Let me explain to you how one small change can cascade into a massive problem for a young company.
Have we told you about Pam?
She is top of mind here at ButcherBox. To be honest, sometimes, she is the focus of most conversations.
In fact, at a recent meeting to discuss the content we are creating — recipe books, videos, and the like — Pam was discussed by almost every person who spoke about the projects they are developing.
That’s a pretty impressive feat for Pam seeing that she is a figment of our collective imagination.
You see “Pam” is what industry people refer to as a “customer persona.”
Businesses develop customer personas for a number of reasons. Among the reasons that companies create a non-existent person to plan around are the need to grow, in which case the persona is an ideal target customer, or the need to cultivate, to continue to support and enchant your most important customers.
Most often, customer personas are built by consumer-facing businesses, but that isn’t always the case. (For a good breakdown of how to develop a buyer persona, check out this HubSpot blog post.)
For ButcherBox, we developed a handful of different customer personas, each typifying a different customer profile; however, our primary focus at this moment is “Pam.”
To me, it’s become obvious that we are working with a niche audience, selling a niche product. The vast amount of people out there have no idea what grass-fed beef is. This topic so surrounds us in our everyday work, that we sometimes forget that there is a significant swath of the population who don’t have the same understanding of our products — not only grass-fed beef but heritage-breed pork and free-range chicken— as we do.
So we picked a user profile, “Pam,” to focus on as a way to make sure we give an easy-to-access, yet robust ButcherBox experience to both new and devoted customers. Pam is someone who has recently been awakened to the importance of eating healthy meat. She is thinking more about things like antibiotics and hormones in the food she eats and cooks for her family, as well as whether what she is eating is raised on a feedlot or has been on a pasture. She is drawn to ButcherBox because we make healthy, high-quality meat more accessible.
Pam isn’t the only customer we are building more products, offerings, and support for, but she is the one who we think most closely aligns with our own mission. It makes sense for her to be top of mind because of our shared passions. I believe this is a pretty great way to build a business.
Developing this persona has guided a lot of the marketing decisions we’ve made recently. One example of how it benefits us is that we have a better idea of who we are targeting on Facebook and other social media platforms. It isn’t so much that we are trying to onboard as many customers as possible; instead, we are trying to make those who are already part of our tribe aware that we exist.
This also impacts the influencers we want to work with and the companies we want to partner with. If it isn’t a person or a company that Pam would approve of, they are not a good match. This ensures that business decisions are very closely aligned with the beliefs of our existing customer base and those who will join.
Everyone on the team is aware of Pam and why she is a primary focus.
I’ve never gone through a persona exercise, so the whole process has been new. But from the experience thus far, it is evident how beneficial it is to have a clear understanding, across the company, of “who” we should focus on as we continue to grow.
It is also quite clear that what is good for Pam will likely be good for all of our customers.
*While this is all a bit of “How the sausage is made,” we think it is important to be transparent as we build this company for many reasons. The most important, we believe, is to help other entrepreneurs as they build their companies by sharing the lessons we are learning along the way.
As ButcherBox has evolved over the past couple of years, one area that I’ve had to work on personally is my development as a leader.
My role, however, changed quite a bit from the early days of the company when Mike and I were quietly building ButcherBox out of Soldier Design’s Harvard Square offices. Now, we have more than 25 employees and deliver our boxes across the country.
As ButcherBox has grown, I’ve also needed to develop. While some aspects of leading larger and more complex teams come naturally — especially since this is my second go-around as a startup co-founder — I’ve learned that there are situations that could arise that my past experiences haven’t prepared me for.
And so, to make sure that I am the best leader I can be for ButcherBox, I did the one thing that everyone should do when there is an experience-gap that needs to be filled: I emailed a couple of people in my network whom I think are really great leaders, and whom I respect, and I asked for their advice. I told them where I am at, where the company is at in terms of growth, and my new responsibilities. The reality was that I needed to grow personally at the same rate as the company.
So they sent me some great feedback, which was helpful. But more importantly, they sent a bunch of book recommendations on how to be a better leader. So I immediately went out and bought seven books on leadership. Many you’ve probably heard of, including classics like Andy Grove’s High Output Management, The Effective Executive, Primal Leadership, and The Charisma Myth. And I kept going from there.
I like to read books. And when I do, I like to take notes in the margins. I always have a pen in my hand. If you look at the books I’ve read, all the corners are folded over, so I can look back, and there are notes on almost every page. I think to get the most out of these types of books, you have to be an active reader.
Here are some of the books that I’ve found have been most helpful as ButcherBox —and me — continue to grow:
Mindset – This book is focused on the reality that there are two mindsets: A fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. The fixed mindset is exemplified by people who might suck at math in second grade and tell themselves that they will just never be able to get better at it. Individuals with a growth mindset approach the same experience and tell themselves, “I just need to work harder, or learn math in a different way, or get a tutor.”
So I am trying to apply that growth mindset here at ButcherBox, fostering a culture of personal growth versus fixed, which has been interesting thus far.
The One Thing: This is a good example of how I have been able to apply something I’ve read to the culture here at the company. I read The One Thing, which both my co-founder Mike and another entrepreneur had recommended. The premise is that if you want to get extraordinary results, you need to spend an extraordinary amount of time doing whatever that one thing is that is going to move the needle. The book delves into the importance of focusing, how multitasking is bullshit, that your inbox is your enemy, the power of habit, and the importance of time blocking.
So I tried to figure out what the “one thing” was for me that really moves the needle at ButcherBox, and then I had to make sure that every day, I blocked out two to four hours to just do that.
My one thing changed. When I read the book five months ago, my one thing was “To get customers.” So, I’d look at what we were doing with our automation email series, and try to figure out how to improve things there, can that move the needle? Then, I looked into what we were doing on the affiliate, the sales side, referral, etc. I’d dive into these and help other team members improve.
But now, my one thing is to develop as a leader, and that can involve me sitting down to read for two hours or reading articles about management or talking to mentors.
We even had the whole marketing team read The One Thing recently, and everyone loved it.
So now we are doing a “one thing” challenge, which is trying to see how many days of the workweek everyone can focus on doing their one thing. It’s been great, but it has been difficult for a lot of people, including myself.
A Guide To The Good Life: This book, which digs into the wisdom of Stoic philosophy has taught me the importance of only focusing on what you can control.
Most of the things that stress us out in life are out of our control, however, we can control our response to these challenges. This book has been helpful in a fast-paced startup environment where new challenges arise daily.
Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth: This is a great book for Internet businesses and shaped our marketing strategy here at ButcherBox.
Unbroken: This Laura Hillenbrand book about Louis Zamperini, a track star and the survivor of a World War II tragedy, is just straight-up inspiring.
Shoe Dog: Phil Knight paints a great picture of the startup roller coaster and how even companies like Nike can start from the humblest of beginnings.
Ego is the Enemy: This is a great read that teaches you the importance and power of humility. This is key to us at ButcherBox where staying humble is one of our core values.
I hope you get as much out of these books as I have, and I hope you’ll share some of the books that have inspired or helped guide you in business or life in the comments section below.
When I was running my first company, I believed that I knew what it meant to be a great business leader.
I thought it showed good leadership to “set the pace” by being the first one in the office and the last to leave. I also felt it was noble to make some very important things — my friends, my finances, my family — secondary to the business as a way to show employees and investors that I was all in for the company. And although my health deteriorated and my relationships suffered, I was content because I told myself that I could help change the world in some way through my efforts.
And then, my daughter Marley was born. Immediately, I had a realization that creating a more well-balanced life was a necessity. Focusing on the time spent at your desk is a fool’s errand and a poor way to spend the precious little amount of time we have in this world.
In the almost three years since Marley was born, I moved on from CustomMade and founded a new company, ButcherBox.
As we’ve built ButcherBox, we’ve tried to create a better working environment for everyone by taking the lessons learned from prior experiences in tension-filled startups (I say “we” because the entire ButcherBox team has been in similar situations and wants to do better in our approach with ButcherBox). Quite often, the intense pressure found within early-stage companies is borne out of the nothing more than the management missives passed down from one generation of MBA-trained leaders to another.
So we are doing something different with ButcherBox, and it allows me to put in more quality time with my family than I ever could have if I blindly continued to lead by the “rules” that were instilled in me in the early days of CustomMade.
And so, I have never worked a Friday and yet have been able to scale up a profitable e-commerce company with a team of more than 25 like-minded employees.
Which is also quite good since my wife and I recently added a pair of identical twin girls to the fold.
How am I doing it?
Here are a few things that I have learned while running a company and being a dad to young kids. They may not all work for you, but they’ve been helpful for me to achieve the quality of life that is rewarding both personally and in business.
Follow your passion — being away is hard enough, make it count.
The businesses I like to start are about more than making a living; they are mission-driven. For me, trying to make a small positive change to some entrenched global system makes the time I spend on work as valuable as time on the other important things in my life.
First I did this by creating a marketplace to connect craftspeople without any idea about how to find work in the Internet age with their ideal consumers. Now, I am trying to provide the healthiest, highest quality meat to the world — ranging from 100% grass-fed beef to organic free-range chicken and heritage breed pork.
Find a day a week not to work and spend it at home
4-day workweeks force your team to step it up while forcing you to work on what matters.
This has been the hardest but most rewarding. I don’t work ButcherBox on Fridays, I hang out with my kids. If I need to, I will still occasionally do a lunch or a mentoring meeting for a window, but the main focus of the day is on my children, not work.
Find ME time (Which, for me, is from 4:30 AM to 6:00 AM).
With work, kids, relationships, and more, I think it’s important to still carve out some much needed time for myself. To do that, I wake up before the craziness of the day begins! I do my Headspace meditation, have a stretch, drink some great coffee, review my goals, and prepare for what the day holds.
Kids spell love T.I.M.E.
I learned this one from the great Jim Walsh when I asked him for the one piece of advice he would give about raising kids. It is super helpful to remind myself of this one time and time again.
Focus on the most important projects and be OK that the job is never done.
You will never find enough hours to do everything, so learn to give yourself a break every now and then. Utilize a task manager, make sure you are hitting the highest priority items, and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t finish everything you need to in a day.
Limit your downside.
In other words, don’t bet the farm. For us, before we dove in blind, we used a platform like Kickstarter to prove the model. And when we started ButcherBox, it was with an all-in investment of $10,000. Don’t feel like you need to spend a lot to get your idea off the ground. Spend as little as possible to get the information you need. Adapt. Then, repeat.
Get your kids involved in the business.
And I don’t mean by teaching them how to code or putting them on fulfillment. Even doing the littlest things with the kids can go a long way. It also helps if you are able to laugh at yourselves a little.
This little video below has been viewed by more than 220,000 people and helped us sell a LOT of bacon!
Finally, take it easy and try to enjoy.
I’ve been told again and again that the time you get to spend with small children is so fleeting. Try to not “crank through tasks,” but to enjoy all the little small moments within your business and your personal life.