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.

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Our Yearning For Immediate Gratification

The 5 Dysfunctions Of a Team

Hate a liar more than I hate thief.
A thief is only after my salary
a liar is after my reality.

– 50 Cent (I’m A Hustler)

One of the lessons from school that has shaped my thinking about team building is the “5 Dysfunctions Of A Team” concept. It’s a powerful lens by which to view the culture you are building and something that I’m constantly reminded about. Here is the pyramid:

five-dysfunctions-pyramid

This obviously doesn’t require a lot of explanation. Suffice it to say that as you are building your team, or scaling it up, think a lot about how you baseline those relationships and nurture trust, encourage dissent, promote commitment all while keeping people accountable and humble.

Culture is the most important advantage a startup can have. Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of that, something I learned the hard way. A long time ago I had this paper up in my office, when I setup my new office it’s getting its prominent spot back.

The 5 Dysfunctions Of a Team

Hacking A Better Travel Experience – Flights

We used to use umbrellas to face the bad weather
So now we travel first class to change the forecast

– Jay-Z

Our commercial aviation system is arguably one of the most complex logistics system ever created. It effectively standardizes the movement of > 1.5M people around the US every day.

Understandably a web of processes have developed to handle the massive volume of exceptions.  We’re not just talking about technology but cultural and business process ones as well. It is a perfect environment to exploit loopholes for personal gain. Over the years I’ve learned a few things about how to get what I want, here are my 8 favorite hacks:

  1. Politeness:  Airline employees are assaulted by an endless avalanche of BS from anxious customers. They develop what I like to call the “Bureaucrat Shield” which allows them to hide behind company policy instead of confronting customers. The truth is that airline employees, especially those outside of the US, have a large amount of flexibility. I’ve been put on other airlines to get somewhere faster, had airplanes held on the ground for me, given hotel rooms to stay overnight and received a ridiculous number of unwarranted upgrades. All based on the good graces of airline employees who I went out of my way to treat politely.

    It all comes down to being overly polite so that they realize you aren’t just another angry customer to be dealt with. Put on a big smile and use “sir”, “miss” and “maam” even when things are miserable. This is the best hack there is and if you use it you’ll find yourself hearing “I’m just not able to do that, it isn’t possible with our system” far less often.

  2. Deal with people of the opposite sex: I find I get a better result when I deal with women than men and I’ve heard the opposite from my well traveled female friends. Smile, put on the charm, and if you think you can pull it off, flirt. If you are on a foreign flight, use their native tongue whenever possible, it is charming. Learning just “please” and “thank you” are not that hard.
  3. Never use face-to-face customer service: If something goes wrong you’ll end up in customer service purgatory. The face-to-face line is a disaster zone of waiting and heartache that you should avoid like the plague. Call the customer service phone number and use the frequent flier specific call-in number if you have it. I violated this rule last week and paid for it with an extra hour of waiting & an error ridden return ticket.
  4. Bring food with you: Airport food is full of fat and salt and will not help your body deal with the stress of flying. Bring healthy foods like fruits, wraps and granola bars. One of my favorite tricks is to grab a few of those small cereal boxes they have in hotel breakfasts and then get milk from the beverage service. If you are traveling to a different time zone, drink lots of water which will help your body recalibrate.
  5. Be specific about what you want: Airline employees aren’t usually creative, so tell them exactly what you want and in situations where a creative solution can be helpful, make your thoughts known. You want upgrades to first class, ask for them. You want them to put you in empty rows even if it is farther back in the plane, let them know. Willing to fly through a different city or take a layover in a cool city you’ve been wanting to visit, offer them those options.
  6. Use Tripit, Flightview & MobileDay: These apps will keep you organized and efficient on the road. Tripit organizes all of your travel logistics in one easy to view itinerary. Flightview keeps you updated on the status of your flight and any other flights you are waiting for. MobileDay gives you one-click dial-in for conference calls so you don’t need to memorize access codes when you are running between flights.
  7. Keep frequent flyer numbers in a note on your phone: I keep a password protected “wallet” note with frequent flyer numbers in it. Most of the younger readers probably already do this.
  8. Keep notes for the places you visit: Whenever I tell people where I’m going they inevitably tell me all the great off-the-beaten track places and things to do. I keep notes for each city on my phone and just take noties whenever I talk to people. You’ll also get a huge amount of information to share when people ask you about places you’ve been and things to do.

Have some priceless hacks, put them in the comments.

Hacking A Better Travel Experience – Flights

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

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

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

How the hell do I do that?

Most of the entrepreneurs I know have long to-do lists with “sticky” items that never seem to leave the list. It confounded me for weeks because at my previous job I was really good at completing tasks, prioritizing and executing methodically. Over the past 8 months I’ve found myself frequently tempted by low-hanging fruit and wooed away from completing high-priority tasks.

So of course, I asked myself what was going on. What I found is due to something I’ll call “Task Diversity.” Whereas at GE I was doing things I largely understood how to do or had sufficient direction, I now find myself doing many new and functionally disparate tasks each day. The new items are usually the sticky items because I don’t even know where to start, they sit there and fester while I sit there afraid to get started.

My to-do list has 3 columns (High/Medium/Low). Starting now the first thing I’ll do each morning and right after lunch will be to tackle a high value item. I’ll probably institute some other strategies as well. Any suggestions?

How the hell do I do that?