Year: 2018

  • Your Choices Still Need To Be Yours

    I was recently speaking with the founder of a company of which I am an investor. He asked for my thoughts on a decision and I offered my opinion, only to end with a caveat which I repeat frequently.

    I encouraged him to continue to leverage the intellectual capital around him whenever possible, but to remember, “No one knows your business better than you do. Your choices still need to be yours.”

    We all know the all saying, “Consider the source”, and countless biz titans like Ray Dalio write about attaching a “credibility score” to advice. They recommend further validating the opinions of advisors to ensure they have actual experience in the topic they’re speaking to. It seems so obvious, but most of us don’t do that enough.

    All too often, we accept the opinions of people who genuinely want to help us but are shooting enthusiastically from the hip instead of appropriately qualifying their opinion. We all need to be more skeptical at times to make sure we’re listening to direct experience versus just someone else’s lighter weight exposure or feeling on a topic.

    This applies to all grey hair, including investors, board members, advisors and fellow executives – even when they come with impressive resumes and reputations.

    I know too many founders who have deferred to board members’ recommendations, assuming they knew better, only to follow advice or enact strategies that led to significant negative outcomes.

    Even when people are extremely credible on a topic, founders also have to remember that “one size fits none” and copy ‘n’ paste usually doesn’t work across companies, save for some fundamentals.

    Regardless of your level of experience operating, no outsider will ever be able to see the full canvas needed for a complete thought process. Trust your gut. Pump the brakes when you need to. Don’t worry about pleasing people. Get more data points within a responsible time frame, if you need them.

    Use grey haired conversations for additional decision-making frameworks. Hope to unlock some additional pattern recognition. Utilize help to ensure you see the full cost / benefit equation from other sophisticated perspectives.

    But remember you’re the one who’s ultimately accountable. Again, your choices still need to be yours.

    Not fully qualifying the source, pushing back or trusting your instincts can easily lead to an ill-timed CTRL+V.

    That can kill your company. I’ve seen it happen more than once.

  • New Van, Old Expectations, Same Praise

    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.


    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 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 me head on.

    I dropped $450 on seat covers at 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


    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:

    Detail Oriented
    Super friendly

    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, she was on it. 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.



    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.

    My wife thinks I’m too difficult and I expect too much in most situations. 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 / expectations, 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.

    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.


  • For You Leaders Podcast Part 2 – Coaching, Hiring and KPIs

    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 (,, 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.



  • A Panel Discussion Near You

    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.


  • The Beauty Moat is Service

    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.


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