The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) is investing up to $2 million in seed funding, aka America’s Seed Fund. America’s Seed Fund is a program within the National Science Foundation and housed within the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships. This congressionally mandated program aims to foster innovation and help create businesses and jobs in all areas of the United States, and small businesses funded by our program have since gone on to tremendous success, changing industries, and helping people and the planet. Click here for more information.
Contact us today to get started on your pitch deck.
“The dominos are starting to fall in the U.S. economy.
As the Federal Reserve pumps the brakes on the economy, many American companies are retrenching. There is a growing fear that as the central bank aggressively hikes interest rates to fight high inflation, it could tip the U.S. economy into a recession, and executives are cutting back.
A host of companies have announced job cuts or hiring freezes in just the last two weeks. They range from Tesla and JPMorgan Chase to Redfin and Coinbase.
Netflix last week announced a second round of job cuts for the year, this time eliminating around 300 positions. Earlier this year, the entertainment company announced it had lost subscribers for the first time in more than a decade. Since then, Netflix has eliminated roughly 450 positions.“
Is a recession on the horizon? U.S. stocks slumped lower Thursday, giving back all of yesterday’s post-Fed decision gains and pulling the Dow below the 30,000 point mark for the first time since early last year, as investors re-set prices on risk assets around the world in anticipation of faster near-term rate hikes and relentlessly high inflation.
As Charles Darwin observed, the most adaptable wins. We’ve been here before, a looming recession and people are worried about losing their jobs. Now is the time to think of the strategy that will help break one free of the whims of cost-cutting management.
Recession-proof / recession-resistant businesses
In a previous post, some recession-proof / resistant businesses were listed. Adding to that list are several more businesses that deserve consideration:
Gym / Fitness: Although fitness centers took a massive hit during COVID-19, it wasn’t for the lack of demand. According to the IHRSA, a global health & fitness association, the industry has been long thought to be, if not recession-proof, at least recession-resilient. Revenue from North American fitness clubs in 2009 (during the Great Recession) rose nearly 4 percent in 2008 from the year before, and membership grew by more than 10 percent, according to the IHRSA.
Independent contracting / Freelance services: When a recession hits employers turn to independent contractors as an alternative to hiring full-time employees. So, freelancing is a viable alternative to the traditional career path. The great thing is you can diversify your services so you can create multiple revenue streams. Most workers have a diverse set of skills that they can leverage. Also, there are many platforms such as Fiverr where you can easily share your skills.
Health and senior services: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare and other services for seniors are expected to grow by 23% by 2024. This service sector has already been expanding rapidly over the last decade. In fact, in 2019, there were 71.6 million Boomers making them the second-largest demographic behind Millennials with 72.1 million. As life expectancy continues to increase, the wide range of needs this market demands is large and profitable.
Sell Shovels in a Gold Rush
If you’re saying to yourself, “but I don’t have any experience in these fields.” Keep in mind the saying, “Sell shovels in a gold rush.” What this means is don’t be one of the thousands or millions of competitors jockeying for one goal. The thousands or millions of competitors can now be your customers. Find a product/service that meets their needs. Look to your transferable skill sets and network for inspiration on how to pivot into a career.
Once you have an idea of some pivot options you have to do a feasibility study to see which one is the best option for you. A feasibility study is a curtailed business plan-like document where you outline your product/service, the business model, your competitors & your customers, and expected revenues/expenses/startup costs. A well-done feasibility study can save hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in sunk costs.
Contact us today to create a feasibility study for you.
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.
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.
Launch and Grow Your Business
Contact us today to get started on market research and strategies that will help take your business to the next level.
Money is extraordinarily tight for most people right now so starting a business is a pipe dream that has been put on hold indefinitely. However, you can make the choice and do the many things you can do with little or no money to continue to make incremental progress.
One of the most important yet least expensive things you can do is gain knowledge. Research into who your customers are, who your competitors are, what it costs to launch, who can supply raw materials for your product, etc. is relatively inexpensive with a simple online search but a critical. Research is an important task because it also tells you if your idea is feasible. A feasibility study is done to consider the various aspects of a business to see if it is a viable undertaking. Very briefly, feasibility studies are curtailed business plan-like documents where you outline your product/service, the business model, your competitors and your customers, expected revenues/expenses/startup costs. A well done feasibility study can save hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in sunk costs.
Your Startup Guru offers price matching, discounted fees, and revenue sharing options to work with tight budgets. Contact us to get started on your feasibility study.
Make the right choice — do not go back to sleep and just dream.
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.
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.
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.