbie and I are bitter about this, but we aren’t. A little embarrassed? Sure. But not bitter.

For one thing, we were fooled like many others from all over the world. And I personally took lessons from this experience that I believe manufacturers can apply to strengthen their own businesses.


The Power of the Web

This scam hinged on its Web site, and its reach spread around the world rapidly. Part of its success was built on its strong adherence to Web site architecture principals: search engine optimization (SEO), page layout, design and functionality. But a factor that played just as strong a role in the bogus site’s success was the awful condition of the official Olympics ticket site (www.CoSport.com). The bogus site continually came up significantly higher in the search engines than the official site. The layout of the bogus site was built to provide information and easily guide visitors to an action (to buy tickets), while the user experience of the official site didn’t. The bogus site “spoke” of the Olympics, where the official site “spoke” of itself and what we could do on the site. What the bogus site did well, CoSport did not.

Lesson 1: A bad Web site doesn’t just hurt your business; it can help your competitor’s business gain initial interest from the prospects you both want.


Web Sites Can’t Do Everything

A Web site—a good one, at least—can clearly show what you do well. But it can’t deliver a product or ensure high quality, customer satisfaction, or repeat business for your company. While my Olympics experience instilled confidence at first, when the time came to deliver the product it was a letdown. The Web site succeeded, but the company failed.

Lesson 2: Your Web site can promise, but your business must deliver. A good Web site won’t make up for bad business.


The Web Is not Bad

There is great power to be harnessed for your business through the Web. It is a tool that, when used properly, can have a remarkably positive impact on your business. By the same token, other business opportunities you find through the Web can be just as beneficial. Due diligence beyond the Web can’t be ignored.

Lesson 3: There’s good and bad everywhere—not just the Web. It’s what you make of it.

My faith in the Web, in open markets and in people is the same as it was before my Olympics experience. I’m still just as confident and optimistic as I ever was, I just got burned. If you think about it, it could’ve been much worse.

Oh, and by the way, in case you might have thought the bogus site was run out of China, it wasn’t. It was run by a “company” in England, with a physical office in Arizona.

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