Monday, October 31, 2011

Diesel & Coffee

I was in Spain last week. I had two incidents that were very telling of Spanish culture. I told the kids about them this morning... The first one was when I returned my rental car to Hertz. Normally I fill the tank before returning rentals but this time I didn't. I knew walking into Hertz that I would have to pay extra for the fuel. The attendant said "you filled the tank, right?". When I said no she was alarmed. "But, we'll charge you double the price per liter. Please go and fill the tank". I said it was OK. I would pay the higher price. "No, but we also charge a 17 Euro refueling fee". We went back and forth but she was so insistant that I took the car, drove to the nearest fuel station and filled the tank! Have you ever had that kind of reaction in the United States? I haven't...

The next day I asked for a coffee at the breakfast restaurant (breakfast was included with my room). It was terrible coffee. I figured the least I could do while in Spain was to drink decent coffee so I went to the front desk and ask where I could get a proper coffee. They said the hotel's bar had an espresso machine so I went there. After preparing my coffee the bartender asked me if I wanted some food. I said no as I was going to take the coffee to the breakfast restaurant. I only came to the bar for a proper coffee. How much do I owe you? Don't worry about it, she said. If your breakfast is included then you might as well get a good coffee from me!

Both the Hertz and the hotel employee were obviously more concerned with me than with their employer. And this was not an issue of providing good "customer service". It was an issue of interpersonal relations: they were relating with me at a person-to-person level, rather than an employee-to-customer level. I find this common in Spain and rare in the US.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A New Chapter?

Last week I assembled a compilation of the posts that I liked most from this blog and published them as a Kindle Book. It is amazing how easy the process of creating a Kindle book was!

I priced it at 99 cents so that you can all afford it :-). Seriously, if you like it give it a good review. Who knows? Maybe my next career will be as a writer!

This week I started an experiment: writing a short science fiction book with the boys one mile at a time. Each kid is a different character in the novel and I am the narrator. I set the stage and move the story along and ask them to fill in their dialogues and actions. I haven't decided if I'll publish it bit by bit as it is created or if I'll wait to have the whole thing done. I'll probably experiment for a few more weeks before deciding. For now, I'll share their characters' names: Dr. Peter Zarmin, Jim Garfunkel, and Ford Freeman. Can you guess who is who?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Negotiate the Price Last

One of the start-ups that I am advising is trying to hire its first employee. The candidate said he was making a certain amount of cash in his current job and would like to make more if he changed jobs. The start-up's founder told him they could do that and offered him a specific salary. The problem? This candidate has not yet decided that he wants to work at the start-up. So what? Well, he might use our offer to negotiate a better salary at his current job, then ask us for even more. Or, he might think of this offer as a starting point and ask for more once he is ready to take the job. A better approach is to first focus on getting the candidate to want to join the start-up (without getting into the specifics of the compensation, other than communicating that, if both sides want to make it happen, we are confident we'll find a way). Once the candidate wants to join, then the start-up can find out what the is least amount of cash that will be necessary to hire the candidate (within reason of course) and try to agree to that. BTW: If the cash is lower than market rate most start-ups are better off compensating for that with a generous equity package. But it is hard to go there after you've offered a high cash comp.

So what does this have to do with the kids? It will be a while before they are hiring anyone :-). But the same principle applies when selling anything (not just a job at a company). For example, A recently sold his iPad, and P might want to sell his old iPhone when the new one comes out. Imagine you have a potential buyer who is interested but hasn't yet decided they want what you are selling. Maybe they are undecided between an iPad and a Kindle Fire, or between an iPhone and a Blackberry. No point in negotiating the price until the buyer has decided that they want to buy what you are selling (assuming you can agree on price). If you tell the buyer what your lowest price would be before he has decided that he wants what your are selling he will go to other sellers and try to get a lower price from them. If he does you might be out of luck. If instead you wait until the buyer is "ready", he might get final prices from other sellers and be ready to close when you give him your best price.