Leonard C. Green, author of The Entrepreneur's Playbook came to the Princeton Tech Meetup in August. Rather than sell his book, as many authors do, Green gave away many copies in the hope that what he had to say would help this entrepreneurial audience.
Also, unlike many speakers, Green let the audience choose what topics he’d address during the hour or so he had for his talk. He empowered the audience to care about his talk, and empowerment was a practice he would return to later in the discussion.
Much of Green’s talk consisted of down-to-earth advice from an entrepreneur who has been there and done that. He wasn’t jaded about entrepreneurship. In fact, he was excited about the opportunities he’s had to think outside the box, delight his customers, and make money for himself.
“If you are here tonight, and you don’t come up with value for being here, then all you’ve got is a piece of pizza,” he told the audience. “That isn’t good enough. Your time is worth more than a piece of pizza!”
First off, Green advised the audience that having a business plan is no longer worth much in this day and age, no matter how many academics push it. “I believe business plans should be done on toilet paper, because once you get into business, that’s about what you can do with it!” Everything changes so much, he said.
You have to do things differently, he told the group. Entrepreneurs “are really not risk takers. We are calculated risk takers. We only go into something if we’ve done some research on it, or have some knowledge about it, or see that there is a problem that has to get solved.”
The key to having a good business, he said, is to ask what you can do differently from someone who is offering the same kind of service that you want to offer. He cautioned that doing it cheaper isn’t the right way to differentiate. “There is always somebody who can do it even cheaper than you.” You have to do it better, he said.
One of Green’s stories involved how he and his team had started three companies on the same day. Two of them failed. In the case of the first company, a dog and cat food firm, he knew nothing about the industry. He knew everything about the second company’s industry because he had successfully sold a company in that industry for hundreds of millions of dollars. He described the third company as, “Your horse had just run in the Derby and used a special supplement, and you knew other owners would pay” a lot for this formulation. A competitor crushed the second company with cheaper prices, and the third company lost a key endorsement.
So why did the dog/cat food company flourish? It came in with a $3.25 product against others that were selling food made from byproducts at lower prices. However, his food was premium and pure. The key to selling the product was to come up with a good marketing scheme. In this case, it was “Treat your dogs and cats like family.” People believed that to treat pets like family, pets deserved premium pure food.
One of the keys to Green’s success has been empowering his employees, he said. “I want to turn my employees into owners because there is a different mentality if you can make them think like we [entrepreneurs] do, because we have something at stake. So we empower them and let them make decisions.” He said that his company had done that in the factory, where every person on the floor can now come up with ideas for different products. It makes people care about a company, he reiterated.