The car salesman bias

Most consumers are leery of car salesmen. And that’s understandable because car sales usually means a lack of price transparency, a high price tag, and pressure.

As soon as I walk into a car dealership – and I’ve purchased more than my share of used cars! – my hackles rise up because I’m approached by salespeople looking for a fresh victim.

Attitude, first

Everything in sales comes down to the salesperson’s attitude.

Here are a few tips:

As a salesperson, your attitude matters more than anything else.

Be aware that the customer is likely to be skeptical and hold a “used car salesman” bias. Counter that narrative by being different from any other car salesperson the customer has met before.

Build community loyalty

Pressuring a customer to purchase can work in the short term. But it never results in long-term loyalty.

And since word of mouth referrals – people talking about you to their friends – is the ultimate mark of success in any business, a primary goal of your salespeople should be building loyalty within your local community.

This can mean the subcultures that each of your salespeople lives within – a neighborhood, the local recreation league, someone’s favorite coffee shop – and also your city itself.

People talk about their experiences. So it should be the job of each of your salespeople to create positive experiences and generate goodwill towards your business.

Become the mayor

You want your business to become the “mayor” of your city. When people think of your town, you are one of the first names that comes to mind.

This can either be you, as the owner of the business, or something that represents your business, like a mascot or the logo.

One way to approach this is to run for local office: city counsel, leader of the Parent’s Association, etc. But this can also be implied power.

Doing things that someone with deep ties to a community would do is a way to generate goodwill.

The value of cold call

Doubtless, you’ve already considered the benefit of having your salespeople make cold calls. But I think that the likelihood of actually selling cars by “dialing for dollars” is very low.

To do so a salesperson has to reach someone who is:

If any of these four aren’t true, then cold calling damages the reputation of your business.

Instead, I suggest cold calling for a completely different purpose. Teach your salespeople to make cold calls to collect information.

Here’s a script:

Hi there –

Do you mind if I take 3 minutes of your time?

I’m calling from your local BMW dealership 
but I am not calling you to try to sell a car. Instead, I’m just collecting some demographic information about local residents so that we can be a better part of this community.

Again, I’m not here to sell you a car. Do you mind if I ask you three brief questions?

If they respond in the affirmative, proceed:

Do you own a car? If so, what make and model?

What is your perception of BMW cars?

What is your perception of car dealerships?

End the call by asking if they would like to be added to your free monthly newsletter, which is about the goings-on in your region. Thank them for their time, appreciate them for the time you’ve spent together and encourage them to reach out if you can help them in the future.

This approach will help your salespeople get better, spread the brand of your business, and generate future leads. The last question, What is your perception of car dealerships? will highlight for your salespeople the perception that they are having to combat to build customer loyalty in the region.

The prospect will be pleasantly surprised when the salesperson doesn’t try to sell them a car at the end of the call, thus ending on a positive note.

Hire great people

It goes without saying that you want to hire great salespeople. But instead of focusing solely on people who always hit sales quotas, hire people who add to the reputation of your company through goodwill and long term customer loyalty.

A great salesperson who also alienates customers or employees does more harm to your business.

Define what a great salesperson brings to your company, and don’t settle for less.

Company culture

We often overlook the importance of company culture in sales. After all, the purpose is to close more deals and make more money!

The cohesion of your sales team matters. One overly pushy salesperson can model for the rest of the team an approach that will alienate customers.

When we put a smiling face on what is actually an unhappy working environment, our customers can tell the difference. Similarly, customers know when a member of your team really, sincerely enjoys their job, and is excited to be a part of the company.

A culture that derides the worst performing salesperson or hazes newly incoming team members creates an environment that will, invariably, trickle out to the customer’s experience.

I’ve written a book about the importance of team culture, so start here.

A culture of feedback

One important aspect of company culture, particularly in sales, is creating a culture of feedback.

Sales teams often only provide feedback during the onboarding process of a new salesperson. But every salesperson – and everybody! – can benefit from feedback. And in a thriving company culture, every employee should want to.

Here are a few ways to incorporate feedback into the daily cadence of your company:

Be generous

One of the phrases least likely to be uttered about a typical salesperson is that they are generous.

The common perception is that a salesperson wants to take advantage of the customer. It is your responsibility to contradict this narrative by being incredibly generous with your time and effort on behalf of each customer that you work with.

As often as possible go to the extra effort with each person you come into contact with to help them – even if that help has nothing to do with the sale you are aiming for.

By being unexpectedly generous you foster long-term relationships and make it more likely that a customer will come back in the future.

Until next week,
Robin

How to sell without a network or connections

In 2016, I was given an amazing opportunity to take ownership of a global community called Responsive.org.

After running my first ever business event early in the year, I decided to create my first business conference, Responsive Conference, 9 months later.

I’m a circus performer. I had never attended a business conference, not to mention produced one, so that first year of selling tickets to Responsive Conference was a madhouse.

That was also the same year that I started Robin’s Cafe, so any moments that were not spent behind the counter, or hiring and firing baristas, I was on the phone with everybody I could think of asking for advice.

This distinction is key: I wasn’t trying to sell tickets to the conference at first. Instead, I asked for advice.

Ask for advice

I brought 275 people to Responsive Conference 2016 by asking people for advice. It is really that simple. I turned to the founders of Responsive.org, everybody who had come to my free event earlier in the year, and everyone else I could think of.

When you ask for advice, you create the opportunity for excitement and support from people who might not otherwise be open to purchasing. People get enthusiastic about your cause, regardless of whether they’re interested in spending money – or attend my conference.

By asking for advice, you create advocates who want to see you succeed.

Practice telling your story

One of the things that making those hundreds, even thousands, of calls in the first months of Responsive Conference gave me was practice telling my story.

I was new to Responsive.org. By luck and good timing, I was able to bring together 150 people for a free event at the start of the year and there was a lot of interest in our topics. But I was no expert!

By asking everyone I could think of for advice, I got a lot of practice telling the story of the ecosystem and why I wanted to create Responsive Conference.

Build a network

When you are beginning to sell something new, you probably don’t have a network or a reputation. But what you lack in network you can make up for in short calls with strangers.

Ask everyone you talk to refer you to three other people. Quite quickly, the size of your network grows!

It takes time and effort to take calls with so many people, but you’ll also go from no contacts to hundreds of potential prospects in a very short time.

The final step is to ask

The final phase of this saga, once you have enough experience telling your story and have built out a network, is to begin selling. Change your pitch from “Will you give me advice?” to “Would you be interested in purchasing a ticket?”

Several months into asking for advice, I’d talked with hundreds of people and generated a list of prospects in the thousands.

It takes courage to ask people to purchase. You can’t hide behind the “I’m just learning how to do this” anymore.

The final step is to muster up the courage and ask, “Would you like to buy?”

A word on authenticity

This approach to learning how to sell something new only works if you are sincerely interested in what people have to say.

If you go into an “advice call” with the desire to sell, the other party will know and be turned off by the experience.

Be humble, stay curious, and look to learn.

Homework

If you don’t need to, I don’t recommend spending hundreds of hours on the phone with strangers asking for advice. That said, the practice of building a network is incredibly valuable. This is the same process I use anytime I’m starting a new business or exploring a new opportunity.

Your homework is to call one person in the next two days and ask them for advice. The rules are simple:

And just like that, you’ve landed your first advocate.

Until next week,
Robin

How to raise money

In 2016, I started a cafe with no prior experience in less than a month.

Robin’s Cafe is still in San Francisco today. And though I no longer get discounts, we should meet for coffee there sometime!

I had to raise $50,000 to purchase the assets I needed to start the business – espresso machine, ovens, tables and chairs. It was the first time I ever raised capital and I had to raise the money in less than three weeks.

Over that manic 20 days, I pitched more than a hundred people – and learned a lot. These are the tactics I wish I’d known then.

Know your business

I had lived blocks from Robin’s Cafe for almost a decade. The neighborhood was long considered “the wrong side of the tracks,” but in 2016 it was about to undergo a transformation.

When I opened the cafe there was a parking lot across the street. Today that parking lot is a children’s playground. Startups were beginning to move into the neighborhood. 17th Street is now a thoroughfare for walking and biking traffic.

Starting the business amidst a growing neighborhood gave Robin’s Cafe the momentum that it needed to succeed. Though I had never worked in the restaurant industry before, I had a competitive edge in knowing what the neighborhood was about to become.

Homework

Know your business. That doesn’t mean that you are an expert on the entire industry (I certainly wasn’t!) but you do need a competitive advantage.

What’s yours? What is the thing that you see that other people don’t? As you prepare to ask for money, focus on that.

Have a clear vision

My vision was simple: create a place where dancers, parents, local employees, and neighbors could eat and meet.

It helped that I was a member of many of the different communities that I wanted to serve: I was a community member and dancer of the building owner ODC. I was friends with employees of tech companies in the neighborhood. And I was a long time resident of the neighborhood.

In order to sell someone on your idea, you have to know the specifics of the vision.

As a member of these different groups, I was better able to communicate that vision and serve those groups.

Homework

What’s your vision – the reason you are trying to raise money? Write it out as plainly as possible in two or three sentences.

Sell your idea

As I started to ask for money, I talked to people about the decade I’d lived in the neighborhood and how I’d seen it change.

I walked people across the street to Mission Bowling Club, which is now a staple in the neighborhood, and shared the story of meeting the owners years before inside their gutted, abandoned warehouse.

I helped people see my vision for what this cafe could ultimately become – if only they’d be willing to loan me the money to buy the equipment I needed.

In order to raise money, you have to first get buy-in for your idea, which means you have to sell your idea.

Homework

Why should someone be interested in your idea? What’s in it for them? Answer this question by listing out at least ten reasons why someone might be interested in the idea you are selling.

Share your emotions

I was determined to open Robin’s Cafe within a very narrow window of three weeks because I was running a conference for 150 people in the same building and needed to feed my attendees. The entire idea for the restaurant came because I had the conference coming up and wanted to get coffee and lunch for my participants.

During those three weeks, I lived on caffeine and five hours of sleep – and I didn’t try to hide my intensity from my prospective investors. Instead, I channeled that intensity into furor for what this business could grow into.

That excitement and optimism, combined with a sober assessment of the business opportunity, gave me the conviction to pitch the restaurant.

Homework

Share your emotions with your prospective funders – your excitement, optimism, and hope for what you are selling.

What are you excited and hopeful about? Tap into their eagerness to be a part of something bigger.

Show them, and don’t just tell them

At Robin’s Cafe, I was able to walk people through the neighborhood and give them a taste of what the cafe could be – if only they would help with funding!

I shared my vision for what the cafe could be: a gathering space for dancers, for parents of kids, local employees and neighborhood residents. I walked my prospective funders through my landlord’s building. (Fortunately, the landlord owns two very beautiful buildings!)

I made them samples of our menu and poured them free wine (conveniently ignoring the fact that I didn’t yet have a liquor license).

Show your funders what the opportunity looks like. Help them to see the future that they are going to help you create.

Homework

Show your prospective funders the things they will experience. Give them the ability to put their hands on a product. Allow them to experience what you are selling.

Tailor your story to the person

Fundraising is highly personal. Everyone, whether a professional investor or a personal friend, invests for their own reasons.

I showed off cafe spaces available for meetings and co-working to a friend who took meetings with clients throughout San Francisco, and mentioned that we could also cater their company’s lunches.

There is an art gallery attached to Robin’s Cafe, which I showcased to a local artist who was considering funding the business.

Homework

Learn why each prospective funder is most likely to invest before you pitch them. The more discovery you do, the more likely you are to succeed.

In the end, I successfully raised $50,000 from five people in under 20 days and successfully ran the cafe for three years before selling it.

I attribute that successful fundraise to three things:luck, determination and the decade of preparation I’d inadvertently put in while living and working in the neighborhood.

I don’t know how to control luck, but incredibly hard work and a lot of research can make the impossible happen.

Until next time,
Robin

Do What Matters

An Obscure Blood Test in India

I’m spending the month living with my best friend on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. My friend was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, so one of my goals this month is to get them access to a promising cancer detection blood test. Unfortunately, the blood test is currently only available in India.

There’s something absurd about attempting to get access to an obscure blood test that is only available from a single lab in India while living on a tiny Caribbean island. It’s is a big project with a lot of unknowns.

Whenever you are tackling a new project – starting a business, adopting a habit, or supporting a friend – there are a myriad of to-dos. The key is to pick the right one.

What’s Your Objective?

I have a clear objective. I want to get the patent holder of this blood test to test blood samples from the United States or to license their technology to a lab in the US.

There are ancillary goals, too. With several family members in remission from cancer, I’d like to get each of them access to this test. And, because I’m ridiculous, I’m considering turning this into a new business.

Knowing why you are tackling any new endeavor helps you to stay focused.

The Next Most Important Thing

When you are tackling any new project it helps to identify the single thing that most needs to be done. And in a world full of bright and shiny distractions (or is that just my ADHD?), it is easy to focus on everything but the most important task.

As I learn more about this obscure blood test, there are a hundred small tasks that I could spend time on:

  • How to get blood samples to India
  • US export and India import policy
  • How much dry ice is needed to transport blood vials
  • The cost of flights to India
  • How to set up a testing laboratory in the US

The list is endless, but there is always just one or two important things that need to be done to move a project forward. And, with a little introspection, we often know what those things are.

The question I ask myself is “What’s the one thing that if I do will move this project forward?”

Is it absolutely necessary that I learn about country-specific import and export policies or begin to build a website right now? No.

Today, there was only one thing that had the potential to make a big impact: connect with the Indian laboratory – in other words, a sales call.

The Hard Thing Is Often The Most Important

The first thing I did this morning was phone the laboratory in India that provides the blood test and speak to a representative. I didn’t know if anyone would answer, but that was the single most important task that needed to be done.

I was nervous phoning India this morning. Will anyone answer? Do they speak English? What do I say if they do? But phoning the laboratory was my next most important step. Since the laboratory is the only group that has answers about this blood test, that phone call was the single linchpin that has the potential to move the project forward.

The hardest thing to do is often the thing that most needs to be done.

The First Small Step

By working backwards from the end goal, you’re more likely to be able to do the single most important thing. And while I love attempting to do hard things, I prefer making those hard things accessible, first.

My call to India this morning was, in essence, a cold call. And to make that international sales call small enough to attempt, I did a lot of things to prepare.

  • I scheduled the call at an appropriate time – First thing in my morning is afternoon in India, which gives me the best chance of reaching someone directly.
  • I planned out what I would say ahead of time – I wrote out what I would say in advance, including my questions and potential questions they might ask me.
  • Then, pivotally, I took that step – Because the only way forward is by taking a single next step.

Today my most important thing was a sales call to a laboratory in India. Fortunately, I reached someone and I got a few of my questions answered.

Tomorrow, my most important thing may be totally different. But whatever it is, my most important task will be a linchpin that moves a project forward.

Until next time, Robin

The Psychology of Money, Ramit Sethi, and Wanting to Crawl Out of My Own Skin

I was standing on the hilltop, sweating, having just run up 1200 vertical feet in under 10 minutes. The loose gravel shifted underfoot and tears stained my face. I was upset and afraid, and wanted to crawl out of my own skin. The reason: I was in credit card debt.

That was an afternoon ten years ago.

As a kid, I’d internalized that debt was bad, and credit card debt was a cardinal sin. Of course, I didn’t know how credit cards actually work. Monthly statements? Statement balances versus minimum payments? The tactics of money, and credit cards in particular, were unknown to me.

That day on the hill, I wanted to die with the shame of the financial debt I had accumulated, but in the decade since I’ve built a lot of financial habits towards greater ease and more resilience. (I went on to pay that credit card debt off over the next two months.)

A handful of years later: I was in debt again. I had borrowed $40,000 from family and friends to open up Robin’s Cafe – my restaurant and events venue in the heart of the Mission District, San Francisco.

What’s funny is that the credit card debt that I couldn’t bear was about $6,500. By contrast, I carried $40,000 in debt from Robin’s Cafe with pride.

Building the cafe was my personal MBA, and even if I lost it all, $40,000 was cheap for an MBA. (Unforgivable student loans, notwithstanding.) But, within a couple of months of opening, I was able to build a cash-positive business, and began paying down that debt each month.

The psychology of money is perhaps the most important thing I know about money, and something I wish I had learned much earlier. It has taken me until 36 years old to begin to get a grasp of this topic, but now that I have begun to think about money, and the behaviors that shape our finances, I couldn’t be more excited.

Money is psychological. In the same way that light is both a particle and wave (don’t ask me. I don’t understand physics.), money is a habit, energy, time, and a social agreement that allows us to enact our will in the world. People who handle money effectively know these things intuitively. But when I was 26, with tears staining my face, I didn’t believe it.

Here are three simple money habits I practice today:

I’ll be writing about money habits more soon, but for now I’ll leave you with a question: what’s one of your money habits? Leave a comment and let me know.

Until next time,
Robin

A Day in the Life of Robin P. Zander

This video is a day in the life building my company, Zander Media.

We’ve experienced a lot of growth over the last few months, and I’m learning to navigate the company through that change. Today’s video shows the blend of personal and professional that makes up my daily life; everything I’m doing to build the business and integrate that with the rest of my life.

Every day, I do a lot of the same things. I drink tea, journal, and exercise. And I take a lot of meetings! I’m so excited for the journey I – and the entire Zander Media team – are on, and I’m glad to be able to share a glimpse of it with you!

Practical Entrepreneurship: Curiosity, Empathy, and Growth

Empathy is Superpower

I was on set recently with a Zander Media client conducting a dozen interviews, and I was reflecting on the interview process.

Zander Media got its start through my own ability to show up compassionately with people who might or might not be comfortable on camera. We recorded their answers, made sure that what they had to say was precise, accurate, and compelling, and helped them feel at ease. Of course, ZM has come a long way since then…

At the heart of our work is helping people feel comfortable on screen. Curiosity and a lack of defensiveness is very unusual in business. And when you show up with empathy and love – especially at work – the outcomes can be remarkable.

Jeremy Liew, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners on Doing the Impossible and Staying Relevant at 50

My guest today is Jeremy Liew (@jeremysliew), a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners

Jeremy heads up investments in consumer technology at Lightspeed, a well-known Silicon Valley venture capital firm, and has invested in iconic and culturally relevant companies, including Snap, Giphy, Rothy’s, Affirm, Honest, Cheddar, and many more.

Jeremy is willing to embrace the beginner’s mind and practice things he doesn’t know how to do – even when it is uncomfortable. And as we discuss, that trait has paid dividends throughout his personal and professional life.

I know Jeremy personally through my own physical practice. We are both students of Johnny Sapinoso of San Francisco Movement Practice.

In this interview, Jeremy and I discuss his background and the various transitionary points in his personal life and professional career, how his “geeky youth” set the stage for work within the early Web 1.0 companies like AOL and Netscape, his first experience in sales in his mid-20s, and his discovery of and love for movement in recent years.

As a business operator and first time investor myself, we dive into how Jeremy recognizes consumer trends and the difference between being a business operator versus an investor.

I hope you enjoy this wide ranging conversation about startups, consumer trends, movement, and learning with my friend, Jeremy Liew.

Mark Brand, Food Activism and A Better Life Foundation

I first met Mark Brand through his talk at Responsive Conference 2017. The conversation in today’s episode is broad in scope, but the central thread is Mark’s tireless effort towards improving equality for all people. In Mark’s world, that is predominantly through getting people fed. As a former restaurateur myself, I’m blown away by what Mark has accomplished, the millions and millions of people he has fed and his own personal triumphs.

He’s gone from being unhoused to being a successful serial entrepreneur and philanthropist. Anyone who wants to really have an impact on the world can learn a lot from Mark Brand’s approach and philosophies. 

Please enjoy this wide ranging conversation with my friend, Mark Brand.

A Tribute to Tony Hsieh

The months leading up to Responsive Conference 2016 were a whirlwind. Earlier that year, I had opened Robin’s Cafe, and the cafe was scheduled to cater the first annual Responsive Conference. I had never run an industry-defining business conference before and was learning the ropes on the fly – balancing cafe inventory alongside sponsorship calls with Microsoft. 

Somewhere along the way, I met Rachel Murch, who headed up organizational design and transformation at Zappos. Rachel gave me a tour around Zappos’ campus, and I remember her specifically pointing out Tony Hsieh’s desk and commenting “though he’s never there”. 

I invited Tony to speak at that very first conference, but he declined. Then, at the beginning of the first day of the 2016 conference, just as Adam Pisoni was about to go on stage to give the opening keynote, I got a call from the volunteers at the front desk. The volunteer told me that there was “somebody named Tony” at the front door with an entourage – or as I came to know them – a group of his closest friends. I dashed up to the front entrance and met Tony Hsieh for the first time before running back to the mainstage in time to introduce our first speaker.

Throughout Responsive Conference 2016, Tony, Rachel and about half a dozen other Zappos employees sat in the very back of the amphitheatre and took notes. At the very end of the event, Tony summoned me up to where they were all sitting and complimented me on a successful first year conference. He then insisted that I return the favor and visit him at the Life is Beautiful Festival in Downtown Las Vegas, which was taking place the following weekend.

I do not actually like music festivals, and I had not spent much time in Downtown Las Vegas, but my incredible hosts, most notably Rachel, made me feel extremely welcome. I will never forget Tony inviting me to sit down with him at the bar and starting a conversation with someone over my shoulder, only to find out later that my fellow barmate was Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress and Automattic. 

As so many have, I was particularly struck by Tony’s Downtown Las Vegas Airstream Trailer Park, known as Ferguson’s, and the community he built. I began to wonder if there might not be potential for a future collaboration with Zappos.

There was a brief moment when someone on Tony’s team learned that I ran a successful restaurant and suggested that I open up a second location for Robin’s Cafe in Las Vegas. We even toured several abandoned buildings together as potential venues!

For the next several years, one or two members of Tony’s team attended Responsive Conference. Then, halfway through the 2018 conference, as I was sitting at the hotel with Zapponian, John Bunch, the conversation came up as to where I should host Responsive Conference 2019. John and I together thought of Zappos HQ and Downtown Las Vegas. John sent a quick text to Tony, and just like that, we were confirmed. The very next day, John and I made the announcement in front of 350 attendees that the 2019 conference would be hosted at Zappos. Having had a Zappos culture book in my library since 2009, this was a big moment for Responsive Conference.

Throughout 2019, my team and I toured Zappos and Downtown Las Vegas, and made plans for a variety of different ways we could design delight for our conference attendees. We were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Downtown Project, as well as the nuts and bolts of running a conference in the Zappos mainstage theatre space. This being a new offering for Zappos and their team, we were struck by Tony’s team’s enthusiasm to collaborate and create the best possible experience for us and our attendees.

I knew Tony Hsieh as a friend and an extraordinary, quirky creator. Though we only spent a handfuls of hours together over several years, I was a very real recipient of his impact and legacy.

I will never forget arriving at Ferguson’s, where Tony was putting up the Responsive Conference team, and being offered Fernet. Or coming ‘home’ to my airstream at Ferguson’s from a very full day on stage at Zappos to find Tony sitting in the hot tub amidst a raging party. Tony asked if I was enjoying the party, if I would like to join them in the hot tub, or if I wanted a drink or some food. Having just given a keynote, and amidst the party going on around him, his desire for me to feel welcome and included in his home and community was palpable.

Responsive Conference 2019 culminated in this fireside chat on stage.

Some people have an outsized impact. Tony, for his curiosity, odd brilliance, and willingness to bet on people and new ways of working, was one.

RIP Tony Hsieh. Thank you.

Jude Gomila: Golden and Mapping Human Knowledge

Welcome back to the Robin Zander Show! 

For today’s episode, I sat down with Jude Gomila to talk about his journey as an entrepreneur and his start-up Golden.

I first met Jude, and learned about Golden, when Zander Media was hired to create an explainer video about the company. We had 10 days to get up to speed on this company, craft a script, and put together this short video:

I was really looking forward to a more leisurely interview with Jude, but this conversation dramatically exceeded my expectations. 

Jude is a quirky, charismatic leader, who has invested in over 200 startups and is out to build the world’s first self-constructing knowledge database. Learn more about Golden at golden.com.

Jude is a fellow circus performer and a polymath with interests ranging from robotics, space, and the learning process. He, and his company Golden, are on a quest to map all of human knowledge. 

I hope you enjoy this interview!

“Master Your Code” with Darren Gold of The Trium Group

I meet with a lot of individuals and companies exploring both personal and professional performance. Especially through curating Responsive Conference over the last five years, I’ve had the great privilege to meet with change leaders around the world. There are a lot of very innovative approaches to change being practiced in the world today!

One intersection that I rarely see well addressed in the delicate balance between personal and professional development. The Trium Group is an exception.

In this interview, I sit down with Darren Gold, managing partner of The Trium Group, to discuss peak performance, his very unusual background, and his new book “Master Your Code.”

Enjoy!

Be More Loving with Sales – Zander Media Strategy Sessions

Recently while in NYC, I led a strategy workshop for an exclusive group of CEOs and founders who are building companies designed to thrive in the modern world.

Here, we discuss how to have more authenticity in our sales. Respecting others’ time and double checking that they are still available and willing to speak gives you initial buy in to the conversation.

You are much more likely to have a connection that will result in the long-term outcome you desire if you put the other person’s needs at the forefront. Focus on how you would like to show up for the conversation, because you are more likely to be successful if you sell lovingly than if you sell aggressively. Being present and considerate will amplify what you already do and who you really are.

How to Create an Amazing Brand with Michael Roderick

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Michael Roderick to discuss brand strategy and his work around creating “referrable brands.” This conversation covers a wide range of topics related to brand strategy, including his AIM model which stands for Accessibility, Influence, and Memory. We apply this framework to a variety of business examples, including my own efforts at Zander Media. I hope you enjoy!

Podcast Notes:

3:30 Michael’s background
Robin refers to:
Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
6:30 How Michael and Robin know each other
Responsive Conference
Responsive Org Manifesto
10:30 Teaching and learning
15:30 Transitioning from teaching to starting a business
Michael mentions:
Linchpin by Seth Godin
18:15 Michael’s talk at Disrupt HR
20:45 Referrable brands: Accessibility, Influence, and Memory
24:00 Michael’s podcast
26:30 Applying AIM to Zander Media
30:15 Influence
34:00 Memory
40:00 Lin Manuel Miranda, Geico, and Apple
46:15 Find more about Michael:
Small Pond Enterprises
LinkedIn
47:45 Find more about Robin:
Zander Media
Responsive Conference
Robin Zander Show Podcast
Newsletter – Personal
Newsletter – Responsive

How to Ask Better Questions with Daniel Stillman and Robin Zander

In this episode, my friend, Daniel Stillman, interviews me for his podcast, The Conversation Factory. We discuss how to ask better questions, the value of loving, non- judgmental questions, and my story.

I hope you enjoy today’s podcast as Daniel flips the script and interviews me on the art of asking questions.

Line Notes

1:15 How Robin describes himself

5:15 Responsive Org

Mentions:

Responsive.org

DonorsChoose.org

10:00 How do you define learning?

14:30 Asking loving questions

17:45 Practice versus performance intervals

22:30 Physical and emotional pain

Mentions:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini

24:30 Asking loving questions

29:00 Robin’s interest in asking questions

32:30 Anat Baniel

37:00 The Option Institute

40:45 Categories of questions

Mentions:

Larissa Conte at Responsive Conference

45:15 Robin’s Cafe

47:00 Find Robin:

How To Tell Your Story – Robin Zander at HR Transform

This is a talk that I gave at the HR Transform conference in Las Vegas to the Heads of HR of some of the fastest growing tech companies you have definitely heard of. The context for my talk was storytelling. I pulled on my experience at Robin’s Cafe and Responsive Conference to help others tell their story.

In today’s world, it’s not enough to just have a great company culture – you have to share that story with the world.

The aspects that make your organization unique create incredibly compelling narrative. It has never been easier to get your ideas out – to your company, your customers, and the broader world.

Find the reason you do the work you do, and share that out with the world.

What I Learned Going from $50,000 a Year to $50,000 per Month

Money is not a topic that we discuss easily. It’s not something that I was taught in school or that we talked about around the kitchen table in my family. But I have learned that money is a skill that can be learned and practiced.

Prior to opening Robin’s Cafe, the most I’d ever earned in a year was under $50,000 – before expenses. By 2017, through the cafe, I was earning almost $50,000 per month.

In today’s podcast I share three lessons learned as a result of earning $50,000 a month at Robin’s Cafe.

Finding Financial Freedom

Money is one of the topics we teach at Motion. Together with my co-founder Michelle Love, we’ve put together some of our tips on earning money into a 3-part YouTube series.

Finding Financial Freedom Workshop

I’m pleased to announce my first in-person workshop on money, which will be taking place on Feb. 9-10 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Learn more here!

How to Foster a Culture of Belonging at Work

How do you foster a culture of belonging? This is a very simple tactic that has made a world of difference within my own organizations, and that I’ve been helping other leaders apply within their companies. This article is about the importance of one-on-one meetings. Taking the time to get to know each person within your company go a surprisingly long way.

When I founded Robin’s Cafe in 2016, I was deeply excited about Slack. For me, this digital messaging platform was the ideal place to create a “digital representation” of our brick-and-mortar shop.

But that first week, when I asked my staff of 3 to pull out their phones, 1 pulled out a flip phone, another an old iPhone so badly broken that the screen was unuseable, and the third shrugged and said he didn’t have a phone right now.

It doesn’t matter if you are running a 3 person company or a 300 person company. One of the most important contributions you can make is knowing your people. I believe that the role of a leader is to get to know each person in a company personally – to know what makes them tick, to know why they are there, and to support them in that growth.

If you’ve enjoyed this short article and podcast, you might enjoy this talk, by Andrea Robb and Kate Shaw of AirBNB at Responsive Conference 2018.

The Biggest Regret From Selling My Cafe (Isn’t What You Think)

A few weeks ago, I sold Robin’s Cafe.

I sold my cafe after spending almost 3 years building it up from nothing. When I began Robin’s Cafe, there was a parking lot across the street. Today, that parking lot is literally a park and a playground. I was able to grow the cafe because of a ton of factors: good timing, a great neighborhood, a lenient lease, and a whole ton of effort. When I left, the cafe employed 15 people on staff, up from 1 person on our first day of operations.

Every morning since I sold my business, I’ve woken up at 7am with a thrill because I don’t have to solve food service emergencies anymore! But a few days after selling Robin’s Cafe, I had an insight and my first tinge of regret about selling my business.

But I promise: the regret isn’t what you think. I don’t regret starting the business, and I certainly don’t regret selling it. The only thing I really wish I had done differently is document every step of the journey along the way.

When we started out, I did document. Here was my first video:

I sold my cafe after spending almost 3 years building it up from nothing. When I began Robin’s Cafe there was a parking lot across the street. Today, that parking lot is literally quite literally a park and playground. I was able to grow the cafe because of a ton of factors: good timing, a great neighborhood, a lenient lease, and a whole ton of effort. When I left, the cafe employed 15 people on staff, up from 1 person on our first day of operations.

Every morning since I sold my business, I’ve woken up at 7am with a thrill because I don’t have to solve food service emergencies anymore! But a few days after selling Robin’s Cafe, I had an insight and my first tinge of regret about selling my business.

But I promise: the regret isn’t what you think. I don’t regret starting the business, and I certainly don’t regret selling it. The only thing I really wish I had done differently is document every step of the journey along the way.

When we started out, I did document. Here was my first video:

And I documented pieces of the journey on Instagram, and I wrote a series of posts about the early days (see Parts III, and III). But I really wish I had hired a full-time videographer to capture every moment.

There were ridiculous moments, like when I learned the hard way that our espresso machine drain pipe was too narrow:

One afternoon, during our first month of business, I got a frantic call from my manager, saying that the espresso machine was backed up. I quickly realized that the situation wasn’t going to be easily resolved and would take several hours of sorting and deconstruction before we could adequately address the issue.

That evening, equipped with an air compressor that my friend and investor, Krista Schnell, had acquired, we proceeded to attempt to blow out the clogged pipe. The first two attempts failed, because we had failed to adequately secure the pipes we were attempting to clean, but the 3rd time we succeeded. 50 pounds of air pressure was more than sufficient to clean the ¼ inch diameter pipe of years of built up espresso grounds and spoilt milk. Unfortunately, I’d had my head down near the drain pipe, to report on the success of our cleaning endeavors. The resulting expulsion from the stuck pipe sprayed espresso and milk goop all over the wall 10 feet away, ceiling 15 feet above, and my entire head and torso.

That makes a for a good story about what it actually takes to run a cafe, and that’s the real stuff that people don’t talk about.

There were moments that are much more difficult to talk about, like when Frank didn’t show up for work, and I found out that he had died. When I published that story, it turned out that this is something other companies have had to deal with, and there are almost no resources about process grief or how to support a company grieving for a colleague. I wish I had a video detailing my experience to share with others a resource for them. (That’s one of the reasons we are creating content about grief at my new company, Motion.)

I wish I had footage of my nephew walking into Robin’s Cafe for the first time, looking in awe at my ice cream machine, and asking, in hushed tones, “Uncle Robin, do you own that Ice Cream Machine?!”

Most of all, I always wanted to have a digital representation of our physical bricks-and-mortar coffeeshop. I had hoped to create something online that customers could point to and be proud of in the same way they were proud of our store. Of course, I communicated with 5000+ customers via newsletter, spent countless hours talking with customers onsite, and developed meaningful personal relationship with vendors, staff, and neighbors. I even conducted a few podcast interview with vendors, like Andrew Barnett, founder of our coffee roaster Linea. But I never did create the digital equivalent of our physical store.

If I had it all to do over, I would have hired a full-time videographer onsite at Robin’s Cafe every single day to record and and create a short video every day about the building of our shop. This would have had a variety of benefits:

When I look at the potential upside of these efforts, I would have 2x or 3x our revenue in our first two years of business. Conservatively.

I’m not displeased with our numbers. As it was, we saw 50-80% growth every year. But the cafe could have performed better, and I would have even better stories to share.

I’m not making this mistake again. I’ve begun a new company, Motion, which provides online and in-person tools in those areas many people need a bit more support. We discuss the taboo topics: things like money, grief, mental health, and behavior change. And our first full-time employee is, in fact, a videographer!

Additionally, I’ve started documenting the journey of building Motion myself via my new Zander Vlog. (Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel!)

I hope this story is useful to you! If it is, please let me know by liking this post and leaving a comment below! Thanks for reading.

Have You Always Wanted To Own a Cafe? (Hint: Don’t)

It has been almost 3 years since I began Robin’s Cafe, as a service to the attendees of the conference I was running onsite. I wanted coffee and sandwiches for our conference attendees, saw an opportunity to serve the neighborhood, and on 3 weeks notice, opened a cafe.

Now, 3 year later, I have learned a ton, and I’m ready to turn my attention to new adventures. I’ve left Robin’s Cafe in the very capable hands of my (former) team and the new owners. The new owners have owned a cafe previously and had been looking for just the right cafe to operate in San Francisco for several years. Even more, though, the team I left in place are the heartbeat of the organization, and they are excited for the continued tweaks and improvements to come.

Over the next few months, I hope to share some lessons learned from opening, building, and selling my cafe. (If you missed Part 1, you might want to begin there.) I hope you enjoy!

Silicon Valley celebrates “Exits”. We shouldn’t.

The number of times I’ve heard people bragging about their successful “exists” on the streets of San Francisco… If you aren’t familiar, an “exit” means selling your business or getting bought by another business. I was a bit skeptical, but like many in the Bay Area, I was also excited by the prospect of selling a company. It sounds like fun!

It isn’t. First of all, the number of hoops that have to be jumped through are outrageous. Legal, bureaucratic, logistic, financial, and – finally – people.

Really, though, we shouldn’t celebrate exits because it puts the focus in the wrong place – building unsustainable companies. Even though I’ve sold Robin’s Cafe at a profit, doing so is a mark that I am no longer the right person to run the business I started. For me, operating a cafe longterm is unrealistic and unsustainable. I am not a good long term fit for the role of “coffee shop owner”, in no small part because I consistently have other projects that keep me from solving the day-to-day minutiae that come up when running a restaurant.

Law is a Required Skill

When I opened Robin’s Cafe, I, my manager at the time, and the then-Executive Director of our landlord company, ODC, wrote and signed a 12 page lease that has served as our operating and guiding document ever since. It didn’t occur to any of us to have an attorney proof the lease, nor, as I found out 2 years later, did ODC’s Board of Directors approve the lease.

The terms of a lease will make or break your business. We have served more than 25,000 avocado toasts in 3 years, but that by itself isn’t enough. It isn’t sufficient to provide great service or be constantly busy. If the terms of a lease aren’t service-able, the business is going to fail.

I’ve signed a lot of documents in my life without reading the fine print. You probably have, too. I can’t keep track of the number of times Facebook or Gmail have changed their terms of service. But what am I going to do? Stop using my email? And it turns out the importance of a legally binding document, that will impact the livelihood of your business for years to come, is fundamentally important.

People Matter More Than Anything

I’ve seen over 50 employees come and go through Robin’s Cafe, and the cafe generally has about 15 people on staff at any time. Through this, I’ve discovered that the people behind the counter – the staff – are the heartbeat of an organization.

There’s the obvious stuff: you can’t serve customers without someone behind the counter to serve them. But more importantly, the culture of Robin’s Cafe has become a reflection of the culture of the staff.

Conway’s Law states that the shape of an organization dictates the shape of the products that company creates. In our case, though the cafe sells coffee and avocado toast, the real product was community. The community we had behind the counter is the real asset of Robin’s Cafe, and it is reflected in the quality of our patrons. Many companies say something like “We <3 our customers.” Walking into Robin’s Cafe, any day of the week, it is clear that they really do.

But when I say “People Matter More Than Anything”, I’m not just talking about customers. Yes, you can’t run a cafe without customers. But that’s just the gravy. Serving food and coffee is the job. Forming community for your customers? That’s the bonus, for when everything else is going well. And things only go well when the employees – those people doing the day-to-day work of the restaurant – are happy and satisfied themselves. There are lots of little ways to do this, but the single biggest, is spending time with each individual person within the organization, knowing them, knowing what matters for them, and following up – day after day.

Certainly, I’ve failed at this at times. There have been months at a time when I didn’t spend enough time with my staff. But that process, the regular, day-to-day attention, is what makes a cafe successful.

The Cost of Doing Business

There is a lot of talk about entrepreneurship right now. Unlike a decade ago, starting your own company is hip. There’s going to come a time in the next few years when that isn’t true, and we don’t put starting a business on a pedestal, but meanwhile…

Speaking as the “entrepreneur” behind several companies and with a successful “exit” under my belt, running a small business isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. Though we celebrate entrepreneurship at the moment, we aren’t talking about what it actually takes to maintain a successful company. Especially where a “successful” company means one that has a profit, doesn’t take on outsized debt, and remains in business!

What they don’t tell you, and I wish I’d known in starting Robin’s Cafe, is the bureaucratic hoops that have to be jumped every step of the way. To successfully operate Robin’s Cafe, I had to get and maintain the following permits:

The logistics necessary to manage all of that permitting isn’t what most people who dream about opening up a cafe want to do. But that’s the necessary work, just in order to be in the game!

Have You Always Wanted to Own a Cafe? Don’t!

To all of those people who have approached me over the last few years and said: “I’ve always dreamed of owning a cafe” – and there have been hundreds – my response is this:

Don’t! Or at least: Know Yourself.

Here are some questions that I wish someone had asked me before I opened up Robin’s Cafe. I would still have begun the coffeeshop, but I would perhaps have done so with eyes just a bit more wide open.

Some questions to consider:

If so, then by all means! But these aren’t things most people who want to run a cafe, are eager to do. And this is the job.

The folks I’ve met are excited by the idea of running a cafe want different things. They want the philosophical elements – the beautiful space, building a community, the moments of delight for a customer. These things are the upside of a successful cafe, but not the reason to run one.

I remember the first time I learned – the hard way – that our espresso machine drain pipe is too small. One afternoon I got a frantic call from my then-manager, saying that the espresso machine was backed up, resulting in a very difficult time serving lattes, cappuccinos, and other espresso drinks. I quickly realized that the situation wasn’t going to be easily resolved, and would take several hours of sorting and deconstruction before we could adequately address the issue.

That evening, equipped with an air compressor that my friend and investor, Krista, had acquired for the purpose, we proceeded to attempt to blow out the clogged pipe. The first two attempts failed, because we had failed to adequately secure the pipes we were attempting to clean, but the 3rd time we succeeded. 50 pounds of air pressure was more than sufficient to clean the ¼ inch diameter pipe of years of built up espresso grounds and spoilt milk. Unfortunately, I’d had my head down near the drain pipe, to report on the success of our cleaning endeavors. The resulting expulsion from the stuck pipe, sprayed espresso and milk goop all over the wall 10 feet away, ceiling 15 feet above, and my entire head and torso.

Closing

When I look back at Robin’s Cafe, and especially now that a month has gone by, I’m mostly just grateful. To the 50+ employees I’ve had the pleasure of working with, the 200+ customers we’ve served each day, for the recognition of just how much work is required, and for all that I have learned along the way.

Look out for more from me over the coming months!

Lessons Learned Building (and Selling) Robin’s Cafe

I want to say a couple of words about today’s post and a new format I’m exploring for both The Robin Zander Show podcast and this blog. Over the last 3 years, I’ve conducted over 200 hours of interviews, many of which have ended up on the podcast. I love conducting interviews, and I have been honored to spend time with so many incredible thinkers. And now… it is time to try something different.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting regular podcast and blog posts – without a guest or an interview – but instead about my own experiences over the last few years and what I’m working on next.

I’m going to share some more about my journey, and answer some questions like “How do you open up a cafe?” and “How do you sell a small business?” I’ve grown Robin’s Cafe to 15 employees in less than 3 years. How did I go from earning $40,000 a year in 2015 to more than $40,000 a month in 2017?

There’s so much, personally and professionally, that I haven’t ever shared. So, welcome to a new version of the Robin Zander Show and this blog. I look forward to talking with you and sharing stories.

To start, this post is being published the same day that I’m selling Robin’s Cafe. So, before talking about the sale of my business, I thought I’d share a bit about the opening.

I opened Robin’s Cafe on 3 weeks notice. I’ve shared that before, but the few people who really understand what that means and what it takes to do so, are usually always restaurateurs – folks who have lived and worked in the restaurant industry. And for me, even though I lived it and know it happened, it still feels almost impossible.

And I think that is one of my most important takeaways from my life to date. You really never know until you try. Success and failure both feel so daunting – so impossible – that until we get there, we can’t know. For me, the fear of failure has become almost a drive, a North Star to guide my path, and I hope over time to share how I’ve done things people say are impossible to  inspire you towards the same.

Here’s a bit about the opening of Robin’s Cafe in blog post and video form. But there are still a few pieces of the story I’ve never shared.

Origin Story

Back in 2016, I was preparing to put on my conference, Design for Dance. Five weeks before the conference date, I went to the manager of the then-market that was onsite, Melange Market, to see about providing coffee and tea for my 175 guests. I was told that Melange Market would be closing, had sold to a new owner, and would not reopen until after my 2-day event. I sent an email to the then-Executive Director of the landlord company, ODC, just to double check. I heard nothing back, so I  put the question of Melange Market out of my mind.

Then, 20 days before the start of Design for Dance, I received an email from ODC’s Executive Director. Rather than answering my questions, he introduced me to someone, with a brief note saying: “Robin is a community member and is interested in Melange Market.”

Matt, who turned out to own several, locally-famous restaurants, responded minutes later suggesting we meet the following day.

When we met up onsite at Melange Market, he presented me with a list of assets – the entire list of equipment, food stuffs, and more – and said “Let me know what you’d like to buy. I’ll keep the rest.” I was dumbfounded. I had showed up just expecting conversation and maybe to look behind the counter. Matt was prepared to sell to me, almost on the spot.

Fear as a Motivator

Over the next three weeks, I had to learn everything about running a small cafe, write a lease with the landlord ODC, raise more than $40,000, hire employees, and actually learn how to serve customers. The list of To-Dos was daunting, but I learned a valuable lesson in that crazy 3 weeks. Everyday, getting up at 5am to learn to open the cafe and staying up (with wine) until 2am to write a lease, I asked myself the question: “Do I want to do this?”. Every time, my answer was “maybe?”. Digging a bit deeper – into each “why” and “why not” – I kept coming back to “I’m afraid.”.

Fear is an incredible motivator. We use fear to keep ourselves safe in times of crisis and also challenge the edges of our capabilities. One of my fears was that I would fail to run the cafe successfully and lose all $40,000 of my investors’ money. I had to come to terms with that very real possibility – yes, that was a fear. But was that fear alone enough to not attempt opening the cafe? I realized that over 2 years of working at a minimum wage in San Francisco (I took my worst case scenario to the extreme), I would be able to pay my investors back – even if I lost everything. Tim Ferriss calls this “Fear Setting”, and I’ve found it invaluable to imagine a worst case scenario, look squarely at the fear, and not decide that just because I’m afraid to avoid something I might otherwise want to do.

There was a lot of learn about running a cafe – in those 3 weeks and in the 3 years since then. But my biggest lesson learned has been about my own fear.

Over the last 6 months, I have been in the process of selling my small business – equipment, system, and all. Selling Robin’s Cafe as been a trial-by-fire in its own right, which I may talk about at some point in the future. In the Spring of 2018, I decided that it was, in fact, time to take my leave from Robin’s Cafe. I had built something that could flourish without my direct supervision and could continue to improve even more by an owner/operator who was onsite 40 hours/week. I’m thrilled with the new owners and excited for the continued improvements that will come to the business I founded.

Here are a couple of lessons learned from three years of running a small business in San Francisco:

Showing Up with Love

We are not taught the skills necessary to run a business in school, and boy, do I wish we were. These are actually the same skills necessary for parenting, for being a good friend and – as most of us do – I’ve had to learn these skills the hard way. I’ve written elsewhere about a peak moment, when my employee called his experience at Robin’s Cafe the best job he’s ever had. This is the mark of a successful business. One that is able to stay operating – meaning that it’s profitable – while providing the best possible place to work for its employees. Because when you have happy people working for a company, you have happy customers – folks who come back again and again. Sure, Robin’s Cafe has great avocado toast. But more importantly, we’ve provided great customer service in an environment where the humans coming into the business have a positive experience with the people working there. This principle is something that I will strive to take forward – in anything that I do.

Showing up lovingly, is really the answer. Knowing that my responsibility within my organization, is to up as role model, a mentor, a teacher, and also an authority figure. Someone who holds the people within the organization to the high standards and principles that they’ve agreed to, but someone who does so without anger. I’ve had to learn to set clear consequences. If an employee did not wash a plate at Robin’s Cafe, there were consequences. But not because I’m angry or personally affronted. Rather, because they’ve agreed to the job, and this falls within that responsibility. It has been a process learning to show up for my employees in this way.

In the first 6 months of Robin’s Cafe, an employee would mess up, and I would get furious! I quickly learned that when I was angry, employees quit. What worked much better, was leading with love. And when they did mess up, asking a loving question: “How come you didn’t wash the plate, given that you’ve agreed to do so?”, “Can I do anything to support you?”, “How can we, together, do this better?”. And then, eventually, if the behavior doesn’t change, being able to comfortably let them go.

Money & Robin’s Cafe

Another big learning from Robin’s Cafe was about money. When I began the cafe, the most I had personally ever earned in a single year was about $50,000. My very first month in operation of running Robin’s Cafe, the cafe earned $20,000 and have earned as much as $50,000/month over the last three years. Of course, what goes unsaid is that monthly earning is gross – which means before expenses. Out of that $50,000 comes the costs of bread, avocados, coffee beans, payroll, and everything else required to run the business. But even so, seeing $20,000 and then eventually even $50,000 flow through the cafe bank account each month, has expanded my view and facility around money. Money isn’t something I was ever taught. If only I had been taught how to balance a checkbook in middle school, or learned about “good debt” versus “bad debt” in college! The practice of learning to balance the books, process payroll, and even just see money come into the business and leave the business – all the while knowing that I’m personally responsible – has been life changing. My advice, to my younger self or to you, would be to start practicing!

Win-Win-Win Business

The next topic I want to discuss, is of creating win-win-win businesses. Robin’s Cafe has succeeded over the last several years because it has served the needs of many different groups of people. When we opened, 3173 17th Street in San Francisco, was a cold, dark corner. There was nobody working and nobody eating there. I was offered an opportunity to serve ODC – the dance company that owns our building – and the students of ODC. There are the technology companies that rent space on our street and also a variety of industrial businesses that have existed in our area for more than the 10 years I lived in the area. Clearly, we had the opportunity to serve a diverse group of customers! But there was also serving the needs of Robin’s Cafe staff. How could I build the business so that employees could have a great place to work.Of course they needed to get paid, but more personally, what could I do to make Robin’s Cafe a great place to work? And how could the cafe also serve my investors – the people who had trusted me and invested their money into my idea? Though many of them supported me out of love, it was important that they see a return on their investment. I also had to get paid. And finally, the business, in order to survive, had to earn a profit.

I’ve come to see that the more different groups can win as a result of a business operating, the more likely it is to succeed. Why are Facebook and Amazon worth billions of dollars? Like them or not, it is because they serve the needs of billions of individual humans.

This next few months will be a very interesting period. Over the last 3 years, I have been the go-to when something goes wrong at Robin’s Cafe, 7 days a week. It is important to feel needed like that, and it has become something I’ve come to rely on. And now, it will come to an end. I’ll be sharing that journey in future episodes, and I hope you’ll join in. In the meantime, thanks for following along on this adventure!


Wait, Wait! One Small Request

If you’ve read my blog or listened to the podcast over the years, what would you like more of? I’m in the midst of a major change, and I’m excited to share more that is useful to you! Leave a comment below, and let me know!

Chris Fussell & Rachel Mendelowitz of the McChrystal Group at Responsive Conference 2016

I hope you enjoy this talk from Responsive Conference 2016 with former Navy SEAL and New York Times best-selling author Chris Fussell (@fussellchris) alongside Rachel Mendelowitz (@rachelowitz) as they discuss “Team of Teams” and new ways of organizing companies of the future.

Alongside General Stan McChrystal, Chris runs the McChrystal Group – an organizational design consultancy that works with companies all over the world to do in industry what Stan, Chris and the US Military did during the Iraq War. In the book Teams of Teams, Stanley McChrystal and Chris outline how they took the special operations branch of the US Military – a stereotypically bureaucratic organization – and transformed it into a adaptive, agile system.

This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.

Learn more:
http://responsiveconference.com

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 2, The Future of Work

 

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

…as the pace of change accelerates, the challenges we face are becoming less and less predictable. Those practices that were so successful in the past are counter-productive in less predictable environments. In contrast, Responsive Organizations are designed to thrive in less predictable environments…

— Responsive Org Manifesto

The world is changing more rapidly than we have ever seen before in human history. According to 2012 estimates, members of the S&P 500 were expected on average to remain in the index for only eighteen years, compared to the sixty-one years they might have expected in 1958. The anticipated lifespan of companies has dropped dramatically over the last few decades.

We also see this in the rise of the ridesharing industry—Lyft and Uber, among others—which was enabled by the proliferation of smartphones. This new industry seized a large part of the taxi market, which previously had been considered stable, if not untouchable. Similarly, the rise of home sharing—and most notably, AirBNB—was made possible by the hyper-connectivity of the Internet Age, and disrupted the traditional hotel industry.

Another example of the changing nature of the business landscape is the 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon.com. The day the acquisition was announced, Whole Foods stock rocketed almost 30%, while the value of competitors in the grocery business dropped precipitously. The presumption, it seems, is that disruption of the grocery industry is now inevitable.

There’s a broad lesson in the emergence of ride sharing, home sharing, and the Whole Foods acquisition—which is that any organization or industry is liable to be shaken up at any moment. The goal of every company in the 21st century should be to become resilient, flexible, and have the capacity to respond to inevitable change. Industries, today, can change with unprecedented speed.

If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 2 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization, Chapter 1

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, the first chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

 

On the Shoulders of Giants

Responsive has been built on a community of which I am just a single member.

I am grateful to the six people wrote the Responsive Org manifesto, and began a movement: Adam Pisoni, Aaron Dignan, Matthew Partovi, Mike Arauz, Steve Hopkins and Alexis Gonzales-Black. They put words to a problem faced by organizations today and gave us a language to describe the challenges and tensions that have long existed in the workplace.

I would not have written this book without the friendship of Steve Hopkins, who taught me how to run an un-conference, and the handful of collaborators with whom I produced my first Responsive events.

I’m indebted to the fifty-plus leaders who I’ve interviewed on my podcast, The Robin Zander Show, who described big ideas like non-hierarchy and holacracy in simple language and gave me hope that I could write a book to do the same.

 

How To Use This Book

My career path has never followed a traditional route. My first job out of college was as a management consultant, with a gig as a circus performer nights and weekends. Of course, I couldn’t tell the consulting company that I was in the circus, but I also couldn’t admit to my fellow circus artists that I wore a suit to work. I am not content to live in such a binary world. I want to live in a world that encourages the full expression of every individual, and I am dedicated to building it. Improving the ways we work seems like a great place to start.

Responsive is a compilation of tactics and accompanying short stories about innovators on the front lines of the future of work. It is designed to be a choose-your-own-adventure exploration into how we work in the modern era, the approaches and perspectives employed by high performing organizations, and what makes those methods so effective.

While this book can be read cover to cover, I have designed it so that you can jump to those sections most interesting or relevant to you right now. Ultimately Responsive is intended as a reference guide as much as a road map—a resource you can return to again and again as you dive deeper into Responsive and the future of work.

 

A Responsive Café

I have a vested interest in discovering what works for myself and my small team. Throughout this book, I’ll share stories about my small business, a coffee shop in San Francisco, where I work with my ten-person staff to serve coffee and avocado toast and to build community.

I founded “Robin’s Café” in late April 2016, with no prior experience as a restaurateur but armed with a clear purpose: to foster a nascent community that I knew could exist in our corner of San Francisco. We had exactly three weeks from inception to opening day, so, unsurprisingly, our first week of operations was a mess. Attendees of a conference I had organized on site wanted to support the café, creating a bona fide lunch rush on our very first day.

In those early weeks, we were a team of four, often making up recipes on the spot to cover orders. I look back on those times now, after having a tough day, and realize that no matter how terrible things might seem, it will never be as chaotic and insane as those first few weeks.

We desperately needed additional staff. One day, a man named Frank quietly dropped off his resume during our usual morning rush. I was up to my elbows managing an exploding keg of cold brew. But even in the midst of a coffee emergency, it quickly became clear that Frank was professional, playful, and knowledgeable about the food service industry. I hired him, and he soon became indispensable at the café.

On May 20, 2016, Frank had been scheduled to open the café. Around 9:30 a.m., I got a call that Frank hadn’t shown up. “Was he sick?” I wondered. I checked to see if he’d sent me any messages, but there were none. I called him, but it went to voicemail. A week later, I sent an email, mostly in jest, with the subject, “Are you still alive?” The staff and I just assumed that Frank became a “no call, no show,” something not uncommon in the service industry. Frank’s cutting contact was a simple case of job abandonment. Still, it somehow didn’t seem like Frank, and I wanted to make sure he was okay. I tracked down his brother on social media and messaged him. I heard nothing for several days.

Then, out of the blue, Frank’s brother called me. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” I remember him saying, “My brother is dead. He was hit and killed by a train.” In that moment of shock, while I digested what I’d just heard, Frank’s brother went on: “I want you to know how happy he was to be working at Robin’s Café.”

Frank’s death is a constant reminder to me of how truly transient and changeable business—and life—can be. As a small business owner in those first few weeks, I had to be resilient, not just in my response to Frank’s death, but to be able to mentor and support those at our café and in the community who knew him. I was determined to build into the ethos of our organization this realization that circumstances can change in an instant. I wanted my team to be resilient when times got tough and grateful for the days when work felt more like play. I like to think that in some way this commitment to resilience and good humor is a small homage to Frank.

That same ethos is what has compelled me to write this book and to share just some of the ways that ground-breaking organizations and individuals are exploring human-centered work. This book is an invitation to see the value of Responsive approaches and bring them into your organization as fits your vision and culture.

If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 1 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Bob Gower at Responsive Conference 2016 – “How Not to Join a Cult”

Bob Gower (@bobgower) helps organizations become faster, better, and happier. He is an authority on agile development, lean theory, and responsive organizational design, and the author of “Agile Business: A Leader’s Guide to Harnessing Complexity“.

Bob has advised leaders at numerous companies—including GE, Ford, Chanel, and Spotify—in creating more effective organizations. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management, is a Certified Positive Psychology Practitioner, and speaks and publishes regularly on what it takes to build great organizations.

Bob is the author of the new book “Getting to Hell Yes”, along with his wife Alexandra Jamieson, and together they will be leading a workshop at Responsive Conference 2018 on generative conversations that will change your business (and the rest of your life).

This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.

Learn more:
http://responsiveconference.com

Jennifer Dennard at Responsive Conference 2016 – “Medium – The Future of (People) Work”

I hope you enjoy this talk with Jennifer Dennard from Responsive Conference 2016. Jennifer is the co-founder of Range Labs and the former Head of People and Culture at Medium, focusing on organization design, people operations, and diversity & inclusion.

Jennifer is passionate about helping teams work together better. In this talk, Jennifer talks about human resources and a future of work that is best for our employees.

This talk was recorded live at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in September 2016. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Charles Best at Responsive Conference 2017 – “DonorsChoose.org – A Purpose Driven Company”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Charles Best (@CharlesBest), founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org.

Charles Best is an American philanthropist and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding platform for K-12 teachers serving in US schools.

Charles launched the organization out of a Bronx public high school where he taught history. DonorsChoose.org is one of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate favorite things” and was named by Fast Company as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.”

This video was recorded at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in New York City in 2017. Learn more: http://responsiveconference.com

Steve Hopkins at Responsive Conference 2017 – “Culture First”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Steve Hopkins (@stevehopkins), Director of Customer Success at Culture Amp and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.

Steve is passionate about helping clients develop a responsive operating culture that they can be proud of. At Culture Amp, Steve does this by guiding clients through successful culture change programs using the Culture Amp HR and People Analytics platform.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Aaron Dignan at Responsive Conference 2017 – “Let’s Disrupt the Modern World of Work”

I’m pleased to share this keynote address by my friend Aaron Dignan (@aarondignan), founder of The Ready, at Responsive Conference 2017.

Aaron Dignan sees the same phenomenon everywhere he looks. Our most trusted and important institutions – in business, healthcare, government, philanthropy, and beyond – are struggling. They’re confronted with the fact that the scale and bureaucracy that once made them strong are liabilities in an era of constant change.

Aaron is the founder of The Ready and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. We’re gearing up for Responsive Conference 2018, and excited to have The Ready leading an interactive Teaming simulation.

Learn more at responsiveconference.com

Mark Fisher on Serious Fitness for Ridiculous Humans

My guest today is Mark Fisher, who regularly shows up wearing a unicorn head – atypical of someone who runs several gyms in midtown manhattan. Mark is the co-owner of Mark Fisher Fitness and the consulting group, Business for Unicorns.

Mark and I share a common background in the performing arts, and it was fun for me to hear how Mark has taken that background and applied it to his entrepreneurial efforts both at his gyms and as a consultant. As someone who has long thought of creating a gym or physical center, I loved this conversation. Even more so, though, Mark’s passion for culture and people shone through.

I’m also pleased to share that Mark Fisher is going to be one of our speakers at Responsive Conference 2018, which will be taking place on September 24th and 25th in New York City. Pick up a ticket to hear him speak live.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!

Show Notes
3:30 Balancing ridiculousness at Mark Fisher Fitness
9:15 Starting a fitness business
12:30 Combining creativity with vision execution
15:00 Business for Unicorns
19:45 Soft skills in hard systems and the Unicorn Society
22:00 Current state of fitness
26:00 Advice for building a gym
31:00 Books:

33:30 Loving community
38:00 Cultural health
40:00 What’s next for Mark
43:15 Constant improvement
48:00 Find more about Mark: