Friday, April 25, 2014

The Bear Baba, The Balloon Boy & The Bank Burglar - How to Make Business a Breeze

First just take in this amazing video of a Guru (aka "Baba"), who lives a simple life in the high mountains, goes about his business:

What a Profound Business Message delivered the way only Bear Baba can with his Amazing Elegance: Keep It Simple Stupid! Expansion (if at all one is required): The Best Route to Business Nirvana is to Zero In on The Right Fish at The Right Spot at The Right Time - in fact, the fish should be DESPERATE to jump into your mouth. After that, it's just a matter of helping out the poor fish by just opening your mouth.And, since their supply is so plentiful, there's no need to strain yourself and try to catch all the fish. ("Competition? What's that?," asks Bear Baba.)

With a business model like this, it's no wonder Bear Baba can simply doze off for six months each year. (Take that, Tim Ferriss.)

The Business of Bears is all very well, you say. "But, how can I translate the message of Bear Baba to the World of Business inhabited by mere mortals like us?"

Fair Question. That's where The Balloon Boy comes in. Here's his story (as related by Pavan Choudhary in The Economic Times):
Many years ago, while visiting a pediatric hospital in Kolkata, I saw a boy, about thirteen-year old, selling balloons at the gate. As I walked past him, I could not but silently admire his genius. Once inside, I met the doctor who owned this hospital and, during the course of our conversation, I told him I had seen a genius at the gate. He said, "If you are talking about the little boy who is selling balloons at the gate, you are damn right. This boy sensed that kids who are being brought to my hospital start crying at its very sight (fearing an injection or some bitter medicine) and the parents then need something to pacify them. They end up buying his balloons to mollify their kids. Sometimes, in case of an exceptionally stubborn wailer, the hospital staff also buys one from him. He is prospering". This young lad had gauged the social milieu of the hospital and spotted the commercial opportunity that this setting presented. His sociological sensitivity was helping him prosper.

Wow! The Balloon Boy's amazing "Problem Solving" / "Sell Anancin versus Vitamins" approach clearly places him in Blue Ocean / Anacin territory (leaving the balloon sellers - at beaches, parks, etc. - in Red Ocean / Vitamin territory). Talk about fishing in troubled waters. This example alone should be sufficient for most entrepreneurs to realize the sagacity of Bear Baba and follow Follow His Path.  But, there's another aspect about the target customer that we need help with. That's where history's most quote-worthy Bank Burglar comes in:

Willie Sutton, when asked by the folks from the FBI (who had somehow managed to nab him), "Why do you rob banks, Willie?", replied, "Because that's where the money is".

To Spell-It-Out: Willie, Does Not Hit Homes. He Does Not Hit Gas Stations. He Does Not Hit Churches. But He Hits Banks. 'Coz, they've Got The Big Money!" (The message btw, is not to go rob banks/ATMs or even to try to sell stuff only to banks.) It's that, as Bear Baba would put it, we need Go After The Big Fish (who also happen to - at least they think they do - have a Big Problem)! So that it Improves the Odds Of Our Entrepreneurial Success. And, we can hope to "hit it rich" or "hit the beach" (or is "hit the cave", Bear Baba?) that much faster.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hire Slowly. Hire them Early. Hire from Non-Hotspots. And Hire Only Future Entrepreneurs.

Amazingly detailed interview with David Barrett of Expensify on Mixergy where he talks about:
  • How he narrowed down the target market (of expense reporting) for his firm - "expense reporting is the most humiliating of tasks (for corporate travellers); they hate all it"
  • How Expensify strategically leverages its free service to end users as a "trojan horse" to sell to their companies
  • Why Expensify hires people slowly; mainly directly from campuses; typically from Tier II cities (who aspire to move to Silicon Valley - rather than to hire locally in San Francisco). And people who hope to some day create their own startup. (He likes to decscribe Expensivfy as a "University without Teachers")
  • How PR (getting on TV; Press, etc) is great for hiring. And not of much use for sales.
  • How Expensify decided not to react when a well-funded competititor started to give away for free a service that it charged for 
  • Why he won't give advice to other entrepreneurs and why entrepreneurs should not bother to seek advice
  • Why he does not believe in setting numerical goals. (Too high makes you demoralized; too low makes you take  it easy. Instead, just keep moving forward and improving.)
Extracts (emphasis mine):

On Hiring:

"We don’t poach. Because the people that you poach generally aren’t the people that you would want anyway...It’s really hard finding good people. And so as a result we hire really slowly. ...the best people (in San Francisco) aren’t looking for jobs here...The sort of person we’re looking for is just a really awesome generalist...So people who generally come from kind of humble back grounds, they want to work hard. They’ve heard the story of Silicon Valley....They come with this level of optimism and..enthusiasm.. And so we typically hire...right out of college...Expensify (is) not just a job, not just a startup job, but the next step in the big thing they want to do in the rest of their life.

So when someone comes to Expensify, it’s not just because for a great salary or great compensation and all that stuff which we do, but it’s because I see what you have here. I see the sort of people that you’ve hired and no other company has this. I’ve interviewed all over the place. I can get a job anywhere, but I really want it to be with you. Why? Because I want to be surrounded by the sort of people that you’re hiring. And I want to learn how the techniques and the strategies that you’re using because I want to go out and do that again after you.

...I think that’s why people come to Expensify is because not for just good pay, not just for our perks and things like this and the products and all this. But it’s because this is a stepping’s a university without teachers. It’s people who come here who want to learn, who want to teach people around them. But who want an opportunity to kind of go and do some amazing things in their lives. This is a very hard opportunity to find.

On PR:
Well, actually, I would say press is not effective for acquiring customers. Press (is) very effective for hiring. In fact, I would say if there was any pattern as to where the best candidates came from, it was because they’ve read our blog. It’s because they saw something on the road or some podcast. Maybe they even saw some TV, though that hasn’t happened yet. Because again, the best people out there, they’re not looking at job boards...They just approach the companies that they love and they say, “I know you’re hiring because every great company is hiring. And I know you want to hire me because I’m really great. And so let’s talk.”
On Advice:
"I wouldn’t give advice. I’d say just stop asking. Just start doing what makes sense to you. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re an entrepreneur because you think you’re smarter than the next guy. So why turn and ask the next guy for advice? It doesn’t make any sense. So just do whatever you think makes sense. You’re probably going to be wrong a lot. But every once in while you’re going to be right. And maybe you’re going to be right about a couple of things that no one else noticed and that’s going to make all the difference."

On Competition:

"One of our competitors...launched with free unlimited scanning. We were pretty concerned... First iteration was this gorgeous design. Beautiful, beautiful app. And unlimited receipts, and furthermore they just paid through nose on customer acquisition....And they raised a bunch of money and they came out with like a good management team....We were really wondering should we just eat this cost in order to compete more effectively...? We decided not to. We were like, “You know what? We just think that’s a bad business model. So we’re just going to stick to our guns and do what makes sense for us.” And I don’t know, maybe they can make it work, maybe they can’t. I have no idea."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Quick Link: Why, like the Gazelle & the Lion, Entrepreneurs Too Cannot Afford to Stop Running

Nice translation of the great Gazelle-and-the-Lion quote (attributed to Thomas L Friedman) to the entrepreneurship context by Jackie Dismore of Luvali Convertibles (which makes various types of "two in one" clothing & accessories) in her Entrepreneur on Fire interview.
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.”

I liked her emphasizing that, even if an entrepreneur feels that he is "on top" - i.e., like a lion - he/she cannot afford to relax. Else, someone else is going to eat their lunch!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Quick Link: "Scale up five times your current size OR ELSE!"

A "war stories" filled interview (source: Entrepreneur on Fire) with Tom Ziglar, son of the well known sales book author Zig Ziglar.

Especially attention grabbing is the part where he recommends entrepreneurs to think about how they would refashion their business if someone were to demand ("by holding their family to ransom!") that he/she needs to expand revenues five times in the next year, or else!