Start Up Blog

Loving your customers – celebrity style

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 8, 2014

At Tomcar we seriously love our customers. It’s a highly personal interaction at this early stage in the business, so we both take it personally, and make it personal. We care about how our cars perform for them, and how they make their working lives better. We’ve recently been documenting the delivery of our vehicles and making some short films about it.

Yes, we know it doesn’t really scale as a business model.

Yes, we know that major car manufacturers would never do this.

Yes, we know that it makes us seem like small fry.

But here’s something else we know: Doing things which do not scale in the short term, is what gives startups a chance at scale later.

Here’s a little video of one such unscalable activity. Oh, and if you buy a Tomcar, you’ll get your personal movie made too.

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So a question you might want to ask is this – How can you treat your customers like micro celebrities of your brand?

Wood chips, sugar & hazelnuts

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 8, 2014

It was recently the 50th birthday of that favourite chocolate spread we sometimes convince ourselves is ok to eat between two piece of bread. Nutella.

Nutella Jar

What a lot of people don’t realise is that Nutella is what it is because they couldn’t afford to make it the way they wanted to. Originally Nutella was a pure chocolate spread, but during the post WW2 era, a time of heavy rationing in Italy, they bulked up the ingredients with hazelnuts. They did this because hazelnuts were plentiful in the local area and much cheaper than cocoa per kilogram. The presence of mind to turn to the woodchips, in this case hazelnuts, and remarket the brand was very clever indeed. The branding was adapted to talk up the nut credentials and make people believe it was actually a hazelnut spread.

In fact it only has 13% hazelnuts and a whopping 52% sugar by volume – ironically about the same amount as the white label on the jar. While I’ll leave the moral discussion on the marketing of Nutella for another blog post, the question it poses for all of us is this:

How do we turn necessary cost cuts or lack of availability of inputs into brand advantage?

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Reinforcing decisions – Wikipedia feedback

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 29, 2012

My post yesterday was about the simple yet great fundraising effort by Wikipedia.

Well today I got a lovely follow up letter, which although I’m sure much of it is ‘form, it didn’t feel like it. It was also from ‘Sue’ with her actual email address and phone number (not included) not a ‘thankful robot’. Actually it said some smart stuff which reinforced my decision – which is something few brands bother to do.

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Dear Stephen,

Thank you for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation. You are wonderful!

It’s easy to ignore our fundraising banners, and I’m really glad you didn’t. This is how Wikipedia pays its bills — people like you giving us money, so we can keep the site freely available for everyone around the world.

People tell me they donate to Wikipedia because they find it useful, and they trust it because even though it’s not perfect, they know it’s written for them. Wikipedia isn’t meant to advance somebody’s PR agenda or push a particular ideology, or to persuade you to believe something that’s not true. We aim to tell the truth, and we can do that because of you. The fact that you fund the site keeps us independent and able to deliver what you need and want from Wikipedia. Exactly as it should be.

You should know: your donation isn’t just covering your own costs. The average donor is paying for his or her own use of Wikipedia, plus the costs of hundreds of other people. Your donation keeps Wikipedia available for an ambitious kid in Bangalore who’s teaching herself computer programming. A middle-aged homemaker in Vienna who’s just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A novelist researching 1850s Britain. A 10-year-old in San Salvador who’s just discovered Carl Sagan.

On behalf of those people, and the half-billion other readers of Wikipedia and its sister sites and projects, I thank you for joining us in our effort to make the sum of all human knowledge available for everyone. Your donation makes the world a better place. Thank you.

Most people don’t know Wikipedia’s run by a non-profit. Please consider sharing this e-mail with a few of your friends to encourage them to donate too. And if you’re interested, you should try adding some new information to Wikipedia. If you see a typo or other small mistake, please fix it, and if you find something missing, please add it. There are resources here that can help you get started. Don’t worry about making a mistake: that’s normal when people first start editing and if it happens, other Wikipedians will be happy to fix it for you.

I appreciate your trust in us, and I promise you we’ll use your money well.

Thanks,
Sue
Sue Gardner
Executive Director,
Wikimedia Foundation
https://donate.wikimedia.org

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I wonder how many startups are this thankful to their first customers?

 

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Risk & Conservatism

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 2, 2012

I like to embrace risk, disrupt and take the path less traveled. But I only do this when it comes to innovation in business. When it comes to family, I prefer to take a conservative a approach.

An important life trick, is to know which parts are worth behaving in an unexpected or unusual manner.

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They brand you

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 25, 2011

We are so busy building our brands that we often forget what are brands are supposed to do in the new world. But every now and again we are given a simple reminder on why we give our loyalty to certain companies:

They recognise our brand and self importance. They brand us, and not just themselves. Sometimes they do this via association, and sometimes they do it more directly like the picture above. My coffee custom could go to a lot of places, and call me old fashioned, but I do like it to go somewhere where they make the effort to learn and use my name.

Sometimes the simplest loyalty strategies are the most effective.

Which ones does your startup employ to recognise your early adoptors?

 

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Digital doodles

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 21, 2011

Some doodling from a digital day yesterday. Some nice ideas popped up yesterday if you read the words closely. Thought it was worth sharing here.

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100,000 eyeballs for $8

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 8, 2010

If you want to know how to get your brand exposed to 100,000 people for $8 then we need look no further than what David did.

You may remember this post where David go his Jarritos soft drink van all branded up. Well, he took the next step in exposure and got to the AFL grand final early for a front row car park near the MCG for a measly $8. As far as I can tell it’s one of the greatest media investments of all time – there were 100,000 people in attendance. See photo journal below. Great startup bootstrapping David.

Promote yourself

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 1, 2010

I often wonder whether or not advertising on work cars is a good idea. Especially given it is in many ways one of the negative sides of business – distribution, busy road, pullution. It might remind consumers that the brand is part of a large corporate monolith. You get the picture. But I’m starting to think this is different for startups.

Firstly, we’re only likely to have one or two vehicles out on the road. Secondly, it’s a good way to create brand awareness cheaply. A colleague of mine who has started a beverage company Jarritos Mexican soda has done just this. At a cost of $2000, he’s invented $50,000 worth of advertising. Which is what branded cars cost via media agencies. See below.

The key element to doing this successfully is making sure the vehicle and advertising matches the brand. For example, an environmentally friendly business should really only partake in such branding if it’s prepared to invest in hybrid / electric vehicles.

Would you advertise your startup on your car? In addition is there an opportunity to start a business branding civilian cars and in doing so helping the general population pay for their transport?

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Why spreadsheets are the enemy

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 18, 2010

Spreadsheets cause far more problems in business than they solve. When we sue spreadsheets too much we start to believe our business is the numbers we make up to fill in the columns. Turns out the numbers on the tidy little sheets have very little to do with our business. Our business is about people, emotions and serving needs. It’s about human movement and insight, not predictions and forecasts.

In recent times brand managers and entrepreneurs have become spreadsheet managers. Busy forecasting, doing profit and loss statements for upcoming launches and estimating sales revenue and market share for the upcoming quarter. The problem with most of these activities is simple, they are predictions. They rarely turn out to be correct, and they suck time we should be investing in getting our products to the market, talking with our customers and promoting what we do.


In startup land there are only two colums we need. Expenses and revenue. Once we have these we just need to make sure the revenue side is greater than the expense side. After that we ought leave the spreadsheets to our accountants.

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Rebranding – how not to do it

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 10, 2010

Recently the Victorian metropolitan train system has not been working very well. So much so that the incumbent Connex trains was sacked and replaced recently.

It’s created an interesting example of how not to re-brand something. And before I rant further, I’ll remind you of the startupblog definition of a brand:

Brand: A cognitive shortcut from which informed decisions can be made.

The brand is always the acummulation of the many interactions consumers have with the product or service. So with Connex, the brand was the overcrowded, delayed, cancelled, crime ridden, dirty train service. In fact much of the bad experience can be attributed to the inherited infrastrcutre. And it’s here that the key lesson lies. Whenever a re-branding event occurs, the brand custodians can’t wait to tell everyone how it will be different this time. They go off and implment a shiny new logo, make an advertisment, and paste the new brand, word or design on all the physical elements that represent the brand.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The reason the brand sucks, is because of the experience people are having with it. A new word or logo will never fix this. Re-branding should go all the way back to the start. A total product / service re-design, or maybe even an infrastructure update is needed – as in the case of Melbourne trains and Connex. If we want to re-brand anything with success, first we have to prove it’s better with real evidence. Slapping a Metro logo on the broken Melbourne train system will only damage the brand before it even begins. They should have fixed everything first. Even if it means not branding anything for a year or two. Having no name trains running on the tracks. Radical, maybe. Correct, no doubt. Fix the experience first, create cognitive associations later.

For entrepreneurs the idea is simple. Our brand will only ever be the memory of the experience our people had when interacting with us. If we want a new meaning, we need to create new experiences.

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