Tag Archives: bad business

Stop Shouting at Me

1039171_52843470Since when did we as business people decide that having conversations was too much work?

Instead of discussion with our customers and the community we decided that SHOUTING at the world was the “latest and greatest” in sales-marketry…  That being annoying was a great replacement for providing value to the community around us.

(If you see the guy who switched the playbook let me know so I can slip him over the border into North Korea.)

I want a lifetime ban on boring HTML newsletters.  They just suck.

At least pretend to know my name.  I feel like the other side of a bad date.  Like I am being used for just another number in your “see my 10 gabillion readers” quest for encyclopedic  nonsensery.

And here is the ironic part about the craziness of your bad content:

I really want to be inspired by what you have to say to me.  I want to get a rush of adrenaline and nod my head at the end of each paragraph as you rock it out.  That’s what I want from our conversation.

Instead, you think that your fancy picture (which I have now officially deemed “Lame 2009 Clipart” or L2C for short) does a better job of telling me what you really want me to know.

Here’s another paradox:  We all hate the loud dude in the office who just won’t shut up (which is usually me).   But then we turn around become the sales people of the world who fight fearlessly for our loud and impersonal emails that just do the same thing.

We need to stop thinking about emails as sales tools and more as conversation tools.  If you wouldn’t kick down your customer’s door and start spitting sales facts in his face in person, then don’t do it with your emails.

Stop shouting….

Start sharing.

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Stolen Shoes and Bad Movie Mojo

croc_yellow

Two stories.  One central theme.

It all started on Friday with a call from my friend, Jill Stelfox

Between a mix of tears and laughing she told me how she had been working to secure a vendor to tape video footage of one of her clients.  Her client is a financial planner who is on MSNBC as a leading source of “money talk” and so she wanted to get a copy of all his appearances to add to his website.  (Sounds like a good plan to me…) So she reached out to several different vendors who quoted her prices between $125 to $150 per tape clip.  One vendor though struck a different tone.  He offered to provide the service at $85 per clip – provided she bought 25 up-front – and even suggested he send her a sample of her client on video.

Pleased, Jill provided more information, and a short bit later the vendor sent over the video.  After looking at the tape Jill called the vendor with a serious problem — the audio and video were synced horribly like a bad Chinese Kung Fu movie.  Jill’s client was talking and his lips were moving “out of timing” with the audio.  The video quality itself was “super spotty”.  Still — this was a FREE sample.  Maybe there was a good explanation (or not).

The vendor listened as Jill spoke and then professionally admitted that there was a problem.  He then went on to note that he “knew there was a problem and that was why he was asking for 25 up-front purchases – so he could upgrade his equipment”… (all true, I promise).  He then went on tell Jill that “he was broke and needed the money to do more work for other prospects.”

It took little time for Jill to hang up the phone in disbelief and end a shockingly bizarre buying experience.

Saturday evening Sara and I were “first person” to our own outrageous buying experience.  It went a little something like this:

There is an children’s arcade/amusement center called Frankie’s Fun Park about 10 minutes from our house in Greenville that my two boys (Bryce and Dustin) love for me to take them.  I just went there a few weeks ago when Sara was out-of-town and found the scene morbidly un-engaging.  Employees were frowning and yawning –  like we customers were a chore that they were forced to take care of.   Needless to say, I took the boys home without spending any more money.  I also took the 15.4 seconds necessary to “tweet” to the world about my poor experience.  And then told the boys that we would never be heading back there again…

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But, alas, the allure of winning tickets and climbing through indoor jungle gyms was too much for the boys to accept.  They wanted to return and I wanted to make that happen for them.  Besides, Bryce had won almost 2,000 tickets that he had not cashed in for prizes yet.  And so we made our way back into the den of sweaty over-caffeinated kid-dom.

The boys headed straight for the “jungle gym”.  Shoes off and stowed in cubby.  Borrowed socks on.  Fun everywhere with mom and dad cheering on the mayhem (I wish they made one of those for adults…).  It was when the boys got out that the problem began.  Dustin (my 2 year old) had his bright yellow crocs stolen out of his cubby — cubby that his mom and I were standing 5 feet away from the entire night.  Sure — someone might have accidentally picked up the bright yellow crocs by accident (hardly….) — but it was the way the employees handled it that made this a story.

Of course I mentioned this to the 17- year old staff member in that kids area who took a few seconds away from texting to look at me with one eye raised.  “Steal your kids shoe?” she repeated back to me incredulously — like I was making the entire story up for.  Further outraged, I moved on to the front of the establishment to look for management.  Maybe someone old enough to have a car payment would care about my son’s bright yellow crocs.  Sadly I was mistaken.

When I reached the front desk the manager came hustling out to meet me, chattering in half-tones into an ear piece about some food cleanup.  Without any eye contact, he briefly stopped to tell me that he had “everyone looking for my shoe and that he was sure no one had stolen my sons’s bright yellow crocs.”  To which I kindly refrained from sucker punching him in his face and left with Sara and the boys.  I came to spend money and was left shoeless and insulted.  Another horrible customer experience at an establishment that should be completely focused on user satisfaction.

What’s the point?  It’s simply this.

It’s all about the EXPERIENCE your customers are having!  You can’t explosively grow your revenue when you are pissing off the people who have the revenue to help you grow.  You invest in them FIRST so that they will invest in you FOREVER.

And remember — It’s not about their trial period

…………………………or your proof-of-concept expectations

………………………………….or the support ROI you are factoring

…………………………………………..or “who is right” when a prospect complains.

It’s about how a prospect FEELS while interacting with you.  Michael Ports (what a great author…) made the observation that: “Long after people forget what you said or did, [customers] will remember how you made them feel.”

It’s feelings that we need to change.  Not facts!

By the way, that means that logic or facts have nothing to do with this discussion.  At the heart of this is the concept of “relationships” — which happen to be completely illogical.  You can’t build a spreadsheet around a customer experience strategy or “doing the right thing” (which is why so many companies just hire more schmucky sales dudes to find more prospects rather than get religious about creating an outrageous experience for their “community”).

You can’t even explain how you are going to make more money doing this.  But it works.  It’s the stuff of legends.

  • It’s the pricing and staffing economics that make Southwest Airlines the only profitable airline in the US and the most enjoyable (non-luxury) traveling experience….
  • It’s what takes the idea of outrageous customer fulfillment and ten years of consistent performance to build a billion dollar online site like Zappos…
  • It’s the detailed online client “do-it-yourself” tools that catapult a small franchise like Washington  Mutual into a leading insurance powerhouse…
  • It’s the efficiency of client  purchases and delivery that propel Amazon.com to be the leader in online purchases…
  • It’s the foundation of an ACE Hardware franchise that continues to “delight” even while getting smashed by larger Home Depot and Lowe’s franchises…

It’s easy to call this “too intangible for action” and just add more dollars to the CRM budget next year.  This takes guts. And faith.  And obsessing about the details of everything you do and every word you train your people to say.  It is a religion.

But “strangely”, when you invest in your customer’s experience, you emerge as the alpha-standard.  You don’t just improve mediocrity.  You set the standard for the new “impossible”.  You are invincible!

Your ability to achieve explosive revenue growth is directly proportional to your obsession with providing an outrageous customer experience.  Suck at one and you’re guaranteed to suck at the other… (DEWism)

———————————————————-

Possibly coincidence, but my CEO friend, Kriss Wilson, tweeted me over the weekend to tell me about his horrible 8-hour experience with Dell support.  You have to check it out!!

What’s not being said….

I get asked all the time to take a look at a business plan or review a sales process (which I usually find intriguing).  There is something about a new idea with plenty of potential that gets me pumped up.

Not every investor is worth “getting in bed with” just because they have a bankroll.

I ran into this presentation poking fun at VC investors a few weeks ago and wanted to share.  It is pretty humorous how many of these are right on…

Here is what a VC would never say to you:  🙂

Here is something else they wouldn’t say:

  1. Investors have to believe in you executing (not your product magically becoming the next Google).
  2. Investors are too busy  to hold your hand every day and make sure you meet all the other people in their portfolio.
  3. Investors expect you to have the answers not to have to answer the same questions every meeting…

Just be informed!

Like your mom used to tell you, “Don’t believe everything you don’t hear…”

Transparency = 1990’s Snake Oil

CAUTION: This is kind of a worthless rant!

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Can You Fake Trust?

I just went to Amazon.com and ran a search on the subject of transparency and I got 111, 327 books on the subject — let alone DVDs, a few VHS options, and several hundred MP3’s to download. (For reference sake, there’s only 1,347 books on the topic of “home land security“…)

SUMMARY:  Stop believing that being “transparent” is by itself a virtue!  I know that it’s a sexy topic.  I know! It’s just NOT all that you think it is…  Seriously.

So what is this idea of transparency? And why is it such a cult? And how did this even get on The DEW View radar screen?

I was reading through Jeffrey Gitomer’s new book on TRUST (it’s the teal one, if you buy into his color stuff).  I generally am engaged by the quirky information sharing in a typical Gitomer book (big quotes and changing font sizes intermingled with cartoons and other “goodies”).  As I got about 2/3 of the way through the book, I ran into the passage aimed at sales dudes (like me) talking about a particular weakness with appearing genuine to the customer.

To build trust, Gitomer listed his 7.5 ways to be more “real” — and here is where I ran into an issue.  Reason number 6 or 7 (I forget now) was “Fake it Until You Make It”.  In other words, if you aren’t genuine then you should pretend like you are until you actually are genuine.  WHAT?  Really?  Is that how it works?

Sounds a like a huge insult to me…  Fake it — instead of just working on it?  I shut the book on basis of principle and haven’t read the rest of it yet (I’m considering getting back into it) and then began to think more about this idea of trust and transparency…

The idea of “transparency” became a sexy subject in the late 90’s after the bubble blew.  Parallel to our own Madoff scandals, investors screamed for more insight (more transparency) into how they lost money.  No one wanted to know what was going on while the returns were there, but after the collapse, in a faux sense of “getting to the bottom of the matter”, business gurus started talking about the need for transparency — which doesn’t entirely make sense.

The idea behind transparency is that it’s supposed to make me trust you more.  It’s like your own little credibility machine.  But that doesn’t really add up if you think it through.  Does your “transparency” cause me to trust you more?  Do I really want to know everything?

Here is my transparency: I PROBABLY DON’T EVEN TRUST YOU TO START WITH!

Did you want me to be transparent about that?  Do you trust me more, because I shared that with you (holding nothing back).

My bro asked me today if I trusted something that was told to me about my old business which caused me to think about the fact that my strategy all along the way had been to verify rather than trust.  WHY?  Because I don’t trust them to start with.

I may shake my head at you and pretend that “it’s all good”, but I don’t trust you most of the time.  Now before you jump all over me at that last statement let me note that I do trust a few people (most are in my immediate family) but that probably isn’t you!

And that’s OK!

I don’t need to trust you for us to get along.  Words are words — I want results.  I won’t ask you anything you need to lie to me about and you won’t need to lie to me.  That helps both of us out.  And, do you really want to know about my personal life and what goes on inside my head?

You don’t!  And if you do want to know, why is that?  It’s probably not healthy…

Can I make a suggestion?  Let’s change the debate from being “transparent” to a simpler concept:  BE HONEST!

  • Don’t intentionally mislead people to get your way…
  • Make ever effort to follow-up on the promises that you have made…
  • Stop f*cking people over on purpose because you think it’s cute…

That’s all!  Be honest.

P.S.   Don’t tell me that old argument that if you don’t trust other people it’s because you aren’t “trustworthy”.  I subscribe to the “BE HONEST” Model of business, but I don’t buy the “TRANSPARENCY” Model.

Fail Fast!

I seem to always have subscribed to the “Fail Fast so You Have More Time to Work on Being Successful” mantra of life.  I used to be afraid of making the wrong decision and then I realized that I had only to fear not LEARNING from past mistakes.

Living and learning are part of both failure and success. I have failed quite often over the past 30 years of my life and I have had some amazing successes.  Sometimes it feels like the failures outweigh the successes, but that needs to be put into perspective…

Alexander Muse wrote an amazing article on his personal failure called “How I lost $20,000,000+ in 18 months!” which I have attached below…

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If I had to come up with a single reason I started this blog it was to share my own ’startup’ experiences; the most cathartic of which was a post I wrote in 2005 titled “LayerOne: My Biggest Failure!“  Around 1,000 people read the post back then, but my readership has grown in the last three years to between 50,000 and 75,000 unique people; readers who never heard the story.  I believe some of the most important lessons one can learn are taught by failure and failure is something I have an MBA in.  I thought it might be valuable for those of you who haven’t heard the story to take a peak into my dirty laundry:

I was interviewing a candidate for Big in Japan and I asked him what his biggest failure was. He answered the question thoughtfully and at the end of the interview, as I always do, I asked the candidate if he had any questions for me. His first question, “what was your biggest failure.”

Most of us (well mainly me) have a hard time talking about our failures. I had to think for a minute and then the answer was obvious. In 1999 I founded a telecom company called LayerOne. It was the hieght of the private equity – venture capital funding wave and I caught one of the last waves. The idea was to create pooling points of local haul, local and internet connectivity and charge carriers for connecting between each other. I ran around the country (Sandhill Road, New York, Austin and of course Dallas) looking for private equity. Almost 100 venture capital and private equity groups were not interested in my idea…

I was only 28 years old so I had no idea how bad the odds were that I could raise the money to fund my idea so I rented a loft near downtown Dallas right above the Genesis Hair Salon (you could smell women getting permanents in the afternoons). I polished off my business plan and hired a lawyer from the Austin office of Wilson Sonsini and a secretary. Finally I found a group of investors willing to fund my idea. My series A was $11,000,000.00 on a $22,000,000.00 premoney valuation (not bad for a first time CEO with a business plan and a loft). The round was led by Crest Communications with additional investments from Soros Private Equity, Cabletron, and ADC Telecom. Soon I was off to the races hiring a team to help me build my dream. One of my key hires was detailed in Money Magazine here. I found a small, under funded competitor that was willing to sell and jump started our rollout.

I made every mistake in the book (I had a lot of help making the mistakes). By the summer of 2001 we were well on our way to meeting our goals for the completed ‘pooling points’ but we had not been able to raise the second round that would enable us to complete our nationwide buildout. We had leases across the United States (even a few options on spaces in Europe), but not enough money to build them out. Our original investors were trying to raise their second fund (a fund they never closed) and everyone was scared of the telecom space. We managed to raise another $9,000,000.00 to ‘bridge’ us to the ‘big’ round. Our lead investor, Crest Communications, had a relationship with First Union and suggested that we use their bankers to help us raise our second round. Their effort was extensive (scores of meetings in New York, Chicago and San Francisco), but ultimately unsuccessful.

So I reverted back to my old strategy, call everyone myself and set meetings. Most everyone turned us down, but finally we got a term sheet from TL Ventures for $40MM ($60MM short of the total amount we would need to get to break even). Everything looked like it was going to work out. But soon it became apparent that there was a big catch in our term sheet? TL would need to find (actually I would need to find) other investors to fund $30MM of the $40MM. Our existing investors would come up with $10MM bringing our total to $20MM, but finding the other $20MM seemed impossible. Nortel blew up in the summer and of course Enron crumbling did not help. We were in big trouble. Neither TL or us could find the last $20MM needed to close the round (and no they would not close without the total $40MM).

El Paso Energy had started a telecom business and talked to us about acquiring the company. It seemed like a good option should the fund raising effort fail – something I was getting more and more worried about. We received a term sheet from El Paso that would return 100% of the paid-in equity our investors had made and provide jobs and options to the management team (i.e. me). This was not a great option, but as we would be out of cash by July it seemed like the prudent thing to do. Our investors (Crest) decided that the deal was unacceptable and that we should pursue other options (including the TL deal still on the table). Next, we were contacted by Universal Access about a potential acquisition. We finally came to terms, but the deal did not make sense to us. The deal was for stock (UAXS was traded on the NASDAQ) worth around $5MM and out of the money warrants valued with Black Schoals at something like $20MM. It seemed to me that the warrants would NEVER be worth anything, but on paper this deal looked better than the cash deal offered by El Paso. We signed the deal and Universal Access covered our payroll in June. The deal never closed. By the time the deal was dead El Paso was out of the market – they were paralyzed by the Enron debacle.

So the only option seemed to be Chapter 11. Ug! I was sick to my stomach – bankruptcy was not a good thing to have on your resume. So I started running around looking for capital to fund a reorg. I found two groups who were interested in the deal. We figured it would take $2MM to buy the business in a 363 asset sale and $2MM to get it to break even. We were going to take the sites that were cash flow positive (or near positive) and a reduced staff 12-15 employees and run the business. By the end of August 2001 we had the sale and successfully bought the business out of Chapter 11. We were in bankruptcy for around 30 days – one of the quickest in the history of our jurisdiction. So on September 11th 2001 I was headed to Hughes and Luce to sign the closing documents with our investors so the money could be transferred to the court for the sale. You might recall that the most deadly terrorist attack on our country happened on that day. I figured the deal was dead… But the next day we closed and LayerOne II was born.

The impact? Most of our investors (only three stayed in the new deal) lost everything – $20MM down the drain. LOTS of employees hated me (I assume they still hate me). This was the lowest point in my life. I was able to salvage the business for our clients, a few original investors, a few key employees and my family – but the majority of our investors and vendors paid the price of MY failure. I can blame a lot of folks, but ultimately it was my failure. How did it turn out?

Actually, fairly well. We were able to turn a profit in a few months and grew profits by around $20-30K per month for a couple of years. By 2003 we had made several investments outside of LayerOne and I made the decision (with more than a little help from our investors) to take over operation of Architel and LayerOne was positioned for sale. It took about a year, but LayerOne sold to Switch & Data for a 600% return for the investors ($4MM to $22MM in less than four years). It wasn’t Google but it was a big swing for me. I learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes and ultimately became a better businessman and hopefully a better person as a result.

Karma, the Cosmos, and Stupid People…

(don’t you just love that title?)

Many times over, I have been accused of “letting people walk all over me”… (and that might be the case).  I would admit that I find myself avoiding controversy unnecessary controversy.  My personal opinion is that unchecked ego is one of the biggest flaws with business leaders.

I am staggered at times as I witness the inability of individuals to simple admit that “they were wrong”…  Instead they play a convoluted head game of “if I don’t admit I was wrong I might still be right”.  That makes no sense even typing it out.  You are probably thinking of someone you know (or a time you played this game yourself) who is king of this exercise…

So here is a fun, little (not made up) story for you.

About a a year ago I got conned out of about $100,000 by a business partner con man.  This guy had the right lines and the awesome business plan and I was silly enough to lose out.  Stupid me!  (It wasn’t the first time I made a stupid play…)

Soon after, I let it go and moved on to focusing my attention on other more important matters.  For a while I was thinking about blasting the person on one of the popular support forums, but I could never come to grips with the lack of professionalism of airing dirty laundry.  It wasn’t that I was super moral – the whole thing just didn’t feel right…

As is many times human nature, this individual decided that he was going to con other people in the legal industry and proceeded to do just that.  TICK… TICK… TICK… It was only a matter of time!

That time came this week.

Through a series of calls and emails (and other important sounding things I can’t tell you) the FBI is suddenly curious about this individuals “conning” habits.  Let the games begin.  Come to find out this individual’s business license expired in 2005 (whoops…), had used my personal home address as his business address (falsifying business records and identity theft) (triple ouch…), and is now in the cross-hairs of several 3-letter government agencies for stacks of really stupid lies…

ONE WORD:  KARMA…

A little earlier this evening I was reading one of my favorite blogs (www.techcrunch.com) and I read the  attached presentation… and I started to connect the “cosmic” dots!

The cosmos has a fantastic way of self-correcting for stupid people.  I mean it…

  • All the foolishly invested funds that are now becoming obtusely obvious…
  • All the interest in “change” when finally enough people get screwed…

It’s true that stupid people eventually get what’s coming to them…

Warren Buffett famously made the case that: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

Guess what!  Neither you nor I control KARMA or the COSMOS.  We are just part of the grand show.  I think understanding that fact allows you to bear the loss or pain in the moment — knowing that in the end “cold revenge” will be served for all the con men of the world.  And even if we don’t live long enough to see KARMA have its way, at least we didn’t waste our health on recovering from an ulcer from worry and hate.

——

By the way, let me brag a little bit about the work we are doing at GNOSO – our understanding of the eco-system we play in.  Earlier this evening, as I started to write this post, I got an email from the CEO of GNOSO in regards to the presentation above (apparently we were reading this at the same time).  He connoted in the email that: (loosely quoting here) “while traditional venture capital can be an inefficient way to create value, that is one of the reasons that GNOSO exists…”

A DEW View Interpretation: “Let stupid people do what they are going to do.  Let’s try to do it better.  We’ll let karma sort it out in the end”…

I like that!  It’s a better way to do business…

BRAVO, home team!

Try NOT to Care TOO much!

Peter Drucker made the observation that: “Business has only two functions: Marketing and Innovation…” (…thanks to Kevin Young for sharing this quote)

That being said….

If I see another business plan that does not include some type of revenue generation….. I don’t know. I may just internally combust!

PLEASE….. stop imagining you can change the world without making or exchanging some type of economic capital (which includes begging)

MONEY is what powers opportunity! (Sorry to burst bubbles here…)

You don’t get in your car and expect to drive across country on ONE tank of gas (which is almost $5 per gallon). SO, don’t expect to fire up your “Thought Brigade” and turn into Amazon.com because you care more!

What?

The world doesn’t even really care about CARING anymore… In our economic recession, we are concerned about surviving…

I just back from going to Michigan for a wedding last week. (think the Detroit area…) I was shocked at the economic depression. SHOCKED! Good hard working individuals were broken by “The Man…” (still trying to find that guy…).

So what do we do? Does it matter that we CARE about these people? Would anything other than revenue generating enterprises be even slightly engaging to these recently jobless individuals…

NO… NO…. NO….

It requires VALUE CREATION! To help my friends in Detroit, I have to figure out how to build enough revenue to destabilize the current culture of fear and depression.

Isn’t it then SILLY that I would ever create a business plan that didn’t include ways to significantly produce REVENUE?

If you want to be a charity, get 501(C)(3) status… If it won’t pass the Detroit test, don’t send it to me!

(BTW, I am not completely heartless. My years in Seminary solidified my value system. I just get upset when people try to defend horrible business planning with the “feel good” tactics of giving back to the community… STOP!)