4 Incredibly Simple Questions To Make Any Company Successful

Derek Sivers of CD Baby. And life. Here's my favorite story from Derek Sivers's brilliant tiny book Anything You Want. Sivers was in Las Vegas talking to his cab driver. The cabbie told Sivers he misses the mob. Sivers asked why:

“When the mafia ran this town, it was fun. There were only two numbers that mattered: how much was coming in, and how much was going out. As long as there was more in than out, everyone was happy. But then the whole town was bought up by these damn corporations full of MBA weasels micro-managing, trying to maximize the profit from every square foot of floor space. Now the place that used to put ketchup on my hotdog tells me it'll be an extra twenty-five cents for ketchup! It sucked all the fun out of this town! Yeah... I miss the mob.”

(Sure, we could bring up other issues with the mob, but let's just leave it as a metaphor and a lesson.)

I told this story a lot at CD Baby.

Sometimes MBA types would ask me, “What's your growth rate? What's your retained earnings rate as a percentage of gross? What are your projections?”

I'd just say, “I have no idea. I don't even know what some of that means. I started this as a hobby to help my friends, and that's the only reason it exists. There's money in the bank and I'm doing fine, so no worries.”

They'd tell me that if I analyzed the business better, I could maximize profitability. Then I'd tell them about the taxi driver in Vegas.

Never forget why you're really doing what you're doing.

Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn't that enough?

Sivers, Derek (2011-06-29). Anything You Want (pp. 28-29). AmazonEncore. Kindle Edition.

Four questions that define the only just reason for any business to exist. This should be a consultant's checklist:

  1. Are you helping people? If not, you should figure out a way to help or shut down the business. Companies that aren't helping are hurting, and that's evil.

  2. Are they happy? This goes beyond merely helping. Helping is the bare minimum. If they're not happy, you're doing it right.

  3. Are you happy? This might be the most important question of all. If making people happy by helping them doesn't delight you, find something that does.

  4. Are you profitable? Yes, you have a responsibility to make a profit, but only if you answered "yes" to the first three questions. If you're not helping, or if they're not happy, or if you're not happy, then you have no right making money doing what you're doing.

I read business journals and blogs every day that talk about companies squeezing another nickel out of unhappy customers they're killing before the CEO jumps off the roof of his 128-story tower.  What a waste of lives and money.

I know business schools don't teach helping, happy, happy, profit, but they should. And if they don't, why would anyone go?

Later, Sivers sums up the Tao of Business beautifully:

But even well-meaning companies accidentally get trapped in survival mode. A business is started to solve a problem. But if the problem was truly solved, that business would no longer be needed! So the business accidentally or unconsciously keeps the problem around so that they can keep solving it for a fee.

(I don't want to pick on anyone's favorite pharmaceutical company or online productivity subscription tools, so let's just say that any business that's in business to sell you a cure is motivated not to focus on prevention.)

It's kind of like the grand tales, in which the hero needs to be prepared to die to save the day. Your company should be willing to die for your customers.

That's the Tao of business: Care about your customers more than about yourself, and you'll do well.


Help people, make them happy, have fun, and make a profit. That's all it takes to run a successful business.

Are They Easy to Work With Or Just Friendly?

It's easy to confuse friendly with competence.warmth-competence A lot of companies talk about being easy to work with. Fewer explain what they mean by that.

As a software architect, I worked with a lot of programmers who came across as distant, reclusive, gruff, or even angry but were super easy to work with. Despite their social skills, they could cut through business jargon and determine the core need of the user, design a solution, and implement it with minimal headaches.

On the other hand, I've also worked with personable, friendly, engaging programmers who seemed to add to the customer's problems instead of reducing them.

If given the choice, we'd all prefer to work with people who are friendly and engaging. But only if they're also competent and intelligent. When we can't have both, we demand competence over friendliness.

Researchers tell us that people judge a person's warmth before they judge competence (Fisk, Cuddy, and Glick, 2010):

Although warmth and competence dimensions emerge consistently,considerable evidence suggests that warmth judgments are primary: warmth is judged before competence, and warmth judgments carry more weight in affective and behavioral reactions. From an evolutionary perspective, the primacy of warmth is fitting because another person’s intent for good or ill is more important to survival than whether the other person can act on those intentions. Similarly, morality(warmth) judgments determine approach–avoidance tendencies, so they are the fundamental aspect of evaluation[8,9] and, therefore, precede competence–efficacy judgments.

In business, we sometimes judge ourselves as "easy to work with" because people tell us how nice and friendly we are. But if we can't deliver, people quickly see our warmth as smarmy and glib.

Friendliness isn't easy to work with; it makes easy to work with more pleasant.


Why I Stopped Lying On My LinkedIn Profile **UPDATE**

Do you dread updating your resume? Does the thought of refreshing your LinkedIn profile make want to vomit? If you answered "yes," we have a lot in common.  My LinkedIn profile was duller than dirt. It read like everybody else's. A bunch of self-serving crap. Who needs that? I wouldn't hire the guy who wrote my LinkedIn profile. I wouldn't want to sit next to him on a long flight, either.

My old profile fit all the recommendations from professional LinkedIn profile advisers. What do they know?

My old profile was a lie. It wasn't me. I don't like typing lists of facts about myself, but my professional resume on LinkedIn was just that: a list of facts.

I'm a storyteller, not a list-maker. Actually, that's not completely true, either. I do make lists. I just don't try to persuade people with lists. I don't try to tell stories or convey facts with lists. I make lists for myself because James Altucher told me to.

While I hate writing my own brag sheet, I love writing stories. I like hearing stories, too. Stories draw people in. A list of facts just inspires people to find something wrong with one of them.

So yesterday, I decided to rewrite my LinkedIn profile as a story. Big risk, I know. Dangerous, yes. Only an idiot would take a huge chance like that with something as important as his LinkedIn profile.  "Are you crazy?"

My company will probably hate me for it, too, since clients look up everybody they work with. I don't care.

Pretending to be the kind of person who promotes himself with lists of achievements is a lie. And there's nothing worse than lying on LinkedIn.

So I stopped lying.

Go check out my LinkedIn profile and tell me what you think. And if you decide to go crazy and turn your profile into a story, please let me know. I'd like to read your story.

UPDATE  Two days after I rewrote my LinkedIn profile as a story, I found this post about . . . wait for it . . . why you should rewrite your resume as a story.  Can't make this stuff up.

Remove "Multi-taksing" From Your Resume, Or Learn to Like Unemployment

You're not a good multi-tasker. If your LinkedIn profile (or your 20th century resume) talks about your awesome multi-tasking skills, delete it. Now.  Your multi-tasking brags tell a future employer that either (a) you're lying, or (b) you're a lousy performer.

This infographic explains how multi-taksing ruins your career.

The High Cost of Multitasking

by kikikarpus. Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.


Hooked Is The Best Book on Product Design You'll Read This Year

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming ProductsHooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best business book I've read. And I've read a lot.

If you design products, software, apps, systems, programs, or companies, you have to read this book. Twice. And everyone you work with needs to read it, too.

I read about 15 to 20 books on business, persuasion, psychology, and product design every year. Sometimes more. And I read blogs on strategy, design, and influence every day of my life.

I also use what I learn in these books and blogs every day for a living. I am a persuasive design strategist.

I'm a sucker for books that validate my own favorite thinkers, and it didn't take long for Nir Eyal to stroll through my pantheon of persuasion artists.

He summarizes B.J. Fogg's Fogg Behavioral Model better than Fogg:

The Fogg Behavior Model is represented in a formula, B = MAT, which represents that a given behavior will occur when motivation, ability and a trigger are present at the same time and in sufficient degrees. [55] If any component of this formula is missing or inadequate, the user will not cross the “Action Line” and the behavior will not occur.

Eyal, Nir (2013-12-26). Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Kindle Locations 735-738). Nir Eyal. Kindle Edition.

He credits Robert Cialdini, the godfather of persuasion:

A psychological phenomenon known as the escalation of commitment has been shown to make our brains do all sorts of funny things . The power of commitment makes some people play video games until they keel over and die.  It is used to influence people to give more to charity. It has even been used to coerce prisoners of war into switching allegiances.

Eyal, Nir (2013-12-26). Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Kindle Locations 1516-1519). Nir Eyal. Kindle Edition.

He helps you apply the "IKEA Effect," coined by Dan Ariely:

The results showed that those who made their own origami animals valued their creation five times higher than the second group’s valuation, and nearly as high as the expert-made origami values (figure 29). In other words, those who invested labor associated greater value with their paper creations simply because they had worked on them. Ariely calls this the “IKEA effect.”

Eyal, Nir (2013-12-26). Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Kindle Locations 1531-1534). Nir Eyal. Kindle Edition.

I've never read a book that covers all of these subjects so well. But that's not all. Nir Eyal's Hooked also give practical steps and tasks you can start using after the first chapter.

Here's an example:

Do This Now

Refer to the answers you came up with in the last “Do This Now” section to complete the following exercises:

- Review your flow. What “bit of work” are your users doing to increase their likelihood of returning?

- Brainstorm three ways to add small investments into your product to:

- Load the next trigger

- Store value as data, content, followers, reputation and skill

- Identify how long it takes for a “loaded trigger” to re-engage your user.

How can you reduce the delay to shorten cycle-time through the Hook?

Eyal, Nir (2013-12-26). Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Kindle Locations 1783-1789). Nir Eyal. Kindle Edition.

In other words, this book will make you more valuable to yourself, your family, your products, and your company the minute you pick it up.

But don't just pick it up; read it. Read all. Highlight and take notes. And put it into action.

Thank you, Nir Eyal. You've made the world a better place.

View all my reviews

The Warby Parker Experience Makes Me Happy I Wear Glasses

Every now and then, I wonder how companies stay in business. I see so many companies operating on the principle that the way they've always done things is the only way they can be done. This leads to the bad side of marketing--convincing people they need something just because the company has a bunch of it in stock.

But then I try a new company like Warby Parker, and my faith in American business swells.

Warby Parker is a new company. I first heard about it last year on Business Insider. Since then, they've grown, but they've managed to keep their start-up, friendly feel. Here's the purpose:

A collaboration between four close friends, Warby Parker was conceived as an alternative to the overpriced and bland eyewear available today.

I just got a pair of prescription Wilkie glasses for $95. For comparison, the pair I bought from a local eye chain last year cost $395.

Warby Parker's Wilkie

While the price and frame selection are great, the service is what sets Warby Parker apart from the standard retail experience.

Ordering online is simple, fast, and fun. But I'm a sometime marketer. What floored me was how they handled little issues with my order.

For instance, my prescription allows for bi-focals or progressives. Warby Parker doesn't do progressives, so they sent me a note. If you've ever received a customer service email about an order from a big company, you might expect something like;

"Unfortunately, we cannot fill prescriptions with your particular needs. Thank you for considering us."

Vague messages like that please legal departments. And management. They don't disclose a company to  . . . problems.

But Warby Parker lets real people write their emails. My message sounded like a real human wrote it. In fact, her name is Christina. And, instead of evading the problem, Christina went straight at it--with solutions:

Thank you for your order with Warby Parker! We really appreciate it. I have a couple of quick questions before I process your order. Upon verifying your prescription, I noticed a "+1.25 ADD", which indicates that you might wear progressives or bifocals. Now, a bit of bad news: I’m afraid we are currently unable to offer progressive or bifocal lenses. But don’t frown yet—I have a few other options for you!

Option #1: We can make your glasses for use with distance vision using the current prescription you provided.  

Option #2: We can make your glasses as prescription reading glasses with the "ADD" value. 

Option #3: We can send you a pair of frames with replaceable demo lenses at a 10% discount. You can take these frames to your local optical shop and they will replace the demo lenses with your prescription lenses.

Real solutions. But that wasn't my only problem. My Rx lacked my pupil distance . . . or something. Again, a friendly solution:

Also, in processing your order we noticed that we're missing one number from your prescription. It's the pupillary distance (PD), which is the distance in millimeters between the centers of your pupils. Luckily, it's a cinch to get! Visit pd.warbyparker.com, follow the instructions at the bottom of the page and send us your results directly from the website once you've completed the measurement. (Please make sure to submit results using the email address associated with your order.)

So I followed the link, measured my pupils, and got a confirmation that all was well.

Next, I got cheerful messages that  my order had shipped--right on time.

This all happened during the holidays and lousy weather across the country, mind you. And I still got my glasses on time.

Even the anticipation was exciting. Well, maybe not for my wife. She's a teacher, so she's been home for the break and snow days. I asked her 15 times a day if the mail had come, even when I knew they weren't due. But that's because I have issues.

And the packaging is awesome. You feel like what's inside is worth a lot more than $95.

An iPhone-like outer box, a great clam shell case, a soft bag, and the glasses.

Plus, like Tom's Shoes, Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses to someone in need for each pair you and I buy--at great prices.

When I find a great company like Warby Parker, I'm glad I majored in Business. And it kind of makes me feel sorry for people who don't wear glasses.

Why I Am a Disloyal Jerk

I am a terrible, disloyal man. In 1994, I sent about ten letters to technology companies asking for free stuff. I was in the Navy then, but I wanted to get out and start a publishing company. I needed computers, printers, and software. I figured the easiest way to get that stuff was to ask.

One company came  through: Microsoft. I even got a personal letter from Bill Gates about a week after my shipment arrived. He commended my chutzpah but asked me to never tell anyone Microsoft gave me free software.

They sent me two licenses for everything they sold at the time. Windows for Workgroups, Windows 3.1, Office 4.3c, etc. I promised loyalty.

In 1995, my company was flailing, but I'd gotten a job as MIS Director for a small healthcare company. When our CEO agreed our mix-and-match technology needed to be standardized and upgraded, I repaid Microsoft. I had also learned VB, MSSQL, and rudimentary C++. I was a Microsoft developer.

For the next 15 years, I pumped Microsoft. I was coding with .NET before they called it .NET. As a programmer, DBA, architect, and software engineering director, I remained doggedly loyalty to Redmond.

But my loyalty to Microsoft has waned.

Have you searched in Outlook 2013? It sucks. And that's their latest version.

Have you seen Windows 8.1? It's terrible. And the market agrees.

Microsoft writes software for RFPs, not for people.

My coding today is all AngularJS JavaScript. I like APIs. And my desktop OS is Elementary, a Linux distribution.

I have many reasons for these changes, but they all boil down to simplicity. On the laptop I'm using right now (HP Pavilion), Windows 7 takes about two and a half minutes to boot. Elementary takes less than 30 seconds.  Business Insider's home page take about 15 seconds to fully load in Windows, just four seconds in Elementary. JetBrains WebStorm (my IDE) takes about one minute to open in Windows, but only 20 seconds in Elementary.

I just don't have time or patience for Microsoft.

If want people to be loyal, make their lives simpler. Don't make them wait. Don't expect them to enjoy your work. Instead, let them get done with it. They'll thank you.

Loyalty has its limits.