Tag Archives: Reality checks

Art & Science

This Foodie Friday I’d like to spend a moment thinking about what one commentator on this blog called the “cult” of Kenji. Kenji, of course, is noted food writer Kenji Lopez-Alt. He got his start working in food under some noted chefs in the Boston area, having graduated from MIT with a degree in, of course, architecture. That’s right, and to me, that makes perfect sense given his place in the food world. More about that in a second.

Kenji went on to work for Cooks Illustrated. I’ve written about Cooks before and I’m a huge fan. The way Cooks does things is very much reflected in Kenji’s work, especially in his book The Food Lab. The magazine and Kenji’s work are the result of applying the scientific method to cooking. Come up with a hypothesis and then test rigorously with skepticism about what you’re seeing until you either prove or disprove your theory. Now I realize that figuring out if you need to brown meat before you put it in a slow cooker isn’t the same sort of science as finding a cure for the coronavirus, but the process is sort of the same.

I’m a fan of this. If you’ve read more than a few of these screeds you know that I’m very much into a fact-based world. Most of Kenji’s work doesn’t involve preference although obviously when it comes to “what tastes better” it’s impossible not to be subjective. Objectivity, however, should be our goal, both in food and in life and in business. That’s why Kenji’s background in architecture makes sense to me. It combines the science of what’s “buildable” with the art of what’s beautiful. Great food is like that. It’s the art of combining flavors with the science of cooking ingredients to perfection.

Your business needs to be the same way. You can’t rely on opinions when there are facts available. You may think the pasta water needs to be salted “like the sea” until you test ziti cooked in varying levels of salinity for taste and texture. The facts say that’s too much salt, no matter what the opinion of your Italian grandmother might be. The opinion of your marketing director that a campaign is terrific is not as good as the results of A/B testing that shows what moves the needle.

We do, however, eat with our eyes and taste with our mouths. Art counts. What Kenji and his compatriots have done for cooking – combining art and science – is what you need to be doing in your business every day. You with me?

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Census Day

Did you know that today is Census Day? Yes, I’m aware that it’s also April Fool’s Day although I would propose to you that not many people are in a pranksterish sort of mood at the moment. Most of the usual suspects – Google, for example – have foregone their annual pranks in recognition of the times we’re in. Good job, folks, especially since if last year you had sent around pieces describing how in a year we’re all locked up at home with most businesses either closed or severely affected, you’d be accused of going beyond what’s believable for a joke.

Anyway, have you filled out your census? It is actually the law, you know. More than that, it’s massively important since the census determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress and is used by the federal government to decide how much money to spend on key infrastructure, including roads, hospitals, and schools. You can do it online for the first time. It takes about 5 minutes. If you’ve not completed your form, go ahead and do so.  I’ll wait.

The census is one of the smart things the Founders did when the wrote out the rules by which this country was going to be governed. I look at it as a reality check combined with forced planning. When you think about it, having to adjust reality based on facts is critical to any organization, especially one that claims to represent each and every one of us. It’s not just the government that needs to stop, count, and rethink either.

If there is one silver lining to the current pandemic, it’s that it’s allowing many of us to take a deep breath (6 feet from anyone, please), think about where we are in our professional lives and where we want to go. I’ve spoken with many people over the last month who are looking into business ownership. Some of them are doing so because they’ve lost their jobs and don’t want to be in that situation again. Others are evaluating it because they see an opportunity. Personally, while I think divorce lawyers and midwives will do very well when this is all over, those businesses aren’t exactly something you can jump into (nor are they franchised). I also think businesses involving cleaning, home repair, and remodeling will all do even better than they did when things were sailing along smoothly. You CAN jump into those and they ARE franchised.

My point here isn’t to get you interested in a franchise. It is to get you to use the time you’ve been given to conduct your own personal census. Heck, even if you’re working a full day from home, you’re not commuting to the office as you might have done. Use that time to take stock of what you want to be doing and how you’re going to get there if it’s not what you’re doing now. If this virus has shown us anything it’s that the world can change in a flash and the more we can control our own situation, the better off we’ll be. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Franchises, Thinking Aloud

Quit Selling

What the heck do you do when everything changes in a couple of weeks? I fell behind reading my daily newspapers and as I was catching up it dawned on me that nearly everything I was reading related to a world that really didn’t exist a week later. The sports sections were previewing games and events that will never take place. Forget the numbers and analysis on the financial pages. Even the front pages dealt with topics that now seem so unimportant.

People can’t travel. You can’t really go out to eat or hang out with friends. Who could ever have imagined that the bars would be closed on St. Patrick’s Day as they were here and in many other places. Those are just a few examples of the devastating impact this pandemic has caused and the businesses that can survive this will be badly damaged. Many others won’t survive at all.

So If you’re a businessperson what can you do? May I offer a radical thought?

Quit selling. I’ve received many emails from companies that are behaving as if nothing is different. They’ve not changed their tactics or messaging at all. Others have done even worse by trying to capitalize on this global tragedy. Not only do I find these messages offensive but I’m making mental notes never to buy from those businesses again.

Everyone is suffering losses of some sort. Some folks are out of work completely with no income at all. Others are trying to work from home while schooling or at least amusing their kids. My parents who are in an assisted living facility can’t leave their room. Meals are sent up and there is no socialization. I think it’s the right course of action but I feel horrible for them and the other residents. People have had to cancel vacations and weddings. Others can’t attend funerals of loved ones. Everything has changed.

So quit selling. Recognize that now isn’t the time. If you give any sort of credence to the notion that you need to love your customers, love them now by asking how you can be helpful. Ask what you can do for them and not what you can sell them. There will be plenty of time for that when things return to whatever normal will become.

Maybe it’s a radical thought but these are times that call for radical thinking, don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Stocking Up

It’s Foodie Friday and the big news this week is the coronavirus. Besides the presidential election here in the US, nothing else seems to be getting nearly as much news coverage and rightly so. It’s a very serious thing, one that could require you to “self-quarantine” for 10 days to two weeks.

One of the more interesting effects that the spread of the virus has caused is people stocking up. It’s impossible to find hand sanitizer, either in a store or online and some enterprising folks are selling $5 bottles of the stuff for hundreds of dollars. Nothing like a little price-gouging, right? In Australia, it’s apparently hard to find toilet paper as Aussies have been stockpiling toilet paper in response to the coronavirus.

I did my regular weekly shop yesterday and the shelves were full of everything except the aforementioned hand sanitizer. It’s interesting. Every time there’s been a mention of a spell of really bad weather, bread, water, and eggs are hard to find as people stock up in case they can’t get out for several days. In this case, several days will extend for much longer and yet as I looked over other carts in the store, nothing seemed different. Maybe they’re not thinking yet about how to make three meals a day with limited access to the outside world.

It got me thinking. Most people don’t have a well-stocked pantry. I’m willing to bet most also don’t have a large, stand-alone freezer. I happen to have both, not because I’m a hoarder but because I like to have a lot of ingredients on hand to be able to deal with whatever meal situation arises. One study estimated that 80% of households don’t make dinner plans until 4pm that day. I try to plan ahead but the reality of work and energy sometimes sets in and those plans get changed. It’s good to have the ability to change up and having the pantry and freezer stocked up make that possible.

There’s a business point to be made here. I’ve worked in places where there was no “stocking up.” Budgets were locked and inflexible. There wasn’t any training system in place to help employees grow their skill sets. There was THE PLAN and that’s what was going to be executed regardless of changing conditions. As businesspeople, we need to think ahead. Not hoard nor overspend on solutions to problems that are highly unlikely to occur. But when there are warning signs, or as in this case, very clear examples, of a situation developing that could impact the business, we need to plan and move quickly. Think about how many businesses’ supply chains from China have been interrupted and you’ll get what I mean. For example, investing in training means that when some folks are absent and unable to work from home you’re covered.

How serious is the coronavirus problem? Watch the news for a few minutes and you’ll see that it’s quite serious. Stock your pantry with staples that will keep – pasta, canned goods, etc. Stock your freezer with frozen veggies and maybe some proteins. Hopefully, this passes quickly. Do the same for your business. Invest in stocking up and you’ll be prepared for any eventuality.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks, What's Going On

Please F Off

Part of the process in the franchise consulting I do is to acquire leads, just as it is in most sales-related businesses. I do that in a number of ways, once of which is through what are called “portal leads.” These are names, phone numbers, and email addresses, among other things, those interested parties have submitted to get more information about a particular franchise or just to speak with someone about franchises generally.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that some percentage of these leads are submitted by people surfing around late at night. Maybe they’ve been drinking or maybe they’ve had a bad day and are angry with their current job and are thinking about moving on or taking more control by investing in their own business. These folks don’t answer the phone or respond to emails. There is another tiny percentage of leads that have been submitted by people playing jokes on their friends, generally college students.

I got one of those the other day. The lead was in Norman Oklahoma although the phone number was a Dallas area code. Still, Norman is a college town so it wouldn’t be unusual for people to relocate there. Of course, when I dialed the number, the person who answered was not the person whose information I had. That happens sometimes too – often a typo when the person is typing in their number. The email worked, however.

I hadn’t heard back the next day so I sent another email explaining why I wanted to speak to them. This one came back with a curt reply: “please fuck off.” That’s an exact quote including all lower-case letters. It’s our topic today.

I’m from New York so I’m quite used to rude. My issue is that rude seems to be the new normal. If I was, as this fellow is, a senior at the University Of Oklahoma and was going to be entering the job market with my BBA in Finance and another BBA in Venture Management come May, I wouldn’t be cursing anyone out, especially not someone I don’t know. I appreciate the fact that I may have obtained his information through no fault of his own, but the reply and how he handled it is all on him. I realize that he doesn’t know me but I’m also relatively easy to check out. Maybe a contact with 40 years in business could be useful to him even if he’s not interested in a franchise?

The world moves quickly and at times we’re all under a lot of pressure. It’s taken me four years living away from New York to truly appreciate how far nice will get you. The old me would have tracked this kid down as well as forwarded his comments to the heads of his major departments, inquiring if this is how all OU seniors approach the world.  Let’s all remember that privacy is non-existent and people with bad intentions can find you and make your life hell, as sad as that is. Maybe it’s the old hippie in me, but a little more nice in this world would be just fine with me. You?

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The Maine Event

You may or may not know that in addition to your phone or your web browser tracking your every move that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) does as well. Naturally, they use the data themselves to sell ads or they sell it to others who do so on their behalf.

Last June, the good legislators of Maine passed a bill that prohibits the practice. It’s not revolutionary. Until the current administration took office in 2017, there were Federal regulations that prohibited it as well. To make up for this, in June 2019, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a law designed to prevent ISPs from “the use, sale, or distribution of a customer’s personal information by internet providers without the express consent of the customer.” The law had bipartisan support and passed the state senate unanimously.

I’ll let MediaPost take it from here:

Broadband carriers are suing to block a Maine privacy bill that requires Internet service providers to obtain consumers’ opt-in consent before drawing on their web activity for ad targeting.

“Protecting customer privacy is a laudable objective that ISPs support,” the major broadband industry organizations write in a complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Maine. “But Maine has not shown — through evidence in the legislative record — that ISPs’ privacy practices are causing any harm whatsoever to consumers.”

Here is where I come out on this and it’s something that might just apply to your business as well. First, privacy is going to become THE issue over the next couple of years as more people become aware of just how ubiquitous tracking is in their lives. There was a frightening report in the Times a couple of weeks ago that detailed just how much information was being collected. Does it seem unreasonable that some folks would like to take back a modicum of control? WE need to respect people’s wishes, or at least make a cogent argument about why they should let us have their data in return for the services we’re providing. I’d gladly give my ISP data if they’d cut the price of my internet service in half. But at least ask me for permission to track me and make me aware of what you’re collecting and why.

Second, ISP’s make an insane amount of money selling broadband access. Don’t buy their stuff about how much they invest in infrastructure – it’s trivial. Do they really need to sell ads on top of this? I’m a capitalist but I’m also a customer-advocate. Know when to say when people. When you’re already drunk on cash from your basic business, maybe it’s time to step away from the bar when you’re starting to treat your customers as a commodity.

When you’re suing to overturn this law, you’re suing your customers, plain and simple. Do any of you believe that having all of your personal data out there for anyone to purchase and use (and it’s out there) isn’t causing harm as the ISP’s allege? It’s a similar situation to the growth of ad blockers – the limit of consumers’ tolerance was hit and suddenly they revolted. This might be a good time to buy stock in VPN companies and the ones that still make dumb phones – text only, minimal tracking. We’ll see, won’t we? But I know for sure that suing and otherwise abusing your customers is a bad idea for any of us.

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Eating At The Bar

It’s Foodie Friday! As on most Friday nights, I’ll probably go out to dinner this evening, and since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll go early to make sure I get seated before the love birds on their twice a year dinner out clutter up one of my favorite restaurants.

I usually sit at the bar to eat at this place. Actually, I generally do that at most places since I find the service to be better. It’s also a lot more social and I’ve met some interesting characters who’ve become friends of a sort. At this place, I know the bartenders quite well and they make sure my glass is filled and the food is right. Truth be told, other than the burger, which is terrific, the food in this place is really nothing special. It’s all good but there are rarely specials and it’s sometimes a challenge to find something appealing on a very familiar menu. So why am I there so often? As it turns out, there’s a business point.

It comes down to the discussion between great customer experience vs. great product. I think CX, which you can interpret as service, wins much of the time. When I was in the corporate world, we worked with, among others, two very large tech companies. One provided superior products but their account people were dreadful. The other’s technology was good but not as good. Their account people, on the other hand, were the best. They anticipated our needs and addressed every issue we raised immediately. Do you want to guess which company was our favorite?

We found out that the first company paid their people bonuses based on sales while the second company paid based largely on customer satisfaction. This alignment of customer interests with company interests is exactly where any business needs to be. There is a famous Bain study that says 80% of companies think they provide superior customer experience, yet only 8% of those same companies’ customers think they get a great experience. Getting everyone’s interests aligned can help mitigate that.

I think we’re at the point where price and product mean way less than service and experience. Obviously, I wouldn’t let my love for the bartenders make up for inedible food or prices that were too expensive for the product delivered but the food is as good as any nearby competitor’s food, a meal costs about the same, and that’s good enough for me. Where do you come out on this?

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