Anthony Bucci

I’m a founder, CEO, brand builder, investor, tech geek, family man and juggernaut. I’m most known for RevZilla. Expect a bit of storytelling, inspiration and insight as my different roles and perspective continue to evolve. I won’t settle and neither should you.

  • We got a new van today.  It’s because we have 100 kids (5 actually) and our really big SUV isn’t really big enough, anymore.

    #downbytheriver

    I found it in Texas and had it shipped. The dealer rep, Ali at Round Rock Nissan, was excellent to work with. Fast follow up and follow through, and very high attention to detail.  The shipping carrier completely stunk, but that’s not for today.

    As I have done for years, with all our vehicles, I get on Weathertech.com and cringe after I see what I have to pay to kid-proof our rides with custom-fit floor mats, seat covers and liners.

    If I could rhino-line the whole interior, I’d do it. Just ask the purple crayon on the ceiling in my wife’s SUV if it loves being immortalized outside of a coloring book.  The SUV is a 2015 aging in dog years. Come see it. I dare you.

    Anyway, since the van is a newer model the exact-fit parts page didn’t have the full breadth of what I was looking for so I called to ensure there was not a secret rubber floor liner merch’ed elsewhere on the site.

    I spoke to the rep, Khloe, for about 20 minutes. Peppered her with questions and then negotiated a package deal on the big ticket for a few bucks off and free shipping.  I came loaded for bear on the call, and Khloe met head on.

    My wife thinks I’m too difficult and I expect too much from everyone. Maybe.

    I, however, only think expectations as high as mine are a net negative if:

    1. You don’t communicate effectively or agree on the goals / equation, ahead of time;
    2. Your level of expectations are inconsistent across similar types of interactions;
    3. If you don’t ensure you offer equal amounts of praise for jobs well done and especially heavy praise when people go the extra mile when no one is looking, and;
    4. You hold yourself to a lower standard than others.

    I dropped $450 on seat covers at Weathertech.com today because Klhoe was my Sherpa. At the end of the call, I asked her how I could let someone know how good she was and thanked her for all her help.

    This is what I sent to the email addy she gave me:

    —–

    Email Subject: Excellent Customer Interaction

    Hi,

    I hope this email finds its way to management and other relevant parties.

    I just spent 20 mins with Khloe to place a $450+ order on seat covers for a new van.

    I found her to be:

    Smart
    Detail Oriented
    Super friendly
    Patient

    And she knew your products, company and processes cold.

    From color matching due to flash usage during product photo production, to how my card could be charged multiple times at shipment if my order was broken into multiple shipments. We also seamlessly adjusted account information while I was in order processing workflow.

    She was engaged and took pride in her work. This was a consultative sale and considered purchase.

    I’d hire her in a heartbeat for any of my businesses,  as service is the next competitive edge beyond verticalization in the age of Amazon.

    Bravo. Ring the gong for her.

    Anthony

    —–

    I send stuff like this pretty regularly.

    I want to make sure that the best people I interact with as a consumer stay connected to the companies that I want to buy from or need. It’s up to those people’s managers to invest in them, their function and do the work to keep them engaged and on the bus or they will lose customers like me. I notice when it changes.

    Next time I call, I’m asking for Khloe directly and I’ll happily vote with my credit card.

    I’m not alone in my thinking. Most eCom and retail isn’t dead, it just needs to be service-centric at all levels, whether it produces its own products or not.

    Lastly, you don’t have to expect less from yourself or other people just because that’s the norm. Set a high bar, reinforce it with praise and live it yourself.

    #neversettle

  • A few months back, I posted about part 1 of a podcast interview I did with an old exec coach of mine, Kirk Dando. Our interview spanned a few hours so we broke the final product into a few episodes.

    After part one, I also posted a lengthy rundown titled How To Get the Most From Your Executive Coach. That post was spawned from discussing the topic at length during the interview below.

    This post on Part 2, was written months ago and got lost in the shuffle. I have 53 drafts on this blog that I wrote and didn’t publish for one reason or another. More on that at a later.

    Please find episode 2 embedded below, and the full episode page with a complete breakdown of the topics here.

    I’d consider scaling RevZilla to be the topic in episode 1. For this second episode, I’d consider the theme to be scaling yourself, scaling up your team and trying to measure what you can.

    We talked coaching, my thought process on hiring and keeping the right people on the bus. We also discussed some of the tools and hacks I used and still use today.

    I hope you find it useful.

  • What a Leader Does

    My friend Steve Voudouris sent me this video of Jack Welch today.

    Steve is the co-founder and CEO of Turn5, a massive Philly-based eCom juggernaut in the automotive aftermarket. Just like RevZilla, Turn5 (AmericanMuscle.com, ExtremeTerrain.com, AmericanTrucks.com) never raised venture capital. An independent anomaly after my own heart.

    Steve is a leader I highly respect and someone I’ve compared notes with often, for nearly a decade. Many times, I felt we were building parallel businesses separated by a literal difference of two wheels.

    This video is four minutes long and it’s a clear bright line on what a great leader does. The leadership playbook isn’t just managerial inputs and outputs. It’s so much bigger than that.

    Many of the principles in the vid show up in the sea of established new-school business writing, but there is some romance to Jack’s word choice and his illustration of where the rubber meets the road.

    Great leadership provides meaning, clarity, generosity and joy. Easy to say. Hard to do. It elevates everything for everyone and can always improve. Always.

     

     

  • From time to time I appreciate being tapped to speak or contribute at conferences, companies or in the classroom. If I can share something of value with people on a relevant journey, I always feel good about helping.

    new “adultish” headshot

    My normal gate to saying “yes” always depends on a proposed topic that I’m not only knowledgeable of, but also very passionate about.

    For example, I can speak to the proper construction and alignment of a scaled HR function at various growth stages ad-nauseum, but I’d much rather speak to building and supporting a great culture. There is a difference.

    Energy and passion are the cornerstones of great talks, panels, speakers, keynotes, etc. You know when the speaker is enjoying it. If I don’t think I’ll enjoy the topic, panel, moderator, etc., I politely decline.

    Great  talks are also a conversation with the audience vs at the audience. And for god’s sake, if you have slides, one thing per slide please. Many clicks, many pics, never lists – if possible.

    That said, here are a few places I’m excited about contributing in the next six-ish weeks:

    10/24CNBC Disruptor50 Roadshow – Building an Amazon Proof Business Panel w/ Maureen Sullivan, COO of Rent the Runway (website / tix here).  I’ll expound on building a moat via content, service, brand(s) and focus.

    11/8 Eisner Amper Philadelphia Business Summit – Panel on Scaling and Innovating in Philadelphia with a few founders / CEOs I know and respect. Justin Goldman of RenoFi and David Gutstadt of Fitler Club.  Not sure if this one is open to the public, but you can send an email for a ticket, I think. (website / tix here)

    11/15PhillyMag’s Thinkfest 2018 – Fireside chat with Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens. Should be an interesting discussion on B2C, scaling and leading the c-store model defensibly into evolving consumer expectations. We’ve never met and I’m also curious how much he knows about my boys at goPuff.  #hoagie (website / tix here)

    If you do make it out, no clapping. A Ric Flair WOOOOO! of approval is always way better.

     

  • Multi-brand retail and/ or eCommerce in most verticals is toast. Amazon won. Store traffic declined. 4-wall margin got ugly. Even the verticalized brand approach has lots of holes in it these days – mainly cost of customer acquisition.

    I do, however, still like the Beauty category for a bunch of reasons and it’s no secret why the Ultas and Sephoras of the world are still growing. There is no shortage of beauty startups, either.

    Here is some texture on why I think this category is still attractive, even though Amazon will most likely emerge the winner, if they are not the largest by volume already.

    • Beauty is big. Like $50bn+ big. Start with half the population and even if you remove the utility or “I just need one of those” type purchases which land at a CVS or Amazon etc, the remaining volume of more highly considered purchases is still a very large number.
    • Beauty products are not cheap. Many beauty purchases should produce order unit economics that can provide a decent CAC/LTV and payback period.
    • Beauty brands matter. If the brands matter, then they will probably protect their brand equity, reputation and sales channels, which could allow retailers to maintain decent margins for non-generic beauty goods.
    • Beauty products run out. I used to sell motorcycle helmets that lasted 5 years. It would be awesome for business if they needed to be replaced every 3-6 months. It’s always way cheaper to retain and remarket to a previous purchaser and it’s easier to create brand affinity and loyalty if customers need to replenish more regularly. Blending that retention efficiency against full-throttle new customer acquisition at scale will certainly help maintain marketing cost structure over time. I will say with the Facebook / Google ad duopoly, good luck finding leverage there. The rent’s only increasing.
    • Beauty is emotional and personal. If customers are driven by the fear of getting it wrong, the retail layer can provide great value via guidance, service and content to help them get it right. Becoming an indispensable part of the customer’s regular purchase cycle and building customer trust are powerful assets of loyalty.
    • Beauty product knowledge matters. In the vast sea of products, hair types, complexions and desired looks, the most knowledgeable online or retail staff can be true customer sherpas, saving time, money, effort and the risk. The store layer can offer solutions, further enhancing themselves as a value-added layer in the repeat purchase cycle by people, tools and real-time testing.
    • Beauty has a trend, lifestyle, entertainment element. What started with Michelle Phan on YouTube now encompasses a staggering number of macro, micro and celebrity influencers providing inspiration and support to the latest trends. Those trends typically involve necessary products new and old, and by their nature will be replaced, which creates a need for the conversation to continue indefinitely. Oh the content that can be built…
    • Beauty can be vertical more easily. In the pyramid of product development complexity, many products can be more easily white labeled or manufactured. It’s actually a blessing and a curse. Once a retailer or brand has earned a customer base and a bit of authority, it should be easier to introduce new Beauty products than in other categories with higher R&D thresholds.
    • Innovation is still in play. With such a large and fragmented market driven by people in need of solutions, there is great room for innovation at the point of sale or during the research phase of the sales cycles. Tech is getting faster and the cameras are getting better.

    I have to believe that there are few purchases as personal as product choices that affect appearance. Because of that there can be a significant value add via the intermediary (retail layer). Authority and loyalty can be built around this necessary service layer and it’s what Amazon and the mass market will struggle with after they have gobbled up the lion’s share of less considered beauty categories.

    Necessary service is the early moat for new entrants and stores before the addition of more exclusive beauty brands (owned or 3rd party) with distribution that avoids mass channels and Amazon.

    As a dude who buys deodorant and soap, wears no cologne and abandoned razors in 2014, I can appreciate the category, but I’m not sure you’ll see me launch RougeZilla any time soon.

     

  • I recently got an email from a founder / CEO I know who is thinking about raising substantial growth capital to accelerate his company. I’m not formally involved with the company in any way, nor are they local.

    He was looking for some help in evaluating potential financial partners and trying to refine his decision-making criteria to include some of the less obvious.

    I love that he led with what he didn’t know and used his “ask the audience” at a moment when it really mattered. I have seen so many people not do this, and waste the wisdom of the credible and experienced people who could help them get it right. Pride always has a cost. More on that another day.

    Relating to the topic at hand, we never raised outside money with RevZilla. We bootstrapped because we could and the cost/benefit of raising never made sense. We were a happy independent anomaly that never made Tech Crunch and that’s totally cool. 🙂

    I have, however, been close or arm’s length to a handful of companies that have raised over the last decade and I have been a voracious reader of many of the (good) early-stage beacons who proliferate in the blogosphere for as long as I can remember.

    In my responses, I assume that the need-to-raise calculus has already been done, but if my interaction with this founder was via phone or in-person meeting, I’d be starting one level up with “What does this buy you that you can’t do already? Speed, talent, runway, etc. Essentially, are you sure you really need it?” Just an outside gut check, not a second guess, by any means.

    The other question I’d ask is from founder to founder: “How does this round of financing impact the ability to have a meaningful financial outcome for you and your team? The goal posts move and your personal choices can narrow with each raise. ”

    My email responses to “How do I ensure I get the right partner?” were as follows:

    • How patient is the capital? Target IRR? Make sure your time horizons line up. If they don’t, you are misaligned out of the gates on what success looks like.
    • If this is capital that is coming from a source that may be a future acquirer, make sure you think about limiting information rights or you have just potentially lost your future negotiating leverage (and exit likelihood) by bringing said potential acquirer behind the curtain.
    • Board seat? No board seat? Observer? I’m always a fan of the fewest number of people in the boardroom. Non-voting seats can still get in the way of focused meetings. There can be a great value in focused board discussion with a group small enough to feel comfortable being candid while avoiding the weeds.
    • What, if any, are the other ways in which their seat at the table will alter or block your ability to run the company in the way you do today? What else will they do that will create distractions and steal bandwidth? Every partner and deal is different. Think about the 2nd- and 3rd-order consequences.
    • What’s the value of the money at the table beside runway? There is a lot of smart, connected and super value-add capital out there that can help you accelerate in ways you have not thought of, especially for first-time founders. Understand the strategic benefit to you and your company outside of the term sheet.
    • What’s the rep of the firm and the person or people you will engage with? Obviously, both entities should be smart money and bring value to the ecosystem, but beyond that, what about fit, experience and “service level”? VCs are in the service business and there are a lot of experienced (or inexperienced) turkeys in the universe who may be optimizing for a number of things instead of the most efficient path to value creation and support. They may also never have operated or have little regard for people and culture.  Front- and back-channel ref check the hell out of them via any avenue you can find. Don’t apologize or feel uncomfortable. Just like ref checking a hire, this is your last chance to verify they are who they say they are. Skip this step at your peril and be wary of people new to their firm or to their role. They have something to prove beyond helping you succeed.

    >> end email <<

    The complete list is most likely longer, but this was my 10-minute gut check. I’d also wager that founders who’ve raised 2-3+ rounds or at different startups would have even more nuanced texture to add.

    If you are a founder thinking about raising capital at any stage, understand your cost/benefit and do as much diligence as you can muster. There is an inherent cost of outside money that affects so many things and an even greater cost of raising capital from the wrong avenue.

    Much has been written about the topic by a pantheon of great VCs and a slew of founders who have landed on both sides of fate’s wheel. The education is out there. Spend the necessary cycles and time to get it. It’s free. You have no excuse.

     

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