Business vs Creative

I just finished reading Mastery by Robert Greene.  In the book one of the “Masters” is Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava is a Spanish architect widely known for his sculptural bridges and buildings, and is currently working on the transportation hub at the new World Trade Center.

Calatrava-Transit-Hub

What stood out to me about Calatrava is that he creates literally hundreds of revisions of his work before he finding just the right design. He wouldn’t be afraid to throw away several months of work, to start over again. What! Several Months! I think I would go into a depression loosing several months of work!

Greene goes on to say…  As the years went by and Calatrava was able to look back on all of his projects, he had a strange sensation.  The process he had evolved felt as if it had come from outside of him.  It was not something he had created through his own imagination, but rather it was nature itself that had led him to this perfectly organic and beautifully effective process. 

Wow, this sounds great!  This is want I want for Purlem as well.

But is it really that easy? I immediately correlate this with the Just Launch approach. For example, in Getting Real, 37 signals says… Don’t wait for your product to reach perfection. It’s not gonna happen. Take responsibility for what you’re releasing. Put it out and call it a release. Otherwise, you’re just making excuses.

The beautiful thing about web-based software is that we have the opportunity to just put it out there and perfect as you go.  As opposed to Calatrava who needs to perfect the design before beginning construction. Still, there’s an interesting balance here that seems hard to get right.

For example… I’m currently re-creating the “Features” section of Purlem’s website. The business side of me says – “Just make it good enough and launch it.  There are more important things you can do.”  The creative side of me says – “Take a step back and give some time to the creative process.”

Greene goes on to say that it is essential to build into the creative process an initial period that is open-ended.

Okay… this is something I can work with.  At least I can set some limits around the creative process.  I don’t know if I could give up months like Calatrava, but I could certainly give days.

I think this is phenomenal advice that we can all learn from.  Weather we are in the creative field or not.  We can all carve out a period of time at the start of the project to allow our minds to wonder without limits. Who knows what the results will be. I think I’m going to give this a try.

 

Delivering Happiness

MariKate ordered a gift from Zappos on Thursday – regular shipping, and it arrived Friday. Literally less than 12 hours later!

I’ve read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (Zappo’s CEO) a couple years ago.  I’ve have always been impressed with Zappos famous customer service, and has been something I’ve tried to emulate through Purlem.

I send out a handwritten welcome letter to everybody that signs up for Purlem, no matter where in the world they are. I’m sure there is more I could do to “deliver happiness.”

What are some things you do to deliver happiness? (Well, becides sending them a PURL of course!)

Niche 2 Win

Dave McClure, an angel investor in San Francisco, recently wrote about a strategy called “Niche to Win.”

First of all.. thank you Dave for being an investor while still keeping the best interests of the company in mind.  As I ranted in my post on Steve Blank’s video, the whole concept that startups need to have a “take over the world” mindset is – in my opinion – ignorate.

Dave wrote…

Most VCs (especially those with limited operational marketing experience, or in a few cases, those with too much good fortune with big wins) have no understanding of this. They commonly and foolishly advise foundersa) “You’re thinking way too small”, or
b) “Your market isn’t big enough for us”, or (sorry Vinod i know you mean well but i don’t agree)
c) “We only fund Ambitious Entrepreneurs who want to Change The World”.

Creating a startup focused on changing the world is a mistake.  The odds of changing the world is simply not in your favor as a business owners.  As Dave said, VCs that tell you that your vision is to small are foolish!

If you want your startup/business to succeed – focus on a niche market, and solve real problems. (Oh.. and never give up)

Entrepreneurial Seizures

I have mentioned a couple of times before that  I often have to catch myself from having entrepreneurial seizures.  For whatever reason, new ideas can be so attractive to me that I just want to drop everything to pursue them.

I have gotten into a good habit of setting goals in Omnifocus, and I forcing myself to look at them every day.  The goals simply answer the question “What’s the most important thing to making progress right now?”  But despite this attempt to keep my “ideas” in check, new ideas can sneak in and get the better of me.

This time I wanted to create a personal blog outside of Purlem.  The reasoning behind it makes sense… I would like to keep Purlem’s blog focused on marketing, and use the new blog to  be more of a diary format about business lifestyle.  Looking back I don’t remember what triggered my thought to do this.  But off I went, thinking of a domain name that I can use, choosing the right blogging platform, writing the “about” page, etc.  Before I knew it, I just spent a few hours working on something that is outside the goals I set in front of me.

I often think back to the blog post “How New Ideas Almost Killed Our Startup” by Vinicius Vacanti.  If you haven’t read this post, and are like me where new ideas can be very distracting, give this post a read.

Fortunately I was able to catch myself this time.  I just suddenly had a realization that this wasn’t part of the “most important things” I previously identified.  So I stopped cold in my tracks.  Focus Focus Focus!

For now this idea goes into the “Someday Maybe” list that I will consider again at a later date when my entrepeneurial seizure has ended.  My head will be much clearer and I can make a more rational decision on whether this is somethign worth pursuing.

 

 

Quant Based Marketing is a Pipe Dream

Today I ran across the post “Quant Based Marketing for Start Ups” by Noah Kagan. Noah was the director of marketing and took Mint.com to over a million users in just 6 months. No doubt very impressive.

(I’m also a big fan and avid user of Mint.com. I love the product)

Noah says that Quant Based Marketing is the key to any pre-launch marketing you are doing. I say, if your a normal guy like me, it is both un-realistic and and a waste of time.

Sure, the theory is good – Start with the end in mind. You want to get 100,000 users? Then write down each marketing avenue on a spreasheet and figure out how many users you can realisticlly get from each source. Here is an example of the Quant Based Marketing Spreadsheet provided by Noah.

But look at how ridiculous this is.  On the first line of the spreadsheet is TechCrunch.  The spreadsheet assumes that you will get a 10% Click-Through-Rate , 25% Conversion Rate, and will result in 7,500 users.  Really!?!?

Unless your an online celebrity, forget Quant Based Marketing.  Spending time even thinking about these numbers is a waste of time.

If you want to grow your startup you will have to do a lot more work than you ever though was necessary to get just 1 customer.  But you’ll continue to relentlessly drive the business forward because you are so passionate about it.  Eventually you’ll have another user.  Then one more.  And with time, slowly but surely, users will start to come in easier.  But it will likely take years (maybe months if your lucky) to realize any substantial growth.

I’m reminded of Jim Collin’s flywheel concept.  I read his book Good to Great a few years back, and this concept was one that has always stuck with me.  I found the video below.  Although it is a little “corporate” for a startup, I think the principals apply well.

1,000 True Fans

1000 True Fans

Matt Landau, a good friend of mine, recently shared a blog post with me called 1,000 True Fans.   The concept of 1,000 True Fans is that a “creator”  needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.  A short excerpt from the post…

Young artists starting out in this digitally mediated world have another path other than stardom, a path made possible by the very technology that creates the long tail. Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum hits, bestseller blockbusters, and celebrity status, they can aim for direct connection with 1,000 True Fans. It’s a much saner destination to hope for. You make a living instead of a fortune. You are surrounded not by fad and fashionable infatuation, but by True Fans. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.

Startup founders can greatly benefit from taking the 1,000 True Fans approach.  Instead of trying to become the next Facebook, why not launch something that can attract 1,000 True Fans.  Instead of creating of creating a new social networking site, create a tool for vacation rentals to market themselves more efficiently.  These are much more obtainable goals, that solve an actual problem, can provide a decent income and killer lifestyle.

This comes off fresh from my  Real Men Don’t Do Lifestyle Businesses post where I argue that startups don’t need to have a “I’m going to take over the world” mindset to be considered a startup. You’re more likely to have a successful and profitable startup if you start with the intention of having 1,000 True Fans.

VIDEO: Real Men Don’t Do Lifestyle Businesses

I’m trying to figure out if I should be offended by, or agree with this video.

What I think Steve Blank is saying, is that “lifestyle businesses” and “small businesses” are synonymous.  Those that run lifestyle/small businesses are the “smart” ones because they actually have a life, but they are not startups.

The difference, Steve says, is that startups have a mentality to take over the world.

Well… I consider Purlem both a startup and lifestyle business.  I follow the lean startup principals that Steve and Eric Ries promote, and consider this to be the foundation for Purlem’s success so far.

It is also true that I don’t want to take over the world.  I want to do what I love every day and make enough money to do what I want. But do not want to take over the world.

To me, I think anybody that goes into business with the “I’m going to take over the world” mindset is an idiot.  Who could be so arrogant, to think that their new product is going to be the 1 in 1,000,000 that actually does take over the world.  Seems like an ignorant way to start a business, and I personally don’t think that this mindset is a requirement to be considered a startup.

A TAGFREE Business

Read any business book and there likely going to tell you that you need to define the principals to run your business by.  In the E-myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber,  they call these “principals” your Primary Aim.  “Your Primary Aim is your innermost driving force. It gives you a sense of direction and purpose. It motivates you to your highest levels of energy, and puts you at your best.” – Emyth

When I first launched Purlem, this was the “Primary Aim” that I wrote down (Had to dig through the archives to find this one.  It’s the first time I’ve looked at it since I wrote it!)

By harnessing the power of new technology, combined with systemized, track able and proven methods of marketing, Purlem has given the small business owner a new hope in a faltering economy.

Our elegent, less-is-more approach to allow anybody to jump in with both feet and start creating award winning marketing campaigns.

Purlem is redefining the way that small business owners around the world think about marketing. Marketing is no longer a money hungry monster with no guarantees.  This is the new age of marketing.  A proven method of developing new business, delivered in a “box,” complete with a new outlook and hope for the future. This is Purlem!

Blah blah blah.. Sounds like a bunch of fluffy hype.  I’m kind of embarrassed to even post that.  What a waste of time.

The reason I shared that is because I recently came across SEOmoz’s Guiding Principles they call TAGFREE.  It stands for:

  • Transparent
  • Authentic
  • Generous
  • Fun
  • Empathetic
  • Exceptional

I resonate with every one of these principals.

Brad Feld also says ” I am 100% convinced TAGFEE is right. It’s so unbelievably liberating.”

I will also be scratching the old “Primary Aim” and adopting the TAGFREE  principals to Purlem.

Replace Planning with Action


I’ve been on an idea kick lately. I’m not sure what it is, but I feel like I have 10 different ideas swimming through my head, and I think there all awesome!

Before I started Purlem, I had a problem – I had entrepreneurial seizures all of the time. (Hats off to Michael Gerber from coining that term). An entrepranurel seizure is when a person has an idea, and drops everything to ignorantly pursue their dream.

I remember the day when my wife very kindly shook me and told me to focus on one thing. It was a much needed wakeup call (thanks Kate). That one thing ended up being Purlem, and I focused on that relentlessly for the past 4+ years.  The days of my entrepreneurial seizes have thankfully come to an end.

Given my experience with Purlem, I feel as if I can be much more strategic when it comes to properly handling new ideas that come my way.
Business plans are replaced with a business model canvas. Financial statements are replaced with a quick napkin sketch to show how the business can be profitable. Planning is replaced by action.

Every idea has a set of assumptions:

  • I believe I can get 100 people to purchase my widget.
  • They would be willing to pay $10 for my widget.
  • My target customer is woman between ages 25-30.

The first step to pursuing an idea is simply to prove that your assumptions are right or wrong.  Instead of writing a business plan around your assumptions, get out of the office and prove them. One of the best ways to do this is to setup interviews with your target market. Interview as many as possible and learn from them. Then, from what you learn, create a minimum viable product, and see if you can actually get sales.

If you assumptions prove to be right, then you can start to pay more attention the the how the business will actually work. If your assumptions are proven false, then you didn’t waste your time chasing a dream.

IDEA: Private Coffee Shops

A few months ago I read Arik Hanson’s post – 7 tips for working out of coffee shops.  I commented on Arik’s post…

Given the increasing popularity of coffee shop workers.. I have always thought it would be a good idea to create a “private” or “urban country club” type of coffee shop. Something in-between a public coffee shop (with no outlets), and a co-working space.

To which Arik Responded:

Great idea. Even if shops just offered a private room, I think that would be a big win (and I know some do).

As a work-at-homer myself, I find myself going to work at a coffee shop at least once a week to get some work done.  In Chicago, most coffee shops are packed with telecommuters.  Good luck getting a seat, let alone a power outlet! Receiving phone calls and using the bathroom also pose a problem.  Do I pack up my computer to leave my seat?  Ask the person next to me to watch it?  In other words, the current coffee shop environment is not ideal for telecommuters.

Another option for telecommuters that want to work outside of home is co-working spaces.  These spaces have become increasing popular over the last couple of years.  Here are some Chicago co-working spaces:

  • http://coworkchicago.com
  • http://www.1871.com
  • http://officeportnetwork.com
  • http://www.enerspacechicago.com

I gave this whole co-working thing a try.  My biggest problem with it… It feels like work!  It’s an office.  It’s exactly what I wanted to escape from. I also feel like I need to socialize with people in the work space, and it takes away from my work.  I know that a lot of people enjoy the co-working thing, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone here.

As I mentioned in my comment on Arik’s post, I think it would be ideal to have something in between a public coffee shop (like Starbucks), and a co-working space.  Call it a “private coffee shop.”  I’m not sure exactly how it would work.  Maybe a small monthly fee like a 24 hour fitness.  Or maybe members actually buy into equity like a private country club. However it would work, it would still feel like a coffee shop, but would be better suited for the telecommuters.

Recently, two “coffee shops” have opened with a business model very similar to what I’m proposing:

  • http://www.speakeasyindy.com
  • http://www.topicsusa.com

The fact that these companies are starting to pop up supports my hypothesis that there is a need in the marketplace for this type of business.

There is also plenty of room for growth in this market. A recent study – The State of Telework in the U.S.  found that more than 16 million people already work remotely at least once a month. Based on the historical growth rate reported by WorldatWork (roughly 12% per year), without any acceleration, that number will reach the theoretical maximum of 50 million people by 2018.

Finally.. I have a thought about how somebody could continue to prove the idea before actually jumping in.  Create a landing page for the idea, print out some business cards, and start handing them out at busy coffee shops.  See how much traction and emails the landing page gets.  If you get thousands of emails interested in the concept, we might have something worth pursuing.

So what do you think.  Good idea?