Discover the tremendous value of your $100 Ideas.

I have a friend in New York City who works for one of the biggest companies in the world. Everyone knows this e-monster. It’s a technical marvel. And it seems to be taking over the world. Which means it’s a great place to work right now. But my friend, who I will call Flora, also has a strong entrepreneurial drive. She has several great startup ideas and is trying to determine the best one to pursue, and the best time to pursue it.

The Throw Away Ideas

Flora thinks big, and wants to create a really big business of her own. Which is to be expected when you work for a global giant. But she also has several interesting ‘small’ ideas that she quickly dismisses. Flora calls these $100 ideas, and tosses them aside the way you might throw fish back in the water because they are too small to keep.

Caution Young Grasshopper

I warn Flora against disregarding the $100 ideas. There is great power in them. In fact, more people have turned $100 ideas into $1 million ideas than have made a cent off of a billion dollar idea. This is because it is much easier to get moving on a $100 idea. As I wrote about in a prior post, the key ingredient to entrepreneurial success is action.

Take The Money Making Idea And Run

If you have entrepreneurial ambitions, or want to develop a side hustle, don’t dismiss your ideas because they are not likely to get covered by Tech Crunch. See the $100 idea as a great way to start and gain experience.

Your $100 ideas teach you how to create a machine to deliver products or services. They are they intro courses to business building. Once you get started you can always expand and scale them up. You may be surprised how much your $100 idea will ultimately be worth. But only if you get started.

Adam & Sleeve

My first real business was a $100 idea. I designed and sold T-Shirts under the brand name Adam & Sleeve. I learned all kinds of valuable lessons about operating a business from Adam & Sleeve that I put to good use when I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. The Weaponry’s revenues are in the millions. But it sprung from knowledge gained running a business based on a $100 idea.

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One of my Adam & Sleeve t-shirts. I took down my website when I created The Weaponry in order to focus all my energies on my new business. But I still sell shirts to people who ask about them.
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The Adam & Sleeve shirt I will be wearing today.

Other $100 Ideas

  • Mowing your neighbor’s lawn
  • Selling those baked goods you are so good at making
  • Handmade Jewelry
  • Consulting
  • Painting
  • Raking leaves
  • Anything on Sally Struthers’ list
  • Delivering anything
  • Healthcare Patient Advocate
  • Animal Sitting
  • Reselling wholesale candy at school
  • Braiding hair
  • Cleaning homes or offices
  • Taking engagement photos
  • Critter removal
  • Posing naked for college art classes

These ideas can get you started. They can make you extra money. And you can scale them up and make even more money by growing volume. You can combine multiple $100 ideas, like mowing, snow blowing and raking leaves, then scale up to create a full-fledged yard care business. Or you could create handmade jewelry while posing naked for college drawing classes, and then sell the jewelry to the art students who drew you naked. #doubledip

Key Takeaway

Don’t underestimate the power of $100 ideas. Acting on them gets you off the sidelines and into the game. They help build entrepreneurial muscles, skills and flexibility. They build confidence and experience in sales, operations, quality control and customer service. But most importantly, they start the flow of self-generated income.

$100 ideas usually have low start-up costs. Which means they are low risk ventures that you can grow your own way (…grow your own way-ay-ay! #FleetwoodMac). You can decide how much you want to scale. You can also decide when you have learned enough to take on an even more lucrative challenge. Because an entrepreneur in motion, tends to stay in motion. Which means it is better to start with a $100 idea today than to spend a lifetime on the verge of putting a billion dollar idea into motion.

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How to find your secret language and trade it for wealth and happiness.

My son Johann has always been musical. He hummed before he could talk. He sang before he got his first haircut. And he memorized lyrics to songs before he started preschool. Thankfully, my wife and I were smart enough to pick up on this. We started Johann on piano lessons when he was 5 years old. He took to it naturally. Before he even outgrew his baby lisp he was pounding out songs on our piano at home.

A few months after Johann started playing piano I was tuning a guitar at home. 5-year-old Johey walked past as I was strumming and said ‘That sounds like a G Dad.’  I stopped what I was doing and looked at him and said, ‘It is a G!’

But the question was, how did this 5-year-old piano player know this was a G on a guitar? And could he recognize other notes? I then plucked the other strings of the guitar and asked Johann if he knew what they were. Sure enough he named them all with ease. E, A, D, G, B, E.

I quickly researched perfect pitch. I learned that it is the ability to identify musical notes. People with perfect pitch can typically create the sound of a note perfectly without assistance or reference, and they can dissect the notes in a chord. In other words, they are freak shows.

I went to our piano and asked Johann if he could make the sound of middle C. He quickly produced a hum. I hit the middle C key on the piano and had a perfect match. Weird. Then, I tried what seemed really far-fetched. I asked him to face away from the piano. I then played two notes at the same time and asked him what notes they were. He nailed them both. I played 2 other notes. He nailed those too. Then I tried 3 notes together, and he named all 3.

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Johann and his piano teacher Rita Shur, and a bunch of rectangles .

The Secret Language

It was then that I realized that little 5-year-old Johann spoke a language that I don’t speak, and very few people do. In fact, only about 1 in 10,000 people have perfect pitch.  That’s one for each lake in Minnesota. Typically, people who develop PP (#snicker) have musical training before the age of 6. Unfortunately, we lose our ability to develop perfect pitch after the age of 9.

Recognizing his unique musical abilities and interest, we have leaned into his natural skills and talents. He is now 11 years old, and plays the piano, violin and saxophone. He performs in state piano competitions. And he can do things with a harmonica that make me think he could follow in the lip steps of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan or John Popper.

Your Special Language

We all understand a secret language that most others don’t. Music is just one example. For others it is finance, or sales, or compassion. For still others it may be baking, sports, mechanical interactions or makeup. We all have at least one rare language that we are born with a natural ability to speak and understand.

The key is for you to identify what that is, and lean into it hard. Become fluent. Add value to the world through your mastery of that language. And it is likely to bring you great happiness, and wealth.

Discovering My Language

Johann speaks the elegant and beautiful language of music. God gave me the ability to make wordplay out of anything. Which feels more carny than Carnegie Hall. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.

I knew as soon as I learned to read that I had the innate ability to create headlines. I loved reading them in newspapers and magazines. I loved the way they quickly summarized stories, with a clever twist. I always thought headline writer would be the perfect job for me. That and chocolate milk drinker.

When I took my first advertising class at the University of Wisconsin I was completely hooked. I got straight A’s in everything advertising related. I enjoyed the strategy and the creativity of it immensely. My college professors recognized my abilities and connected me with Paul Counsel, the CEO of Cramer Krasselt, one of the greatest ad agencies in America. Paul hired me, and I got my start as a writer.

Creating a Career

I have spent my career speaking my secret language. I have enjoyed it tremendously. Clients and coworkers value my thinking. As a result, fun and interesting opportunities keep coming my way.

In 2016 I launched my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. We doubled in size in 2017. We doubled again in 2018. And we have unlimited potential ahead. All because me and my teammates are specializing in our secret languages.

Your Secret Language

You can do the same thing with your secret language. Pay close attention to that thing that comes easily to you. Discover it. Develop it. And do amazing things with it. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. Tap into your secret language and you will have tapped into your path to greatest happiness, value and financial success.

Key Takeaway

You have a secret language that has been programmed into you. It enables you to perform at a very high level. A level that most people have no chance of ever achieving. Specialize in your secret language and play to your strengths. It makes you feel smart and strong. It makes you feel comfortable. It makes you valuable to others. And when you provide great value to others, it translates to both happiness and wealth. Which are two powerful forces we can all understand.

The one phrase that makes me want to scream at work.

Business can be a frustrating game. In this game, a conveyor belt drops challenges at your feet, over and over again. Your job is to solve those challenges before they bury you alive. Like soccer Quidditch and Jarts, some people love this game, and other people hate it.

Team Sport

When a company wins everyone goes home with money. Which makes business the ultimate team sport. It requires great communication to be successful. Since I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I pay even closer attention to the words and phrases used at work. I have found that there are a number of words and phrases you never, ever want to hear in your place of business. They include the following:

  • “Fire!”
  • “You’re not going to like this but…”
  • “Ponzi”
  • “I just called animal Control.”
  • “Sorry, it looked like a real search warrant.”
  • “It worked for Enron.”
  • “The Repo Man”
  • “I handled it, Lorena Bobbit-Style”

But there is one phrase that bothers me more than all others:

“That’s above my pay grade.”

This phrase jolts me like an electric fence. Because it reveals powerful forces at work within the mind of the person who says it, or within the culture where it is used.

A Mindset Problem

Making this statement is a way to shirk responsibility.  It is a way of saying, ‘This is not my problem.’ Or, ‘It is out of my hands.’ Or, ‘I don’t get paid enough to think about these kinds of things.’ This mindset is the polar opposite of entrepreneurial thinking.

A Cultural Problem

If ‘That’s above my pay grade’ is commonly tossed about in your workplace it means your team members feel their opinions don’t matter. Or that they don’t feel free to speak their mind on important topics. It usually represents a clear Us vs Management division within an organization. None of these are good for business.

The Power of Empowered People

I like people who don’t sense a limit to their thinking, responsibility or problem solving abilities. I like people who take ownership. I want my people to operate as if they must make a leadership decision. Which is a product of recruiting the right types of people, and empowering them to always do what they know is right.

Key Takeaway

Take on as much responsibility as you can. Regardless of whether or not the work and the decision-making is part of your job description. Always think like a leader. When you view the world like a manager, department head or CEO, sooner than later that conveyor belt will drop a set of business cards on your desk with a title that matches your take-charge mindset.

Why I really hate my stupid smart phone.

I never wanted a mobile phone. In fact, I held out as long as I could. I finally broke down and bought my first non-land line phone in August of 2005. My wife, Dawn was 38 weeks pregnant with our first child. I wanted to be a responsible parent. That meant being accessible when my wife went into labor, and for all of the craziness that would inevitably follow.

The Garter Snake

My first phone was harmless enough. It was a little blue flip phone that was used for phone calls, and nothing else. Yes, it had a camera. But the images it captured were no better than what I could sketch with a dull crayon.

The Rattler

Two years later the ad agency I worked for issued me a Blackberry Pearl, which meant that I could get my email on my phone. Now I could never escape work. Oh, there was also a rudimentary mapping feature. And buttons. Because back then we thought it was more important to have buttons that screens. Those were quaint times.

The Black Mamba

In 2009 I was issued my first iPhone. It had an amazing camera that could capture hi-def photos and videos. It had apps that did everything but make me breakfast. Since then I have rarely been more than 50 feet from my iPhone.

The technology packed into these smart phones is mind-blowing. They have completely transformed life as we know it. And right now I am focused on how much of my time and focus have been stolen by this little fucker.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully understand that this technology has put the world at my finger tips. That is precisely the problem. I was born with a curious mind that likes to connect dots. I like information. I like to be entertained. I like to know what my friends are doing. And the smart phone has fed my every desire.

Listen All Y’all It’s A Sabotage!

Like Lorelei, the Sirens, and The Gameshow Network, smart phones create a constant distraction. Distraction is the enemy of productivity, imaginative thinking and quality time. My smart phone has repeatedly broken my focus. It has stolen some of my most valuable time, both at work and in my personal life.

On my drive home on Friday afternoon I was analyzing my week. I hadn’t accomplished as much as I thought I would or could. But why? I kept coming back to the little black distraction.

Focused action is the single most important ingredient of success. Distractions sabotage your success. When your attention gets diverted, you lose momentum. You waste energy. And you experience a frustrating loss of traction towards your goals.

The smart phone is the Everlasting Gobstopper of distractions. On any given day I could grab it to check my emails, texts and Slack messages. Then when I am curious about the weather I can grab the phone again. If I want to check in on my company’s cash flow, I can check that on the phone too. Along with the latest updates on my bank account, flight itinerary, the financial markets, and my favorite sports teams.

I can tune in to a quick podcast, listen to music, or get breaking news anytime, anywhere. Then there are the all-knowing twins of Google and Wikipedia that can answer any question that has ever been asked before. This is all before we even mention social media like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. The distraction is broad and deep. So I am making changes.

This weekend my phone became a phone again. I haven’t used it to explore any curiosities. I didn’t carry it with me yesterday. I didn’t plug it in last night. I don’t even know exactly where it is right now. As a result I have been productive. I have made great progress on several important goals. I had a great new business idea. And I feel more like myself.

Key Takeaway

When you discover chronic distractions you have to eliminate them, or they will prevent you from accomplishing your mission. Smart phones can cause the same type of sabotage as alcohol, drugs, gambling and other vices, simply by diverting your attention. Smart phone time seems harmless enough until you recognize the opportunity cost of that wasted time. Time is our most precious commodity. You must defend it vigilantly if you want to achieve great things.

 

 

The most valuable skill I have.

Do you know what makes you special? In business disciplines like marketing, branding and sales, the key to success is knowing what sets you apart from everyone else. As a marketing strategist I am constantly analyzing my clients to discover and capitalize on their specialness. #SpecialPurpose #IsntThatSpecial.

Turning the Camera Around

Once you train yourself to find the special, unique and rare things in others, you naturally analyze yourself the same way. Many times I have considered what makes me special.  And not to brag, but there are a few things that set me apart.

  1. My feet are among the flattest on Earth. I quite literally have no arches. This was first pointed out to me by my childhood friend Danny Boyle, and confirmed scientifically at a Fleet Feet store during a scan that listed my arches as Not Applicable.
  2. I have no reflexes in my knees. You know how doctors tap patients on the front of the knee and the patient then naturally kicks their leg forward? That doesn’t happen to me, despite the fact that some clinicians have worked up quite a lather trying to get a reaction out of my patellar region.
  3. I was born without two adult teeth. On my upper jaw, my 5th teeth from the center on both sides showed up as baby teeth, with no mature adult teeth behind them. Today I am rocking 2 full-sized implants that more than make up for what mother nature didn’t give me.

However, none of these 3 points offer much of a competitive advantage. Thankfully my 4th and final uniqueness does.

4.      I make friends as fast as anyone on Earth.

For a long time I didn’t know I was unique in this way. But I love meeting new people. So I waste no time converting strangers into lifelong friends.

I am fascinated by people, their stories, experiences, skills and quirks. I love human connections. I love discovering common ground. And I love to learn what you know that I don’t. I devour people the way others devour books.

I am also blessed with a good memory that retains what I have learned about the people I meet. Pro Tip: Friends seem to like it when you remember things about them. Retaining people knowledge also enables me to connect dots and recognize shared connections of people places and things. And ulitmately make more friends.

The Value

In business and in life, my ability to make friends quickly has been my most valuable asset. It helps me develop quick rapport, which ensures that I never feel alone. When I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I quickly recognized that I had done the most important work of entrepreneurship 20 to 30 years before launching my business. Because your personal network is critical to connecting the dots necessary to discovering and capitalizing on entrepreneurial opportunities.

Key Takeaway

Friends are the most valuable resources on Earth. Grab as many as you can as quickly as you can. They make everything on the planet better. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make new connections. I do it almost every day. Our friends provide the pathways to the most enjoyable experiences of our lives. They are gateways to opportunities. They provide our personal safety nets. And at the end of our days, our friends and family will be the only things we accumulated in our time on Earth that we will want to carry with us wherever we go next.

The most frightening result of scaring your employees.

I am always surprised when I hear people say they want to be entrepreneurs, but don’t want to manage other people. Without employees you greatly limit the potential scale, scope and impact of your business. Because businesses are powered by people. Just as we measure engine output in horsepower, business output is measured in human power.

To harness and apply human power you have to be able to lead other humans. Which is easier typed than done. A shocking number of smart, talented and hard-working people are shockingly horrible at leadership. In fact, a significant segment of the population fails to even recognize what leadership is. And I have worked with a few of them.

Leading

Leadership means you are out in front, leading people along the right path.  It means you are showing a way forward that others will eagerly and voluntarily follow, because you have made it look smart, right, and even fun.

The Critical Leadership Mistake

Don’t use your position of leadership to push people around. Don’t scare or intimidate your employees or teammates. You may get them to do what you want. But you won’t get them to do anything else. Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summarized intimidation leadership this way:

Frightened people don’t take initiative or responsibility. And their organizations suffer as a result. -Colin Powell

If you want people to think for themselves, to take interest and ownership, they can’t be frightened. Creative thinking and innovation require a spirit of support. Because they require risk taking. If your people are afraid to make a mistake they will make sure they don’t. Of course the easiest way to avoid making a mistake is to do exactly what you are told to do. And nothing more. Just like Simon Says.

Key Takeaway

Fright has no place in the work place. In fact, it is so detrimental to business success it’s scary. Initiative and responsibility are the hallmarks of a successful organization. They are the key ingredients that create momentum. Without initiative and responsibility there is no growth. There is no future. And there is no reason to think. Which is the ultimate waste of human power.

How to make anything popular, like Studio 54.

I would love to have partied at Studio 54. But I couldn’t get in. I blame it on the fact that I was only 3 years old when Studio 54 first opened. To find out what I what I missed, I recently watched Studio 54 The Documentary on Netflix. In the late 1970s this iconic New York City discotheque achieved legendary status as the greatest night club of all time. It was swarmed by celebrities, fashion icons, musicians and taste makers of all sorts. Every night huge crowds gathered at the club’s velvet ropes, trying to get inside (inside the club, not inside the rope).

Studio 54, or Studio as the insiders called it, generated demand that was off the charts. Absolutely everyone wanted to get in. The club was able to extract a cover charge of $14, which was like the cost of a nice hotel room in those days. Studio 54 was also in the enviable position of being able to decide who they let in, who they charged for admission, who they comped, and who they treated like a VIP.

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Generating The Demand

When asked how the club had achieved this unheard of demand, co-owner Steve Rubell had a simple response:

You have to build a nice mousetrap to attract the mice. – Steve Rubell co-owner of Studio 54

Building A Nice Mousetrap

Studio 54 started with the end in mind. They wanted to attract the most and best mice. So they worked hard to discover what the mice wanted. In their prior clubs, including The Enchanted Garden in Queens, owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager experimented to find the winning combination of music, ambiance and design. They also experimented with the patron population to learn which type of crowd would attract the best crowd.

This nice mousetrap approach can be applied to anything designed to attract customers, clients, members, attendees or participants. Always start with the mice. Understand all you can about the people you are trying to attract. Know their wants, needs and desires. Then build those into your offering. The nicer the mousetrap, the more effective it will be at attracting and catching mice. You’ll know you’ve got it right when you have willing customer lined up, demanding you take their money. Until then, keep perfecting the mousetrap.

Key Takeaway

Do your homework. Understand your audience and give them what they crave. Put in the necessary work during the discovery phase to study them. Then build their desires into your offering. Make sure the most attractive elements are highly visible and well understood. Popularize what you have created so that the word spreads. And watch the mice come running to your velvet ropes.

*If you ever got into Studio 54 I want to hear about it! Please leave your story in the comment section.

**Don’t do drugs, or have unprotected sex with people you just met at a discotheque.

***Also, remember to pay your taxes. Or else you can create the greatest club in the history of the world, but you will have to shut it down 3 years later and go to jail. #majorbuzzkill.

****And why discotheque and not just disco?