Why I quit MaxAvenue

Viva Bob

Bob Dylan is playing San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre tonight.

If you’re thinking about finding a cheap Southwest airfare and buying tickets through StubHub or a reseller, don’t bother.

Crusty old Bob Dylan is only allowing his tickets to be sold at the box office, today, cash-only.

Nice sustainable business model, Bob.

God Bless, Bob.

Bob is indispensable. He doesn’t need to proclaim himself indispensable. He is. He “is been” (’cause he ain’t a “has been”) for 45 years.

Bob can pull this off. Others can take note, and aspire for indispensable.

It’s weird when the business books on your shelf start hurling intellectual molotovs at one another. That happened a few months ago when Seth took on Mike. Seth of Purple Cow fame, Mike of E-Myth fame. On my office bookshelf, Malcolm is the protective buffer between the two. I’ll admit, I’m bent to give Seth more credibility than he possibly deserves, but this particular set of paragraphs from Linchpin were delivered with the type of severity and truthful force that a revolution began to unfold:

“One of the most popular books ever written on building a business is called The E-Myth Revisited, and here’s what its author, Michael E. Gerber, says about the perfect business model:

The Model Will be Operated by People with the Lowest Possible Level of Skill

Yes I said the lowest possible level of skill. Because if your model depends on highly skilled people, it’s going to be impossible to replicate. Such people are

E-Myth Revisited

at a premium in the marketplace. They’re also expensive, thus raising the price you will have to charge for your product. The business model should be such that the employees needed posses the lowest possible level of skill necessary to fulfill the functions for which each is intended. A legal firm ought to have lawyers and a medical firm should hire doctors. But you don’t need brilliant lawyers or doctors. What you need is to create the best system through which good lawyers and doctors can be leveraged to produce excellent results.

Seth now speaks: “I can’t make this stuff up. His point was that you want a cookie-cutter business that you can scale fast, without regard for finding, nurturing, and retaining linchpin talent. He goes on to coin the ‘Rule of Ordinary People.'”

Seth concludes this thought by saying “Indispensable businesses race to the top instead.”

Advantage: Seth.

I hate ordinary.

You probably do, too.

I like to measure some things. Real Estate Stats. The probability of sale. Quarterback Passer Ratings. I don’t like to measure other things. The balance in my business checkbook says nothing about my life. The number of active listings I have says nothing about my relationships.

What’s amazing to me is the fear-based lie that I have bought time and again that the way to make a real estate business sustainable is to make it replicable. The better the system, the better the business. This flies in the face of something a reality I have committed to memory: people want it real, they want it personal, they want it custom and they want it trustworthy. This reality has a metric to back it up: 11% of all real estate consumers recycle their real estate broker for future use. They are far more willing to recycle their loyalty if they associate indispensable with that service.

Now, pray tell, how does one measure “indispensable”?

I want my business to aspire for that word. But the way I see to do that is not by improving the measurement metrics of the system. It’s by living a better story.

Indispensable is a word that is a little hard to swallow. I have some pretty arrogant connotations with it, and self-proclamation and association with the word sounds a little Buddy Kane, the famous “King of Real Estate” from American Beauty fame (“in order to be successful, one must project an image of success, at all times”). But something I have no problem with is this: One-of-a-kind. Memorable. Remarkable. If that means that people “don’t get it” every single time… well, probably all the better. That means I’m taking risks in the face of the fear which says not to.

The takeaway that I learned best from MaxAvenue, a real estate business solution whose membership I just allowed to lapse after one year was this: treat your customers differently. I have a set of customers that can’t help themselves: they refer me all the time. I have a second set that tries to refer me all the time. I have a third set that will loyally use me again when they have a need, but they don’t go out of their way. That’s okay. I have a fourth that might get a chuckle out of a Facebook post or scratch their head at something in my newsletter that arrives once or twice a year in their mailbox. Almost 90% of my business every year comes from the first two categories. I had never unpacked my business that way. I’m thankful for that lesson.

What I refuse to do however is create a commodity relationship out of those individuals that care enough about me to refer me out constantly and instinctively. If they appreciate the artistry, and expose themselves by vouching for the trust they place in me, placing a dollar figure on that permission asset or attempting to objectively create a formulaic metric of consumer-loyalty… that strikes me as perverse. The only answer to me is to reward their loyalty, and the best way to do that is with more artistry.

An aspirational slogan I have created for my 2011 business plan comes from the director of the Kennedy Center, Michael Kaiser, who challenges arts organizations with the statement: “You are what you program.” I want to run my business like an arts organization. I want to catalyze a better city and community. I wrote a post a month ago after Mr. Kaiser visited Colorado Springs and it was one example of the arts stirring my soul. Below is a snapshot of my notes, and realize, this is advice to arts organizations, but I feel it also applies to any small business that wants to aspire for indispensable:

A wish not a plan is to do more marketing and more fundraising. Hint: programming. You can’t balance your budget on bequests. Talk about the present and the future, forget the past. Plan big transformative projects, meaning a five year calendar. Kaiser has five years of projects as a menu: donors will connect to one or two; if you have only one program, or one year of planning… how will they connect? See More than five years down the line. The length of time actually helps tighten the bond with the audience. Five years gives him time to educate /prepare an audience. Take time to do the exciting work.

You are what you program.

A small subset of people provide me with most of my business. I want them to be excited about their membership in that cadre of satisfied sneezers, willing to infect other people with the idea that Ben Day is right for their real estate needs. In the coming months, my business will once again be challenged, re-made and re-formatted to embody a more consistent message: a message of catalyzing constructive action. The Catalyst Project will involve a system, but it will most importantly involve people in humane roles. We will utilize real estate as a means to an end, but the ends will be multiple: helping people eliminate debt from their lives; smart financial planning for baby boomers transitioning into retirement; energy conservation; expanding arts and culture; helping Colorado Springs become a city that is not merely poaching talent and business from the West Coast and Texas, but an incubator and catalyst of it’s own, unique talent. This will be done with left-brain science, where data can be shared and processed; but it will also be done with respect for the primary decision-maker, the decision-maker that truly cements action and convictions: the right-brain.

It starts Saturday. My Champions have all been invited to a party. A lu’au. In my backyard. Yours truly is the chef. Here is the menu. Mahalo.

Backyard Hukilau

One response to “Why I quit MaxAvenue

  1. Excellent Post Ben. It reminds of of Seth Godin’s blog called “the Non-Optimized Life.” He says, “And then, at some point, you realize you’re spending your best energy on optimization, not on creation.” You are right on track with your revelation. It can get perverse the more we hide behind an optimized “loyalty program” as opposed to engaging in an art of building great relationships. Thank you for sharing this post.

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