Life Is Too Short To Be A Boring Company

Spotted this on the blog of Dustin Curtis and thought it was a great find. Despite Groupon getting clobbered in the public markets, the sentiment and approach to how they think about their business and the purpose they want it to serve is terrific.  

From their S1 filing (Emphasis added is my own):

We want the time people spend with Groupon to be memorable. Life is too short to be a boring company. Whether it’s with a deal for something unusual, such as fire dancing classes, or a marketing campaign such as Grouspawn, we seek to create experiences for our customers that make today different enough from yesterday to justify getting out of bed. […]

We believe that when once-great companies fall, they don’t lose to competitors, they lose to themselves—and that happens when they stop focusing on making people happy. As such, we do not intend to be reactive to competitors. We will watch them, but we won’t distract ourselves with decisions that aren’t designed primarily to make our customers and merchants happy.

Innovating Around Your Customer Waiting Time?

I just finished re-reading Tom Kelley’s excellent book: “Ten Faces of Innovation.” It remains one of my favorite business reads. There is a section towards the end of the book that focuses on “the subject of waiting – an unavoidable element in most customer journeys- and I believe that the way you manage those critical wait times can make all the difference in how your company is perceived.

Too few consider that the entire time your current or potential customer is waiting for you they are interacting with your brand and your company.

Mr. Kelley points out a variety of strategies to keep people informed, as they wait, that mainly center around music/messages on hold and that friendly voice that tells you your expected wait time. These options are certainly better than dead air but they have existed for over 10 years. It’s simply old news and really doesn’t dramatically change the experience of waiting. If I am waiting for you, I am already inside YOUR customer experience. So… make it an experience! There simply has been too little innovation in customer waiting time.

And there is an opportunity for you to seize.

If you do not know where waiting is occurring within your customer experience then that is the first place to focus on. Find out and write them all down. Figure out what they are doing while they are waiting. Are they on hold? on a line? Are they lost in the dark while waiting for a delivery? You don’t need to put together a task force for this or have a bunch of meetings. Grab a pad, call 10 customers and ask them.

What information could you be giving them during this time that would make that time truly valuable and memorable? Implementing innovation in just this area will make an enormous impact. Make it a goal to implement just 1 new tactic In the next 30 days. Repeat as necessary.

The Mind Of A Leader

The mind of a leader must be free—a mind that can dream and imagine. All new things were born in dreams. A leader must have the courage to be a nonconformist, just like a scientist. He must dream, even if he dreams alone or if people laugh at him. He must not let his heart falter.

– Shimon Peres

Seek Defining Moments

“Instead of setting goals, seek defining moments. Those are the real tests, because you have to be willing to fail in a pressure situation in front of other people. That fear holds all of us back, and that’s the toughest thing about aging. With age, you see people fail more. You see yourself fail more. How do you keep that fearlessness of a kid? You keep going. Luckily, I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself.” – Hugh Jackman

Connected?

The longer (“Extended mix”) of the piece I wrote for Seth Godin’s ebook – “What Matters Now”

There are thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of businesses making many millions a year in profits that have still never heard of twitter, a blog or facebook. Are they all wrong? Have they missed out or is the joke really on us? They go about doing business through personal relationships, by delivering great customer service and it is working for them. Big time. They are more successful, by any measure, than most of those spending hours pontificating about how you will lose if you miss out on social media and the latest wave. They are doing business. Not writing about it. Doing it.

They missed out on the last dot com bubble and bust. Maybe they will miss out on the next one. Are we so sure they are wrong?

Ironically, the online world is enthralled with the TV series Mad Men. It provides a captivating window back to when work was social in that old face to face way. Work looked sexy back then because it was. No bicycles in the office, no Foosball tables and empires were built without so much as a single tweet. Advertising is broken!… we all like to cheer. But is it broken because we are all too busy to be “interrupted” by it? And is that good? Or, just as it always has been, do we tune out bad advertising and, because good ads are so rarely engaging, we move on. I don’t remember loving every commercial growing up but I can tell you I remember a truck load more of those jingles than anything I could remember in the past 10-15 years.

I am continually amazed by the number of people on Twitter, the sheer number of blogs that now exist and the growth of people (and brands) on Facebook. But I also am amazed by how so many of of us are spending our time. The slaves we have become to our mobile devices and the glow of our screens. It used to be much more simple and, somewhere, simple turned into slow. It’s not. Simple works. Always has and always will. And yet we strive to make it harder for ourselves. We worry about twitter followers, blog subscribers and getting “Dugg.” Does it make us a dime? Really? Does it help us make a dent in the universe? For a very few, maybe it does and that makes us all chase after that small glimmer of gold. But for most of us it has put our heads in the digital sand. Is it possible that we are so busy managing our “friends” that the power of real friends is fading away? Does anybody pick up the phone anymore?

What would happen if you unplugged back to 2000? Just simple email that you dialed in to check a few times a day and a phone that tethered you to a chair for a while.

Why are we sending emails and direct messages to see when a good time to call might be? When did picking up the phone to quickly resolve an issue become inefficient?

For the person with 368,000 Twitter friends I ask, how connected to people do you truly feel?

I love the idea of all of these tools and am amazed at their possibilities. But I wonder how many are truly getting something more positive out of it than the alternative.

Are they actually improving interactions with brands or, as it always has, does your experience with a brand come down to how great or not great the person you had to call when something went wrong was in solving your problem? Layer on as much technology and social media icing as you want, for any brand, YOU are the product! My new iPod may be shiny but, if the Apple Genius is a jerk, then I am not liking the brand. My Audi salesman acted like a jerk when I decided to not lease a new Audi this time around. It changed the way I think about Audi in a small but important way. Social media cannot change that fact.

What happens to what it feels like to be part of a business that is doing something truly great if we are spending more time protecting our personal brand? What did business do to all of us that made building your personal brand more important than doing something great together?

The echo chamber we are building is getting larger and louder. More megaphones does not equal a better dialogue.

We are busier than ever before doing more disconnected activities than ever before. Multi-tasking has become a badge of honor. I want to know why.

We walk the streets with our heads down staring into 3 inch screens while the world whisks by doing the same. And yet we are convinced we are more connected to each other than ever before.

Don’t get me wrong, what we can do now is nothing short of spectacular. And yet the ability to generate real wonder and awe is fleeting. We no longer care how an airplane can fly us around the globe, we grouse about the food or the fact that you cannot check your email at 37,000 feet and 580 miles per hour. We rage against a short Twitter outage when it is a service that we get for free but shrug our shoulders and wait it out quietly when our paid electricity gets knocked out by a storm. When did we become so entitled to that which we don’t value enough to even pay for?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions but I find myself thinking about them more and more. In between tweets, blog posts and facebook updates.

Double Down or Batten Down?

To read the papers, blogs and listen to TV news is to get lost in a sea of contradictions. “Now is the time to double down!” some will say as they name the great businesses that were born in past turbulent times.  “Batten down the hatches!” others say as they insist you must cut costs anywhere and everywhere to survive the doom and despair that, almost, every business is fighting through.

Are either a true and pure strategy?  Bet it all or hide in the corner?

For starters, the last thing you want to do at times like these is get stuck while wondering which path to choose.  So, I put it to you, why must you choose one or the other?  Why not double down on the area(s) of your business that you are truly best at and batten down the rest?

Why not take the time (now!) and figure out what the most profitable activities are for your business. Find out what products/services your clients love… by asking them!

Here is a plan to consider:

1) Call as many clients as you can in the next 3 weeks and ask them why they choose to work with you over anyone else. Push them to be specific. This is for them as much as it is for you. At the same time, ask your staff what they think you do best.  Ask them why they think clients like working with them and the company.

Resist the urge to guess the answers in advance and let the clients real words come through.  In my experience, some clear trends will emerge, quickly.  Do not stress if what they say is different from what your competitors are doing or what you had hoped and wished they would say.   In fact, rejoice if that is the case. You already know your “world view” of your business. You want and need theirs. Finding the intersection where what you do best connects with what your clients truly give a shit about is your best target.

2) Write down those key products/services as your “core” offering. That is where you want to double down and innovate, improve and focus.  That is where the time, energy, innovation and money goes. It is the safest bet you can make. Communicate it clearly to everyone inside and outside the business.  Tell them your plans, what new cool tools are coming next. Show them that you listened to them and the specific things you are going to make real.

3) With this focus in place, go through every single expense.  It should now be easy to decide which ones support your core and which ones do not. If it does not, then batten it down (Reduce it to an absolute minimum or eliminate it completely). Do it all at once. Explain the reasoning behind it to everyone and get past it.

If you feel that there is not enough money to invest in your core, try the “$1.00 less” exercise. To be candid, it is as painful as it is effective.  Get your budgets, revenue, expense and any other reports you need all together and figure out how you design your business so that it spends at least $1.00 less than it earns. You may want to do this with a conservative estimate of what you think you will realistically earn in 2010.

Forget growth projections for now. Work with what is real and what you know for sure. When you reset the business to match where you really are it will be much easier to deal with focused growth from there forward. If you cannot get to that $1.00 less than try it again! Many years ago I sat in a lonely conference room late into the night with my CFO and ran through this exercise 8 or 9 times until we got our expenses to $1.00 less.  It’s no fun, but I wish I had done it a year or two before. 

Fear persists when control does not exist. When you figure out those things you do best, what your clients care about and have comfort knowing your company will earn more than it spends… control returns.

Be honest with yourself (and everyone else that is in “the battle” with you) and attack the problem.

Batten down AND double down.

Mr. Ford and Mr. Jobs

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

With respect to Mr. Ford, I don’t think he asked the right question.

How can you properly evolve your company and innovate with value if you have no idea what your customers (and those you want to be a customer) need?

I can hear you now, “Steve Jobs” did not care what the market wanted he figured out what they needed and gave it to them.  Really?  I do not think so.

What he did, and every great and innovative company does, is to listen to what customers say they want and need.  But, and here is the big difference, they do not just blindly give them that. They seek to understand the bigger opportunity that is at the root of all of that feedback.

They solve the problem in a totally new way while their competitors are busy delivering more horses.

Do not think that Mr. Ford and Mr. Jobs did not know what the market wanted and needed. They just delivered something that answered it in a new and more exciting way.