This post on Reddit talks about how an entrepreneur lost over $200k trying to start a business brings up excellent things to consider when starting a business.
Every business is different, but some key lessons that apply to almost all businesses are numbers #3, #7, and #9.
Lesson #3: Don’t Build Everything At Once
As an entrepreneur, you are likely the CEO and janitor. In other words, you have a lot to juggle and little cash to spend. Getting the core product/service to market takes precedence over spending time and money adding bells and whistles.
Lesson #7: You Can Be Either Low Frequency or Low Price, but Not Both
In other words, you can make infrequent big sales or frequent small sales, but not both. Most businesses fail because of illiquidity (i.e. not enough cash). Expenses never stop and must be paid even in between sales, so make sure you are always generating sales. A SaaS/user-base business is slightly different because the revenue model is based on data and advertising, but a similar maxim still exists.
Lesson #9: A Founder’s #1 Job is Sales
Once the CEO is done with janitorial duties for the day, it’s back to the phones making calls. For example, one of the main jobs of a partner at a law firm is increasing yearly revenue. They might not be doing contract review or picking up trash, but they are rainmaking.
See the full Reddit post below:
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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.
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One of the best podcasts for business is the Freakonomics Radio podcast. This particular episode was especially interesting because it discusses how to be more influential. Influence has direct relevance to sales. One of the biggest issues for any business is generating revenue. To do that, your revenue centers must 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 manipulate our self-described rational minds and lead us to act, follow, or believe without a second thought. The seven levers of influenceare 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 is 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.
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 takeaway is that the more “rational” aspects, such as features, benefits, quality, value, or pricing, are not major direct decision-making factors. Although it is arguable that quality, features, etc. can fall under Like; they prefer substance over style, etc.
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.
Your Startup Guru client Corrio is applying to present by panel discussion at SXSW PanelPicker Online 2021. Your Startup Guru created a pitch deck for Corrio which allowed them to fundraise as well as enter into a private group of international members comprising an angel investor networks.
Corrio was accepted last year but with the pandemic, plans had to change.
Psychographics of hipsters explains how Pabst Blue Ribbon’s (or PBR) rise and fall is a story of a market finding a product. PBR has been around for 170 years but only in 2008, enjoyed a 6-year boom in popularity (outside of a brief moment in the 1970s).
It is better to find an under-served market and create a product/service for them than wait for a market to find your product/service.
Q: How to Find an Under-Served Market? A: Market Research
There are many sources at your disposal to gain a deeper insight into who your customers are and segments within that market.
Ask potential customers: Surveying is a form of primary market research. Ask them how they use their product, and what they like/dislike about it. How long have they used it, is it expensive, how does it make them feel, etc. These questions will give you valuable insight into the psychology of the user.
Pose as a customer and visit your competitor’s store/website. Learn how they do what they do. See what they do well, and what they can improve on. Sometimes employees are very happy to share details you cannot find anywhere else.
Industry and trade publications for your particular sector are also great sources of information. Some are free, while some require memberships.
So, going back to Hipsters:
Hipsters are known for following the latest trends and fashions while eschewing things regarded as being within the cultural mainstream. Hence the term, “I was into __________ before it was cool.”
So why did hipsters like PBR? To put it simply, it was “retro chic,” and anti-mainstream, and with many people still trying to recover from an economic recession, Pabst Blue Ribbon’s low price point was an attractive option. This brings us to a tool in marketing used to find customer groups: psychographics.
What are Psychographics?
Psychographics are metrics used in market research as a way to divide consumers into sub-groups based on shared psychological characteristics, including subconscious or conscious beliefs, motivations, and priorities, to explain and predict consumer behavior. Any dimension can be used to segment a group of consumers, such as style, variety, availability, price, etc.
Hipsters avoided things that were popular, and some of them were not price-sensitive, so they were willing to consider a range of beers that occupied a certain psychographic zone.
As PBR’s popularity grew, it was departing from the zone of consideration – the region of price and popularity where hipsters were willing to purchase from. Also, as hipsterism became more mainstream, the association of PBR with hipsters caused a self-fueling downward cycle.
Your Startup Guru used psychographic analysis to differentiate our client’s brand from that of their competitors yet stay true to their envisioned identity. Psychographics are used in market research as a way to divide consumers into sub-groups based on shared psychological characteristics. Age (Young vs. Established), Popularity (Unique vs. Mainstream), Price (Expensive vs. Inexpensive), and Style (Function vs. Fashion) was used to find the spaces their competitors occupy, and there might be an opportunity for our client to find an under-served market. In the case of our client, they wanted to stay within a fairly competitive zone of youthful, unique, pricey, and fashionable. However, if a brand wants to target an older, fashion-forward market, then research into the type of prints they like, how and where they wear the product, how the product makes them feel, etc., through surveys, focus groups, and informational interviews will be invaluable.
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Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He said to sell something novel, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it novel — Loewy called his approach “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” – MAYA
Raymond Loewy is one of the most influential industrial designers / marketers that you’ve probably never heard of.
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. Loewy called his approach “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” — MAYA.
Loewy wasn’t the only one to embrace this marketing strategy. Alfred Sloan, the CEO of General Motors, saw that changing a car’s style and color every year, trained consumers to crave new versions of the same product. To sell more stuff, American industrialists worked with designers to make new products beautiful and cool.
MAYA doesn’t just apply to new product design…
In The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he describes how the song “Hey Ya!” by OutKast failed to gain traction with listeners. Hey Ya! was by all measures supposed to be a hit. A company named Polyphonic HMI, formed by artificial intelligence experts and statisticians, created a program called Hit Song Science that analyzed the mathematical characteristics of a song and predicted its popularity. Hit Song Science predicted Norah Jones’s Come Away with Me would be a hit after many industry experts dismissed the album, as well as “Why Don’t You and I” by Santana. Hey Ya! scored one of the highest scored recorded at the time. However, when stations would play it, people would switch stations during the song.
It wasn’t until DJs sandwiched Hey Ya! between two familiar songs, people stopped switching stations. After a few weeks, listeners became familiar with Hey Ya! and it gained the traction that Polyphonic HMI predicted it would.
…MAYA Also Works in Reverse
Inserting a familiar song within unfamiliar songs also works. This was the case for Matt Ogle, who, helped build Spotify’s Discover Weekly, a personalized list of 30 songs delivered every Monday to tens of million of users. The original version of Discover Weekly was supposed to include only songs that users had never listened to before. In its first internal test at Spotify, a bug in the algorithm included songs that users had already heard.
However, after Ogle’s team fixed the bug, engagement with the playlist actually fell. It turned out that having a bit of familiarity bred trust. According to Ogle, “If we make a new playlist for you and there’s not a single thing for you to hook onto or recognize—to go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good call!’—it’s completely intimidating and people don’t engage.” It turned out that the original bug was an essential feature: Discover Weekly was a more appealing product when it had even one familiar band or song.
MAYA is Everywhere but Comes in Steps
Notice the new hard seltzer craze? It’s everywhere. White Claw, Wild Basin, Truly, even Bud Light has gotten into the game.
But before the bevy of new beverages Zima was the novel beverage about town. Introduced in 1993, Zima is a clear, lightly carbonated alcoholic beverage marketed as an alternative to beer, or coolers as they were called at the time. However, if the ill-fated Zima is any indication, hard seltzer was a jump the market wasn’t quite ready to handle. It had to take something familiar…namely, a subtly flavored, non-alcoholic beverage whose popularity took everyone by surprise: La Croix.
Although the exact formulation between sparkling malt beverages and hard seltzers may be different, the taste profile and market demographics are similar enough that if Zima came about 15 years later, it may have found greater success than it did.
Your Startup Guru provides in depth industry and market research as part of our Strategy Consulting services. Use the contact form here to start developing the best strategy for your business.
You have probably noticed the deluge of advertising that is targeted to the new reality of being at home. This is obviously a response to the global pandemic we are all being affected by. The following is a breakdown of what is happening and how your business can harness the post powerful trait: adaptability.
Adapt Through Marketing Strategy Marketing
Aired prior to the COVID-19 crisis but replayed recently Campbell’s realized that people are stockpiling canned food. Set to a wholesome and nostalgic soundtrack without pandering to panic buying, they capitalized on an opportunity to remind customers of a classic pairing. On a side note, the music choice was oddly relevant — Thank You For Being a Friend was the theme song to the ’80s sitcom The Golden Girls and the elderly are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Also, more people are telecommuting and are realizing their home computers might not be suitable for work so Dell aired a commercial for one of their newest laptops. Peloton, home office chairs, etc. are all advertising the benefits of being healthy and productive at home. Also, mental health app Talkspace, Delta Airlines offering free flights for medical volunteers, online education, bidets, and more are using this opportunity to advertise their products and services.
Adapt by Seizing the Opportunity
When disruptions happen, it is important to consider alternatives in order to adapt to the new environment. I have advised a new restaurant client to pivot their business model from a brick and mortar location to a commercial kitchen or food truck and adjusted their ad hoc financial projection model to reflect the pivot. Of course, depending on the stage of a business pivoting to a commercial kitchen or truck is not an option; which is why I always provide tailored consultations to each client.
Many people have a lot of downtime now with not having to go into work. It is a good time to take a break from watching the news and start mapping out the idea that you’ve been mulling. Who is your target market? Where will you be located? What are your startup costs? These are all questions you should know the answers to or be actively seeking if you are serious about taking the next step. If you do not know the answers or want a second opinion on, I always provide free consultation so send me an email. Afterwards, those pushup challenges on social media are also a good healthy distraction too from all the dire news.
These are better practices than gouging prices like that hand sanitizer guy.
Not recommended for small new businesses because of course with every controversial ad, there will be criticism. However, such a campaign will instantly give your brand more personality, and fans may become even more loyal.