4 Million Cookies & Counting
February 6, 2015 Mike Nelson Selling Efficiency
Boulder Baked is a family owned business with a wonderful story. The owner, Jim Comstock, is a close friend and I have had the pleasure to watch his business grow over the past several years. Throughout my career, I have connected with many gifted entrepreneurs – Jim is certainly one of them. And in the past several weeks, I have found myself thinking about these people and what makes them so successful.
I have always loved Boulder Baked and the delicious cookies and cakes they deliver fresh door to door in the greater Boulder community. I think Jim has started shipping cookies to the continental United States as well. Honestly, the cookies are great. But, I have had great cookies from a lot of family recipes. So the other day, I was thinking about what makes Jim and his company different. Why is Boulder Baked so successful? Why are their cookies, cakes, soups, and sandwiches just a bit better than the rest?
Certainly, it is their recipes, quality ingredients, and passion for customer service that makes Boulder Baked different. If they did not deliver a high level of quality, the company would fail. But, I suppose most of us can figure out, with enough time, how to combine flour, sugar, eggs, and chocolate to make a dozen cookies that taste great.
The difference is this – Jim figured out how to make 4 million wonderfully delicious cookies and cakes, in many varieties, arrive fresh at your door.
Order in a Chaotic World
Jim and I worked closely together at a previous company. I was on the sales side and Jim ran the operations. Our business was highly complex and demanded coordination of literally thousands of tiny details for each customer. Furthermore, the seamless integration of three different organizations, with different goals, was required to deliver our product to the customer. That was the easy part.
What made this particular product incredibly difficult to sell and deliver were the constantly changing demands from our customers, vendors, and internal corporate expectations. The operation and sales organizations literally changed the rules daily.
Despite this rapidly changing environment, Jim was able to seek order that made sense to our customers and our sales organization. We were joking with each other after a particularly difficult day, commenting on how our business resembled the wonderful scene in the movie Apollo 13. You know the scene, where the engineers must fit the round object seamlessly into the square hole. That was our life almost every day. I quickly learned that successful entrepreneurs seek order in a chaotic world. But not just any kind of order – order that makes sense to customers, vendors, and employees.
I am sure everybody reading this blog has heard the phrase “If everything is important than nothing is important.” One of the lessons I have learned from entrepreneurs like Jim is the idea of selective perfectionism.
Selective perfectionism is the understanding that resources are incredibly scarce in a start-up environment and need efficient allocation. The scarce resource must be applied where it will generate the most return and competitive advantage for the young corporation. This, of course, requires an ability to make difficult decisions between competing needs of employees, customers, and vendors.
Selective perfectionism also requires the wisdom to discern when 80% complete is better than perfect. This is not easy for competitive high achieving personalities that are the makeup of successful entrepreneurs. Everybody wants perfection in their business, but the gifted entrepreneurs realize that 80% can be better than perfect. Entrepreneurs view every resource allocation decision from a perspective of selective perfectionism. They acknowledge that some activities in a business are worth doing at less than perfection. But, and this is important, acknowledge that some activities in business must be done to absolute perfection. Leaders in successful start-ups can wisely ascertain which activities can be adjusted and are able to evangelize the true meaning of selective perfectionism to their employees.
It is rare that an entrepreneur in a start-up will have success immediately. We have all heard, and are envious, of the overnight success story. But the truth of the matter is most entrepreneurs have found their success in hard work, serial failure, risk taking, and sleepless nights. Entrepreneurs fight to execute vision where others simply quit.
But, entrepreneurs also have wisdom when to time their perseverance to match risk and reward. Additionally, they are able to communicate their vision to their employees, customers, and vendors. This is difficult. The entrepreneur must know when to persevere against all conventional wisdom and when to change course for the easy path. These decisions can only be made with in-depth understanding of their business, competitive advantage, and vision for the future.
It is too easy to simply state that an entrepreneur can time their perseverance based only on their ability to channel determination. Timing perseverance is the outcome of quality strategic thinking, understanding organization strength/weakness, market differentiation, and competitive advantage. The wisdom of the successful entrepreneur manifests itself with beautifully timed perseverance. Simply put, the entrepreneur knows when to keep pounding their head against the wall and when to move on to greener pastures.
Back to Boulder Baked and my friend Jim. As I have already mentioned, we worked closely together for several years and I was lucky enough to become his friend. His unique entrepreneurial abilities were a big part of the sales success our organization enjoyed. He taught me a lot about start-ups, turnarounds, and operational strategy.
While making a dozen chocolate chip cookies is really not that hard; baking, selling, and delivering 4 million cookies and counting, is difficult. Delivering 4 million plus cookies requires great vision to order chaos, select the right tasks to perfect, and time perseverance. I wonder how many cookies and cakes Boulder Baked will sell in the next 10 years?
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