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

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?

I Will Out-Everything You

Added on by Sam Davidson.

I'm falling back in love with running.

I've done some marathons and half-marathons in the past. Lately, I'm sticking to the 5k routes and races, but improving my time at those events. It's fun. Running 3+ miles is now part of my weekly fitness routine. 

Last week in Chicago, I ran along the waterfront on a balmy fall afternoon and loved every second. Except it was too flat.

That's right. I hate flat running. 

Give me hills. Ups and downs. Or all ups. I don't care. I need something to make me push myself. To breathe hard, to pant, to sweat, to ache, and to yearn. I don't need your easy routes.

Yesterday, I was charting a new course from my new neighborhood and there before me was a nice whale of a hill. I was ready for it, the cool air in my lungs and a steady breeze trying to send me back. As I made my way up the left sidewalk, I glanced and saw a woman on the other side of the street, presumably out for her morning routine walk around these parts. I didn't think anything of her until about 200 yards later when I saw her rush by me, sprinting uphill, getting ahead. 

"Good on her," I thought. This added no urgency to my stride. I was not in a race with her. I kept up my pace and plodded uphill.

Another 100 yards later or so, she'd slowed to a walk again. I easily caught up to her as I kept climbing.

She soon ran again. I assumed this was her interval training day - some uphill sprints mixed with some easy recovery. She soon stopped, and again I caught up. We were soon to the top of the hill, her chase abated, and I was on the way toward the rest of my route.

Whether we were racing or not, I knew this: the race is long. You need to train for such.

At Batch, we're facing a new crop of competition. Given the popularity of Nashville and the high quality of local products our proud makers crank out, lots of people want to get in on the gifting game. 

"Go ahead," I tell them and my team. "Let them start up. I welcome all comers."

I am not afraid of the competition. They are not fit to run our race. We will out-everything them.

If they want to go hot out of the gate with a flashy brand and name, I welcome it. Before we launched our company, we spent 60 straight days dedicated to forming our brand. We are not worried about your logo or color scheme. We will out-brand you.

Let them get some initial notoriety as they embark. We love it when new businesses get ink. We, too, were once a brand new business and loved the press. Of course, the longer we've stayed around, the stouter the media coverage has become, so we'll keep making national waves (including a new one I'll be sharing very soon). We will out-pitch you.

I hope these new competitors of ours get the chance to bid on high volume orders. Or at least see the daunting task sourcing, packing, and shipping a 1,500 count order is. That's no problem for us, by the way, with our warehouse and team and bevy of suppliers at the ready. We will out-scale you.

And, in the quest for margin (that's what business is, right?), these new folks may either price themselves too high or too low. They'll figure it out. We already have, so we know what we need to charge, where our concessions can be made, and where our longterm profit centers are. We will out-price you.

I also hope these new folks can find as talented and happy and kind a team as I have. We take pride in keeping our clients and customers happy. We will out-service you. 

And maybe they can build an award-winning store in their spare time. We will out-retail you.

We're excited now that we can focus marketing copy on not merely being a great gift company for those wanting to send a taste of Nashville. Now my team can flex its creative muscles by talking about how we're the best one out there. We will out-market you. 

No business race is ever a sprint. And neither is it ever just one hill. I'm so proud of our people, our products, and our purveyors and all we've built in just over two years (and all we've yet to break ground on). The race is long.

We're built for it.

You Can't Count on a City

Added on by Sam Davidson.

While perusing PostSecret yesterday, this postcard caught my eye, mainly because it's from the city I call home:

Lots of people have been showing up in Nashville for years, just as they do in Los Angeles or New York, hoping that the particular infrastructure and industries in a city will help guide them to fame and fortune (and hopefully, fulfillment). 

And while certain cities do have history or geography on their sides that then lead to rises in particular lines of work (opening a ski resort is easier in Salt Lake City than Miami, for example), a city itself is neither responsible for your success or your failure.

Coincidentally, just last week while preparing an update for Batch investors, I wrote the following line:

The city matters.

I then unpacked these three words showcasing the characteristics a city must embody if Batch is to do pleasantly well there. Am I contradicting myself?

Hardly. In that same report, I also detailed how much people matter for our company. A lot of time and detail this year have been spent on finding the right folks for our team and then offering them support and encouragement. So yes; a city matters. But not as much as people do.

Not as much as you do.

If you're heading to LA to be in movies, Silicon Valley to be in tech, one of the Dakotas to be in natural resources, or Atlanta to be in traffic, that's a fine first step. But all of that moving around will be useless if you, too, aren't ready to work.

No one is at the airport in Nashville handing out recording contracts. No one is at the Lincoln Tunnel passing out jobs in finance or media. You should only move to a new city if you're willing to put in the hard work after you move.

A city is not wholly responsible for your future.

You know who or what else isn't?

  • Your parents
  • Your friends
  • Your disabilities
  • Your transcript
  • Your pedigree
  • Your past

Now that you've been freed from relying on something other than yourself when it comes to your future success, take a moment to focus and plan your work. The next step isn't to find a city and pack a truck. The next step is to get to work.

(It's like the next 100 steps, by the way.)