Startup Passion and Delight Shoeshine Solopreneur's Secret
Startup Passion and Delight: Ricky D has a passion and takes delight in its consequences. He’s a solopreneur, who has been shining shoes most of his life, but his ideas hardened into a business plan while serving in the US Air Force.
Shining shoes is not a career that many people choose. Ricky suggests that it chose him over thirty years ago. Early in his military service, his fellow airmen invited him on a night out, and when he refused for money reasons, he decided that since he’d loved shining shoes since boyhood, he’d go downtown with his polish and brushes to change his answer. He found that he could make twenty bucks an hour, so in a couple of hours he was ready for a night out.
After the military, he put up his sign and started shining—inside as well as out. He simply has a passion for shining shoes, turning scuffed or soiled shoes into something that shimmers. He lives in my Texas community, near Austin—where he does most of his business. In a chat with him the other day, his eyes lit up when he described his delight when a customer walks away with sparkling shoes and a spring in his step. He feels their delight in how his customers have a new confident walk or smile at the pleasure of looking down at their feet.
Startup Passion and Delight Does Not Just Happen
Ricky’s passion and delight may simply cause a chuckle. However, the lesson is critical for entrepreneurs, whether small business people or unicorn startups. Whatever service or product is on offer, the experience of a purchase is key to survival. Ricky’s behavior comes to him naturally, but entrepreneurs and managers can equally well plan to make the customer interaction a delight for both parties. Here’s a good guide to delighting customers from the recruitment firm, Indeed.
It is more than simply providing a satisfactory product. Ricky knows this as he delivers his product from below, hunched over the customer’s feet, polishing away. It is easy for him to engage with the customer, once having done the necessary to attract him to buy. What about delight?
Startup Passion and Delight does not just happen. It is
- not a transaction—it’s a two-way relationship; both seller and buyer need to be feeling it;
- conscious behavior; a programmed approach will not work; it’s about feelings and experience;
- so, it’s personal—survey questions will tell you very little, nor will making/watching comments on Yelp;
- and since it’s personal, you can’t fake it, and sometimes there will be no delight!
Startup Growth Can Be the Enemy of Passion and Delight
During the 11 years that I ran my main startup, I tried not to distance myself from customers. Sometimes it got in the way of my ‘job’. Many companies declare that they put the customer first, but the declaration is hollow, when the customer receives the product or service. As sales grow and the supply chain lengthens, the relationship between seller and buyer often becomes remote.
How do you maintain the feelings of passion and delight remotely? It’s really hard to do and too many of today’s cyber attempts at intimacy fail, because they do not start with the sensation that Ricky and his customer sense with every sale. As your new venture expands, you need a conscious ‘Ricky Heart’. The founder will need to take measures that instill in every employee a sense that they are Ricky and own the company.
Build in Passion and Delight
It is vital, especially for a new enterprise to understand the interdependence of everyone in the company and how their individual attitudes and behavior impact the business as a whole. How often have you heard a customer support person answer you by saying, “that’s above my pay grade”, or “I’ll have to transfer you to a…”, or worse, “it’s company policy to…”?
Those kinds of response will tell you immediately that the company has not empowered its employees and has not recognized how even the ‘back room boys’ impact the results that the company can achieve. The concept of interdependence, if properly led and managed, will mean that the company as a whole will create the impression that a customer is interacting with another person, not an faceless organization. Startup with soul, like Ricky D!
Startup with an Interdependent Soul
The startup that clearly understands that its people are all interdependent and the behavior of an individual in any function, whether customer-facing like sales or not, is going to impact the extent to which customer will be delighted. When you look at the image on the left you see functions not as a hierarchy, but a series of interdependent and overlapping activities.
So, the design of a product, its components, the pricing, the scheduling of is manufacture, the instructions for its use, and corporate culture will all impact the customer and the extent to which she is not only satisfied, but delighted.
It does however, require a conscious understanding of their combined impact, that comes naturally to Ricky D—and taking specific actions to ensure that the business creates and maintains passion for its purpose among every employee. That is, if the business has a mission to delight its customers and know that they will walk with same sprightliness as the shiny shoe customers of Ricky D.
Here are some of the ways a founder can build in passion and delight:
- demonstrate leadership behaviors that exemplify both passion and delight;
- have staff, including non customer-facing members, attend regular short cross functional seminars to learn and share;
- establish regular means of listening to customers, especially through direct personal contact;
- provide real time customer and supplier support, ensuring the demonstration of listening skills;
- offer live chat, when staff are available, even doing the job herself from time to time;
- at all times, ensure customers don’t experience lengthy phone, wait times and create accurate call back estimates.
For another way to approach the process of establishing a new venture’s purpose, have a look at a simple tool that I devised: it’s called the Purpose and Profit Framework.