WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT

i have never been compelled to copy a whole article over here on the boss aesthetic but this one is worth it. the article below, titled "what artisanal brands can teach us about using technology to humanize business," is from entrepreneur this past january but a friend recently re-sent it to me with the subject line "totes you." to which i say, yup! this article really encompasses SO MUCH of what i think needs to happen in how brands connect with consumers today. it also connects to a lot of what i share here - from my favorite products to the branding and marketing examples i share. my favorite passage and then the whole article below. take a look! and i'd love to hear what you think in the comments below.

"Consumers are embracing the idea of having more personal and direct connections to the products that inhabit their lives. The great irony of these back-to-basic principles? Technology is playing a critical role as an enabler of a more personalized way of doing business -- one that lets consumers connect with products as their father’s father once did at the local country store. The trend underscores one of the great paradoxes of the digital age: In an increasingly automated world of interconnected everything, consumers are craving new products that they can have an emotional connection with -- items that are customized to their personalities and tastes."

    

 

 

What Artisanal Brands Can Teach Us About Using Technology to Humanize Business
By Randy Komisar, Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Bayard Winthrop made a big bet with a small idea a few years ago. When the San Francisco-based entrepreneur set out to design, make and sell a high-quality sweatshirt at a low-end price ($70), he didn’t go the simple route. 

Winthrop didn’t hop a plane to Mumbai or Bangalore to outsource production and open a storefront in a trendy shopping district. Instead, he contracted with a small factory in San Francisco and put up a website. (Disclosure: I serve as an informal advisor to Winthrop.)

More important, he focused on absolute product excellence, not promotional externalities. He claims that 80 cents of every dollar invested in retail is unrelated to the product itself. This paid off months later when Slate's Farhad Manjoo declared his product “the greatest hoodie ever made.” Within 36 hours, Winthrop’s direct-to-consumer business, American Giant, was humming. Within months, he had sold thousands of sweatshirts and was swamped with back orders.

Winthrop’s idea, of course, isn’t a small one any longer. It’s tightly linked to the same dynamic driving the farm-to-table movement and the boom in artisanal manufacturing. In each of these new models, consumers are embracing the idea of having more personal and direct connections to the products that inhabit their lives.

The great irony of these back-to-basic principles? Technology is playing a critical role as an enabler of a more personalized way of doing business -- one that lets consumers connect with products as their father’s father once did at the local country store.

The trend underscores one of the great paradoxes of the digital age: In an increasingly automated world of interconnected everything, consumers are craving new products that they can have an emotional connection with -- items that are customized to their personalities and tastes. And consumers are beginning to look beyond markets driven by mass production and low cost for everything from clothes to cars.

Across dozens of industries, Winthrop and other entrepreneurs are creating new “made-to-order” personalization platforms, cutting out as many middlemen as possible and relying heavily on social and mobile technologies to forge lasting relationships with new customers.

Three core principles are driving success for companies like American Giant and many others. Here’s my take on what those principles are and why they matter:

1. Embracing extreme authenticity.

When it comes to consumer products, a complex web of manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, advertisers and marketers factor heavily into the ultimate price of a good. All these third parties add layers of complexity and cost between when the product is made and then when it's sold.

Manufacturers might produce higher-quality products, but in the retail sector they typically sell them at higher prices (as much as 13 percent higher, in some cases) to account for distribution and marketing.

How can companies remove these costs -- and also spark new connections with consumers? First, they can source the manufacturing of their goods locally and use the Internet as a primary storefront.

By contracting with a San Francisco factory ( later adding three more plants in North Carolina) and sourcing his cotton and other supplies in the United States, Winthrop has eliminated the high cost of producing sweatshirts overseas. And he keeps real estate costs low by selling his apparel only online and he spends little on marketing.

With the extra capital freed up by lower distribution and marketing costs, Winthrop can afford to buy quality cotton and pay workers a relatively generous wage -- $17 per hour.

Zappos and Amazon may have built massive online stores, but they remain product curators -- not makers -- at their core.

Companies like Warby Parker took this model a step further by not only delivering items purchased online, but also creating them in-house. By offering to deliver its own product (eyeglass frames) to customers with the added bonus of no obligation to buy them, Warby put choice in the hands of the customer while saving on the real estate costs of an in-store experience. 

2. Letting customers be the voice of a brand.

Artisanal manufacturers are providing consumers amazing new products that they can love and share with their vast online networks. And through social media, they serve as authentic cheerleaders to drive sales. By relying on customers to become the collective voice of their brands, companies free up capital that would otherwise be spent on expensive marketing and distribution processes.

Dozens of companies are tapping into this concept to build and grow promising new businesses. Brewers and distillers like New Belgium Brewing and Woodinville Whiskey have taken big strides in advancing the quality of craft-made beverages while relying on consumers to spread the word.

Crowdsourced creation has also enlisted technology and online platforms to create great products. Take Arizona-based Local Motors. The company provides an online space for customers to design, build and sell custom-made vehicles and parts.

Such companies perhaps owe a portion of their success to the farm-to-table innovators of the last decade, who showed how the quality of home-grown produce wasn’t just better but connected to consumers’ core values in ways that supermarkets simply did not. Hundreds of other industries and sub-industries in the U.S. economy are next in line to undergo the same transformation.

3. Practicing extreme honesty.

Transparency is integral to the companies' building lasting relationships with customers today -- and allows for a focus on creating great products. Successful companies can’t hide mistakes or internal goings-on like they once could.

Extreme honesty is the new policy of successful business in the 21st century. The days of coverups and pushing issues under the rug are gone. Humans are fallible and so are companies. Admitting this will take a company a long way with its advocates.

At American Giant, Winthrop has been very open about the company’s inability to meet demand. Some customers have waited months for a hoodie. This level of transparency guarantees that quality products will receive the recognition they deserve from the customers who love them.

The artisanal movement certainly won’t fill the hole left by the decline in U.S. manufacturing in the last 30 years, but it’s helping to forge a new model that lets some companies marry the best that technology can offer with the human values and sense of individuality that consumers increasingly crave. In the end, the melding of these elements really will put the greatest products ever made just one click away.

This article is adapted from The Technology of Us, an ebook hosted by TeleTech that explores the intersection of technology and humanity.

more here. 

"ah ha" found here.

PLAN YOUR TIME, MANAGE YOUR ENERGY

time management is always tricky. to do-lists and should-do lists and didn't-do lists. they are ever-present. so, i wanted to share a little "business buddhism" about time management, mainly that it's not about time management at all, it's about *energy* management.

here's my suggestion: next time you're feeling weighed down by your to-do list, look at the things on your list and spend a minute reflecting on how long they actually take versus how much mental energy they take. chances are there's a tiny task that is taking a disproportionate amount of energy. you know that thing you've been putting off for two weeks that actually takes ten minutes? that's what i'm talking about.

often, it's those small energy weights that make it all feel overwhelming. not the lack of time!

so, if buddha went to bschool he would say: plan your time but *manage* your energy. cuz some things take a small amount of time but a large amount of energy and those are the things we have to manage.

alice in wonderland

this is usually the really hard stuff or the stuff you hate doing. often it's unavoidable but sometimes it's not! and like so many other things, if you understand it you are much more able to manage it. maybe it's something you should try to task someone else with, something you should outsource. maybe it represents a skill you need to develop.

whether it's something you need to work on or a shortcoming you need to just accept, look out for those tiny energy weights on your to do list. spot them and manage them so you can keep on movin' on.

POWER IS NOT LIKE ENERGY, IT *CAN* BE CREATED

when i started this blog (exactly!) six months ago, one of the things i knew i wanted to do was to share some of the lessons i have learned about design, business and life from "business buddhas" in my life. the other day i looked at the brainstorm notes i compiled before the launch and in huge letters in the corner of the first page i wrote "if buddha went to bschool aka lessons from kabi." and so, this series was born! but i've never actually shared anything from kabi himself. so, here goes!

kabi is the ultimate business buddha for me. he was a professor of mine during business school and taught a class on power and politics. the class was kind of about organizational behavior and kind of about life. i have found his insights so deeply helpful! i'll probably share a couple of lessons from him here but i thought i'd start with a few of his core principles about power and organizations, mainly: how to create pockets of power and manage people politics.

image found  here .

image found here.

first a definition: power is the actionable capacity to get others to do what you want. if you go even deeper, it is the actionable capacity to get others to want what you want.

one of the things kabi teaches is that there are three types of power: position power (where you are); expert power (what you know); and relational power (who you know). 

long story short, you need all three and you need to be thinking about cultivating all three. as kabi says, you can say that playing "politics" is dirty or manipulative. but the reality is that it's not about manipulation, it's about navigating relationships and personalities in thoughtful and efficient ways so you can spend as little time as possible putting out fires.   

lesson one: position power (your title, your role) is the end-all-be-all when markets and organizations are in a stable and predictable place. in calm times, position power is where it's at and what people care about. it's a big one.

but (lesson two!) it's not all about your title. you have to cultivate all three types of power. because when uncertainties increase, expert power and relational power becomes much more important.

one of the things kabi reminds you of is that (lesson three) power is not like energy, it CAN be created. so, you have to look for holes in the structure of an organization - gaps between the strategy and structure where things don't fully fit - and fill them in. this is where you can create pockets of power. and the way you do that is by using your expertise (expert power) and your relationships (relational power).

so, in summary:

1. know there are three types of power. be thoughtful about positioning yourself to have formal and informal power so you can navigate times both good and rocky.

2. position power is great but make sure to cultivate and leverage your expertises and your network for when change hits.

3. as much as we all want to avoid organizational politics and drama, there are pushes and pulls in any organization. so being aware of how you and the people around you are shifting the levers will always be a source of power.

IF BUDDHA WENT TO BSCHOOL

Max Wanger Cliffs

if buddha went to bschool he might say: give the meeting / take the meeting.

this one is a lesson in managing up and down. the idea is that you can really empower people by giving them the meeting. a former boss of mine used to practice this. every now and then, i'd walk into a meeting, pause, look at him (waiting for him to kick it off) and he would say “this is your meeting. go ahead.” at first it was a little intimidating, but the truth is that it forced ownership, proactiveness and was incredibly empowering. i think managers want to see you come to them with solutions, not problems, and this is an extension of that. if the meeting is about something you’re working on you should walk in with a plan, with answers, ready to shape the conversation. asking for the meeting and taking the reigns by managing the discussion and the use of time is an important exercise. if buddha went to bschool he might say: you gotta own it and you gotta let others own it as well.

image from this beautiful series by max wanger, via designlovefest

A LITTLE GIVE AND A LITTLE TAKE

Hands by Saskia Pomeroy

are you a giver or a taker? maybe you’re a benefit-of-the-doubt kinda guy. or perhaps an-eye-for-an-eye kinda lady? what role do you think that plays in how you work? or in your success?

these are the questions organizational psychologist adam grant asks in his book, give and take. it’s a fascinating book and i think these questions give huge insight into how we operate, at work and in life.

“according to conventional wisdom, highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. if we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent, and luck. [but there is] a fourth ingredient, one that’s critical but often neglected: success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people. every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

he breaks the theory down into three chunks: givers give more than they receive. takers do the opposite and put their interests first. and matchers do neither. matchers are more focused on making sure the scales of giving and getting are evenly balanced. i’m a matcher. an eye-for-an-eye kinda lady. and when i heard grant speak it really gave me a lot of insight into myself. and since then i have been better able to understand and manage my thoughts and feelings because of this context.

so, long story short, which of the three types is most likely to succeed?

“research demonstrates that givers sink to the bottom of the success ladder. across a wide range of important occupations, givers are at a disadvantage: they make others better off but sacrifice their own success in the process.”

but here’s the interesting part: while givers were the worst performers, they were also the best. with takers and matchers landing in the middle.

“there’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades. when takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses. research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. in contrast, when [givers] win, people are rooting for them and supporting them, rather than gunning for them. givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them. you’ll see that the difference lies in how giver success creates value, instead of just claiming it.”

so interesting!

more here.

image above by saskia pomeroy