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188. Jordan Lams on Finding and Patiently Developing Your Entrepreneurial Focus

We define entrepreneurship in terms of people working creatively to make others’ lives better. That’s a very broad statement, of course, so it’s instructive to observe how individual entrepreneurs choose to make some customers’ lives better in some specific ways by applying special skills and knowledge. Let’s call it finding an entrepreneurial focus.

Economics For Business talks to Jordan Lams, founder and CEO of Moxie, an industry pioneer in manufacturing, branding, and distributing cannabis products.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

Entrepreneurs find their focus — or, sometimes, it finds them.

Bruce Lee is reported to have said that the successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus. Entrepreneurs develop focus on particular customers, in order to understand them better, empathize with their wants, and deliver them the experiences that they value. Developing this focus may take time, or it may come early in the journey, but empathy always provides the pathway.

Jordan Lams observed the pain of a family member during a time of illness, and how cannabis products could bring some relief and comfort. From that time, he became focused on the health and medical benefits of cannabis in a broad range of personal circumstances.

From a position of focus, entrepreneurs develop the deep knowledge that becomes their marketplace advantage.

Entrepreneurial focus directs research and knowledge gathering. In Jordan’s case, he gathered academic research, medical literature, and clinical studies, and he talked with medical practitioners about cannabinoid therapies. Networking brought him into contact with researchers and doctors and clinicians and product developers. He established a uniquely robust knowledge platform.

Focus plus knowledge leads to opportunity tension.

Some entrepreneurial theorists have coined the term opportunity tension — that period when an entrepreneur’s focus and knowledge point to a market opportunity, but there remains unresolved risk in the process of seizing it. The entrepreneurial solution, of course, is to take the risk. Jordan executed his commitment by taking a job in the retail sector of his chosen industry — a place to meet customers one-on-one, and look backwards at the supply chain.

Customer orientation is refined by direct contact, conversation, and experience.

Working in retail enabled direct customer contact and unfiltered conversations about customers’ preferences and wants, the benefits they sought compared to the benefits they experienced, and a general deepening of customer knowledge.

In addition, Jordan was able to observe the supply chain, including the interruptions and inconsistencies that detracted from customers’ experiences. Product quality was inconsistent and supply was unreliable. To an entrepreneur, this looks like opportunity.

Knowledge, experience, and customer contact provided the ingredient for a new firm and a new value proposition.

Jordan sums up the firm he founded, Moxie, as knowledge + infrastructure. A status quo of incomplete knowledge, inferior and inconsistent products in unreliable supply chains can be replaced by a new market of shared and distilled knowledge delivered via consistent and trustworthy quality. Customers are able to develop trust and confidence in a brand based on knowledge (“we know what we are doing”) that brings new maturity in the form of scale and process control and quality assurance to an emerging market category.

The company’s knowledge base enables vertical integration because the knowledge is broad and not narrow, the recruitment of strong partners because shared knowledge makes for robust collaboration, and new standards of quality, adherence to which strengthens customer expectations.

The firm’s foundation supports both R&D and open innovation.

All markets are changing at high rates of speed at all times. That’s why innovation is the essence of entrepreneurship. Standing still is a losing option. Jordan invests I R&D in the form of lab research (in pharmaceutical quality labs) exploring new product forms and new combinations, while also participating in the open innovation of knowledge sharing that goes on throughout the industry. R&D supports both specialization (making current offerings even better) and market expansion (new products, new forms).

Brand building will be the patient route to long term growth.

While business environments change fast, one way to invest with patience in a consistent direction is to build a brand. A brand can reflect customer values — the things that matter to them — in a way that creates lasting bonds. On its website, Moxie positions its brand as a force of character: courage, grit, determination, nerve. It provides an emotional connection to customers who value self-realization and self-actualization.

Patient entrepreneurs can see the regulatory maze as a locus of opportunity, too.

Moxie was the first licensed cannabis brand in California, and sees itself as a pioneer in leading institutional and regulatory progress. Instead of viewing regulators as business obstacles, Jordan employs his empathy skills to understand their position, their role, and their needs. He provides them with resources of information, industry knowledge and collaboration, and contributes where he can and where it’s appropriate to help them arrive at decisions and translate them into subsequent implementations.

As in building a company and building a brand, patience can pay off in future strength.

Additional Resources

EnjoyMoxie.com

Jordan Lams on LinkedIn: Mises.org/E4B_188_LinkedIn

187. Per Bylund: The Austrian School Approach to Business versus the Business School Approach

Business is a form of applied economics. Its purpose is to make people’s lives better. Profit is the signal from society that business is doing a good job in the customer’s estimation. This is a completely human system, a form of human action and interaction. Business schools take the approach of mainstream economics, that mathematics is the tool of choice, expressed in data analytics, accounting, financialization, and numbers-based plans and strategies. The Austrian school approach offers a very different path. Professor Per Bylund joins the Economics For Business podcast to highlight some important differences.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Business logic based on understanding subjective value.

The purpose of business to facilitate customer value. The pursuit of new economic value brings new firms into existence, the continuing realization of new value experiences for customers results in business growth, and recurrent refreshment of value propositions keeps businesses thriving and healthy.

Consequently, value is fundamental to business. Yet it is widely misunderstood. Sometimes it’s misconstrued as shareholder value, a function of stock price performance. Usually, it’s financialized as a set of numbers and indexes.

True value is in the mind of the customer. It’s the experience of feeling better off as result of interacting with a business — making a purchase, taking a subscription, or using a service that makes life feel better, and that feels like a superior choice compared to alternatives.

Customers decide what to value, and therefore what to purchase, and thereby decide the success of a business. All businesses must learn this value logic, and Austrian economics for business provides the understanding that points to the implications for business action.

Thinking in subjective terms.

An understanding of subjective value reverses the flow of business thinking. It’s easy and conventional to think in objective terms about products and prices — what a firm produces and offers and the price the firm charges. It’s harder and somewhat counter-intuitive for businesses to think about how each individual customer feels — what’s important to them, individually and personally, about the unique ecosystem in which they make their choices (e.g., their family profile, what kind of a house they live in, or the subjective resource allocation priorities of each of the individual firm they work for).

The customer decides what is valuable to them, and that’s the basis from which business action must proceed.

Value-guided creativity.

Business is a creative discipline. Because customer preferences and priorities are continuously changing, because competition is continuously aiming at making a superior customer proposition, because technology is continuously making new benefits and new customer experiences possible, and because we can’t possibly know how all this will work out in the future, businesses must always be changing, improving, adding, renewing, becoming somehow better in the future than they are today.

The only way to invent the future in this way is through creativity — new ideas, new combinations, new routes to convenience, new removal of barriers. Creativity can be random and unpredictable — we don’t know what is going to be successful out of all our creative ideas. Therefore, we apply constraints so that creativity operates within productive boundaries, and the generative constraint is customer value. If all our creative ideas are guided by the constraint of “will the customer find this more valuable”, then the opportunity for productive innovation is greater. If we place ourselves in the shoes of customers, and try to simulate what they will feel when they experience a new value proposition, we’re on the track to business success. This is value-guided creativity.

Business as a flow.

Business schools emphasize planning and strategy (and strategies are often just long-term, bigger plans). These are tools of prediction and control — predict the future (we will achieve $10 million in annual revenue this year) and control how we get there (100 salespeople must sell $100,000 each). The numbers can fill a spreadsheet.

Similarly with organization design: the spreadsheet in this case is an org chart, with layers and reporting pathways and divisions and units, another exercise in statics.

The Austrian recognition of constant change results in re-thinking business as a flow. Thinking in statics is potentially disastrous because the world can change while your firm does not. Thinking dynamically opens the firm to feedback loops from the marketplace, listening to customers and monitoring when their preferences change or competition shifts, and being open to adapting and adjusting.

Organization design gives way to orchestration, the constantly changing arrangements dedicated to the improvement of the customer’s value experience.

Every business can and must act entrepreneurially.

Our term for the orientation towards and capacity for constant change — constant pursuit of new customer value — is entrepreneurship.

In the popular vernacular, the word entrepreneurship has come to be associated with charismatic individuals, like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Reed Hastings. They are identified as the instigators of and catalysts for new value generation. That’s fine — such individuals are important in challenging the status quo. But for effective and commercial and sustainable new value generation, the entire firm must be entrepreneurial — highly sensitive to how a particular configuration of resources and a particular business model and value proposition serves customers, and to changes in the business environment that require adjustment on the firm’s part. The firm must be flexible enough to make these adjustments. Often, the market data comes to the firm from the edge, where front line employees working directly with customers gather the inbound information about change. The entrepreneurial firm ensures that the new information flows freely and is acted upon, and gives those closest to the customer the authority to make responsive changes.

Business schools often teach static and defensive concepts such as economies of scale and competitively insulated market structures. Business for them is production management. Business from the Austrian school perspective is value discovery, value facilitation and responsive change in the form of new products, new services, and new value.

Entrepreneurial empathy as a tool.

When we think of business tools highlighted in business schools, we might think of strategic planning, data analytics, accounting, process management, incentive compensation, and financialization.

The tool of choice for the entrepreneurial firm is empathy. Empathy is customer-first thinking. It focuses on identifying and understanding what customers feel is missing in their life, what they long for and wish for. There’s a gap between customers’ actual experiences and their desired experiences. They can’t articulate solutions, but they’re brilliant at identifying the potential for improvement. If the customer feels that some experiences could be better, or that they’re struggling in some capacity with an experience, that’s a signal for the creative entrepreneurial firm to experiment with new ways to deliver that betterment.

Entrepreneurial firms create better futures for their customers via empathy. They bring customers new things that they can want, that weren’t available to them in the past or of which they were not aware.

It’s not all numbers.

Just as mainstream economics has been rendered irrelevant and meaningless to real people because of its insistence on the use of algebra and mathematical models instead of real world observations, so mainstream business schools have made business into a world of spreadsheets, accounting, data analysis, bar charts and graphs, and structures and formulas.

Austrian school business thinkers understand the role of qualitative assessment — understanding people as humans as opposed to statistics, understanding emergent processes, understanding feelings and subjective value, and that the things that matter to people, both employees and customers, are values not numbers.

That’s why narrative and sense-making stories are taking the place of plans and strategies. Software development provides a good example: user experience design is a narrative about how customers prefer to interact with the software they are using, rather than a focus on lines of code.

Action and feedback loops.

The ultimate replacement for business school concepts of planning and strategy is action. Entrepreneurship is action. Action generates an effect — a feedback loop from the marketplace that signals the result of the action. The customer purchased or did not purchase. The rating improved or worsened. Revenue grew or declined. In the A/B test, B was preferred.

The feedback loop is processed as learning, and new decisions can be made and new actions taken based on that learning, eliminating some possibilities, and opening up others. Innovation is introduced to the market and new learning follows new innovation in a continuous loop.

In the thinking of entrepreneurial action, acting faster and sooner is better, because the effect is generated faster, the feedback loop accelerates, and the resulting new action is fresher and and more responsive to the customer’s needs. When action is bolder and more daring, the feedback loop is more informative and clearer in its signals. The future unfolds as a result of entrepreneurial action.

Entrepreneurs don’t act alone or in isolation. The unfolding of the future is the consequence of many actions on the part of many people and firms. The market, therefore, is a process. Action and reaction keep it moving in unpredictable ways — resulting in what complexity theorists call emergence.

The Austrian School is a complete system for business.

We didn’t have sufficient time with Professor Bylund in the podcast format to cover the complete range of business functions, including marketing and accounting and business model design, but these are all improved and enhanced by what we can call the Austrian approach. The goal of Economics For Business is to deliver this complete system in the form of tools, posts, articles, papers, books, videos, and podcasts like this one.

Additional Resources

Austrian School Versus Business School: A side-by-side comparison (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_187_PDF

How To Think About The Economy: A Primer by Per Bylund: Mises.org/Primer 

181. Brian Rivera on the Flow System

The traditional approaches to the structure and management of firms are becoming barriers to customer value. The Austrian capital theory approach recognizes that all value in the corporation flows to it from the value experiences of customers. Therefore traditional organizational design — centralization, hierarchies, divisions, bureaucracy, command-and-control — insofar as they are poorly aligned with customer value actually detract from the value of the firm.

There are alternative approaches to business organization, several of which we have highlighted in Economics For Business. One well-articulated alternative is The Flow System (Mises.org/E4B_181_Book). We talk to one of the authors of the concept, Brian Rivera.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

The first principle of all business organization is the delivery of customer value.

The superiority and broad applicability of the Austrian business model emanates from its value-dominant logic. The purpose of business is to facilitate a value experience on the part of the customer. Only value matters, and all else (resources employed, raw materials used, production costs, organization, supplier partnerships, etc.) follows. Austrian capital theory enables managers to identify value drivers (i.e. what resources, raw materials, production costs, organization, partnerships result in the most value for customers).

The focus of the Flow System is to deliver the best value to the customer through FLOW: the interconnection of complexity thinking, distributed leadership, and team science.

Flow is another term for entrepreneurial judgment.

In Brian Rivera’s book, The Flow System, flow is described as “a narrative of in-the-moment decision making of judgments”. It is entrepreneurial action and interaction with the environment, irrespective of structure. It’s goal-oriented adaptive and collaborative behavior of teams and firms.

The Austrian perceptions of the market as a flow, value as a flow and capital as a flow mean that the Austrian business model is perfectly consistent with The Flow System.

Mastering complexity thinking is fundamental to implementing the flow system.

Many business environments exhibit high variability and uncertainty. We’ve used the term VUCA to characterize them: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. All business managers and entrepreneurs can benefit from adopting a complexity world-view, and understanding business as a complex system.

Complex adaptive systems are open, continuously dynamic, evolving, learning, and responsive to external changes. They can oscillate between order and disorder, they’re non-linear and can’t be predicted or controlled.

Brian Rivera highlights a number of techniques to manage in such an environment, including:

Sensemaking: the development of narratives or storytelling to conceptualize the complex environment and develop an appropriate set of mental models. The question to ask is, “What’s the story?” — the story that can unite the firm and its partners around a shared understanding and shared purpose.

Weak signal detection: in complexity, signals are never clear; uncertainty is the norm and errors are always a possibility. Weak signal detection is simply intensifying the scnning of the environment for insights and noticing more, so that both threats and opportunities can be detected earlier to avoid surprise.

Action: the only source of real knowledge about the world is experience, and experience results from action. Therefore, The Flow System emphasizes action — the D and the A in the OODA loop.

The Flow System employs a new definition of leadership: distributed leadership.

Distributed leadership is described as leadership that extends horizontally, vertically and every place between. The tools of leadership are not structures (such as hierarchy and top-down management) but methods:

  • Psychological safety
  • Active listening
  • Intent
  • Shared mental models
  • Bias towards action
  • Collaboration
  • Mentoring.

Perhaps the most essential factor is psychological safety among team members. It’s a group property — a shared belief in which the team is safe from interpersonal risk taking. Individuals can speak up, take risks, and experiment without fear of criticism or reprisal so long as every action fits within the shared belief framework. There is no command structure, and teams are the building blocks of the organization.

There’s a new field of team science for collaborative functioning in the workplace.

Team science is multi-disciplinary. Teams are necessary for the development of solutions in many problem areas, and the research behind team science has been conducted in many fields (ecology, healthcare, organizational science, psychology and more).

A team is a collection of individuals with a shared goal, who interact and are interdependent in their tasks, who have different roles while sharing responsibility for outcomes, and constitute a social entity embedded in a larger system (a business unit or corporation) requiring them to manage relationships across organizational boundaries.

A major section of the book The Flow System is devoted to an overview of the current state of team science as it relates to business organizations, covering team size and composition, teamwork, team processes and team transitions, team culture, team effectiveness, and combining teams for multi-team scaling.

Here’s a sample concerning the functions of shared leadership in a team:

  • Compelling team purpose — exceeding individual goals.
  • Members work jointly to integrate their complementary talent and skills.
  • Outcomes are collective, joint efforts.
  • Members adapt their working approach to each other.
  • Mutual accountability plus individual accountability.

Core principles and attributes of The Flow System.

  1. Customer first
  2. Value is a flow
  3. Complexity thinking, distributed leadership and team science can facilitate the flow when they are interconnected and synchronized.

Additional Resources

E4B Knowledge Graphic — “The Flow System Guide” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_181_PDF

theflowsystem.com

flowguides.org

The Flow System by by John Turner, Nigel Thurlow, and Brian Rivera: Mises.org/E4B_181_Book

Teams That Work: The Seven Drivers Of Tea Effectiveness by Scott Tannenbaum and Eduardo Salas: Mises.org/E4B_181_Book2

173. Rene Rodriguez: Unleashing Voluntary Energy Via Influence

How do we change others’ behavior? In business, it’s a challenge we face every moment. Can we persuade a customer to switch to our brand or service? Can we get the board or the C-Suite to approve our proposal? Can we convince a VC to fund our startup? The common denominator across all these tasks is influence. How do we make the case with sufficient influence? The solution lies in using tools informed by Neuroscience. Economics For Business talks with Rene Rodriguez about his book Amplify Your Influence (Mises.org/E4B_173_Book), and his research into the neuroscience behind influential interpersonal communication.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

Influence is a determinant of business success.

In the past, there was a classification distinction between “soft skills” in business management and the more highly respected quantitative capabilities of finance and strategic planning. Today, that is no longer the case. The ability to harness communication to change others’ behavior is fundamental to making progress in the business world, and an inability in this area means an executive or manager will be perceived as ineffective. Setting out a vision that no-one follows is fatal.

Influence is also the way to help people make better choices for themselves.

Influence can be considered by some to be manipulation, but there is absolutely no need for that perspective. Influence may be exerted to help people better evaluate the choices and options open to them. Influence is providing information that may not otherwise have been available to the audience, or that had not been considered in the most appropriate light. Influence unleashes what Rene Rodriguez terms “voluntary energy”; they are pleased and delighted to be offered a better decision-making path.

There is hard science behind the soft skills of influence.

Influence is applied neuroscience. Neuroscience explains how and why humans resist change. It’s a threat. The first reaction to any new information is often resistance. We don’t like to question what we believe we know, or abandon the guidelines on which we’ve been operating, or change the heuristics we use. It’s a common, shared trait.

That’s why influence is the “how” of leadership: influencing behavior change when the natural response is to resist it. It’s also the goal of marketing, teaching, managing, selling, and communicating.

It pays to learn a little bit about neuroscience for each of these actions.

The power to influence can be amplified by using three techniques.

As with any business tool, there are techniques that can be perfected to improve the performance in use. Rene highlighted three:

Sequencing: The brain processes information in certain sequences. First, it looks for threats (like “change” or “new ideas”) in order to sort between danger and safety. If it perceives a threat, it shuts down – no influential communication will get through, Next it seeks value – feelings of being valued, being engaged, being inspired. The right sequence of message delivery starts with a communication of positive value (so that the brain can believe it is in a safe place), followed by communication of caring, active engagement and inspiration.

Framing: people perceive their own reality through their own framing. If your frame of reference for pizza is high calories, excessive cheesy fat and too many carbohydrates, it doesn’t matter how delicious the pizza recipe Pizza Hut presents to you, you are going to be unreceptive. In the battle for attention and shared meaning, an influencer must set and claim the frame in advance of any message presentation. Communicators and innovators practice framing and reframing to improve their skills. For example, creative innovators always create the frame of solving a problem for others, requiring them to see the problem as others see it and experience it, and enabling the future communication of the solution as a relief of unease or removal of dissatisfaction or discomfort. Framing is based on empathy – seeing from others’ perspectives and aligning with their values. That’s why the Economics For Business value proposition design tool starts from “Who is the customer?” and “What is their need?”.

The tie-down: There needs to be a close. Our target audience’s brains are flooded with information from all directions at all times. We need to make our message stick. The tie-down is a tool to make sure the audience has the chance to understand what our information will mean to them, what value it can add to their lives, and how it will help them achieve their goals.

To ensure execution of the tie-down, Rene recommends that we all have an Influence Objective in mind: the specific action, thought or behavior we are aiming to influence. The tie-down is often a summary or emphasis of benefits, or a powerful takeaway or a “magic phrase”. It ties down our message in the audience’s brain.

The art of influence lies in storytelling.

Brain scans show that when we are caught up in a story told by a skilled storyteller, we stop daydreaming and become fully present. We become focused. We narrow our attention to what the storyteller is saying. There’s a response in positive brain chemistry, as well as empathy and trust — a neural coupling between the storyteller and the audience.

Stories help us organize data, discern value, and make better decisions. Influencers work hard at becoming good storytellers. Rene left us with a 10-step guide, which we provide as a free pdf.

Additional Resources

Amplify Your Influence: Transform How You Communicate and Lead by Rene Rodriguez: Mises.org/E4B_173_Book

“10 Steps to Amplify Your Influence” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_173_PDF

164. Per Bylund: Think Better, Think Austrian — A How-To Guide

Think better, think Austrian is the mantra we have adopted for our Economics For Business project. Economics is a way of thinking. It’s conceptual, and its concepts can help businesses to make better decisions. The most important business decisions are those that pertain to the generation of value for customers, since that is the purpose of the firm. We talk with economist Dr. Per Bylund about exactly how the Austrian way of thinking helps businesspeople in every role to think better, and the business benefits that ensue.

Key takeaways and Actionable Insights.

“Think Better, Think Austrian” means starting from first principles.

Businesses are concerned with behavior — with action. The most important behavior is that of customers . Do they buy, or do they not buy?

The Austrian economics framework places people, and the effort to understand what they are trying to do, in the center of its analysis. First principles in Austrian economics teach us that people act to improve their circumstances—to somehow make things better for themselves. We recognize that people have a purpose in mind, and they make choices that lead them to attaining what they want or need.

It is from this first principle that business owners and entrepreneurs can work backwards to understand the motivations behind the actions of our prospective customers. We can ask why. And we should.

Thinking backwards reveals new understanding.

If customers act in a way we don’t understand, or differently from the way we expect them to act, or hope they will act, we can work backwards from what we’ve learned without judgment and instead exercise empathy. They might do something “crazy” — like using a product in a very unexpected way, or buying a competitive product that we know to be “inferior” in some sense. We know that their action made sense to them, and that they believed they would be better off compared to alternative choices or actions. Working backwards from this understanding enables us to deduce their motivation, and what value they were seeking. We can learn from their “crazy” action and rethink our offering. We can choose to take their feedback, even if it doesn’t make sense to us, and offer them an alternative.

Thinking better requires a relationship with the customer.

Successful business owners and entrepreneurs must develop a deep enough relationship with their customers to understand how they think, how they feel, and how they perceive things. Additionally, we must learn the context in which they are making their choices—there’s no such thing as a non-contextual choice. Per Bylund makes this clear when he explains that ice cream in summer is a different product choice than ice cream in winter, and clothes for business wear at the office are a different choice than clothes for working from home. Consider this: Whom does the consumer believe is observing and judging them and what standards are being applied? Those are important contextual factors to be taken into account.

The Austrian thinker considers all these influences on the customer and uses them to build and nurture relationships

We know that the ultimate purpose for customer action is the relief of some unease.

How do consumers and customers decide what they want to spend their money on? Rather than asking ourselves what people want to buy, we can ask ourselves what decisions people make in pursuit of better circumstances. They start from a position of dissatisfaction. They feel unhappy, or disappointed, or feel let down or lacking in some way. Contented people don’t act. People whose every comfort has been seen to, and who lack nothing—people who aren’t experiencing any unease—don’t buy. Discontented people do. This never-fully-satisfied feeling of discontent on the part of the customer is the universal resource for the entrepreneur. It is never exhausted because people are never fully content or fully satisfied in all of their many needs.

Customers use this heuristic to calculate potential value, even though they likely have no idea they are doing it. They think, to what degree do I expect my choice to relieve my discontent? Satisfaction is achieved not so much via the benefit that products and services promise, but via the burdens that are taken away: less work, less difficulty, less effort, less cost to get to a feeling of less discontent or less fear or less concern or less stress.

Often, of course, customers’ concerns are social. How do others see me, how do I appear to them, how do I compare to others in appearance or competence or achievement? The relief of unease is always subjective and often the subjectivity comes in the form of the customer comparing themselves to others, or to their own assessment of others’ judgment of them.

The entrepreneur listens carefully to what customers say, and observes their actual behavior, then uses empathy to understand what process the customer is using to define their unease and ways to relieve it.

Additional Resources

“Think Better, Think Austrian” How-To Guide (PDF): Download PDF

“Per Bylund on Opportunity Costs”: Listen To Episode 7

149: Victor Chor: The Journey From Flipping to Global High-Tech Brand Building

Entrepreneurship is fulfilling and exciting and inspiring. It’s fun. It’s learning. It’s a sense of achievement. It’s a journey. Economics For Business loves to spotlight individual journeys to illustrate what’s possible, provide learning about how to create and grow opportunities, and to inspire new entrepreneurship. This week, we are joined by Victor Chor, who leads us on a journey from a hobby of flipping on eBay to creating a brand and orchestrating a high-energy global value generation community.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

The journey starts with action — develop your “doing skills”.

Victor Chor started his journey via “flipping” on eBay: sourcing items to offer for sale, and using sales feedback (what sells, what doesn’t) to determine future offerings. He developed the “doing skill” (as opposed to a “knowing skill” that comes from formal business education) as he made more and more sales. Flipping was a hobby that became a business.

What’s the benefit? Well, it’s fun. There’s money profit. There’s a sense of achievement. And there’s learning.

Experimentation is at the heart of entrepreneurial success.

How do you find out what works? You experiment. Try this, try that. Learning results. Victor learned the products that sell best. He learned scaling, as a repeatable process yielding increasing returns. He learned the best feedback loops for adaptiveness — in his case inventory management and how to keep it low through accelerated sales.

Experimentation is a learning loop: experiment, gather feedback, learn, improve, run more experiments.

Adopting customer centricity is a further advance on the journey.

To a large extent, Amazon, with its “customer obsession”, led the way in making customer centricity the norm for e-commerce and internet selling. They not only continuously raise the bar for customer service excellence in terms of quality, speed, convenience, availability, and range of choice, they also introduced wide ranging competition between 3rd party sellers on their platform. Competition is a virtuous circle for customer satisfaction: if one firm establishes an advantage or a superior offering to which customers flock, then competitors must improve their offering even more to re-qualify for customer acceptability.

In this environment, entrepreneurs learn about continuous improvement and the need to create a unique customer experience that can establish some sustainable advantage. The ability to grow in sales revenues morphs into the design of unique customer experiences.

A further advance in the mastery of customer centricity is to engage customers in product and service development — what we’ve been calling co-creation of value. Through surveys and e-mail marketing and just hanging out and talking with customers, Victor’s team has developed an acute understanding of customer wants, needs and preferences.

And the technology field lets us all think like customers. Victor points out that he and his team are all customers for the products they take to market. They’re all looking for quality and convenience and technological excellence, all experiencing what inconveniences customers, and therefore even better able to serve their market.

The next level of advance on the journey is brand building — imagining, designing, assembling, and marketing a differentiated branded offering.

There is a transition point where a project can become a brand. A project to develop and deliver a high-function technology product can cross into the branded perception and branded experience area. Branding is the ultimate power in delivering uniqueness. A brand can establish a sustainable and unassailable perception.

Victor Chor advanced into brand building through building his community. The people he hired into his growing business has ideas for establishing and growing a brand. Wholesaling and distribution and manufacturing partners contributed both ideas and capacity. Victor developed a very original concept of a brand as a representation of all the people involved together in the venture. His image for a brand is that “it’s a ballroom”: set it up and throw a party in which many can participate and all are welcome to help shape new products and the future of the brand.

Infinacore is the brand name around which Victor and his team have assembled their community. It’s focused on wireless charging and related high-tech convenience: the brand mission refers to “making the wonderful world we live in as simple as plug and play”. This is a brand platform with unlimited future potential, based on how customers define simplicity and plug-and-play in the future, and how they judge what they find to be wonderful.

Reaching out more and more widely expands opportunity and opens up new avenues.

Early in his journey, Victor utilized the services offered via Alibaba. He made contacts, built up a buddy list, engaged in chat on the platform, and used the network to source products. Many of his contacts in manufacturing and trading companies stayed in touch over time. Some of them started their own venture and their own factories. Long term relationships developed, and links to capability and capacity multiplied and grew stronger.

Everyone in this network is on their own journey, feeling what Victor called the “shared vibe” of connection and collaboration.

Alibaba proved to be a catalyst for learning — for example, learning a shared language, learning to negotiate, learning to communicate, and learning working practices like minimum order quantities — and an opening of new avenues, such as contacts with factories that could provide white labeling opportunities and technology improvements for original products.

Ultimately, Victor was able to develop a leadership skill in entrepreneurial orchestration: pulling together and integrating resources, people and processes in a value network dedicated to the shared pursuit of high-tech brand building.

The journey is arriving at a new peak, but never ends.

There’s a new product / wireless charging system launch coming up for Infinacore. It represents a new peak in both technology and brand, a unique original design with new benefits. The Infinacore community has advanced to a new higher level.

The company has refined its vision and mission, not simply as communication, but as a picture of the future around which everyone in the community can gather and in which all can invest their effort and emotional energy. It’s ingrained. There‘s shared passion and shared emotion.

This is the step that removes the anxiety of uncertainty. When the vision is shared and the mission — what the community does repeatedly every day to make progress towards the vision — is clear, then the future is not a scary unknown, but a goal towards which there is continuous advance. There’s no fear.

Additional Resources

“The Evolution Of A Global High-Tech Brand” (PDF): Download PDF

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