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The Floppy Disk Business

Talk about being in a niche market! This fascinating article talks about Tom Persky the self-proclaimed “last man standing in the floppy disk business.”

See a Need, Fill a Need

Leveraging his experience outside of the floppy disk business as a tax attorney and software developer, Persky found opportunities to offer sales, recycling, and data transfer services.

Because we were a tax-oriented company and had specific tax filing deadlines, we only used our duplication equipment once every quarter. For 89 days in a row, the machines would be unused and then, on a single day, we would punch out thousands and thousands of floppy disks. At some point, I looked at the machines and how they were unused for so much of the time, and I had the idea to take in other people’s laundry.

Client Feedback

Persky had a business model in mind but shrewdly pivoted to include other service offerings at the request of his customers. Clearly a business should not listen to every whim of their customers. However, the service should be added if the cost-benefit analysis indicates a profitable expansion. Contact us for help with this analysis.

In the beginning, I figured we would do floppy disks, but never CDs. Eventually, we got into CDs and I said we’d never do DVDs. A couple of years went by and I started duplicating DVDs. Now I’m also duplicating USB drives. You can see from this conversation that I’m not exactly a person with great vision. I just follow what our customers want us to do. When people ask me: “Why are you into floppy disks today?” the answer is: “Because I forgot to get out of the business.” Everybody else in the world looked at the future and came to the conclusion that this was a dying industry.

Luck

Luck is ALWAYS a factor in business. However, it takes skill to be able to survive long enough for a chance for luck to come your way.

Over time, the total number of floppy users has gone down. However, the number of people who provided the product went down even faster. If you look at those two curves, you see that there is a growing market share for the last man standing in the business, and that man is me.

Circling back to seeing a need and listening to customers. Opportunities will present themselves when you keep your eyes and ears open.

Another thing that happened organically was the start of our floppy disk recycling service. We give people the opportunity to send us floppy disks and we recycle them, rather than put them into a landfill. The sheer volume of floppy disks we get in has really surprised me, it’s sometimes a 1,000 disks a day.

Know Your Market

Persky knows his market. A.K.A. customers. Your market (customers) are not only those that you’ve identified but also those you did not know use your (or your competitor’s) product. Knowing your market takes a lot of research and asking questions.

Take the airline industry for example. Probably half of the air fleet in the world today is more than 20 years old and still uses floppy disks in some of the avionics. That’s a huge consumer. There’s also medical equipment, which requires floppy disks to get the information in and out of medical devices. The biggest customer of all is probably the embroidery business though. Thousands and thousands of machines that use floppy disks were made for this, and they still use these.

Tom Persky truly fell into the floppy disk business but made smart decisions to capitalize on the opportunities that came up. Part of it is luck, but part of it is also making the right decisions long enough to be lucky.

See our posts: Importance of Niche-ing, See a Need, Fill a Need, and Product Life Cycle for more related information.

The Case for Small Businesses

The case for small businesses is a strong one. From job creation to patents filed, small businesses are a major driving force in the economy.

Small Businesses are an Engine for Job Creation

Despite losing 9.1 million jobs in the first two quarters of 2020, small businesses’ job growth rebounded swiftly following the COVID-19 recession. In the four quarters following, small businesses have gained 5.5 million jobs, making up for 60 percent of the decline during the early pandemic. Small businesses have generated 12.9 million net new jobs over the past 25 years, accounting for two out of every three jobs added to the economy. Source.

Small Businesses are Drivers of Innovation

Experts often use patenting activity as a proxy for innovation. Data from the National Science Foundation show that small businesses that engage in R&D generate more patents per employee than larger businesses that engage in R&D. However, small business patenting activity fell significantly following 2010.

The decline is now reversing. Small businesses recovered to two-thirds of peak patent application levels from 2015 to 2018 and recovered to half of peak patents received levels in the same timeframe. Source.

Small Businesses Need Support

Unfortunately, more than 90,000 restaurants that have closed across the U.S. in the past two years. Restaurant industry sales in 2021 were down $65 billion from 2019’s pre-pandemic levels. A touching article in High Country News tells the touching story of the last day at DeDe’s, a mom-and-pop restaurant in St. George, UT.

She suffered a stroke a year ago and hadn’t been able to visit. “When DeDe found out, she made my mom’s favorite meal — a ham, mushroom, and spinach omelet with Swiss cheese and a slice of cantaloupe — and delivered it to the care facility,” Feesago said. “It’s more than food. DeDe made us feel like family.”

This type of value-added service without an exorbitant surcharge would be unheard of in a corporate restaurant scenario. The personal touch is also gone. Optimizing for profit results in diminished customer experiences. The typical story of a small company that grows until it catches the eye of a larger firm is common. The value and brand that the small company created are gutted to make room for shareholder value creation. The original loyal customers eventually leave because the magic is gone. This is done over and over again until Main Streets throughout the US begin to look exactly the same with the same 15 corporations.

The tragic irony in all this is that corporations spend a considerable amount of resources trying to recreate a “we treat you like family” environment that customers want. Unfortunately, it is just marketing, and the user experience is not genuine. The corporations would do better as a holding company that lets the small business operate with minimal interference. The parent company could provide occasional funding for expansions, hiring, and process improvements.

Small improvements can lead to significant benefits. Our blog post Competitive Advantage and Coffee talks about how a simple gesture such as remembering regular customers’ names can result in higher coffee sales. Another example is DK’s Donuts a small independent donut store in Santa Monica, CA that has been in business since 1983. Even when mega-chain Dunkin’ Donuts opened a block away, business did not suffer because the user experience, customer service in other words, was not there at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Launch and Grow Your Business

Contact us today to discuss how you can start your own small business.

Brazilian Jiujitsu Financial Projections

Brazilian jiujitsu academy Carlson Gracie South Bay requested financial projections to help plan for an upcoming expansion.

Accurate financial projections allow an academy to know how much they can spend on rent, service pricing, headcount break-even points, budget for their operating expenses such as marketing and payroll, and much more.

About Carlson Gracie South Bay

Brazilian jiujitsu academy Carlson Gracie South Bay offers classes throughout the week, one class in the morning and one class in the evening,so you can easily fit your training into your schedule. The student will learn techniques and principles that made Brazilian jiujitsu the most efficient and effective fighting art in the world. 

Carlson Gracie South Bay students compete in the highest level tournaments and hold numerous titles at the World, Pan American and Open Championships at IBJJF, NABJJF, JJWL, Abu Dhabi, BJJ PRO and NAGA federations. They also have students competing at UFC and EBI tournaments.

Launch and Grow Your Business

Contact us today to get financial projections for your Brazilian jiujitsu academy.

How to Be More Influential

Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.
Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.

One of the best podcasts for business or for learning anything really, is the Freakonomics Radio podcast. This particular episode was especially interesting because it has direct relevance to sales. One of the biggest issues for any business is generating revenue. In order to do that, your revenue centers have to be skilled at influencing clients to purchase from your business.

The social psychologist Robert Cialdini is a pioneer in the science of persuasion. His 1984 book Influence is a classic, and he has just published an expanded and revised edition. In this episode of the Freakonomics Radio, Cialdini discusses the seven psychological levers that manipulates our self-described rational minds and lead us to act, follow, or believe without a second thought. The seven levers of influence are reciprocation, liking, social proof, authority, scarcity, commitment and consistency, and unity.

Some key excerpts from the interview:

  • Reciprocation – Reciprocation is the rule that is installed in all of us, in every human culture, that says we are obligated to give back to others the form of behavior they’ve first given to us. 
    • For large groups, he would ask the first person for an order, and no matter what s/he ordered, he would frown, lean down so everyone could hear, and say, “That’s really not as good tonight as it normally is.” And then he’d recommend something slightly less expensive from the menu. “This, this, and this are really good tonight.” So, what he did was to say, “I’m being so honest with you, I’m willing to recommend something that will give me less of a tip.” Then when he returned at the end, he would say, “Would you like me to recommend a dessert wine or a dessert?” And people would all look at each other and say, “Of course, Vincent, you know what’s good here, and you have our interests at heart,” and they would spend on wine and dessert.”
  • Liking – Being likable makes you more persuasive
    • But how do you make someone like you? One is to point to genuine similarities that you share. The other is praise. Because first of all, people like those who are like them, and secondly, they like those who like them and say so.  Car salespeople, for example, are trained to look for evidence of such things while examining a customer’s trade-in. If there is camping gear in the trunk, the salespeople might mention, later on, how they love to get away from the city whenever they can; if there are golf balls on the back seat, they might remark they hope the rain will hold off until they can play the 18 holes they’ve scheduled for the next day.
  • Social Proof – We are more likely to say yes to a proposal or a recommendation if we have evidence that a lot of others like us have been doing so. 
    • The power of social proof is so substantial that people who watch a presidential debate on T.V. are said to be significantly swayed by the magnitude and direction of the applause at the live event. This is not at all a recent phenomenon.
  • Authority – Deferring to authoritative figures and sources
    • In one study, someone called the nurses in various wards of hospitals and claimed to be a doctor on the staff who the nurse had never met and ordered the nurse to give a double dose of Astrogen to a patient. They’re not supposed to take these orders by phone. The dose was twice the maximum dose that was on the bottle of Astrogen. But 95 percent of them were on their way to give the drug to this patient before they were interrupted by a researcher who said, “Wait, don’t do that.” The researchers concluded that one would think there would be multiple intelligences operating to decide whether to give this amount of drug or not. But it turns out that, because of the principle of authority and the deference that the nurses were giving to the physicians, there was only one such intelligence function. As highly trained and intelligent as nurses are, in a fast paced challenging environment, it is easy to unthinkingly follow an authority’s directive.”
  • Scarcity – An insufficiency of amount or supply
    • In the book, you tell the story of your brother when you were much younger, that he would buy and resell used cars. And his big trick was to tell all the prospective buyers to come view the car at the same time, so that he’d have everybody come Sunday at 2:00 p.m. to create a sense of demand or a false scarcity.
    • Another example is companies that create an artificial scarcity, essentially by limiting the amount of production they engage in. Let’s say it’s a T-shirt, a sneaker, a luxury watch. They could make a million a year. They choose instead to make 10,000 a year and charge 100 times what it might go for on the market as a mass-market item.
  • Commitment & Consistency – Seeming to appear true one’s decisions, beliefs, and/or actions
    • In one study, when six- or 12-person experimental juries were deciding on a close case, hung juries were significantly more frequent if the jurors had to express their opinions with a visible show of hands rather than by secret ballot. Once jurors had stated their initial views publicly, they were reluctant to allow themselves to change publicly. Should you ever find yourself the foreperson of a jury under these conditions, you could reduce the risk of a hung jury by choosing a secret rather than public balloting method.
  • Unity – The power of social identities to drive people’s behavior
    • In the United States, citizens agreed to participate in a survey to a greater extent if it emanated from a home-state university. Amazon product buyers were more likely to follow the recommendation of a reviewer who lived in the same state. People greatly overestimate the role of their home states in U.S. history. Readers of a news story about a military fatality in Afghanistan became more opposed to the war there upon learning the fallen soldier was from their own state.

The most fascinating take-away is that the more “rational” aspects such as features, benefits, quality, value, or pricing is not a major direct decision making factor. Although, it is arguable that quality, features, etc. can fall under Like; they prefer substance over style, etc.

Listen to the whole episode here:

Another effective marketing strategy is using the MAYA approach, “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” also incorporates some of the levers of influence namely Liking and Commitment & Consistency. Read about MAYA here.

How to Sell Something Old and Something New

Lessons from Quibi’s closure

Media streaming service Quibi closes - Your Startup Guru
Media streaming service Quibi closes

Media streaming service Quibi shutting down six months after launching. Their closure is not surprising because Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Disney studio head and DreamWorks co-founder missed one important lessons when selling something new: make it familiar.

Katzenberg missed one important lessons when selling something new: make it familiar.
People were not going to shell out $5 per month to watch something they’ve never heard of with commercials.

In a previous post, we discussed how industrial designer and marketer Raymond Loewy created the concept of MAYA — Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. His firm designed mid-century icons like the Exxon logo, the Lucky Strike pack, the Greyhound bus, as well as Frigidaire ovens and Singer vacuum cleaners. Even the blue nose on Air Force One was his idea. Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He believed that a balance must be struck between two concepts: the curiosity about new things and a fear of anything too new. He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something novel, make it novel.

What is Quibi?

Quibi is a media streaming service that promised to reinvent television by streaming high-quality content in ten-minute-or-less episodes to “the TV in your pocket.” Quibi, is short for “quick bites.” Katzenberg believed enough mobile-phone users would use their spare minutes of downtime — while waiting in line for coffee, riding the bus or subway — to watch bite-sized episodes of premium, Hollywood-quality video.

The concept itself is great except all of their content was new and it cost $4.99 (with ads) or $7.99 (without ads) per month. People were not going to shell out $5 per month to watch something they’ve never heard of with commercials. Also, the short episodes might not be long enough to engage the audience. Ultimately, their revenue model did not match their pricing strategy (1, 2).

What Should Quibi Have Done?

Using Loewy’s lessons, in order to make the shows on Quibi familiar as well as its short format, they should have gone with the freemium model by giving one month free with an additional month if they get someone to join. This will give time for people to bond with the shows before introducing the paid no-commercial version. Hulu used this same pricing strategy and it worked out well for them.

According to Vulture article Is Anyone Watching Quibi?

Quibi was to launch in the spring of 2020 with 50 original shows, and another 125 were to be rolled out by the end of the first year. Recognizing the risk of making something for an unproven platform, Katzenberg typically offered to pay producers’ costs plus 20 percent. “People on Quibi have $100,000 a minute to make content,” Katzenberg tells me. “That doesn’t exist on other platforms.”

This production pace and cash burn is difficult to sustain and now, in a fire sale, they are giving out free 6 month trial memberships in an attempt to gain viewership but it was too little too late.

Lipstick on a pig and recession-proof businesses

Lipstick on a pig and recession-proof businesses - Your Startup Guru
Lipstick on a pig and recession-proof businesses – Your Startup Guru

Welp, there’s no need to put lipstick on a pig. Today’s GDP data released by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020, according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP decreased 5.0 percent.

Chart showing Real GDP: Percent change from preceding quarter

This is really bad news which means figuring out how to mitigate damage and making all adjustments by bootstrapping. Many businesses such as bookstores, farms, and clothing manufacturers pivoted their business models to adapt to the impact of COVID-19.

One thing I learned while working with my client KiloNiner several years ago is that pet products were largely recession-proof during the 2007-2009 recession. This is because people view their pets as family members so cutting back was avoided. There are many other businesses are that recession-proof as long as adjustments are made to accommodate social-distancing requirements:

  • Repair/maintenance services: People will still need their plumbing to work, their lights to turn on, and their car engines to run
  • Dry cleaning/laundry: Laundered clothing and materials will always be needed as long as people wear clothes and don’t have in-house machines. Dry cleaning for clothing might decline as formal wear is reduced but will not go away as people still wear jackets, etc. on occasion.
  • Professional services: Accountants, lawyers, and other administrative professionals are still needed for the economy to run.
  • Funeral/Memorial services: A natural consequence of life is death. Particularly with the unsettlingly high mortality numbers associated with COVID-19, demand will likely be high for a very long time.

There are many more industries and even sectors/value-chain-links within floundering industries that are somewhat insulated from recessions. Your Startup Guru provides industry/market research as well as a wide range of other services for businesses to help navigate this turbulent economic climate.

Contact us and let’s figure out a plan for you.

Old school business model

I just saw a commercial for Rent-A-Center and thought to myself that their old school business model is nearly a half center ahead of the times.

Founded in 1974, Rent-A-Center is an American public furniture and electronics rent-to-own company based in Plano, Texas. The company was incorporated in 1986 and as of 2014 operates approximately 2,972 company-owned stores in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico, accounting for approximately 35% of the rent-to-own market in the United States based on store count.

A convergence of trends—including the Mari Kondo-sparked enthusiasm for cleaning out closets, increased concern over the impact of climate change, and a movement toward smaller, urban apartments—has made millennial consumers more conscious of how many items they’re accumulating.

Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman.

As you may know, companies are taking a similar business model and expanding it to other consumer sectors such as clothing and jewelry. This model has already been applied to transportation with Lyft/taxis/vehicle leasing and with housing with AirBnB/hotels/apartments and intellectual property with game rentals/public libraries. Entering into the fray are companies like Rent the Runway, which rents unlimited designer styles to subscribers and Fat Llama, which rents electronics (in the UK).

A convergence of trends—including the Mari Kondo-sparked enthusiasm for cleaning out closets, increased concern over the impact of climate change, and a movement toward smaller, urban apartments—has made millennial consumers more conscious of how many items they’re accumulating, according to Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman.

The spending habits of millennials, the largest single consumer group out there with 83.1 million (a full quarter of the U.S. population), was surveyed. The survey found that the main reason why they rent is to “test things before purchasing” at 57%. This makes sense with money being tight and space being limited, every purchase has to be scrutinized. The results of the survey are shown in the infographic below:

World Economic Forum: This is how millennials are fueling the rental economy

Old school brands such as Play it Again Sports and Rent-A-Center are riding the boom of the change in consumer sentiment and behavior. Rent-A-Center’s revenue grew $9M between 2018 and 2019 to $2.6B, operating income balloon an astounding $197M between 2018 and 2019 to $253M, helping net income to increase by $165M to $173M.

Adjusting to the new normal by pivoting

In changing times, you have to adapt to the new normal in order to survive. Your Startup Guru

Pivoting in Business

I just got off a call with a client to discuss a brilliant pivot for the business he purchased using a business plan I created for him last year.  The pivot was an adaptation to the new normal and to mitigate the losses from the delayed renovation and opening caused by COVID-19.  A pivot usually occurs when a company makes a major change to their business after determining that their product/service isn’t meeting the needs of their intended market.

How to Pivot

This call reminded me of some other recent examples of businesses changing their operations to survive and sometimes thrive in the COVID-19 economy:

  • You might have heard of the now-famous Goat-2-Meeting.  That is the creation of Sweet Farm Foundation, a non-profit animal sanctuary in Northern California that is offering videos of their animals to be used for Zoom meeting backgrounds.  Due to the popularity of their service, sales are slightly higher than this time last year.
  • Lumen Couture makes wearables, which are fashion items that embed electronics and technology into stuff you can wear.  They design fancy, red-carpet-type gowns that shimmer and sparkle when you’re walking for very high-end events and ceremonies.  Because events and ceremonies are now on hold, they shifted most of their business to making masks, which people do want now. They designed a black mask that has a screen across the front almost like a scoreboard, saying things like, “six feet away.”
  • Golem Bookshop, an independent bookstore in Turin, Italy started free deliveries by bicycle in Turin in response to a shutdown order in March and began offering curated selections of books – themes like revolution, obscure authors you’ll love, indie books.  Customers loved the selections so much they started shipping orders all over Italy.  Normally Golem sells about $7,000 worth of books per month but in April, they sold almost $20,000 worth of books; it was actually their best month ever.

In times of crisis, coming up with a profit or even surpassing last year’s sales is ideal but anything to mitigate the cash hemorrhage is fine.  To pivot, for example, a business might have to change its revenue model which means potentially canceling contracts with existing vendors.  This is one of many crucial decisions that the business has to make because once the pandemic passes and the current new normal makes way for the new-new normal, it may be difficult to get supplies in time and at the original pricing.

Each business is different and solutions are not one-size-fits-all.  Contact us and let’s figure out what the best steps your business should take to adapt to the new normal.

Just a friendly reminder

To buy local today if possible

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