Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Repeat Business and Human Nature

How do you keep customers coming back?  For some fortunate companies that produce essential products, provide necessary services, or have long-term institutional clients, this may not be such a front-of-mind issue.  But for the rest, how do you build customer loyalty?

One company, with which I have recent personal experience, has seemingly mastered the art of capturing repeat business.  StitchFix, a five-year-old fashion startup, is a subscription service that, for a $20 styling fee, sends each customer a box of five hand-picked, curated clothing or accessory items based on the customer’s answers to a detailed style profile. If you keep all five items, you get a 25% discount on the entire “Fix” (as StitchFix refers to each box), and if you even just keep one, your $20 styling fee is credited towards that purchase.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Minimizing the ‘sting’: a minor hit-and-run and newfound appreciation for insurance

You already know where this blog post is going. Just after the New Year, I had the misfortune of being involved in a minor hit and run. By “minor” I mean there was only some damage to my car; no one was injured. 

To set the scene: It was a bright and sunny—though chilly—Minnesota winter day, and my brother and I were at one of Minnesota’s largest malls. The mall was busy, the parking ramp was stop-and-go, and at least one driver lacked the requisite alertness (and integrity) of a responsible driver. Said irresponsible driver collided with the back of my car and peeled out of the ramp, escaping into the sea of vehicles. Afterward, among the many thoughts that went through my mind (I will skip the choice words I had for the “hit-and-runner”), I had two main questions:

  1. Did someone really just hit me and drive off? I mean, was I really just in a hit-and-run? The answer was a resounding yes. And the worst part of it was this: Not only was it clear to the hit-and-runner that they hit me, but they could clearly see the damage that they caused—my back hatch and bumper guard had to be replaced.

  2. How does insurance work? I had never been in a car accident, and so while I have always had insurance, I had never had the privilege of actually going through the claims process. 
In the end, the hit-and-runner was never caught. (I strongly urge malls to invest in better security cameras!) I paid my deductible, and my car was fixed. 

Though I have never been one to complain about paying my insurance premiums, being involved in a hit-and-run has converted me into an insurance advocate. Though I would have preferred that the careless driver who ran into me had paid for the damage to my car, I did not lose sleep over paying my deductible. However, had I not had insurance and had to pay full price for damages that were caused by an irresponsible driver who hit me and then fled the scene, the “sting” (both financial and emotional) would have lasted for a long time.  

For a small business without insurance, the financial “sting” arising from an accident could be much worse—it could bankrupt and shut down the company for good. Every entrepreneur’s checklist thus should include procuring insurance. The types of insurance recommended for businesses range far and wide—general and professional liability, property, commercial, automobile, data-breach, etc.—and so a prudent business owner should meet with her insurance agent to discuss what types of policies are recommended for her type of business and how the necessary policies can be bundled to be cost-effective. 

The bottom line: Do yourself (and others!) a favor. Minimize the “sting.” Carry adequate insurance!  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Alexander Hamilton: Founding Father and Entrepreneur?

Even for casual followers of the Great White Way, “Hamilton,” the new musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a phenomenon.  You don’t even need to be an admitted musical junkie like this author (500+ unique musicals, and counting) to know that getting a ticket to see “Hamilton” may be harder than getting a ticket to see the Panthers and the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 (don’t ask me why the NFL decided they didn’t want to just call it “Super Bowl L” and abandoned Roman numerals this year)!

“Hamilton” reportedly had more than $30 million in advance grosses before it even opened last summer and had claimed more than $57 million in advance by early November, a record for Broadway. Not bad for a show rooted in a biography of Alexander Hamilton told through the language of rap (yes, you read that right). Guess I should lay down the gauntlet for my fellow entreVIEW author and our resident book critic, Dave Morehouse, to tell us what he thinks of it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is that the Same Band I Knew and Loved?

The film Straight Outta Compton opens with a screen shot of Galaxy, a vinyl album by the ‘70s funk band War. Thus is the stage set for this story of the new generation of hip hop and gangsta rap artists and the success of N.W.A. as chronicled in this hard-hitting successful film.

Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg were just learning to walk the streets of Compton when the music of War—a band also formed in southern California and popular in Compton, whose members included Howard Scott, BB Dickerson, Harold Brown, Lonnie Jordan, Charles Miller, Papa Dee Allen, and Lee Oskar—saturated popular radio playlists with hits like “Low Rider,” “Slipping Into Darkness,” “Cisco Kid,” “Spill the Wine,” “The World is a Ghetto,” “All Day Music,“ and “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” These classic hits served as an early influence for the seminal rhymers and rappers who would become known as N.W.A.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Importance of Name and Brand

One of the most important early decisions of a small or emerging business is what to call itself. For startups, however, branding can take a backseat to other considerations, such as product development and funding. That is a mistake.

A name and brand is a company’s face to the world. It is how others will perceive the business and hopefully create long-lasting associations and goodwill. Your name can become your most valuable asset.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Widow Clicquot and the Business of Bubbly

The pop of a cork evokes celebrations, the Jazz Age, weddings, and New Year’s Eve kisses.  A few years ago, I traveled to Champagne, France, with my mother and sister in search of the birthplace of the alluring bubbly. As Francophiles and budding oenophiles, we were in heaven. 

After touring prestigious Champagne houses, small family-run Champagne production facilities, charming villages, and picturesque vineyards, my passion for Champagne has grown, from both a gustatory and a scholarly perspective.  Along the latter lines, I recently read Tilar J. Mazzeo’s The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It (Harper Collins, 2008), an intoxicating biography of the entrepreneurial Grande Dame and the origins of the business of Champagne.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Mozart’s Brain and Unleashing Your Gray Matter’s Potential

Whatever your faith or ethnicity (or lack thereof), your special late-in-the-year holiday—whether Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Kwanzaa, or even Festivus—has now come and gone. A new year beckons with new opportunities!

Some say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. However, I’ve often equated the New Year with the chance to learn something new. Let’s be clear: I am no spring chicken. But, the prospect of a new year, untarnished by frustration, disappointment or any other vicissitude to which we humans are all too prone, still holds the promise of encountering something new and interesting.

Turns out this is a very healthy trait. Dr. Richard Restak, in Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot: Unleashing Your Brain’s Potential (Harmony Books, 2001), tells us that, contrary to the lesson drawn from the old adage, a person’s capacity for new learning “remains and may increase as you grow older,” and that “the brain is not a static structure, but exhibits a remarkable plasticity over time according to the richness of a person’s experience.” The more you learn, the more you want to learn, and the easier it is to learn, regardless of age.

All of which makes me think about some serial entrepreneurs I’ve known—the ones who have started business after business, sometimes in different industries, often with repeated success. Chances are they aren’t doing it for the money (or only for the money). It’s the challenge of building something new—and the joy of new learning that is part of the building process.