Helping you become an entrepreneur with heart, mind, and soul

How Are You Choosing?

Added on by Sam Davidson.

Happy December. 

You have 30 days to pick out some promises to make to yourself and the world for next year. But before you do, let's back up and step and decide how we'll decide those things.

I loved this advice from the late Leonard Nimoy, about choosing:

"We are the curators of our own lives. Curators make choices. Like when I was 21, 22 years old, I was selling vacuum cleaners, and probably making $125 to $150 a week. But when an opportunity came along to act in a play in Hollywood making $50 a week, I took it readily. That’s a curator’s choice. I felt my selling vacuum cleaners wouldn’t do anything for me as an artist."

That's wise. Choosing like a curator looks different than choosing like an accountant or choosing like a vagabond or choosing like a CEO or choosing like an entrepreneur.

So - before you choose - how will you be choosing in 2016?

I'll go first: 

In 2016, I'll be choosing like a student.

Next week, I'll share here four big goals I'm going to work on in 2016. I've been mulling these over for nearly a month now and they're nearly ready to share with the world. What I've realized is that all of these choices will require me to learn a lot next calendar year. So, many of my choices in 2016 will require me to decide like a student.

Share your thoughts on choice via the comments. I'm curious to hear how it is you choose.

The Time I Finally Gave in and Stayed at an Airbnb

Added on by Sam Davidson.

Last month, I stayed at an Airbnb for the first time. I’m a resolute and consistent hotel guy. I like my points and my status (correction: I love my points and my status). I like the consistency and the anonymity. Staying in “someone else’s house” seemed odd enough and why would I do that if I couldn’t earn points?

But, I was taking a trip for Batch to check out our Austin operation and was going to be there for five nights. The city was busy, so hotel rates here high. Plus added fees like parking was killing my budget and putting me a healthy drive away from where I’d need to be each day. So, I hopped online and created an Airbnb account, did some research, booked a stay, and now, after a few weeks to reflect back on my experience, I’m here to say this:

I’m hooked. Bring on the guest rooms and strangers.

Here’s why I’ll consider Airbnb on every future business trip I take:

1) Better amenities
I was posting up for five nights. I like to work out each day and I also don’t like to pack a ton. I enjoy eating out (who doesn’t?), but don’t like dropping all that cash if I can quickly concoct something in house. All of these needs meant that staying where I did with Airbnb was a perfect solution. I got to wash clothes (and pack less). I got to cook my own meals (saving money and time). Sure, it didn’t “feel” like a hotel, but my wallet is way happier. While some extended stay hotels offer kitchenettes and washing machines, they usually feel cheap, unlike my Airbnb unit.

Since I mentioned I like to work out, my airbnb didn’t have a stacked fitness center like many hotels. But, I went for a jog one day and then easily found a Crossfit box down the street. Even with the modest guest fee there, I was still under budget with better services.

2) Better price
Austin had a lot going on the week I was there (it nearly always has a lot going on). So, room rates with Marriott (my hotel company of choice) were through the roof. Without all the overhead a hotel demands, rates can stay low (even if hosts can gauge market demand). I spent about half of what I would have shelled out for a hotel and got approximately 8x the space.

Maybe I got lucky. Maybe I just found the right host who happened to have a nearly new guest house (one bedroom with huge bathroom, full kitchen and living area) at a very low price. Time will tell. But, even if this Airbnb unit had been the same price as a hotel, the amenities (See #1) were better bang for my buck.

3) Skip loyalty and gain community
I earned no points for this stay (except those via my branded credit card, which I used to pay for the Airbnb). Nor did I bank any room nights and trust me, I hated to give up five room nights towards status. And if Airbnb comes up with a loyalty program, then every hotel chain needs to be on more notice than they are now.

But what I lost in loyalty I gained in community. The transparent way hosts and guests interact via email, texting, and through the system is easy and trustworthy. And, the way my host checked in on me (not in a weird, overbearing way) was endearing, asking if I needed recommendations or directions around town. She also left me a welcome bottle of wine.

I’ve heard lots of stories about folks who become fast friends with hosts, too. Maybe that’s next level airbnb stuff. I’m not there yet.

The not awesome
Of course, I’ve heard horror stories about folks who have stayed or hosted via Airbnb. I brush those off and would encourage you to look past them, too. Crazy things happen at a hotel, too (I used to work at one). Ups and downs happen in all parts of our world; that’s the price we pay to keep things as open as possible. So if you go looking for awful Airbnb stories, do yourself a favor and be on the lookout for how things were resolved or stock up on positive stories, too.

That said, I didn’t love the check in process. I needed to coordinate with the host a time to get the key (a literal key, also a downer). And while communication was easy, it did create an extra chore for me. From what I’ve gathered, some hosts use a lock box, so if you arrive late or your flight is delayed, you’re not inconveniencing a host. Again, hotels are open 24 hours so you can come when you like.

Some of you have been using Airbnb in all places and in all ways for a long time. If so, I’d love to hear what it is you love about the service (or similar services). Or, if you’re a heavy business traveler, weigh in on when you may given these services a go.

See you on the road (or in your house).

(That sounded creepy. I didn’t mean it like that.)

The Business of Caring

Added on by Sam Davidson.

As it turns out, caring is a perfectly reasonable and scalable business model.

Take this post from the Farnam Street Blog (which should be part of your regular reading). Here's why caring matters:

"If you can’t relate to what you’re doing, ultimately you don’t care. If you don’t care, everything becomes properties. As a consumer you see the differences between businesses that care and those that don’t. Caring about what you do and your customers won’t make you successful, but not caring will almost certainly result in failure over time."

Do your employees care about their work? Do you? 

If the answer is no, then your business model falters from there, because your customers won't either.

"They’ve Thought of Everything"

Added on by Sam Davidson.

My friend and co-founder (at Batch and Onward) Rob said that to me after checking in to the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. We were making our way down to the lobby to grab a bite before our night in (more on that later).

And it was true: The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel has thought of everything. I detail what we found below, along with some encouragement so you can think of everything in your line of work or startup.

We’d been to the CAA before, stumbling upon its wonderful shuffleboard tables back in June. And when we did, we found a treasure trove of nostalgic goodness. We knew that the next time we came back to Chicago for work, we had one mission: stay and play for a night at the CAA.

Here’s a quick hit of images and what I love about each detail, along with suggestions for you to apply what I learned to your work.

The rooftop bar has bespoke drinks and a fantastic view of the city’s skyline and lake.
Lesson: Take advantage of where you find yourself. The CCA blew the roof off so people can go outside with a drink and take selfies. Your location is unique; take a minute to find out what you can do with it to impress your customers.

The Game Room has billiards, shuffleboard, foosball, and bocce.
Lesson: Give your space an identity. The Gameroom is just a bar, like you’d find in 100 places in Chicago, with beer and food. But calling this a definitive place sets expectations when people come in so they know what vibe to bring with them.

These etched exit and directional signs leave no detail to chance.
Lesson: If you’re aiming to be a luxury brand, or provide exceptional service, then there's no skimping. I found no acrylic signs at CAA. If a company promises responsive and exceptional service, then I don’t want to work my way through a phone tree. Consistency matters.

Photo Nov 05, 6 42 27 AM.jpg

Want coffee in the morning? It’s included with your room, but you’ll need a token.
Lesson: Create something that surprises people. It would be easy to print small slips of paper, but letting someone feel a wooden token in their hand as they hand it to the coffee clerk will help them feel like they’re part of something special.

That same lesson applies to this bingo card, to which they attach the check when you settle up in the Game Room (because of course they do).

Photo Nov 05, 3 42 35 PM.jpg

When they give directions for a running route, they give directions for a running route:
Lesson: Everything you make should be branded. These running cards become a keepsake, and they serve as another touch of service when the bellman hands it to you before you run. What can you put your name on that folks will see, keep, and share?

The bottom line is this: you don’t need millions to think of everything. You simply need attention.

And in today’s world, attention is priceless.


Added on by Sam Davidson.

I was listening to an old podcast the other day where Terry Gross was interviewing Stephen Colbert. He was talking about Jon Stewart’s early advice to him and Stewart said that to achieve great things, he’d need to “make passionate comedic choices rather than successful comedic choices."

This rings true in any industry, I think. A path to success can be laid out before you:

  • Go to college
  • Study hard
  • Get a good internship
  • Build your resume
  • Work hard
  • Climb the ladder
  • Buy a house
  • Be nice
  • Don’t rock the boat
  • Save money
  • Retire

For a lot of people, that is the successful choice. And if that’s you, saddle up and ride off into that sunset. I’m thrilled for you to travel a path you find that fits you.

But the passionate path is tough to predict:

  • Do something
  • Fail
  • Try something else
  • Learn a trade
  • Go to school
  • Be nice
  • Try that thing again (maybe you’ll be better)
  • Travel
  • Work hard
  • Go back to school
  • Call home
  • Buy a house (or don't)
  • Do something

Of course, the truth is that both can end at some version of success. But one may get you there without passion. And that is usually someone else's version of success. Before you make that choice, make sure you want that version, too.

How are you traveling?