Our Yearning For Immediate Gratification

Sunny days wouldn’t be special, if it wasn’t for rain
Joy wouldn’t feel so good, if it wasn’t for pain

– 50 Cent (Many Men)

When I was a little kid I’d go with my dad to his office. He ran a sales team that did a lot of direct mailing and I got to stuff envelopes for awesome prizes – like a can of Mountain Dew from the cafeteria. Seeing the stack of sales material and envelopes turn into a box of ready-to-send mail was so rewarding. It was easy to measure my success and fun to try to get more done in the same amount of time.

As I got older, the lead time between work and gratification got longer and longer. Now, the delay is so severe that sometimes it’s hard to tell which work led to which gratification. That’s a serious issue if the gratification is what’s driving your decision making.

A few of my friends have told me they have similar feelings – and a bit of yearning for activities that have immediate gratification. Maybe that’s why many of us fill our social time with easily measurable activities with clear gratification. You set out to climb a mountain in the morning and you are fist pumping at the summit in the afternoon. You set out to run a race and you crossed the finish line to the cheers of your friends and family. You set out to cook a meal and your friends are licking their plates at the end since it’s so good.

A few weeks ago I noticed that I got enjoyment from watching my own flossing progress each night. What!? I set out to write a blog post about why this simple act would bring me joy, and look, it’s all written up. Hopefully you’ll enjoy and share it and give me some of that gratification that I crave.

Advertisements
Our Yearning For Immediate Gratification

Taking Back Problem Solving

Let’s take a trip down memory lane
With the game talker, native new yorker
Gators on my feet, formerly british walker
Yes love, that’s how it was before
When you was funky fresh or down by law
Parlay with your crew at the corner store
Carrying a boom box ’til your arms were sore
We be wildin’ on the corner free stylin’
Or politickin’ ’bout doe we see piling

– Big Daddy Kane (2 Da Good Tymz)

I’m super excited about the 10-10-10 initiative that Tom Higley is planning for this Fall in Denver. The premise is that 10 entrepreneurs will spend 10 days in Denver working on 10 “market opportunities”. In other words they’ll be trying to solve big problems.  Opening up a diverse set of market opportunities to leading entrepreneur’s  from across the country under such a time constraint will unleash some amazing innovations.

It formalizes something I love most about living in a “startup city”, which is open dialog and problem solving with other creative people. It’s a really natural process, and for entrepreneurs it happens very casually. Any problem we have is an opportunity to think of a solution. We’ve done a poor job integrating this type of open daydreaming into the creative problem solving process recently. We’re in the business of getting more done, faster, and we’ve all been rushing solutions.

By flipping the traditional incubator model of selecting teams and solutions on its head, Tom and a group of entrepreneurs are recreating this natural process into something fundable (with $500,000 in seed funding on the line). Which entrepreneur reading this wouldn’t want to be part of those brainstorming sessions? Knowing that there is cash and press behind selected teams raises the stakes and focuses everyone’s attention for 10 limited days on finding the right solution.

One thing I know for sure, we’ve got a lot of solutions in need of problems, it’s about time that we have an event focused on the problems first. If nothing else, we won’t be creating another “twitter toilet paper” app.

Taking Back Problem Solving

Signing a Deal is Like Dating & Other Startup Metaphors

Drop it like it’s hot

-Lil Wayne

I’m a huge fan of metaphors. In fact, they are so prevalent within Card Gnome and the wider startup scene that it’s easy to forget that you are even using them. Has anyone else caught themselves projecting a metaphor onto reality? Literally imagining “getting up to bat” before a presentation?

In any case, it seemed fitting to write a post about a few of the ones that fit startups well:

Startups are like rock bands: Much like a new company, a new band needs to find its product market fit, communicate with fans and find repeatable ways to build their base. If they want to make their band something more than a “lifestyle” enhancer, they must be able to scale it.

Entrepreneurs are like surfers: Each wave is an opportunity. You need to learn how to pick your waves and be comfortable that even if you do everything perfectly you still may get absolutely pummeled by it. You can’t ride every wave and once you’ve committed it’s not easy to bail without some pain.

Signing a deal is like dating: There is a highly choreographed dance that happens with each potential deal. When do you call? What do you say? How should you say it? Who initiates what? Just like dating the girl/guy of your dreams, all of these things are extremely important to how things work out and how power is eventually leveraged in the resulting relationship.

I know there are a ton more, drop them like they’re hot in the comments.

Signing a Deal is Like Dating & Other Startup Metaphors

Greeting Cards Aren’t Dead

In most conversations that I have about our company, a question comes up about the viability of the card market. Aren’t cards going away? Isn’t that market dead? It’s not surprising because that’s the story line in the media, but it’s so completely wrong that I feel compelled to defend it.

The simple truth is that cards are a gift, and connecting meaningfully with other people through gifts is not going away. Last year 6.5 billion cards were purchased in the United States. That represents a steady no-growth environment for the last 3 years since we started. No growth isn’t something to celebrate, but it’s not a hemorrhaging market by any stretch of the imagination.

What we are seeing is a channel shift reminiscent of what happened to other content businesses since the early 2000s. Online sales are increasing as a percentage of total sales and brick & mortar sales are declining (particularly at specialty retailers). Whereas online sales represent only 8% of total sales today, by 2016 it will almost double to 14% and by 2018 it’ll be 32%. By 2018 almost $2.3B in card orders will be done through the internet if current trends to continue.

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 9.31.28 AM

The average american family buys 31 cards a year. Roughly a third are Holiday Cards, another 1/3 are Happy Birthday Cards and the remaining 1/3 are everyday cards and non-Christmas holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

Bottom line, the card market isn’t dead.

Greeting Cards Aren’t Dead

Prioritizing Like A Survivor – Lessons From The Backcountry

Gotta feed the block, niggaz starvin’, they got appitites
And this is er’day, it never gets old…
This aint a rap song, nigga this is my life

-Young Jeezy, Soul Survivor

Learning to prioritize for yourself and others is a vital skill to run a team and your life. It also happens to be very difficult for the hustler startup founder to develop. By our nature we are constantly looking to expand our opportunities by chasing the next big thing.

My backcountry adventures (especially those with my brother, an amazing backcountry survivalist) have taught me a lot of lessons in prioritization and focus.

  1. Only worry about what you can control
    The wilderness removes a lot of unnecessary responsibilities and distractions. The day you get on trail, you are faced with the very real fact that you do not have control over your surroundings. It is freeing, you can stop worrying about whether things will go right and concentrating on those things you can control.
  2. Multi-tasking keeps you from accomplishing high priority items
    Your top priorities in the backcountry are finding shelter, water and food. As soon as any one of those things is missing, you become hyper focused on rectifying the situation. Anyone that has realized a water source they were depending on is not available can tell you that they thought of nothing else until they found water. I’ve learned that it is much more efficient to work this way and I now keep a prioritized task list (made every morning while I eat breakfast) that I work down one by one.
  3. Switching costs are high, reprioritize only when necessary
    On the trail you find that every decision that you make comes with very clear costs and benefits. “Do I try for the next water spot tonight or double back 6 miles where I know there is water.” Clearly you are not going to start heading for the new water source and then double back half-way through that part of the journey. Business decisions don’t always have clear switching costs. “Should we build this new feature that will get us new customers or rebuild our back-end so we can develop new features faster.” I’ve become acutely aware of these switching costs. This past Easter, we decided to do a last minute promo and I relearned the lesson on switching costs…

The wilderness offers so many lessons and this won’t be the last post to draw on what I’ve learned there. Do you have other lessons you’ve learned from your adventures, tell everyone in the comments!

Prioritizing Like A Survivor – Lessons From The Backcountry

Do I even matter

And I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them
So I got rich and gave back
To me that’s the win, win

-Jay-Z (Moment of Clarity)

Last year, I attended the Mom 2.0 summit and participated in a community service project to build a playground in a low income neighborhood in New Orleans. It occurred to me then when I actually wrote this post, that I was taking as much benefit from the building as the children who would use it. It felt like I was really giving back at the time, but in reality a few hours of my labor wasn’t making much of a difference. It was making me feel a bit better about not being more active in giving back but also that I should be using my other non-physical strengths to be giving back on a more continual basis.

This blog post was originally written almost a year ago and this line of thought has stayed with me. It has had a measurable impact on the way that I get involved in causes. Chad and I have started selling Greeting Cards as fundraisers for non-profits, I’ve joined the marketing committee of EFAA which helps families in crisis and I’ve helped bring a new young Jewish professionals group (Flatiron Tribe) into existence.

What sustainable ways have you been doing good?

Do I even matter

Immediate Differentiation: A lesson from being foreign

Look at my sales, let’s do the math, if I was black, I would’ve sold half,
I ain’t have to graduate from Lincoln high school to know that

-Eminem (White America)

One of the lessons I focused on during my recent trip in South America was differentiation. Most of us spend our entire lives trying to fit in and be accepted and yet those that differentiate are the most successful. While not new, it fascinated me that my foreignness drew curious people towards me and got me preferential treatment at bars and restaurants.

All it took was saying a few sentences in heavily accented Spanish and they’d be interested in a conversation. Where are you from? What are you doing in Argentina? The fact that I was different, made me interesting immediately, and they wanted to engage. I did nothing to hide my American accent, actually I did the opposite (much to the Chagrin of my embarrassed brother).

So the question I ask myself is how does Card Gnome create the same sense of differentiation. How can I get people to immediately feel that we’re special and take steps to engage with us. To me, it comes down to three areas:

Visual Branding: Use bold stylistic cues that are different than one would expect from your industry. House Wine, has done this well by taking a completely different take on wine labels. You may not like it, but you won’t miss their bottles when you stroll the aisles. Steve Lowtwait has done an excellent job giving our logo the same special treatment.

Informality: Companies have traditionally used buzz words and conservative language when communicating with customers. We decided a long time ago to talk with our customers as if they were our family and friends. Our informality helps them to feel comfortable having a conversation with us. We already see the fruits of this labor in an active artist community that is willing to give us candid feedback and refers to us by our first names. Consequently all company updates come from “Chad and Joel” never from an anonymous no-reply email address (thank you Holly Hamann for leading the way on that with the BlogFrog video updates)

Trust people: Don’t be overly-protective with your product. Let customers touch it, feel it and play with it. Have you ever felt welcome in a store that prominently displayed signs that said “you break, you buy” or that has metal detectors? No. Websites that force you to sign-up before a purchase or into onerous sign-up processes are the virtual versions of these unwelcoming environments.

What methods have you found for differentiating your product?

Immediate Differentiation: A lesson from being foreign