Kickstarter To Designers: Consider The Environment

Genusee, an eyeglasses maker that fashions its frames from water bottles sourced in Flint, Michigan. Huskee Cup, which brews up reusable mugs made out of coffee husk waste. EcoTruck, a toy made from a wood-hybrid material that is far tougher than competitive options.

All three of these designers turned to Kickstarter to build their audience, orders and business partners. While their market focus is very different, they all share a common interest. All three are dedicated to reducing their environmental impact by choosing materials that can extend their product lifecycles, are less toxic to humans or the planets, or that rethink substances or objects that otherwise would be considered waste.

Now, the crowdsourcing platform — which helped launch more than 9,000 projects over the past 12 months — is borrowing from their examples to encourage other designers to embed environmental and sustainable sourcing criteria into their planning and ideas at a very early stage of creation.

Read the rest of my report for GreenBiz here.

Dreaming of Starting Your Own Biz in 2019? Start Here

Tis the season for year-end reflections and year-ahead resolutions.

In that vein, I’m making a shameful, Black Friday plug for Niche Down, the book I co-authored earlier this year for legendary marketing guru and podcast conversationalist, Christopher Lochhead.

I know I’m biased, but if you’re thinking of starting your own business, this modest tome is meant to kickstart ideas. Our top-level philosophy: don’t try to compete on someone else’s terms. Look inside, find your “different” and tell the world.

Don’t buy this book if you’re looking for a step-to-step “how to” but we do offer some specific ideas for marketing tactics. BUT we do offer some vivid examples. One of my favorites is John’s Crazy Socks, which is just about as “niche” as you get. Plus, I’m a sucker for feel-good stories. How you can resist the tale of a father who helps his child with Down syndrome realize his business dream? I’d love to hear about more entrepreneurs who you think embody this philosophy: I bet it will be easier than you think. I can’t necessarily write about them — but if the example has something to do with fighting climate change — I’m much more likely to listen.

The process of writing this book forced some serious soul-searching. Throughout my career, I haven’t paused all that often to set goals. That’s not exactly something I’m proud of. My bad.

But one thing I’m confident that I’ve always done is stood behind my convictions, something that hasn’t always rubbed everyone in my path the right way. As someone with a “pleaser” personality, it is difficult for me to cope with the idea that not everyone likes what I have to say. I like being liked! But instead of apologizing for it, I’m embracing the fact that this makes me, well, me. I’m still working on the apology thing. I say “I’m sorry” far too often. One of my resolutions for 2019 is to say it only when it really counts.

What’s on my Christmas wish list? The hope that at least some small percentage of would-be entrepreneurs benefits from reaching Niche Down. What are you waiting for?

Legendary Entrepreneurs Are Relentless Category Designers

This post was excerpted from Niche Down, my new book with the legendary marketer and podcast conversation host Christopher Lochhead.

Legendary category designers never stop reminding the world that
they created the category. That they are the standard by which all others
must be compared. And that they haven’t stopped looking at the
original problem from new angles.

Take the story of GOJO Industries. You might not know this privately
held company’s name, but you’ll recognize the name of its most
famous product.

In 1997, GOJO, with its introduction of the consumer edition of
Purell20, convinced millions of parents and germaphobes that we
should use “hand sanitizer” before and after we touch anything.
Refuse to do so at your own peril!

In 1996, none of us even knew we needed hand sanitizer.

Today, millions of people carry the stuff with them everywhere. Hospitals and doctors’ offices worship it via dispensers hanging on the walls. You can find bottles scattered on hotel check-in counters and at the start of restaurant and cruise-ship buffet lines.

It’s even tough to make it through boot camp without being exposed to the brand: the military is a huge customer.

At its height, Purell owned an estimated 70 percent of the hand-sanitizer market category. (There was a brief change in ownership, but that’s a story for another book.) Its name is the one to beat for mindshare.

The brand that all other hand sanitizers are compared to.

There’s a corollary: The bigger and more urgent the problem, the more time and money people will invest to solve it.

You don’t want to be walking around with unsanitary hands now, do you?

The “overnight” success story behind Purell maker GOJO actually began almost 40 years earlier, in World War II-era Akron, Ohio, with a simple problem identified by tire factory worker Goldie Lippman — it was super difficult to get carcinogenic substances like graphite, carbon and tar off her hands with regular bar soap after a production shift.

You had to use benzene, which was irritating. Women, in particular, were interested in an alternative23 because who wants red, smelly hands?

That problem inspired Goldie’s husband Jerry, who invented a formulation that was less harsh and that was delivered in liquid form. The two entrepreneurs mixed up the product using a washing machine and packaged the soap in pickle jars pilfered from local restaurants.

Yes friends, GOJO (the company’s name is a mash-up of the founders’ first names) was also the designer of the “liquid-hand-soap” category!

Before GOJO, most individuals used “bar soap” to scrub their hands, faces, feet, clothes.

And the venture also came up with a way of controlling portions, so that it was more cost-effective for business owners to buy the product.

Today, more than 70 years later, GOJO’s identity is still synonymous with the hygienic benefits of keeping your hands clean. That’s true in large part because it has never stopped thinking about the original problem and new ways of addressing it. “You don’t go up against the giants unless you have a category-defining brand,” GOJO’s current CEO, Joe Kanfer, (the Lippmans’s nephew)  for a corporate profile published in 2013.

Have You Niched Down Yet?

It’s odd to realize that my first ever book, Niche Down (How to Become Legendary by Being Different), with Legends & Losers podcast host Christopher Lochhead has been officially on sale for a whole week.

So far, the feedback has been humbling: we’ve been cycling through the #1 bestseller spot for the entrepreneurship and small business categories since the launch. (Right now, we’re #1 in new releases.) And, check it out: someone even donated a billboard in Melbourne, Australia, to help get the word out! Thanks to our marketing entrepreneur friend, Vaughn O’Connor, for this stunt down under.  He apparently is Christopher’s kindred spirit when it comes to lightning-strike marketing tactics.

I’m pausing for some vacation until early August, but just wanted to say thanks for making my birthday extra special this year. I’ll be back with book excerpts and such after my return.

OMG, I’m A Published Author (Well, Almost)

Thrilled to report that all the editing is complete. Most of the technical hurdles surmounted. A legendary book launch of Niche Down: How to Become Legendary By Being Different, is just around the corner.

I think hot pink is a marvelous cover color, don’t you?

If you’re interested in a free review copy, please send me a note. I’ll send you the draft, and a link where you can leave your feedback. Act now, as this offer expires by EOD (New Jersey time!) on Monday, July 16.


What Makes a Legendary Entrepreneur

So, I’m finally doing it. My long-time friend and legendary CMO Christopher Lochhead (that’s awesome retired marketing guru to you acronym-phobes) has convinced me to help give voice to his second book.

I’m terrified, but also incredibly excited about the subject — an exploration of what turns entrepreneurs into queens or kings of their market category. The working title of our e-book is Niche Down: How to become legendary by being different. (But we reserve the right to change it!)

The thesis is pretty simple: the most successful ventures you know — whether it’s the small biz down the street or a mega-corp with a multi-billion-dollar market capitalization — don’t try to compete on price. They got to where they are by solving a problem in a unique way, and “niching down” to capture the conversation around it.

You hear about the big guys and gals all the time. (That’s the focus of the first book about category design co-authored by Christopher, Play Bigger.) This new tome is dedicated to solo-preneurs and new ventures that fall into the “small e” category of entrepreneurship.

Why I Said ‘Yes’ to This Project

A bit of trivia: the first regular freelance gig that I landed out of university many years ago for a now-defunct trade magazine involved profiling entrepreneurs. It hooked me. That led me to a long-time collaboration with Entrepreneur magazine, and I’ve lived and breathed tech startup-dom for close to three decades. That’s where I met Christopher. YIKES!

I’ve been asked to co-author books before, but nothing has ever caught my heart like this project. No more playing coy. So, here I am, doing something I’ve never done before in my life. You’re never too old!

If all goes well, we should debut said e-book by the end of June. Meanwhile, if you’d like a sneak peek at the arguments, here’s what you should do:

  • Take a listen to Christopher’s no-holds-barred podcast, Legends & Losers. (Warning, he swears like a sailor. You can’t deal? Your loss.)
  • Tell him what you think, with a review on your fave podcast platform.
  • Email a copy of the review to Copy me for good measure at (Sorry, I’m not making these links live/clickable because of spambots.)
  • Eh voila! We’ll send you a copy of our book “teaser.”

So easy! Want to start a dialogue in private? Reach out via my contact form.


Amazon, Apple Go for the Photo Opp

Generally, you know a company is “serious” about a strategy when they march the chief executive officer out to be the mouthpiece or the face of it. Or at least that’s what the marketing gurus and guru-esses hope.

So, I was intrigued by two recent announcements by two of the biggest technology companies in the earth’s universe — Amazon and Apple — dropped some material into my email inbox in late October. (Actually, the press release involving Apple came from another company, but more on that in the moment.)

Amazon’s proclamation was along the lines of several it has issued over the past two years, trumpeting a contract to buy the power from yet another wind farm in Texas (its largest deal yet).  This is a seriously huge facility, more than 100 turbines, each of them more than 300 feet tall. The capacity is 253 megawatts of electricity, which means it can generate 1,000,000 megawatt-hours of power annually.

This is the 18th solar or wind so far made possible because Amazon stepped in to help finance the installation. What’s even more incredible is that the company has almost twice that many projects in its pipeline. So, you can hardly blame the company for releasing this video of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos “christening” one of the turbines. (I’m sure the Amazon board is shuddering.)

The second photo is less dramatic, but also far more unexpected: what the heck is Apple CEO Tim Cook doing in a Swedish forest, planting trees?

The Holmen Group produces more than 30 million trees annually to meet Sweden’s legislated requirements for replanting. (Copyright: Iggesgund)

It turns out that the company that publicized the visit, Iggesund Paperboard, is one of Apple’s biggest packaging suppliers — a company originally selected by the tech giant’s founder, Steve Jobs. The material is called Invercote. The parent company, Holmen, is listed on the United Nations Global Compact Index of the world’s most sustainable companies. The predecessor firm to Iggesund has actually been around since 1685.

Cook also tweeted about his experience:

Given Apple’s legacy of being relatively mum about pretty much everything until it is good and ready to talk, Cook’s willingness to give its supplier such a great photo opp is all the more notable.

But lo and behold, the company just released an updated statement about its packaging strategy in October, with heightened attention to the forests where it sources virgin fiber. Sweden isn’t the only place it’s watching: Apple is working with World Wildlife Fund to transition suppliers in China to more sustainable forestry practices. Is that the next photo opp?

Is This Your Job?

This post has absolutely nothing to do with the core “mission” of this blog, at least overtly. Covertly, however, I love the idea that The New York Times is willing to send a writer to all of its “52 Places to Go” list! Their mission: “parachute into a place and distill its essence and to render a compelling tale with words and images.” My birthplace is one of the destinations. Can you guess it?

It’s not clear whether the editorial staff is picking a new list for 2018, but this year’s “itinerary” is pretty daunting. As a diver, I’ve longed to visit the Maldives for many years, especially since it’s imperiled by the rising oceans. The Northern Lights in Norway are also on my bucket list. I would be terrified to return to the Great Barrier Reef, because I am sure the coral degradation there will break my heart. It’s the first place I went on a big diving trip, 15 years ago.

The world could benefit a great deal from more empathy, and once a place seeps into your soul, it’s impossible not to feel something about it. I can’t wait to see what truly extraordinary person they hire, because I will read every article.

Which place would you visit first? In this case, I’ll let the image below do the talking.

Gratefully borrowed from Matthew Savage/Flickr.


Well, That’s Embarrassing!

Apparently, I have far more readers at my modest and very neglected personal blog, Technophile, than I heretofore realized. I just discovered dozens of messages trapped in Ninja forms purgatory.

So, first, my apologies to those who never heard from me when you reached out many months ago.

Second, I’m going through your messages now, with an eye to responding to those who have stories I’d be interested in telling. You have been warned.

And third, I’m paying more attention now. You can expect more opining here soon that is related to, but not entirely appropriate for my “real” soapbox at GreenBiz.

Faith, Love, Hope — and Resistance

On this Easter morning, it seems relevant to reflect on the theme of faith — a belief or conviction based on “spiritual apprehension” rather than proof. Faith is the foundation of every religion, of course, the reverse of the “seeing is believing” adage. It’s an emotion I find myself drawing on often in these strange times.

The “faith” I cling to most fiercely of late is this: that despite the current administration’s decision to abandon leadership when it comes to protecting the planet from humankind’s negative impact on our air, water and soil, many of our country’s most important companies and cities will continue to blaze the path ahead. I’m not naive enough to believe this behavior is entirely altruistic, but the economics favor these investments. The broader theme of social inclusion is also becoming ingrained in the investments some of the world’s largest businesses are making.

Here’s a recent development that will get you thinking: in early April, the Ford Foundation made a very bold change in how it will allocate funds. It’s devoting $1 billion over the next 10 years to what it calls “mission-related investments” that support social transformation. As the foundation’s president Darren Walker notes in his blog: “If philanthropy’s past half century was about optimizing the 5 percent, its next half century will be about beginning to harness the 95 percent as well, carefully and creatively.”

This video offers a primer:

For perspective, the organization’s endowment is $12 billion, so this isn’t a majority of the money it controls. But $1 billion is a substantial sum of money.

Walker explains the decision:

It is deeply rooted in our ongoing program work to build more inclusive economies, help mature the impact investing sector, and fulfill our special obligation to help move market-based economies toward “the high road”—squaring the dynamism of markets with society’s highest values, especially fairness and human dignity.

It remains to be seen whether Ford’s decision is an outlier or the fore-runner of a broader shift in how many of the big corporate foundations allocated their funds. The framework of tax laws will doubtless shape those decisions, especially since it’s difficult to “prove” the value of some of these investments. It’s a question of faith.