Friday, December 30, 2011

Simple and Imaginative

Giving an empty canvas as a gift is simple, but it’s also infinitely imaginative. The canvas can become whatever the artist desires whether it be a bird flying over an ocean landscape or an old man sitting in central park. What’s important to know is that the delivery of the story is fixed. You can control how the gift is received. You can create what it represents.

This is important because a product can mean something different to everyone that buys it. However, one thing is controllable – the story. Choose your story carefully, craft it diligently, it’s you’re edge.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

‘Roads are meant to be traveled’

Incorporated in 1914 is Kensington a small town in the Heart of Prince Edward Island. When traveling there in 2006, I learned that many people have never been to the west of the island a mere 30km or so. But why? Is it because without inspiration or purpose to travel there’s no need to travel? As an economist would say “It’s because people without a why have nowhere to go.” I think not.   

Roads are meant to inspire and challenge us to go further than we’ve ever ventured before. They’re meant to facilitate our curiosity (arguably man’s greatest gift) and challenge us to adapt. Traveling different and unexpected roads can be exhilarating and thrilling, but it can also be boring and lonely. It’s in these times of boredom and loneliness we are forced to adapt and try different things. It’s in these times that are the most beneficial because we discover things we never knew about ourselves; things that can change our lives forever.

Stay Curious.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Elephant’s are not small


There’s always something in every organization that is a topic for debate and conflict. People stress over the big elephant in the room because the core problem of it is never addressed. The issue could be a client, a boss, a structural issue – but if you start noticing the elephant’s showing up more often, there’s an opportunity to address it.

Start by articulating what’s wrong with the current problem(s) and carry on by framing it as an opportunity to change.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Group Dynamics


Napoleon was such an effective strategist because he understood the power of teams. By decentralizing his military, he was able to create an environment where commanders could coordinate decisions with other commanders without waiting for Napoleon's go ahead. He fostered an environment where lateral coordination was key to giving his military the flexibility and precision of small troops, with the deadliness of a huge war machine.

Your organization can create a similar environment where teams excel. Teams not only perform better than individuals (in most cases) but they have the ability of turning people from uninspired employees into a group of superstars. However, many things needs to be in place first.  

1. The organizational structure needs to be built or restructured to create an environment where teams thrive. Consider things like: How much autonomy should a team have? How often do they need to report back? Will teams work in separate groups, on separate projects? Will there be cross-conversation and cross help among teams? Will two teams work together on a project? Will a team be for the most part be a  permanent engagement (like the partnership of two officers)?

2. Teams need to be built correctly. For example, a team of four will have a very difficult time being successful if they’re all very chatty or if they’re all very detail oriented. Instead, the best teams have complimenting traits like different approaches and different backgrounds. Some ways to go about building a team are by thinking about: professional specialization, detail-orientation, go-getters, big-picture thinkers, researchers, creativity, sales, beliefs, passions, culture, gender. The list goes on. Building a team is difficult because there are no cookie cutter solutions; in lieu of a framework, you need to adapt the criteria of your team based on situation.

3. Make sure your team understands all the issues, concerns and worries of all other team members before commencing work. Engaging in this activity allows every team member to understand each other’s points of views, discuss what they’re best at and prevent any future problems that may come up.

4. Set up a reward structure. One of the best approaches to this I’ve heard of is to reward the team members with nominal amounts of money, and ask them to buy gifts for other members of the team on the completion of successful projects.

What do you think is the most important aspect of a team?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chasing Value

Start with a strong why. Be focused and communicate clearly.  You’ll soon learn that you never need to chase value again.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stay on top of innovation

In order to constantly compete in business you need to constantly innovate, change and adapt to a variety of societal changes and trends. It’s not an easy thing to do. But I’ve found a site that will help you solve those problems - it’s called Springwise. Springwise is essentially crowdsourcing innovation, by compiling an entire database of the newest, latest coolest innovations from many different sectors around the world.

If you’re in marketing, and want to see the latest innovations from gaming – it’s here. Or maybe your in health-care and looking to see what kind of green, sustainable initiatives are happening around the world and how you can incorporate them – you’ll find it here. My point is that this website is a valuable resource to any entrepreneur, business owner, or anyone that is looking for new ways to integrate innovation from other sectors.

If any part of you want’s to cross-innovate or borrow ideas from a successful business but your not sure where to start, think Springwise.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pay employees to quit.

As long as your job doesn’t naturally come with a high turnover, take one from the notebook of Tony Hsieh of Zappos - pay employees to quit.

Zappos goes through am interview process similar to that of any other companies, it’s tedious, it’s expensive and it’s challenging to figure out what employee is right for the company. To weed out people who are there just for the money, Zappos pays potential employees $3000 to quit one week into their training.Tony says employees who decide to stay (which is on average 97% of trainees) come back to the training session with a greater understanding of why they want to work with Zappos.

This approach to hiring is unique and ground-breaking but only a company with clear values and a enjoyable culture can pull it off. Maybe it’s time to rethink how you do business.

If you’d like to hear about how this big idea got started from Tony – check out this short interview.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Happiness Culture

It’s exactly how it sounds – happy. I had heard about this concept last week when I had the opportunity to listen to Bruce Poon Tip founder and CEO of Gap Adventurers. Bruce was enthusiastic and vibrant about the happiness culture, convincing my entire 2011 BCom class that this is the future of business. The concept of a happiness culture is to empower employees, owners and customers to actively change the world while making some money along the way. 

It stems from this idea of the why culture, why we believe what we do. Bruce was able to articulate Gap Adventurers why through a quintuple bottom line approach: People, Planet, Profit, Passion, and Purpose. In order to have a culture of happiness all of these fundamental values need to be first met before anything else can happen. The result is one very happy company whose employees and customers both feel four things:

1) Perceived Progress – Whether it comes in the form of work or making an active difference in the communities tourists travel to.

2)Connectedness – A special bond those involved will share forever.

3) Perceived Control – Whether it’s the freedom employees have or the choices tourists get to make on the trips.

4) Being part of something larger than yourself – Real difference is being made and it’s powerful knowing what role one plays as a customer or employee in the bigger picture.

A happy workplace is more effective. Happy customers are more loyal. It speaks for itself. But if you need more convincing listen to a similar speech Bruce gave at SB’11.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The turkey problem.

The Turkey problem is a very old problem – one that turkeys and humans have faced forever. It was first introduced to me by pseudo philosopher Nassim Taleb in his book “The Black Swan”. Let me give you an idea of what the problem is with a little chart I put together.


Turkey Problem

The problem the turkey faces is one of complacency. A turkey will live 1000 days eating hand fed grain and think that is how life will always be, then on the 1001 day the turkey gets killed by that same farmer that hand fed it. The turkey was putting so much faith in what it has always known, and has continued to think it knows until the time it dies.

This is a similar problem businesses face – even when things start to go wrong and look peculiar, we generally put so much faith in the past and what we think we know. When what we should be doing is re-evaluating the entire situation the company is currently in. In life things can change in an instant, and if you become complacent or succumb to “I know what I need to know” syndrome the future will create problems for you and not opportunities.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Candle Problem

Karl Drucker a psychologist from the early 20th century is best known for his experiment The Candle problem. It’s an experiment where people are given some tacks, a candle and a book of matches. The goal: You need to stick the candle to the wall and light it without the wax dripping on the table. How long does it take you to figure out the solution? 


The solution is achieved by dumping the tacks out, tacking the box to the wall,  putting the candle in the box and lighting the candle. It took most people who weren’t incentivized  5 – 10 minutes before they discover the solution. When incentives were offered for the fastest times – it took people on average three and a half minutes longer!

In Drive Daniel Pink says “Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster. But “if-then” motivators are terrible for challenges like the candle problem.”

When challenging others to do creative work – do not incentivize them. You cannot pay people more to think laterally or creatively, you just need to be able to facilitate that growth.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What monkeys have taught us.

In 1949 one day Harry F. Harlow and two colleagues chose to execute an experiment on monkeys. What they needed: Eight Rhesus Monkeys, two-weeks, and a simple mechanic puzzle. The puzzle they chose requires very little cognitive ability – so it’s easy for me and you. For the thirteen pound lab monkey, it’s a different story.

Here’s the interesting part: Harlow wrote,  “Unbidden by any outside urging and unprompted by the experimenters, the monkeys began playing with the puzzles with focus, determination, and what looked like enjoyment.” Now a group of puzzle solving monkeys might not initially trigger any response other than cool, so what? Harlow’s research made a big splash in the world of motivation. When you have monkeys solving a solution that did not lead to any immediate rewards like food, water or sex there is something else driving these monkeys. There’s something else that drives humans too – and Harlow offered up a theory he called the third drive. The third drive is something that provides intrinsic reward to the individual working on the task – and we know from common knowledge that Harlow was on to something spectacular.

Fast-forward to present day – the knowledge era. Our workers are becoming increasingly capable and creative, and employers need to accommodate them. It’s imperative that employers understand that in order to recruit and keep good people – that third drive needs to be satisfied. Motivating people to do work not because they are being externally rewarded for it (which many times is the wrong thing to do) but because as a leader you recognize and frame the situation to each individual that is best suited to their style of working/understanding. 

How are you motivating your employees?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What’s important?

As I start school in three days, I've been asking the question “In these next two years, what skill do I most want to walk away from school with”

I thought about which things I’m most looking forward to. And I came up with a list. As all good business students do.

1. Work-terms

2. Business competitions

3. Networking

4. Study abroad

5. Getting to learn

I asked myself what do all these have in common. I landed upon teams. Work-terms and business competitions are directly involved in team efforts. Teams enable me to accelerate my learning by tapping into people who are knowledgeable about things I’m not. Studying abroad falls into that networking category – and networking is more indirectly involved in teams – it is more of a long-term commitment to building working-relationships with people, similar to the type great teams facilitate among each other.

The benefit of working in a business is getting to work with others. Others who are there to help pick you up, motivate you and push you to succeed. Teams can achieve the impossible when individuals cannot. Great teams create a tapestry of ideas that encourages free growth among individuals. Individuals can only know what they know.

I want to walk away from business school with the ability to excel in teams if nothing else.

Question of the day: What one skill do you cherish the most?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Business is a stage

I have been at the Kayaking/Canoeing Nationals in Welland Ontario with my brother this past week. The racers here – like in any sport train year round. When they’re not paddling they’re in the gym. The ones who have the fastest times – train the most, and the ones who train the most win. An entire year of practicing comes down to a few big events that take place every summer – where everything you’ve practiced needs to be executed flawlessly – your legs need to work in unison with your arms, your strokes need to be fluid and unwavering.

Business is exactly like this – except you’re on stage every single day. In order to achieve a truly exceptional brand every part of your business needs to understand one another. There needs to be a certain level of transparency between the different departments so each side can help to improve inefficiencies where there might be some. Every employee needs to understand the purpose and why behind their business and how they’re helping to bring the bigger picture together.

Whether your kayaking or opening a business – know when your on stage and know what’s expected of you when you are.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What are your customers saying…

How many times have you walked into Walmart and thought to yourself “It’s not going to be cheaper anywhere else”? We know from another post that everything isn’t actually cheaper in Wal-Mart, but they make us think this way through a 600 million dollar advertising budget. Walmart ideally wants their customers to cross-purchase, so those who buy only food, buy clothes and electronics as-well.

What are your customers saying about you? It’s likely you don’t have a 600 million dollar advertising budget to grow your business and you may not even have a $5000 advertising budget – so what can you do?

Figure out what you want to be known for. Do you want people to say “You will find no better key lime pie anywhere in the city” to their peers. Or do you want them to say “that business has so much personality and life – I enjoy shopping there”.

Be unique. For $5000 I can think of a number of ways a business ranging from restaurants to chiropractor clinics can spread their realm of influence. Will it be time consuming? Yes. Will it be worth it? Definitely.

Lastly – make sure you have a good story.

Get out there and find out what your customers are saying about you. If you don’t like it – then make a genuine commitment to change it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Packaging means everything

In any major city there are always street performers and there always will be – some good and some bad. There are street performers who have been doing the same act for 10 years and others who try something new ever few months. What we don’t see though is the constantly evolving act and performance. Street performers who do magic on the street may have been doing the same trick 10 years ago – but it never worked half as good as it does now. Why? Because over a 10 year period they have worked to improve the packaging of an otherwise average trick. Instead of a product they sell us on the story, the voice, and the performance. It’s so easy for street performers to try new stories and different avenues of execution to see what works. They are constantly testing the audience to see which reactions work best – and if for two days they aren’t getting much luck – they change it up~!

The great salesman re-evaluates and adapts after every pitch to see what works and what doesn’t. He’s still selling the same product but it’s his packaging that evolves. It’s the student running for president who goes from class to class – constantly changing and adapting his/her speech in hopes to gain votes. We might not like to admit it, but we’re sold on packaging. 

Companies seem to think that if their once or twice removed from the final sale (ie a manufacturer) that they seem to think their done. Packaging never rests. Anyone once, twice or a million times removed from the final sale should speak with those on the front lines and ask questions of them.

How can I improve my current story?

How can I make consumers love my product?

Does the packaging stand out on the shelf?

It’s obvious that this is what’s needed of people removed from the sale – but then why do so many companies get it wrong?  This is why there will always be so many great closet wine producers – who will never get the recognition they deserve – because their packaging sucks. 

Average products with great execution and packaging win.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Business games.

Video games are unanimous on every system: computer, console, phone and ipod. The phrase “Kids playing” makes us think of children playing video games just as it would bring soccer to mind.

Video games creators understand what drives consumer activity. Video games like Starcraft 2 and Battlefield 3 have entire leagues dedicated to them. Video game producers facilitate consumer zeal by offering weekly updates supported by ranking systems, achievements and medals. They build games to promote user generated content.

I believe in order to cater to the era of digital natives – companies need to understand and borrow ideas from video game developers. Foursquare has already done it with achievements and medals, facilitating any forward thinking restaurant owner. I believe restaurants, supermarkets and all small businesses can all borrow ideas from video games in order to drive consumer addiction – with or without platforms like foursquare. But once you start down this path – you can never falter, consumers will get bored.

Question of the day: Do you know of any companies that use achievements to drive consumers to them? 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Focus on the best

Someone once said to me, “Kyle, when you think of the strengths and weaknesses of your business, consider the strengths as things that won’t cost nearly as much money or time to do better.”

Think of the student that is terrible at math – studying 4 hours a day only to achieve below average results. When studying dance for 4 hours a day will turn them into one of the worlds most accomplished dancers. Where should they allocate their time?

It’s important to find partners that are different from you. Partners that are the ebony to your ivory, the accountant to your salesman, the eloquence to your analytical.

It’s important to focus on the best customers - the 20% that give you 80% of your business

Keep doing what your best at. In fact – do more of it. Learn more of it. And source the stuff your not good at to others who are. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What are you doing differently

One of the people I look up to in the marketing world is Seth Godin. He talks the talk, walks the walk and leads by example.

If you have the chance – take a moment and listen to him speak in the video below. He challenges the current framework of organizations and says a shift needs to happen, where marketers should be in charge of product creation and that they shouldn’t be afraid of saying a product isn’t good enough.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The fallacy of restaurants

While I was travelling Europe in the summer of 08 I had the chance to eat in some really great restaurants. One in particular I happened to walk by had a line of people wrapped down the street before they even opened. La Relais de Venise they call it. This restaurant sells only steak and fries for dinner. You sit down, you are then brought a salad followed by steak and fries. Choice is only available for wine (which is limited) and the dessert menu. They kept it simple.

Too many restaurants have too many choices. Restaurants have naturally low margins as it is but once you throw in too many entries it spells disaster. The restaurant with too many dishes plagues itself with inefficiencies and margins so low that the restaurant will go nowhere if it doesn’t fail.

Some problems I see with having a large menu.

1)It’s hard to manoeuvre customers to the most profitable items.

2)It’s hard to create a menu that reduces inefficiencies by having complimenting food in different dishes.

3)It’s hard to have and maintain quality on all aspects of your food.

Like any industry it’s good to specify. It’s ok to choose one theme with 5 different entries and master them. The thing about customers is when they try something really good in a restaurant once, they’ll generally come back and order the same thing – because the risk of buying food and it being mediocre outweighs the risk of knowing the food they had last time kicks ass.

Shorten the menu, reduce inefficiencies and create higher margins. Quality food is better than too much food or too many choices.

Question of the day. What’s your favourite restaurant?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Risk being different.

One shoe company released their latest in a series of Kenny Powers advertising campaigns – the latest in the pursuit of going viral. It’s vulgar, hilarious and in my opinion advertising genius.

This commercial might not speak to everyone – but it succeeds in every way they wanted it to. It went viral and has over 500,000 views since being released July 11th – it’s given all their other commercials a huge increase in views. The media and blogging community has started talking about it – they’ve created so much buzz and publicity I cannot wait to see their quarterly revenues. K-Swiss has positioned itself as a cool shoe company for the younger generation and with all eyes on them, they just need to follow up to make big things happen.

Take risks like K-Swiss and sooner or later you will strike gold.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Be objective

“Be Objective” is a way of thinking any business leader should have installed on their biological hard-drive. Leaders cannot let their own prejudice get in the way of making the right decision. Let me give you a famous example of personal prejudice getting in the way.

Thomas Edison is known as many things to many people – an inventor, a scientist, a businessman and in this case an enemy. I want to talk about the War of Currents he so famously lost. It all begins when Nikola Tesla invented AC current while working for Edison. Thomas Edison dismissed it for the ramblings of a mad-man supporting what he thought was much superior – his own invention DC current. Had Edison been objective he would of recognized the potential of AC and made millions partnering with Tesla – instead he made an enemy out of him. Edison wasted millions of dollars publicly slandering AC and in order to showcase it’s deadliness he commissioned employees to invent the electric chair. Edison took extreme measures to try and fight an enemy he never should of had.


Small businesses need to be objective or they risk being mediocre. Everyday you need to ask yourself what are my competitors doing that I can learn from? What am I doing that I can do differently? What is not really working? Sometimes you’ll find the best answer is changing the entire way you do business – if your selling mexican food and pizza in your restaurant – recognize that it will better for the business to specialize. 

Be objective and you run the risk of being great. Choose not to be objective and you’ll surely flounder.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Position makes sense.

Does it make sense to have a Christmas wrapping paper fixture positioned just inside the entrance? Not really. People don’t buy wrapping paper until they buy gifts.

There’s many little things a store can do to increase sales – you just need know where to start.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Using the crowd

Business is changing. Thomas Malone an MIT professor points out that “Kids who grew up with running water wouldn’t know how to work a hand-pump and in this new world we’re entering a lot of what’s familiar will go the way of the hand pump.” For example, companies that specialize in website design or graphic design may go the way of the hand pump. Why? Because as more and more digital natives come of age – designing websites will continue to get easier and easier. There will be more and more demand for the army of amateur website designers with no coding background, and less and less demand for the expensive website designers we know today. How do you harness the power of this big crowd? By organizing them and facilitating them.

Threadless is a  Chicago based t-shirt company founded in 2000 by Jake Nickell and Jacob Dehart. At threadless they’ve figured out the secret of the crowd and as Jake says, “we just think about how we can create an environment that is very conducive to social and sharing independently of what the current tools are.” Threadless enables the crowd to design and vote on t-shirts with the chance of earning some money. Other threadless users meet-up, talk and design stuff together. Threadless is cool and their members love being a part of the community.

Why is threadless so successful at crowdsourcing? Aside from two very passionate and altruistic founders they’ve picked the right model. They’ve chosen to create a crowd from people they knew on Dreamless (a forum where they first started). They then chose to allow people to vote on designs, which essentially sources the crowd to advertise for them. Lastly they use crowd-funding, the model of voting they use allows them to know which designs are winners and  how many people want them. The result – every t-shirt since the conception of threadless has sold out.

Check out my interview with Jake Nickell below.    

When you were in school, you were working full time and starting what is now threadless. How did you manage your time?

Yea, I was working full time, going to school part time and starting Threadless.  I actually spent a lot of my time at work actually working on Threadless... it was good and bad, sure my boss probably wasn't happy about it, but I learned how to program that way and then I started programming at work as well.  I'm a very fast worker so I was able to get my work done, manage school and still spend good chunks of time on Threadless.  I was young and it was fairly easy to code till 3am and still make it to class in the morning :)

When skinnycorp was created, you and Dehart decided to leverage Threadless to advertise your websites design and marketing business. Did skinnycorp’s marketing/ website design business start to fall on the backburner when you realized Threadless was going to be this monumental winner?

Unfortunately I think Threadless was actually what was on the back burner!  We set it up to basically run itself.  Eventually (2004) we realized we were spending 90% of our time on client work but Threadless was paying all the bills.  So we fired all our clients and gave Threadless our full attention!

How have you taken the term “user innovation” and applied it to threadless?

We learned about "user innovation" in the summer of '04 and thought it described Threadless very well.  But we haven't really done anything differently because of that.

What have you learned about taking on the right business partners like Insight Venture Partners?

In the case of VC partners, try to maintain as much control as you can and try to find people who can offer you more help than just money.  In our case, Insight helped us figure out a lot of our logistic issues like shipping and international and has also helped us with a few key hires.

Knowing what you know now about crowdsourcing and community involvement, how do you approach new business ventures?

I'm very interested in businesses that see talented, passionate communities of people and provide some sort of value to them to make those communities even more meaningful and productive.  I think that's a powerful place to be as a business because you become a part of something with a lot of built-in energy already.

Threadless was started before twitter and facebook – how have you used social media to build your business?

I see twitter and facebook as tools... "social" and sharing and all that has been around forever.  Threadless started on a forum, which was one of the main social tools of the time.  Psychologically, Threadless works very well socially ... if you are going to spend 6 hours as an artist, you are going to want to share what you created whether facebook and twitter exist or not.  So we just think about how we can create an environment that is very conducive to social and sharing independently of what the current tools are.  That said, there is minutia within the available tool sets that needs to be considered, so don't forget the details.  But start with having awesome content.

How do you facilitate organic growth among your community/customers?

The previous answer gets to that a lot ... the best thing you can do is simply have content or a product worth sharing.

What are you most curious about?

What motivates people and how I can help people get motivated to create cool things that they are proud of.

There’s a shifting economy of business towards user innovation and crowdsourcing. Threadless is just one example of many other businesses that are attempting to source the crowd. It’s hard, don’t over complicate it and make sure your attracting the people you want to your website. Know your crowd, and know that they have time constraints. Learn from threadless - where people can contribute six hours by creating a design or contribute 10 seconds by voting.

Got an example of crowdsourcing from other companies? Share it below. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Embrace your competition.

Competition is ubiquitous with business and for customers this means if we’re determined we’ll shop around. Instead of losing people to the act of shopping around, aim to make them a happier customer in the process, so next time they’ll come back to you.

This Monday I spent my time in Victoria looking at rental units. What I found was a landlord who knows her customers. The prospective landlord knew I was walking, knew that I had six other places to look at and drove me to my next destination 4 km away. Elaine sensed I was determined to look at all of the rental units, and instead of letting me walk away she embraced the competition and aimed to put me first (an important relationship for tenant – landlord).

Elaine and Jeff Bezos the founder of amazon share an uncanny similarity - by embracing their competition they are putting their customers first. One facet of Jeff’s monumental success is his ability to embrace competition. When he allowed 3rd parties to sell on Amazon many Wall Street analysts criticised the short term, but Jeff stuck to his guns and continued to put customers first. Word spread that amazon cares about you and today amazon is worth 95 billion dollars and holds the title as the most reputable company of 2011 in the world.


No matter your business – you need to understand consumers shop around, so think of ways to make an impression. If they do choose someone cheaper they’ll soon realise that they’re sacrificing too much of something else ie… customer service. They’ll immediately think of the way you put them first and do business with you.

Jeff and Elaine have found the secret sauce for success – learn from them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Freedom to think.

George Patton said, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

Being a business leader is more than starting a business and having employees work for you. You need to facilitate your employees natural ingenuity, set goals – and allow them to reach those goals in their own ways.

Let go a little bit and you and your employees will both be a lot happier.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Using social media to create desire.

Social media is here and more prevalent than ever. Everyday more and more businesses make the decision to go “social. If your planning on going social ask yourself and your business a few questions:

What do my customers want? Do they want to learn more about the services I offer, or do they want to be updated on weekly deals etc.

How can talking to them through social media help solve problems? Can they be used to help improve your business. Starbucks uses crowdsourcing (more on this next week) in the form of an independent website.

What venue of social media do I use?  Foursquare? Twitter? Facebook? Blogging?

If I communicate through social media am I building loyalty or destroying it?

Make sure your aware of the responsibility that comes with going social. Seth Godin talks about permission marketing for when people join your facebook group or give you their email to use – they are giving you permission to talk to them. Don’t waste it and don’t overdo it. Over-spamming someone’s email with non-relevant information will ultimately result in your customers unsubscribing. Not updating or providing relevant information weekly/ bi weekly results in wasted potential.

Lastly as a small business owner with limited resources – choose to start with one venue. Don’t do them all, do one of them really well. If you blog – know what you’re blogging about and how it’s relevant to your customers. If you’re using foursquare set up a scavenger hunt to build loyalty etc. Just stay committed to doing one of them really well and once you own one platform, then spread among the other social media platforms.

Question of the day. What social media platform do you personally use?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Always keep asking questions

Of all people, from all walks of life – it’s the entrepreneurs who question things and take action to improve them. Entrepreneurs are the employees and self-employed who constantly question if there are more efficient ways of doing things, they are those who challenge the impossible with action: like this guy, and this guy. Look at an entrepreneur and you’ll see someone with a passion for the unknown and a need to question and improve it.

The reason we choose to build great companies is because we want to achieve the impossible. To build on earlier models, to make them greater and more efficient, to leave our mark on society (hopefully in a good way). So we create things like the razor-blade model of business or a chain of highly successful discount stores.

Once a business forgets to ask questions it falls towards mediocrity, and mediocrity has an infallible force. Businesses start with a vision from the founder(s) to build the impossible and to turn the impossible into reality. Unfortunately many companies continue to do what worked really well for them in the past, sometimes they realize their mistake and sometimes they don’t. It’s why IBM wasn’t the first to build personal computers, or why Henry Ford lost market share to GM and Chevrolet - “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”.  Customers clearly wanted more variety.

Never forgot to ask questions. The moment you and your company forgets to ask questions is the moment you begin to be mediocre. It’s why many of the fortune 500 companies from 1955 are no longer fortune 500 companies today.

Ask questions. Never settle with mediocre.

Monday, June 27, 2011

You’ll find there’s money in complimentary goods

King Camp Gillette is widely credited for innovating the razor-blade model, in which he would give drastically reduced razors in order to sell the highly profitable blades. Other businesses like Microsoft and Sony have recently adopted this in giving away their gaming consoles at a loss in order to gain money from loyal customers in the form of future online subscriptions.

Small business owners should be forced to think about the razor-blade model, and should be asking themselves how can they create new services or offer complimenting products that improve their current business model?

Do free consultations bring in more customers?

Does giving tonic away for free with the sale of gin – sell more gin?

Does creating a story behind artisan jewellery, and giving it away for free increase sales? 

Take a good look at Gillette and ask yourself how the razor-blade model can help you.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What your customers will tell you

In continuation to my last post I want to give an example of what your customers can teach you.

In 2002 McDonalds reported its first quarterly loss (347.8million) in 47 years. The board wasn’t impressed – so they brought in Jim Cantalupo, a recently retired McDonalds Exec. Jim understood his customers values and interests and more importantly, he understood that they constantly changed. He needed to know who his consistent and heavy users were and why they chose McDonalds.

For a long time – McDonalds was focused mainly on children. Advertising happy meals with cool toys inside. Hell I remember getting my first toy, a cool character out of Aladdin.  Parents went to McDonalds because they could relax and connect with their children. Mothers would generally choose not to eat very much, maybe pick a fry here and there – but often chose to go hungry because connecting with their children outweighed the cost of not eating.

In 2002 children were still essential to the success of McDonalds but now there was more to it. Under Jim’s direction McDonalds decided to learn more about their customers by sitting down and getting to know them, by interviewing them while they ate and by asking them questions. Jim and his team found out moms hold the power of choice. In fact, mom’s were more likely to exercise their veto vote in 2002 because of the growing number of food options available. A family that was going to McDonalds twice a week was now only going twice a month.

Why? Well McDonalds didn’t really offer any food that wasn’t for lack of better term “dirty”. With growing concern of health and wellness in society and among the minds of mothers – one can understand why McDonalds would start to take loses. Under Jim’s direction McDonalds started to introduce their healthier eating options – the salads. In the 12 months Jim acted as CEO McDonalds saw tremendous results – all because he chose to learn more about his customers.

What can you do to learn more from your customers?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The secret to customers

Listen to your customers. Interview your customers to find out why they buy what they buy. What are they giving up to buy your product or service? Are they trading up or down?

Understand that many of your customers will be buying from you for different reasons. But it’s impossible to know this until you reach out and talk to them. Reach out and ask your customers and maybe you’ll discover a thing or two your business can improve on.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Give your business personality.

Ask yourself - How much personality does my business have? If your answer is matching shirts and stylized name tags – there is a lot of work to be done. Personality is important and it is what stands between your business and potential customers. Whether your on a main street or competing with 100’s of other online businesses – personality is essential.

BookPeople is a small bookstore that does just this – they have tons of personality. They use their website to communicate that they’re a small business and can be trusted. It works for them because they aren’t trying to be huge. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that store itself has so much personality to it. The children sections have collages of “I’m Bored” put up on walls with puppet hats and masks hanging around.

They have an old antique stove where the cooking section is, and old barber chairs to sit in if your looking around in sports or technology. They’re competing with bigger book stores because they’ve developed themselves into a landmark. Book enthusiasts all around Texas flock to BookPeople for readings and autographs. Customers are encouraged to stay, read and spend entire days looking around – and it all comes from their personality.




Use the success of Bookpeople as an example, and question the personality of your business, ask yourself what are you trying to communicate? Why are you in this business?

Being boring and mediocre is easy. Giving your business a personality and keeping it is difficult. You need to be committed to your position and the personality of your business, but the moment you start doing this – customers will think of you first.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Be conscious of the prices you set. Don’t Discount.

We live in an age of discounts. There are herds of people who call themselves thrifty and wait until things go on sale. Thrifty does exist, but a majority – if not all of the things we buy discounted are cheap. And this is ok for many of us, we expect inexpensive things to fall victim to holes, or inefficiencies – but it was cheap so we buy a new one.

This is one big problem. Our society is causing the the destruction of small businesses in the pursuit of bigger mega conglomerates like Wal-Mart or Target. Cheap is best we say. Here’s why we don’t win with lower discounted prices.

Wal-Mart currently employs 2.1 million people worldwide, and that’s not even mentioning the people who rely indirectly on Wal-Mart – like the manufactures. That’s nearly 2.1 million people who make minimum wage and/or just above it. These people have no where to shop other than Wal-Mart. The manufacturers that rely on Wal-Mart pay less than $4 a day to their employees. Wal-Mart is directly responsible for putting millions of people into poverty. Now lets see how in the 2008 recession – Wal-Mart won. Emek Basker found that for every 1 percent decrease in personal disposable income, Wal-Mart revenues increased by 0.5 percent. During the recession Wal-Mart announced a 6.1 percent rise in sales.  

Because of our societal tendency to buy the cheap, we love Wal-Mart for what they offer, but they are actually destroying expertise. We’re losing small-business expertise because it is impossible to compete with those deep discounts. We’re trading in expensive well-made expertise for highly discounted junk.

And the worst part is. Only about 1-2 percent of items that the public knows the prices of are discounted heavily. 1/3rd of the stock Wal-Mart carries is higher than average prices. And the average savings on the rest of the stock is 37 cents. With 1/3rd of those items carrying a savings of no more than 2 cents.

Here is the distinction I want to make. If your a small business – recognize your expertise. Own it and position yourself this way. Use your superior customer service skills to get ahead. Don’t discount it. High quality services and products are rarely discounted – so show people that you are in a different league. Do not try and compete with Wal-Mart’s low rates.

As a small business you need ways to promote yourself in your local community. All it takes is a little experimentation.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Be different. Do tests.

If your a small business, own what your good at, own your strengths. Being a small business allows you the ability to more freely test ideas. So think unconventionally.

Are you a vendor, manufacturer or retailer I want to give you an example. Take shampoo. Shampoo is one of the things most people become loyal to. People are passionate to the point of conviction and zeal when it comes to what type of shampoo they use. Some of the reason is because no-one wants to risk buying a shampoo that smells bad. Not only is most shampoo sealed so you can’t test it, it smells differently in the hair. What kind of customer wants to waste 15 dollars testing?

Well… I started asking the question how could one create interest in an already very saturated market? Well what I came up with is unconventional.

1) Offer to shampoo and blow dry peoples hair at the source, in the retailers. It creates exposure, it’s measurable and it’s affordable.

It may not be right, it may be, but the very purpose of it is for its unconventionality. It gains exposure through word of mouth, and the media would definitely eat it up. Think Buzz.

My point is. In order to have an edge in todays market we need to be different.

What is your small business doing to be different? 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Choosing the right customers.

Just as you need to choose the right employees for your business, you need to choose the right customers. If you have heard of Pareto’s principle then your familiar with the rule that 20% of your customers provide 80% of your business. What businesses need to ask themselves is -- how can they provide that 20% of people the best experience. This is not an easy question to answer, but on discovering it businesses will be able to fully develop their culture and ambiance to attract these longer term customers.

When a potential customer comes in and buys something it means nothing to have them buy something once, a business thrives off of repeat customers. Businesses should look to achieve a high customer conversion rate, a good place to start is by looking at successful competitors. What do they do? What can you improve on? 

I have some personal opinions on achieving a high customer conversion rate and I would one day like to experiment with it through using social norms. Conventional methods (and they do work) will tell you reward programs (free coffee, airmiles etc..) are one of the most effective tools in converting people into long-term customers, unfortunately with so many companies offering rewards – companies need to discover new means of converting customers.

What customers are best for your business?

Choosing the right people can mean success

Choosing the wrong people can mean failure.

Small Businesses are too often built on the shoulders of one or a few people. Unfortunately they can also crash on the shoulders of one or a few people.

When you need to cut your losses and fire someone, don’t tell yourself excuses. All to often we tell ourselves they can succeed. Or he’s my guy. Or I can coach him. The truth is, there will be people who just aren’t right for the job – solve the solution and remove them quickly. One bad person can prevent the success of an entire team.

Instead, when hiring be thorough. Be persistent in finding the right people for your business. If your having trouble finding the right people – it may be a tell tale sign that your not attracting the sort of business or individuals that you thought you were targeting. It might reveal a need to revisit your stores culture and reshape it to target the correct audience.

Today’s question. Who are your most important employees? What do they do to create success for your business? 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Innovative? Kind of. Awesome for the new entrepreneur? YES!!!!

I’ve compiled a short lists of companies that can be a motivating force for the new entrepreneur to start it up!

Magic Bean is an new online incubator of start-ups. Apply for their 2011 year, and get advice from people that have done it!

Build your website with shopify, become the most successful among the other entrepreneurs, or even just in your category and win some HUGGEE money. Along with the chance to sit with some top industry experts and entrepreneurs  like Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuck and Tim Ferris.

Making profits and changing the world for the positive is your thing? Then come up with a great idea as a social entrepreneur. It’s free. Work in several stages to come up with an idea, and start incubating that idea. This year: Trim the waste of fashion. Winner receives $40,000 toward their business

Got a creative project you need funding for? Well it works like micro-financing except you never need to pay anybody back. I highly recommend this site if you have a brilliant idea, some execution and need a further push.

Outsourcing can help the new start-up cut costs, look to websites like freelancer to help you do that.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Product Placement

Seriously. Product placement is important.

Question of the day: So why don’t supermarkets or grocery stores put the same types of foods together. Categories. Taco stuff, Asian stuff. And I do mean everything.

The shells, the refried beans, the meat… everything! . People shop for meals, why not cater to that and make it easier for them to find everything they need. Simplicity for a customer means they will spread the word of your ingenuity.

Think about it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The 10 Human Victories

The flip-side of the 10 Human Regrets. I recommend all of you picking up the book “The leader with no Title” by Robin Sharma and putting yourself in the position of the character – it’s profound.

#1. You reach your end full of happiness and fulfillment on realizing that you are all used up-having spent the fullness of your talents, the biggest of your resources, and the best of your potential doing great work and leading a rare-air life.

#2.You reach your end knowing that you played at a standard of concentrated excellence and held yourself to the most impeccable of standards in each thing you did.

#3. You reach your end in noisy celebration for having the boldness of spirit to have regularly confronted your largest fears and realized your highest visions.

#4. You reach your end and recognize that you became the person who built people up versus one who tore people down.

#5. You reach your end with the understanding that while your journey may not always been a smooth one, whenever you get knocked down you instantly got back up-and at all times, never suffered from any lack of optimism.

#6. You reach the end and bask in the glory of your phenomenal achievements along with the rich value you have contributed to the lives of the people you were lucky to serve.

#7. You reach the end and value the strong, ethical, inspirational person you grew into.

#8. You reach the end and realize that you were a genuine innovator who blazed new trails instead of following old roads.

#9. You reach your end surrounded with teammates who call you a rockstar, and loved ones who call you a legend.

#10. You reach your end as a true Leader Without a Title, knowing that the great deeds you did will endure long after your death and your life stands as a model of possibility.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The 10 Human Regrets

I just started reading a new book I picked up over the weekend called “The leader who had no title” by Robin Sharma.

I haven’t gotten very far, but what i’ve read so far has been profound.

I’d like to share with you the 10 Human Regrets. They are very direct and can be overwhelming – don’t read further if your not prepared to be kicked in the face.

1. You reach your last day with the brilliant song that your life was meant to sing still silent within you.

2. You reach your last day without ever having experienced the natural power that inhabits you to do great work and achieve great things.

3. You reach your last day realizing that you never inspired anyone else by the example that you set.

4. You reach your last day full of pain at the realization that you never took any bold risks and so you never received any bright rewards.

5. You reach your last day understanding that you missed the opportunity to catch a glimpse of mastery because you bought into the lie that you had to be resigned to mediocrity.

6. You reach your last day and feel heart broken that you never learned the skill of transforming adversity into victory and lead into gold.

7. You reach your last day regretting that you forgot that work is about being radically helpful to others rather than being helpful only to yourself.

8.You reach your last day with the awareness that you ended up living the life that society trained you to want versus leading the life you truly wanted to have.

9. You reached your last day and awaken to the fact that you never realized your absolute best nor touched the special genius that you were built to become.

10. You reach your last day and discover you could have been a leader and left this world so much better than you found it. But you refused to accept that mission because you were just too scared. And so you failed. And wasted a life.

Check back tomorrow for part 2: The 10 Human Victories. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An Example in Buzz

Tim Horton’s is a staple to Canadian coffee drinkers. For me, the name Tim Horton’s immediately brings to mind my childhood. After a long game of soccer my parents would take me to Tim Horton’s for a comforting hot chocolate and donut. Delicious. Tim Horton’s is well known in Canada and a staple of our culture – that’s a fact.

But I’m afraid they’re relying too much on their reputation when pushing campaigns. Whether companies are big or small they need to create buzz. They need to stir emotion up in people, and frankly this is a hard thing to achieve. Tim Horton’s most recent campaign is The Litter Awareness Program, and in order to raise awareness they have taken conventional measures. They have created the typical posters most companies will create and branded it onto their coffee cups – but is that really stirring any emotion in the community?

What they should do is be unconventional. This can be achieved by taking a route that’s a little more difficult, but a route that will definitely stimulate media discussion and community involvement. In order for Tim Horton’s to position themselves as an environmentally aware and community minded company, they need to take larger steps than a poster or themed coffee cups. They should take 45 minutes to gather some garbage up at the local community park and put it in a glass container inside their stores. Show people how much garbage actually pollutes our parks and our streets. Tim Horton’s should be a measure, and lead by example. Tim’s Horton’s should be unconventional and stand out in everything they do.

It’s too easy to be mediocre because conventionality plagues the way we think. With more competitors than ever, conventional paths make it impossible to become extraordinary. Whenever faced with a challenge a company needs to create that buzz and stir up that emotion. Be different. Be Extraordinary.

Ask yourself" – “How can my company create buzz?”  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Product Placement

Seriously. Product placement is important.

Question of the day: So why don’t supermarkets or grocery stores put the same types of foods together. Categories. Taco stuff, Asian stuff. And I do mean everything.

The shells, the refried beans, the meat… everything! . People shop for meals, why not cater to that and make it easier for them to find everything they need. Simplicity for a customer means they will spread the word of your ingenuity.

Think about it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Create a Story

The new 2011 Chrysler 200 commercial is an excellent example of a company that uses story-telling to sell a car. The ad first appeared during the 2011 superbowl and caused sales to skyrocket 205% compared to the previous month. In march, sales went up an additional 191% with finally April selling 22% more cars than March.

What I really like about the commercial is that their not trying to sell a car. They’re selling a belief. They’re making people believe what they believe about the car and what driving a 200 means. In the commercial there is no trivial semantics about gas mileage, or engine details. They’re selling to the deeper part of the human brain, they’re selling to the lizard brain, the why engine.

The most powerful tool in marketing today is story telling. Never before has one story been able to reach so many consumers, and it doesn’t need to cost 9 million dollars to produce. Story telling has been a crux of China’s culture for millennium. When the Pearl River tower was erected the Architects were commissioned to create a traditional Chinese story behind it, because it was going to drastically change the landscape – they needed the people to accept it.


Having a clear sense of why allows a company to take advantage of the strongest type of advertising – story-telling. It challenges conventional advertising where companies should tell customers what they have – but by stirring an inner love and belief for anything will always be a 100x stronger than telling people you have 24gb of ram or 14 kilos/liter. A story will help you cement your position, just make sure your communicating the right one.

A good story can be created and communicated virtually for free over the internet. Once you stir interest in people, people will spread the word for you – and word never gets spread among the masses when there is to much technical detail.

Several ways I’d look at spreading a companies vision is through written word, a video, a flash game, community involvement – it all depends on your budget and the market your looking at.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Be Honest. Show your audience you care.

The simple things matter. Koodo Mobile is a company that claims to cater to students. They’re hip, they’re rad and they want the student market. 

But they’re doing one thing drastically wrong – the little things.

Students are cheap – that’s not in question. What is in question is how should  a company like Koodo should cater to them. On the outside it looks like their doing some things right – and they are. They have advertising campaigns directed at the student market, phone plans that look good to students.

What Koodo doesn’t do is follow up on that promise. They claim to know “Why” they’re in the business “to provide students phones with the bare essentials ” but that really sounds like a what it is they do.

They’re why should be “To show students we’re on their side.”

A strong why would be following up with notifications when students are approaching their allocated minutes. As it is now – they don’t. And they’re basically saying “We don’t care”.

When a company is honest to their customers and shows them that they care – by doing little but necessary things – customers will talk, and share their experiences. And ideally, that’s a position a company wants be in, instead of solely focusing on short-term profits they need to stay tethered to their Why.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Leading Teams

Take a man who’s business is currently doing well. A small shop with five – six employees is making money with a lot of potential for upward growth. When this point is reached – relinquishing power will be one of the hardest things for the founders to do. Getting it wrong can mean trouble for his business, so it’s absolutely necessary that he creates the right positions for the right people. It’s essential that thorough and proper training is given from day 1 of hiring– meaning his new “head of departments”  know what kind of job needs to be done but still allowing them the freedom to achieve their goals. That man is Doug Burgoyne who has since started franchising the popular eco-friendly moving box company.

Each head of department develops teams and begins to lead each team in a direction. At this point the head of department needs to set up short term goals inside of the longer term picture. We all know this.

What is often overlooked is the founders role hereinafter. The founder needs to set up short term plans inside of the long term goals – and whatever that goal is – it needs to be sound proof. It needs to be simple. Having simple goals and simple statements will carry through the company – even without the owners presence. Expansion means less control, but in order to keep the same organizational culture and know-how of a small-business – larger businesses need to understand their own long and short term goals and be able to communicate that to all levels of employees. 

Training begins with day 1. Proper training will carry on longer after the founders departure – as long as the right people are chosen from day 1. Doug has received over 1100 franchising requests since airing on Dragons Den and he’s only choosing 10 people that fit with his companies image this year. Doug knows the importance of choosing the right people from day one.

Spend the extra time selecting the right people from Day 1 and your business will lead itself.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Curious Business: Silver Lining Limited

Many new businesses quickly fall into a cyclical survival phase and become stuck fighting for their lives. This is the point where the business is making money, but does not have enough capital to fund further growth or fund further improvement in the business and its services. They’re stuck. There can be many reasons why a business is stuck. Luckily, there are many resources available to help these small businesses.

Once a business gets unstuck and is making money is where things get complicated. The owner needs to ask themselves what they plan on doing with the profits.  Do they re-invest in the company by improving services and their bottom line? Or do they put their profits towards growing? Businesses entering the growth stage need to be prepared for growth because taking on too many new contracts or trying to expand to quickly leads to a company that is vastly over-leveraged. In contrast to companies that are “stuck”, there are very few resources available for companies entering the growth stage.

At 22 years old, a young and ambitious Carissa Reigniger started Silver Lining Limited. She had a small working capital, a vision to help small businesses and a background in marketing. The first thing she did was pick up the phone and called everyone she knew, telling everyone about her venture – a company that specializes in helping small businesses succeed through the growth stage. Her first customer…

“It was my high school teacher's husband.”

A lot of small businesses entering the growth stage make some very common mistakes:

1. Learn to let go. In my interview with Carissa she talks of her own business, and that one of the things holding her company back from expanding – was herself. Most small businesses are dependent on one or a small group of people, and in order to achieve higher growth rates we need to let go. It happens to be one of the hardest things we need to do, but it is an absolute necessity if we’re going to succeed. 

2. Have a vision, but make sure you create small incremental goals. A vision can sometimes be too abstract, by creating small bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual goals it will help us reach that vision.

3. If your business is making money and you plan on growing, don’t buy new things based on projections. Don’t lease a new Mercedes or rent a bigger office space, wait until those projections become actualized. 

My interview with Carissa can be found below.

When did you discover your passion was in helping small businesses?

CR: I had moved to Toronto and was working a corporate job in advertising.  I started going to small business networking events to meet people because I was new to Toronto and not meeting a lot of people my age at work.  As I met all of the small business owners I was so impressed by how passionate they were and how hard they worked.  But it seemed wrong that so few of them made any real money and so many people I worked with (myself included) made great money but had no passion in their careers.  I got really passionate about helping small business owners make money doing what they love.

How did you come up with the name silver lining limited?

CR: I wanted the company to be similar to silver. To me, silver is an amazing element that is used for very practical, tangible, helpful, effective uses- currency, cutlery, machinery etc.  It is also used for funky edgy things like jewelry and art.  I wanted the company I created to be both of those things- practical, helpful, tangible and fun, funky and cutting edge.

How did you establish yourself and your business – what were some of the first steps taken?

CR: I called everyone I knew to tell them what I was doing and ask if they had any ideas, connections or work for me.  You have to hustle! :)

Who was your first customer, how did you get them, how did you help them?

It was my high school teacher's husband.  Very very quickly I learnt that it is not about what you know- it is about who you know.  I also learnt that you can never guess where a relationship will take you.  It paid off in a big way to have relationships with people who I kept in touch with - even when there was no real "reason" to.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome in Silver Lining Ltd?

   CR: Myself!  It is tough to realize but I had to come to the very real conclusion that all of my own issues, insecurities and "stuff" were the things always holding Silver Lining back.  For the first couple of years I was trying too hard to prove to everyone that I was good at what I did and I would make the company work that I never asked for help.

What are some common mistakes among businesses entering the growth stage, how can they be overcome?

CR: We don't live in reality.  We are working so hard to get to our big goal that looking at the truth of where we are never feels very good.  I am a huge believer that small businesses absolutely must have a huge vision that they are fighting for- but we also have to be looking at the realities of financial goals, capacity and how much time and money we have to invest in our growth.  Many small business owners have visions that are far bigger than the amount of time and money they are able to invest.  I strongly believe anyone can do anything- but we have to be doing it within the reality of our resources and plan accordingly.

What are some companies that inspire you? How? Why?

CR: I am inspired by every small business that I meet.  Every single one of those small businesses rarely get any credit or attention- but at the head of them is someone who took a big risk to start something that they believe in.  I find that hugely inspiring.  When I see someone fighting to live a life they are passionate about and make money doing it- I love it!

What role does curiosity play in your work?

CR: It is everything.  When I meet new people my biggest thing I am looking for is what I can learn from them.  If you walk around wondering what you can learn from every single person you meet- you will realize that you can never stop learning and that you actually have no idea that you don't know what you don't know.

Favourite Book?

Integrity: The Courage To Meet The Demands of Reality by Dr. Henry Cloud.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On the corner.

Depending on your business, store location can be detrimental to the future success of it. We are all familiar with demographics, so I want to talk about something  a little more specific. Location on the street. 

For this example I will use Coffee Shops. Opening a coffee shop on the corner vs opening a coffee shop in the middle of the street is better for a number of reasons.

People sit in coffee shops to drink coffee, surf the net and chat with friends.

1. For surfing the net, we need big windows allowing for natural sunlight.

2. Corner locations have the most traffic, giving your customers that opportunity to people watch through big windows or patio seats. (Essential for good coffee shops)

3. There’s often more room for chairs, allowing for more natural space. If we’re sitting chatting with friends we want it to be in a relaxed open environment and not a cramped space.

4. The corner is more memorable. We’re more likely to remember location if it’s on cross-streets.

5. Coffee is often an impulse purchase. Having a coffee shop on the corner attracts impulse customers, who are waiting for the light to turn red.

Coffee shops is an example of why some stores are better suited to corner shops than others. It’s not the case for all stores, but it does greatly effect the success of some. When opening your business don’t just pay attention to demographics but pay attention to street location, and in some cases you might be better off paying the higher fees for that corner location.

Monday, April 25, 2011

High Achievers and their secret

How is it that high achievers are capable of doing so much?

Seth Godin has started several very successful businesses, has written 16 books since 1993 and continues to be a pioneer in marketing philosophy.

Bill Gates founds a company that becomes unanimous with personal computers. And then founds the worlds largest privately owned foundation with an endowment of 33.5 billion dollars.

Seth Godin and Bill gates are high achievers for a plethora of reasons, but I want to talk about one facet of theirs and other high achievers success – Time Management. A well organized and well thought out use of ones time can be the difference between being a high-achiever and not.

Time Management is giving yourself enough time to get from one place to another and in the likelihood of arriving early, you have something else to work on. Five hour plane ride? Use that time to write a chapter for your book, work on a upcoming project or presentation. 

One of the best ways to get better at managing your time is setting small achievable goals.

For example – imagine that you have two months to do a project. 

What usually happens: We often start working longer - harder hours as dates impend. But by setting small achievable goals for yourself and your team as the date progresses (finish idea/concept) by week 1. Finish your strategic vision by week 2 etc… Your making better use of your time, and you’ll find this project doesn’t disrupt you from the rest of your life. One of the most disruptive things is HUGE last minute changes – commit to it and don’t stress to change HUGE things in the last minute. Get approval from your boss in week 1 and ask him to sign off on it – that is the period for pruning!

Second. Think of your daily schedule – where are you wasting hours, what could you be doing otherwise?

Third. Don’t put things off. There are always a few things nagging at the back of our minds causing us subtle grief. My advice – do them! For example - We hate paying credit card bills and may put them off for a while. Think of them as urgent and choose a certain day of every month to pay all your bills – you’ll never have to stress about paying on time again. Allowing you to spend time doing the things your most productive at.

What are some ways you manage your time?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Be an Innovator

“If you want to be an innovator, you have to work like one, think like one, listen like one, ask questions like one, learn like one. Innovation isn’t a thing; it’s a way of being.” Alan Webber

Innovation: it can be trained, it can be practiced, it can be honed, but you need to recognize your passion. A professor once told me “surround yourself with people who you want to become like” – words I will never forget. So much of innovation comes from keeping an open mind – from connecting ideas which can look seemingly trivial. 

Think of our society as an external hard-drive. We constantly build upon other peoples ideas, improving them slightly – sometimes drastically. Ideas are there to be shared and there to be built on, that’s why I always question “perfect” and “impossible”. Nothing will ever be perfect – there’s always someone creating something better, and with the exponential change in technology – nothing will ever stay impossible for long.

Expose yourself to different ideas, take every opportunity to learn, and question the status quo. Question commercials – ask yourself if their effective, and how can they be better at it. Once you start questioning, and exposing yourself to knew theories – new areas of thought a whole world of possibilities will become available.

How are you an innovator?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Find a niche

“Don’t spread yourself too thin” Great military leaders have said this phrase and followed these principles for millennium. Why don’t the rest of us?

It’s alluring to do everything at once because the dream of capturing a number of different markets on one front would be incredibly profitable. The problem is, that never happens. If we spread ourselves thin, we are sacrificing the opportunity to become a market leader in a certain area. Being a market leader is substantially more stable than not being one and we need to become market leaders in order to establish a base to expand.

For example, if I were to create an audio equipment company. I’d be up against some tough competitors in the general market, but because I am smaller it is much easier for me to customize my products to ONE certain niche. I might customize my sound equipment to become pre-loaded with all the jacks for movie equipment. Assuming my product and company are competitive, the movie industry will begin see that I am committed to them and that they’re not just another piece of my market – they are my market.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Elevator Test

Many of you have probably heard of the elevator test. But do you know why it is so important? Simplicity. We need to be able to describe our products and services in the length of an elevator ride to keep it simple. We will never have five minutes to describe to someone what our business does, and it should never take that long. If you can’t explain your business in 30 seconds, re-evaluate what is you do. Long descriptions shouts over-complexity and uncertainty ---customers hate both.

This is what I envisioned Apple's marketing managers said in their elevator pitch for the Iphone.

For all individuals challenging the status quo

Who are dissatisfied with others deciding what it is they can or can’t do.

Our product is a phone that gives you the control you desire

That provides the user with thousands of free applications

Unlike blackberry, a business phone.

We have assembled a phone that is powered by the user and makes it easier for programmers to create applications.


Try it out  on your own company, and develop your own elevator pitch.

For (target customers)

Who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternatives)

Our product is a (new product category)

That provides (key problem-solving capability)

Unlike (the product alternative)

We have assembled (key whole product features for your specific application)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Curious Business–Zipzshoes + Interview

Zipzshoes is a good example of a company that noticed a tendency among a certain market and created a way to capitalize off of it. In this instance, John Stefani and his father started talking about the frequency in which teenagers change their shoes, and soon after Zipzshoes was born.

A general rule as an entrepreneur: stay alert, observe, and constantly question if there are ways to do things betters. In John’s instant, he and his father observed the habits created out of a consumerism society. They isolated the importance of style for teenagers and the flexibility needed to change shoes wherever and whenever they want. They realized that there is an untapped market available, and they just need to create it.

Be an entrepreneur, and observe.

My interview with John Stefani can be found below.

How long have you known traditional style shoes just wouldn’t cut it. When did this idea germinate and how did you take the first step in turning it into an actionable business? I’m not sure traditional shoes won’t cut it but we did see a unique opportunity to completely revolutionize the way people buy and wear shoes which was really the spark for starting Zipz.  The idea was formed at a family BBQ after some observations my father made about kids changing their shoes all the time.  Being we are both serial entrepreneurs we discussed ways to accomplish an interchangeable shoe.  After a few weeks of deciding a zipper was the best fastening system we immediately moved to do a patent search to see if the idea was in fact available.  Once we had a green light on the patent being available we immediately filed for it and began the ground work with setting up the company and heading into R&D to build prototypes.  That was 2004 so it took quite a bit longer to get the idea from concept to market than expected but there are always challenges.

What kind of previous back-ground did you have that enabled you to develop the concept? We actually had no experience in apparel going into the project.  What we did have was a long track record of previous start-up’s that had been successful and from that a great knowledge of how to bring concepts to market.  We immediately sought to surround ourselves with solid people in the apparel business and we did a lot of focus groups to help point the product in the correct direction during development.  Sure we made some mistakes along the way but again that’s all part of the process.

Do you design the shoes yourself? No, we sought the services of an experienced footwear designer to help with that process.  We knew what we wanted but needed someone to translate that idea into a factory file to be manufactured.  We can do the pattern and color work ourselves no problem but the actual “style” of the shoe was beyond our skill sets.

Who is your target audience? We’re squarely focused on teenagers 13-19 years old as our core segement.

What has been the most difficult stage for zipzshoes? Well nothing is ever easy that’s for sure.  I wouldn’t know what “easy” looked like.  I think for this project the fact you manufacture overseas is really the most difficult thing to tackle.  You have limited control and you have to depend on a lot of people you can’t manage to bring you to market.  Conditions can change quickly so anything with manufacturing is just a pain in the butt.

How long have you been an entrepreneur? I’ve been working for myself since I graduated college so 19 years now I’ve been an entrepreneur.  My dad used to say, “There’s no security working for someone else so remember that” and I always did. do you have other ventures? Zipz is actually my 6th start-up venture of my career.  The early stages are always the most challenging but also the most fun when you look back.

“I’m Scared every day”

Have you ever been scared? I’m scared every day.  I think any business owner can’t afford not to be scared, especially in today’s world.  Being in business for yourself is the scariest thing you can do and that never goes away when you’re a business owner.  If it does go away there is a problem someplace or you’ve sold the business and can relax for a minute until something else grabs you.

What are you most curious about?  I’m curious about everything, especially if someone is talking about it with passion behind it.  I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know which is a lot.  Pay attention to people with passion for what they know and do and you can always learn something useful that in most cases you probably didn’t know before.

Favorite Book? I’m still partial to The Great Gatsby and The Great Santini so I guess anything with “Great” in the title is good.  I also love anything by James Patterson. Talk about a guy who can create amazing stuff from his mind.  Wow.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To the right.

Signs can have a powerful impact, but they need to be placed properly. It’s natural for people to walk into a store, head directly right for the first 10 steps and then slow down their pace. AND during these first 10 steps NOTHING is observed.

I recently walked into a nearby Staples, to specifically look at signage placement and as I walked in I did exactly that – noticed nothing for those first 10 steps. The eyes take a while to adjust to the new light, and for some reason we have this naturally tendency to b-line it to the right. By the time I had noticed the sign at the front of the store - it was to late and I didn’t want to slow down to read it. BUT!! if they had placed that sign an additional five feet back, people would of been given ample time for their eyes to adjust and that sign would of been 100% more effective.

Little factors in people’s behaviour can have big effects on the sales of stores. And it’s reading and learning about people’s natural tendency’s that will help businesses better get their words out. Look to big box companies that spend millions a year paying for research for product placement. Take advantage of their research and study the way their stores are set up – there is always a reason.

My advice, slow down. You’ll notice a lot more, and the more you notice the more you’re able to apply to your own business. There’s many simple decisions and actions we can take that can improve the sales of our stores. The cost for those actions = spend some time observing!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Curious Business–

The everyday book aficionado to the self proclaimed bibliophiles (you know who you are) will love this website. Searching for the next read can sometimes be difficult, but the people at will take away that search and send you a new book every month. How do they do it? Simple. You order, fill in a quick description of what books you’ve read in the area, and what/if any specific fields you would like to learn more about.

What I love about this website is that they have taken a highly referenced based business (the selling of books) and have basically hand-wrapped references, put them in a nice bow and sell them in bulk for a good price. What’s best? Their staff are bibliophiles. Book lovers are often searching frantically for new reads and because of that you can expect to receive some obscure and well-written titles chosen from among their personal libraries.

So if your looking for a gift, or just want to supplement your own book buying with a new book everything month or quarter, I highly suggest checking these guys out.

On a side note. This business personalizes to the maximum, and nothing immediately comes to mind with what they could do better. Small businesses will always have that advantage over others – it’s far easier to implement a personalization factor in a small business because the founder’s passion infects those around them.

How can you personalize your business or how would you personalize the current company you’re working for?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Apple is different

Companies like Apple can enter so many different markets because they are able to inspire people. It is their fundamental beliefs that give them so much fluidity in so many different industries. Apple started out as not just a computer company but a company that set out to change the world by creating a computer small enough and affordable enough to fit in homes around the world. When Steve Jobs was removed in 1984, Apple started drifting away from their why and Apple became just another computer company. But, in 1997  Steve Jobs returned as the head of Apple and he brought the why back into the company with him. He changed the name from Apple Computer Inc to Apple Inc, and because of him the company has been able to break out of their mold.

Apple can produce products in any technology industry, and people don’t question it. They produced the Ipod and people bought it because they saw Apple as a company that pushed the status quo. People didn’t ask, “why is a computer company creating an mp3 player?”  When Dell attempted to enter the mp3 market they failed horribly because they were selling what they had and not why they did it. People didn’t buy Dell mp3 player’s because Dell was just a computer company making mp3s.

Here lies the most important point. People buy Apple because it tells them something true about themselves. Apple speaks to us saying, I push the status quo and I can achieve this by sharing my vision/belief with Apple.

Companies that achieve the Fortune 1000 status have all inspired people at one point. But since reaching that status many of those Fortune 1000’s have lost their why because they become so caught up in the what they do. Then there is a few companies like Apple who still embody the why, and make the market believe with them.

In order for a company to reach a truly remarkable status, they need to be consistent with their why. Why they started, and why they do the things that they do. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It takes one person

In 1976 Muhammad Yunus was travelling to the poorest households in Jobra, Bangladesh. There he discovered that loan sharks were taking advantage of small local entrepreneurs who were being charged unrealistically high interest rates on small sums of money; meanwhile these high rates were pounding and trapping the aspiring entrepreneurs into poverty. He discovered that by making small loans to local entrepreneurs he could drastically change their lives. And in 1976 in one of those poor districts, Muhammad chose to make his first loan of $27 to a group of 42 women.

This loan led to the next loan until finally he had started an entire movement called micro-financing. He founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 which has now lent over 6.3 billion dollars to over 7.5 million entrepreneurs. Today, there are several prodigious non-profit organizations championing the concept of micro-financing around the world.

Not only did Muhammad create a movement for micro-financing but he and a few key others revived a entrepreneurial movement called “social business”. Social Business is measured by the impact of the business on people or environment, rather than the amount of profit made in a given period. Success and sustainability of the company indicates that it is running as a business while the objective of the company is to achieve social goals.

For a very long time there have been many individual entrepreneurs running “social business” models, but they have usually been on their own, working within their community.  Because of a few key players such as Muhammad these social entrepreneurs can now start to connect, and have since been given more notice from investors looking to make a difference.

Hat’s off to Muhammad for making a difference and providing evidence for the cliche “It only takes one”