Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Maya: Shoes Always Work.

In Be memorable, Business, Experience, Just plain fun, Shoes on 05/01/2015 at 2:27 pm

Maya is one of my favorite people of all time. She owns Swank Productions, a ridiculously creative and luxurious event planning company based in Chelsea. We met when we were both the only non-industry people speaking at a User Experience conference in Toronto a million years ago. And although our meeting was brief, I have always remembered her passion, straightforwardness, and no-BS way of approaching life — and I try to see her as often as I can, because her energy is so contagious.

Way back when, the Sex and the City movies were coming out, and Maya decided she wanted to produce the launch parties for them. She wasn’t sure how to get her company in front of the producers. In her typical New York hustle fashion, she did some covert research, found out one of the female producer’s shoe sizes, and sent her a single Manolo Blahnik . . . with a note. “Want the other shoe? Meet me for coffee.”


And like that, she won her way to a meeting, followed by a contract, to create the launch party of Sex and the City: the movies. In her presentation: “Shoes always work.” True story.

I ❤ Maya. Happy birthday to you, my sparkle sister from another mister! xo

Bill: Clarity Brings Energy.

In Brainstorm, Business, Create, Human behavior, Organization on 02/05/2015 at 11:45 pm

I met Bill when I was looking for someone to watch the NFC playoffs with. In spite of the fact that he bleeds green and gold, we’ve remained friends through the past two football seasons. Bill also is a legit, big shot business guy (but you would never know this if you met him).

In one of our many brunches (which we admittedly do mostly for my benefit, but occasionally for his sustenance), we were sorting things out (for me). He asked what clutter I had in my life, and helped me figure out what I needed to eliminate — emotionally, mentally, physically — and then said this:

“Mari! Clarity brings energy, and with energy, you might actually find the motivation to do all of the ambitious things on your to-do list. You’re a quick starter, so stop making excuses.”

These three simple words are on my desk as a constant reminder to cut the noise, focus on intent, and ride the wave of energy that inevitably follows.


Now if I could just get some energy to shovel my car out.

Matthew: One Week Away = Ready to Scale

In Business, Org B, Strategy, Super Helpful Info, Take action on 01/27/2013 at 4:04 pm

Wayne, one of my SCORE advisors, introduced me to Matthew D’Agostino, retired third-generation owner of La Bonbonniere in central New Jersey. When I was on the east coast to work on a project for Foiled, he was gracious enough to take me to a deli lunch (despite his vegetarian diet) and talk ACTUAL bakery talk for a couple of hours.

I gleaned close to 200 bits and pieces of helpful information, but the most valuable was this:

“If you can figure out how to run your business while you’re away from it for one full week, then you’re ready to scale it out.

Foiled Cupcakes Scale It Out

This really made me think: what are the pain points that my business experiences when I’m gone? I identified four:
– Nobody to do supply deliveries while I’m gone. (I hired one of our drivers to do this.)
– We need a new supplier for foils that we don’t have to pickup from. (I found a new supplier that can ship directly to the kitchen.)
– When deliveries go awry, I step in and fill in the gaps. (I doubled up on drivers.)
– Custom cupcakes are tough to execute. (Setup longer lead times for customization.)

Thanks, Matt, for what is probably the most useful piece of advice I’ve ever worked towards in this entire business.

Dan: Everything Is Relative.

In Be logical, Business, Human behavior, Marketing, Strategy on 06/26/2012 at 6:06 pm

I met Dan Ariely at The Market Research Technology Event in Las Vegas. I spoke on the last day at the last possible time slot. Dan spoke on the best day at the best time slot. So basically, he is seriously legit. He’s also a behavioral economics professor at Duke and has a ton of fascinating studies on human behavior and consumer habits.

In part of his presentation, he discussed relative pricing.

Which subscription plan would you choose?

You (and 68% of people) would probably pick the $59 subscription, because it’s cheaper and gives you what you think you need. Right?

Okay. Now imagine that you had seen this offer instead of the first one:

With this scenario, you (and 84% of people) are probably thinking, “Oh, MAN. I could get Print + Web for $125, when print on its own is $125? What a deal! I’m totally going with the $125 option.”

And just like that, the Economist just doubled their revenue, just by throwing in a martyr price point.

From Dan’s book:

“Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context . . . We don’t know what kind of speaker system we like – until we hear a set of speakers that sounds better than the previous one . . . Everything is relative, and that’s the point.”

Frickin’ brilliant.

Tony: Don’t Outsource Your Core Competency.

In Be authentic, Business, Experience, Strategy, Tech on 06/21/2012 at 7:53 pm

I met Tony Hsieh at a 37signals event (seems like I meet a lot of people there). He was doing a national tour to promote Delivering Happiness, and my friend Jason invited me to join them. There were only 30 or so people there, so it was a pretty intimate setting, which was great.

Tony talked about his experiences with growing Zappos, and one of the biggest operational hangups he experienced was when they trusted an external company to handle their warehousing and fulfillment. After losing money, losing customers and losing time, Tony writes in his book:

“It was a valuable lesson. We learned that we should never outsource our core competency. As an e-commerce company, we should have considered warehousing to be our core competency from the beginning.”

People think our core competency is cupcakes. But it’s not. There are a million cupcakes in this city. What sets us apart (according to our clients) is the service level that each of them get with each order. Yes, the cupcakes need to be pristine. They need to be impeccable. But what we’re GOOD at, what sets us apart from our competitors, is our personal service.

So taking Tony’s advice, we will never outsource that. You have my word.

Paul: What VCs Look For.

In Business, Create, Networking, Tech on 06/19/2012 at 3:04 pm

I met Paul when we spoke at an entrepreneurship dinner last fall. He’s a partner at Lightbank (which invested in some local coupon company and I guess did okay with that.) When I met him, we joked that we were the Asian invasion. I also told him that I never have and didn’t plan on going after any external funding. He said genuinely, “Okay, but if you ever think differently, you know you can reach out.” So I do, regularly – but just to talk shop and get his feedback.

The last time I lunched with Paul, he said he hears hundreds of pitches on a monthly basis. I asked him how he even starts to figure out what would be a good investment.

“When I’m looking at a business idea, I check to see if it’s relevant, non-obvious, and robust. That’s it.”

As I’m (finally, sort of, timidly) contemplating talking to investors about expanding our current offer, I’m for SURE making sure that it’s


Easy enough. Time to get back to work.

Genevieve: Sales > Marketing.

In Business, Marketing, Take action on 03/29/2011 at 12:06 am

I spoke at an event called Entrepreneurs Unplugg’d a few weeks ago alongside power entrepreneurs like the founder of GrubHub, Crowdspring, and ConstantKarma. (I don’t know why I was invited to speak, but thanks Tim and Stella for thinking I could play with the big dogs.) Genevieve Thiers, founder of, also presented her start-up story.

Her presentation, in addition to being so super informative, high energy and fun (and operatic and theatrical), had one major key takeaway for me:

When starting a business . . . when you’re doing the stuff to get rolling . . . sales are key. Sales are more important than marketing. Because without sales, you can’t continue marketing.

Super easy concept. Super difficult for someone like me to keep in mind, since I think the marketing stuff is so fun (and the sales part is not as fun).

I’m so glad to have Genevieve as an example of someone to look up to. Thanks, lady, for inspiring me!

Jessie: There are 3 Types of Mean People

In Business, Human behavior, Tolerance on 10/18/2010 at 12:47 am

I reached out to Jessie, owner of Posies Cafe in Portland, OR, after I read her blog post about her experience with Groupon. Naturally, since we were going through some of the same things, I said, “Hey! Let’s be friends!” So now we are.

We were talking about how challenging it is to run a small business, and how so many consumers don’t get that it’s a personal extension of who you are, and how it’s so, so very tough to not take criticism personally. Especially when it’s on the internet and people are too wussy to show their faces with their mean-spirited comments (like so many were on Jessie’s blog post.)

And she said, “You know what? These mean people fall into one of three categories:
1 – They’re bitter and angry because you’re doing something they wanted to do, but never had the nerve to do.
2 – They’re bitter and angry because of an isolated incident, in which case, you apologize and hope they forgive you.
3 – They’re bitter and angry, period. And they hate life. And they’re complainers.”

I think she’s pretty much right. As a business owner, if you’ve done all you can to resolve an issue, come to common ground, and rationalize with someone who is just downright negative – and a customer still isn’t happy? Well, there’s only so much you can do. And putting any more effort into convincing a mean person to be nice is simply wasted.

Well said, Jessie.

Gary: The Right Partnerships are Critical.

In Business, Marketing on 08/09/2010 at 9:02 am

Gary Cohen is the SVP of Marketing for Redbox. He was a guest lecturer in one of my marketing classes at U of C, and after his presentation, I invited him to lunch. He graciously accepted.

During our lunch conversation, Gary talked about Redbox’s STAGGERING growth over the past three years, including their projected $1bn in revenue for 2010 ($150m in 2007) with ZERO marketing spend. The reason for their drastic growth?

“It’s totally been about partnering with the right distribution channels. Strategic partners and cluster locations have been critical to this business model.”

Makes sense. I’m trying to find ways to apply this model to our business. Who can we partner with for optimal growth opportunities? How can we use the network effect to our advantage? What changes can we make to our business to make the scalability that much more feasible?

Art: Meet and Exceed Expectations.

In Business, Experience, Human behavior, Marketing on 08/06/2010 at 1:04 am

Professor Art Middlebrooks teaches Marketing of Services at University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I love his teaching style. I love the way he relates traditional marketing principles to current pop culture. And I loved our discussion on the whole concept of “underpromise and overdeliver.”

He said that it’s actually been psychologically proven that underpromising and overdelivering makes a consumer actually think they’re not getting as high quality of a service. Their expectations are low, so they’ll possibly perceive you as shoddier than a competitor. Instead, he suggests to promise what you can actually follow through on, and then consistently deliver, over and over again.

I’ve always run with the “underpromise, overdeliver” mindset, but now I’m wondering if I need to adapt it a bit: “promise, and deliver over and over.”

What’s your customer service mantra? And how does it work for you?