Want Less => More Wealth

Lets start with a premise: Money enables us to buy things we want

The normal corollary is that we need to get more money to buy more stuff. But what if we flipped that on its head, and just wanted less stuff? Then, with the same money, we’d be able to get everything we want.

There’s a great post here on 4HWD that lays this out.

Its a great argument, and in the pursuit of minimalism, a powerful way to turn the tables on the forces of consumerism that assault us every day.

The Unclutterer Blog

I recently discovered (and recently fell in love with) the Unclutterer blog.

Its a site full of interesting observations on the random stuff we collect as humans, and how to simplify.

Example topics from the site include:

Not a bad place to get ideas on how to further seek simplicity.

100 thing challenge

How many things do you own? Its fine, this post will be fine waiting while you go count.

Its too easy to pile up a horde of stuff we don’t need, and for some reason, really hard to get rid of it afterward.

I’ve been a big fan (and struggling to reach) the goals of the 100 thing challenge. David Bruno has done a ton to promote the idea, and the core of it is simple:

Stuff (unless its really nice) doesn’t make us happy. Therefore have less stuff.

Its much easier said than done. If you’ve ever felt the pang of guilt or doubt when throwing something out, you’ve see what happens when the things you buy start to own you instead of the other way around.

Give your old clothes, books, and other stuff to charity, to benefit those who might really need it. Downsize your albatross of stuff, feel the weight lift off your shoulders, and see the difference it makes in your happiness level.

Watch that TED talk – even though its from a few years ago, its just as true today.

Returns vs Safety: How much leverage is correct?


As a businessmen, an entrepreneur, an investor, the allocation or effort/capital is a common one. Should you put the next $1 into Activity A or Activity B? It can only go to one of those places.

As you grow your business, should you buy that new truck or lease it? Buy that new machine or rent it? If you’re thinking through the acquisition of a company or a piece of property, is it better to take it down with cash or with leverage?

In a theoretically perfect world, where nothing ever goes wrong, and we never make the wrong decision, its a no brainer – you should use leverage every time, and as much of it as you can get. But in the world we live in, where sales don’t always increase month-over-month, where surprise new expenses can come up, and basically anything can go wrong from speeding ticket to full-on Hurricane Sandy, it helps to have a little margin of safety.

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 5.15.47 PM

The above is a chart from an investment I was researching earlier this year. I knew I could get a 6% interest loan on it (or better), and was trying to figure out what the optimal amount of leverage was. Of course, as you increase leverage, you exponentially increase the potential returns on equity. However, you also cover the interest payment fewer and fewer times.

As with so many things, the right answer here depends a little on how comfortable you are with risk, and how lucky you’re feeling. If you’ve got the interest covered 2x, and we’re talking about a rental property, that means you could have 50% vacancy and still do just fine. But if you are only just barely making the interest payment, any less than 100% vacancy will bankrupt you.

The same math applies to a garmento buying a factory, or to a huge corporation thinking about leveraging the buyout of another company.

Warren Buffet suggests in many of his annual letters that he’s uncomfortable if he sees any less than 2X interest coverage, and many of his companies have much more than that. But with more liquid investments (sometimes including real estate) 2X could be a lot if you have a conservative estimate of what the equity is worth.

What do you think? I’d be very interested to know how fellow business owners and investors consider their risk & reward.

Do you have a crappy product?


I offer you two basic premises here, that I think we can all agree on.

1. Most products are crappy – You know this is true. Call me a cynic if you’d like, but if you combine the facts that a) half of the stuff in any category is below average by definition, and b) products that are just above average rarely cause excitement, we’ve just ruled ~75% of the products in any category, and collectively, 75% of all products everywhere, as crap.

That just is what it is, and as the creators of products we need to know that without some real planning, thought, and design (and maybe luck) we’re going to put out a crappy product. As the consumers of products, we’re just so bombarded by shiny new products that —

2. The bar to meet for quality products is always rising – Last year’s great stuff is just okay stuff today, and even top of the line from 2-3 years ago is basically crap. We could be talking about cars, clothing, or consumer electronics. We human creators are always trying to out-do each other and ourselves, so as long as we keep putting out improved products, the older stuff has got to get updated, thrown out, or settled for.

Call it “product-quality deflation” – and it is always working against you.

The result? If you’re not consistently, rigorously, aggressively improving, and more so than the next guy and all the rest of your competitors, your product is getting crappier. As a creator of products, you’ve got to always run a little faster than a treadmill whose speed is set by your customers and competitors.

Product-quality deflation is merciless, and works against you while you sleep. Stay vigilant, my friends, or you will wake up one day to see that this silent force has slowly devoured your whole operation.

This doesn’t even touch on whether you have the right customer or not, whether your price is right, or if your value prop is meaningful. These elements of product strategy will need to wait for a future post.

Breaking bad: Top 3 terrible email habits


If you asked digital executives today what was the one activity that they credited with a majority of their day-to-day commercial success, 90% would tell you ’email’ without missing a beat.

But if asked most of these guys whether they were happy with their email, whether they thought it was a real center of excellence for them, you might start getting some mumblings: “Our customers keep unsubscribing, our conversion rates are going down, I’m not really sure if we’re doing the best we can.”

Email is the lifeblood of customer communications today, and the majority of digital groups that I’ve seen are suffering from a cancer of email. A slow degrade away from quality communications, away from excellence in marketing, and away from their fans. Cancer. And if there’s anything we’ve learned about the cure for cancer from TV, its that you have to Break Bad. (Was that too much of a stretch?)

So next time you hear a digital exec offer you the excuses below, or the next time you hear yourself saying them – think about how you can break away from these, or more simply, what Walter White would do.

Excuse #3: “We have to tell them everything” 

Pour acid on the desk. I hear some variant of this whenever I find myself criticizing an email campaign that is full of text – 500 words of dense gibberish. Remember the last time you got one of these? Probably not, you marked these companies as spam a long time ago.

The goal of the email is not to tell the entire story, nor is it to close the sale. It’s about sharing a glimpse into life at your company, a peek at a cool product, a hint of a story. The email is an invitation to join the conversation, to learn more, to belong. How can you get that subtlety across if all you’re saying is BUYMYPRODUCT BUYMYPRODUCT BUYMYPRODUCT ?

Excuse #2: “We understand the customer, we don’t need to see data”

Set something on fire. What this digital exec really said is that they are so terrified of reality, they are clutching to their hopes (read: Hope is not a marketing plan) and probably to their job. Whenever I hear this, I know its time to start sending the resumes of actually competent people to this guy’s boss.

Excuse #1: “This is how we’ve always done it”

Throw a chair through a window. This is what you’ve always done, and you continue to get mediocre results. Keeping the same tactics is going to keep those mediocre results, or worse.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – misquote of Einstein

If what you are doing is failing, try something, anything, different. It just might surprise you.

Telling stories: There’s a reason we love your brand

Old Book 2

The landing page. Its the start of a narrative, the beginning of a relationship, and if you’re good — the opening of a great story.

Sometimes, the product is the hero. Sometimes, its something else entirely. However, the common thread is that the great sites start showing you the road to walk down, paved with yellow bricks and all.

In the first example above, we’re looking at The North Face:

Landing rotation The North Face

The story is clear, and comes at us from all directions. The North Face isn’t just slinging product — they are collaborating with top athletes from multiple disciplines to bring us awesome stuff. Cool photography and immediately believable.

It’s about adventure, adrenaline, and athleticism — in some out-of-the way spots all around the world.

The second example above is from the Yoox site over the holidays.

yoox.com landing color voice

Here, the story is a little different. It’s colorful and fun. Its evocative of the holidays, and the heartfelt silliness that comes from hanging out with our loved ones. Its playful, hints at presents (and who doesn’t love presents) and extremely interactive. Each color had a different scene with relevant product and a similar spirit.

Indeed, you can click right on the scenes to start getting lost in the store.

Finally, one of my favorite storytellers: J.Crew.

J.Crew Landing 1


Sure, the landing page shows you product, and good landing pages do that. But it does more — it starts telling you about the reason you came there. Were you looking for a cashmere sweater => come right this way.

No? That’s okay, maybe you came looking for a suit.

J.Crew Landing 2

You’re thinking about fabric, and the clothes, and before you know it, you imagine the places you’ll go, and the things you’ll see in the sharp new threads that you could have in a few clicks.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether the shopper was looking for cashmere or a suit. The juices are flowing, the pictures are inviting, and the story of what might happen has begun.


Content use on Oki-Ni

oki ni Landing 1

As you may know, one of my favorite things in the world is a solid, contextual play for content-meets-commerce. I’ll tell this to anyone who will listen. In a retail experience, you can build story through the fixtures, the layout, furniture, artwork, and the clothes worn by store associates. On the web, you can actually build stories.

Oki-Ni does a solid job of getting their point of view out there. As soon as you land, they have product, for sure — however, there are tiles just as big dedicated to designer stories, travel reports, team members opinions and more, all with consistent, well mixed photography. Plus, there’s a lot of it. It keeps scrolling at just the right speed, so just as you might have been about to lose attention, they hit you with something new and pull you right back in.

oki ni Landing 2

Celebrating the best of everything.