I’ve been thinking about the Amazon Effect lesson from my customer discovery research of e-commerce from last week. There are a lot of tenets to the Amazon Effect including the rise of expectations of delivery, access to goods, etc. but the one I thought about most was.

The Amazon Effect has affected some of the longest-standing fundamentals of web. That is, time on site used to be a valuable metric. Amazon has proven that a winning strategy can be the opposite — get in, find what you want, check out and get out. Fast. Come back again.

The idea sticks out because it flies in the face of expectations and a metric that website owners typically watch for – “the higher the time on page, the better”. Amazon, however, is about getting folks in and out. This is the experience Amazon wants to build as it then drives consumers to come back.
As I let this idea marinate, one thing becomes clear – Amazon knows its “wow moment”. They’re not just focused on shortening the path to check out. They’re focused on shortening the path to the “aha!” and “wow” moment. That’s the experience. That’s about getting customers getting exactly what they want, when they want, how they want, and where they want (at home, largely).
Southwest Airlines is another company who challenged a long-standing industry paradigm. In this case, it was the airline industry’s paradigm of filling a plane. Southwest can tout its success with 45 straight years of profitability. Most airlines believed profitability and revenue necessitated every seat on a plane be sold and filled. It’s one of the reasons they oversell flights.
Southwest, on the other hand, realized their bottleneck and path to revenue was the plane. As long as a plane sits on the tarmac, the more underutilized the plane is. Thus, it’s not making money.
Southwest built their business on turn-around time – how fast they could turn a flight around, even if it meant the plane was not full. They flourished with the “10-minute turnaround” as other airlines were turning planes at 60 minutes – the time from entering a gate, loading passengers and cargo, and leaving the gate.
For Southwest, the wow moment is arriving at the destination realizing their fees were far less than rivals (in addition to above-and-beyond customer service).
Longstanding business practices don’t always make sense. Consumer habits and expectations continually change. Stay focused on the customer, and realize there are more ways to achieve success, especially, when ushering the market into a new era.

I’ve been on a customer discovery journey over the last couple weeks. I haven’t dug deep on Mom Test-esque questions. Instead, I’m setting a baseline on the e-commerce space for myself.
Below are highlights from my discussions so far –
  • Initial round of 7 folks from the e-commerce space representing directors and managers of marketing with a couple in sales. Companies were each in the $1B+ category largely in consumer, but also having B2B opportunities.
  • Primary levers for growing e-commerce businesses:
    • Customer acquisition
    • Fulfillment
    • These two levers have the greatest effect on net revenue
  • To achieve higher sales, too, companies are evaluating:
    • Shortest path to revenue — “click-to-checkout”
    • Building an “optimal” customer experience
  • Customer experience for companies range from custom, and temporary, showrooms to shortening the path to revenue with engaging design elements (e.g. imagery, product information consistency)
  • The Amazon Effect has affected some of the longest-standing fundamentals of web. That is, time on site used to be a valuable metric. Amazon has proven that a winning strategy can be the opposite — get in, find what you want, check out and get out. Fast. Come back again
  • Combating the big players in customer acquisition can be difficult as they spend millions upon millions in advertising, especially, on Google and Facebook. Smaller players have to focus on niches and aiming for the repeat buy
  • There are big opportunities, still
    • Most folks still believe less than 30% of the market value (10%, more likely) is still uncovered in e-commerce (“Everyone’s gathering data, but how do you use it?”)
    • There is a lot of data being collected; however, most companies still don’t know how best to utilize the data to deliver good value
    • Dynamic pricing is highly sought after with most folks seeing this as a prime opportunity for customer acquisition and revenue growth (new and recurring)
    • Exceptional customer support and returns processes are vital to keeping customers. When you consider the difficulty of acquiring customers, keeping customers should be an ongoing strategy top-of-mind

I’m still digging into the space as it’s largely unfamiliar outside of my personal shopping. Any take-aways standing out for you that surprises you? Anything contrary to what you thought?

I’m listening to Ray Dalio’s book Principles. At whatever page I’m on, he talks about being open while also being persistent. His point revolves around the principle for always learning. To learn, people need to be open to listening. And yet, people are quick to dig into their own ideas, even if they haven’t showcased success – myself included.
Ray believes successful leaders should be able to showcase at least three instances of such in some area.
It dawns on me on this site that I espouse a lot about entrepreneurship without several successes – if we classify a liquidity event as success (e.g. stock offering, being acquired). That could continue to promote the idea that success only comes from a liquidity event which is not true. From this standpoint, should readers even value what I have to say? That’s a humbling question.
Though, Ray describes the value inexperience brings with it including new, outside perspective. He also talks about gaining buy-in from others with experience like an “influential committee”. Gain the support of those with the credibility or cite sources with credibility to bring credibility to the inexperienced.
I form my own thoughts, while oftentimes, cite or bring in others to provide credibility because I need it. I don’t have the CV to persuade without.
This brings two critical thoughts:
  • I must be careful in how I guide and advise others. I can speak of my experiences and what I’ve learned. However, I should be wary of how I guide others towards whatever their ideas of success are if I do not have the requisite experience to do so.
  • Seeking a “win” is paramount to me. Then, I need to seek my next win. I am not in the upper echelons of successful leaders right now because I don’t deserve to be. Oh, but I want to be in the group who helps architect the future. But how can I join the group if I don’t have the credentials to be amongst them?

Especially the last point, it’s causing me to reflect on my path of seeking my next entrepreneurial journey. Should I continue seeking very early-stage startups (or my own) knowing there’s such a great chance of failure? More failures only mean I become successful at failure, right?

Or, should I join a venture that is beyond early-stage where I can learn scale and gain mastery?
I’m thinking. Should I lean one way or the other? In short: I’m not there yet.

I posted recently about the importance to periodically check how a current role/ position fits into the greater journey – “Before Making Moves Based On Today’s Bad, Chart How All The Dots Align to A Path”. I took this to heart recently by reviewing my resume and updating my skills and experience. It’s made me aware of my career progression and my upcoming path as I head into my mid-30s. In short: optically, I’ve been rather stagnant.
Building a startup is incredibly hard work. Many startups do not come close to the type of success that is read about in the news or even the local startup digest. Entrepreneurship, though intrinsically rewarding, is not well-received professionally.
As I’ve had the great opportunities to lead sales at Body Boss Fitness, SalesWise, and SalesWise’s new product/ brand Burner Rocket, they’ve all been tough experiences to get through. Starting from virtually nothing and fighting to get scraps of the first 10 customers and then the next is rarely seen from the outside. The mind soaks up more information than what any “normal corporate” job may provide. However, it’s, in some ways, specialized. The bruises and cuts that I have felt by leading the charge for what a sales process may look like, what are the pieces of collateral that will help sell, how do we support our customers when we don’t even know the full metrics of what is working and what is not… those lessons are not always visible to the outside world. And yet, I know the incredible value that has been learned. I know the pains and the difficulties to get to where we are. I have good hypotheses for why we may not have grown at a faster clip, but from the outside, there’s little stock. Growing from 0-10 may not be as impressive as being a leader who hit the $2MM ARR quota from last year’s $1.5MM. Should that be?
Again, periodically looking through the portfolios of seemingly little accomplishments for early-stage opportunities, I can sense there’s a strain. There’s a pull and a fight between the desire to hop into a role where the hard work has mostly been done. Perhaps, there’s a need for an optimizer or a player to just “grow more”. It’s a struggle – to be a part of something so early that the chances of success are low. The challenges and rewards are greater. Or, do I take the easier route by following the path others have already trotted on before. In that way, perhaps I can have the requisite bullet points for others to note and say, “yes, he’s had that experience of hitting XX of quota”.
Being an entrepreneur and taking a real fight to creating something special isn’t always lauded. It’s rarely what folks are really looking for. But they’re the opportunities I’m looking for. It looks like I’m still on the right path.

When it comes to finding efficiencies and cost savings, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves. It’s certainly helpful as an entrepreneur – sometimes bootstrapped. Of course, not all things are tricks as much as they are realizations. Here are a few:
  • I attended Emory University’s Goizueta Business School back 2012-2013 for my MBA. Back then, early on, at least, I thought I was going to graduate and re-enter the world of consulting. I suspected I would garner a nice-sized pay bump. I had visions of getting a BMW M3 and upgrade my house (purchased 2009). Except, I ended up going full-time into boot-strapped entrepreneurship. There were no upgrades. I kept my expenses relatively low, and stuck it out with the same car and house for years.  I did eventually change my car last year but stayed in my house. What’s fascinating are the visions for bigger, better when I thought about higher wages. However, they’re not things I needed. I’ve been happy in my home, and honestly, I probably should’ve kept my car instead upgrading. Not everything needs to be (or should be) “upgraded”.
  • I eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Outside of company lunches or going out with others, I largely eat peanut butter sandwiches. No, there’s no jelly. Over the years, they’ve tasted more and more bland. However, I stick to them for a few reasons. For one, they’re incredibly cheap. Two, I eat one at a time and perhaps three throughout the day. It helps control my appetite while providing some nourishment. Three, it takes seven swipes of the knife with about a tablespoon of peanut butter to spread + a couple minutes in the toaster oven. When this is extrapolated across the days of the week, the weeks in the month, and the months in the year, it’s a known quantity of what I’m dealing with – highly efficient in preparation and cost. Four, it’s incredibly clean. Without jelly, a toasted peanut butter sandwich keeps my hands clean, and the sandwich bag can be reused throughout the week. Eating while working then is easy. Five, at any moment, I can still be flexible in going out for lunch. The sandwich I would have for lunch that day can be saved for tomorrow. The shelf-life is helps extend that “lunch runway”.
  • Oatmeal for breakfast almost every day. I don’t typically eat or go out for breakfast like I occasionally do for lunch, so my breakfasts are even more routine than peanut butter sandwiches. In this case, it’s a half-cup of oatmeal. I’ve recently thrown in a half-tablespoon of chia seeds for more substance. I put more water into the oatmeal than required, and I prepare it in a cup. This allows me to “drink” the oatmeal without using utensils. It keeps everything clean while being highly efficient for consumption.
  • Blueberries or similar small, round fruits for fruit/ snack. Another staple of my daily diet is a cup of blueberries, typically, kept in a round container. Blueberries in a round container allows me to also “drink” the blueberries as they roll out of the cup. It’s simple. Like the sandwiches and oatmeal, this snack keeps my hands clean while reducing “friction” of utensils, peeling a fruit, use my fingers to pick up, etc.
  • Meal prep with an Instant Pot. My dinners are usually varied from week to week – contrary to my otherwise routine daily meals. However, I still have the same dinner throughout that week. Ever since I acquired an Instant Pot, I’ve been able to prepare a larger, more varied quantity of food while adding varying degrees of taste. It’s been fantastic versus my tried and true pasta menus of the past.

I’ve always been easy with money – never budgeting. I made enough while being light on expenses to not worry much about budget or retirement. However, times have changed.
In my current “situation”, I’ve become much more cost-conscious as my income has dipped significantly. I used to view my financial position as comfortable, and I wanted to be able to go out without worrying about buying “extra things” if I wanted. However, this has since flipped. It’s a different lifestyle I am adapting. I still go out and visit the local coffee shop to work. I’ve determined that spending a little in this area enables me to be more productive in other areas. Thus, it’s an investment I should make. However, I am being humbled with my choices now. Even little purchases like choosing a medium-sized drink vs. a small is coming into view. My selection of a simple iced tea is not just out of preference anymore.
I share all of this to be transparent while also helping others consider the choices they make – need vs. want. I still take in some luxuries; though, much less frequently. But also, all my small “sacrifices” and tweaks are just that – small. They can add up to be a more significant cost mitigation. However, they can easily be wiped out with a single carefree moment.
For example, my car that I traded in last year was fully paid off. I had just received a pay bump at my job. Now, I pay almost $600 monthly. That’s an incredible expense today. Forgoing a few Grande Strawberry Acai Refreshers and Pad Thai dinners don’t mitigate anywhere close to that monthly car payment.
This is a humbling experience. I can easily pull a rip cord and jump back into a high-paying job where none of the financial pressures I put on myself today “matter”. However, how would that fit into my personal mission? How does all of this affect my pursuit of entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurship oftentimes boils down to burn rate.
I’m also enjoying this experience and financial perspective. This is causing me to think more critically about my resources and expenditures in every way.
Think about where you are today in your home, your car, your clothes. Are you still seeking more? Why? What happens when you cut back on expenses? What happens when you cut back on pay?

I just wrapped up The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I’m finally crossing off books that have been recommended to me several years ago. This was one of those books that I had already heard so much about, especially given my highly habitual life.

The book centers around 7 habits that Covey covers:
  • Be proactive.
  • Begin with the end in mind.
  • Put first things first.
  • Think win-win.
  • Seek to understand, then to be understood.
  • Synergize.
  • Sharpen the saw.

The first three habits are focused around the self while habits 4-6 are about the external relations. The last habit is about constant improvement. 

What makes Covey’s book easy to understand and approachable are the real-world examples and applicability to everyday life. I won’t go into detail about each of the habits. However, I will say that each habit is a constant practice for me which makes sense given Covey’s message.
Of the habits, the most difficult for me are seeking to understand and thinking win-win. Too often we hear the saying that we have two ears and one mouth – pointing to the importance for active listening and focusing on the speaker, not of how we should respond or navigate the conversation to fit our own motives. Personally, I can be highly impulsive and want to jump into conversations quickly. As a sales person, this is a well-known problem. It’s akin to pitching without knowing or understand the needs of the customer.
The second habit I know I struggle with is to think win-win. Admittedly, I do struggle with looking for winning scenarios for other parties, not just myself. This is a key to the negotiating text Getting to Yes – while focusing on interests, not positions. My default thinking is to win regardless of other parties. I want to point to my competitiveness to want to be the best. However, it’s most likely just my own selfishness and ego. Maybe it’s all the same.
I believe I have very strong locus of control when it comes to my internal drivers. This also fits well with seventh habit of always sharpening the saw – always improving. In fact, Covey touches on, in particular, the importance of physical health and exercise. This is one of the most important areas of my life. As an extrovert, continuing to develop my external-facing habits is critical for continued success. Covey reiterates over and over again how society is beyond independent people. Instead, it’s about society –interdependence. We rely on relationships to build and succeed.

Recently, my company and I left @ATLTechVillage. It was bittersweet — a place I visited right after @davidcummings bought the building, and always wanted to be a member of. As I left, I wanted to write a letter, but decided a list of lessons from my time would be more welcome…

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

Here are my 21 lessons learned from my time @ATLTechVillage… to all you Villagers, entrepreneurs, Atlantans, the Community. (Many more sure to come up as time goes & things marinate, but here goes!)

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

1Don’t EVER merge into the right-turn lane in front of ATV on Piedmont too late during lunch or afternoon rush hour. Police will yell at you to “unmerge”. Talk-back & get a ticket. Think you got away? Check your rearview. She’s likely running after you.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

2If you want some mid-day entertainment, watch the traffic police during lunch or afternoon rush hour to see the above lesson in action. Warning: 15 minutes will pass without you knowing.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

3Spend more time getting your oatmeal or morning coffee, and finally say hello to the people you always see, but still never get to know. It’s amazing how many strangers with familiar faces there are in the place you spend so much of your life in.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

4If you’re going to interact with the @ATLTechVillage Community Team, be incredibly enthusiastic because that’s the level they always bring to the table. If you’re emailing, include at least 12 exclamation points. Doesn’t matter how many sentences.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

5The ATV cleaning staff is made up of some of the hardest working, friendliest folks you’ll encounter – shout out to Rossy and Crescensio. They’re likely there before you, and they’re likely there after you. Say, “hola” and “adios” more often.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

6If you enter the building and exit the building via the first floor, you have the added benefit of saying good morning and good night to the security team.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

7@Lane_JKL is great at creative handshakes.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

8The walls are thin. Realize that your Lady Gaga and “Kiki, do you love me” on the TVs and computers can be heard during a demo to Fortune 500 leadership teams (everyone).

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

9When you least expect it, those damn columns in the parking deck move causing you to scrape your car.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

10Feedback and help are literally next door. There’s so much brain power and creativity in your own office, I’m sure. But there’s even more when you consider all your friendly neighbors.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

11After walking to and from lunch on a hot summer’s day, the best way to cool down is sitting on the couch in the mailroom. It’s always the coldest, most refreshing room in the Village.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

12Don’t wait for the elevator if you’re going up or down one flight of stairs unless you’ve got a good reason. From a productivity standpoint, you’ll lose time 75% of those trips.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

13I never took advantage of the roof enough during the good weather days that I then regret during the bad weather days. When the weather’s nice, go up there.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

14Even though many of the hallways are whiteboards (paint), the writing tends to stay there for a long time. Don’t write something that reflects poorly on the Community, your company, and you.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

15Never steal food.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

16Okay, the nap room is a little weird. But when you need it, it’s the best room in the Village.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

17Freestyle (verb. To travel to and acquire beverage from@ccfreestyle machine on the 1st floor next to the Community Room) whenever you can for the exercise, for the break, for the hydration, for the community.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

18Post a bunch of times on the Atlanta Tech Village Slack and Forum to sell used equipment. It moves your inventory and keeps good tech amongst good tech people. ?

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

19Go to events as much as possible. The world is built on relationships. Those “organic” meet-ups can make the world of difference – a sales opportunity, a partnership, a creative idea to get over a problem, a friend, etc.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

20To the last point, say hello to more people, and then, go beyond to find out who people are. So many strangers with familiar faces, and the world needs more authenticity. Say hello and find out what drives people. You’ll be amazed.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

21The Atlanta startup ecosystem is bustling. Amazing to see folks taking the leap and dreaming big in ATL & @ATLTechVillage. Soak it all in. Rare to be around concentration energetic people who love what they do! Say hello. This is the Village, not Atlanta Tech Building.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

I just finished The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni on why organization health is the number one reason companies succeed. Lencioni argues it’s the true competitive advantage companies have.

I’ve read a lot of business books and have gone through an MBA program to learn about competitive advantages and the “it” factors that makes some companies better than others. Most of the readings have been about culture with a sprinkling of motivations. Culture makes the most noise for success, and it’s not a surprise. Culture is more uniquely applied for a company. How it operates with values and its mission. If values and the mission provide the map of a company, then organization health is the step-by-step directions to navigate.
The key take-aways:
  • Organizational health starts from the top. Much like culture, leaders can determine the health of company. Eliminating office politics (big points here from Lencioni) while ensuring the leaders row all in the same direction fosters strong health. Removing politics and acting in as a single cohesive executive team cultivates greater success than operating well but in silos.
  • Lencioni hits hard on trust across the executive team. This is the key to removing politics. Encouraging individual leaders to be vulnerable enables folks to work better together understanding individual purposes and reasons for actions – he encourages leaders to share vulnerable stories from early years (oftentimes, childhood). Trust enables leaders to have healthy debate, and agreement to move forward together as a team despite opposing feelings individually.
  • Healthy organizations exhibit cohesive teams where the whole is greater than the parts. Organizationally healthy companies exhibit functional groups who may operate outside their functional silos and even, at times, reducing effectiveness of a functional role to support another function as long as the greater company is positively impacted. In one case, this could mean sharing engineering resources to help on the marketing or sales side.
  • Meetings are big, big deal. Typically, meetings are also a waste today due to not only a lack of action, but poor structure and categorization. Lencioni argues for four types of meetings: the daily check-in, weekly tactical, monthly strategic, and quarterly off-site. In some ways, these meetings can actually increase the number of meetings in the short-term. However, long-term, meetings can reduce, but also be highly actionable making meetings productive. Being structured on the topics and the goals for each meeting type drive results. Lencioni argues that this is the biggest and lowest hanging fruit for companies.

This book was recommended to me by a friend who works at one of the top companies to work for in Atlanta. It’s not surprise why he recommended this as he’s seeing the book’s influence at his company. It’s clear to him how Lencioni was onto something on building organizational health.

“Business insulation” – I’m going to trademark that to stand for both the visible and hidden layer(s) that stops/ slows businesses from learning outside processes and systems. I think about business insulation for two reasons:
  1. It’s common for companies in “typical” industry positions to operate much like they have operated since inception. Many industries and businesses stay closely aligned to original go-to-market strategies. Folks do not realize the opportunities afforded by fast-growing technology companies and the evolution of “best practices”.
  2. Companies with business insulation are ripe for both good and bad opportunities. The good opportunities include companies that can be made stronger and grow faster sustainably with streamlined workflows and minor tweaks to business systems. The bad opportunities (“challenges”) include the difficulties for companies to overcome the insulation. How do they learn of opportunities, let alone implement them? Think: change management is the number 1 driver of failed implementations.
Business insulation masquerades today as:
  • Excuses from “That’s just how we’ve always done business” to “Things are going well, let’s not rock the boat”.
  • Working so deep in the day-to-date that leaders are unable to pull up for a more strategic view. They’re unable to steer away from risks and steer towards opportunistic endeavors.
  • Hiring the same type of candidates repeatedly creating a homogenous workforce and culture.
  • A team led by distrustful executives playing political chess.
  • Lack of deliberate time for learning from current and outside industries.
Of course, business insulation has the benefit of keeping companies squarely focused on what they’re good at. That can be a type of long-term strategy. However, over time, these strategies turn companies into highly niche offerings that take the company from long-term sustainability to short-term rewards.
What elements are contributing to business insulation where you are? How are you contributing to the insulation? How are you tearing down insulation?
I know a few folks who are diving into new ideas. One way of starting up has been fleshing out the Lean Canvas — a simple one-pager in lieu of a business plan. 
Like a business plan, the Lean Canvas helps folks capture the key elements of a business without building out a detailed, largely never-to-be-used-again business plan. It’s certainly a good way to get started while thinking holistically. 
Another method I’ve been thinking about after reviewing “landing page how-to’s“(see Julian’s Landing Pages handbook) is what I’ll refer to as the Alternatives-Value-Personas (AVP) framework. This is a stripped-down version of a Lean Canvas. In fact, this may be a preceding model before the Canvas. 
 
(Source: https://www.julian.com/guide/growth/landing-pages) 
  
In this framework, the idea is to dig into the pain today — what exists — and describe the value of a proposed solution as well as the people involved. Why I bring this up as another option is to understand the problem and the people greater while having a hypothesis of the value of the solution. The most important facet of starting out a business is the market and the pain. Is there a pain at all? What exists solving the pain, or even contributing to the pain? 
Another option for folks is building on a Simplified One-Page Strategic Plan as David Cummings calls it. This is an outline layout of the key aspects of the business. You’ll recognize here, too, the template has specific sections for values, purpose, promise — cultural elements.   
 
(Source: https://davidcummings.org/2016/11/29/2017-simplified-one-page-strategic-plan/)  
There are a lot of different options to get started. However, the most important piece is understanding the audience and addressing real pain, or as one VC describes “hair on fire“.