Monday, February 28, 2011

KaosPilots–A school for the unconventional

Ever wonder what school would be like with little to no tests? Introducing KaosPilots, an alternative business school in Denmark where they take an action oriented approach to education. Each student works on 15 projects that go toward their portfolio over the course of 3 years and these projects are for real clients with real money, real consequences and real budgets. Instead of tests, clients and team-leaders evaluate the students – for the KaosPilots learning is recognized by the hands on approach. And unlike most schools very few lectures are actually given by the staff; instead, industry professionals are invited to speak on their experience and knowledge. At KaosPilots lectures are not meant to be the primary source of education but rather are meant to supply theory to supplement students’ hands on learning.

So how it works:

KaosPilots is an extremely small school with only fifteen staff including administration and team leaders (they use team-leaders instead of teachers to guide students through their projects, some are past KaosPilots some are recruited from the outside). Because the school’s so small only 35-40 students are accepted every year (Yikes!! Can you say exclusive). The students are broken into teams where each team is headed by 1-2 team leaders.

The purpose of the school is to get students to think out of the box, KaosPilots graduate with an ability to approach many situations differently and enter into a variety of jobs. Ever hear of the two-step process? Step 1 - learn a little about a lot, Step 2 – start to specify. Well this is virtually what they have mastered!

Where as students studying in an engineering school will likely end up becoming engineers. KaosPilots have a variety of skills which allows them the plasticity needed to be successful across many different positions. KaosPilots is in my opinion, speaking to the life essence of entrepreneurs - To think out of the box,  to improvise, to approach every situation differently.

Why KaosPilots ? I’ll let my friend tell you.

There are 4 main academic disciplines: (taken from the website)

Creative Project Design
The massive rate of change that challenges most organizations today seems to be accelerating rather than being a momentary condition. This means that nearly every task we meet in our professional lives is new; different from what has been done before, and as such demands a new approach. Because of this tendency ‘project’ is increasingly chosen as the organizational model in business life and in society in general. The KaosPilots believe that in order to accommodate this culture we need to practice the way we approach our work, the way we think when dealing with projects. The students at the school are trained in dynamic project management, project economy, handling change, and designing projects and events.

Creative Process Design
In a society, which is increasingly based on knowledge industries, each organization’s value and raison d'etre depends strongly on it’s capability of utilizing knowledge generated by others, and understanding how to incorporate this knowledge with internal competencies to achieve concrete results. This is achieved through processes, internal and external, which enable the employees of a company to develop new and useful solutions. Therefore students at the KaosPilot school have to develop an academic understanding of the human processes that drive a project forwards – learning processes, creative processes, change processes, team building and how to work with these through process consultation.

Creative Business Design
The 21st century is the century of the entrepreneur and the creative social innovator. It is therefore vital that students are not only trained to be able to read the cultural, social, and economic trends in society, but also that they can use this knowledge to identify new promising and socially responsible business concepts. Based on these concepts new businesses can be designed, using the skills taught during the program, including entrepreneurship, business economy, social awareness and sustainability, arts and business, corporate identity and branding, and PR and marketing.

Creative Leadership Design
Leadership is ultimately a question of what kind of world we want to live in and figuring out how we go about making our dreams into reality. Societies in the new millennium are depending on empowered people – people who can stand alone, and stand together with others. The students do not just learn about leadership, they are trained in becoming leaders for themselves and others. Value-based leadership starts with personal leadership, with the self. The focus lies on developing a leadership style that allows the student to help others to become leaders in their own right.

The 3 worldly focuses are: (taken from the website)

And the question we have to ask ourselves in our work is: How can we develop the ability of the students to think and design sustainability in all dimensions of their work, ecological, economical and social?
Because if we as civilization, society, companies and individuals do not in an active and purposeful way pursue and contribute to the reestablishment of a sustainable balance in nature, the present global warming will make the planet inhabitable for our children, grandchildren and generations to come.
So the challenge for the KaosPilots is to create a new consciousness on the individual level (the student), in companies and in society, so that the future will be met with a clear and empathetic respect towards the well being of coming generations, other organisms and species, the planet as such and the new technology we bring into the world.

Cultural diversity
What we should work on is: How can we develop the student’s understanding of cultural diverse systems and societies? How to lead in cultural diversity? And how to create value of cultural diversity?

Because if we do not learn to live together in a peaceful way with many cultures underneath the same roof, the present cultural and religious front-lines will only become more and more fundamentalist and violent. This prediction is not least based on the fact that in particular the fundamentalist forces – both within the Muslim and Christian world –manage to set the agenda during these days, weeks and months. Thereby rendering moderate forces on all sides increasingly passive and invisible.

Until the day we realize that “feelings are facts” for most of us, we will not be able to –in a purposeful, bright and nuanced way –create a sustainable, respectful and thereby conflict resolving dialogue between the involved cultural and religious parties of a conflict situation. And it matters not whether it happens in your neighborhood, between nations or between global value systems.

Social innovation
And the question is: How can we develop the student’s creativity towards new ways of cooperating between the different sectors in society? And how can we develop a new sense of community and ”re-negotiate” the contract between individual and society.  Because if we cannot re-establish the interaction between on one side the increasing individualization of society and on the other side the necessity of a well-functioning community built on solidarity we loose the opportunity that exists right now to create the next generation of the Scandinavian welfare system.  Which would also imply a discussion of the relationship, the dynamics and the division of roles between the public, private and nonprofit sector.

The three focus areas Sustainability, Cultural diversity and Social innovation will be the lenses the KaosPilots see through in their daily work in the classroom, in the creation of projects and in the formation of new relationships with people, organizations and networks around the globe. They will determine the direction in which we are heading and they express our idea of how we can be the best education for the world!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rrrrrol up the rim to win!

For all the Canadians you will recognize the iconic Tim Horton’s advertising campaign. We recognize it because it is such a successful campaign. It was first started in 1986, and since inception it has weaved itself into the hearts of Canadians. We ask ourselves - Why buy a coffee anywhere else when rolling up the rim could win us a sweet prize?


Why has Tim Horton’s campaign been so successful?

1) It brings out the competitive nature of people. We like to win. Here is a man who has dedicated his blog to his roll up the rim statistics.

2) It’s catchy. We remember, RRrrrrrrrroll up the rim to win.

3) Because they spend money on it. Total approximate retail value of all prizes is $57,135,015 CDN. Hidden among over 280 million cups!  I’ve been trying to find out statistics how much their sales go up during this promo, but no luck yet. 

4)The focus of Roll up to is reward loyal customers. Loyal customers are a businesses most important lifeline. Make them happy, make them believe what you believe and they will spread the word for you.

5) They bring it back every year. All of Canada now recognizes Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim marketing campaign.

Is there a way a business could bounce off of their massively successful campaign? I think there is; by creating a marketing campaign asking people to bring in the cups where they haven’t won and allowing them to enter to win a prize with the purchase of a coffee/ and or other product (whatever type of business you offer).

As entrepreneurs we should always be asking ourselves – what can we learn from massively successful campaigns: such as Tim Hortons Roll up the Rim to Win. And how and if we can use them to spread our companies influence and create our own customer base.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Learning is Risky

This is one of my favourite passages from Self Renewal: The Individual and Innovative Society. I thought I would share it.

“As we mature we progressively narrow the scope and variety of our lives. Of all the interest we might pursue, we settle on a few. Of all the people with whom we might associate, we select a small number. We become caught in a web of fixed relationships. We develop set ways of doing things.

As the years go by we view our familiar surroundings with less and less freshness of perception. We no longer look with a wakeful perceiving eye at the faces of people we see every day, nor at any other features of our everyday world.

It is not unusual to find that major changes in life- a marriage, a move to a new city, a change of jobs, or a national emergency- break the patterns of our lives and reveal to us quite suddenly how much we had been imprisoned by the comfortable web we had woven around ourselves.

One of the reasons why mature people are apt to learn less than young people is that they are willing to risk less. Learning is a risky business, and they do not like failure. In infancy, when the child is learning at a truly phenomenal rate- a rate he or she will never again achieve- he or she is also experiencing a shattering number of failures. Watch [any child]. See the innumerable things he or she tries and fails. And see how little the failures discourage him or her.

With each year that passes [the child] will be less blithe about failure. By adolescence the willingness of young people to risk failure has diminished greatly. And all too often parents push them further along that road by instilling fear, by punishing failure, or by making success seem too precious.

By middle age most of us carry around in our heads a tremendous catalogue of things we have no intention of trying again because we tried them once and failed- or tried them once and did less well than our self-esteem demanded.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Curious Business–FrogBox + Exclusive Interview

Founder Doug Burgoyne of FrogBox walked into the Dragons’s Den Janurary 26th and walked out with $200,000 and two of the dragons; Jim and Brett.

FrogBox is a moving company with an environmentally friendly conscious. They supply plastic moving boxes at the same cost as cardboard boxes and eliminate the fear of having to worry about valuables breaking. Plastic sustainable? Well when each FrogBox can be used over 400 times vs a cardboard box that can be used on average twice, you start to see the picture. In Vancouver over 450,000 cardboard boxes are used every month for moving and upwards of 1 million boxes in Seattle. That’s a lot of boxes. And it’s great for everyone say’s Doug “ [even] My Harley Davison driving beer swallowing uncle doesn’t get scared away”  For those wanting to see more environmental sustainability you will be happy to know that 1% of all gross revenues goes to improving frog habitat.

In a business that is known for it’s bad reputation Doug wanted to find a business model that took a bad industry and redefined its reputation, well he looked no further than Vancouver startup Brian Scudamore and 1-800 Got Junk. He tried to understand as much as possible about Brian’s successful transformation and recreate it in FrogBox. Answer? Scalable Franchising.

Doug is inspired by people like Brian Scudamore and Chip Wilson, people who have a dream and ability to create an incredible industry out of nothing. Doug’s dream is of eliminating cardboard boxes and making himself a lot of money in one foul swoop. When people think moving boxes he wants them to think FrogBox. How is he going to do this? Franchising. Before Dragon’s Den aired FrogBox had 1,100 franchise requests, and he wasn’t even ready to franchise. Now he plans to open 10 locations this year and has a 5 year plan that he hopes will make people associate moving with FrogBox.

To find out more about Doug, listen to my exclusive interview below.
I know how and why your business is innovative but I want to know why you as a person chose to be an entrepreneur. What was the lure of entrepreneurship and when did this love affair start? 


How did you get started with FrogBox?
How often do you think franchises should blog and twitter?  

How did you come up with the name FrogBox?
FrogBox seems to be a lifestyle movement that just happens to be green.
What is your companies vision and how quickly have people been to adopt that vision as their own? 
Why did you choose to go pitch to the dragons?

How did you know when it was right to leave your job, to drop everything and do this? 
Has been leaving your job to pursue FrogBox been the most difficult point? 
Have you been afraid so far?
How can we find the right partners to start a business with?
What has made the great companies great? What keeps them staying great?
How has your curiosity driven you to where you are? What are you most curious about?  


Doug’s must reads: Seth Godin – Purple Cow, E-Myth – Michael Gerber “It’s like he’s inside my head, and knows exactly what i’m thinking”
I hope you enjoyed the interview. If you have any other questions you would like me to ask in future interviews, post them below.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Customer Turnover

For those of you who listened to Simon Sinek speak from my last post  “Make me Believe” (and if you haven’t I strongly suggest you do, it’s one of the best presentations I’ve listened to) you would of heard about the Law of Diffusion of Innovation. Sinek said

“I love to ask businesses, what is your conversion, and they respond proudly 10%. Well you can trip over 10%. There’s always 10% who will just “get it”, in fact, that’s how we describe them.”

The Law of Diffusion of Innovation is broken down into 5 categories.


1. Innovators 2.5% – These are the inventers, the ground-breakers, the risk-takers, the creative and curious entrepreneurs and thinkers that by nature are meant to change the world.

2. Early Adopters 13.5%  - These are the emotionally driven consumers. The people that will buy out of belief for a product, the trend setters.

3. Early Majority 34% – These people will not buy a product until someone else has already purchased and tried it out – (the early adopters)

4. Late Majority 34% – These are the sceptics. They will not believe or purchase into a product until the vast majority accepts it. 

5. Laggards 16% – These people usually have no choice but the accept the product. Out of tradition or ignorance. In the words of Sinek, “the only reason these people buy touch-tone phones is that you cannot buy rotary phones anymore.”

So what does this mean? It means that in order for new innovative businesses to achieve mass market success they need to cater to the early adopters and innovators. They need to influence the “trend setters” so the early majority adopts the new products. As a new business you want to cross the chasm, the “tipping point” as Malcolm Gladwell puts it. And in order for this point to be reached there needs to be a  customer conversion rate of around 15-18%. You want market penetration into that early/late majority. 

How can you do this? Well it’s no easy task.

But you can start by.

1) Simplify. There’s always people that “get it” but you want the people who aren’t so adept to understand it. You don’t want them to avoid something because of its complexity. And if it’s some type of new technology you need to still create enough complexity and opportunity for those who “get it”. For example, the IPhone is simple but also complex and full of opportunities for those who can program.

2) Belief is infectious. You want to get those early adopters to believe in your product so strongly that they spread the word for you. How do you do this? Answer the why question.

3) Advertise. People love the word free, and using it properly can net more sales and attract more customers than stand alone discounts. 

4) Treat your regulars, your loyal customers the best. Loyalty goes far. Treat them well and they will spread the word for you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Make me believe


“People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it” Simon Sinek

Ever hear someone say “When you buy an apple computer your buying into a new lifestyle” For Apple they never say it’s about the money and they never say we can bring you a new lifestyle changing product at a considerable price. Rather they make us believe. They make us believe in what they believe. They tell us they’re different, for people who like to challenge the staus quo, people who are innovators, people who are at the forefront of style.

Apple’s mission statement and vision is “Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings.”

The statement is clear, they are not saying they are the best but that they will be committed in trying to create the best experience through new innovative applications. They want to create an experience, they want people to believe in innovation and challenge the status quo.

Here is the introduction of the first Apple Macintosh, We’re being made to believe, and I get shivers down my spine when I watch this.

Apple is able to inspire us while other companies are not. Why? Sinek says and I agree with him, “they know what they do and why they do it”, “people believe what they believe.”

On August 28th, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous I have a dream speech. Yes he was a great orator but the 260,000 people that attended his talk showed up for themselves, for what they believed. They took King’s dream and made it their own.

Great leaders make you believe in what they believe. Who have a vision of why the status quo needs to change. How can you share you vision from the inside out?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Be Better than Yesterday.

I was listening to an Interview with James Caan a very successful British Entrepreneur who  said, “Because I have consistently and continually been investing in myself, because I want to learn more, I want to be better than I was yesterday and if I don’t do that for me who else will do that?” I had an Aha!! moment.

We all want to be better than we were yesterday, and while not all of us can afford to enter the Advanced Management Programme at Harvard Business School evolution is still within our grasp.

Staying at the forefront of learning, exposing yourself to new theories and opportunities, and consistently re-evaluating and evolving your business is a necessity to the success of any and every business. Investing time and money into yourself gives you as the man behind the business more credibility, more knowledge. We live in a world of opportunity but very often that opportunity is only available to those with the credibility and credibility develops slowly, but overtime, once momentum starts picking up – nothing can stop a man with an idea.

So the question is what are you doing to become better than you were yesterday? I believe this is an important question, one we can all think about.

Below is the entire interview with James Caan.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A question that should never be asked.

“What do you not like about the company, the services or the product?” 

Don’t ask that. Never. Asking that is like forcing customers to admit they’re wrong in choosing you. And they will search for better.

Instead ask. “What can we improve on?” This says we’re willing to listen and improve on anything that makes sense for us and the customer.

I was always taught to only give criticism if you can suggest solutions to fix the problem. The first question makes the business and customer feel like they’re doing something wrong. Question two benefits both customer and business.

1) It makes the customer feel like their suggestions are considered (as long as the business is actively making changes)

2) The business builds loyalty with customers and receives free ideas.

Pay close attention when developing questions, like most things - small changes can have large effects.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Curious Business: VideoClix + Exclusive Interview

Ever watch a movie and wonder who that guy is or what kind of car he is driving? The magic of videoclix brings interactive videos to the web user. Click on that car, actor or shirt and now you know what it is. I like this business for so many reasons:

1) It gives advertisers a non-intrusive way of advertising.

2) Advertising dollars can get a-lot more mileage. Because no matter what it is, people like interaction, people like being part of something.

3) Companies are able to integrate more of a back-story and add more depth into their videos – (love this, in my opinion this will help develop stronger consumer loyalties when the stories are strong)

3)It allows the user to watch something and out of sheer curiosity click on something. I don’t know how many times I have watched a video and then decided to look up a reference to something, or find out who someone is. This gives the curious user the choice to look at a shirt, find out the brand and what type of shirt it is and later do their own independent research. It gives the viewer a chance to learn a little more about the story of a product. And perhaps fall in love with something they would of never known about before.

4) It’s smart, innovative and classy.

Audi r8Beautiful Dress

I had a chance to interview founder and Ceo Babak Maghfourian and here is what I found out.

Why did you choose to start your own business?  I think it was because my father who was a judge and disillusioned by the judicial system in his country, became a businessman creating companies in many industries. I always admired his success. 

How did you get started? How have past experiences enabled you to think “interactive advertising?” Prior to VideoClix I had two other companies, one of which I developed educational interactive video programs for University of Victoria.

What is essential to your success in building Videoclix?
Persistence. I started VideoClix in 1998 when people didn’t watch videos online. Broadband wasn’t even available. Content was all in analog format.
Year after year we’re seeing more success as all the elements are now in place.  Broadband, mobile, digital content, ad networks, trends and habits of viewers, faster CPUs and GPUs..etc.

What is the mission statement and target audience for VideoClix?
Mission statement:  To turn Video into the interface of tomorrow.
Target audience: Web viewers

When starting your business and locating investors, did the idea click with investors right away? How long before it did? What did your pitch look like?
The idea clicked but with smaller angel investors like friends and family at first.
When YouTube sold for 1.5 billion it clicked with everyone.
My pitch was a well designed website with many live projects we had executed with large brands (like Honda, Levi’s, Jonas brothers..etc) as well as a 50 page business proposal that outlined everything from Technology development, marketing, financials, roadmap...etc.
The website also had 11,000 licenses of the authoring software which was also distributed by Apple computers.

What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur? I love what I do. But I never got to marry and have kids. Never seemed like I had enough time for both.

What have you learned so far in this job?                                                                                  Timing is everything.... And timing can sometimes catch up to you.

How long did it take to make profits?
By 2002 we were profitable as a small company.  Then in 2007 through the massive investment injection the burn rate was vastly increased. We’re reaching profitability again this year but at a much higher scale.

For the budding entrepreneurs of the world what would you tell them?
Here are some true clich├ęs:
Make sure your idea is novel and in demand.
The idea is only 1% - execution and perseverance is the other 99%
Learn to form partnerships. You can’t build everything yourself.
Put your product out there as soon as possible. Let the market define it. (some try to perfect it, then release it. That’s a mistake)
Think globally, act locally.
When you talk to investors do your homework first. (Don’t be the guy who shows up on American idol and makes a fool out of himself)

Have you ever been scared?
Yes. There was a time when we couldn’t make payroll in 2004 (before Youtube even existed).

I thought the whole thing was going to collapse.
I found out the earth kept on turning. If the idea is sound things will turn around.

Do you ever wake up and say, "What am I doing here?"
It’s exactly the opposite every morning.

What gets you up in the morning?
About 30 to 60 unanswered business emails.

What’s your definition of victory?
Recognition in the invention and advancements we’ve made.
I’ve also won many smaller battles:
Like getting the project off the ground.
Getting angel investors.
Partnering with Apple
Getting a multimillion dollar round closed (this was a separate war by itself that took 7 years)
Hiring the right team.
Closing deals with companies like Viacom, Disney, MTV, ESPN, ABC, Kraft and Playboy
Reaching some personal financial goals

What are you most curious about?
Same as most people: Our universe. What we’re doing on this planet.  And If we’re going to execute the next 20 years right for our civilization to have longevity.

There are a lot of inventions in the recent years that can help us reverse some of the adverse effects humans have created. Will we put them to good use, in time? Can humans change their habits and course of action? Correcting our mistakes isn’t like using a computer and then having to do without a computer.  It’s simply like switching from one operating system to a better operating system.  Some believe we have to go back in time to make things better again. I’m of the opinion we can move forward but plan ahead better before moving forward.

When Ford created the Model T he didn’t think for one second that cars would be considered green house gas manufacturing plants all over the globe. Science fiction writers now write about Terra forming (changing the atmosphere of a planet to suit humans) Yet here on earth we’re un-terra forming. And this is simply baffling to me.
Large corporations need to respect their fiduciary duties to the public and not simply look at profitability and mass production. I’m curious to see how we’re going to change this.

Got any questions you want me to ask in future interviews? Let me know.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

“All Money is not created equal”

These are the wise words of Alan M. Webber Co-founder of Fast company magazine.
In his book 52 Rules of Thumb he tells us about the personal rules he has established over the course of his life.

As a future entrepreneur I dread looking for investors. Why? Many things could go wrong, most importantly – bad investors. This Rule of Thumb “All money is not created equal” says.

It’s true it all spends the same. But who you get it from makes all the difference. Some money is smart and some dumb: some comes untethered and some has strings attached; some is patient and some will frazzle you. Some money comes from people you’re proud to associate with, and some money is associated with people you’d rather not admit you know. There’s strategic money that opens up multiple opportunities, and there’s money that is only money. You need to know the different kinds of money.

Start looking for people that can afford to lose their investment. Investors that think the same way as you, whose credibility will give you credibility and people who have their own circle of influence. You want to gain access to their rolodex.

Readers I ask you, what’s your own personal rule of thumb? Share it with me. And share it on Allan Webber’s website @

Saturday, February 12, 2011

School for robots.


What every entrepreneur must learn is to think differently. And the act of thinking separate from the masses is becoming increasingly difficult. Why? Because conventional education seems to me, to be  destroying creativity. We go to school to learn math, english, sciences. We are discouraged from making mistakes (which is the greatest way to learn, through experimentation) From mistakes we learn valuable lessons. School starts to un-learn our creativity, starts to drill in conformity. We can see this from the questions students ask, of which I’m guilty for “will it be on the test?”. “It’s not”, well I can forget about it if I want good grades, I’m better off to focus on the stuff the teacher is teaching.  We are all creative as children, yet somewhere along the way some of us lose it. As we know now, emotional intelligence (EI) (personable skills) is more of an indicator of success than pure grades. How come our schools are not experimenting with new ways to educate, not focusing on EI as much as IQ?

We are told from a very young age to study, specialize and success will follow. I think that may of been true at one point, but now there are more and more graduates for less and less positions everyday and the problem is these graduates are not flexible. From a very early age we expect what is being taught to us is everything, we don’t learn to ask the right questions. This means our learning is predicated on the quality of the teacher.

The curriculum is rigid, defined, and students are not encouraged to think as much for themselves as I would like to see. Yes they are encouraged to think within the boundaries of what they are learning, but it would be interesting to see students be encouraged to develop their own theories (the only class I’ve seen this take place is philosophy). To take concepts from something they have learned in anthropology and connect it to business. To study art as aggressively as the sciences. We are not encouraging our students to study; poetry, photography, sociology. Instead, we encourage them to specialize, to choose to study something, otherwise how will you survive? We’re taught “Get in and out of school in the quickest time possible.”

The quote below is one of my favourites and inspired the title of the post.

“You must adjust... This is the legend imprinted in every schoolbook, the invisible message on every blackboard. Our schools have become vast factories for the manufacture of robots.” - Robert M. Linder

Learning is forever, learning doesn’t stop after school.  For that reason I want elementary schools and secondary schools to help students harness their curiosity and creativity. Elements that will hopefully encourage students to vary their interests, learn to connect ideas, because reality is not as cut and paste as many conventional class-rooms.

What sings to my entrepreneurial spirit is knowing that I will be constantly learning. No day will be the same, everyday uncertainty awaits, and everyday I will need to adapt to a new problem.

On that note, stay tuned. There’s a post-secondary school who is revolutionizing the way schooling is done –a true pioneer. I will be talking about them in two weeks time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Choose one thing.


In small and big businesses I see a fatal flaw all the time. They try or ‘claim’ to be the best at to many things at once when advertising. Choose one thing and stick with it. Choosing one thing for which your business will be renowned for: customer service, fuel efficiency, creativity, innovation, burgers… the point is it doesn’t matter. One thing doesn’t mean your bad at other things, but it means that when people think of the tastiest burgers in town they think of you. They don’t think of the tastiest burgers, and the best customer service, and the cleanest washrooms. No... that all might be true, but by choosing a position people think of you when they want a burger. Having too many positions makes the consumer question what it is your actually good at.

And please never claim to be the best, I question that. I question when the sushi shop claims to have the best sushi in town, and incidentally the one across the street claims the same thing. Best is overused, it’s general. Instead show me, tell me and specialize! Instead of saying we have the best sushi in town say, “We’ve been making sushi for 40 years and continue to get better” Now I might go eat in your restaurant.

A perfect example of specialization is Japadog. Japadog has become quite a phenom in downtown Vancouver. Why? Because they make hotdogs, but not just any hotdogs; they make original, innovative hotdogs. They don’t do anything else but make some really kick-ass hotdogs. But you know what… it’s what people know them for, they aren’t claiming to have the best fries, or even the best hot-dogs. They are promising to do their best to supply the most delicious hotdogs in the world. – They aren’t saying they are the best, they aren’t saying they will be, but they damn sure will try. And they do it in cute, improper Japanese, phrasing. 



Again choose a position. Show me it, make me feel it. I love apple’s old slogan “think different” they make me feel what they are doing, what they believe. With that position they are saying – are you always looking for the newest coolest things, want to show people how hip and up to date you are? Don’t just buy Apple, live Apple.

Can you imagine wanting to buy an apple computer when they say “Our computers are better” –me neither.

Next time you watch a car commercial ask yourself, do they have position? You’ll begin to realize not a-lot of companies do it well, but the ones that do seem to have many things going for them. So remember: choose a position, make me feel it, and let the world know.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rogers and Blockbuster are doomed?


I rented a movie for the first time in ages just last week and a thought suddenly struck me. How much longer will Rogers and Blockbuster last? They are losing substantial ground to netflix and – something very drastic needs to be implemented in order to gain lost ground. It seems to me they are both very stuck in their ways, offering “deals” every once in a while, then taking them away. So what can they do to stay competitive with the changing times?

Here’s a small list I came up with.

1) They can adopt netflix and business plans and essentially do the same thing. Before they lose to much ground.

2) They could implement a sort of usb drive system, where blockbuster or rogers would sell usb drives that hold movies. People could then directly download movies from a rogers system, of course Rogers would need to put some type of lock on the usb drive so files can only be read and not transferred by un-certified computers. Make it so there are different sizes of usb’s and you only have so many movies on a harddrive at once. Either charge per download, by data or whatever.

3) Introduce some type of community family watching event. They need to make their stores not just a video store but a go to location – by hosting free movie nights, pop-corn parties – something! Why – because it gets people into the store, it gets people to remember the beauty of renting movies, to remember their businesses.

Rogers and Blockbuster need to do something if they want to survive, and they need to do it soon. At the unoriginal rate they’re going at now I cannot see their video rental services lasting much longer. I went into blockbuster at peak time and it had one other shopper aside from me and 4 staff - that my friends is a business losing money.

I invite my readers to post their thoughts. Where do you see Rogers and Blockbuster going in the next five years? Is renting movies still a viable business? Do they need to change anything?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Curious Business–Urban Fare


Welcome to the first of my bi-weekly Curious Business reviews.

The Urban Fare concept was developed in the late 1990s and brought to foundation in August 1999 as part of the overweitea food Group. Now with three stores in Vancouver they have become a hotspot for regular urban dwellers and tourists alike. The design of the store is beautiful with dazzling product placement and color coordination - nothing is left to chance. I wanted to learn more about Urban Fare so I grabbed my camera and book and went to Urban Fares busiest location to interview assistant manager Nat Dosanjh. A man who has spent over 17 years in the Consumer Staples industry

Urban Fare has taken a generally common concept – the fresh deli - and have turned it into a fully functioning restaurant. But not just that, Urban Fare has chefs coming to their store asking for all sorts of specialty items, which is why they implemented their Guest Services division. “If a customer needs it, they’ll get it”. So readers - if your looking for an $800 can of caviar you can find it here.

The restaurant has it’s own entrance and big windows exposing it to the street, utilizing the natural sunlight. I almost forgot I was in a grocery store because the placement of the restaurant separates the diners from the shoppers, yet still allows the Grocery store to integrate products into the restaurant. The products inside and bordering the restaurant have discrete price’s (sometimes none), and are commonly used as art, allowing customers to eat comfortably without being force-fed advertisements and deals for new products.

Some reasons I love the fully functioning restaurant idea.

1) They are building consumer loyalty through two separate venues.

2) It creates the opportunity to advertise indirectly, through subtle changes in scenery and product placement, and is exactly what they are doing.

3) It gives them the option to promote new product, by creating dishes featuring a new cheese, bread, meat, the options are endless.

“People come here to have an experience” And as you’ll notice the giant cement column is covered in product, and hid extremely well, instead of looking at a column we are looking at a type of store art. The simple signs are smart and effective.

As I said before, nothing in the store is left to chance. Instead of having a plain white ceiling, they’ve turned it into art. Each one of those wood boxes holds a product that they sell.


Pellegrino is used as art in the bottom left. The big wood shelves are faced with product, products that are chosen for their accenting colors. The beauty is, they are never giving the consumer the impression that they are being fed advertisements because the products are just a part of the bigger design picture. And if a customer has any questions about the product they can be sure to find a store employee close by. 


If you run a small business, or just visiting the downtown core I suggest you stop by Urban Fare and check out the wonderful design. There is a-lot to be learned, from product placement, using product as art, being discrete, and combining two accenting concepts (grocery store and restaurant) to create a very genuine experience. The store is beautiful and has become a kind of Vancouver landmark for locals and tourists wanting to see a new breed of grocery store.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Death by Washroom


All to often businesses will work so hard at creating the perfect ambiance and atmosphere for their customers, but fall short on one thing: washrooms. Washrooms are the most intimate time we will spend in a store. We remember dirty washrooms. We remember washroom stalls where our legs don’t quite fit, where the soap and towel dispenser are always empty, where the water-taps don’t have enough pressure, where the toilet paper is recycled newspaper (they’re out there). It’s pretty obvious a bad wash-room can ruin a business, and can ruin a restaurant even quicker.

Generally, we don’t expect much of our washrooms – generic white walls, no art, small mirrors, crappy towel dispensers, no washroom stall hook. We don’t expect much because so many businesses get it wrong. With that being said, there is one industry that (most of the time) get the washrooms right.

Hotels. Hotels. Hotels. Hotels get it right. What’s the first thing you remember about the trump tower? The washrooms. We walk out talking about the washrooms, about how amazing and grandeur they are. Now not all of us are billionaire tycoons and have millions to spend on washrooms, but even on a simple budget, small businesses can create a very memorable space (and not for it’s uck factor). 

Next time your around a Sheraton or Hilton hotel check out their washrooms. What are they doing right? And is it possible to mirror their space on a smaller lower budget scale – and I think you’ll find the answer is “yes”. 

Make your washrooms a landmark, make your business known for their washrooms because that translates into quality of detail, compassion for customers and a clean workspace (very important for those in the food industry).

Lastly, (and this is for larger washrooms) to often is equal amount of space allocated for men’s washrooms as women’s washrooms. Men can pee in stalls, thus men need less toilets, and that means less space. So if your planning on accommodating an equal amount of men and women – women will in actuality need more space than men.

Some very simple and low cost items that can be added to a washroom for any business. 

1) A Door Hook – to hang bags or jackets on. I can’t count how many times I’ve been frustrated while trying to find a “clean” spot to put my bag down on.

2) Make it homely. Add a simple painting, a simple poster. 

3) Make it smell nice. Burn incense, get a febreze freshener – do something.

4) Have water-taps that give out enough pressure.

5) Nice lighting – I’ve been in to many washrooms where the lighting is way to dark.

Here is a contest where a restaurant and hotel were competing for the best wash-room title. A very valuable title to hold.

This washroom is memorable for all the wrong reasons. And that negativity translates into the rest of the business. Would I ever order food from a restaurant who’s washrooms are to disgusting for me to go in. Probably not. 



The next two are memorable for the right reasons. And both say very different things.

This is the washroom for Mildred’s Temple Kitchen. It says, we don’t mind being a little provocative because we’re not afraid to make you smile. If we go through this much trouble to create our washrooms, imagine how creative our dishes are. Montreal-Candi-Bar


These are the washrooms at Vancouver’s Opus Bar. They Speak comfort, modern thinking and smart color selections. Which translates into the presentation of their dishes and quality of food.Toronto-Mildreds

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Information isn’t learning.


Undergraduate Ceremony Address: David McCullough, May 15,1999:

Information isn't learning. Information isn't wisdom. It isn't common sense necessarily. It isn't kindness. Or trustworthiness. Or good judgement. Or imagination. Or a sense of humor. Or courage. It doesn't tell us right from wrong.

Knowing the area of the State of Connecticut in square miles, or the date on which the United Nations Charter was signed, or the jumping capacity of a flea maybe be useful or valuable, but it isn't learning of itself.

If information were learning, you could become educated by memorizing the World Almanac. Were you to memorize the World Almanac, you wouldn't be educated. You'd be weird.

My message is in praise of the greatest of all avenues to learning, to wisdom, adventure, pleasure, insight, to understanding human nature, understanding ourselves and our world and our place in it.

I rise on this beautiful morning, here in this center of learning to sing again the old faith in books. In reading books. Reading for life, all your life.

Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent as a good book.

I have some calculations for you to consider.

Reportedly the average America watches 28 hours of television every week, or approximately four hours a day. The average person, I'm told, reads at a rate of 250 words per minute.

So, based on these statistics, were the average American to spend those four hours a day with a book, instead of watching television, the average American could, in a week, read:

  • The complete poems of T.S. Eliot;
  • Two plays by Thornton Wilder, including Our Town;
  • The complete poems of Maya Angelou;
  • Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury;
  • The Great Gatsby; and
  • The Book of Psalms.

That's all in one week.

If the average American were to forsake television for a second week, he or she could read all of Moby Dick, including the part about whales and made a good start, if not finish, The Brothers Karamazov.

Read for pleasure. Read what you like, and all you like. Read literally to your heart's content. Let one book lead to another. They nearly always do.

Read, read, read, is my commencement advice.

For the entire speech check out.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Relativity and Business

One of my favourite all time books is Predictability by Dan Ariely. Ariely talks about relatives, the importance of relativity in business and everyday life. I've taken an example from his book.

In 1999 the economist had this on their website:



Before reading on, I want you to ask yourself what subscription would you choose?

So, the print subscription looks useless, why choose that when we can have both. Now Ariely took this study to 100 MIT students and asked them what subscription would they choose?

16% chose online subscription

0% chose print subscription

84% chose print & web subscription

Now when Ariely removed the Print subscription from the equation and re-ran the study he found something very different.

68% of students chose the online subscription

32% chose print & web subscription.

A seemingly useless option affects our overall decisions immensely. People generally don't believe our decisions are affected in this manner, the reality is that relativity helps us make decisions. We make decisions based off of the value of something else. In this case it's the value of the printed version of the economist.