A Lesson From The Shark Tank: Simplicity & Focus

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I love the Shark Tank.  It’s not only great entertainment, it’s a fantastic education to the start-up world and how entrepreneurs pitch investors, what’s important to both sides, sales/communication and how both sides come together to form a partnership (or not).

While all the sharks are brilliant, maybe the best overall clip I’ve seen is “Money” featuring Kevin O’leary.  He hits every important theme in brutal clarity.

It is clear how Kevin O’leary views the world.  He keeps it simple, and he evaluates everything quickly with a disciplined approach.  Everyone that watches the show, or this clip will quickly realize that you need to get to the point, show value, and most importantly, leave no doubt as to how you will protect and make money.

This got me thinking….

What if everyone had a “vision” as crystal clear as Mr. Wonderful’s, regardless of what they do in life?

What if everyone had a bed-rock mantra that differentiates them and makes them stand out?

Would they not be more successful?  More happy in whatever they do?  ABSOLUTELY.

Lets take your basic professional worker in a “grey area” results role.  I consider a grey area role anything that is not PURE and tied to easily measurable contribution, which in business is the majority of roles.

  •  Direct Sales may be the easiest to assign a numerical contribution too, although the value of sales driven by one person vs all the other contributors is always debatable.

How do MOST workers value their OWN performance to their employer?

If I had to sum it up, MOST would view their performance in terms of INPUTS, not OUTPUTS.  In other words, the amount of effort, dedication, attitude and approach they put into the role, vs the actual outcome of all those characteristics.

  • If I work hard and put in the extra hours, life will be good.
  • If I’m well respected and liked, life will be good.
  • If I’m dependable, reliable and know my job I’ll be valuable.
  • And on the story goes….

What would the Kevin O’leary equivalent manager use to evaluate the performance?

OUTPUTS FIRST.  INPUTS second.  And a distant second.



If you want the long version spread across all of the sharks, here’s a good one.


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In a Rut? Go on a Field Trip!

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“Get out in the field!”

It’s an expression in business that could mean a few things:

  • Visiting customers
  • Looking at the competitive marketplace
  • Working in the factory/front lines
  • In the Stores

The field is really anything that gets closer to the core of where the action is.  Anyplace but the desk. And usually around people.

A recent market visit brought us to the Bronx Fish Market.  A place few know exists and it’s not for the feint of heart!

bronx fish market

After the fish market we hit a couple of local businesses in our space.  And then my Italian roots took over.  The calling of Arthur Avenue in Bronx NY.  Some call it, “NY’s REAL Little Italy.”  No argument here.

arthur ave bronx ny


We found a gem of a small business, Tino’s Deli.

Hustle comes in many shapes and sizes.  

Why was it a gem?

  • Food was fresher than fresh.  Rare finds, no common name brands.  But all the staples you’d expect in an Italian Deli.
  • It was spotless.  Stainless steel garbage cans.
  • All the staff was happy we were there.  How did we know?  They smiled early, often and looked us in the eye.
  • The food met my expectations, and in this kind of store they are always sky high.

The owner Giancarlo Paciullo was a throw-back to an era where personal service was the norm.  He brings a tear to the eye of a blog writer where the subtitle is “Where Old School Meets New School.”

I asked to take a picture with him after we were done with breakfast.  Little did I know our server called him at home (he lives a couple blocks away) and he walked back to his place just to take a picture.  I felt bad for inconveniencing him.  But I really wanted to remember him.  And he gave us a nice little bag for the road.

tino's deli bronx ny

After looking at his website, I almost gasped at the little < 2 minute video, set to the awesome Guns & Roses “Patience.”  There’s that Old School Meeting New School thing again…..

Small little businesses like Tino’s Deli do not spend millions on advertising.  They earn loyalty one customer interaction at a time.  They dazzle people with service from the heart.

Then their loyal customers take over and tell everyone that will listen about their experience.

Go Arthur Avenue.  Go Tino’s Deli!  Bravo.

We all get in ruts in while running our businesses. Simple solution. Get to the Field.  

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Too Much? Over the Top & All In

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Questions are magic for jump starting the mind.

A great, yet simple question came from one of my colleagues in the context of  developing a series of ideas:

“Is it too much?”

Meaning, is it too much of a break from tradition, outside of our comfort zone and those that will be touched  by it?

I bet everyone asks themselves sub-consiounsly something along these lines when developing any NEW thinking.

It’s in part driven by fear.  Maybe fear of rejection, or fear of the blood/sweat/tears that may be associated with pulling the idea off.  Few things are easy.

How many great contributions are NOT brought forward in a business because people are holding back and thinking it may be too much?  Too many.  What a shame….

Maybe it’s too many because our education system does not value “playing loose” but insists on staying in line and talking only when your called on.  18 years of that model and you wouldn’t exactly be trained to push the envelope would you?  That’s a digression, but I’ve profiled some lessons from my son’s first grade class…

Leadership’s role is to inspire a culture where people disrupt the status quo and feeling trusting enough to do that.  Killing business as usual.  

Cultures that inspire fanaticism, breaking things and pushing the envelope may often be chaotic, and not everyone thrives in chaos.

What about the individual?

First, performance is rarely equally spread.

Show me any company and I will show you a “bell curve” of distribution among its talent.  There will be an 80/20 rule emerge where the few contribute out-sized results.

We can all wonder why this exists.

  • Natural Born Talent……they hit the genetic jackpot!
  • Education!
  • Great Mentors!
  • Luck!  Right place, right time!
  • Out-sized achievements that were parlayed time and time again….

How about this for a hypothesis?

The people  that tend  to be the top 10% of any business come in all shapes and flavors.  But they tend have one thing in common:  They believe that nothing is too much.  They tend to go over the top.  They go all in, not just enough, in every area that matters.  

All in

Pick any area of the operation that matters, and I bet you will see something emerge with the stars.  Everything about them, when compared to the “average” will be considered TOO MUCH, especially in the eyes of the average.

There’s a great  law of statistics that is worth understanding:

Correlation does not imply causation.

Just because two things are related, does not mean one drives the other.  BUT, when 2 variables move in the same direction……you are in the area of needing to poke around and learn more.  You are getting warmer.

And maybe the most important question of all?  

If you have a burning desire to achieve something, ask yourself:

Am I ALL IN?  

If your being honest with yourself and the answer is not an emphatic HELL YES!, CONGRATS!  You have just walked up to the starting line.

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The Dangerous Games People Play: Price Negotiations

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Price is one of the most deadly weapons in the marketing mix.

One of  the “4 P’s” of marketing, and one that creates some of  the most pressure packed situations in business.

  • It determines 50% of a company’s profit margin.

  • Depending on your market share and/or industry, it is also the most controllable decision someone can make to influence their outcome of profit/loss.

  • It is the most easily compared element of the marketing mix against a competitor.  Evaluating $499 vs. $549 is easier than comparing product reviews, technical features or “quality” (perceived or real)

  • Could be the most “emotional” element in business.


Let’s say you are quoting on a business, and it’s somewhat of a “bid” process, meaning you are quoting against different competitors selling products that have SOME differentiation, but generally viewed as a commodity.  So Price is a MAJOR factor, but like all competitive situations, everything influences the outcome:

  • Quality and service track record

  • Terms, flexibility

  • Relationship:  How will your bid affect the relationship?  Does that matter?

  • Risk of loss:  If you lose, how does your business look?  Better or worse?

All situations have a different ranking.  If I were bidding, here’s what I’d be looking at:

*  How many different factors influence a buying decision?
*  Rank them from high to low.
*  Know where you score at all times with your customer.  How?  ASK THEM!

Also?[Continue Reading…]

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Branding Case Study: The Prize of Emotional Connection

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Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts

image credit: http://emilycontois.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/coffee-scale.png

I’ve always been a Starbucks addict.  The brand has been part of my daily routine for about 15 years and I bet I’ve been the first ring at 5:30am more than 100x’s in over 4 locations in 3 states.  In short, I’d consider myself a loyalist.  The routine stopped in March 2014 when I moved to NJ to acquire LM Foods and there just isn’t one between Pt. A (Gym) and Pt B (company).  The experience has let me learn a few things as my Venti Black Dark Roast went bye bye…..

I’ve become what marketers call an “experimenter.”  Open to new experiences.  A coffee Swinger if you will.  In general, Dunkin Donuts probably gets 75% of my coffee $’s, but that is probably falling to 1/3 fast.  For me, they are not Starbucks for a variety of reasons:

  • They simply haven’t figured out the “Third Place Concept” and the vibe that goes with relaxation.  I think I’ve taken advantage of the Starbucks leather seats <10% of the time.  But the vibe, even if I only feel it for 90 seconds matters.  Life is hectic, and escapism matters.  
  • Dunkin can’t seem to understand that selling 2 day old bagels is not smart.  And they make this mistake often, and when you tweet them about it?  Black hole, no response. Why bother having a Social presence if you fail to engage?  
  • Dunkin is one of the great franchises in America.  But you simply never know what kind of experience you will get when your greeted by your Dunkinista (is that a word?). When I’m one of the first customers showing up when its still dark outside, and am on trip #30, shouldn’t you know who am?  

There’s a funny thing that happens when a Brand does not earn an EMOTIONAL connection with its consumers:  They start to wander.[Continue Reading…]

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The Small Business “Sorry” Dilemma

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I root very hard for the success of the small, locally owned small business.  A thriving small business community is a cornerstone to a great OVERALL community.

But I can’t help but scratch my head at a recent experience.

The Scene?

  • A local deli in an industrial area of NJ.  Opens at 6am, serves typical breakfast food, coffee, etc.
Local coffee shop

Image Credit: WSJ

I asked the owner “how’s business been?”

“Extremely slow, never seen it this bad.  We’ll see?”

Sounded ominous.  And to be honest, a bit de-flating.  Maybe because we were chatting about a Jets loss on Monday Night football.  Starting the day off with negativity < Optimism!

He proceeded to make the sandwich, I poured a cup of coffee.  Sandwich was good and better than the local chains.

But something I took for granted as I finished and topped off my coffee before leaving:

“We charge for re-fills, I’m sorry, that will be $1.65!”

“No problem!”  I paid, left and as always, re-played that event and how a small business chooses to compete, or not.

Every business owner has the privilege of making whatever decisions they think are right for their business, it’s one of the beauties of a free economy.

But their WAS one word in this exchange I found a bit telling:

“I’m sorry.”

Apologies in business are somewhat rare.  When done with sincerity they are a great customer service building gesture.


Why apologize for your OWN decisions related to how you run your business?

I had some thoughts what prompted his appology….

  • Maybe it’s a new policy?
  • Many customers take a self service station as a license for granted (admittedly presumptuos))?
  • He sees perplexed looks on your customers faces?
  • He really is sorry for charging for a re-fill….

How about a new tool:

The Sorry Meter:

If you find yourself compelled to apoligize for business decision, maybe you should think about an alternative to avoid the Sorry to begin with?


There are plenty of alternatives to the dilemma:

Post a humorous sign by the station:

  • “Crappy coffee is cheap and free re-fills work.  Great coffee costs money, so we proudly charge for a second cup.  Because Life is too short to endure crappy coffee”

Sales Pricing/Promotion 101.

  • Give Free Re-fills for higher ticket transactions.  Make it a reward for valuable customers.
  • Just Increase the price of cup #1 and offer free re-fills.  Yes, the single cup customers subsidize the multi cup customers, but most would rather have the experience “built in” to the price.
  • Interestingly, this small business had ZERO internet presence.  No web page, social media engagement, etc.  No Yelp reviews, etc.  Maybe his audience is not active, but I doubt it.

How about creating a “Customer Manifesto” that outlines the principles of service and the pricing charged for that service?

How about some direct engagement trying to understand the person walking in the door, what they are about, do they work in an office (or Manufacturing plant) with many people that could be potential customers?

Hustle takes the shape of many forms.

Not recovering costs in business (and then a profit) is a surefire way to bankruptcy, so I would never advocate giving away anything that does not look to generate profit.

All businesses struggle with the need to generate profit TODAY, vs the LONG-Term health of the business.  Sustainaability is driven by, loyal customers.  Loyalty drives Lifetime value, and it’s always preceded by a relationship.  

The Challenge?

We are in a hyper-competitive world with so many choices.  One decision can either INCREASE trips or $ ring, or DECREASE it.  The battle is the transaction.  The WAR is the lifetime value of the customer.

It’s possible to win both, but like most great things in life, it won’t happen by accident.

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Simple Innovation That Works…..Coca-Cola Summer of Sharing

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Innovation does not need to be a massive technology breakthrough.  Sometimes its as simple as a tweak to packaging that gets people talking.

In the past 2 hours, Coke has broken through in my life.  I get a text message from a friend with a diet coke can.  Then my daughter runs up to me with a big smile and says “DADDY!” pointing to the can.



Then my son runs to the refrigerator looking for more cans with different words.

Then a facebook post from a friend, copying 2 other friends with the word “Buddy” on the can.

This is Coca-Cola, the company with Millions (if not billions) in annual media spending.  And what did they do?  They tweaked the packaging.  And multiple people are buzzing, sharing and smiling.

What’s the cost of this tactic vs a Superbowl ad?  Which is more memorable.

Striking the emotional chord and getting people to talk positively about a brand or service will always beat the pricey “throw money at it approach.”

Kudo’s to the Coca-Cola company.  The “Summer of Sharing” campaign is a winner, at least in this household.


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The Teamwork $ Test

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One of the big difference makers in business rests in the power of effective teams working together to solve problems.  The old adage matters:

2 Heads are Better Than 1!

But encouraging teamwork, group problem solving, brainstorming or any other activity where people are supposed to work together is fraught with challenges.  A few come to mind:

  • LISTENING:  Lets face it, listening is a skill, and not many people rank high on this one….

  • Ego: Even for good listeners, sometimes ego gets in the way of hearing what others have to say, that it has real value

  • Change:  Maybe collaboration has never been pushed before?  What are the ground rules?  How do we all behave?

Sometimes there’s no better way to advocate change than to PROVE that the change creates a clear better outcome, that can be quantified.  

In the area of teamwork, here’s a little test to try:

  1. Find a business issue that needs to be tackled, that creates a specific $ result.  Examples:  Purchasing, sales growth, supplies, capital spending, training.

  2. Identify a group of people that could form a diversified/cross-functional team to solve it.

  3. Ask them each as individuals to spend SOME time (maybe 1-2 hours) coming up with their plan and $ outcome.  Tell them to write it down, but it won’t be shared.

  4. Bring the team together and discuss the same issue.  Pick someone that knows how to facilitate the discussion, get all thoughts on the white board, don’t analyze as you go, save that for the end.

  5. Solve the problem with the group.

The team $ outcome by definition should be greater than the average of the individual outcomes.  If they are not, than something was not facilitated properly, or people with the higher outcome did not make their case effectively.  Or the solution was not universally accepted as feasible.

The point is this:

If you want Teamwork, prove that teamwork creates better outcomes.  And when you do solve a problem with effective teamwork, celebrate the achievement.  


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The Market For Talent & The Missing Element

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This week I spent some time in the “talent market” after posting a job on Linked-In for a fairly senior position, specifically called out as the “Go-to” person for the functional area of the company.

Here’s my notes.

  • In less than a week a flood of people posted, I lost track of the total, so let’s call it 50.
  • About 80% of the total came within the first 24 hours of posting.  Fatigue set in fast.  
  • Only 3 people chose to attach a cover letter.
  • I printed every resume’ and put them in Pile A & Pile B.
    • Pile A:  Do they have key paper credentials (degree & relevant experience) that would allow them to do the job?
    • Pile B:  No qualifications, toss.
    • Pile A wound up with about 40 resume’s, only 10 were tossed.

The Sub-title of Hustle or Bust is:  “Where Old School Meets New School.”  (OSMNS)

I am fascinated with the pace of change that is happening around us, and those that CHOOSE to stay out front, those that do not, and how it all comes together for competitive advantage.  Here’s some thoughts I had relative to OSMNS.

  • The cover letter is a lost art, or at least < 5% chose to attach one.
    • Note:  The 3 I received were OK, not breath-taking, but the fact is with the majority choosing NOT to do it they certainly stood out.
  • Resume’s, at least in my experience serve one purpose: Get you to a LIVE conversation quickly.
  • They will be scanned fast!
    • I spent < 10 seconds on each one.  I bet I’m not alone.  To a job seeker, this could come off as “unfair,” which I understand.  Fair or not, it’s reality.

The Brutal Market Reality:  80% made the cut as being credentialed, with a 10 second scan.  Said differently the MARKET is telling me that there are plenty of choices. Lots of capable talent, in fact more that post CAN vs can NOT perform.

When there are PLENTY of choices, alternatives and diversity of options, that is great (although a bit overwhelming) for buyers.  It can be hell for sellers.

Is there a more critical “Market” than the market for Talent?  One more competitive, and maybe subjective?

  • For the seller (job seeker), they are looking to either put food on the table, or advance their  standing in life.  All sellers are “selling” for different reasons, but the moment they hit “apply,” the selling process has begun.
  • For the buyer, they are looking to fill a series of need for their business.  Like Sellers, all BUYERS are different.

Building on the “Market” analogy, think about your grocery store experience.  Have you ever walked down any aisle, pick an aisle and get the overwhelmed feeling?  You can’t decide because there are so many choices of Soda, Chips, etc?  You either can’t tell the difference or you can’t size up the differences in flavor, price, size?  You may even give up and abandon the aisle all together. Brands fight this war daily, and it’s why Packaging is so important.  At least it gives the product a CHANCE to be picked up and stand out.

This is not a story of Packaging, although if some were slicker than others, I may have made different decisions for who to reach out too, so it does matter.

There’s plenty of competence out in the market place.  Lots of great educated people, with great diversity of experience.

However, there’s a formula required to enable that competence to stand out.

hustle + competition = opportunity

Leave out the Hustle and you are gambling.  You’re at the mercy of a 10 second review and being put in a stack with 40 others.

The good news for those that are competent, but may be lacking on the other side of  the equation?  There are plenty of them. Make the choice to add a little Hustle and go after it.  Your odds of standing out are HUGE.

Rarely does a market exist where a 100% controllable choice, that only costs time will allow you to stand out.  Talent is that market.

Competence will put you in a pile. Hustle will yield opportunity.  

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Loyalty Matters and it Follows Relationships

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I love great service at restaurants, for a few reasons:

  • It complements an experience away from life’s daily grind

  • It is an opportunity to “vote” with your dollars:  Great service equals great tip.

  • It matters to the person delivering it.  Financially and “life skill building.”

  • It is RARE

I have always loved dining out. It provides a living lab for people trying to make a living and over time, what you see is the brutal reality of the bell curve come to life.  It is a fact that a very small % of the people you encounter will be exceptional. Most people would say the far right of the bell curve, the “exceptional” is 15-20% of the population.

The exceptional people tend to be memorable.  They make you WANT to come back, not just for the product, but HOW it is delivered, and how they make you FEEL.  Business owners are wise to reward these A players, they make them a ton of money and are truly special.  In short, they are few in numbers, and they drive the majority of the revenue.  Call them the 20% of people that drive 80% of the revenue.

3 especially bright people come to mind over the past 15 years.

1.  A waitress at the famous “Tick Tock Diner” in NJ

    • We dined here about 50+ times, always for breakfast over 2 years.
    • She knew our name, knew our baby girl’s name.  She gave her a gift on Hope’s 1 year birthday, which was waiting in her car and ready to deliver when we came in.

2.  A waitress at a Clifton NJ Italian Joint

    • Dined with her maybe 25+ times over 2 years.
    • She poured a “heavy” glass of wine, and sometimes an extra one “on me sweety!”
    • We cried with her when her sister passed away from a struggle with Cancer.

3.  A waiter at a fine dining Memphis establishment, “Flight.”

    • Had only dined here one time, but it was memorable.  When we think special occasion, this is now our place.
    • His training on a complicated menu, wine selection was impeccable, as was his demeanor, and genuine caring for the quality of our experience.

A couple of noteworthy learning’s from my list above?

  • Only 3 quickly come to mind.  My wife and I have been together for 15 years.  For people that dine out at least once a week, that’s a ton of different establishments, let’s say over 150.  And 3 are truly memorable?
  • Of the 3, 1 of them made my mental list due to extraordinary skill in his job.  The other 2 were certainly competent, but NOT extraordinary in their raw job skills.  
  • What made all of them extraordinary?  HEARTFELT & GENUINE service, caring and relationship building.

Relationships matter, and they impact the bottom line.

We lived in NJ for 2 years and ate out almost every single Saturday for Breakfast.   That’s 75+ breakfasts outside of our home. Was the Tick Tock Diner THAT MUCH better than the 10 other diners within a 5 mile radius of our home?  Not at all.  The other ones didn’t have “OUR Waitress.”

How about the Italian Joint?  Same thing.  In a town where there’s Italian food on every corner, there was only one that became “our place.”  The one with our favorite waitress.  One where we had an emotional connection with.

Product and price will always matter in business, especially restaurants.  But service makes the massive difference.  Great service is delivered by people that understand RELATIONSHIPS are king.

Loyalty is rewarded AFTER relationships are established, nurtured, and grown over time.  All the ads and promotions in the world can’t pull a consumer away from an established relationship. Loyalty drives long term, exceptional revenue that is difficult to compete with.  

The only thing that successfully stopped our $’s from flowing to the establishments mentioned above?

A move to another state.  

That’s loyalty.


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