highlow x Packitup

When I started in 2017, I said that I wanted to "get closer to entrepreneurs". I had no idea how but I founded highlow - creative capital to invest in long-term projects. Without a specific plan. Just to get going. With a budget equivalent to that of an annual rental of an office.

I now add Pack It Up / Sylvain Letellier to this small list of projects and people. This adds to Elevent, Le Buck and Hardbacon.

I spent last year learning. And try to reprogram my brain. I am trying to become an investor. 2018 reminded me that I was light years from being a good one. It's OK, I give myself at least 10 years to become less worse.

I share this because many people talk to me about projects they do not start. The first steps are too scary. To descend from one’s throne hurts the ego too much. We are used to being invited as experts. Less to attend trainings because we don’t understand anything. We have a blind trust in what we know. But no idea of what we do not know. Sincerely, it's rather fun to be a beginner again. I wish you in 2019! 😅

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E-Commerce Branding

What is branding in the age of e-commerce? Is it a nice colour scheme? Is it a logo? Is it photo filters? Is it smooth UX? Is it nicely designed buttons? What is it?

Well, it’s the same thing that it used to be. It’s just that many e-commerce stores forget what a brand is. Or maybe they just don’t need a brand — because they have distribution, pricing and products that work for them.

Anyways, a good brand is a couple of things, such as:

  • An open hole in the mind, perception wise

  • A narrow focus on a singular idea

  • A name & a category

  • A visual hammer

  • A verbal hammer

  • A PR story that can be shared.

Brooklinen is all of these things. e-commerce branding and creative is almost always boring. When done right, creative stands out and the brand comes to life. It might require some time and a lot of work to get there. It’s not easy to find your voice. It’s all about consistency. And attention to details.


Vinyl Care Kit

There are not many ways to sell stuff online in the Amazon era. Curation is one of them. Good content and customer experience also help. So I just got myself a fancy vinyl care kit from Packitup.co. I’ve researched these kinds of products before but I never pulled the trigger. Too many options, not enough knowledge. Congrats @letellier on pursuing this idea. I’ll be playing my dad’s records throughout the Xmas break!

Full disclaimer for the 5,5 persons who read this blog: I’m an investor in packitup.co

Entrepreneurial Marketing

This week I was back at the alma mater, HEC Montréal, to judge pitches in an Entrepreneurial marketing class. This is the 3rd time this year that I participate. It's a good way to see what students think about the world and get out of the marketing bubble. We go back to the basics. This is pure strategy: we identify a business problem and develop a creative and financially viable solution to solve it. The simpler, more concrete and well-crafted, the better.

If you are starting a business and need strategic planning help, I take a few pro-bono projects a year, contact me.

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One simple idea

Ideas are powerful. Simple ideas are contagious. Branding/communications/advertising is all about repeating (and playing with) one simple idea over and over again. Marketers didn't invent this. Beethoven knew this. Sticking to one powerful idea for a whole symphony was considered mastery. One simple idea (dum dum dum dummmm) is the kernel of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. The idea is repeated in various form over the course of ~35 minutes. It is disarmingly simple. And extremely effective. Enjoy this analysis by Gerard Schwarz of @allstarorchestr

Uploaded by All-Star Orchestra on 2014-06-11.

Climbing

I’m not a climber. I’m a snowboarder. I like going downhill. But I got down the climbing rabbit hole on YouTube and found 3 incredible stories. Thanks to GoPro cameras, it’s now much easier to have a feeling of what it’s like to climb the highest summits in the world. I’m amazed at how prepared these athletes are. And how meticulous they are about their gear and the weather. There are a lot of unpredictable variables. And they do everything they can to minimize risks. But most importantly they are driven, almost blindly, by one simple goal : getting to the top.

Obsession has a cost too. And of course, to balance all of that hype, a video about Everest Inc. : the deadly business of bringing unprepared tourists to the tope of Mount Everest.

Planning too much

I find it interesting to see how other professions think about planning. Planning is not a marketing or business discipline. It’s been around for much longer than we thought. It has implications in a broad set of disciplines. Here’s two Navy SEALs explaining why you should not overplan to the point of not even executing your idea because you’re spending too much time thinking. Focus on 1-3 contingency plans and make actual progress on your project.

Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin explain why it's important to plan, but not overplan. In their book "The Dichotomy of Leadership," Willink and Babin describe what it takes to be a good leader, both in the military and in business.

Bitcoin Mining

There’s a lot of hype regarding cryptocurrencies and its underlying technology, blockchain. When you try to explain the technology to someone else, you usually lose them when you explain the mining part. I thought this video did a good job of showing how it actually works, without getting lost in the details.

The virtual goldrush to mine Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies leads us to Central Washington state where a Bitcoin mine generates roughly $70,000 a day mining bitcoin. A warehouse full of ASIC Bitcoin miners run 24/7 to manufacture Bitcoin. The location of this Bitcoin Mine is one of the world's epicenters for mining.


Waking Up Early

It feels every video or article is about a yogi teacher or a wall street executive who wake up at 4AM to do stuff. And I like to meme about the social pressure of waking up early.

Anyways, here’s a cool video by Casey Neistat about waking up early. I actually like his routine, which feel a lot like mine, except a good 2h in advance. The guy doesn’t wake up at 3AM to eat raw cabbage and run 25 miles. He just setup his day to feel great. That’s what matters.

Is Starbucks Undervalued?

I like coffee. And it seems that a lot of people like coffee too. Pershing Square thinks Starbucks is one of the world’s best businesses and that it’s undervalued. Here’s their analysis.

Key takeaways are:

  • Dominant brand in a growing category

  • Exceptional returns on each new store built (1$ —> 10$)

  • Huge margins for new stores (30%) – no kitchen needed, lucky them!

  • Mobile order is actually a big thing for them – not just a gimmick

  • China loves Starbucks – they’ve been there for 20 years

Overlapping Skills

Good marketing

Marketing is a lot of things. Sometimes, it can be about promoting your business or product. That’s the advertising part. But that should not represent a big part of your focus as a marketer. Most of the time, marketing is about figuring out what people need, and how to build and deliver that at a reasonable price, so you stay in business and people get value from whatever you offer. That part is much less fun because it requires much more empathy and humbleness than the other part.

Charles Schwab, the discount-investing giant, has been focusing that part of marketing in past decade to turn around its business. You can read all about it in this great Bloomberg profile.

Here are two quotes that stand out from the article:

“We will survive if we do the right thing for people,” Schwab says. “We will collapse if we ever deviate from that mission.”
The company, he says, operates essentially by the “do unto others” Golden Rule. He tells you about a “virtuous cycle.” Lure new clients with low fees and easy-to-use services. Strong financial results and shareholder value follow. Repeat.
He recalls a board meeting at which he joined Schwab to pitch the turnaround strategy. “The board said, ‘We’ve just lost 40 percent of revenue, and now you’re suggesting we give up 15 or 20 percent. How are we going to make it up?’ ” Bettinger recalls. “We said, ‘The goodness of human nature.’ We sit here 14 years later with evidence that that’s exactly what works.”

I know this sounds like a lot of corporate cool aid. It might be. But it’s a good reminder to simply focus on your clients, and build around their needs and frustrations. You’re smart. But not to the point of being able to read into people’s mind. Get out of the office, talk to people who buy your stuff, and find ways to make your stuff even better. It’s not that complicated.

Learnings from the Concorde

The Concorde could cross the Atlantic in 3.5 hours. It was more than twice as fast than other options. It was beautifully designed. The food was good. People seemed to love it. But it was expensive, both for passengers and for airlines. The Concorde failed – even if it was a good idea well executed – because its business model didn’t make sense for anyone.

Minimum Wage

I never thought about Bernie Sanders or the 15$ minimum wage. I don't have a formed opinion. But there's a quote in this video that is disarmingly simple: "If you're working 40 hours / week, you should not be living in poverty."