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The first rule of doing work that matters

Go to work on a regular basis.

Art is hard. Selling is hard. Writing is hard. Making a difference is hard.

When you're doing hard work, getting rejected, failing, working it out–this is a dumb time to make a situational decision about whether it's time for a nap or a day off or a coffee break.

Zig taught me this twenty years ago. Make your schedule before you start. Don't allow setbacks or blocks or anxiety to push you to say, "hey, maybe I should check my email for a while, or you know, I could use a nap." If you do that, the lizard brain is quickly trained to use that escape hatch again and again.

Isaac Asimov wrote and published 400 (!) books using this technique.

The first five years of my solo business, when the struggle seemed neverending, I never missed a day, never took a nap. (I also committed to ending the day at a certain time and not working on the weekends. It cuts both ways.)

In short: show up.

Do elite trappings create success? (Causation vs. correlation)

Does a ski trip to Aspen make you a successful bond trader, or do successful bond traders go skiing in Aspen?

It's college acceptance season, and worth considering an often overlooked question:

Do people who are on track to become successful go to elite colleges, buy elite cars, engage in other elite behaviors… (Defining elite as something both scarce and thus expensive).

or

Do attending these colleges or engaging in these behaviors make you successful?

It matters, because if you're buying the elite label as a shortcut to success, you might be surprised at what you get.

There are certainly exceptions (for professions that are very focused on a credential, and for the economically disadvantaged), but generally, most elite products like college are overrated as life changers.

It turns out that merely getting into Harvard is as good an indicator of future success as actually going. It turns out that being the sort of person that can invest the effort, conquer fear and/or raise the money to capture some of the elite trappings of visible success is what drives success, not the other way around.

The learning matters a great deal, and especially the focused effort behind it. The brand name of the institution, not so much.

Don't worry so much if some overworked admissions officer or grizzled journalist fails to pick you. It might mean more that you could go, not that you do.

Does advertising on the Super Bowl make your brand successful? I think it's more likely that successful brands advertise on the Super Bowl.

Who’s on your list?

Years before he filmed the Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola met Al Pacino and they almost made a movie together.

Later, when it was time to cast his greatest film, Pacino was an obvious choice for Coppola.

Ask any successful director for a list of actors or cinematographers or screenwriters they'd like to work with and they can answer you, instantly. They're always keeping lists.

Do you have one? If your firm has an opening for a hire or a freelancer, do you have the name ready, instantly, the one you've been waiting for a chance to work with?

The worst time to go looking is when you need one, badly.

What are you working on?

If someone asks you that, are you excited to tell them the answer?

I hope so. If not, you're wasting away.

No matter what your job is, no matter where you work, there's a way to create a project (on your own, on weekends if necessary), where the excitement is palpable, where something that might make a difference is right around the corner.

Hurry, go do that.

Quote cards

Moo is now offering a series of business cards with clever epigrams from yours truly on the back… [Any royalties go to Acumen Fund].

Weasel words are more difficult to get away with

I got a note from someone who "helps lead the internet and Media efforts" at a fairly well known venture firm.

A click over to their website indicates that he's not a Managing Director or a Partner, not a Limited Senior Advisor, nor a Founding Strategic Director, Principal, Director of Business Development, Vice President or even a Senior Associate. He's an Associate. Which is fine, of course, unless the first thing you told a stranger is that you help lead an important initiative.

Organizations have always been good at title inflation, because it's free and it serves their purposes. The net, though, makes it easy to see what the hierarchy actually looks like, so it's better to just be clear, I think.

[A few readers have asked what he should do instead. After all, he shouldn't act like a mere, cog, right? My point is that he should tell the truth, a truth that gets better after being googled.

He could call and say, "I work for Joe Jones (brag about Joe for a while). He's open to meeting with you and I can make that happen if it's interesting to you."

…or he could say, "I'm the junior man here at Tate Industries and my job is to find interesting projects and bring them to the partners. Last year, I started the interactions between us and x, y and z. Is it worth your time to get together and figure out the best way to pitch this project to them?"

In both cases, starting on a clearer footing gives you more power, not less.]

Lady Gaga and me

Do you think it bothers her that I don't listen to her music and wouldn't recognize her if she stopped by and said hi?

It shouldn't.

Even if you're a pop star, you don't need everyone to be a fan or a customer. And especially if you're not a pop star, worrying about whether everyone laughs at your jokes, buys your product or even likes you is counterproductive.

Unless you're running for something that requires a unanimous vote, it's a mistake to focus on the frowning guy in the back of the room or the dolt who doesn't get your subtle references or the miser who isn't going to buy from you regardless…

You're on the hunt for sneezers, for fans, for people willing to cross the street to work with you. Everyone else can pound sand, that's okay. Being remarkable also means being ignored or actively disliked.

BTW, I'm virtually certain that Lady (do her friends call her that?) doesn't read my stuff, so we're even.

Free Prize Inside

Another road trip directory

How to organize a retreat

(actually, to steal a phrase from Alan and Bill, an advance. Retreat is too negative).

There's a tremendous opportunity to create events where people connect. Unfortunately, it's also easy to turn these events into school-like conferences, not the emotional connections that are desired.

You can create an advance with a team that knows one another from work, or even more profoundly, with a bunch of independent thinkers who come together to energize, inspire and connect.

I've been to a bunch and here's what I've learned, in no particular order:

  • Must be off site, with no access to electronic interruption
  • Should be intense. Save the rest and relaxation for afterwards
  • Create a dossier on each attendee in advance, with a photo and a non-humble CV of who they are and what they do and what their goals are
  • Never (never) have people go around a circle and say their name and what they do and their favorite kind of vegetable or whatever. The problem? People spend the whole time trying to think of what to say, not listening to those in front of them (I once had to witness 600 people do this!!)
  • Instead, a week ahead of time, give each person an assignment for a presentation at the event. It might be the answer to a question like, "what are you working on," or "what's bothering you," or "what can you teach us." Each person gets 300 seconds, that's it.
  • Have 11 people present their five minutes in an hour. Never do more than an hour in a row. The attendees now have a hook, something to talk to each presenter about in the hallway or the men's room. "I disagree with what you said this morning…"
  • Organize roundtable conversations, with no more than 20 people at a time (so if you have more attendees than this, break into groups.) Launch a firestarter, a five minute statement, then have at it. Everyone speaks up, conversations scale and ebb and flow.
  • Solve problems. Get into small groups and have the groups build something, analyze something, create something totally irrelevant to what the organization does. The purpose is to put people in close proximity with just enough pressure to allow them to drop their shields.
  • Do skits.
  • Have a moderator who is brave enough and smart enough to call on people, cut people off, connect people and provoke them in a positive way.
  • Invite a poker instructor or a horseshoe expert in to give a lesson and then follow it with a competition.
  • Challenge attendees to describe a favorite film scene to you before the event. Pick a few and show them, then discuss.
  • Don't serve boring food.
  • Use nametags at all times. Write the person's first name REALLY big.
  • Use placecards at each meal, rotating where people sit. Crowd the tables really tightly (12 at a table for 10) and serve buffet style to avoid lots of staffers in the room. Make it easy for people to leave boring tables and organically sit together at empty ones.
  • Do something really interesting after 10 pm.
  • Serve delicious food, weird food, vegan food, funky food. Just because you can.
  • Don't worry about being productive. Worry about being busy.
  • Consider a tug of war or checkers tournament.
  • Create an online site so attendees can check in after the event, swap email addresses or post promised links.
  • Take a ton of pictures. Post them as the advance progresses.

Here's the goal: new friends. Here's the output: a new and better to-do list.

High margins, Groupon and the magic basket for price differentiators

Some things sell for not much more than they cost to make. Things like steel.

Others? They sell for high multiples of cost. Spa services, fancy ties, long haul airplane tickets, coaching, books–these are things that might cost a bunch to set up, but once the factory is rolling, the marginal cost of one more unit is really low. The challenge, then, is to find a way to get new customers without alienating the folks that have paid full price. Even better, to turn those new trial customers into loyal customers.

One of the challenges of selling to new customers cheap is that you might end up with a price shopper, someone who is always cheap, someone who will never convert into the kind of customer your high margin business needs to survive.

Priceline was a pioneer in figuring out how to isolate one customer type from another. The reason the original Priceline was so incredibly difficult to use (with blind reverse auctions, etc.) was that they wanted it that way. Anyone who was willing to through that hassle and anxiety to save $100 bucks for a ticket on Delta was clearly not someone Delta was going to have an easy time selling a regular ticket to. In other words, Jay Walker had figured out how to create a second type of air travel. One for cheapskates. The alternative to Priceline was a bus ticket or no travel at all… And Delta was fine with offloading excess seats to them, because they didn't have to worry about alienating their core customer.

Groupon is a very different thing. Here, it's not a hassle, it's the fun factor. Buying this way is exciting, you never know what's next, you do it with friends, the copy is funny, it's an adventure. As a result, many Groupon customers in fact do convert to becoming long time patrons of the place they tried, because they're not inherently cheap shoppers. When they're on Groupon they're hunting for fun. But if you offer an astonishing product and great service after they try you, they may convert into shopping with you for the long haul, not because you're a Groupon replacement, but because you bring them more than the alternatives.

And the magic basket? Tim Ferriss just finished offering more than $1600 worth of high-margin items in a basket to people who bought 30 copies of his new book. The marketing partners get trial among a group of people who are each paying more than the cost of a single item in the basket, these customers are proving they're not among the ultra-cheap. And the products are quasi-aligned, appealing to the same sort of consumer. Is there a cheaper way for one of these companies to reach this precise person? I'm not sure there is.

Imagine taking this even further and leaving out the book part. A basket of aligned items, all high margin, none from the market dominator, each holding out the possibility of future business… You could do this with an 8 pack of computer games or phone apps, or drink coupons from a dozen bars in the same town, or even clothing for guys size 38. Alex has experimented with this at Swagapalooza. I'm betting that there's quite a lot to be done in becoming this market creator/differentiator/middleman.

What's missing so far is an intelligent way to get permission, to follow up, to further organize those that do a trial and teach them and connect them so that they see a further incentive in sticking with the thing they just tried.

What's also missing is a willingness on the part of high-margin marketers to use their products and these sort of interactions as a replacement for the unmeasurable and largely ineffective lifestyle advertising they use now.

The net, once again, is making it easier to find and organize tribes of people, even for short durations. When you intersect these aligned groups with high-margin products, you can create fascinating commerce opportunities.

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