Four Challenges of Hypergrowth

This is the unedited version of my December 5, 2012 Blog Post which was published in the Washington Business Journal.

I’m really thrilled to start writing a weekly Blog post for the Washington Business Journal as of today.  Thank you Roger Hughlett and Alex Orfinger, Publisher, for the opportunity to express my opinions and thoughts about a wide range of business ideas and topics.

As a novice and inconsistent blogger, I now have a “boss” and weekly deadline, so there are no more excuses NOT to post consistently.  And to have the WBJ platform distribute my content?! What more could I ask for?

I’ll be blogging on leadership, entrepreneurship, technology (all kinds), strategy, private equity, venture capital, international business (particularly in China and Brazil), and probably a bunch of other random stuff.

Last week I had the pleasure, along with Devin Schain of CampusEd and Mark Richardson of CASE Building and Design, of speaking to Professor Andrew J. Sherman, Esq.’s University of Maryland class on Entrepreneurship.  The topic: Challenges to Growing Your Business.

I co-founded and ran CyberRep, Inc., a call center/customer relationship management business which, over a 12 year period,  grew from 0 – 2200 employees and $0 – $80 million in revenues.  So I broke down the types of challenges we faced into 4 categories:  1. Keeping Clients Happy, 2. Keeping the Culture Pure, 3. People Issues, and 4. Personal Growth Challenges.  These 4 types of challenges are all integrated and interdependent with each other.

Keeping Clients Happy – When you are small, it’s relatively easy to focus on thrilling your clients.  As you hypergrow, you start working on lots of other very important things in addition to client matters.  Things like capital raising, shareholder matters, hiring and staffing, technology issues, etc. start to command your attention.  It’s natural.  As a hypergrowth company, we had our share of growing pains and glitches especially with people, processes, and even technology.  What was key for us was that “Client goals are our goals” was our #2 corporate core value and “Client satisfaction” was one of our “4 Pillars of Success” so we were able to ingrain this client-first thinking into our culture.  When hypergrowing, it’s critical to never forget who signs your paycheck – your clients!

Keeping the Culture Pure – As CEO, my job was to establish, evangelize, and enforce the Company culture.  As we  grew, and acquired 3 companies, and hired people from competitors and companies which didn’t have our company’s value set, we risked diluting our culture.  When a company loses its culture, it will eventually die.  We kept the culture pure by repeatedly dispatching our senior leadership team into all of our offices (we had 10 in 6 states) to evangelize like crazy.  We lived by our “Top 10” core values and developed our own lingo and reward systems to train all associates on what was important to the Company.  Very tedious, grinding work – very challenging, but it did pay off.  Our leadership team studied Jack Welch and the GE way, and what GE was doing at Crotonville, and we were inspired by their commitment to nonstop repetition in inculcating culture into the organization.

People – Dealing with people issues is one of the toughest parts of running a business.  As you grow, your people necessarily must grow…or they will be left behind or worse.  I would say that less than 1/3 of our first tier of management were able to “keep up” with company growth and client demands as we grew from $5 million – $20 million in revenue.  We saw the Peter Principle at work for dozens of our managers.  It pained me to have to let some of them go, especially the ones who had been with us from early on.  Others just stayed in their jobs or grew a little more slowly than the Company.  The bottom line here was not sacrificing quality or settling for less than excellent performance.  So that meant lots of training, reorganizing the org chart appropriately and often, and being able to recruit new talent for the right positions.  The main challenge was maintaining focus on what was best for the Company, and putting those needs first and ahead of any one team member.

Personal Growth Challenges – This set of challenges may have been the most trying of all for me.  At each stage of our growth, our executive team and I were all in uncharted territory.  We’d never grown a company this fast or this way.  As startups hypergrow, the Alpha Male or Female startup entrepreneur has to develop into a professional executive.  I have seen many fail at this.  So, I had to make the transition from manager to leader, and I had to develop soft skills and become more diplomatic.  The realization that my decisions could affect 2200 families was another eye opener, and I was forced to deal with the psychology around that fact.  Also, as our company progressed, we had to all become more thoughtful, analytical, and process-oriented.  Company and CEO must both face this reality of “growing up.”  The challenges are too many to enumerate here but these were just some highlights.

So that ends my inaugural WBJ blog post.  Please comment or email me your thoughts and experience.  I’d love to hear of your personal experiences and challenges in hypergrowing your company.  Thanks for reading!

Tien Wong is a serial entrepreneur and private investor.  He is CEO of Lore Systems, Inc. an enterprise network engineering firm specializing in cloud computing and network infrastructure for commercial, nonprofit, and government clients.  He also heads Opus8, an investment and strategic advisory firm.  His Twitter handle is @tienwong and the web address for his blog “Winning Ideas – On Leadership and Hypergrowth in the Entrepreneurial Economy” is tienwong.wordpress.com.

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Persistence and Commitment at HONEST TEA, a guest post by Marissa Levin

Guest Blog Post from Marissa Levin, CEO of Information Experts and Founder of Successful Culture, a new business dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and business leaders build successful cultures within their organizations.

Marissa was a guest at Lore Systems’ Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Spring Forum on March 7, 2012 and Seth Goldman, Co-Founder and TeaEO of Honest Tea, was one of our featured speakers on the “Entrepreneurship with a Higher Purpose” panel.

This post was written on March 13, 2012 and can be found on Marissa’s awesome new Blog, Successful Culture.

Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman Takes Persistence & A Commitment to Mission to New Heights

Imagine pitching your idea to 1,000 investors. Over and over and over again. A little insane, right? Not if you’re Seth Goldman, TeaEO of Honest Tea. When we think of Honest Tea, we think of a delicious beverage, and a wildly successful business.

Dig a little deeper into the roots of Honest Tea, and you’ll discover an entrepreneur who is forever committed to the mission of “changing the way people eat, drink, think and live.”

Seth shared the struggles of his early days with 300 business leaders at the sold-out ConnectPreneur Event in the DC region, architected by global serial entrepreneur and angel investor Tien Wong, CEO of Lore Systems (www.lore.net).

Building an Empire One Brick at a Time

As a bootstrapped entrepreneur who has never sought outside funding, I was amazed at Seth’s relentless quest for angel investments when he launched Honest Tea. “I did over 1,000 pitches and landed 120 angel investors. I took $25,000 at a time,” Goldman said. “There were plenty of times when I was financially out of business. But you need just enough fumes to keep things going.”

The question on everyone’s mind – which was asked – was, “How did you keep going?” All entrepreneurs seek the answer to this question from others that travel the path of business ownership. What is the magic bullet -the secret sauce – that gives us the strength to keep pushing when we are seemingly out of options?

Always Return to the Mission

“What kept me going is I always believed and still believe in my mission. I believe we have to change the way we eat, drink, think, and live. Quitting was never an option.”

In addition to the initial 1,000+ calls, Goldman had to ruthlessly follow up with potential investors. Follow-up apparently is just as important as the initial contact.

“You need to be ruthless with your follow-up. You can’t ever quit. Your follow-up is a good indication of your commitment to what you are trying to build, and to your work ethic. Some we talked to for years before they came on,” he said.

Seth’s tenacity is an inspiration to anyone trying to make their entrepreneurial mark. Equally inspiring is his commitment to his core values, and his refusal to relinquish what matters most to him – providing healthy products that consumers feel good about drinking.

Coca-Cola now owns 40% of Honest Tea. The mammoth company’s management is like a bull in a china shop. This, however, doesn’t sway Goldman from his values. “Coca-Cola wanted me to remove “No High Fructose Corn Syrup!” from our labels. I asked if this was a legal or regulatory requirement, and it wasn’t,” he explained.

Goldman continued, “Because their products contain this ingredient, our label wasn’t a positive reflection of their brand. I refused to remove it it. The discussion made its way to the very top of the executive ladder, and I refused.”

Finally, Coca-Cola relented, and conceded that as a minority owner, they couldn’t force Honest Tea to remove the labeling.

All Natural Ingredients for Successful Entrepreneurship

Goldman boiled successful entrepreneurship down to the two basic tenets that we all inherently know: 1: A steadfast, laser-focused, driven commitment to what we are building, in which we will do whatever we need to succeed, and 2: A passionate belief in the change we are trying to make.

Thanks to Tien Wong (follow him on Twitter: @tienwong, and subscribe to his blog – Winning Ideas at (https://tienwong.wordpress.com/) for helping to quench the entrepreneurial thirst for learning with a great event!

And thanks to Seth Goldman (@HonestTea) for showing us what happens when you never ever ever ever ever give up.

Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” ~Napoleon Hill

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”  That’s one of my favorite sayings, and a true maxim in life and in business.  Having a “know it all” mentality can lead to disastrous decision making.  I’ve learned this the hard way, and if I had a dime for every time I have said “you don’t know what you don’t know” to one of my teammates or colleagues, I’d be very rich!

The beautiful hand painted wooden Russian Nesting Dolls from the city of Penza (above and below) illustrate this point very well.  The dolls descend in size and fit inside one another.  You open the largest one and keep going until you finally come to the impossibly tiny little doll at the end.

Ever had a problem you think you solved until another related issue popped up? Something completely unexpected.  Then you thought you solved it again but then another surprise came up?  And so on and so on until you finally got the correct answer?  Finding the right solution is just like opening up a set of these nesting dolls one by one.

Problems can be solved faster by knowing the simple fact that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  So here are some simple ideas to keep in mind.

1.  Don’t Assume Anything – You’ve heard bosses and mentors say, “If you A-S-S-U-M-E, you make an A-S-S out of U and ME,” right?  I have to agree that, while extremely difficult NOT to do, assuming things can be very costly, especially when communicating with others.  Of course, you have to assume or guess at some things, but try and get as many facts, background info, etc. ahead of time.

2.  Be Prepared – For anything.  Expect surprises, and just take the issue as it comes and think things through carefully.

3.  Have a “Beginner’s Mind,” or “Shosin” as the Zen Buddhists like to call it.  By being open and devoid of preconceptions, you bring a level of humility and desire for learning to the challenge at hand.

4.  Get Help – Ask experts or experienced people and advisers who can help you.  And do your homework independently, as well.

5.  Test and Iterate – If you have the luxury of time, take baby steps and test your ideas. Whether it’s a new product or a new target audience, or whatever, put it out there on a test basis first, then evaluate feedback and results….and then adjust accordingly.

We at Lore Systems have put in place these practices and have benefitted immeasurably in making better decisions in everything we do.

Good luck, and thank you very much for reading.  Please feel free to comment and sign up for my Blog!

Yanik Silver’s 34 WINNING Rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs

My friend Yanik Silver is a successful, young, internet marketing expert.  A self-made millionaire by the age of 30, Yanik exudes creativity, energy, and passion.  He’s a veritable idea factory, and I am impressed by his knowledge and wisdom at such a relatively young age.  His Twitter handle is @yaniksilver and his main Blog site is InternetLifestyle.com.

Yanik has, through reflection and analysis of his business experience and interactions with dozens of the world’s top entrepreneurs and business leaders, developed what he calls his “34 Rules “  They can also be found on one of his Blogs:  maverickbusinessinsider.com.

So here are YANIK SILVER’S 34 RULES FOR MAVERICK ENTREPRENEURS  (I added some commentary of my own in BOLD text below.)

  1. It’s got to be a BIG idea that you, your team and your customers can “get” in seconds.  Agree 100% that THINKING BIG is one of the most important things you can do in business.  See my Blog Post on “5 KEY LEARNINGS.”
  2. Strive to create 10x — 100x in value for any price you charge. Your rewards are always proportionate to the value you provide.
  3. You must charge a premium price so you have a large margin to provide an extraordinary value & experience.  This is right out of the Steve Jobs Playbook!
  4. Provide a ‘Reason Why’ customers should do business with you and pay you a premium.
  5. Get paid before you deliver your product or service. And when possible figure out how to create recurring revenue from transactions.  Collecting cash early allows you to finance your business, and ecurring revenue creates maximum shareholder value.
  6. You get to make the rules for your business. Don’t let industry norms dictate how you’ll work or who you’ll work with.  Another Steve Jobsism.
  7. Create your business around your life instead of settling for your life around your business.
  8. Consistently and constantly force yourself to focus on the ‘critically few’ proactive activities that produce exponential results. Don’t get caught up in minutia & bullshit.  Focus!
  9. Seek to minimize start-up risk but have maximum upside potential.
  10. Get your idea out there as fast as possible even if it’s not quite ready by setting must-hit deadlines. Let the market tell you if you have a winner or not. If not — move on and fail forward fast! If it’s got potential — then you can make it better.  The one great characteristic of internet-based businesses is that the feedback loop is shortened and rapid iteration can be done to perfect the model.
  11. Find partners and team members who are strong where you are weak and appreciate being paid on results.
  12. Your reputation always counts. Honor your obligations and agreements.  There’s nothing more important than INTEGRITY.
  13. Never, ever get paid based on hours worked.
  14. Leverage your marketing activities exponentially by using direct response methods and testing.
  15. Measure and track your marketing so you know what’s working and what’s not.
  16. Bootstrap. Having too much capital leads to incredible waste and doing things using conventional means.  I love this concept.  Bootstrapping builds a culture of resourceful and a “lean and mean” operating philosophy.
  17. Your partners and employees actions are their true core — not what they tell you.
  18. Keep asking the right questions to come up with innovative solutions. “How?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “Who Else?” & “Why?” open up possibilities.
  19. You’ll never have a perfect business and you’ll never be totally “done”. Deal with it.  Warren Buffett has said that it’s not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.  See my related Blog Post on Buffett.
  20. Focus most of your time on your core strengths and less time working in areas you suck at.
  21. Make it easier for customers to buy by taking away the risk of the transaction by guaranteeing what you do in a meaningful way.  If you are supremely confident in your product or service, you should have no problem guaranteeing it, and every customer loves a guarantee.
  22. Always have something else to sell (via upsell, cross-sell, follow-up offer, etc) whenever a transaction takes place. The hottest buyer in the world is one who just gave you money.
  23. Always go back to your existing customers with exceptional offers and reasons they should give you more money. It’s 5x less expensive to sell to happy customers than go find new ones.
  24. However the flip side is – fire your most annoying customers. They’ll be replaced with the right ones.  I have done this and it has worked miracles in getting my Team focused on the higher-value customers.  Figure out how to “score” or rank your customers and rationalize the lowest value ones.  You can then apply the scoring system to new business opportunities you evaluate, so that you accept the customers you want.
  25. The marketplace and competitors are always trying to beat you down to a commodity. Don’t let that happen.  I agree that getting into a commodity position is a losing proposition because someone will ALWAYS be lower in price.
  26. Develop and build your business’s personality that stands out. People want to buy from people.
  27. Create your own category so you can be first in the consumer’s mind.
  28. Go the opposite direction competitors are headed — you’ll stand out.  It’s amazing how so many of successful business leaders and investors are CONTRAIAN in their thinking.
  29. Mastermind and collaborate with other smart entrepreneurs if they have futures that are even bigger than their present.  You can’t win by yourself.  You need peers, advisors, mentors, and others who can help you.  Create a group, join a YPO or EO Forum, or a Vistage Group.  I am in a YPO Forum and the learnings and experience have been priceless.
  30. Celebrate your victories. It’s too easy to simply move on to your next goal without acknowledging and appreciating the ‘win’.  This is a good one.  Oftentimes, you see Founders relentlessly clamoring for “more, more, more!” without stopping to celebrate success.  This is super important for morale.
  31. Make your business AND doing business with you FUN!
  32. Do the unexpected before and after anything goes wrong so customers are compelled to ‘share your story’.
  33. Get a life! Business and making money are important but your life is the sum total of your experiences. Go out and create experiences & adventures so you can come back renewed and inspired for your next big thing.  Life is very short, so enjoy your moments at every opportunity.
  34. Give back! Commit to taking a % of your company’s sales and make a difference. If this becomes a habit like brushing your teeth pretty soon the big checks with lots of zeros won’t be scary to write. If you think you can’t donate a percentage of your sales simply raise your price.  The more you give, the more things come back to you. Giving is great for the community, for your company, and your teammates.  
This is a big list and, for me, I like #1, #6, and #8.  I believe in “Thinking Big.”  You’re going to be thinking anyway, so why not Think Big?  As for #6,  your business will definitely differentiate better if you follow your voice and make your own rules, as opposed to following someone else.  The great companies create their own products and solutions.  They set the trends.  Finally, I can’t say enough about FOCUS (#8), because that’s one of the TOP 5 necessities for success.  I blogged about this in my very first Blog Post, SUCCESS FORMULA.
Which one of these 34 RULES do you like best or find most relevant to your business?  
Please Comment below and Subscribe to my Blog.  Thanks!       
Featured image courtesy of Ralph Zuranski, licensed via creative commons.

Winning with Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek

When Tim Ferriss‘ book The 4-Four Hour Workweek originally hit the airport bookstores in 2007, I must admit I scoffed at the ridiculous title and thought the author and content would also be ridiculous. I was not alone in my opinion, as his methods and advice have been controversial.

After hearing so much about the book, I did finally buy and read it, and I was pleasantly surprised!  I just read it again on a recent trip to Rio (they do practice the 4 hour workweek in Brazil!) and thought I’d write a couple of Blog posts on the subject.  While there are a lot of contrarian and unusual ideas in the book, Ferriss DOES render some excellent advice on a variety of matters including how to create or design a lifestyle.  He does it in a very motivating “I did it so you can do it too” manner.

His basic themes are:

1.  You CAN enjoy the lifestyle you want, and you can do it now

2.  Simpify to create space and create attention (attention is more important than time because time without attention is useless) to apply to other things

3.  Focus on what’s important in your life and that which makes you happy and fulfilled.

4.  His 4-step “DEAL” formula: Defininition, Eliminate, Automate, and Liberate

Tim Ferris’ DEAL:

Definition – Define the life you want and how much it will cost for you to achieve it (in short, define your Goals)

Elimination – Eliminate stuff that’s not critical to your achieving your goals.  Practice the 80/20 rule and focus on what will get you closer to your ideal lifestyle.

Automation – Outsource noncritical and basic functions.  Find and build a business which generates maximum revenue with minimal time/attention.  The key is to minimize your own personal involvement to free yourself up to do the things YOU WANT.

Liberation – Free yourself from a particular geographic location.  The idea is to be able to travel, or work from anywhere.  Mobility is a hallmark of what Ferris refers to as the “NR,” or “New Rich.”

Tim’s “Muse,” an income machine:  Ferriss urges the reader to find his or her “muse” (a calling or business), and then go for it. Ferriss lays out a blueprint for starting your own business which can essentially run on autopilot.  Apparently, he had done this himself and built a business that generated cash flow to pay the living expenses, while requiring a fraction of the time and effort.  While I believe him, he makes it all sound too easy.

The Top 13 New Rich Mistakes

1.  Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake (W4W)

2.  Micromanaging and e-mailing to fill time

3.  Handling problems your outsourcers or-co-workers can handle

4.  Helping outsourcers or co-workers with the same problem more than once, or with noncrisis problems

5.  Chasing customers, particularly unqualified or international prospects, when you have sufficient cash flow to finance your nonfinancial pursuits

6.  Answering e-mail that will not result in a sale or that can be answered by a FAQ or auto-responder

7.  Working where you live, sleep, or should relax

8.  Not performing a thorough 80/20 analysis every two to four weeks for your business and personal life

9.  Striving for endless perfection rather than great or simply good enough, whether in your personal or professional life

10.  Blowing minutiae and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work

11.  Making non-time-sensitive issues urgent in order to justify work

12.  Viewing one product, job, or prospect as the end-all and be-all of your existence

13.  Ignoring the social rewards of life

In summary, I believe this is a book worth reading, as it contains a lot of useful and highly applicable tips and advice, while proffering some proven scenarios whereby you can unchain yourself from a job or mundane lifestyle, in order to design and pursue immediately a life of your dreams.

Featured image courtesy of benjyfeen licensed via creative commons.

5 KEY LEARNINGS – National Capital Region Entrepreneur’s Club

photo

Recently, I had the honor of speaking at the September, 2011 luncheon of the National Capital Region Entrepreneur’s Club.  It’s a group of terrific business leaders from the DMV region.

Our host, Ingar Grev, asked me to tell my story, talk about some successes, some failures, and key learnings.  Ingar is a US Naval Academy grad with MS and MBA degrees from Maryland.  As fit today as he was 25 years ago when he was a star D-lineman for NAVY, Ingar is an entrepreneur, technology expert, connector, and CEO/executive coach known as The Growth Coach.

He was also nice enough to write about my presentation in his Washington Business Journal blog post.  At the conclusion of my remarks, I listed 5 things I had learned in my experience as an entrepreneur, CEO and investor.  Here are the 5 Key Learnings I shared with the group:

1.  Do the right thing always.  It can be expensive to take the high road, and it takes courage, but at the end of the day, your reputation is all you really have.  High integrity is impossible to fake, and integrity is a real magnet for other Winners and for success in general.

2.  Build relationships.  You can’t win without great partners, clients, and teammates. Success is all about creating, building, and nurturing relationships.  I am not talking about quantity, but rather QUALITY of relationships.  People want to do business with people they know, like, and trust.  The old adage about “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know” is true.

3.  Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. The great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The Green Bay Packers never lost a football game.  They just ran out of time.” Luckily in business, there is no time clock!  Winning in business is about having staying power (capital, stamina, confidence, persistence)   In my case, my company CyberRep lost our largest client twice and faced extreme business challenges both times.   If we didn’t have confidence and persistence, we would have never replaced the lost business and grown our company.  We never gave up, and would up with a great outcome.

4. Think BIG.  Over the years, we set grand plans for ourselves and somehow managed to hit quite a few of them.  My philosophy is that if you’re going to think, you may as well think big.  Set your goals realistically but high.  Stretch yourself.  I know many people, including my partners and me, who have surprised themselves with what they were able to accomplish.  Your organizations will rally around and get excited by big plans and big goals, so go ahead and shoot for the moon.  If you fall short, you still will have made good progress.

5.  Greatness is defined by Consistency.  Great performers are able to produce day in and day out on a consistent basis.  Great companies deliver for their clients and customers consistently.  The challenge is figuring out how to get your organizations to do fantastic work over and over again.  If you can do it, then congratulations, your company is on its way to being “great.”

I hope you enjoyed this Post.  Thanks for reading, and please sign up for my Blog!

Featured image courtesy of woodleywonderworks licensed via creative commons.

Steve Jobs, Customer Experience Obsessor (CEO)

A few days before Steve Jobs announced that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple, my family and I paid a visit to Apple’s corporate headquarters at One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA.  My daughter Caroline, a huge fan of all products Apple, was the driving force behind our pilgrimage to this tech “mecca.”

We were able to walk around the lobby, which had a display case of the company’s 3 Emmy Awards.  Interestingly, these were the ONLY awards showcased in the lobby.  We talked to a few Apple employees and asked them questions about Steve Jobs.  His office is on the 4th floor (top floor) and he is known to walk around a lot and talk to employees.

Like most students of business, I have been mesmerized by Steve’s approach to business, as well as his personal and corporate success.  In many ways, he is the most accomplished business leader in the last century, having almost singlehandedly invented the PC industry and revolutionized 5 other industries:  cell phones, consumer electronics, film, music, and retail, while influencing virtually every other industry.  His roles at Apple: co-founder, marketer, entrepreneur, inventor, CEO, creative genius, designer, architect, etc.

The most important role Steve plays, however, is also the least discussed, and that is his role as Apple’s Customer Experience Obsessor, a different kind of “CEO.”  (OK, I know that the word “obsessor” does not exist according to Merriam-Webster, but you know what I mean!)   Steve’s obsessive focus on customer experience is the prime reason for Apple’s immense success.

Here are 6 Customer Experience Obsessions that are core to Apple (please pardon the pun).

1.  Customers must fall in love at first sight – For Steve, the customer experience begins with the physical beauty and elegance of Apple’s products. Striking, amazing, revolutionary, simple, and most importantly, COOL!  Apple stuff looks great, they sound great, and they FEEL great.  They touch all the senses, and this is how customers get hooked on them.

2.  A child must be able to use it! – With Apple products, more than any other, product and user become one.  User interfaces, when introduced, have all been VASTLY superior to the competition’s far clunkier interfaces. For example, the original Macintosh desktop computer was truly revolutionary.  It had a unique “windows” GUI interface, and users interacted with the computer via a brand new device called a “mouse.”  And how about the original iPod, with its click wheel, the iPhone with its dynamic touch screen, and the iPad – they were so easy that young children could use them.

3. NO user manuals –  Who doesn’t hate user manuals?  All Apple devices come out of the box ready to use and in working condition, with NO setup or configuration required. This has become a hallmark of the Apple brand.  Peripherals are all “plug and play.” There is no need for user manuals because Steve knows that customers don’t want to deal with complexity.  They want their new toys to work right away with no brain damage, so he made sure his industrial designers delivered on this brand promise.

4. Make the buying experience easy, and customers will buy more –  Whether it’s downloading videos and music from iTunes, or buying a laptop from an Apple Store, the experience is easy, friendly, and even fun!  We all know how super easy it is to preview and buy media on iTunes.  And what happens when you go to an Apple store?  They are clean, well organized, and have lots of demos you can try.  Their salespeople are friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and PASSIONATE.  And when you’re ready to buy, you don’t go to a counter.  Your salesperson uses an iPod touch POS device with credit card scanner, and the process is about the easiest retail experience you’ll ever have.

5. The products MUST BE RELIABLE – People often criticize Apple for having closed or proprietary technologies, and for overly controlling application development partners (iPhone and iPad apps).  While Apple surely makes more money and keeps competitors at bay this way, Steve’s real reason for this is QUALITY CONTROL.  Apple products work BETTER and are less buggy and less susceptible to viruses because of the seamless integration of hardware and software, their tight control over partnerships, and their use of higher quality components and awesome design.  And with reliable products come customer satisfaction and evangelism, which brings us to Steve’s 6th customer experience concept:

6. The Best Customer Service is NO Customer Service – Steve clearly understands this customer service adage.  The theory is that if you do a great job acquiring and delivering for your customer, you won’t have the need for customer service.  Of course, every company has customer service issues, but those that have the fewest issues are the companies who do a great job making their customers happy, and therefore have the highest customer satisfaction.  And Apple’s customer service is very good, especially for a consumer products company.

At the end of the day, satisfied customers are repeat customers, and they evangelize on Apple’s behalf.  Steve knows this and that’s why he focused on the entire customer experience:  the fun and low-friction buying experience, each product’s “WOW” factor, the user interface, product reliability, and good customer service.

Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!  Please also sign up for my Blog on my Home Page!