business development

How My Favorite Rockstar Set Me on My Good Path

Tristan, sporting the Good Path Bangle Set, the product that started it all!

Tristan, sporting the Good Path Bangle Set, the product that started it all!

One of the best ways for me to sit down and get a bunch of work done is by finding music I love, pressing play and busting through my to do list. It was through this habit and the advent of internet radio and ITunes that I stumbled across singer songwriter, Tristan Prettyman. She was young, sang from the heart, and had percussive acoustic guitar tracks that reminded me of Ani Difranco meets Jack Johnson. What's better is this was also the time of MySpace where musicians would bare their souls through tons of photos and blogs and let you in on their creative process, behind the scenes tour moments and deep thoughts, be them random, profound or a total waste of time.

Tristan did a fabulous job of this. Through this wacky online world of transparency, I became even more connected to her music and her. I was a totally fan-girling.

People close to me knew that if I likened something to Tristan Prettyman-greatness, then I was giving the ultimate compliment. It was funny. It was my thing. I was oddly obsessed, and to this day I can't exactly pin down why, other than the fact that Tristan has a genius ability to speak and sing from her heart that instantly connects you to her if you're listening at all.

Fast-forward to the onset of Twitter. MySpace has died a quiet death, and I'm now gobbling up TP words of wisdom in 140 character chunks. All of a sudden it occurred to me that I'd like to do business with Tristan. We were two birds of a feather; I, a small business owner selling jewelry to the fans of this jewelry, and she, a singer-songwriter, band leader singing songs to her fans. I wanted to team up, meet her and collaborate. My soul was screaming for me to do this. 

So, through a series of Tweets, emails and conversations, we did! It was a momentous occasion for sure for me to be connected in real life to someone who I had prior only a virtual connection to. We collaborated with Tristan and key designers to go on and create a few of our best selling skus. We even met up with Tristan when she toured in Portland and hung out pre and post show, pretending to be rock stars along with her for the night.

We named the first collaboration we did with Tristan "The Good Path Bangle Set", after the Path of Life charm that hung from one of the bangles and the tattoo she had just gotten in Balinese that read "Find and follow your good path".

Having way too much fun post-show with Tristan Prettyman, Jill Crimmins, and Paul Cannon at the Doug Fir.

Having way too much fun post-show with Tristan Prettyman, Jill Crimmins, and Paul Cannon at the Doug Fir.

I truly believe the universe orchestrated all of this, hence setting me on my Good Path. I believe if you are looking and listening, yours is always there, right in front of you. When it came time to name this venture, it only made sense to keep with the theme. Hence, Good Path Consulting was born.

As soon as I registered the LLC, I emailed Tristan to let her know that she and her tattoo continue to inspire me. We agreed that life takes you exactly where you need to go, you just gotta open up your eyes and go there. 

Where has life guided you? What is your good path?

PS - Guys, Tristan and I are business name twinsies! Check out her Instagram feed about health, food and wellness @GoodPathSD. 




What I Learned From Swimming With Sharks

In June, 2014, I woke up one morning only to realize that I was swimming in shark infested waters. 

My business partner and I were on the tail end of a riding a long and epic ecommerce wave. We had paddled into it in 2009, armed with the best practices in SEO, PPC, web design, usability and development and only blue water in front of us. All we had to do was follow all the advice we had been giving our clients and we would succeed in the ecommerce landscape.

The ride lasted 4 years before everyone else caught up, and next thing we knew, the wave was getting crowded and sharks were showing up.

The concept of the red ocean/blue ocean strategy is one pioneered by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in the book Blue Ocean Strategy - Create Uncontested Market Space & Make the Competition Irrelevant.

Their book goes into more detail, but the basics of a Blue Ocean strategy are that after a while any market and business can find itself in a red ocean. All the sharks have shown up, attracted to the blood of the initial kill and are feeding on an ever-dwindling school of fish. 

A Blue Ocean strategy is one where a company deliberately looks away from the red ocean feeding frenzy into the vast sea of blue. It requires new non-competitive thinking, and innovations. It leaves the competitive landscape for the creative, opportunity building one. 

For more info on the specifics of finding a Blue Ocean, definitely check out their book, but for the purposes of my point here, that's all you need to know.

Ecommerce as I knew it, as a retailer of designer jewelry had become a straight up red ocean. The cost per click was way up. Amazon, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales AND the brands themselves were competing with us on cost, pay-per-click, loyalty programs and customer services. There were no more ways to differentiate ourselves within the constraints set up in our business.

Our next move wasn't to lower our costs, we couldn't, we had Minimum Advertised Price agreements in place with our vendors. We couldn't add services, we already had fast, free shipping and returns. We couldn't pay MORE per click. As it was, we already only broke even on the first customer acquisition cost, relying on the total lifetime customer value to make a profit. Our only option was to completely pivot. But to what? 

We came up with a few ideas. The first, start a subscription-based "box" model, a la Blue Apron, Stitch Fix or Trunk Club. Hand picked jewelry just for you, delivered once a month. Another option was to create our own brand, that contains an element of personalization. The 2 places Amazon can't compete in (for now) are any type of engraving, and when the brand chooses not to sell on Amazon. We'd do both. We also considered a jewelry rental model that you could subscribe to, wear the pieces, and send them to trade out for new pieces (similar to handbag programs out there).

These ideas held water (to keep with the H20 analogies). The problem was this - we hadn't planned for any of this until the red water was around us. We rode the wave too long. It was crashing on the beach. Our boards were on the sand, and it was WAY easier to hop off and sunbathe for a bit, than to paddle back out and wait for the next set.

Personal factors weighed in too. I had an infant in my arms, and bringing a new business model into the world at the same time felt like WAY too much. Also, I didn't want to do it. I was getting tired of the impersonal world of ecom. Never touching the product. Never interacting with the designers. It became mundane and souless.

So, while the blue ocean almost always exists, you may not always like it.

What did we do? We sold the business. Based on the track record we had, we were able to find a buyer extremely fast, and offload the whole project to them to execute. 

It was a real moment of reckoning for me. Was this the life I'd envisioned for the business? No. Was it what felt right at the time? Yes. What I do wish I'd done was stay one step ahead of the red ocean feeding frenzy and to put blue ocean strategies in place one small step at a time. 

The best way to eat a hippo is one bite a time. Don't wait til the sharks are circling to think about where your next blue ocean might be.

Have you ever swum with sharks? Are you implementing a blue ocean strategy now? Let me know in the comments!

The 80/20 Rule: 80% of People Get It 20% Wrong

The 80/20 Rule has popped a lot for me over the past 8 years or so. The first place I learned of it was from Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Work Week. (This book changed my life.)

Here's how he phrases it...which I think makes the most sense. I have definitely heard a few paraphrases of this that aren't quite right. If you stick to these examples and apply directly from here, you will get it. I lifted this from his blog:

  • Hyperactivity vs. Productivity — 80/20 and Pareto’s Law: 

Being busy is not the same as being productive. Forget about the start-up overwork ethic that people wear as a badge of honor–get analytical. The 80/20 principle, also known as Pareto’s Law, dictates that 80% of your desired outcomes are the result of 20% of your activities or inputs. Once per week, stop putting out fires for an afternoon and run the numbers to ensure you’re placing effort in high-yield areas: What 20% of customers/products/regions are producing 80% of the profit? What are the factors that could account for this? Invest in duplicating your few strong areas instead of fixing all of your weaknesses.

  • The Customer is Not Always Right — “Fire” High-Maintenance Customers: 

Not all customers are created equal. Apply the 80/20 principle to time consumption: What 20% of people are consuming 80% of your time? Put high-maintenance, low-profit customers on auto-pilot–process orders but don’t pursue them or check up on them–and “fire” high-maintenance, high-profit customers by sending a memo detailing how a change in business model requires a few new policies: how often and how to communicate, standardized pricing and order process, etc. Indicate that, for those clients whose needs are incompatible with these new policies, you are happy to introduce other providers. “But what if my largest customer consumes all of my time?” Recognize that 1) without time, you cannot scale your company (and, oftentimes, life) beyond that customer, and 2) people, even good people, will unknowingly abuse your time to the extent that you let them. Set good rules for all involved to minimize back-and-forth and meaningless communication.

Where people start to water the power of this down is when they just start chopping everything things into 80/20 blocks instead of creating a relationship between desired outcomes and inputs. Like, I spend 80% of my time with 20% of my friends...That's not a helpful insight... It could mean you wish you could spend time with a wider variety of friends or that you could spend more time outside of your social realm, just doesn't give you a look at a way to optimize your time.

Instead, the relationship is more like this - "I get 80% of my enjoyment from 20% of my time spent with friends". This means you can cut out 80% of the people in your schedule and still have 80% of the enjoyment. You have to factor in a variable that has some sort of meaning to you like happiness, profits, efficiency, <insert desired outcome here> and relate it to an input (time, energy, stress, etc). [and I realize this is a ruthless example!!]

Other ways to apply it to your life: 
You get 80% of the enjoyment out of 20% of the clothes you wear.
You get 80% of the enjoyment out of 20% of the recipes you make.

What are the 80/20 rules in your life or business? How has this principle helped you? Let me know in the comments!