In the first Star Wars film, released in 1977, the seemingly humble Ben Kenobi is confronted by a squad of Imperial Storm Troopers. With a slight hand gesture and a confident stare, he convinces the Storm Troopers that there is no reason to search his vehicle and to leave his droids unmolested. The audience later learns that “Ben” is actually Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi and the persuasion technique he deployed is called the “Force.” Unfortunately, non-fictional entrepreneurs cannot draw upon the Force. However, there are Jedi mind tricks that really do work - words, techniques and patterns of behavior that cause people to act in a highly predictable manner. Just like the Storm Troopers, victims of these mind tricks are usually unaware of the degree to which they have been manipulated.
In 1987, a representative of Michael Jackson approached the modest Sycamore Valley ranch house and knocked on the door. The owner of the ranch was shocked by the visitor’s message. He told the homeowner that he represented someone who wanted to purchase the ranch at a substantial premium over its current fair market value. He also indicated that the offer was non-negotiable and the home owner had to respond either “Yes” or “No” in a matter of hours. Although this is a somewhat unusual real estate transaction, it reflects a surprisingly common scenario in the world of mergers and acquisitions, with one important distinction.
In 1933, baseball card collectors were frustrated. For some reason, they found it impossible to complete their Goudy Gum 240-card set. No matter how many packages of cards they purchased, they failed to find card number #106, which featured Napoleon Lajoie. Enterprising collectors who wrote Goudy and voiced their frustrations were rewarded by receiving the Lajoie card in the mail. All other collectors were out of luck. What was behind the mystery of the missing Lajoie card?
The man at left built the first personal computer. He also spearheaded a number of fundamental software breakthroughs, including creating the basic hardware / software architecture which resulted in the creation of the third-party personal computer (PC) software industry. If this gentleman was such a pivotal player in the early days of the PC revolution, why is he essentially unknown to most entrepreneurs under forty years old? The short answer is that he failed to conform to his Stakeholders’ realities. Few mistakes would have such wide-ranging implications in the business world over the next two decades.
During the late 1800’s, American author Horatio Alger wrote 129 novels, most of which recount the deeds of impoverished young people who overcome their modest means to establish independent lives as self-sufficient, middle class citizens. Years after Alger created this new genre, it was derisively (and incorrectly) termed “rags to riches.” A common critique is that Mr. Alger’s heroes succeeded by conveying a simplistic formula comprised of honesty, cheerfulness, virtue, thrift, and hard work. Dismissing Mr. Alger’s works as juvenile rags to riches novels misses the author’s primary point and the reason why the books had such a tremendous impact on several generations of American entrepreneurs.
“I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half.” John Wanamaker If Mr. Wanamaker had access to the Internet, his oft-repeated quote, would have never been uttered. In the “good old days”, pre- 1999, advertising dollars were largely gambled away. As noted in Pour and Stir Part I, the key to the successful execution of this strategy is managing the following equation: The cost to acquire a customer < lifetime value of a customer This entry focuses on how you can minimize your cost per customer acquired by systematically establishing the infrastructure necessary to track the results obtained from a variety of online and offline marketing vehicles.
Note: This is Part I in a three-part series on The Perfect Business Model. Click here for Part II, and Part III Authentic, hand-crafted Persian rugs always include intentional imperfections. They are said to be, “Perfectly Imperfect, and Precisely Imprecise.” The same is true with many crafts and architecture created in Muslim cultures. I am not a Muslim scholar, but a layman’s interpretation of this tradition of intentional errors is that it arises from the belief that attempting to emulate God’s perfection is sinful. Fortunately, entrepreneurs need not fear running afoul of this sin when crafting their business plans, because all of them are inherently imperfect and imprecise.
What do Warren Buffet, Martin Luther King, John Wayne, Walt Disney, Harry Truman and Wayne Gretzky all have in common? In addition to all of them reaching the pinnacle of their chosen professions, they also all started their careers performing the same job. All of these extremely successful individuals were paperboys*. At its peak circulation in 1969, the weekly newspaper Grit had a circulation in excess of 1.5 million. Each paper was delivered by a child and all of the money was likewise collected by children and sent to Grit’s main office by snail mail. Despite its inherent inefficiencies, Grit was able to sustain a profitable business reliant largely on youthful labor for over 80-years. Surely a savvy, modern-day entrepreneur can utilize online tools to leverage young peoples’ collective energy and fervor.
This is part III of a three part series. Click here for Part I and Part II John Fitch was first. He spent the majority of his adult life fruitlessly attempting to capitalize on the novelty and uniqueness of his invention. Unable to raise funds from wealthy individuals, he solicited $300 from a hodgepodge of small businessmen, including tavern owners, grocers and physicians. In a matter of months, he developed technology that was superior to that created by the world’s leading scientist over the prior 15-years, despite his lack of a formal education. He debuted his technology in Philadelphia at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It exceeded his expectations and thrilled those who witnessed it, including a number of prominent Founding Fathers. However, he was still unable to secure adequate funding to commercialize his technology. Fitch spent the next three years traveling the country repairing clocks as a means of surviving, all the while saving money for the eventual launch his venture. In 1790, he began offering a service that eventually transformed world commerce and generated trillions of dollars of wealth. Unfortunately for Fitch, his adVenture folded 18-months after it began. In 1798, at the age of 55, a frustrated, destitute Fitch scrimped together enough money to purchase a handful of opium pills, which he used to end his life. His suicide note was prophetic: “The day will come when some more powerful man will get fame and riches from my invention, but no one will believe that poor John Fitch can do anything worthy of attention.”
In his premier film appearance in the blaxploitation send-up “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” Chris Rock inadvertently illustrates a key pricing issue faced by most entrepreneurs when they initially launch a new product or service. Watch this 93-second clip and see if you can identify the pricing pitfall addressed in this humorous clip. Caution: the clip contains a bit of profanity. It is Chris Rock, after all.