Posts Tagged blogs

Be Your Own Test Pilot

Do you know where the phrase “pushing the envelope” came from? It’s what a test pilot does. An aircraft is designed to operate within a set of boundaries called the performance envelope. How fast can it fly? How high? How quickly can it take off, turn, and land? How much weight can it carry? These are the limits of what it can do.

But when a new airplane is built no one really knows exactly where those limits are. So test pilots fly the thing to find out. They take the aircraft to the edge of the performance envelope and see what happens. If all goes well, they push beyond the existing boundaries. They explore unknown territory to see what they can find.

If they have a good day, and land in one piece, they have successfully pushed the envelope to establish a new boundary. Now the plane can be flown faster or higher. So the next day they’ll attempt to push the envelope out another little bit. If they have another good day, they’ve made more progress and helped create a better product.

Eventually, bad things will begin to happen. Components or systems or people will begin to reach the limits of their own performance. Sometimes, things will break and the pilot will have a not so good day. With skill and maybe some luck, the plane will land safely. The team will study what they’ve learned. They’ll dial things back a bit and establish the edges of the performance envelope. The limits of where the thing can be operated safely and reliably.

But no one knows where those limits are until they begin to go beyond them. They don’t know how fast or high or far they can go until they try.

You can do this in your own life. In your business. You can be your own test pilot. How do you know where your limits are? Have you pushed your own envelope lately?

I used to be afraid of heights. Then one beautiful San Francisco day, I took a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Traffic hurtled by a few feet away. The bridge moved under my feet. The wind felt like it would sweep me over the rail. But nothing bad happened. I had a really good day. And now, I’m a lot less nervous about being in high places.

A few months ago Arlene Battishill, the president of GoGo Gear, rode her motorcycle the entire length of the Baja peninsula. She met up with some scruffy-looking guys in Southern California, crossed the border into Mexico, and rode all the way to Cabo San Lucas. Eleven hundred miles in five days. With some traveling companions she really didn’t know.

I’m pretty sure Arlene told us in the first days or maybe hours of that trip that this was by far the biggest ride she had ever attempted. She said she would be doing something she had never done before. She planned to push her own envelope.

We had a great trip. Arlene proved to be one of the best riders in the group. She was definitely the most fun and now she and I are good friends. Recently I read about how she jumped on her bike and rode north, to San Francisco; 575 miles in a long weekend. She shared a picture of herself and her motorcycle at the Golden Gate Bridge. I could feel the wind and smell the ocean. I wanted to tell her about the time I went there and came back different.

Arlene Battishill at the Golden Gate Bridge

Arlene celebrates another day of pushing the envelope.

I originally wrote this as a guest post on the GoGo Gear blog. When Arlene published it she also said some very nice things about me. Here’s her version.

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Success in a Tough Economy: Launch a Luxury Product in a Niche Market

Ready for some good news? How about a startup launched in 2009 selling something that no one can honestly say they need, manufactured in Southern California, based on a design from more than 50 years ago? Suggested retail on the product starts at about $5,000. Most buyers spend more than that by adding a lot of custom bling. And the company sells them as fast as they can make them, is looking to expand the model line, and is pursuing export opportunities.

Meet the California Scooter Company. They build a little motorcycle that is big fun, very cool, not cheap, and is extremely popular. The California Scooter is powered by a Honda-designed 150cc four-stroke, single-cylinder engine that can deliver 98 miles to a gallon of gas. It sports a lot of machined aluminum, stainless steel, and chrome. The brakes and electrical system are modern and efficient. It’s got an electric starter for reliability and a kick starter for some extra fun and panache.

Think of it as a sort of retro 1950s-style chopper that anyone can ride, is easy to maintain, and doesn’t cost as much as a decent car. The bikes are inspired by the Mustang, a small motorcycle built in Glendale, California from 1947 until 1963. That bike had the classic long and low chopper look and was so fast on the race track that it was banned from competition.

The founder of the California Scooter Company, Steve Seidner, bought an old Mustang intending to restore it and give it to his father as a gift. Instead he ended up creating a new American motorcycle company. The bikes and the company have been well received, are getting great media coverage, and are enjoying tremendous success.

Joe Berk rides his California Scooter

Joe Berk rides his California Scooter in the hills above Los Angeles

Some of that success is due to engaging their prospective customers with a robust social media marketing campaign. The company is very active and accessible in a lot of online motorcycle enthusiast communities. If you’ve spent any time in the forums, you know they can be brutal. Opinionated and uninformed haters can quickly bring the signal-to-noise ratio to near zero. You can get assaulted with charges that your product is overpriced offshore junk from people who have never seen it. And it can be tough to jump in and contribute without sounding like you are just trying to sell your stuff.

The California Scooter Company has managed to avoid all of that danger, rise above the chaos, and actually tell their story well. They make good use of Facebook and Twitter and the company blog has new, engaging content several times a week. The guy behind all of this social media success is Joe Berk, a business management consultant, author, and motorcycle enthusiast. Joe is a good friend of mine and that’s how I became such a big fan of the California Scooter Company.

So the bikes are cool, Steve’s got an awesome business, and Joe is fun to hang out with. He also likes adventure travel, especially in Baja, Mexico. In about a week, we plan to throw all of that together into a big mashup involving fish tacos, cactus, and cold beer. Joe has put together a little group ride to the tip of Baja and back, on 150cc California Scooters. And I’ve managed to get myself invited along. I’ll be driving a big, comfortable pickup truck with a really good air conditioner. And a fridge in the back seat for cold drinks.

We figure we’ll get some good pictures and have a lot of fun. We’ve got some interesting characters along on the ride and I think we’ll come home with a few good stories. I hope to share them with you when I get back.

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Building Brand Enthusiasts

Yesterday, Chrysler demonstrated eight factory customized Jeep and Dodge vehicles at the 44th annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. Five of the trucks are one-off hand-built concept cars that show what might be possible. The other three are modified production vehicles designed to showcase select add-on parts. All of them are very cool and show some unique thinking.

What’s most interesting to me is how these vehicles were introduced. Chrysler had a big event, invited a bunch of media folk, and sent out press releases. Standard procedure. But backcountry vehicle enthusiasts have known about these trucks for some time. More importantly, they’ve also been talking about them. Why? Because Chrysler started the conversation and gave its fans the tools to carry it forward.

Rumors and occasionally images of the vehicles began to surface weeks before the official launch event. A couple of weeks ago, Chrysler released some concept sketches of some of the vehicles. These began to circulate and appear on blogs and in online forums and got folks talking about what might actually show up at Moab. A day later we saw some spy photos of one of the trucks, a Ram Power Wagon concept, out on the public roads in Michigan. The volume of the conversations in the forums went up several notches.

On March 27, several days before the official launch, the JP Magazine blog published pictures of a till-then secret Chrysler concept truck. The photos were taken in a dark parking lot and delivered more of an impression than any real details. But the copy mentioned some technical information that could not have been seen just by looking at the truck. The forums were filled with talk about this secret new truck.

Of course other blogs and media outlets picked up the story and it began to gain a lot of momentum.  For the next couple of days JP Magazine continued to release more dark teaser photos of additional Chrysler concept trucks saying things like, “Yet another Jeep we weren’t supposed to see ’till Wednesday.” The title of that blog post was “Mopar Project Left in Parking Lot.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Choosing a Domain Name

It’s easy to get caught up in choosing the “perfect” domain name. So caught up that one can spend huge amounts of time considering and discarding ideas. And sometimes spend huge amounts of money to acquire a domain name that someone else already owns.

I think that effort would be better spent creating content for the website, rather than agonizing over what it is called.

A domain name is important. But it is more important to have a domain name and use it, than to have the perfect domain name.

I recommend choosing a domain name that also has the most common variations available. You want to avoid confusion when somebody doesn’t exactly remember your URL. And if you are a for-profit business, you want to be a dot com, not a dot org or dot net.

If someone else already owns the dot com version of your perfect domain name, you could register the dot net version and start using it. That would immediately drive up the value of the dot com version and make it more expensive to acquire should you choose to do that later. It could also put you at risk of infringing someone’s intellectual property rights. Best to avoid that and focus instead on creating great content.

So choose some other domain name that is available in dot com and dot net versions. Get the dot org version, too, if you can afford it.

You might also consider registering hyphenated versions if your domain name is more than one word. Generally speaking, you want to avoid hyphenated words as your primary domain name. Hyphens do not lend themselves to elegant verbal communications. You want to be able to tell somebody your domain name in an elevator pitch without needing to spell it. But having the hyphenated version in addition to your primary domain gives you some protection against domain squatters.

So scribble down ten or 20 ideas for your new domain name. Check them to see what is available. Then choose one that you can make the most use of right away. Spend your energy building your brand, rather than trying to get the name perfect.

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Communication is Our Greatest Resource

Human beings have been telling stories for tens of thousands of years. We are hard-wired to respond to a good story, well told. This is just as true whether the story is about yesterday’s mammoth hunt or tomorrow’s product launch. And whether we gather around a fire to see charcoal drawings on a cave wall or in meeting rooms on two continents for a live video conference.

Storytelling is fundamental to the human experience. Key to how we relate to one another. And strong relationships are the foundation of good business.

Every business has a story to tell. But not every business tells its story as well as it could. Some businesses allow their stories to be told by others. Even, in some cases, by their competitors.

Have you ever heard someone in your company say, “Everybody knows that…” That what? That “our product lasts longer,” or “performs better,” or “costs less”? Or “our service is better,” “faster,” “cheaper”? And just who is “everybody” anyway? Most likely “everybody” is really just the people who are buying from you today, rather than the people who could buy from you tomorrow, or might buy from you in the future. Unless you absolutely own 100 percent of the addressable market and truly have no competition, “everybody” really only means “somebody.”

How are people going to decide to buy from you, unless you help them? And how are you going to help them without telling your story?

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