Three “Value Promises” I like

I’m not crazy about new jargon, but when old jargon completely loses its luster it’s time to replace.

“Awesome” certainly needs replacement.  So, IMHO, does “value proposition”.  It’s like when you repeat a word over and over until it sounds meaningless?  That’s what’s happened to me with Value Proposition.

So let’s try a new term for it, a “value promise”.

Arguably it’s a slightly better term.  A “proposition” is an entire proposal, a “business plan”, if you will.  In this era of Lean this and Lean that, a “value promise” is a Lean “value proposition.”  It’s part of a complete package.  It’s an element.

Here are three Value Promises I think are quite interesting in a business:

  1. The “Amazon” Promise.  Amazon got its start by promising that you could get any book in the world at the site.  Now they kind of promise that you can get anything at all in the world at the site.  Any business that promises “all of <x>” is a powerful promise:
    • “Everything you wanted to know about sex (but were afraid to ask”
    • For my future website on “Intelligent Pitching”, I want to promise “everything you need to know about pitching”.
    • Zappos: “every kind of shoe”
  2. The “Progressive” Promise.  Progressive Insurance made a big impression on me by promising to get you the best price on insurance, even if it’s a competitor’s offering.  Extremely useful in new markets where the very form of a solution is still not understood and there are competing approches:
    • “We’ll help you understand the best solution to your problem, including our competitors'”
    • “We’ll help you evaluate your timeshare agreement regardless of its form and tell you how to renegotiate it if appropriate”
  3. The “Hammacher Schlemer” Promise.  Hammacher Schlemer is a gadget catalog (grandmother of SkyMall or Sharper Image), and every item in the catalog is either “best” or “only” in its category.  “Best Turkish towel bath robe”.  “Only infrared drone taser.”  This value promise is very important for establishing competitive differentiation.  Compared to your competitors, where are you “best” or “only”.  And if your “best or only” is some squirrely little niche, how do you pivot?

What to do with books that don’t spark joy?

In the wake of moving on from @ValhallaVC, I brought home a bunch of books.

Which brought to the fore how many books I had in my home study.

So I pulled the trigger on Marie Kondo’s “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.

Well, I didn’t follow her Rx 100%.  She wants you to take all the books in your house, put them in one pile, and go through them.  I wasn’t even about to pile all the books in my study into one pile.

But I _did_ do what she said next, which is pick up the books, one at a time, and ask “does this item spark joy in me”?  If not, out it goes.

Well, an astonishing 150 or so books didn’t spark any joy in me, so out they want.

Life-changing magic in my study.  Lots of empty space now on the bookshelves and lots of new books to imagine there.

But, meanwhile, what to do with the non-joy-sparking losers?

I looked on the InterTubes, and found the advice to go to Powells (the Portland, OR treasure) online and sell the books.

Cool.  All I had to was paste a list of the ISBN numbers into a text box at, and they would tell me which ones they wanted to buy (for PayPal or store credit).

So I got a nice ISBN-scanning Android app (XScanPet).  I got the paid version on Google Play for $1.49 because it had some features I liked and because, well, I wrote software for a living for 20 years and think people who pump code should get paid.

And I went through the stacks of books, batch by batch, and pasted the ISBNs into  Powells has wanted maybe 15 of the 80 or 90 I’ve processed so far, so the hourly rate on this label is abominable, but so what, it’s the principle of the thing!  Those books were valuable once so they should be valuable now.

In any case, almost done.  Next joy target in the study is junk in my desk drawers.

Leaving Valhalla, Experimenting with car replacement

Well, the news is I left @ValhallaVC after 12 years.

I had been thinking for some time of ways to expand my writing, speaking, teaching, coaching, and mentoring, which have given me more and more satisfaction in the past few years.  When the opportunity presented itself, my partners at Valhalla and I worked through an amiable separation, and, since April 30, here I am.

Lots of food for thought in this, and I’m talking with friends and business buddies about the implications and the next steps.

But, unexpectedly, I’ve begun to wonder about keeping 2 cars in the family.

I had toyed with alternative commutes to Tysons (some 13 miles each way) over the years.  I tried the Silver Line several times (apologies to non-DC audience for these local details) and found it was pretty good in the morning and routinely problematic in the afternoons.  There was, as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “always something.”

I also looked into a ZipCar at the Tysons end of the commute, figuring that I could get out there by public transportation and then use the ZipCar for errands.  The arithmetic never seemed to work out: it was way too much per putative errand.

Now that I’m not commuting at all, however, the arithmetic looks a little different.

If I could bike around for a batch of local local errands and then use either Car2Go or ZipCar for less local trips, it might actually work out.

First, the bike.

I trotted out my hybrid bike from the garage last weekend and found that it has a broken spoke.  I’ll either fix it or have “them” fix it.  My (Valhalla) partner Harry says that a spoke replacement is either easy or it isn’t.  That makes sense to me.

Car2Go and ZipCar are not entirely competitors.  The wisdom of the InterTubes seems to be that Car2Go is more like a taxi and ZipCar is more like a rental car.

Car2Go cars are small and relatively useless for anything besides getting your body someplace (or back from someplace).  New Yorkers I know will schlep groceries or plywood or even (in the case of my friend Ellen) 50-lb bags of sand in a taxi, but that’s extreme.  It’s mostly about personal transportation.

ZipCar is for longer trips, with a more varied selection of cars/trucks, and the possibility of doing some serious hauling if necessary.

Car2Go has one fee for a lifetime signup, and then hourly usage fees.  ZipCar has an annual fee (as well as — how lame is this? — an “initiation” fee) in addition to hourly fees.  And apparently Car2Go pays out for short trips, ZipCar for longer ones.

So I signed up for Car2Go, and am waiting for them to approve my membership (based, they say, on my driving record, which is decent).  And then I’ll see about ZipCar, which has those Other Fees.

Debbie’s take on Trump

We’ve been poring over Trump commentary in the past couple of weeks with horrified fascination.

On the one hand, it’s delightful to preside over the collapse of a political party devoted to hating science and keeping women barefoot and pregnant.

On the other hand, the idea of Trump-as-President is scary.

There’s no shortage of Hitler comparisons around, but he really isn’t much like Hitler (at least not yet).  He’s not very ideological.  He doesn’t lead a fascist movement.  (Although he does smart over past wounds to the US.  And he is a racist, down to the remarks about who some of his best friends are.)

But my wife Debbie came up with the right analogy today.

“Trump’s really like Kim Jong Un in a nice suit,” she said.  And that said it all.

“Elevator Pitch” and her sisters

Crisply saying what you’re up to is a real art form, and, like any art, there are more bad examples than good.

One of my pet peeves is the “Uber of <mumble>” tag line.

“What do you guys do?”

“Oh, we’re the Uber of musical instruments.”

OK.  What does that mean?  It has to be explained anyhow.  It’s almost never obvious.  And so the tag line fails in its mission, which is to crisply say what you’re up to.

In fact, cutesy metaphors like this almost never work.

In this case, if you said, instead, “we let owners lend out their musical instruments to paying users, like Uber,” you would accomplish much more with fewer net words, and, by the way, you’d say something about your business model and your value proposition.

Tag lines, elevator pitches, one-liners, one-minute summaries, they are invitations to confuse instead of summarize.


I think people hate elevator pitches because they make the power assymetry between the pitch-or and the pitch-ee obvious.

Imagine the situation: you’re in the elevator with your “prospect”, and you have a very short amount of time to get his/her interest for your project.  It’s sell or die.  You are the Pursuer, and they are the Pursued.  It’s an invitation to a Righteous Indignation Party, and, as we know, crappy humor and indignation are closely related.


But put yourself in the recipient’s shoes for a moment.  Someone you know nothing about is about to make a demand on you: for your time, for your attention; for your investment, perhaps.  If the first words out of their mouths are, “think of it like Uber for musical instruments,” the encounter will not go well.

If the first words, instead, are “I’m trying to raise money for a business idea letting owners lend out their musical instruments for money.  Are you interested?” it’s, as they say, a horse of a different color.

Spend the time to boil down your statement to something crisp, not something cute.

ISO good readings on “mastering fear”

I’m noodling the topic of “mastering fear”, partly for personal reasons — gotta master The Fear one of these years — and partly for possible writing/blog/book topics.

I recall the comments in Dune on “fear is the mind-killer”.  I recall Carlos Castenada’s Don Juan on the topic of fear: I believe he thought fear was the first Great Enemy (btw, the last great enemy is Old Age, that creeps up on you while you’re battling the other Great Enemies).  Actually, I may well re-read Don Juan on this subject; he’s worth listening to.

I recall Aristotle’s idea that courage was the mean between fear and foolhardiness, but I don’t recall he gave much practical advice on how to move into the Zone of that golden mean.

I’m after practical steps Average Joe’s and Jill’s can use to master fear rather than hymns of praise to courage.   Would appreciate any help you can offer.