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Investment Requests

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At our last bi-weekly partner meeting, Jerome, co-founder/CEO of SnapEngage, mentioned that several investors had emailed him to see if he’d be interested in talking. When I asked how he responded, his reply was beautiful…

“Thanks you for your message. SnapEngage is completely customer funded and we are not looking for additional investment. In order to focus on our main investors (our customers), I’ve decided to not take calls from investment companies.”
I’ve watched myself and too many entrepreneurs waste a lot of time and energy talking to potential investors and/or acquirers. It’s usually curiosity and ego driven to be able to put a price on what we own. It also tends to be a huge distraction to serving our most important investors – our customers. I wish I had this good of a response (and realization) twenty years ago! Thanks Jerome.


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In the past couple months I’ve participated in three intensive, mind-blowing workshops/gatherings. All three helped me grow and expand my view of what’s possible in my businesses and personal life.

The first was a 4-day Lifebook workshop I did with my amazingly-supportive wife, Chelsea. Where we went through 12 categories of our lives and created visions for what the next level of growth looked like. While 4 days seems like a long time to lock ourselves in a room with 10 other couples, we found some real nuggets for growth in our lives.
Then came another two days with the genius-founder of Zingerman’s (see last March’s trip description here). I went with my partners from StickerGiant & SurveyGizmo, and manager from PosterBrain. We pealed back the layers of our businesses and created new enhanced visions for our companies and teams that gave us all a TON of new energy and excitement for growth. That gave our teams a whole new energy as well.
Then I spent three days at the Conscious Capitalism Summit (see last year’s notes) with incredibly conscious leaders/founders of some GREAT companies like Whole Foods, Panera Bread, Starbucks, Dansk shoes, Southwest Airlines, Nordstroms, and more. They each spoke of the visions/consciousness by which they have built and are building their companies. When I asked John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods, what is the bottleneck for more companies to grow in a more holistic way, his answer was simply “the consciousness of the leader”. Each time a leader expands their consciousness, or more simply grows, the company will naturally follow.
All three of these gatherings were great reminders of:
1. The joy I get out of engaging in things that help me grow and expand my view of what’s possible.
2. The HUGE benefits to me, my family, and my businesses from growing
3. The desire to find more opportunities for growth
4. The incredibly HUGE power of VISIONING (or expanding my view of what’s possible)
I have always gravitated towards a handful of “growth” trips each year. A lot of times as the trips get closer, I don’t feel like going. But I’m always glad I did because I attribute a lot of my success and happiness to those opportunity to expand my view on things.
Other trips I do/have done…
Annual trip to Berkshire Hathaway to hear Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger talk for 4 hours
Annual trip to Endicott House in Boston where 50 entrepreneurs gather to engage with top-of-their-fields people for 4 days (a more intimate version of TED)
Field trips to see the inner workings of different businesses (Zappos)
Personal growth workshops (Tony Robbins, DreamWork, Mankind Project)
Please share if you have growth experiences that have expanded your views on life and business that you’d recommend.

Own it

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I’ve had a couple experiences as a consumer this summer that have made me want to scream. Things go wrong all the time. Thats ok. It’s when an organization doesn’t own it and communicate quickly about it that erodes trust and desire to do business with them.

I also believe OWNing IT is a MAJOR trust builder and the more we do it, in a timely and personalized way, the more people will LOVE to do business with us.
One of the most basic tactics I have used in my businesses is to automatically send a follow-up email immediately after their first use… so we could own any problems that may have come up. For example, at PosterBrain we send this email the day after someone receives their order…
“subject: How’s your poster order?
Hi Jim,
Did your poster order get to you ok? What did you think of the quality (and your experience with us)?
On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend PosterBrain to a friend or colleague? Can’t wait to hear.”
90% of replies are a “GREAT!”
10% of replies are about things that went wrong that we then have the opportunity to WOW them with our customer service.
If we didn’t ask directly, most people won’t give unsolicited negative feedback. Then we would lose a customer without even knowing it.
At RegOnline we periodically had glitches in our system. We would move as quickly as possible to email those that were affected, be specific about what happened, and explain how we were solving the problem so it wouldn’t inconvenience the customer again. I was always amazed by how many people would reply back and say that’s why they loved doing business with us, because we were quick to own and communicate our problems.
Are we asking for enough direct timely feedback? Are we owning the problems before our customers need to mention them?

Little Bets

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A friend recently gave me this great book… Little Bets. The basic theme is about how the most successful folks around also ITERATE the most. They try lots of little new things and then amplify what resonates for their audience/customers. One great example is how the comedian, Chris Rock, shows up at a small comedy bar in New Jersey to test out new content. Most of what he does flops there, but he makes note of the ones that get the laughs and keeps iterating until he gets the best content for his HBO specials and tours.
I’m a big fan of iterating in every business I’m involved with. Here are a couple examples of how we’ve iterated recently and discovered things that resonate:
1. PosterBrain adding Wurther’s candy to every order – customers now regularly email us about how much they love the little surprise inside.
2. StickerGiant sending follow-up emails to every customer to see how their stickers turned out – we now get both rave reviews and know right away of any issues
3. PaySimple simplifying their online application to take half the time to complete – drastically improving conversion rates
4. SurveyGizmo promoting “Enterprise Survey Software” on the homepage – increased conversion rates of our core business
Sounds easy, right? Well, for every success there’s probably 10 things we try that fall totally flat and one that actually has a negative impact. The key is to test without shame and as nimbly as possible. My mantra has always been “how quickly can we test this?”
I find that it’s real easy to over-engineer projects and as a result they can take way too long to see the light of day. An example of an idea that I was involved with at RegOnline four years ago, has finally launched with tremendous impact… a one-page homepage (no navigation bar) has seen a 90% lift in conversion! What was our opportunity cost of not having tested this four years ago?
How many little bets can we make this week to see what happens?

Lessons from Trader Joe’s

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I had the opportunity to spend some time with the former president, Doug Rauch, who helped build Trader Joe’s over the past 30 years.

A little background on Trader Joe’s first. They started as a private label wine seller because of a little loophole in California wine retailer laws that enabled them to resell good wine for really cheap prices. 70% of their revenue was wine. Then Doug came in to apply a similar private-label concept to food products. Then they created a great customer service model. And then they had the discipline to stick to their great formula… and voila, 30 years later they are one of the most admired grocers and companies in the country.
Ok, so what was so unique about Trader Joe’s? And why did it work in the face of big-box-stores-are-better and branded-products-are-king? One word – they made grocery shopping fun and easy. When most stores carry 40 types of peanut butter, TJ sells 10. 4,000 products vs. 50,000 products. 80% private label (lower prices). Less selection makes it easier. And then they have fun with the limited selection they have (example).
What else?…
+ Change 1/4 of the selection each year creates surprise and discovery (difficult to do when thousands of shoppers complain about their favorite products being discontinued)
+ Put managers in front of the store (instead of in back office) to create greater team leadership/engagement.
+ Have all employees do a little of everything (register, stocking, cleaning, etc) to create a more consistent experience overall. This is a theme I recognize in other great companies like Southwest Airlines.
+ Create fun, caring culture for employees (and they’ll do the same for customers)
What I love about TJ’s is that there’s nothing “me-too” about them. They took a unique approach in the face of what everyone else was doing. And people love them for it because it’s refreshing and fun.
4-minute video interview with Doug Rauch – love “a store of stories… that was the fun” and “context that transcends the content” and “a customer experience company that happens to sell food”
Good article in Fortune
Great interview in LA Times with Joe
I made two killer recipes out of a wonderful wonderful Trader Joe’s cookbook for Mother’s Day. This cookbook isn’t by Trader Joe’s, it’s by a customer who loves TJ’s so much she made a cookbook based off all the great quirky things you can buy there.
Hilarious video another customer made with his phone.
What can we do with our organizations that’ll inspire raving fans?

How to beat the competition

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Yesterday I had lunch with a really great local publisher who was debating on whether to try to match what their much-larger competitors were paying in upfront advances to their authors. And in order to do so they would need to “leverage” their financial resources which would affect the business in many ways.

I asked what they uniquely bring to authors that was as important to them as the upfront advances. Which then brought out a whole list of cool things like flexibility on licensing, exposure to a unique customer list, a more holistic publishing philosophy, and more.

So why do we copy when we can be uniquely better for the customer in so many other ways? Over the years I’ve had many discussions with entrepreneurs in completely different industries that go something like this:

“My competitor is doing this.”
“We should do that too.”

“My competitor TOTALLY copied us on this”
“Those *#!*#! We should send them a legal nasty-gram.”

The reality is that customers are typically attracted to us by what we UNIQUELY do well for them. Unfortunately, what I see happening in MOST industries is this copy-cat mentality that forgets to focus on what the CUSTOMERS really want.

Why do we all copy so much then? I believe it is a human instinct that we assume that everyone else has done their homework and must know what’s working best. Why waste the energy and do the hard work on being unique when we can just copy others.

The ironic part is that I believe most of us deep-down want unique authentic experiences and love to be inspired by companies that can provide that.

So I say let’s stop looking at what the competition is doing and have MORE fun discovering what customers uniquely want that they are not getting right now from others. It’s more challenging, more fun, and makes the world a much more exciting place.

Be Your Own Wizard

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I remember being an impatient (and sometimes scared) entrepreneur who thought if I could just find the magic bullet, everything would accelerate and all my dreams would come true.

At first it was, if a VC would get behind my idea, then all the magic doors will open. Then it was, if I can just hire a superstar sales guy, the whole business will turn. And then I spent a lot of time talking to people who could be my COO and magically bring unfound gold out of our team. And then ultimately when none of those seemed to bear fruit, I focused on selling the company. If I could just hand this thing off, THEN it won’t fail and I can walk away with some real cash in my pocket.

At the core of ALL of it was a fear that I didn’t have what the company needed to succed. I wanted to believe that their was a “Wizard” (in the land of Oz) that could make it all magically happen. When really, what I’ve discovered over time is that the real Wizard is inside me. When I focus ALL of my energy into believing that I can do it on my own, THEN I come into my power and discover all kinds of things start to magically come together for me and my businesses.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately with entrepreneurs who forget that all the magic is already inside them (courage, heart, and mind). And they just need to focus that enegry, rather than give it away to people who like to make you think have the power, but just end up sucking your power away from you.

I received this email yesterday from a great entrepreneur, which reminded me of all this…
“Just wanted to shoot you a quick email to thank you for your help last year. Each time we met, you really drilled down into how we could quickly become profitable. I really appreciate the insight you provided on how important profitability is. Because we didn’t raise money, we ended up becoming profitable out of necessity.

Things are going much better now! We’ve partnered with over 100 partners, surpassed the million dollar mark in revenue, and are growing steadily & profitably.

Thanks so much for drilling that into my head!”

Be your own Wizard.

Hiring Made Easy

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A couple people have asked about my strategies for hiring. My goal over the years has been to attract great people who REALLY want to work at RegOnline and fit in well with our exisiting team. I believe the best way to do that is to share what makes the company great and then have a challenging interview process. So I developed the following process:

1. Write Craig’s List ads that standout and are personable – Support SuperStar: looking for people to knock the socks off our clients everyday.

2. Take them to an interesting/personable landing page that tells them WHY they would want to work there (I copied some of the content below because this page is going to change because of the acquisition)

3. Show the company’s personality with a video, letter from the CEO, and even a company cookbook because it gets people excited when they get a FEEL for the work environment before applying

4. Make your application an online survey where you can ask some telling questions and have them copy and paste their resume. This is a great pre-screening tool and makes it much easier to track applicants. Plug: get your online surveys from (a GREAT company I’m an investor in).

5. Make your applicants earn their way into a job by having a challenging interview process. When they do get the job they will feel a lot prouder about having made it. I like to give them a couple assignments*, a couple phone interviews, a couple in-person interviews, and then in-depth reference checking. Describe this process to them upfront. Sometimes the more challenging/exclusive something appears, the more people want it. Plus, you get to see more of the person and the fit prior to hiring.

*What I like about giving assignments is it puts the work on the applicant AND tells a lot about the applicants. Once created, they are real easy to hand out. For example, for our support team we give an assignment to respond to an email for a request for help with a specific feature. What we can look for in the response is: were they resourceful in finding the answer in our online help, did they start the email reply with compassion for the clients frustration, were they articulate and accurate with the answer, did they close in a warm friendly way, and did they go above and beyond in some way. It’s a lot easier to hire for compassion, resourcefulness, articulateness, and friendliness then it is to teach someone to be that way.

Seven Reasons to Work at RegOnline

  1. Fast Growing – 50% growth per year means more career growth opportunities for you.
  2. Established – 10 years in business, debt-free, and profitable means a stable workplace for you.
  3. Great People – 45 fun, smart, happy, and hardworking co-workers means you love the people you work with.
  4. Da Schizzle – company trips to Mexico, catered Friday lunches, monthly fun activities (wine tastings, happy hour, bowling, Rockies games), and more! Oh yeah, and other mundane benefits: Medical and Dental insurance, Paid Time Off (of course), Retirement Savings Plan, Discounted Health Club Membership
  5. Based in beautiful Boulder, Colorado at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
  6. The industry leader in providing online event registration for over 25,000 events worldwide (conferences, meetings, seminars, & tradeshows).
  7. 15,000 Users Love RegOnline (and the people who work here) because it cuts their workload in half.

Bonus Reason: Because we are a small company, everyone’s ideas are important to making RegOnline even better. Here’s the catch. Our interview process is tough. We have a commitment to our team to bring on only the best-of-the-best to sit next to them. A typical interview process includes: two phone interviews, three in-person interviews, two assignments, and thorough reference and background checks… and it all starts with this application survey. Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY! (Please refer to #’s 1-7 above)

Letter from the CEO Cooking with Regonline