Book Club #35: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Book Club #35: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan HolidayToday’s business environment is different from anything studied or reviewed in the modern era because the times and culture we are in are significantly different than any other in the modern era. While trying to stay ahead of the curve of an economy in flux, many business owners have been looking for new ways to overcome the turbulence. However, Ryan Holiday believes that the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy of Stoicism is the approach that current and prospective business owners and sellers should adopt. His best-selling book The Obstacle is the Way dives into the lessons that can be learned from Stoicism which we can apply to challenging times, including in the world of business ownership.

Rolling with the Punches: In Three Parts

The elevator pitch of Stoicism is that it is a philosophy of life that focuses on what the individual can control. Instead of reacting to outside influence, the practitioner remains calm and focused on what they can directly influence. A calm mind is able to think logically by removing emotion from the equation. In The Obstacle is the Way, Holiday believes that you should face challenges and accept them as an opportunity to grow. Time spent complaining about actions outside of your control is time wasted. Accepting the hand you have been dealt and moving to overcome it is much more valuable.

There are three parts to the path forward when encountering any obstacle. First, your perception of the challenge is key because an accurate perception means that you can formulate a clear path forward. Once you see your path, you are able to act on it, which is the second part of Holiday’s approach. Finally, when you reach a roadblock in your path, you will have to enact sheer will to stay focused on the challenge and overcome it, and not stay fixated on what could have been or would have been. Willing yourself to remain present is the key to learning from the past and being better prepared for the future.

Best Laid Plans?

One of the challenges of acting on a plan is knowing what to do when that plan suddenly becomes inoperable. Most business owners attack a problem with a clear and consistent approach. They evaluate their options, decide on the best step forward, develop their plan to move ahead and get to work putting it in place. However, when an outside force derails your plan, how do you react? Most people try to find ways to remain with their plan. After all, they followed their processes to develop the best plan possible, so why not fight to make it work as it was designed? What is the right way to proceed?

This is where Holiday suggests accepting that what is right, is what works. Time spent worrying about deviating from a previous plan is time you could spend moving forward and learning new insights that could solve your problem. He doesn’t suggest abandoning a plan, just that you shouldn’t allow total adherence to a pre-existing plan then lead you to lose valuable time and energy by remaining static. Instead, focus on channeling your energy toward movement into a new and more flexible plan.

Where There’s A Will

The third part of Holiday’s path to accepting that the obstacle is the way is to impose your will onto the challenge at hand. But he doesn’t mean the type of will that you may hear about when a larger company bullies a smaller company into submission. What Holiday is referring to here is the Stoic will. The ability to remain resilient and flexible while maintaining quiet humility as you overcome your obstacle. Problems will occur. Plans will be affected. Nothing will run perfectly smoothly. And that is okay. If you follow the teachings of Stoicism you will accept that many problems will occur. If you believe in your business you will treat these problems as obstacles to overcome and lessons to be learned and become a better business owner for it.

The business of being in business is often a paradox. While you may strive to create structure and systems that serve as the bedrock for a stable business foundation, you will also be faced with challenges that threaten to shake your systems to the ground. You must learn to transform these random quakes into a support structure for an even stronger business. You can do this by accepting these challenges as inevitable, remaining focused only on what you can control, and seeing these events as tools and lessons to be wielded for future challenges. You will come to relish the fact that the obstacles we face are often our best teachers.

If you want a feel-good antidote for your bad business days, we’re always happy to provide a pick-me-up! Give us a call.

Book Club #34: How I Built This by Guy Raz

Book Club #34: How I Built This by Guy RazBuilding A Business, Just Like Others Before You

Guy Raz would have you believe that he never intended to become an entrepreneur. He witnessed the hardships of entrepreneurship firsthand, as his parents worked tirelessly to provide stability for their family through their pursuit of the American Dream. He even admits that the decade he grew up through left a decidedly bad taste in his mouth when saying the word business. No, Raz was more interested in stories than business, and perhaps that is why he was able to identify the narrative arc that all successful businesses seem to have in common with a heroic tale. But he wanted to hear more stories and share them with others, not create his own.

Yet, through his successful podcasts and production company, that is exactly what he has done. He has leveraged his love of stories to build his businesses, almost without realizing it, and definitely in a manner that doesn’t leave him in disgust. He has worked to pull together a collection of entrepreneurial heroism, ripe with lessons of hardship, perseverance, and success (as well as failure) and shared them with the world of people who dream of the entrepreneurial path. This journey started in podcast form of the same name but over time, Raz saw the opportunity that a book full of the best examples of business heroes could provide to the dreamers who want to be entrepreneurs, but don’t really know what it takes or what to expect and so may end up being non-starters.

The Call

The entrepreneurial path is not easy for anyone, and those who go in with the idea of it being easy, unfortunately end up learning the hard way that it is decidedly not. To overcome the initial hardships, feinted success, and inevitable learning lessons, you must have the idea that the role of the entrepreneur is your calling. That your purpose in life is to solve the problems of others either through service or product. This is the only way that you can make it through the times when everyone and almost every fiber in your body is telling you that you should quit.

The Test(s)

No business gets off the ground without some tests of the owner’s willpower and stamina. Fear of failure, lack of financing, acts of God even, are but just a small sample of what an entrepreneur can face along their business owning path. With that in mind, Raz lays out the basic challenges that one might face, and goes on to illustrate the varying ways that others have overcome those challenges. He focuses on more than just perseverance in this section, instead giving you real world ideas for how others have overcome their own businesses’ tests.

The Destination

The most valuable part of the book to any newly minted entrepreneur who may read it is the last section, which focuses on getting a business owner to consider what to do when success strikes. In order to keep your success from becoming a temporary win and another example of a startup’s failure, you must understand that there is no end to an entrepreneurial endeavor, short of selling out. Knowing how to build a culture that helps the company grow, knowing when to bring in help, and yes, knowing when to sell and get out, are all questions that a successful entrepreneur may face. 

How Did vs How-To

While the book is built on a treasure trove of wonderful entrepreneurial examples, it  does seem at times as if it is only a collection of unique examples. This is not a book to read to learn the structure of entrepreneurial startup, nor is it a guide on how to be successful by following Steps A, B, and Z. The pages contain real-world examples and good meaning advice, but in the end, the book is more of a feel-good antidote for when the grind gets you down.

And sometimes, that is exactly what you need to remember your calling, and keep going.

If you want a feel-good antidote for your bad business days, we’re always happy to provide a pick-me-up! Give us a call.

Book Club #33: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Book Club #33: Atomic Habits by James ClearHabits are powerful tools for your personal and professional development. That’s why there are so many books devoted to them. But one has emerged in recent years that helps reframe the discussion around habits to help others succeed with them where they may have previously failed: Atomic Habits by James Clear. 

Start Small, Finish Big

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity…meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity.”

Just like compounding interest in a bank account, small habits don’t just become powerful habits, they actually give you more power to make other habits which can make big changes. The power of these changes, like a snowball, is cumulative.

But How?

Clear has Four Laws of Behavior Change to help readers understand how to build these habits one at a time. These are four characteristics of each habit you wish to build.

Be Obvious

Your new habits need to be obvious, not vague. You can’t simply “be a better manager” or “lose weight.” You could “become a better manager by developing stronger personal relationships with my team” or “lose five pounds in the next three months.” When working on the habit gets tough (as it inevitably will) you can always come back to the obvious goal.

Be Attractive

Clear unabashedly wants to use your body’s chemistry to help with habits. Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but even when you anticipate it. For example, gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place bets, not when they win.

When your body thinks an opportunity will be rewarding, dopamine spikes in your body. But when dopamine rises, so does your motivation to act. 

Going back to our weight loss example, going to the gym may be unattractive, but watching a certain TV show may be very attractive. By making it so that you can only watch that show while at the gym, you can make your new habit attractive, as it carries a pleasure you want.

Be Easy

Complicated is the enemy of easy. When you make a habit complicated, you will make excuses not to do it. You need to build a string of successful habit performances and that’s simpler to do if the habit is easy and straightforward.

Be Satisfying 

The fourth law, be satisfying, is about repeating the cycle so that you can continue to pursue an obvious, attractive, easy habit. That feeling of making progress is in itself satisfying.

Clear also notes the importance of not breaking a habit chain. Try to keep that streak alive, but if you break it for any reason, don’t give up. Get back on track as quickly as possible.

There are many other important points Clear makes in this helpful book. To get a peek, here’s a free excerpt on the four stages of habit.

A habit many of our team has here at Apex is reading. If you liked this review, check out the others in our Book Club series.

Book Club #32: Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras

Built to LastEven though Jim Collins wrote Good to Great years after he finished Built to Last, he considers the former a prequel to the latter. It’s one thing to make a company great, but to make it a visionary one that lasts for generations, that’s an enduring accomplishment. The same research-driven conclusions frame the important lessons of this still-relevant text.

Clock Building vs Time Telling

Having a great idea or being a charismatic visionary leader is time telling; building a company that can prosper far beyond the presence of any single leader and through multiple product life cycles is clock building.” With a business press that focuses on big personalities it’s sometimes easy to miss companies that don’t need charismatic leaders to prosper…because they’ve got a culture that survives, even thrives without needing to be pushed from the top.

This doesn’t mean that visionary leaders should be ignored. A helpful example might be Jack Welch. Welch got a lot of press in his day, but did you know that relative to his other predecessors at GE he came in second place in ROE and fifth place on average cumulative stock returns relative to the market and its biggest competitor, Westinghouse? Welch was effective…but so were his predecessors. He simply kept up with a pace that had already been set for him.

If you want to go to deeper with other examples like Welch, the authors dedicate Chapter 8 to homegrown management: Welch only ever worked at GE before ascending to CEO. His achievements are just as attributable to the culture he grew up in as his own personal skill and charisma.


Just as many people know the term “right people on the bus” from another Collins and Porras book, they probably also know the abbreviation BHAG to stand for “big hairy audacious goal.” That term originated in this book as a characteristic of visionary companies. A couple of the BHAGs highlighted in the text include:

  • Boeing betting the farm on the 707 and 747, projects which would have ended the company if unsuccessful.
  • Sony creating a pocket radio for consumers when no one thought transistors had value outside of military applications.

A BHAG should be so clear and compelling that it requires little to no explanation and even if not fully achieved, can set the company up for a future success. The other danger of achieving a BHAG is letting complacency set in from a “we’ve arrived” mentality. Companies with no history of BHAGs don’t become generational, visionary enterprises.

Try a Lot of Stuff

While small business owners may be aware and comfortable with the “throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks” school of thought, they may not know that this is also a characteristic of generational visionary companies as well. Some fascinating stories in Chapter 7, which focuses on on this topic, include:

  • Johnson & Johnson received a letter from a physician complaining about patient skin irritation from certain medicated plasters (at this time that was J&J’s primary business). The company’s director of research responded by sending a packet of soothing Italian talc to apply on the skin. That same director encouraged the company to include a small can of talc for free with certain products. People started asking for the talc directly and this “accident” grew to become, at one point, 44% of J&J’s revenues.
  • In 1892 an American Express president took a European vacation and found that his letters of credit weren’t easily translatable into the cash he needed. When he returned he vowed to fix the problem, thinking that if he had challenges, what might everyday people without his connections have? The American Express Travelers Cheque was born and pointed towards the financial services future of the business, which was then operating a secured cash-shipping business.
  • How Wal-Mart greeters originated from one store manager’s concern with shoplifting: greeters made honest people feel welcome and put shoplifters on notice that someone would see them if they tried to walk out with stolen merchandise.
  • The “give it a try, and quick!” mentality at 3M that led to their adhesive tapes, waterproof sandpaper, and Post-It notes.

By focusing on empowering staff at all levels rather than trying to direct everything from the C-suite, these companies harnessed the power of their people.

Final Thoughts

There are many great lessons in the book, but perhaps the most important one for our age that has seen multiple (and persistent) scandals in an environment in which “maximizing shareholder value” has gained currency as an investing philosophy is the contrarian finding of Collins and Porras in the text: “[W]e did not find maximizing shareholder wealth or profit maximization as the dominant driving force or primary objective through the history of most of the visionary companies. They have tended to pursue a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one — and not necessarily the primary one.” The shining example of this is the original 1943 Credo of Johnson and Johnson, referenced in Chapter 3 of this text and which J&J went back to when deciding what to do about it’s now-famous Tylenol recall, which cost the company almost $100M, but was what they considered the right thing to do. 

You can find the most recent iteration of the credo here.

We can’t pretend to be able to help you build a visionary company…that’s why you should read this book! But we can help you figure out what you need to tweak and improve in your business to take it from not sellable to sellable. Let us know how we can help.

Book Club #31: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins

Good to GreatThere’s a reason you’ll find Jim Collins books on the shelves of many C-Suite managers: there’s helpful advice and thinking in them, particularly for large, publicly-traded companies. But in recent years some of his books, including Good to Great, have come under fire for being “wrong.” In this review we will address some of those concerns, but first, some great points that make the book worth reading.

The Right People on the Bus

If you’ve ever heard of or used this phrase, you’ve already learned one of the key lessons of Good to Great. Instead of seeking to motivate the people you already have with mission and vision, start by hiring people who buy into your mission and vision. When you’ve got the right people, you also have to make sure they are in the right seats, i.e. sometimes you have someone who is culturally aligned with you but is in a role that doesn’t leverage his/her strengths. 

Confront Brutal Facts

Collins tells a fascinating story of “short pay” in Chapter 4. Bruce Woolpert of Granite Rock allowed customers full discretionary power on how much of an invoice would be paid based on satisfaction. The customer does not need to return the product or ask for permission. He/she simply circled the offending item on the invoice, deducted the item from the total, and sent a check for the balance. “Red flag mechanisms” like these, allow companies to treat errors and problems as information (and to proactively respond in a way that shows the company values customer satisfaction above all else).

Elsewhere in this same chapter Collins underlines the importance of acknowledging shortcomings so that companies can improve. Less echo chamber, more constructive dialogue. 

Be a Hedgehog

In a chapter called The Hedgehog Concept, Collins puts forward an intersection of three areas: passion, economic engine, opportunity to be best in the world. He notes that the companies he labeled as “good to great” in his study all focused on this intersection with the simplicity and single-mindedness of a hedgehog.

The ability to be a hedgehog allows companies to not be tied to “what we’ve always done” and consider taking bets on where the market is going. One of the most shocking moves Collins documents is Kimberly-Clark’s willingness to sell all its mills in order to become the best in the world in consumer products or Walgreens’ ability to end its nostalgic food service component to focus on clustered convenience both in-store and online.

But, Two Companies Went Bankrupt…

Much has been made of the fact that two companies that Collins profiled, Circuit City and Fannie Mae, have both gone belly-up, for entirely different reasons. But this isn’t a sufficient reason to discard Collins’ book, which is so extensively researched that there are over 40 pages of appendices documenting the methods and questions for its findings. It’s simply a reminder that having a great company doesn’t guarantee that you can’t fail, or that market conditions can’t suddenly and catastrophically change.

Indeed, Collins’ book takes readers on a journey, from getting the right people on the bus all the way to pushing a reinforcing flywheel of momentum that takes a company from “doing fine” to “killing it.” But practices that worked for publicly-traded businesses will work for small businesses too, especially around leadership and innovation. No matter what size your business is, if you become great, you can’t rest on your laurels. You have to always keep tweaking and refining so that complacency doesn’t set in. Greatness never rests, even though sometimes it ends.

Want some ideas on how to take your company from good to great before you exit? Let’s talk.

Book Club #30: $100M Offers: How To Make Offers So Good People Feel Stupid Saying No, by Alex Hormozi

Book Club #30: $100M Offers: How To Make Offers So Good People Feel Stupid Saying No, by Alex HormoziAlex Hormozi begins his short book $100M Offers with a story from Jeff Bezos. In it, Bezos discusses the similarities between baseball and business, particularly the idea that you’re not going to hit a home run (or even a base hit) every time you step up to bat. But there’s a key difference. On your best at-bat in baseball you can only bring in 4 runs. But on a “grand slam” in business, you can bring in the equivalent of 1000 runs. “Big winners pay for so many experiments,” says Bezos.

Hormozi’s book is entirely oriented towards getting you that 1,000 runs for your business using what he calls “Grand Slam Offers,” offers so good that, “people feel stupid saying no” to them.

While a great deal of the book is dedicated to surgical explanations of how to craft a fantastic offer (and that’s very useful) there are some key ideas that Hormozi puts forward that give proper context for how these offers should be positioned.

Never Offer the “More for Less” Value Proposition

Hormozi notes that many players enter the marketplace and charge approximately what the competition charges, but with an extra or two in order to create the “more for less” value proposition. But this is a fool’s errand.

Not only does this indicate the simple path any future competitor of yours can take, but it’s ultimately a race to the bottom. Go the other way, Hormozi notes: charge more for more. By serving niches and serving them well, you can begin to dictate your prices instead of the market dictating your price to you.

9% Growth Should Be Standard

While most people know that the stock market grows roughly 9-10% a year, they don’t normally apply that metric to their businesses. Hormozi does. If you’re not keeping up with the growth in the market, you’re falling behind. While not everyone may like this metric, it’s certainly a hard one to disagree with.

Use Objections to Create Features

Hormozi now is in many different industries, but he started out helping gyms bring in more revenue. Hence many of his examples or templates in the book use fitness/nutrition starting points.

One of the examples he gives is the idea of getting people to eat healthier instead of going for liposuction. He then offers a whole list of objections that people might give to eating healthier. Hormozi then reframes those objections as reasons to buy.

For example, if someone says that eating healthy is “too expensive” a headline for a blog or a heading on a sales page might read:  

“How Eating Healthy Can Save You Money”

Another objection might be that it takes too much time to cook healthier food. Again, the reframe looks like:

“5 Healthy Meals You Can Make in Under 30 Minutes”

Hormozi notes that there are many different reasons that customers buy, but if even one objection they have is unaddressed, that can lead them to walk away. By anticipating every single objection they might have and reframing them as features, you build momentum towards a transaction. Since you’re not stopping/starting with objections and answers to objections, customers are free to proceed on the customer journey unimpeded towards a sale.

Hormozi’s entire book is oriented towards helping you:

  • Get more customers
  • Increase their average purchasing value
  • Increase the frequency of their purchases

If you’re looking for different ways to reframe and/or upgrade the offers you currently have, this is an excellent resource.

Book Club #29: The BizBuySell Guide to Buying a Small Business, by Ed Pendarvis

Ed PendarvisEd Pendarvis founded Sunbelt Business Brokers in 1979 and grew it into a company with over 300 offices in the US and 30 offices in foreign countries. BizBuySell tapped Ed to write a book distilling some key ideas for buyers and sellers to consider in a transaction and that 100-page text is The BizBuySell Guide to Buying a Small Business. It’s available for $.99 in Kindle format, or you can get it for free if you’re willing to give some information to BizBuySell.

The book is chock-full of solid information for first-time buyers and sellers. Chapter titles include:

  • Value Drivers of a Business
  • How Much Can I Make?
  • Financing, the Key to Success When Buying and Selling
  • Due Diligence (Never Fun and Easy)

Three Key Ideas

As we said the book is only 100 pages so it’s an easy and worthwhile read. But we chose three ideas that you should take to heart right away.

Business Owners and Decisions

Early in the book Ed talks about business owners and how they make decisions. They have to make the best decision (which is sometimes a guess) based on the data available to them (which is sometimes incomplete or even nonexistent). Add common sense and your gut and you’ve got a complete decision.

If that is what the entirety of what decisions in your business life will look like, you should realize that this is already in effect when you are buying or selling a business. A transaction is never going to be a straightforward slam-dunk. Do what you can to mitigate risk, then make the best decision you can. Whatever challenges you face can be chalked up as tuition for continuing to build that business and what you can inform a future owner about.

The Basic Purpose of a Business

Ed is insistent that the basic purpose of a business is to make a living for the owner. If it is not consistently doing that, it’s failing as a business and if it’s failing in that purpose for long enough, it might be time to call it.

He also gives three years as a benchmark for survival. He says that a business is on the way to saleability if it’s lasted at least three years. There’s a certain momentum that comes with longevity. But remember that without systems in place, a business can’t sell.

Focus On What You Would Do

While buyers might be focused on what the seller has done in the past or is doing now, Ed encourages them to consider instead what they would do if they took over. If they take the time to think through ideas and possibilities for new products and services and/or revamping the company as it is now, you can solicit the current owner during the transaction to get his/her perspective.

Now keep in mind that if you want to add social media to the business and the previous owner doesn’t even know what social media is, he/she might not have too much to share. But perhaps you want to expand into a different market or cut a cost or even fire a vendor: the previous owner might have experience to share. 

Or the owner might tell you that those were things he/she would have loved to get to but never did and has some encouragement and contacts for you to leverage your ideas. Don’t count on having an unlimited open line to the seller forever. Utilize the period from the Offer to Purchase all the way to closing to get as much information from them as you can.

Apex is part of the legacy of Ed Pendarvis, so you can imagine we are fans of his ideas. If you have questions about parts of the book, we’d love to talk with you about them. Give us a call!

Book Club #28: Twelve and a Half, by Gary Vaynerchuk

Twelve And a HalfNot too long ago we reviewed Gary Vee’s Crushing It!, which is all about helping business owners understand how social media can help them win in the ever-digitizing world of business. His newest book, Twelve and a Half: Leveraging the Emotional Ingredients Necessary for Success, is another in his series of business books that are unlike anything else in the marketplace. While perfect for business owners, it’s also a great gift for recent high school or college graduates.

For Business Owners

In Part I of the book Gary offers the dictionary definition of twelve traits he feels strong in, as well as one “half” trait (kind candor) that he feels he continues to develop in. These chapters are short but consistently reference Gary’s own life experience and why he thinks proper and consistent deployment of these “emotional ingredients” (as he refers to them) leads to success in business. 

For the record the twelve ingredients are:

  1. Gratitude
  2. Self-awareness
  3. Accountability
  4. Optimism
  5. Empathy
  6. Kindness
  7. Tenacity
  8. Curiosity
  9. Patience
  10. Conviction
  11. Humility
  12. Ambition

It might be jarring to see humility and ambition side-by-side, but Gary resolves this by saying:

I love talking about my ambition publicly, in front of the world, because it holds me accountable. Doing so also gives the whole world permission to laugh at me if I fail.

At the end of his chapter on patience, Gary notes:

“Almost every time I put out content about patience, a stunning amount of the comments say, ‘Easier said than done.’ I want to remind you, as you uncover your halves, that all great things should be hard.”

For Grads (to Discuss with Business Owners)

Part II of the book is full of examples in which deploying an ingredient makes all the difference. Here’s one of them:

When your manager or client gives you unexpected negative feedback, how you deliver the following line determines what will happen next:

“Hey, Olivia, can you give me more clarity on your feedback?”

I want you to read that line out loud…the emotional ingredients you deploy in this situation can change your tone of questioning and potentially the outcome of this meeting.

The importance of tone in a textual exchange will not be lost on a recent graduate, but imagine how much more powerful the example can be if it were posed to a relative or family friend, “Have you ever run into a situation like this?” Now, instead of only having Gary Vee’s example, the recent grad will have the feedback and example of someone close to him/her.

The book is chock-full of scenarios worth considering.

The third and final part of the book has challenges related to the twelve and a half ingredients, some of which call for vulnerable sharing on social media, which is probably not for the faint of heart, but still worth considering. While business owners may be used to getting out of their comfort zones regularly, graduates may not be, and this book provides the opportunity and nudge to do just that.

Did you enjoy this review? We’ve got dozens more for you to check out.

Book Club #27: The Barstool MBA, by Dan Maccarone and Bob Sullivan

Barstool MBALet’s face it, a lot of business books are pretty boring and can be a lot shorter.  Part of why we have this book club series of articles is to steer you away from those (Good to Great, anyone?) and towards books that won’t feel like a college assignment and offer thoughtful reflections and sometimes, good advice.  The Barstool MBA: Why Running a Bar Beats Running to Business School is one of those books.  Co-authored by successful bar owner Dan Maccarone and best-selling author Bob Sullivan, this book is unconventional from the start: it’s only available in audio format.

A business-oriented title from the Audible Originals series, this 8.5 hour listen features both authors reading, as well as a “tip jar” section at the end of each chapter offering summary and a few “tips” to crystallize what you’ve just heard into ideas you might implement or try.

If you’ve ever worked in a bar, you’re going to enjoy some of the stories that are shared.  If you’ve never worked in a bar, you’re going to get a much better appreciation for all that goes into making your time at one enjoyable.

The book takes us from pre-opening, to opening, to closing and/or selling a bar.  While we follow one particular project of Maccarone’s, a NYC bar named Destination, the authors have correlating stories of other NYC bars to offer context to their lessons, as well as stories of other tech startups and exits to help you see the through line of their “earned at the bar” lessons running all the way to Silicon Valley.

So, here are a few bar snacks to get you interested in giving this book a listen:

Chapters 1 and 2 are very much about beginning with the end in mind.  While we may think of a bar as just a place to relax with some friends, the best ones are memorable to you, ones that you describe to others, as a place “you just have to go” to.  Those places have applied a forensic level of intentionality to what the bar will be and how customers will feel inside it, in other words, the customer journey.  This can include:

  • What will happen on slow nights?  Will there be live music, games, food promotions?  Each of those possibilities brings a different kind of crowd that may or may not mesh with what the bar is and stands for.
  • What sort of drinks are you serving?  If you’re trying to hawk independent beers, carrying any of the major brands can undermine your legitimacy.  If you’re serving high end cocktails, how competent are your bartenders with those drinks?  The bartenders themselves — are they the type that not only get you regulars but have those regulars tell their friends?

Chapters 5-15 are the heart of the book and discuss everything from employee theft (it happens very often) to “not drinking at your own bar” (which is less about getting drunk and more about remembering that you may not be your own customer) to getting one-star reviews (as we have said, how you respond is almost as important as what the original reviewer said).  A couple highlights include:

  • Buyback analysis.  Regulars and good customers get “buybacks,” or free drinks or food at some point.  What you might not know is that this isn’t random.  A great example that is shared is of the customer who is, without fanfare, getting up and putting a jacket on, but suddenly finds a fresh drink or an unexpected snack delivered to them.  He/she shrugs his shoulders and, not in a rush, sits down to the buyback, which inevitably leads to another purchase of food or drink.  The best bartenders are always observing when a strategic buyback makes sense for someone they’ve never seen before, and the best bar owners make sure that there’s a coherent buyback policy for regulars that everyone is on the same page about.
  • 86ing customers.  One of the great satisfactions of owning a business is being able to fire customers who are rude or who don’t seem to understand boundaries.  Alas, this is a regular occurrence at a place that serves alcohol.  The various situations the authors share only serve to underline the poisonous effect that bad customers can have not just on other customers, but on employee morale.  Traditional businesses can really learn something from bar owners here.

Chapters 16 and 17 deal with closing a bar, and as business brokers, we’re obviously interested in exits and how those come together.  You get insight into the end of the bar Destination, which you’ve followed throughout the book, but you also learn that business cycles and trends also affect the value and saleability of bars.  If you’re the last Irish pub for sale when Irish pubs are on a downtrend, unsurprisingly your valuation will be lower, even if your numbers are great.

We think you’ll enjoy this unconventional business book, and if you want a sneak preview via a short video of the authors, you can find one from Audible here.

Need other recommendations for books?  Check out our Book Club series.  Got one for us?  Give us a call and we might add it to this series.

Book Club #26: Traction, by Gino Wickman

Book: Traction - Get a Grip on Your BusinessWe’ve already alluded to Gino Wickman’s Traction here on the blog before by writing about one of the key elements of the book: the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).  But there are so many other valuable nuggets of wisdom in the book that we wanted to make sure we also did a book club article to highlight just a few of its most valuable ideas.

Build Your Leadership Team

A business that is built to sell has a solid leadership team, even if that’s only composed of one or two other non-owners.  Wickman lists five abilities that everyone in your leadership team should have:

  • Simplify — “eliminating complexity and reducing everything to the essential”
  • Delegate and Elevate — “freeing and elevating yourself to do what you do best, and doing the same for every person in your organization”
  • Systematize — “documenting and getting everyone to follow the essential procedural steps in your company’s core processes”
  • Structure — “defining and organizing the positions in your organization to reduce complexity and increase clarity, communication, and accountability”
  • Predict — Choose the right short-term path (issues over the next 90 days) vs long-term challenges (issues over 90 days) 

Take Risks

Growing businesses have a healthy approach to risk.  Wickman lists three ways to approach it:

  • Be open-minded — whether you’re looking at how NFTs might make sense for your business or the possibility of remote work for your employees, you don’t reject ideas out of hand just because you don’t understand them or they make you uncomfortable.
  • Be growth-oriented — “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is a truism, but so is “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”  Be willing to look at different ways your business can grow that you haven’t tried before.
  • Be vulnerable — part of why risk is scary for all of us is the possibility that we may lose something or “go backwards.”  But those who are willing to take risks don’t banish fear.  They manage it by being willing to be uncomfortable, which includes being vulnerable.

Know Your Role

Michael Gerber’s E-Myth was famous for parsing the entrepreneur, the technician, and the manager as hats all business owners must wear at different stages of the business.  The two titles that Wickman’s action-oriented book offers are visionary and integrator.

The visionary is a dreamer, strategist, and planner.  The integrator is the executor, the “get things done” person.  Every business needs both, and very rarely are both roles well contained in one person.  In the press it’s very often the visionary that gets the credit (think Steve Jobs) and rarely the integrator that’s even mentioned (think Scottie Pippen).

A lot of frustrations in business partnerships can originate from a failure to understand the necessity (and equality) of both of these roles in a successful business and a subsequent failure for said integrator/visionary to stay in respective lanes.  

Numbers Matter

One of the most valuable ideas of Traction and the EOS is the scorecard, the idea that you can, at a glance, through a set of numbers and metrics, see where your business is at the moment and where it is headed.  Many business owners know that information intuitively by working every day in the business.  But that’s not a sustainable business practice; it’s not something that can be packaged and sold.  

Numbers should be known and shared by everyone in the business to make real progress.  Having relevant numbers arranged in a regular scorecard allows you to get things done in the present and plan for the future.  When those numbers are integrated with a leadership team that is tracking short-term and long-term issues, it means you also have a chance to catch items that fall through the cracks.

Some of the best people to help implement the principles in Traction are business coaches.  Thankfully, we know a few. Give us a call and we can connect you!