29 Jul

Letting your customers lead

The internal hallways of the Illinois Institute of Technology – McCormick Tribune Campus Center are designed around the natural flow of foot traffic by the students.  Before the building existed, Rem Koolhaas and his team observed the students as they crossed through an open field between the dorms and their classrooms.  The resultant layout and hallway sizes were based around how traffic naturally flowed.  Rem designed around the natural movements of his customers, the students.

This idea is very similar to a concept called  A/B testing in which two or more product ideas are presented and the product(s) that are the most popular go to market.  In discussing his bestselling book “The Four Hour Workweek”, author Tim Ferriss mentions that the title was not his first choice, but it tested out extremely well with readers so he went with it.  Steve Jobs was famously known for ignoring the requests of his fan base and focusing more on their past behaviors.  He believed the key was to observe their actions and not their words.

What products do you have that are looked at the most but purchased the least?  Are there things your customers do that conflict with what they say they do?  Instead of asking what a customer might want different, ask specifically what they would buy and how much they would pay.  Another common method with online entrepreneurs is to stage fake product listings at different selling points and then seeing how many people follow through to the sale page.

29 Jul

The Entrepreneur In the Arena

Best selling author Brene Brown often mentions this quote in her talks.  In a way, she wrote a book about it.  Besides being inspirational, it’s excellent marketing advice as well.  We often fail to realize in the endless pursuit of perfecting our product-company-image, that the real beauty is not in the perfection.  The real beauty of our entrepreneurial ventures is in the flaws.  Market the real story, flaws and all.  Keep it honest and authentic because “there is no effort without error and shortcoming“.

“It is not the critic who counts;  not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;  who strives valiantly;  who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds;  who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;  who spends herself in a worthy cause;  who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

— Teddy Roosevelt

29 Jul

Done is the engine of more

Several years back, Bre Pettis and Kio Stark came up with something called the Done Manifesto.  It lays out 13 rules for a ‘more doing, less planning’ mindset.  We often use planning as means of procrastination.  If only I had my bullet points would line up correctly then I could get this list done and finally start working.  If only.

The 13th and most important declaration contains 5 powerful words, done is the engine of more.  You might also hear this stated differently “what 1 thing can you do now that will get you started towards your goal”.  The idea is that getting a little done creates a snowball effect.

In creative pursuits, we have a tendency to perfect.  Yes, the planning can be a problem.  But frequently, creatives come up with brilliant work.  Doing, doing, doing, doing.  But never done, it’s never good enough to call done.  Why?  My best guess is vulnerability  When you call it done, then your perfect glass house is open for rock throwing season.

I don’t have a perfect solution for this crisis.  But I do have a suggestion that I’ve seen work over and over.  Embrace it.  The key to good marketing is telling your story and the best stories have heroes with serious flaws who somehow find a way to get it done in spite of those flaws.  The beauty of their work is when you see past the flaws.  Yes, it’s not a perfect solution  My writing is sometimes patronizing and my grammar sucks.  If I didn’t use

It’s not a perfect solution but I’m hitting publish anyway.  My writing is sometimes patronizing and my grammar may suck but I have some really great ideas.  But If I didn’t use grammarly you would have swore I was a 5th grader.  But I’m calling it done.  Pushing Publish.  This is my story and if you don’t like it then leave.

The Cult of Done Manifesto can be found here.

Addition works by Bre Pettis can also be found here.

29 Jul

Destruction, Disruption. 3D Printing and the retail supply chain

Before I dive into my thoughts on how 3D printing will alter the landscape of retail as we know it, let’s examine the difference between 2 commonly used words.  Destroy and disrupt.  Because sometimes technology disrupts, and sometimes it destroys.  And since 3D will be more destructive then it will be disruptive, our lexicons should be on the same page.

  • Destroy.  Verb. To put an end to the existence of something by damaging or attacking it.
  • Disrupt. Verb. interrupt by causing a disturbance or problem.

It is a foregone conclusion at this point that online shopping companies like Amazon have been majorly disruptive.  The value of Amazon Inc has increased 2000% in the last 10 years.  It is bigger than Walmart,  Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Kohls, Penney, Sears combined.  Amazon has dominated them and forced all of them to adapt to the new market.  However, all of those companies are still operating.  These companies will probably continue to operate if they adapt to the market place.

3D Printing has the ability to destroy the supply chain as we know it.  Here are a few reasons why I think 3D Printing will be the final nail in the coffin and usher in a post modern world:

  • It will be the first major technology to have widespread adoption occurring after we have powerful and function AI systems.  Thus far we have been designing AI around technologies.  3D printing is getting designed by engineers who know the power of AI and Machine Learning.
  • 3D Printing will compress the supply chain.  Online shopping has only created a shift in buying behavior in which only the retail store got cut out of the buying loop.  3D printing will change how everything is made, where it’s made, where it’s stored and how or if we even buy it.  Often, it will go
    • FROM THIS:   Raw Material -> Manufacturing -> Distribution -> Physical / Online Retail -> (YOU)
    • TO THIS:  Raw Material -> (YOU)

Amazon and other online retailers have spent billions of dollars in perfecting a supply chain that rely on them being the middle man between manufacturing and consumers.  What happens to this model when the consumer becomes the manufacturer?


28 Jul

Selfie Spots as an Amusement Park Attraction

Your Business Model should adapt to your customer’s actions and preferences.  Not the other way around.  If a customer’s actions don’t line up with your Business Model, the solution isn’t to stop them or to put up a sign saying ‘DONT DO THIS’.  Follow their lead.
A good example of this was when I recently spent the day at Disney California Adventure, a sub-attraction of Disneyland.  I couldn’t help but notice how certain areas of the park were very popular for taking selfies.  Often near the entrance or a popular attraction.  I also noticed that Disney, which capitalizes on every opportunity to market the Disney brand, seemed to ignore this fact.   I came up with a few ideas for implementing this:
  • Having a map for all the good selfie-spots and making sure they are out of the way of foot traffic.
  • Ensuring these selfie-spots are well taken care of, and incorporate depth of field, lighting, composition, and minimize photo bombing.
  • QR codes at each spot for check ins and linked with augmented reality zones
  • Social media staff assigned to interact or message guests that check in at the spots and post a selfie.
  • Themed contests, prizes, Easter eggs for guests that go above and beyond the normal selfie.
26 Jul

Brian Toro – Technophile, Enterprise Architect, Micro Investor, Writer

Brian Toro is an Enterprise Architect and Technology Manager for a US Based Minerals and Aggregates Manufacturer.  In addition to his full-time work in the Technology sector, he is an MBA student at the University of Illinois iMBA studying how technology and culture will reshape how and where we work.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Enterprise Architecture, Business Consulting, Investing, Writing- this is all a service I perform, this is the product that I wanted to offer.  And so I wanted my business to be a natural extension of all of these service-related areas that include skills, interests, passions.  In 2016 I decided to take a step back from pursuing business ownership to stay more intimately involved in the technology sector and to focus on getting my MBA.  This has been an excellent experience and has provided me with the opportunity to study from and learn with some amazing people.  It was a case of taking a small step backward so I could take a huge leap forward.

What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I’ve had a long-held belief that you should always view the work you are doing from the standpoint of being self-employed.  It’s a very empowering concept.  So naturally, my business ventures and investments have been a natural offshoot of this.

What challenges did you face in making the transition to self-employment?

I’ve never been in a situation where I was fully self-employed and so I have never faced that transitory period.  A few years ago I went down the path of co-ownership with a Technical Services company.  When it became obvious that the opportunity was not going to work out I pivoted and decided to pursue an MBA at the University of Illinois.  Currently, my consulting, investing, and writing is all part of projects within my MBA program.  My primary work and income are working in Enterprise Architecture.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

My days are often fairly unstructured and much of it depends on what my schedule looks like.  I’m a huge fan of “Deep Work“, the concept of doing highly focused, uninterrupted work on a single project for several hours in a row.  And so I try to visualize my day and group my tasks in such a manner that I can stay very focused.  If I can get 1 or 2 of these Deep Work blocks in a day I’m usually very productive.  Aside from that I also aim to have as few ‘loose ends’ – unanswered emails, incomplete tasks, etc. per day.

What is one major obstacle or failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

There are 2 major ones that come to mind.  The first was a series of investments in small companies and emerging technologies that flopped.  In hindsight, the investments were a result of allowing different biases to influence my decision-making process and so I’m much more cautious with my investing and the different biases at play.  The main thing was that I reflected on what I did right and did wrong, didn’t overreact, and ultimately was able to make up for the financial losses within a relatively short period of time.

The second was when I was pursuing co-ownership of a company that I had partnered with on different projects.  The mistake I made was to become overly invested in the outcomes and not the processes.  Despite it being a huge emotional setback, I was able to quickly recover.  The big learning experience, in that case, was that you have to love the process and not the outcome.  Also the importance of boundary setting in your professional life and the impact it can have on your family life.

What major changes/trends do you see in your industry in the next 5 years?

By far the biggest trend is going to be the impact of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in the job market.  We are on the cusp (2-3 years) of having technologies that could put millions of people out of work.  A few simple examples that come to mind would be self-driving vehicles, real estate, investing, and retail.  It’s not going to happen overnight, but what will happen is daily news of major companies letting go of several thousand employees similar to the impact industrial automation had in factories.  I don’t think the net result will not be mass unemployment, but it will have a major impact on the individuals that have invested their lives in those fields and will now have to start over.

What advice would you give to someone that is looking to start a business either in general or in your craft?

Think of technology work with a craftsman mindset.  Find something you like doing and keep getting better at it every day through intentional practice, studying and experience.  Reading a book doesn’t push your boundaries, but reading a book that attempting something new does.  Also, getting jobs/projects is more about having a portfolio that showcases your skills and talent and less about your degree or GPA.  As with anything intentionally building a strong network is THE most important skill you can have.

What is the best small value investment (~$100) that you have made and has provided the most return?

Amazon Prime comes to mind because it has really simplified the decision-making process for the large majority of my purchases.  If I need to buy something then I go to Amazon.  I immediately have a good idea of the quality of the product and any specific details.  2 days later it arrives at my door.  I like purchases that provide a lot of value and simplify my life.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive at work?

By far the single most productive habit I have is my decision-making process.  I see so many people ‘freeze up’ with both big and small decisions.  For most things, I don’t have a fear of failure and so I just quickly analyze the worst case scenarios and go from there.  In most cases, the worst case scenario is very easily reversible – and so I look for that.  If I want to go with “X”, and “X” is easily reversible if I’m wrong, then the decision is made and I move on.  “Success is never final and failure is never fatal” – John Wooden.