I was at a wedding in Durango this weekend, and stopped in to a natural foods store. I don't remember the name, it was something natural-sounding, but as I entered and began looking around I realized that it felt ... not vaguely, but exactly ... like a Whole Foods.
If you saw Eddie Murphy's Coming to America, you'll remember John Amos and his "McDowell's" hamburger restaurant which looked as much like a McDonald's as he could manage. He had even been able to steal one of McDonald's franchise books and was always studying it. This store was like that, only done to perfection. If you were wandering through the aisles and you didn't know where you were, you would have sworn it was a Whole Foods.
I snagged just the right employee to ask, a young man who had worked his way through college in Boulder at a Whole Foods. We discussed the possibility that the owners were trying to create a store to make it as easy as possible for Whole Foods to buy it, much like some software startups groom themselves for purchase by Google. "Exit by acquisition" is a real investment model.
He said he hoped that wouldn't happen, because he really liked the environment as it was and preferred it to Whole Foods (he also developed web sites and had other projects going; working at this store was something he did to stay busy during the rest of the time. Definitely an unusual and interesting character). I detected that same feeling from the other employees that I saw; as good as Whole Foods is, this felt more energetic, much like some of the tech startups I've visited. I don't go to Durango very often, but the next time I'll definitely stop in and see how things have changed.
The other thing I noticed about this trip is the difficulty of discovering hotels via the Internet. Google maps gives an impression of far fewer hotels than actually exist (probably because companies don't know they can just add themselves, or they don't make the effort). The various hotel search services give you a different view depending on which service you choose. These services have an incentive to give you a skewed version of the world -- that is, to trick you. If they can confuse you enough, they benefit.
Once you understand this, you see that the services that purport to serve you are skewed towards serving themselves instead. You might accept the justification that they need to make money somehow, but that begs the question. The customer wants to be served in the best way possible, so if your alignment pushes you to disserving the customer, that opens an opportunity for a competitive service. You can hope that the lack of a simple business model will slow down the appearance of that competition, but since this is the internet where it's easy for free services to pop up, it's best not to get too comfortable. Even better is to figure out how to disrupt your own service before someone else does.