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?

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Immediate Differentiation: A lesson from being foreign

Distribution is the only obstacle

Hi, my name is, my name is
(What? Who?)
My name is Slim Shady

Ahem, excuse me
Can I have the attention of the class
For one second?

– Eminem “My name is”

Distribution is the ability to get a product in front of its target audience. Hopefully most of the people in it. This is the hardest obstacles for startups, and plenty of companies build amazing products but fail because they lack distribution.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to do it successfully. There are plenty of examples that entrepreneurs can adopt and tweak to their own unique needs. Over the past year we’ve seen a lot of strategies, but most of them fall into a few high-level categories:

The PR machine – Constant attention from traditional and non-traditional media. Constant new “events”, “deals”, “scandals” keep the companies name in popular discourse and bring in a steady stream of new users.

The Social Virus – A product that by its very nature, or through added game mechanics, incentivizes you to share it with your friends. Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Groupon and Zynga have exploded into public consciousness through intelligent use of this strategy. You’ll find some of the top minds in the tech startup world, from Dave Morin to Tom Higley amongst many others, are working on mastering this new strategy.

We’re Mad Men – You can pay someone else to give you millions of target market eyeballs on your product. Its expensive, but if you can successfully acquire customers for less than you make from them in the lifetime that they are a user, then keep spending money.

The Partner – The idea here is to find a partner that has the right eyeballs, but wants additional ways to monetize them. The startup offers the company a cut of its profits in exchange for help getting them to adopt the new product.This is one of the most popular strategies, because it normally requires less up-front costs and improves a new company’s brand.

Word of Mouf – It needs to be included, because nearly all new companies think that if they build a cool product people will instantly get the word out. The truth is that most startups take time to get product/market fit during which time their product isn’t something groundbreaking. Its an avenue for growth, but companies will normally run out of money before it gets them enough traction.

At the end of the day, the right distribution method will likely be a combination of a few of these strategies. Have you used any of these strategies? Have any pros and cons you can share? We’d love to hear what you (our awesome readers) think.

Distribution is the only obstacle

The 7 rap rhymes that every entrepreneur should know.

I love listening to rap and hip-hop. The beats are great and the lyrics, while crude, often speak to the entrepreneurial “make something of yourself” story line that I admire. Clearly this isn’t true about all rap artists, and I actually have a problem with a lot of newer mainstream work, but this is certainly true about my old favorites like the Notorious B.I.G and 2Pac.  Yesterday was the anniversary of 2Pac’s death, so it seems like a good time to pull out some insights from a few of my favorite rap lyrics.

1. Mo money, mo problems (Notorious B.I.G.) – The idea that money equals success is very ingrained in the American psyche. Biggie understood, and spoke often, about the differences he felt between his impoverished upbringing and more recent wealth. It is clear that issues of loneliness, trust of others and freedom of movement were among the downsides of having money.  He is not saying greed isn’t good, but he is cautioning about allowing success to change the person that you are and that got you that success in the first place. Listen to this line

2. I don’t mean to sound sleazy, but tease me, I don’t want it if it’s that easy (2Pac) – For many of us, the feeling of accomplishment comes from stretching ourselves. This is as true when doing an alpine ascent as it is when building a business. Being an entrepreneur, or hustler in rap parlance, means that nothing is handed to to you on a silver platter. It does take hard work, risk and resilience to succeed but that is what makes the ultimate success so sweet. Listen to this line

3. Now I can let these dream killers kill my self esteem-or use my arrogance as steam to power my dreams (Kanye West) – There is nothing that puts me in overdrive like someone telling me that I can’t do something. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and being confident enough to take the big swings when it feels right is important. Listen to this line

4. No man alive has ever witnessed struggles I survived (2pac) – This one has special meaning to me. Whenever I hear this line, I think of my grandparents who both survived Auschwitz. If they can make it through that hell, rebuild their lives and raise two successful children, what everyday obstacles can’t I get through? The thought of my grandfather’s smiling face is quite literally the image I concentrate on when I’m trying to overcome large obstacles like a mountain peak or calm down before an important presentation. Listen to this line

5. Will Smith don’t got to cuss in his raps to sell records – well I do, so f*** him and f*** you too (Eminem) – It sounds crude, but it has a good point. Every brand has its own target market. It’s better to be true to your core fans and personality than try to be everything to everybody. Listen to this line

6. Don’t speak to fools, they scorn the wisdom of your words (NAS) – I include this lyric because I actually think NAS is wrong. The fact is that smart people are the ones who are listening. Even “fools” have valuable information to share; you just need to listen hard enough.

7. Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it, and live the phrase “the sky’s the limit” (Notorious B.I.G) – How many people never take a risk to achieve their dreams? The best entrepreneurs, like the best poker players, understand when to put all the chips on the table. Listen to this line

The rappers that I’ve mentioned above are entrepreneurs and their stories of overcoming adversity, believing in themselves and taking big swings are lessons many of us can learn from.  While they grew up under different conditions, the concepts, the motivations, and the passions are the same. Do you have any favorite lines?  Use the comment box to share them with us.

The 7 rap rhymes that every entrepreneur should know.

Naming & branding your new project

This past week we learned from a few masters of branding about how they come up with names and brand images for their new ventures.  We went through the process a month ago, so it was fun to see that we actually did a good job and reflect on what we did.  The basic process for picking a brand is to first research your competitors and pick themes and images that differentiate you from them.  Boil the image you want your new business to have to 3 adjectives, or just write a single sentence that describes the brand.  Now the hard part is to brainstorm all the words and thoughts you have on the image, we used something similar to a mind-graph to help us organize our thoughts.

Take all these great words and start to come up with potential names.  You’ll need to get creative, our trick was listening to awesome music on random shuffle while downing some excellent local brews each afternoon as the sun was setting on our porch.  It definitely helps to leave the brainstorming after a little while and come back to it another time.  Once you have some names down, use a tool like Fusename to check what .coms are available and narrow your list.  Be sure to check out Domainr to look at possible alternative extension combinations.  We decided a long time ago that we wouldn’t use a non .com name, it’s just not as strong for a consumer product that needs mass appeal.  If you are developing a tool for computer geeks, or are trying for the exclusive/mysterious image then one of the new website extensions can definitely enhance the brand.  The “.co” extension is now available and there are a ton of cool ones available.

Now that you have a couple good names, it’s time to get some outside opinions.  We asked 20 people we knew and a handful of stoned college kids hanging around Boulder during 4/20 for their thoughts.  We found that one one of our top names, “Pokems” had associations with Pokemon and with the Facebook poke feature which could skew our brand creation process.  Overwhelmingly, people liked Nudgems and we have have grown attached to it as well.  As with any name, register and redirect all the possible misspellings that you find (Nudgumz anyone?).

That’s it, if you do it right you should be pretty happy with your new name.  Now it’s time to make a website that enhances and defines your new brand!  Luckily, you guys are already following us, so you’ll be able to check out all our progress on our Nudgems and SplitOurTab projects.

Naming & branding your new project