Tag Archives: Reality checks

Do You Really Want The Real Deal?

Happy Foodie Friday! I was asked to give some restaurant recommendations to a friend who will be traveling in a month or two. They’re going to a couple of cities I know pretty well and wanted me to tell them where they could get “authentic” cuisine. That got me thinking about the whole authenticity thing and I realized that maybe what many of us say we want isn’t really exactly what we mean.

They wanted to see NYC’s Chinatown and I told them about one of my favorite places there. It’s been there forever (always a good sign) and serves authentic Chinese food. Oh sure, you can get the American/Chinese stuff that’s available elsewhere but you can find things here like snails that you won’t find at P.F. Chang’s. They serve 24 different soups – I’m pretty sure your local place might serve 5 or 6. A lot of the “good” stuff isn’t even on the menu.

Of course, to try some of these “authentic” dishes, you have to put aside your preconceptions. Even some of the standards – Kung Pao Chicken, for example (known as Gung Bo Gai Ding here) – are different from what you’re used to. Authentic, yes, but is that really what you’re after?

They also asked for some recommendations in Rome. I am pulling together a list of places I like there but cautioned them to stay away from places that offer a tourist menu. They inevitably dumb down the food and in some cases, Olive Garden would be an upgrade. Of course, one place I love has no English menu and the last time I was there my friend ordered a plate of what I told him translated to “guts”. That was exactly what it was – liver, kidneys, etc. It was delicious and very authentic but is that really what most people want? Sanguinaccio isn’t exactly on the tourist menu (it’s a blood sausage).

InterContinental Hotels did a survey asking travelers in major destinations to select the sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and scents from a selection that provide the best experience for a traveler visiting their city. The answer for New York was fresh bagels from a West Village shop and summer rays while sunbathing in Central Park on a Sunday. I can tell you that while that may be true, most visitors would have a hard time dealing with Central Park on a Sunday and there are endless arguments in my hometown about where the best bagel can be found. Personally, I’d opt for a bodega bacon egg and cheese as being authentic, along with the lesser-known chop cheese. Good luck finding tourists who are wanting those authentic gut bombs (they’re SO good!).

Authenticity may not always be what we want. Honesty, yes. Transparency, of course. But authenticity can be something altogether disturbing. It can precipitate a massive attack of cognitive dissonance (I want the real thing but the real thing is not what I want!). Careful what you wish for!

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Walkin’ The Talk

I spend a lot of time on the telephone these days. I’m constantly calling people who have indicated that they have an interest in changing their lives by investing in a franchise. It’s great most of the time even if it’s frustrating at the same time. The reason for that is something from which any of us in business can learn.

I think that a number of folks are now using some sort of auto-responder on their phones. I will very often dial someone and just as their voicemail kicks in I get a text from them. “I’ll call you back” is pretty common or even the more maddening “I’ll call you back in an hour.” The reality is that I rarely get that callback.

I pride myself on walkin’ the talk. If I tell you that I’m going to do something, I do it. People are trusting me with a lot of sensitive information – their financial situation, their unhappiness with their current work situation in many cases – and I need them to know that I’m worthy of that trust. Keeping commitments is part of building trust. If I tell you that I will call you at 10, you can be quite sure that your phone will ring at 10. That’s what several decades in the TV business do to you – 10 means 10, not 9:58 or 10:02.

Trust is foundational in business. Yes, there are contracts so that everyone knows what the deal is although I probably didn’t pay enough attention to contracts because I always felt that if I could trust the person I was dealing with, contractual issues would tend to take care of themselves. Making a commitment via autoresponder isn’t walkin’ the talk. It’s just talking to get someone off your back. I’m willing to bet most of the folks don’t even know that a text was sent.

I made a resolution this year. I’m not chasing after anyone. They can generate all the texts they want but if they don’t follow through and make the call, I’m done with them. There are lot of foks who are serious about changing their lives for the better and I’m going to be spending my time with them. That’s a commitment and you can bet it’s one I’ll be keeping.

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Filed under Franchises, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

I’m Sick Of Scammers

Another year, another scammer surfaces. I’ve written many times in this space about marketers who try to take advantage of people’s limited attention spans and fear of all things “official”. The mail delivered another example of one to my doorstep the other day and I want to tell you about them. Admittedly, part of this is venting but another part is a very real concern that many marketers have lowered their standards to a point where they’ll do just about anything to drive business. It’s even worse when the business itself is a scam.

North Carolina, like many states, requires that all businesses file an annual report with the Secretary Of State. If you’ve never done that, it’s a very easy process that can be completed online in about 3 minutes. I had to do the same thing when my LLC was registered in Connecticut and the process was equally easy. You check a few boxes and pay the fee. Easy peasy.

In the mail the other day was an official-looking document – 2020 Annual Report Instructions Form.  The blanks in the form were already pre-populated with my LLC’s information. It also contained the language from the general statutes about having to file an annual report. I thought it was something the state had sent until I gave it more than a cursory look.

In a different typeface was a sentence that said this was being sent by a third-party who would file my report for me. Just send along the $292 fee and that would be that. Of course, the filing fee is only $202 – the other $90 was what this company was scamming me for. The grift IS the business – there is very little, if any, work involved otherwise.

My first thought when I saw the form was, oh, I’ll do this online, as I do pretty much everything. My next thought was “wait, this isn’t the state, this is a scam.” The thought after that was “some percentage of business owners are going to fall for this.” It has all the right information and it’s very official-looking. Of course, anyone can get that information on the state’s website and matching the state’s form and typeface isn’t exactly rocket science.

I admit there are a couple of disclaimers that the company is not affiliated with the state but why should anyone have to read very carefully to avoid being taken advantage of? Are they providing a service? I suppose so, but why not offer the service in a clear manner instead of trying to obfuscate that you’re charging $90 to save someone a few minutes’ work?

If you market a product or service, the road to profitability isn’t made easier by misleading or scamming your customers. Let’s not do that. Even better, let’s shine some sunlight on those scammers who do.

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Eating In The Cafe Car

This will probably be the last original Foodie Friday post of this year (and decade!). I’m writing it whilst barreling north on a train. I’m a fan of train travel. Putting aside the environmental pluses, I think it’s more relaxing and more social than driving or taking the plane.

The train has a cafe car that offers up snacks, drinks, and food. The “food” consists of microwaved stuff – burgers, sausage and egg biscuits, wraps, etc. I think you can probably find most of the items at your local Costco or supermarket. The drinks are generally unhealthy sodas (yes there’s just water) and the snacks consist of candy bars and chips. It’s not the sort of stuff that you would choose if you had a choice, but when you’re on a 9-hour train trip you really don’t have much of one, which explains the line out the door.

Most of the time you would not catch me eating anything that’s offered here. Oh sure, I love me some sausage and egg on an English muffin, but I’ll usually have a multigrain muffin with plenty of fiber, not some white bread masquerading as a muffin. I might put some interesting cheese on mine and not the “cheese product” I’m sure is on this thing. Oh yes, of course, I had one. I’m hungry and they were out of the healthier options

The cafe car got me thinking about what sometimes happens in business. When businesspeople find themselves in an unusual circumstance they often will let their standards slide. I suspect they feel much as I do now – they solved the immediate issue (hunger in my case) but there is guilt and the knowledge that the “solution” they found might have created more problems than it solved.

If I had planned ahead, I’d have packed a decent snack and brought my own beverages. Money isn’t the issue – everything in the cafe car is reasonably priced (except the liquor – $8 for a drink? And I thought the airlines were committing skyway robbery!). The issue is solving my problem without lowering my standards. That takes planning. Is your business doing that?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Another One Bites The Dust

You didn’t think that you were going to escape Foodie Friday without a missive from me, did you? This week our story is a little sad (OK, quite sad for those involved) but instructive as well.

You know that I’m a huge fan of sous vide cooking. In fact, I wrote all about those feelings just about 5 years ago after I received my first immersion circulator. To review, you French scholars out there will recognize that the term means “under vacuum.” You place whatever you’re cooking into a plastic bag, extract the air, and seal it. The bag (or bags) is placed in a water bath. The immersion circulator holds the water at a steady temperature which is the desired end temperature of the food.

All those years ago, immersion circulators cost around $1,000 and were not really marketed to the home cook. I remember watching the Top Chef contestants using them but not fully understanding that this was a tool that could be widely marketed to the home market as well if the cost could be brought down.

Enter our subject today. I’ll let TechCrunch take it from here:

Founded in 2012, Nomiku became a plucky Silicon Valley darling by bringing affordable sous vide cooking to home kitchens…The company was able to bring a cost-prohibitive cooking technology down to an affordable price point, only to see the market flooded by competitors.

This is a perfect case study for businesspeople. First, the company was founded to solve a problem the founders had. Importantly, they realized that many others – home cooks who were aware of sous vide but who couldn’t afford a $1,000 kitchen toy – had the same problem. They raised money (on Kickstarter), solved the engineering and production problems, and produced a beautiful product for $300.

Unfortunately, an immersion circulator isn’t really a defensible idea. Sure, you might be able to protect certain elements but as most computer manufacturers found out during the PC boom, there’s kind of a race to the bottom. I actually have two immersion circulators in my home now and neither costs more than $200. The Nomiku is still listed as costing more.

How does Apple manage to market products that cost significantly more than its competitors? Because they differentiate the bulk of their products. The function differently. They’ve got better security. For the most part, an immersion circulator does what it does. Sure, bells and whistles such as Bluetooth and timers can help justify a higher price, but sadly, not in this case.

Could they have foreseen that a lab products company would migrate into making products for cooks? Who knows, but it does remind us that having a great idea and even great execution isn’t necessarily enough. If the idea is great, competitors will be at your door quite soon. You must always be looking at how to stay one step ahead while building up defensibility on your rear. Easier said than done, I know, but the business world is unforgiving as these folks found out.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Reality checks

We’re Not Stupid

I do quite a bit of headshaking these days. We won’t talk about the political stuff that causes me to do so but there are just as many things outside of politics to trigger the behavior. I’d like to talk about one of them today because it’s instructive for anyone in business.

One term that’s become en vogue is “alternative facts.” You know what I mean – the dissemination of pieces of information that are mostly or completely untrue. Orwell termed them “doublethink“. I term them lies.

What brought this on? I subscribe to a bunch of magazines – golf publications, cooking publications, and several others. This time of year, in particular, I get snail mail with offers to send a gift subscription. Some ask me to renew or extend my existing subscription and offer to send a free gift subscription to someone as a thank you. So far, so good. These offers are usually clear and only mildly annoying.

Then there is one publication that just doesn’t get it. It’s part of a larger family of magazines and I wonder if what I’m about to describe goes on at the other publications as well. An envelope shows up stamped first notice. I’m told my subscription is expiring and I should renew. A few weeks later comes the second notice. Last week, I got some mail marked THIRD NOTICE in large letters outside the envelope. Inside was the same notice I’d already received twice – my subscription was going to expire (aren’t we all?) and I need to renew ASAP for uninterrupted service.

Here’s the problem. I just renewed this subscription last year for several years. Just to be sure, I found the last issue and sure enough, there on the mailing label was the expiration date. It’s January alright. January 2021. I’ve got a year to go. I wanted to confirm this so I logged on to my account on the magazine’s website. My account lets me use the site’s “recipe box” which I do quite a bit but for some inexplicable reason, it’s not linked to my magazine subscription. When I click on the “manage account” link, up pops a new tab asking me to renew. Again, there’s an assumption that you’re dumb and will just renew because a very in-your-face page is telling you that you need to. In order to see your current account, you need to click through on the FAQ link at the foot of the page and scroll until you find a link to “log in to your account”. Of course, when I finally found this and did so, I confirmed that I had a year to go on my subscription.

Putting the awful user experience aside, what’s bugging me is that these publishers think their readers are dumb. They seem to believe that sending out misleading notices with “alternative facts” will lead to renewals. I wish I could say they were unique but they’re not. I’m sure you get the same kinds of “notices” that I get. My home warranty is expiring (I don’t have one), I can have a “free security system” (it’s far from free), and on and on.

Companies that think we’re stupid deserve to be out of business. I’m well aware of Mencken’s statement that “No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people”. We need, instead, to think like David Ogilvy: “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife”. Putting aside that deceptive marketing just might be illegal, doesn’t it bother you to be thought of as an idiot?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

I Can’t Quit

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. It’s one of those times when your focus is truly on family and friends and not on the more mundane things that tend to tie up the bulk of our lives.

One of those things has become social media and specifically Facebook and its family of products. I think that if it was a drug, it would be among the worst drugs ever and should be heavily regulated at least. Let me explain why.

I was an early user (does that make me a long-term addict?). I signed up way back when you needed a .edu mailing address to join. At first, it was fun and getting back in touch with my college and high school classmates was great. I’d accept friend requests from people I barely knew and rarely spoke to from way back when. It made reunions less jarring since I already knew who had gained weight, lost hair, or, as in my case, both.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I limit my “friends” to people who are really just that. Acquaintances don’t make the grade and very few business-only relationships are part of my friend group. Unfortunately, some business associations in which I participate have chosen to do their communicating via Facebook. I also have consulting clients from time to time that want my expertise on using Facebook both for content and for advertising. If those circumstances ever change, I’ll be gone the next day.

I’m sure you’re aware by now about Facebook’s utter disregard for your privacy. They track you pervasively (I use a browser extension to limit that). They sell your data, accurate or not, to scammers and liars as well as to legitimate marketers but they don’t try to distinguish between them. I wrote in 2010 that they just might fail because of their disregard for security and privacy. I could not have been more right about what they were doing and more wrong about their success.

Why do we all seem to hang around? Metcalf’s Law, which states that the effect of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. There were alternatives and still are, of course, but unless and until your real friends, family, and business groups move someplace else, you’re kind of stuck. It’s why I post the screed on Facebook as well as on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Fish where the fish are, right?

My first resolution will be to use Facebook less in 2020 and beyond and to reach out via phone and email to people more often. It’s not just about maintaining privacy but about helping my mental health. Do I think I’m striking a blow for privacy and responsibility? No, not being one of 1.6 billion daily users. I’ll still be on Facebook – it’s the easiest and best way to keep up with old friends and I need it for business. But you can bet I’ll be a lot less active. Don’t take it personally. It’s not you – it’s Zuck.

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud