If we ran a family business with a spouse (or ex-spouse) we would learn from the Hair Cuttery founders

Shear Business: Can the divorced founders of Hair Cuttery run their salon chain together?

By Ylan Q. Mui

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Great article in the July 11th Washington Post magazine on Dennis and Ann Ratner, who started Hair Cuttery in the 70s as husband and wife.  Then a little while after divorce happened but they still continued working together on the business.  And, at least by the impression of this article, it seems things are going well.

Takeaways from this article are not just about working with family but business in general.  There’s a discussion on how they started (looking to McDonald’s as a model) and agreement to the model of convenience, price, and consistency.  Also on how they saw opportunities from their work in the industry (ex. Ann was convinced future was for blow drying).  And Division of duties is also covered.

But the best lessons are the ones regarding business and family including: how the headquarters is referred to (family office), resisting temptation to go public, going with a veteran marketer instead who introduced new consumer analytics, and having a mediator at the “Family business meetings” held 4 or 5 times a year.

If we ran anything, we would be a “force for good” like Ben & Jerry’s too

The Summer 2010 FT Wealth magazine had a nice article on Ben Cohen of  Ben & Jerry’s.  The article is titled “A Force for Good” in the magazine but I don’t see it in the article online.  It’s in the “My Liquidity Moment” section in the back.

The article starts becoming out their moral and ethical decisions six years after they started when their sales were $4 million.  They started having doubs because they “felt big business exploited the community, its workers and the environment.”  In response, they decided to change the way business was done by “making their products and factories greener,” closing the gap between the highest and lowest-paid employees, and directing profits to the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation.  Also, they sourced ingredients from non-profit organizations.

Unfortunately for them, the company was sold to Unilever against Ben & Jerry’s wishes (since the company was public).  They both had tried to stop the sale and take the company private but Unilever outbid them.

Ben & Jerry are now employees but still try to do their part for the company.  Ben Cohen at least works with other causes (Jerry isn’t mentioned regarding this in the article).

The article also gives a little nice background on how they started – $12,000 start-up capital between cash and loans, sought out a warm, rural college town for their shope which led them to Vermont.

If we ran a website, we would start wondering about top-level domain names

Today’s Financial times has an article on the new top-level domain names coming (ex. .eco, .canon, .sport, etc).  I was excited when I first heard about this but it seems it’s going to have a $185,000 application fee? I didn’t know that.

Here are the details on the article:
A battle for online naming rights
By Maija Palmer, technology correspondent
Published: June 17 2010 03:00 | Last updated: June 17 2010 03:00

If we ran our own bank, we would allow editable online activity

Now that I am dealing with fire damage at my house, my obsession with keeping track of purchases is finally proving to be helpful. I wish I didn’t have to use the word obsession but that probably is the word everyone would use when they see my office at times when receipts are all over the floor in an “organized chaos.”

The problem isn’t in keeping receipts for important items. I’m sure we can all agree that’s important. The problem is that I have a pretty intense method of dealing with receipts. I like to do two things 1) I like to mark off my receipts off of statements to make sure the proper amount was charged and 2) I like to make notes on both the receipt and statement for any important transaction.

One of the great things about online banking is that I can go online in the middle of my statement period and see if something was charged properly. If it was (and most of the time it is), then great. But I can’t leave a note behind and throw the receipt away because when I get the statement in the mail, I’ll be like, “hey, what’s this charge? I don’t have a record for it.”

And, for the receipts that matter, I can’t leave any notes online like “see return on 10/21/2008”. I have to wait until the statement comes in the mail, and then make the notes I need. Sure I could print out whatever activity then and there and note that up, but that would lead to other confusion and excess papers being generated (I won’t go into the confusion I just mentioned, but I’m sure you can think of some ideas).

Ideally, I would love to fill in information for different entries on the actual website while browsing through my transactions. If there was a notes field, I could put whatever info I need there, and then when the statement came in the mail, my notes would be on it. With this, I could check off the receipt and then throw it away or “archive” it. My receipts would no longer remain in “pending” status, which is where they usually always seem to remain because when statements come, I get lazy, get backed up, etc and next thing you know, I have 4 months of statements to go through, 4 months of receipts, and not enough floor space.

I would like to discuss “receipt archiving” on a later day, maybe within ifweran.com, or maybe somehwere else if I feel the topic falls outside the scope of the “If We Ran…” site. But for now, let’s just leave this topic at editable online accounting.

6/24/2009 Update: I e-mailed chevy chase banking today (chevychasebank.com): Here’s what I said: I like printing out a lot of my transactions and find it annoying to have to change the view to the date/date, go to print friendly, and then print. Perhaps make an easier method? I also like to make notes and there is no field for that. I wish I could make notes online and those notes could carry over to the statement when its printed and sent to me. Until I have that ability, I don’t like verifying my transactions until I get my statements so that I can write notes on the statement for special transactions. Let’s see what they say (“Your message has been sent. Reference number: 1602”)]

If we ran our own company, we would seek innovation at the intersection

Medici Effect by Frans Johansson
Medici Effect by Frans Johansson
I took a Creativity in Business course in my MBA and one of our assigned books was The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson.  I had jotted down a bunch of notes as I was reading to use as reference in future course papers, etc.  I didn’t get to finish the book but will one day.  But I didn’t want all my notes to go to waste.  I know it’s a mess but perhaps you can make out some helpful nuggets of information.
  • pg. 14 – mind-reading experiment was creative because it was new and valuable, and it was innovative because the creative idea had become realized
  • If you operate wihin a field, you primarily are able to combine concepts within that particular field, generating ideas that evolve along a particular diretion – what I call directional ideas. When you step into the Intersection, you can combine concepts between mutliple fields, generating ideas that leap in new directions – what I call intersectional ideas. (pg. 16-17)j
  • Intersectional innovations do not require as much expertise as directional innovation and can therefore be executed by the people you least suspect. (pg. 19)
  • Sequoyah got his idea for creating a written language after spendin time in a culture very different from his own. (that was force 1 – the movement of people, in the rise of intersections),
  • The convergence of science is Force 2
  • Force 3 – The leap of computation (Shrek, Bug’s life) pg. 29
  • Samuelson has low associative barriers (Aquavit restaurant owner,pg. 38)
  • How to Make Barriers Fall Chapter: “Thomas Kuhn poinst out in his seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that “almost always the men who achieve.. fun-damental inventions of a new paradign have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.”
  • How to make barriers fall chapter: Da Vinci believed “in order to fully understand something one needed to view it from at least three different perspectives”
  • In the Creation of an Intersectional idea, the second lesson is that it is difficult to trace the origin of an insight.
  • Chapter six: How to find the combinations: 1) By diversifiying occupations, by interating with diverse groups of people, and 3) by going interseciton hunting.
  • People tend to stick to their own discipines and domains. They stick to their own ethnicities and cultures (pg 80, How to find the combinations)
  • Sutton also encourages firms to hire people they don’t need, at least not yet.
  • pg. 91 of Ignite an Explotion of Ideas: “The most successful innovators produce and realize an incredible number of ideas. The strongest correlation for quality of ideas is in fact quantity of ideas.”
  • pg. 97 of Ingite an exlosion of ideas chapter: Classical composers for instace produced most of their masterpeices during the same period when they produced most of their failures. … “the best way to beat the odds is to ocontiually produce idea.”
  • pg. 104, How to capture the explosion. ” Too much expertise as we have seen can fortiy the associateve barriers between fields.”… “one way to handle the need for broad yet deep knowledge is to eteam up with someone who has a different knowlege base from yours.”… “Most gained knowledge in one specific area before striking out to other fields. I am not talking about world-leading expertise here”… the person who understand many fields and isable to break down the barriers between them alll.. such a person faces one big proeblem : .. “much togher time understand hjust how to make instersectinal ideas happen/.”
  • In order to mximimize the power of the intersection, we should generate many ideas before evaluating any of them. (pg 106)
  • pg. 110 (how to caputre the explosion) – “first before the gorup meets, schedule fifteen to twenty minutes for members to brainstorm individually…. “this allso forces teh facilitator to develop a well cofumlated problem statement, which has been shown to make brainstorming more effect.ve”
  • pg. 112: How to capture the explosion, “… people are less creative under serious time pressure, but people actualy believe that they are more cretive during these times..”… (pg. 116: coming up wiht great ideas however does not guarantee n innovation, you ust make those ideas happen.).

Part III – making intersectional ideas happen

  • pg. 135 – be prepared to change your execution plans
  • pg. 149 – Why we have to break away from the networks “Value networks are essential for directional innovation, they can prevent us from successfully pursuing intersectional innovation.”
  • chap 12 – pg. 153 – How to leave the network behind: Break the chain of dependence. quit jobs, build new relationships, etc.
  • pg. 161- Take Risks and Overcome Fear, Airplanes and Serial Entrepreneurs : First Richard Branson called the reservation office for people Express, an airline that offered cheap fares between london and New York. He got a busy signal and assumed two things: they were too busy and there was room for him to enter, or they had a crappy service and something they could be outcompeted on.
  • pg. 163 – Take Risks and overcome fear: The Risk people tend to fear most is not financial loss or wasted time. Rather, it is the risk to their pride, status, and prestige to waht their peers will think of them if they fail.”
  • pg. 164 – To fail in business in Europe or Asia has more dire repurcussions than failing in the United States.
  • pg. 166 – Humans have a fundamental tendency to live their lives at a certain “acceptable” level of risk. … “drivers with ABS had the same accidente rate as those without it because mostly the drove more agressive , braked harder, accelerated faster, swerved over lanees, and took shaper corners.”/;
  • pg. 168-169: Once you have achieved a threshold leve l of resources, what Berke calls the minimum amount needed to get your idea going,” you should start exploring the Inersection. No pointin waiting. … “The intersection is a low risk proposition for breaking new ground.”

If we ran EasyJet, we would try harder on our customer service

An EasyJet plane
EasyJet in acton

On August 25th, an article in the Financial Times caught my eye. It was a complaint by Lucy Kellaway on the customer service of EasyJet (alternative link) printable version works. Looking at Lucy’s description of the problem, I can follow her along well and know I have been there or somewhere similar myself (and I’m sure many others have too).

Long story short, she made a mistake by not putting in her e-mail correctly and rebought the tickets before realizing what she had done. When she did, EasyJet made it very difficult for her to get her money back as a result of the mistake. Was the mistake her fault? yeah, (although a site can often lack in putting error preventative practices in place). But even then, no company should not be able to address and solve this problem shortly after it happens. Seriously, no company. And it seems that is exactly what happened here.

What I liked in the article was how frustrated Lucy felt about still going with EasyJet again in the future because of their convenience and price. A lot of us have to deal with this everyday, (often with airlines). I think I myself would draw the line though. After an experience like this, I really would stop flying this airline unless I really had to.

I do reward good customer service with my business though. I personally feel T-mobile has the best best customer service in my eye, and I stay with them because of this. The price I pay is that I don’t get to use the phone I want (the iPhone) or have 3G in the U.S. (although I think that will finally change next month).

Andy Harrison, Chief Executive of EasyJet
Andy Harrison, Chief Executive of EasyJet

Ultimately, it seems that this issue has been resolved. Andy Harrison, Chief Executive of EasyJet, wrote to the FT on September 1, 2008 saying her refund was on the way. What did not help his case though was that his letter did not address Lucy’s detailed complaints about what went wrong along the way and what he is doing to correct them. It was simply passing the blame on her and defending their customer service track record with a simple statistic. There was a generic “we shall strive to improve.”

Robert Shaw, professor of Marketing Metrics at the Cass Business School
Robert Shaw, professor of Marketing Metrics at the Cass Business School

I had found this other event interesting as a result of Lucy’s column. Robert Shaw, a professor of Marketing Metrics at the Cass Business School, sent a letter to the FT in response to Lucy’s letter asking if the punishment fit the crime. As in, EasyJet will lose more in revenue than Lucy lost personally in this transaction – did Lucy really make the right call writing an article like this?

Honestly, I don’t understand what Robert Shaw is trying to say here. Lucy runs a column dedicated to customer service in the FT right? (at least that’s what she said in her article). So if she has a first-hand bad experience, why would she not write about it? That’s like getting mad at a bad movie review because the film will make less money. Lucy made a mistake here, but it’s so obvious that EasyJet is at fault by not making a system where a customer refund is easy. EasyJet’s a professional business here, not a random small business with a “no refund, no exchange policy.”

I think what may have helped in Lucy’s original article would be if she had included some more details and specific quotes. Those would add some value to her complaint. She should have probably used space for that instead of taking a random stab at Starbucks for “tepid” coffee (totally irrelevant) and Ikea for being too big. The way she related that to customer service didn’t make any sense to me. Ikea being too big is the nature of their business, something me and many others are perfectly fine with. The same goes for Starbucks’ coffee. I also found her mentioning of Procter and Gamble’s AG Lafley’s “delighting the consumer” at “two moments truth” to be a little of a stretch in being related to the problem at hand with EasyJet. I know there is some relation, but I think a better work could have been cited to describe what was going on.

Anyways, thanks Lucy for making us aware of EasyJet. I live in the U.S. so I’m not sure how relevant this is to me, but hopefully it will help others. And to EasyJet, you need to work harder on your customer service. You clearly have a faulty customer service system in place and unfortunately, you have already blown your best chance to address it with Andy Harrison’s letter.

If we ran Amazon.com, we would reduce the shipping cost of multiple items from the same seller like half.com does

So I went online today to buy two new books from the shortlist of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. Just kidding, I was buying two of my missing Street Fighter comics…:

Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers on Amazon
Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers on Amazon

Street Fighter Volume 2: The New Challengers

Street Figher 3: Fighters Destiny on Amazon
Street Figher 3: Fighter's Destiny on Amazon

Street Fighter Volume 3: Fighter’s Destiny

.. that I needed to finish reading so I could start reading the new Street Fighter comics that were just released by Udon.

Anyways, since these have been around for a while, I thought I’d try to get them used and took a look at half.com and amazon.com. I wanted to buy from the same seller to save on shipping, and luckily, there was a seller on both amazon.com and on half.com who was selling these two books. I decided to go with Amazon since it seemed the prices on the books were slightly cheaper, but right when I got to checkout, I noticed something annoying: the price of shipping the books didn’t drop even though they were from the same seller. There is no way it would cost $7.98 to ship both of these books – it should cost like $2 or $3.

Street Fighter Volume 2 (Street Fighter (Capcom)) – Ken Siu-Chong
$8.24 – Quantity: 1 – Usually ships within 1-2 business days
Sold by: sameseller

Street Fighter Volume 3: Fighter’s Destiny (Street Fighter (Capcom)) – Ken Siu-Chong
$8.77 – Quantity: 1 – Usually ships within 1-2 business days
Sold by: sameseller

Items: $17.01
Shipping and Handling: $7.98

Total Before Tax: $24.99
Estimated Tax: $0.00

Now look at the order on half.com (what I went with):

Street Fighter 2 : Ken Sui-Chong (Paperback, 2006)
Seller: sameseller (209817 Feedback is 100,000 or greater)
Price: $8.39
Media Mail: $3.49

Street Fighter 3 : Ken Sui-Chong (Paperback, 2007)
Seller: sameseller (209817 Feedback is 100,000 or greater)
Condition: Like New
Price: $8.95
Media Mail: $1.89

Total: $22.72

The moral of the story? If you’re a customer, go to Half.com if you need to buy multiple used items from the same person. If you’re amazon.com, start giving a discount on shipping if buying multiple products from the same seller.