Lose The Business Plan : Book Review

Business plans are never a true reflection of what goes on in a startup. Yet banks, funders and potential investors still insist on them. My mentor told me something very interesting recently, which also transformed the way I view business since that chat. His words were “don’t plan too much, take your product to market and let clients determine how you craft it to meet their needs”.

That message was also conveyed in Allon Raiz’s new book – Lose The Business Plan “What they don’t teach you about being an entrepreneur. Something I got prior to launch and Allon Raiz singed it. If you have been here before, you may have read a wish list of people I wanted to meet and talk to, Allon is one of those people.

The book begins with Allon citing a meeting he had with his mentor, who believed in him and continually invested in ideas that sometimes failed and others succeeded. While starting businesses and growing them, Allon Raiz realized his passion was in building businesses rather than running them. That was when he discovered the incubator business model, which he now runs as Raizcorp alongside a team of committed people.

Desire

In the first few chapters he got me hooked, not only with the bold title, but because of some of the things he mentions in the book with desire being one of them.

“Desire is almost the inoculation against the downside. It is desire that gives you the ability to carry on when sales are down and you’re not closing any deals.” – Page 28

Business Plans, as almost a prerequisite, are not expected to portray anything that resembles change and wanting to transform how things are done in business. Banks and funders are about the numbers, low risk and a graph that starts with funding and takes an upward curve. Realistically, startups have challenges and continually alter their offer to suit the market. And banks, though knowing this, expect small businesses to follow a similar path.

Most funding requests are measured as being viable by people who, themselves, are not entrepreneurs. Then comes the dreaded meeting with your would-be funder, where you put on your best behavior and leave the dream, the desire to change things back home.

I had sex last night

Keep your mind out of the gutter, at least till you’ve commented – what you do thereafter is up to you.

Sex, being a universal activity across different cultures is a test that Allon uses for research among groups of entrepreneurs he interacts with. In this test he requests the participants to write words they associate with sex.

His findings reveal “up to 10% of the participants in pairs have no words in common and the average correlation is less than 14%”. This he uses as proof that something as unique as your business, in comparison to a universal activity, requires you to get the masses excited about.

He also found over 500 definitions of the word ‘entrepreneur’, with the only link being “They see an opportunity, take a risk, and in doing so create value”.

It is then, for the purpose of this post, safe to say that no 2 people will have a similar path in their businesses and business plans overlook that.

3 Types Of Entrepreneurs

You may have found yourself in countless debates about who is an entrepreneur and who isn’t. The committed man down the road from you, who has been running the same supermarket for ages, is seen as an entrepreneur. You may not agree, but everyone is adamant he is. Allon settles that argument with these 3 different kinds of entrepreneurs.

And the types are . . . . .

  • The Subsistence Entrepreneur : Generally a one man band that has no real value, as it relies completely on the entrepreneur. It also does not make consistent profits.
  • The Lifestyle Entrepreneur : Similar to the subsistence entrepreneur’s business, this one cannot be sold without the entrepreneur. Inversely, it makes a consistent profit that is sufficient in sustaining the entrepreneur’s lifestyle.
  • The Growth Entrepreneur : This entrepreneur’s entity has value, and with time depends less on the entrepreneur. It also makes profits without the entrepreneur.

The Bottom Line

Allon Raiz wrote this book to get a point across and he manages to grip you quickly. Within the first few pages, you know if it’s something worth reading for you or not. He makes some valid points and in all of two sittings, I had decided to read the 154 pages again. Because it has some invaluable information, I would give it away except mine is a signed copy.

This book obliterates a lot of the misconceptions we tend to have about entrepreneurs and what makes them.

Which type of entrepreneur are you?

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Allon Raiz is the founder and CEO of Raizcorp, the only privately held, unfunded, profitable business incubator on the African continent, supporting in excess of 200 businesses.

Make contact with Allon on his website here, take a peak at Raizcorp and follow them on Twitter.

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Introducing WordStart

So . . . about 2 months ago I decided to work something that, at the time, seemed simple enough. A lot of the projects I worked on over the years had one thing in common – building movements behind a single idea.

After working with a few people, being the recipient of a stern talking to from my mentor and attending grueling 12-week business bootcamp. A new startup is ready to be unveiled.

We can venture into dialogue about creating an offer, business models and what it takes to cut it as an entrepreneur.  But we wont. . . . Instead, the one thing that is still missing for most businesses is conversation behind their products.

Introducing WordStart

After the bootcamp, aching everywhere and rethinking things – WordStart came to the fore. This is the newbie, my latest startup, the change.

Drumroll please . . . . WordStart is a word of mouth agency that connects young African influencers with the latest and coolest products to seed word of mouth.

We are now ready unleash this newbie to the world and let people interact with the community, share their ideas and let us know what they want to sample. We all love new things (well most of us), and being the first to talk about them. That’s what WordStart is all about.

Come join us on Facebook and Twitter. And take a look at our video, you may be one of the bright young WordStarters we are looking for. More details will follow next week.

What customer? News Cafe Is A Giant

The first thought was to begin this post with – ‘It seems News Café have suddenly become too big their customers’. Then I took a quick glance on Hello Peter, only to realize they’ve become giants and the customers does not matter.

We went to the News Café at the Emperor’s Palace recently after a comedy event, on a month end Saturday evening. Not being a restaurant owner, I would guess the last Saturday of the month would be one of the busiest times. It takes a whole franchise, 15 years of experience in the cocktail bar industry and experienced managers to conclude they need fewer waiters for that time of the month.

We got in, sat ourselves at a table that needed to be cleaned and thought it was temporary. A waitress finally attended to us 20 minutes later – still leaving the table dirty with empty glasses, till we called her back.

Our order

o   A glass of Coke

o   A double tot of Chivas

o   Double Jameson

o   And another soft drink

We then requested her to bring ice on the side.

What she heard

Take 30 minutes with our drinks. And oh, let the ice melt in them almost completely.

The long and short

We sat there for about 3 hours with every round of drinks taking no less than 25 minutes to arrive. The explanation was “the bar is busy this evening”, which the manager echoed after we spoke to him about the problem.

When I read on Hello Peter, it became clear that 54 complaints – in the past year – ranging from robberies to assaults by staff, revealed a different story.

Waiters and managers normally get grief from “fussy customers”.

While sitting there watching tempers flare from all the other tables, something else came to mind.

A flawed system is screwing your staff

Someone, other than me, also reported a similar issue on Hello Peter and it occurred around the same time. Guess what? It was for the same branch. Surprised?

Your system is inefficient when customers have the same problem. People would report the waiter and the manager without considering how the franchise puts this in place.

If you happen to be from News Café, or know someone who knows someone. . . . Please tell them to stop turning away customers in their shorts and go read Hello Peter here. They might get some insights from their customers.

Photo by: Dan Orbit on Flickr

Your Great Following Is An Illusion

Whether a customer pays you or not, they have expectations. Do you know what they expect?

This past Friday I went to a show in Johannesburg, where DJ Premier was playing. In a nutshell Premier, for me, is one of Hip Hop’s superheroes a ninja. An icon. He wields nanchuks that are foundation of Hip Hop globally. The one DJ and producer whose work we listened to growing up and shared with friends.

15 years later when Premier comes to South Africa, we wouldn’t dare miss his show. And we didn’t, as you would expect.

The show was organized by Kenzero, a local highly influential DJ, who also does another show (Party People) that has a huge following. He has a well established brand in the local Hip Hop scene, and his is a name most people are likely to know.

Perceived value

While having dinner with friends, who also wanted to see Premier just as much, we had a conversation about the value of things.

The tickets were worth R180 at the door (about $29 US), which is more than you would pay at an up-market nightclub. But it’s fine – it is Premier after all.

If you pay for something, regardless what the amount is – it creates expectations. I already anticipated being blown away both Kenzero and Premier. They are both respected names in the scene and supposedly lead the pack.

The set played by Kenzero was quite good not great, which was unexpected given his following. We knew all the songs, when we expected to hear a bit of what we haven’t. Perhaps that’s part of what he sells.

Understanding that what you sell is not always what people buy is key. I bought into that event because of the profile I heard of it. The value people place on what they exchange for your product – be it money or attention – is significant to them and you may lose them if those are disconnected.

Meet expectations

What does a potential raving fan expect when they use your service for the first time?

The following you have and the word people spread about you is what the masses have in mind when they interact with you for the first time. For as long you raise the bar above all those expectations, you win.

When you approach new interactions on the basis of arrogance from past successes, you stand to lose more than your following. You may think – “but I’m the exception not the rule”. But I wasn’t because some of the people I was with agreed they didn’t get what they expect.

Are you selling what people expect to receive?

The illusion of a great following

When you are of the impression that your fanbase makes you, you are bound to stuff up.

The wake up call I had this past weekend was how much of a consumer most service providers and sellers perceive their customers as being.  We tend to disregard that people – all of us – want to be treated as individuals. I don’t care that you are servicing a million other clients.

Let’s face it, a huge client base bring with them even more expectations. You have to work more at managing expectations and exceeding your past success. The conversation changes when. . . you no longer provide an experience worth talking about.

The death of the superhero

DJ Premier is one of the all the time Hip Hop music superheroes. He ‘s one of the producers and DJs you wanted to listen to in the 90’s even now, but a lot of talent has risen since then.

I went there expecting him to play a lot of new music, which he didn’t. Without discounting the great music which he played, his 2-hour long set had some things I still question.

There was an artist with him who does not match up to the talent he used to produce in his early days.

After over 12 years of listening to Premier, I was quite disappointed with the presentation at that gig.

It is quite disheartening for me to say – I don’t think I’ll ever view him the same again. The childhood hero has lost me as a fan because of that 2 hour set. That brings me to the last point.

A brand is. . . . . .

. . . . . the collective perceptions people have of you and the dealings they had with your service offering.

Let’s bring that home. For all the years I listened to Premier, shared his music, recommended it to friends and raved about him – I was spreading a marketing message. So was he. That is how and what his brand was to me and the people I spoke to.

Your clients speak and their word speaks volumes to them than any marketing message you send out about yourself. We think the people around us are more credible than the billboard across the road. Even the radio presenter.

These collective messages that surpass your marketing by far. That is what creates a brand.

How are you spreading a positive message?

Photo by: eyesore9 on Flickr

Start And Build A Community – Q & A with Chris Guillebeau

Photo by: Chris Guillebeau

Do you want to change the world, but struggle to differentiate yourself enough?

Organizing a community lets people know whether they belong there or not. Whether it’s for them or not. With the right people, you are able to focus instead of wasting your time and energy on everybody else – who is not meant to be part of that community.

Author, world traveler and change agent – Chris Guillebeau is our first guest this month. He took a moment from planning his book tour – to let me know what inspires him and how he built his global community.

Q & A with Chris Guillebeau

Q : What is the Art Of Non-Conformity?

Chris : AONC is a blog, a book, a business, and a community—mostly the latter. I started the project in 2008 as a way to spread unconventional ideas and help people find a way to achieve big goals.

Q : While developing products and travelling the world, how do you maintain focus on building your business and “making a living”?

Chris : I don’t really focus on “making a living.” I do focus on work, but most of my work is free for everyone. I use a 90/10 model where 90% of my writing and events are free and 10% are paid.

Q : How would you define your product?

Chris : Let’s look at the overall goal: to help people live unconventional, remarkable lives. How that works varies. I have the blog and other hubs where I connect with readers. I have the Unconventional Guides business that consists of things like the Empire Building Kit and the Frequent Flyer Master guide.

Overall, I hope that all of these help people in a different ways, but with the same goal of creating individual freedom and inspiring action.

Q : Why did you decide on creating your own niche community?

Chris : I felt like I had helped a lot of people on a one-on-one basis over the years, but I had no broader platform. I turned 30 years old and in the process realized that I wanted to be a writer. So I started the site and went from there.

Q: Most entrepreneurs starting out want to satisfy everyone. We want to sell everything to everyone. How did you identify the people you wanted to organize into a community?

Chris : Correct, and that’s a big mistake. In my case I learned to target people on a psychographic basis as opposed to a demographic basis. I have readers of all ages, all backgrounds, from all over the world. What they have in common is a desire to change the world.

It’s interesting, because in the beginning when I connected with a literary agent and he was pitching my project to traditional publishers, some of them said, “People who want to change the world are not a target market” – which makes sense in a traditional, business-oriented context. But over time I’ve become more and more convinced that “people who want to change the world” is indeed my perfect audience. It’s also an audience that is motivated to take action, which is always good.

Q : What would you attribute as the single most important aspect of creating your community?

Chris : Consistency. A lot of bloggers start out strong and then fade off into the blogging sunset. If you can just keep going and building a strong platform, you end up outlasting people and it gets easier over time.

Q : In your manifesto: A Brief Guide To World Domination – you clearly state I should warn you now that this report is not for everyone. I have also realized that from your blog and the rest of your products. Doesn’t that separation of your audience from everyone else limit how much you can make and who you can reach?

Chris : No, for reasons you alluded to earlier—it’s always a mistake to target everyone. Better to be clear what you’re about and who your work is for. This also makes it much easier to build trust and authority among the group with which you choose to identify.

Q : Most of your content is free, while traditional business principle tells us to “sell” “sell” sell”. Where do you make your money?

Chris : I still make money, but the greater goal is influence. The money comes from UnconventionalGuides.com and my book publisher—though much more of it comes from my own projects than the publishing arrangement. (I’m still a fan of writing books, but it’s true that there’s not much money in it.)

Q : You have become quite – in fact very influential online and off. What does it take to build such influence and become this outstanding?

Chris : Well, I’m not sure I’m outstanding. When I think of people who are outstanding, I don’t think of bloggers—I think of people who have truly sacrificed, like the aid workers I used to work with before I embraced the soft life as a world-traveling blogger.

But in terms of influence, it takes working towards something day-in, day-out for an extended period of time, often without much reward or attention in the beginning. I also decided I wanted to create real relationships with readers as much as possible. I answer all the emails and don’t outsource anything. I meet with readers wherever I go. I do blog interviews for sites that have 10 readers and podcast interviews for shows that are still getting off the ground.

Over time, I think those things have a real impact.

Q : Most entrepreneurs want to be different, but fear the unknown – the unexplored. How does one overcome that hurdle of distinguishing themselves and carving a niche?

Chris : Yes, I agree that fear is a very real obstacle. I think the key to overcoming it is:

a. acknowledging your fears, without trying to be “fearless” or pretend that fear doesn’t exist, and

b. not allow your fears to make your decisions for you.

Instead, ask yourself – what would I do if I wasn’t afraid, or if there were no limits? Then find a way to get closer to that, even if it’s a series of small steps at first.

Q : You are doing the Unconventional Book Tour soon, what inspired it?

Chris : These days a lot of people are saying that books are dead and book tours are ineffective. I like the idea of proving those ideas wrong—my contention is that people have been doing book promotion the wrong way, but that doesn’t mean that books are dead.

And I also like big goals, so when I decided to establish my own tour, I thought… why not make it as epic as possible? So I picked all 50 states instead of just the major cities. Then I added all 10 provinces in Canada, because I didn’t want to leave them out. Then I added an extra city in California, an extra city in Texas, Washington, D.C. – and came up with a 63-city self-funded, collectively-organized book tour. I hope to take it worldwide next year, but one thing at a time. 🙂

Q : As an entrepreneur and agent of change, what is the one most difficult challenge for you?

Chris: The fear and insecurity we mentioned earlier are continual challenges. I also have a hard time asking for help – I have a lot of people willing to help with things, but I don’t always know what to ask them to do.

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While Chris is on the go and launching his new book, he also Tweets here and blogs at AONC. I recommend you follow him.

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Are you listening?

When I met Lindsay – our first guest blogger – she was more than keen to share her experience as a communication specialist. This is her guest post on listening to your customers and converting potential ones.

By: Lindsay Grubb

I grew up in a home where none of us stopped talking long enough to take a breath. We were certainly not really listening to what the other person was trying to say. I doubt we’re unique in any way. There are a lot of people out there who suffer from the same quirk.

The first question I always ask my clients is, “What are you trying to say?” It is an important question whose answer is critical to the formulation of their entire communication plan. It is an answer I need to listen to very carefully, so that I know what I need to do to help them find their voice.

How well are you listening to your customers?

Do you really hear what their needs and wants are or are you making assumptions, and putting words in their mouths?

Imagine you have a shop where you sell hats, bags and jewellery, and a customer is eyeing a particular bag, but she seems unsure about taking that next step. This is the critical phase where she will potentially convert from a mere browser, to being a paying customer, and swiping her card.

You watch her as she turns the bag over in her hands; her tactile senses seem to be enjoying the experience. She opens the bag and looks inside at the compartments and plays with the zips. She closes the bag and takes one last look, before shaking her head and putting it back on the display stand and leaving the store.

You just lost a customer. How could this have been avoided? What should you – as a supplier – be listening to and looking for in communications from your clients?

Making the connection

Imagine the scenario differently now. You see the customer looking at the bag, and you approach her, smiling:

Shop owner:         “Good morning Ma’am.”

Customer:              “Hi”

Shop owner:         “I see that you’re interested in our Cleo handbag and I wondered if I could assist you. The Cleo is an excellent quality product and one of our best sellers. Did you have any questions about the bag that I could answer for you?”

Customer:             “Actually, I do like the style of the bag, I was just wondering if it came in any other colours. I like the red, but I was really looking for something just like this in green.”

Shop owner:         “Unfortunately we only received this style in red, but can I show you a bag that is very similar to the Cleo, which we have in two shades of green. Perhaps it would suit your purposes? What is it that you are looking for in a bag – is it all about colour or did you need it to fulfil more of a specific purpose for you?”

Customer:             “I have this particular outfit and I have been looking everywhere for a bag to match. I have a bag at home, it’s the right colour but it’s huge and everything tends to fall down in the middle of the bag and I cannot find things easily or quickly. I keep losing my car keys in there.”

Take action

The shop owner takes the customer to the Chloe, a bag in a very similar style to the Cleo and hands it to her. The customer picks the bag up like before, and runs her hands over the mock crocodile leather outer. She opens the bag and checks inside and smiles.

Owner:                  “The main difference between the two bags is that the Chloe has two extra zip pockets inside for all those little items like your keys, that often get lost in these carry all style bags. I hate it when I arrive home at night and spend ages looking for my house keys. I feel so vulnerable scratching around in the dark and I forget to do it before leaving for the trip home. With these compartments things are easy and quick to find. It just makes things so much neater.”

Customer:             “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for! I think the darker green will go better with my outfit. I have this thing about matching the colour of my bag and my outfit. All those pockets will be perfect as I can separate everything I need and will be able to find them quickly! Thank you so much, I will take it!”

It is so easy to make a difference through your interactions, to engage your customers and to really hear what they are really saying when they give you feedback.

Some quick and easy ways to learn more about your customers needs and wants:

1. Ask them what they want – Rather than making an assumption, try asking your customer what they want. If you have it, tell them. If you don’t tell them you will see if it is possible to get it and then do your best and communicate your progress with them regularly.

2. When your customer complains listen to the complaint and take action – take time to honestly assess what your customer has complained about. Don’t take it as a personal attack – use it as a learning tool going forward.

3. When your customer compliments you listen to the compliment and take action – thank them and use it as a learning experience

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About the Author

Lindsay Grubb is a passionate communicator with 15 years experience working in fields including advertising, public relations, conventional and experiential marketing.

In addition to running L Communications, Lindsay is a freelance writer who has been published in the likes of Mamas&Papas Magazine and on numerous local and international websites.

She also runs Hiccups and Giggles SA : a parenting website – for parents – by parents.

Follow her on:  Twitter for the latest updates, her parenting website and make contact here to improve your communication.

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By Lindsay Grubb

Be our guest blogger

My posts here have decreased over the past few months. The most natural thing to think is  – oh come up with a new strategy. Talk about some exciting airy fairy little idea that keeps people at the edge of their seats.

No edge-of-your-seat sitting, unless you normally do when you write.

The plan is to have a minumum of one guest post per month to start with. As more posts come through, I will increase the frequency. They can range from posts about business, business events and your experiences in dealing with clients.

Some of them will also be interviews with some entrepreneurs I know locally and everywhere in the world. That way, we all get insights from each other and keep building from the experiences of one another.

First up, we have a guest post by a freelance writer and PR Specialist. She has dealt with quite a few corporates and currently advises in an NGO for young business professionals. Her post is coming your way tomorrow.

Are you one of those guest bloggers? Drop me a line.

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Photo by: DaveAustria.com on Flickr

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NetwebTV Tech4Africa Special

I recently wrote about the Tech4Africa Conference, which actually turned out to be amazing. More awesome than the conference itself were the organizers, who gave me an all-access blogger pass. Emerging Media and the Tech4Africa team are rockstars.

We interviewed some of the speakers, delegates and Seedcamp participants.

The Tech4Africa Special

In this NetwebTV special, we spoke to:

  • Gareth Knight, the founder of Tech4Africa, about how it was received and whether the change he foresaw ago when we spoke was achieved.
  • Gareth Ochse – the founder of iSigned and one of the competitors in Seedcamp Africa. I heard they are also one of the companies who qualified to attend Seedcamp Week in London

Speakers and delegates

We also caught up with some of the speakers and delegates who gave us their views on development in Africa as a whole.

Erik Hersman, the co-founder of Ushahidi spoke their development and how it’s changing lives. It is also one of the most talked about projects on the web.

Mark Kaigwa, a Creative Director and Entrepreneur shares his views about the conference and what it means for Africa. Kenya is 4 to 5 countries away from where conference was, so Mark came a long way.

Clay Shirky was the keynote speaker at the conference and he also took a moment to speak to us. In a nutshell – Clay is a professor, speaker, thought leader and an icon in all things economics, community and open source.  He is the author of 2 books and shares his expert views on how social phenomena were started small and grew globally.

Take a look at the video below and share some of your views with us in the comments.

Entrepreneur of the Year Award

It is not often that you get appreciated for the hard work you do. The sleepless nights. The pitches you don’t get called back for. But lucky for you, someone out there is watching.

This morning in the mail, I got something that might excite you. At least I thought it would.

Sanlam and Business Partners are giving away up to R100 000 in their Entrepreneur Of The Year Award. It’s also quite easy to apply from what I saw.

The requirements in their three categories are also simple enough. Before you think it’s too good to be true. You have to prove that – by their standards – the three most important financial risks of your business are quantifiable. The application form has more details on that. 

Categories and minimum requirements 

  • Emerging Entrepreneur (business younger than three years old)
  • Business Entrepreneur (turnover up to R20 million)
  • Medium Business Entrepreneur (turnover greater than R20 million

Of course, you are not motivated by the cash prizes. But they are offering those too.

Cash Prizes

  • Category winners will receive R20 000.00
  • R100 000 in cash for the overall winner along with the opportunity to attend an international conference or trade show, as well as extensive public exposure. That should help in acquiring the much needed sales.

Download the entry forms and more information to enter.

Spread the word as far and wide as possible as well. . . . Good luck!

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Image by : xtrarant on Flickr

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The viral spread of ideas (Feat. Seth Godin) : NetwebTV [episode 11]

This episode of NetwebTV was probably the most debated. The concept of Viral Marketing is seemingly dying out in its most organic form. At least for me it seems it is.

The way I thought about it was – someone records a video of some or other mishap and it spreads on YouTube. Then marketers and big corporates caught on to it and invested money, which later transformed that initial perception.

To not only satisfy my own curiosity – but also to find whether viral marketing and spreading ideas can be planned – we had to out and find some black belt ninjas to speak to us.

Change of perceptions and new knowledge:

In this episode I spoke to an entrepreneur who spread the idea of education, furtherance and growth in the lives of young people. Yashivan Govender, is the founder of FristStep.me that was built around the idea of developing oneself. And they have been growing in leaps in bounds – long before the now known hype of Social Media.

You Make Joburg Great connects people who want to be connected

We also went out to Penquin International, the company behind one of the most popular campaigns in Johannesburg if not South Africa. You Make Joburg Great is based on the simple idea that a city should be about how its people are and the change they are part of.

Guy Orsmond, the account executive behind the campaign, shares how they spread this initiative and got the masses so involved people themselves took ownership of the idea.

Seth Godin on the viral spread of ideas

If there is one thing about Seth Godin and how he spreads his thinking widely all over the the globe, it’s how always links a simple idea to his work.

In this episode, he talks about how you can and execute your strategy as an idea. Once you have managed that, then the product related to that simple story spreads among its users.

Take a look at the video below and share your thinking about viral marketing and spreading ideas.

How did you find the video? Let us know who you think we should feature next and what you want hear about.