Thursday, September 11, 2008

Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom

Twelve years ago, I was fresh out of college and found myself at a now-defunct Mac conference in San Jose. The keynote speaker was Guy Kawasaki. As any Mac zealot will tell you, Guy was (and is) almost as much of an icon for Apple as Steve Jobs himself. As I stood at the door to the hall, first in line, reading Guy's latest book, How to Drive your Competition Crazy, I felt a presence next to me. I glanced up from my reading and there was Guy!! I was nearly speechless, but managed to ask for an autograph. He graciously obliged and I was in geek heaven. As I sat there on the front row of Guy's keynote, I took pages of notes. A few distinct pieces of advice have stuck with me all these years and they find their way to the forefront of my mind now and then.

1. Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom
You never know which idea will take hold. Push hard to promote your product, service, or idea into as many areas as possible. Social networking makes this aspect of marketing easier than ever. This is one principle behind why we created The idea that you need to know which flowers are blooming before it's too late so you can nurse and cultivate these opportunities. Cast your seeds of knowledge far and wide. Encourage others to spread the word and share their experience. You never know which of these seeds will take root and become a major source of opportunity.

2. Focus On Your Customers
Many entrepreneurs will tell you that customer focus is key to success. They are 100% correct. This doesn't mean that the customer is always right. What it does mean is that you need to run your business from both sides of the counter. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. Look at your organization from the outside. What are the 5 criteria that you would use to evaluate a buying decision for a company selling your services? How would you honestly rate your company in each of these areas? How would your customers rate you in each of these areas? If you don't know, pick up the phone (don't email them) and ask them. They want you to know - I promise.

3. Make Mountains out of Molehills
Let's admit it. Not everyone has a mountain to claim their own. Most of us start out with molehills. That's ok, as long as you know how to turn those molehills into mountains. Entrepreneurs around the world will tell you that small is the new big, slow is the new fast, and cheap is chic. They are right, but only if you believe it too. Make your perceived weaknesses your strengths. What edge does your molehill give you? Find it, promote it, and flaunt it. Use it to your advantage and make it work.

4. A Safe First Step
It's human nature to be skeptical and want to "try before you buy." Give your customers a way to engage with you without a massive investment or commitment. Whether it be a limited trial, a money-back guarantee, or a free sample. Whether it's a new product or a slow-mover in inventory, offering the customer a taste of the experience will leave them wanting for more -- assuming they like the taste. If they don't, chances are they weren't going to like the whole package anyway and would have been a bad customer in the end. This gives you both a chance to have a dry-run before making a long-term commitment.

I learned a lot from Guy in that keynote, his books, and from many that he inspired and those who inspired him. A couple of years ago, Guy came to Austin for another speaking engagement. I got another autograph in his latest book, The Art of the Start. I got a kick out of a few pieces of his presentation when I heard much of the same material as I had ten years earlier. Mountains out of molehills, remember?

Andy Meadows is the founder of Live Oak 360, a web software company that focuses on content management, ecommerce, and social networking. Live Oak 360's latest product is You can learn more about Andy at

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