No Shortcuts - Hard Calls

When you run your own business things feel a lot more personal than when you are an employee at someone else's company.  I think a core reason for this is that IT'S YOUR MONEY!  When something bad happens its YOUR MONEY that is getting flushed down the toilet.  

Over the years there have been many situations where I wanted to punch a wall because something happened that caused me to lose money.  It could have been my issue, a vendor issue, a partner issue, a website issue, etc, etc.  I am a pretty mellow person overall.  I rarely get outwardly mad.  For some reason the losses my company took hurt deeply.

When you run a business the metrics for success are very clear.  When you succeed it feels incredible.  You are proud of what you've developed and your hard work seems to be paying off.  When things aren't going well there is no one to blame except you. 

You chose the vendor.  You wrote the email.  You chose the freelancer.  You are why things are falling apart.  It can be a very lonely place and you often don't have a lot of people to talk to.  You just keep grinding. 

For all these bad things that come up with entrepreneurship you are forced to make hard calls.  Fire people.  Change vendors.  Fight for the highest quality.  I have had to change my attitude as I've been running Sloane to not take any BS.  If you let things slide, then it's often hard to get them on track. 

I remember we had a warehousing company in LA who stored and shipped our product.  Over Black Friday they lost $10K in inventory.  Lost.  They said they tracked it to their warehouse, but can't find it.  What the?!?!?!  It was the busiest time of our season and our most popular sizes and colors were lost IN my vendor's warehouse. 

They said they were going to find it.  Days went by.  A week went by.  I was stressing the whole time.  I'd call them everyday.  Were they looking for it?  At one point I told them I would fly to LA and come to the warehouse to track it down.  I was dead serious! 

A week turned into weeks.  By Christmas they still hadn't found the product.  At that point I was livid.  It was ruining my Christmas break.  I was calling everyday.  I refused to give up.  If they couldn't find my product, then I wanted the money for the product. 

I began a crusade to get my money back.  I think we were 2 months post the actual incident and I was still calling them everyday and forcing them to pay me.  They finally caved in and gave me the money for the value of the product.  I fired them the next day and moved to another vendor. 

It literally felt like someone came into my house.  Robbed me of $10,000.  I felt violated.  That's how personal it can be when you run your own business.  I have gotten a lot tougher with how I manage things to make sure I never get taken again.  Hard things come up all the time and you need to make sure you have the mentality to make the hard calls. 

I actually think entrepreneurship molds you to be like this.  I was way more casual before and now I have battle scars all over that have hardened me.  It feels good and I am ready for whatever is next.   

 

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No Shortcuts - WHO is Your WHO?

Getting your business off the ground involves finding consumers that will pay money for your service/product.  Lots of consumers = success.  No consumers = failure.  I am going to do a mini-series on the path to find consumers and get as many people as possible interested in your product/service. 

Much of this will sound simple.  When you get into the details.....it is not.  Some of these details are the difference between success and failure.  This blog will cover the first step:  WHO is your WHO?

The name of the game in business is to solve a consumer problem.  When you do that a consumer is willing to pay you to make their life easier/better.  This applies to EVERYTHING.  A better tasting ice cream.  A healthier ice cream.  A safer car.  A more fuel friendly car.  A higher quality lawn care service.  A cheaper lawn care service.  

Consumers want different things.  I made that list because it's not like EVERYONE wants healthy ice cream.  Many people are totally fine with the high calorie stuff if it tastes amazing.  The key thing is understanding your consumer like no one else.  

What I always find most helpful is creating a muse.  It's also called an archetype.  It's a fictional person based on what you know of your consumer.  You create this person and it allows you to understand the different aspects of their life, motivations, stresses, pressures, feelings, etc, which then lead to insights.  

I have a multi page description of our Sloane Man (below).  You can see the detail we go into on this.  It's critical.  The deeper you go the better because that means you really understand your consumer.  

What this does for you is give you insight into things like....what websites is he on?  What kind of thing does he need to see in an ad to get him excited?  Is it about cost or more about looking his best?  Who is he trying to impress?  Co-workers?  Women?  Family? 

All of this impacts your product development, advertising, retail strategy, pricing, size of prize and overall strategy.  

SLOANE MEN MAN

Name:  Steve

Age:  27

Residence: Chicago, IL – River North

Hometown:  Outside Baltimore, MD.  Primarily white town, but had friends of all races

Family:  Parents are still together after 30 years of marriage and he has an older sister (30) who lives in NYC

Relationship Status:  Girlfriend of 1 year, Sierra.

Race: Mixed Race (Mom: Half White, Half Latina Dad:  Black)

Education:  Degree in Business from Georgetown; 3.7 GPA; Varsity baseball team ; no frat affiliation  

Profession:  Finance – Banker for JP Morgan; Currently applying to business school with the goal of starting his own company post graduation   

Hobbies:  Pickup basketball twice a week, Softball league, casual golfer (14 handicap), works out 4 days a week, reads books mainly in history, likes to visit a new country every year, volunteers with the Big Brother program

Style:  Likes to dress well.  Pays attention to his style and prides himself on being well dressed.  He recognizes that he could probably do a better job with the nuances of this clothing, but is satisfied with how he looks.  He dresses pretty formal at work with a suit and tie and goes with a cool/casual look on the weekends.

Humor:  Steve has a serious job, but also likes to have a good time.  He has a big group of friends who he’s made throughout the years in Chicago.  They are similar to him…..young, successful and fun.  They don’t take themselves too seriously.  Their conversations revolve around sports, women, cars, trips and partying.  They don’t philosophize much about solar systems or art.  They think that’s lame and keep things light.

Favorite Clothing Brands:  IndoChino for suits.  Cole Haan for shoes.  Thomas Pink for work shirts.  Glasses are Warby Parker.  Weekend wear is J Crew, Bonobos, Lacoste, Polo and Nike.  He likes to look good, but not obnoxious.  He stays away from super fashion forward brands like Gucci, Prada, Zegna, etc.  His friends would make fun of him for going out in something too out there.   

Where He Shops:  He’s big into online shopping.  He loves Amazon Prime.  He enjoys the convenience of online shopping.  No hassle in the stores.  Quick delivery.  Easy returns.  Almost TOO easy.  He is a member of Dollar Shave club and gets a few trunks from Trunk Club every year.  If he does go in store he really enjoys Nordstrom.  Macy’s is below him.  Too busy and cluttered with so so clothing.  He’ll go into cool boutiques (and find boutique type stores online) every now and then looking for stuff that’s not available to the masses.  He likes the exclusivity of having a few pieces that no one has.  He just got a Travis Matthews (niche golf wear provider our of Southern California) hat online.

Favorite Content Sites Online:  ESPN (by far!!), Fast Company, Buzzfeed, Mashable, CNN, Bleacher Report, GQ, NYTimes.com

Favorite Apps:  Facebook (likes to see what’s up with friends….doesn’t post much), Twitter (follows for latest news), Instagram (posts a cool picture every now and then), Pinterest (new app for him and really likes following), Pandora (loves many types of music from Drake to Phoenix to Miles Davis).

Perfect Day:  Get up on a nice warm day and head to the basketball courts to play pickup with friends.  Grab a smoothie and water afterwards and chill for a bit.  Get showered and changed and head to a local street festival with his girlfriend and friends.  Drink and hangout there for awhile and then head to dinner with his girlfriend and a few friends.  He’s kind of buzzed and having a blast.  He’s laughing and joking the entire day.  They head to a “cool” restaurant that’s pretty relaxed.  They are fine wearing what they wore to the festival.  They hangout at the restaurant continuing to drink and have a good time.  They leave and head to fun bar down the street.  It’s crowded with younger professionals all out drinking and dancing.  Him and his friends keep drinking and go back and forth from the dance floor to bar the rest of the night. 

Favorite Overall Brands:  Red Bull (loves how they push the boundaries), Nike (loves their mix of cool style, message of pushing your athletic limits and high quality), Tesla (loves their innovation and how they stand out from the “normal” cars), Shinola (one of the boutique brands that he likes because it’s pure man….well crafted and different than anything else anyone has….authentic), GQ (represents cool style that isn’t too pretentious)      

Words He Lives By:  Work Hard, Play Hard (it’s cliché, but he really works hard at this job and really tries to have fun outside of it)              

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No Shortcuts - What if My Idea Sucks?

There are lots of bad ideas out there.  They're too early.  They don't have a big market.  The business model doesn't work.  They're just flat out dumb.  The key thing when you have one of these ideas is to REALIZE IT'S BAD QUICKLY!!!  And then drop it and run as fast as you can away.  

The really sad thing is when you hang on to a bad ideas for a long time.  You are wasting time and resources by clutching to something that has no long term prospects.  You can be so badly burned hanging on to a bad idea for too long that you might not be able to get back into the startup game.  Your reputation is hurt.  You are completely broke.  You are scarred from the experience. 

The key thing to avoiding this path is to get your idea out there.  Create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and start getting it out there.  Share it with friends.  Get it in front of your target audience.  Have people try it for free.  Put it on Kickstarter.  Feedback early is super important. 

The next thing is the hard part.  You want to listen to the feedback, but also be able to filter what's truth versus what's BS.  Lots of amazing ideas had to have sounded like terrible ideas back in the day.  Paying to get into a total stranger's car.  Terrifying.  Paying to stay at a total random person's house.  Creepy.  Paying $25/day for your dog to hang out with other dogs.  Who would do that (me!)??

People will talk bad about your idea.  It happened with Sloane countless times.  You need to listen hard and understand the WHY behind that.  Is the person giving you the feedback not fashionable and wouldn't appreciate the product.  If so, that's totally fair feedback.  Does the person hate spending on clothing, so $34 for an undershirt is insane?  Again....fair feedback.  The thing is that those people are NOT your target consumer, so they really don't matter.  

If your target consumer talks badly about your product, then you need to start getting nervous.  The exact people you think SHOULD plop down money for your product are saying it's terrible?  Not good.  That's the feedback you should listen to.  What are they suggesting to improve the idea?  What are their pain points with the product?  

When people are giving you and your product feedback make sure you LISTEN!  The person who doesn't listen to feedback is the person who sticks with bad ideas for too long.  They think people don't get it and are dumb.  They'll eventually find the market for it.  Often that eventually never comes.  

Be open.  Listen.  Learn.  Developing your product is all about iterations to get it to the best place possible.  Just make sure you are listening and learning from the RIGHT people.  

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No Shortcuts - Startup as a Live Learning Tool for your REAL Job

I have been running Sloane as my side hustle for 10 years now.  I work at Procter & Gamble full time.  P&G is a 185 year old global company with $70B in sales.  It's huge!

I started Sloane because I was passionate about the product and wanted to bring it to life.  I THOUGHT I was going to get rich off it quickly, but from reading this blog you know that was idiotic to think.  The company has humbled me beyond belief.  The company has also given me this amazing tool to learn.  I have been able to directly take my learnings to my full time job, which has allowed me to stand out and succeed. 

Now that I look back on things I believe I have been able to learn at a 2X pace from many of my peers.  I would learn my P&G job during my normal work hours and then learn the entrepreneurial skillsets in the nights and weekends with Sloane.  I believe the biggest differentiator with people in this age of rapid disruption is learning.  Are you learning/growing/testing or are you remaining stagnant?  You will get sprinted by if you aren't broadening your understanding and skills. 

I'll talk more about this in future blogs.  I want to get very specific in the skillsets that I've learned on Sloane and been able to apply.  These skillsets just can't be taught in a course.  The principles can, but living them cannot.  I think school is helpful in teaching fundamentals, but gives students too much confidence in their skills because nothing plays out in the real world. 

The real world is where pain is inflicted for bad decisions.  And many decisions you make as an entrepreneur that might lead to poor results actually weren't bad decisions!  Timing might have been off.  COVID could hit at the worst possible time.  A vendor screws up something.  How is the person going to bounce back?  That is what true entrepreneurship is about.  It's about living it.....not theory. 

Sloane has given me so much that has allowed me to be very innovative at P&G.  I have been able to overcome challenges that other people have not strictly because I have a skillset that others have not been able to develop.  Sloane has actually brought me more benefit at P&G than it has anywhere else. 

I still drive the same 25 year old car, so Sloane hasn't given me the riches I first thought I would have.  I think the experience I've been given by working on Sloane is way more valuable than a new car though!

More to come on this topic.  It is a deep one and one that I think a lot of people could learn from.    

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