Reess Kennedy

Ideas, sharings, projections

Category: Product

The Over-Engineering of Bagels and Life

Recently I decided to do something really crazy: Order a plain bagel with plain cream cheese. The result: one of the great bagel experiences of my life and a major EUREKA moment.

Why was this so crazy for me? For many years I’d ordered everything bagels. Occasionally I’d experiment with flavored cream cheeses too.

After biting this plain-on-plain after so long out at sea with different add-ons I thought, “Why have I been straying form the basic thing for so long?” It’s hard to beat just a perfectly fresh bagel with the right amount of plain cream cheese on it.

I think there’s a lesson of general value in life form this. Humans have a propensity to want to add more to everything. We’re tinkerers and experimenters and, in many ways, this curiosity has resulted in the incredible innovations that continue to improve our world.

It also, however, can lead us down dead end roads, always seeking more when what we had in the beginning didn’t need anything more. What we had in the beginning worked great!

I think this applies to food, relationships and business.

How do we find that really simple, basic thing that just works great? How do we find that perfect plain bagel with plain cream cheese that everyone lines up for in our business? And then how do we prevent ourselves from feeling the need to monkey with it too much once it works!

Software engineers talk about “the plague of over-engineering” sometimes.

When you’re dealing with bits and bites that can be moved around in an infinite combination, dissatisfaction and a desire to add on more can become an even bigger valueless time drain.

I saw this quote about it recently I liked:

This guys basically communicates what I’m trying to say in this article in 140 characters. Maybe this whole post is over-engineered.

7 Trader Joes-inspired business success strategies I use

People in NYC love Trader Joes.

I’ve found that TJs operates by some simple principles that can be applied to any business which I outline below.

1. Don’t try to do everything for everyone
Trader Joes stays nimble by only offering a few items but making sure people really like those items. They’re okay knowing that you’ll have to go elsewhere for some things because they know you’ll still buy from them the things they do better than others. Trying to create a store that would be a “one stop shop” would hurt their ability to do all the other things they do well. “Put more force behind one arrow” is a powerful mantra for any business and the way a David can take down a “Goliath” — the focused slingshot rock right at the blind spot inevitably created by the Goliath’s size.

2. Set reasonable prices, make money on volume
TJs keeps things simple and wants to offer value. People recognize this and customer loyalty is created. People also recognize that the lack of frills is a part TJ’s charm and what allows them to offer affordable quality.

3. Experiment and discard what doesn’t sell
TJs is constantly introducing new stuff and removing old stuff that isn’t selling. Inventory or product or feature pruning and focus is important with any business.

4. Invest your profits into your staff
Staff members at TJs are generally happy and friendly. Maybe this is because they make more money and are given better benefits than those working elsewhere. The customer experience is far more enjoyable as a result. It sounds corny but it does seem like somewhat of a family when you shop there. Consider how much more confident you’d be in retaining customers at your own business if they also felt like they were a part of a family as a customer of your business.

5. Give free samples
Free samples just make people happy and show you’re confident with your products. At TJs this means literally giving out food samples but in other service of product businesses it may sometimes mean providing your services or products at a discounted, below market price at the beginning to make it easy for new customers to see how good you are and win trust.

6. Offer sustainability
Having an advertised mission beyond profit shows customers you have a higher purpose and are working to also make a larger difference.

7. Keep location overhead low
People care about the value of the products and not the office space. Good employees will care more about whether they are making a good living working on something they care about than the grandeur of their office.



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How to hide the sidebar on YouTube

You’ll never miss what you’re not aware of! That’s why I set out to find a hack to hide all the recommended content on YouTube.

It’s actually really, really simple. It takes all of two minutes and it’ll like save you hours, days, even weeks of wasted time!

No coding necessary. Just check out the video, download Stylebot (I am not affiliated with them in any way) and reclaim a part of your brief existence on planet earth.

Success at your own vision (a.k.a. not bending to another’s)

When Conan O’Brien took over hosting the Late Show on NBC, people thought he’d fail.

In an interview with Charlie Rose around that time he said something to the effect of, “I’ve realized that I have to do my show. If I failed and I failed while doing someone else’s vision for what my show should be, then I’d feel I really messed up.”

And there is so much general wisdom and value in this.

So many times, with creative projects, I have witness creators bend their initial vision for a project — whether it’s a film, book, web app or other product — to suit the opinions of other clients or stake holders with the end result being muddied and weaker as a result.

I don’t think creators should stop listening but they should stop bending to every piece of advice to try and make everyone happy. One has to have strong vision of a project and be able to discern whether feedback is in accord or discord with it.

So much creative tragedy occurs when people start with a clear vision and then start to change just to suit the less-inspired concerns of outsiders.

We’d have so many more original voices in film and literature and comedy and business if more people were less fearful of just “keeping their stakeholders happy” at all costs. Because the real expense of of doing this is absolute failure — executing one someone else’s vision and still failing. 

Conan knew this, weathered the storm and came out on top as a totally original performer — just as David Letterman was before him.

All the greats know this and are able to stay steadfast and disregard the noise that wants to persuade them to compromise and proceed with caution.

Meditate on the critical importance of being steadfast and clear in vision.

Nike’s 93 billion started with one waffle iron

When my mind becomes overwhelmed by new, creative ideas, I meditate on this simple truth about Nike: the entire company was started by one man, Bill Bowerman, a track coach, who just wanted to “scratch his own itch” and help his athletes by creating one thing that he thought was better than the other available things.

His beginnings were very humble, using a waffle iron to prototype his new shoes but my point is this: Most massive companies started as just an idea for one thing that would be better than other available things.

It’s a powerful formula for success. People like the first thing you make and you begin to profit from it. Then you start to reinvest that success into efforts to make additional superior products and because of the trust you’ve built up because of your first products the sale of new things becomes a lot easier and this virtuous, profit-making cycle ensues.

But it all starts from making that one thing that’s way better and creating some trust in your company. This is something like the zero to one moment Peter Thiel speaks of–creating something new and significantly better for people to gain and early and commanding lead before competition steps in to make the environment to win over brand loyalty more challenging.

Now Nike is massively diversified. An Amazon search for Nike yields over 500,000 product results. That’s five times as many products available on Amazon from Adidas.

But mastery of one thing is usually needed before moving on to diversification. Nike was founded in 1964. It’s had 50+ to diversify.

With technology, even when you become a multi-billion dollar company, focus and constraint in your offerings still seems to be the winning formula.

Google started like Nike, by just creating one superior product in search.

But now, unlike Nike’s thousands of products, Google is different: they really only have seven blockbuster products with over a billion users and the rest of their products are more speculative and they are discipline about killing their less popular innovations to only commit to big wins.

Apple is in the same boat. In an interview with Charlie Rose a few years ago Apple CEO Tim Cook said “Despite this table being so small that you and I are sitting at,” Cook told Rose, “you could put every Apple product on it, and yet this year our revenues will be approximately $180 billion.”

He goes on to say that it’s not about what we’re going to do next, it’s more about what we’re not going to do next. We have so many ideas but we have to just stay focused on doing a few things really, really well. We’re the most valuable company in the world and yet all our products could fit on this small table.”

That really gets me! Consider that: The most valuable company in the world and their entire current product line can fit one table.

A huge number of companies fail because they become unfocused and try to do too much, too quickly instead of just focusing on making one thing really, really great.

So I’m starting a new list in my to-dos today called, “Probably don’t do these ideas.”

And I know that’s the right strategy.

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