In any business, one thing that standout from the rest of traits that make a business successful in calmness and composure
Our nation’s college students are today’s dreamers. Why? Because they can. Schools — especially residential colleges — are safe zones. That’s a good thing.
In such protected, nurturing environments, students discover their passion and develop their gifts. This is true for entrepreneurial students as well: colleges now offer them opportunities to explore and validate their ideas. In addition to traditional learning, students can now experience how innovation becomes a business.
This “road less traveled” takes many unexpected twists and turns. Initial ideas fail. Product concepts and prototypes designed for one market begin to take hold in another. Personal income is deferred. Failure is inevitable.
But there’s one thing that can end the dream: the wake-up call of graduation.
When students graduate, the nurturing environment disappears and economic and social pressures, as well as fear of failure, pull them away from their ideas. How do we help them keep the dream alive?
1. Connect with mentors. One of the best things we can do to help entrepreneurs keep the dream alive is to help them network and cultivate mentors long before graduation approaches. Colleges and universities can do this well by bringing those not-so-recent alums, recent alums and current students who are pursuing the dream together with younger entrepreneurial students. Entrepreneurship is a lonely calling. Experiential entrepreneurial education is valuable. But encouragement and wisdom from role models, especially near peers, is priceless.
2. Minimize risks and bootstrap. Entrepreneurs, especially younger ones, cannot afford to wildly spend time and money on things they shouldn’t be. They can reduce the cost of the resources they need by being resourceful and by constantly minimizing their risks. The former we call “bootstrapping” and the latter we call “starting lean.” The essence of being resourceful is finding people who share the entrepreneur’s vision and passion. The essence of starting lean is conducting experiments to validate customer demand, the business model, technical feasibility and scalability. I find Ash Maurya’s Running Lean one of the best investments entrepreneurs can make because the book outlines a methodology for building a business before running out of resources.
3. Stay focused on the dream. Parents, peers and significant others tend to encourage financial security. Thus, as graduation approaches, many entrepreneurial students wake up from the dream and seek a more predictable way of life than what entrepreneurship offers.
But they shouldn’t quit. There are resources out there to help new entrepreneurs bootstrap their startups. An important lesson to learn is that ideas are a “dime a dozen.” In contrast, ideas of value are those that have been validated by the market. The best validation is a customer order. Short of customer orders, there is customer interest in prototypes, “landing pages,” “minimum viable product” concepts, and the like. The point is this: cash is available via business incubators and competitions given a validated idea.
Here’s the rub: students have more time and flexibility to take advantage of those opportunities than do graduates trying to build a career. Entrepreneurial graduates can get a job with Company XYZ, but they can also plan ahead to keep the dream alive while in college by sharing it with the next cohort of entrepreneurial students. A portion of something is better than all of nothing.
Society tells entrepreneurial students to “get a job.” But society also needs dreamers who create businesses rather than work for them. Graduation doesn’t have to be a fork in the road.
Brand is one of those perfectly good words that has picked up a lot of baggage over the past decade. At one point, it simply meant the label used to signify a product. Chiquita bananas. Ford cars. Coca-Cola. Now we talk about personal brands, political brands and brand management. And even though the conversation around brand has become bloated with jargon and gobbledygook, its importance can’t be oversold. Marketing guru Seth Godin defines brand as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
These days a brand is the sum of a company’s marketing efforts, customer experiences, its emotional impact and how it places itself in the culture. It’s a mark of quality and status. In other words, it’s the reason one company succeeds and another company fails.
Entrepreneur set out to learn from its readers why certain brands elicit their respect and engagement. What our survey revealed is that brands that deliver on their promises, that consistently give consumers the highest level of service and best product–not just star-studded commercials or marketing hype–topped the list. Brands that think, feel and act like entrepreneurs, those that push to keep pace with customer demands and changing technology while staying true to their core principles, were the most respected. We also found some common themes and lessons among our top brands.
Disrupt, but with purpose.
Tech companies talk constantly about disruption, and in the digital world, where pixels are cheap, that’s fine. For retail and service brands, however, disruption just for the sake of change can spell disaster. When it is done right, though, a good game-changer can help a brand stand out and even create its own niche.
At the time the French company Sephora, which topped our list, came to the U.S. in the late 1990s, shopping for cosmetics and perfume meant going to department stores where representatives from various parfumeries would give customers the hard sell. Sephora, however, opted to bring all the brands into one stylish shop and let customers browse in peace, sampling scents and nail polish at will. It was a big change for the perfume companies, too.
“Originally, bigger brands were not comfortable selling in our environment, so they didn’t,” says Julie Bornstein, executive vice president and chief marketing and digital officer of Sephora. “So we carried up-and-coming brands and were able to cultivate new trends. As we became more successful, we were able to win over the bigger brands, but we protected the DNA of our original concept.”
Bahram Akradi, founder of Life Time–The Healthy Way of Life Company, the highest-ranking fitness brand on our list, is also a fan of disruption, as long as it has a clear purpose. “Don’t change things for the sake of change,” he says. “If you’re constantly innovating to delight your customers, disruption follows. Do the right thing.”
When Chanhassen, Minn.-based Life Time innovated its no-contract policy and money-back guarantee for members, the move flipped the fitness industry’s traditional model on its head. “Some old friends thought I’d lost my mind,” Akradi says, “but demanding that people sign the longest possible contracts was designed to benefit businesses, not customers.”
The idea that customers could choose to renew their memberships every month energized Life Time trainers to earn member loyalty, creating real relationships between employees and customers.
Sephora is always trying to improve the customer experience, too, and that means continuous innovation. In recent years it unveiled Color IQ, a device that measures skin tone and helps customers find the perfect products and shades from Sephora’s huge lineup. Most recently, the company partnered with designer Marc Jacobs on an exclusive cosmetics line and acquired a scent research company that will help it develop a “digital fragrance experience.” It’s a far cry from a bored cosmetics-counter clerk spraying White Diamonds into customers’ eyes.
“I think the one thing that is unique about Sephora is that innovation is at the heart of our brand,” Bornstein says. “With anything we do, we move fast, and we’re focused on how to create new experiences for clients. They are at the center of everything we do.”
Good branding is expensive. Great branding can’t be bought.
Many of the top brands have little or no budget dedicated to marketing, or they don’t distinguish it from other initiatives, such as sales or service. Instead, the best brands rely on something much more precious–authenticity. They deliver on their brand promises–whether that means providing good value, friendly service or consistent food. But they do it in a way that shows a genuine interest in serving the customer.
“The key is to act on what matters,” says Phil Cordell, global head of focused service and Hampton brand management for Hilton Worldwide, whose Hampton Inn is No. 38 on our list. Cordell talks a lot about the “table stakes” given to businesses, especially those in industries in which sales are decided in large part on price. Hampton is constantly tinkering with its offerings, last year adding power strips in its rooms and this year planning to upgrade the breakfasts served in its lobbies.
And if you’ve ever seen a hotel bedspread under ultraviolet light, you know that Hampton’s decision to wash the duvet covers after every stay was impressive–and the company drives the point home to its guests with personality, in the form of a handwritten sticky note on the bed frame announcing that the linens have been freshly laundered.
Hampton’s recent “Hamptonality” campaign is starting to stick, proving that delivering brand loyalty through authenticity is within reach of any company.
The customer is the only thing that counts.
There are endless stories about exceptional service. A waiter at the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai–another of our top brands–overheard a guest lamenting the fact that his wife couldn’t make it down to the beach because she was in a wheelchair. The next afternoon, the couple found a wooden walkway built just for them.
Cordell remembers a bride-to-be who tried to steam her wedding dress by hanging it on a fire sprinkler and ended up flooding the hotel. When she said she was dissatisfied with the inconvenience, Hampton made good on its guarantee and comped the entire bridal party. Later that year, Hampton signed a corporate travel deal with a Fortune 10 company; turns out the decision-maker had been part of the wedding group and was blown away by the hotel’s extraordinary service.
But a focus on customers is not about press-worthy anecdotes or fixing complaints aired on social media. It’s about institutionalizing constant change to meet developing customer needs. At Hampton, that means focusing on its people and culture.
“Brand is about spirit, not just execution,” says Cordell, who shares a seemingly endless list of tools he uses to communicate with the company’s hotels and, perhaps more important, empower them to share ideas with one another.
It’s a powerful entrepreneurial idea to think of employees and partners as “customers.” “We’re not geniuses, and we don’t have the world cornered, but I do know that focusing on making that emotional connection with employees and customers is what pays off,” Life Time’s Akradi says.
Bornstein agrees that making customers feel like they are part of something special is behind much of her company’s success. Sephora has built on that through its investment in social media; it is not only active on Facebook and Pinterest but has launched its own social platform, Beauty Talk, where customers can learn makeup tips and techniques and get recommendations from fellow users. Getting customers to engage, even when they aren’t necessarily opening their wallets, is what differentiates a good brand from a great brand.
It can’t be all about the money.
Trained as an engineer, Akradi is always looking for problems before they happen. Every day, he and his staff improve their products, services, gym layouts and traffic flow based on customer experience and feedback. It’s a tremendous amount of work. “As soon as you don’t think you have to do that, there will be another guy who wants it more,” he says. “You need to be passionate.”
This might seem like a fairy tale for entrepreneurs who face an ugly, every-day grind just trying to stay afloat or break even. But for a business to really work, something else has to inspire it. Though money is a great reward for hard work, a brand has to fulfill a larger purpose, too, whether it’s Chipotle spreading more humane animal practices, Patrón staying true to ancient processes or Apple putting design on equal footing with tech. This is true for startups as well as for the leadership and teams at multibillion-dollar brands.
It shows itself when Sephora’s customers are allowed to sample and play with products, then walk out of the store not just without a hard sell, but with the feeling that they’re welcome back anytime.
That larger purpose is something a brand needs to stay aloft through tough financial times and setbacks, and through the long years it can take to succeed.
After all, a brand without passion is just a logo–and even terrible companies invest in those.
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Meditation is going to make you happier and more connected to the world. That’s what it’s done for me and that makes it the most beautiful gift that I could share with any of you.
It’s also the most effective tool to help you achieve your goals. I’ve been starting companies, rehabilitating brands and promoting artists for over 30 years now and I can promise you that no tool has made me a smarter, more focused and clearer thinking entrepreneur than meditation. I would not be living in my incredible home, surrounded by fun toys, if it were not for meditation.
That’s the message I share with Hollywood hustlers and it’s the message I want to share with you now: meditation is the greatest tool that I know of to help you both harness and maximize your entrepreneurial spirit.
And here are three ways it will do it:
It makes you more focused. Meditation is going to allow you to accomplish twice as much in half the time. If you take anything away from this article, let it be that. By helping you let go of the distractions that have been clouding your mind, meditation will sharpen your focus to levels you didn’t think possible. I know this from personal experience and recent research backs it up too.
People have this misconception that meditation will chill you out and make you soft, but the opposite is true. I meditate every morning when I wake up and almost the second my session is over I’m eager to tackle whatever is on my plate for that day. Forget about a cup of coffee or even going to the gym — meditation is all you need to get your mind sharpened and ready to go!
Imagine if I had developed a new technology to help you double your productivity in half the time. Every entrepreneur in the world would want to get down with it. Well, that “new technology” is actually a tool that smart people have been using for thousands and thousands of years.
It gets you past “success” and “failure.” Let’s keep it real: most us, especially most of us entrepreneurs, get caught up in what we perceive to be the highs and lows of our professional lives. We pop champagne, buy fancy toys and celebrate when it seems like one of our ideas has “won,” but we become dark and depressed when it seems like an idea has “lost” or “failed.”
The truth is that neither reaction is sustainable. Being an entrepreneur or a business person is a journey that will have inevitable highs and lows, but will never actually end. So if you get too “high” the first time something seems to break right for you, or get too low the first time something doesn’t seem to work, you’re going to flame out pretty quickly.
I’ve had plenty of companies that the world was quick to label as “success” that never actually did much, just as I’ve had companies even my friends told me I should abandon, that took years to turn a profit, but now are some of my strongest assets.
If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then you already know that one of my favorite quotes from the Bhagavad-Gita (the main religious scripture of Hinduism), is “You have control over your work alone, never the fruit.”
To me, that means stop worrying about how much success you have (the fruit) and instead just stay focused on your work itself. Because when you embrace the process of your work, instead of focusing on the results, you’ll be much happier and do a much better job.