Monday, February 28, 2011

Pushing Through: Go Daddy

"The temptation to quit will be the greatest just before you are about to succeed."  - Chinese Proverb

The temptation to quit was never more real than for Bob Parsons, the head and founder of The Go Daddy Group, Inc, just a decade ago. In a recent interview with Paul Anderson, writer of 50 Entrepreneurs, Bob Parsons revealed that he almost gave up on Go Daddy back in 1999. While today Go Daddy is the world's largest provider of domain name registrar's, in 1999, shortly after the dot com bubble bursted, they nearly ran out of money and Bob Parsons was left with a decision to either cut his losses or potentially go broke.

Parsons was confronted with the moment of truth so in an effort to sort it all out, he took a vacation to Hawaii to clear his head and make the ultimate decision on the future of his company. Something funny happened to him on that trip. While going through the deepest soul searching imaginable, he met a parking attendant who despite being Parsons age, was absolutely content with what he was doing. This man was happy and he loved his work. At that moment Bob Parsons gained his perspective. Describing the moment, Bob states, "And it hit me.  I said to myself, if this business fails, the worst thing that can happen is I'll be parking cars, right? It was in that moment I decided that I was going to stick with the business no matter what. I was broke before and happy as hell, I could be again, and I didn't need all that money to be happy." Bob stuck with it and within two years, Go Daddy's cash flow situation was much improved and they were well on their way to being the hugely successful company that they are today.

Throughout history, individuals have encountered the same scenario as Bob Parsons - whether to quit and cut their losses or to push on through and potentially accomplish something great. The fear of failure is often so strong that many people give up too early and are hesitant to take their ultimate personal risk. It is human nature to avoid negative and harmful situations so it becomes easier to choose the path of least resistance as opposed to the path might create a better life for you and others.

For Bob Parsons, a Vietnam veteren, he gained internal strength and learned how to overcome personal resistance in war. If you can accept that you might die tomorrow but yet are still able to push on through and do your job, then you are surely mentally equipped to face the prospects of a failing business. For most of us though the idea of losing your job, running a business into the ground or simply failing to achieve what you set out to can be so overwhelming that our mind tells us that it is the worst imaginable outcome.

To overcome this, we need to honestly tell ourselves what the worst thing that can happen truly is. Are you clinging to a job because you fear that you won't succeed doing something else? If so, how hard would it be to get back to the exact same position you are in now if all else fails? You've done it once so it should be easier the second time around.

Alternatively, you may be experiencing failure in what you consider to be your life's dream. Does this mean that you should quit because success seems bleak?  Think about Bob Parsons and ask yourself what is the worst thing that will happen to me if I fail? Can you get a job doing something else and still be happy?

Pushing through and taking risks require that you have a clear understanding of what failure means. For most of us, it doesn't mean your world is going to end. Setbacks are inevitable but the trick is to push through and do what we know in our heart is truly important. The trick is to remind ourselves that we can always park cars and still be happy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sticking to The Main Thing: Better Ingredients, Better Pizza

In a recent interview with Success Magazine (click here to read the article), John Schnatter, founder and CEO of the pizza giant Papa John’s, was quoted as saying “Everything we do, we try to do it just a little bit better, and that costs money. We’re willing to pay up. I bet, on average, our competitors can make a pizza for 2 bucks. That same pizza will cost us $3-plus. But that extra dollar is the thing that makes Papa John’s different, and we think the consumer can tell the difference.”

Papa John’s isn’t in a price race to the bottom either. Rather they are in a race to deliver taste and quality, hence their slogan “better ingredients, better pizza.” And the results speak for themselves as Papa John’s consistently finds itself atop the American Consumer Satisfaction Index among national pizza chains.

Sure Papa John’s may spend millions on advertising and deals with the NFL, however they never lose sight of the fact that it is all about making a good pizza. Papa John’s core values even read as such, “We must keep The Main Thing, The Main Thing. We will consistently deliver a traditional Papa John’s superior-quality pizza.” Good quality pizza continues to be their main thing and they keep laser like focus on it.

While their competitors may push to make their pizza as cheap as possible, Papa John’s realizes that advertising can’t cure bad customer service or a pizza that just doesn’t taste as good. By investing in a better pizza and in better people (P.A.P.A. – People Are Priority Always), Papa John’s wins with its finished product. This customer experience alone is more powerful than all their marketing campaigns combined.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sell Like Groupon

With internet users receiving an average of over 100 emails a day, it is no wonder that so many people are adverse to email advertisements. Advertisements occupy a majority of the emails we receive on a daily basis and even the messages we opt in for and ask to be sent, start to seem like spam after awhile.

Groupon, a deal of the day website, has amazingly been able to flood subscriber inboxes on a daily basis with advertisements that do not come across as spam. When you receive a Groupon, you don't have a clue of what the offer is but the surprise and anticipation associated with the potential discount peeks your daily interest. The reason their offerings are so much more effective than traditional forms of advertisements is that Groupon is in the business of selling ideas. Today the idea might be a deal for a new restaurant that you've never tried while tomorrow it could be for a free additional thirty minutes with the purchase of a massage. Eventually though, one of those ideas is bound to catch your attention and that makes the entire experience worth it.

The idea of the Groupon approach works because over time, it eventually pairs the perfect idea for a particular customer. That idea creates an easy, low risk way for customers to test a business and find out if they are better than the alternatives. It is then up to the business to create a great experience. You have to get them in the door first to have this chance though.

Marketers and sales reps should take this same approach. Stop speaking to your clients about all the potential benefits of your services. Start offering them ideas instead. By advertising, you're hoping to create enough brand recognition that maybe they'll consider you but ads don't promote experiences, ideas do. An idea could be anything from a unique sample of your work to a case study for how you recently helped a client. Whatever your ideas may be though, frequently touching them with fresh new ideas is paramount to the Groupon sales approach.

Just like Groupon, if you offer prospects 50 different ideas, it only take one of those ideas to make them a customer. With this approach, prospects won't feel like you're always trying to sell them something that they might already have or that they don't perceive they need. Instead you are creating a buying atmosphere, one that gives them unique ideas for how they could potentially use your services. They will then perceive your message as hassle free but they won't shut you out from the opportunity to share ideas with them. In essence you are never rejected, only tabled for later when the idea finally arrives that connects them to your business.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Seek Out Bartenders

Photo From Flickr by Lee Coursey

Recently I was listening to a music producer give a speech on the current economic climate of the music industry and they said something that really got me thinking about customer service in restaurants. They said that in Nashville, if you work in the music business, you should always leave good tips for your waiters. The reasoning? Behind every one of them, there is an aspiring country music star. That same waiter might walk in your music studio tomorrow.

Whatever the city you live in, can't you make a similar statement about restaurant waiters? In Los Angeles or New York City they are aspiring actors while in Seattle or Chicago they may be writers. The point is that in most places you go, the job of waiter is merely a stepping stone to something greater. If you want great restaurant service then, should you really have a waiter serve you?

When given a choice, I prefer the service level of a bartender rather than a waiter. Most people think of the idea of sitting at the bar to eat and drink as a less romantic place reserved for lushes. Contrary to popular belief, I personally find the setting of a bar extremely intimate as there isn't a table between me and the person I'm with. The service is usually significantly better as well. This isn't an accident or random chance occurrence.

A bartender is there because they trained to be there and want to be there. A waiter is there only for a check.

A bartender wants you to stay as long as you like (within reason). A waiter wants to get you in and out as quickly as possible.

A bartenders lets you establish a tab or credit all based on nothing more than trust. A waiter says pay now.

A bartender is a great listener - think of all the stories they hear? A waiter only listens to the sounds of what you are going to buy.

A bartender actually makes what he sells you. A waiter is merely an order taker.

In every service business there are people who mimic bartenders and then there are those that are nothing more than waiters. If you want great service, enlist the work of people who actually make things and are there because they want to be there. Instead of living with just average service, seek out the bartenders.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review - Rework

by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

Rework is a business book that every manager and entrepreneur should read.  It written merely as a collection of thoughts on a variety of topics such as productivity to branding and the result is a book that shows you how to build, run and grow a business.

The wealth of knowledge this book contains should cost a fortune to learn.  I have never read a single business book in all my years that had more take away value than this particular book.  It is that valuable and there is undoubtedly something for everyone.

Trying to summarize the book in a few paragraphs but give you some take away value at the same time is almost impossible so because of that I have assembled a quick summary (these are notes and highlights that I took while reading various chapters that struck me as valuable).

Key points highlighted and summarized:

Learning from mistakes is overrated - when something fails, yes you learn what not to do again but what do you really learn to do?  Instead, success shows you what actually does work, something repeatable that you can do again.

Be careful of longterm plans as they are merely guesses - it is okay to wing it and decide what you are going to do now as opposed to getting stuck making choices just because that is the plan you set for yourself.  Long term plans stifle improvisation.  They are important but when making choices, you usually have the best info at the time you are doing something, not when you are planning to do something.

Be mindful of workaholism - working for work's sake.  Working more hours doesn't mean you care more or get more done, it just means you work more. Workaholics cause problems because they like working hours as a badge of honor but they also tend to not get work done efficiently as a result. They claim to be perfectionists but this is a result of focusing on inconsequential details.  They make others feel bad for working less hours even if those other people just find ways to get their work done faster. 

Scratch your own itch - the easier way to make a great product or service is to create something you need. When you solve your own problems you know exactly what the right answer is as opposed to the uncertainty associated with fixating on someone else's problem and trying to fill a need that may not even exist.

If you have a big idea make it and act on it. Try to sell it and don't sit around on it.  The faster you move through ideas the closer you are to finding the one that really is great. 

Draw a line in the sand - stand for something. Have a point of view and know what you're willing to fight for. When you know exactly what you believe in, the choice is clear for customers. They will love or hate you but there will be no in-between.

You need less than you think - there is nothing wrong with being frugal and committing less people, money or resources to work.  If you stop to think about each decision like this you can probably get by with a lot less.

Embrace constraints - working with less forces you to be creative and get by with what you've got. Constraints force creativity and problem solving.

Start at the epicenter - the key thing that drives your business. To find the epicenter ask yourself, "If I took this away would the product still exist?" All the other stuff you do depends on the foundation.

Commit to making decisions. Decide and move forward.  Don't wait for the perfect solution.

Be a curator - decide what stays and what goes and eliminate until you are down to the bare essentials. Constantly look for things to remove, simplify and streamline.

Throw less at the problem - cutback and trim the fat. Improve upon what is left.

Focus on what won't change - the core of your business should be this and not the next new sexy thing. Permanent stays while fashion fades. Invest in that.

Meetings can be toxic - if you must meet have a clear agenda, set a timer and begin with a specific problem. Meet at site of problem instead of conference room and point to real things with real examples End with a solution and appoint a person responsible for implementation.

Long to do lists don't get done. Prioritize visually and break things down into small and motivationally manageable tasks.

Learn to say no first. Get your priorities straight and say yes and no accordingly.  There is more regret at saying yes than no.  Keep things right for you and your product.

Let your customers outgrow you. Just because some of your customers have to change doesn't mean you have to compromise your business. Changing your business just to satisfy one or two customers can make you too tailored to them and not a good fit for anyone else. Then when that big customer leaves you, your stuck.

Don't act on great new ideas on impulse. Let them cool and come back to them in a few days and evaluate their importance with a calm mind.

Make great products not ones that just seem great. Buyer remorse occurs when something seems better at the store than it actually is once you get it home.  That doesn't create longterm relationships. Great at home products get talked about.

Build an audience. Audiences give you a platform to share value driven information.  They listen when you need them too. Quit trying to reach everyone.

Out teach your competition. Tips, case studies and tools that educate them are key.

Be like chefs. All great chefs have cookbooks that show all their trade secrets, recipes and tips. Show people how you do things. No one is going to steal your recipes and beat you at your own game.

Go behind the scenes of your business. People love seeing how things work. They want to see how things are built. They will grow a deeper level of appreciation for what you do.

Be genuine.  Imperfections show the soul and art of your work.

Press releases are like spam. Instead of shooting out generic messages to everyone, make it personal to the person you want to reach.  Call, write a note, make it real.

Overnight success is a myth. It takes years of grinding through the work to get noticed. Slowly build an audience instead and get people interested in what you have to say.

Company culture is a byproduct of consistent behavior. You can't force it, you just create it overtime by encouraging particular types of behavior.

Great environments show respect for the people who work and how they work.  Give people the tools, trust and responsibility and they'll wow you.

When you treat people like children you get children's work. When people have to ask permission for everything you create a culture of non thinkers and a no trust environment. Policing costs time and money and kills trust.

Make people work smarter not for longer.  If you want something done, ask the busiest person. Send people home at five. Your goal shouldn't be more hours but better hours.

Don't scar the first cut. Policies born to correct rare mistakes just create complex and inefficient bureaucracies. Only create new procedures, rules and policies to attack common situations that often reoccur.

Write conversationally in business. Read it out loud and ask yourself if you were saying this verbally would it sound normal?

Inspiration is perishable. If you are inspired to do something today or ready tackle a new idea then do it because the drive, inspiration and motivation might not come again.