Schiit Happened: The Story of the World's Most Improbable Start-Up
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If it were my family, it would be beef and not pork. :unamused:
 
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2020, Chapter 13:
How To Not Suck



“Oooh, that is soooo unprofessional,” some are already saying. “How to not suck? That’s just offensive. And grammatically incorrect. And so out of keeping with what is just and proper. What kind of businessperson would use such unseemly language?”

That’s cool. Skip this chapter. Stick to the teachings of a Proper Business School that tells you to do Proper Things for a Proper Outcome. This chapter isn’t like that.

This chapter is for people who want to have a business, and have fun doing it. This chapter is for those who want to create an enterprise, and not lose their soul. This chapter is for people who want to avoid all the grinding boring horrible bureaucratic doublespeak sucky parts…and who want to stand out, be different, and inspire others.

In short, this is the kind of stuff I think should be taught in business schools. But then again, I thought it was a good idea to name a company “Schiit.”

So. There’s your warning. This is 100% IMO, of course. YMMV, always. I may be crazy. Our whole company may be a bit, er, eccentric.

But I thought it was time for a chapter like this. Because so much in business life is slanted towards sucking, and soooooo much more is architected around justification of said suckage. crappy products, shoddy services, crap service, ridiculous prices, impenetrable contracts, confusing options, opaque benefits…the list goes on and on.

Because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Really.

Someone is snickering in the background. “Really? The business world is broken in so many ways, I don’t know how you’re gonna fix it. Hell, everytime I talk to my cell service provider I want to knife someone.”

And yeah, I hear you. It’s wayyyy easy to get cynical these days, and decide the whole world is out to get you, that all businesses suck, and everything is just terrible 100% of the time. Even when the reality is, many things in business have never been better.

Aside: well, maybe up until 2019 anyway, before the whole COVID thing. But I’m talking historically.

“Never been better?” someone cries. “Now I know Stoddard is nuts! How can things be better, with all the crazy stuff going on in (insert problem area du jour here)?”

Well, let me get to that. Because I realize I should break down this chapter into three sections:
  1. Why we think everything sucks, especially relating to business.
  2. Why things (in business) are actually better than they’ve ever been.
  3. How businesses can work towards not sucking (including some hard truths.)
Sound good?

Cool. Let’s jump right in.


Part One: The Parable of the Fruit Cocktail

The full title of this section should really be “The Parable of the Fruit Cocktail, and Several Other Evil Practices that Make Us Cynical Assholes.” Because there are actually several things worse than fruit cocktail, some of which came about only recently.

“Ohhhh….kaaaayyy,” some of you are saying. “Stoddard’s really fallen into the outhouse this time. I have no idea what he’s talking about. What’s this fruit cocktail stuff?”

Yeah.

Deep breath.

Let me back up. Waaaayyy up.

As in, it’s probably pretty clear to most people that the world is not a paradise architected around their every whim very early in life. As in, by the time you’re maybe 18 months old, ya gotta be thinking, “Why am I stuck in this cage that I can’t crawl out of?” or maybe “why is everything so damn high I can’t reach it, especially when something smells so wonderful in that other room?”

So, it’s pretty easy to decide that the world is stacked against you. Maybe not personally, because you’re still existing in a place where the position of doorhandles and countertops are as random as the placement of trees in a forest. But yeah, the world ain’t perfect. And that kinda sucks.

But the first inkling you might have that the world is actually being stacked against you…like, actively, in a way that’s a little bit evil…well, that’s fruit cocktail.

As in, after you’ve seen the contents of the seventh or eighth can of fruit cocktail, you gotta be thinking, “What the hell is with the half a cherry?”

As in, every single friggin can has HALF a friggin cherry in it.

No, there’s not a can with 5, nor can with zero. Every can has half a cherry.

Now, the cherry is the best part of the fruit cocktail. Not because it tastes any different, but because there’s only one of them—er, I mean, one half of one—per can. The thing is, the rest of the dreck fruit cocktail is made of is totally random. You might get one that’s mostly peaches and only a few grapes, or vice-versa. And the mix might change from brand to brand.

But the cherry? Only one half. In. Each. ****ing. Can.

And it’s the best part.

Which means only one thing: some asshole is sitting there on the line, tweezering exactly one half of a cherry (perhaps cut by some other asshole in the Giant Cherry Conspiracy) into each can.

Just out of spite.

Just because they can’t let you have too much fun.

Just because they hate you.

Either that, or someone built a $100 million optical cutting, sorting, and placing machine to ensure that cherry was always one-half a cherry, and only one half went in each can, and paid the millions of dollars in yearly maintenance to ensure there was no untoward breakdown that could result in more than one-half of one cherry going in any can.

Aside: you didn’t think about stuff like this when you were 4 years old? You’re weird.
Aside to the aside: you live in a country where they actually allow a random number of cherries in fruit cocktail? Bully for you (and **** you too at the same time.) Alternately, your fruit cocktail doesn’t have cherries, what kind of horrible regime did you grow up in? Alternately, you don’t know what fruit cocktail is? Gawd, you don’t know how lucky you are. Hopefully you were never introduced to FCs kissing cousins of Jell-O and Cool Whip, or its adjuncts like Velveeta and Miracle Whip.

But back to it…fruit cocktail is probably that first experience with the world being actively stacked against you…starting you down the cynical path that leads to even worse things like mortgages, quit claims, and pay-to-unlock schemes, which will certainly solidify in most sane persons’ minds that businesses all suck mightily, that they are all truly evil and out to drain the blood of their firstborn.

Because yes, there are things worse than fruit cocktail.

Like mortgages.

Mortgages, at least in the US, are simultaneously the most strict exercise in risk management…and the loosest exercise in total futility.

I mean, on the surface, they make sense. You shouldn’t buy something you can’t afford, so there are strict rules on how much of your earnings you can spend on a mortgage. The banks also make sure that your earnings aren’t also being eaten up by silly things, like financing an Escalade, three jet-skis, and a Polaris. They also check your credit rating, make sure you have a good history of paying rent on time, etc…

…and at the same time, they know it is 100% meaningless.

No. Seriously.

When I bought my first place, I couldn’t qualify for the loan. Period. Even though I had a business (Centric) with great cash flow, even though I had stellar credit, even though I had no other debts, even though I’d been paying rent in excess of the mortgage I was going after for the past two years.

So, I didn’t get the place, right?

Wrong. The loan sharks (er, brokers) had an easy solution: “Just put your parents on the mortgage!”

“Um, my parents don’t have any income,” I told them.

“No problem!” they said cheerily.

I thought about protesting that for a while, you know, just on logical grounds, but decided to try a different tactic: “I don’t think they’ll be too thrilled about being on the hook for my mortgage.”

The loan sharks beamed. “That’s no problem either, they can do a quit claim.”

Seeing my puzzled expression, they explained: my parents could simply sign off any interest in the house anytime a month after the mortgage closed. Then I’d have a house and they’d be off the title. Boom. Done. Easy.

My head exploded. “Wait a sec, so you put them on to get the loan…and then they can immediately drop off of it?”

“Not immediately,” the sharks said cheerfully. “Only after 30 days!”

Now, I may be weird, but 30 days into a 30 year commitment felt like it rounded down to pretty much immediately.

So what did I do?

I did what they said. Got the parents on to qualify. Quit claimed right after. Wham bam, here’s your house, man.

And you know, that’s really only the half of it. After you’re in the house, there’s nothing to stop you from financing an Escalade and a Mustang and a Tesla and eight jetskis and a boat and a Polaris right after you close…and then you’re in just as big trouble as if you had them to start.

Bottom line, the banks love to run you through the wringer…but the only reality is if you keep your word and pay like you said you would (or not).

So yeah. Even more cynical.

Want more? Sure. In recent years, a whole new insane level of cynical ****ery has begun. This supreme suckage is selling you something you already have.

Huh? What? Selling something you already have? How does that work?

If you’re an engineer, you may not be confused. Because I actually experienced this first in engineering. It’s only lately that the practice has started to slime its way into other areas.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about charging customers to upgrade something they already own—and that already has the capability built in!

Like with oscilloscopes.

In the old days, oscilloscopes were large and costly devices, built to a wide range of specs. If you wanted a 20MHz scope, you got something quite different than a 100MHz scope—they were built totally differently. Some scopes were also modular, so you could add additional capabilities, like differential probes. But the modules you purchased were physical units that plugged into a mainframe.

Today…not so much. Now, it’s entirely possible to buy an oscilloscope that is totally capable at running at 200MHz…and also being a function generator…and also being a logic analyzer…

…and actually having the scope gimped to 50MHz with no function generator or logic analyzer, because firmware.

Then the company tries to upsell you on buying the capability that is already in the oscilloscope.

Oh yeah.

I’m sure I’m not the only person to say, There’s a special place in hell for you guys.

This is 100% pure evil. This is something some cynical hack thought of in a meeting he showed up late for because he was too hungover to get his normal tee time in the morning, some dood who has never built anything in his life, someone so jaded and coddled they probably have never interacted with anyone doing real work, ever, in their entire existence.

A little extreme? No. This is the kind of crap that blows up any shred of goodwill you might have with your customers.

Another case in point: my new car does over-the-air updates. I recently got a questionnaire about how the over-the-air update experience went. Cool, fine, whatever. What got me super-excited was the penultimate question of “Would you be cool with getting capability upgrades by over-the-air update—like faster acceleration, better handling, driver assistance, etc.”

I immediately thought, “Oh hell yeah, are you kidding me? Bring it on!”

Until the next question, which asked how much I’d pay for it.

OH **** YOU.

All the warm fuzzies I’d been feeling exploded in a mini atomic blast. Are you ****ing kidding me? I raged. How about zero! How about never bother me again! How about you give me a rebate for gimping my car!

This is 100% how is is how TO suck. In grand fashion.

So yeah, I get it. It’s easy to be cynical. Because there are sooooooo many examples.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.


Part Two: The Elysian Fields of Opportunity

Here’s the thing: even as you rail against the inherent unfairness in life, and despair at all the things that are stacked against you, in many ways things are better than they’ve ever been.

“Oh yeah, now you’re totally nuts,” someone is saying. “In this crazy world, in this completely bonkers year, after all the examples you just laid on us…how can you possibly say that?”

Because it’s true.

Because right here, right now, we have more opportunities to be better than we ever have been. More signposts that light the way to a better future. More ways, to be blunt, to NOT suck.

Because, right now, if you want to be seen or heard, there are more opportunities than ever existed, ever before.

Because if you want to create something, there are more tools to visualize, design, and create it than have ever existed.

Because if you want to start a business, it’s easier to reach an enthusiastic audience than at any time in history.

Because if you want to connect to like-minded people, it’s easier than it has literally ever been—whether you’re looking for friends, employees, people to jam with, whatever…

Because the walls have come down. Modern communications have demolished them.

And because the gatekeepers are dead.
New media killed them.

The old and structured hierarchical way of doing things is actively being remodeled. Millions of enterprising people around the world are finding new and better ways of doing things every day.

Consider just the example of business.

In the old days, sure, you could start a business. A small business, like a retail store or a bakery or design studio was feasible. But it required a ton of investment, and it ate most of your time. You didn’t scale it unless you were incredibly lucky…a tastemaker discovered your store, your designs won national recognition, your culinary creations were noticed by an uber-powerful reviewer, etc.

But a big company? Something that made products and sold them in a national or international marketplace? Something that offered an incredible service that could change millions of lives? Oh no.

No no no.

That simply didn’t happen.

Unless you were already so rich you could spend literally tens to hundreds of millions in advertising. Or unless you were literally discovered by the most powerful glitterati tastemakers. Or, in later years, you ran the gauntlet of venture capital and scored in that lottery so you could make yourself known.

Need a more micro example? Sure. Here you go: as recently as the 1990s, it would have cost somewhere around $50K per month in advertising to launch a direct-sale audio business.

Why? Because you’d be buying ads in all the major audio magazines. Every month.

And you’d have to have staff to take phone orders.

And do fulfillment.

Not to mention making products.

It would be a huge, money-eating investment, with no guarantee of return. Even if you had a few million to throw at it, you might end up with nothing more than a year of nail-biting, until the cash ran out and you found that it wasn’t gonna work.

Which is why most start-up audio companies of the era chose a different route: they sold through dealers.

As in, they approached the gatekeepers of What Was Right and Good in Audio, typically at trade shows, in hopes the dealers would take a chance on their products. If they had good stuff, and if they were very lucky, and (let’s be frank), if they gave the dealer more points than some of their more established brands, they might get that chance. And if they were very very very lucky, the dealer would support them well, customers would be happy and buy more, and they could be on their way to success.

But look at all the disconnects there. The company isn’t selling to customers, it’s selling to dealers. Dealers are doing the customer support. The company is insulated. The company is out of touch. The company is also completely dependent on an extremely scarce product—that is, dealer shelf space. The company is also dependent on the dealer paying for their products in a timely and fair matter.

Disconnects create friction—the primary one being that prices have to get higher. But there are more. Selection is limited by the dealers’ shelf space. And the company itself is insulated from the raw and unfiltered opinions of the customers who actually own the product.

Sure, some could navigate this complexity and do well—but how many great products never happened because a fledgling company couldn’t?

Compare to today. Want to start a direct-sale audio business? Sure. Create a product, set up an e-commerce website, be ready to fill orders and support customers, and you’re there.

No gatekeepers.

No friction.

But that’s just the start. It also means you have almost infinite freedom to create whatever you want. You don’t have to go for the audio masses. You can create something aimed at a tiny and very specific niche.

And it can be the very best thing in that niche. It can surprise and delight.

In short, you don’t have to build the half-a-cherry-in-the-fruit-cocktail machine.

You don’t HAVE to suck.

And there’s more. Because you have a direct connection to your customers, you know better what they really love, and what they don’t like so much. There’s no filter in-between. So you can create even better products that delight them even more.

You don’t have to do something totally evil like lock features out and try to sell them back to your customers. (Seriously, no purgatory…straight to hell.)

In short, you have every opportunity now, in business, to NOT suck.


Part Three: How to Not Suck

“Well, okay, that’s cool and all,” someone says. “But you haven’t gotten into how to NOT suck. Is there an easy three-step plan on never sucking, or something like that?”

Well, as much as I’d like to say, “Yep, absolutely, step right up and get my Sure-Fire Business Bestseller Idea for only $19.99 in my new book, How To Not Suck (and Look Good Doin It!),” well, that sucks!

As in, that’s what you expect. You expect me to sell you something now. Because of the fruit cocktail, and the mortgage, and your new car.

But if I’m gonna be honest, there’s no easy three-step plan. Nor a twelve-step plan. Nor a book.

Because not sucking will be personalized to every business. What works for Schiit won’t work for a bank. What works for a bank won’t work for an app developer. And the examples of how not to suck can be essentially infinite. Let’s start with a super-short list:

  • Don’t suck by not being the guy who makes the fruit cocktail machine
  • Don’t suck by being the the dood who locks up functionality in crap you sell, hoping to make more money.
  • Don’t suck by being a wretched nonhuman marketer online, completely devoid of any humanity.
    • Note humanity includes non-ideal behaviors, such as getting pissed, getting sick, etc.
    • Note this non-ideal behavior can get irritating really fast too
  • Don’t suck by yelling at people in second-person ad-speak (agency peeps know what I’m talking about)
  • Don’t suck by making something exactly like someone else and claiming it as special
  • Don’t suck by jumping under the price/performance bar and trying to justify it
  • Don’t suck by pricing things at what the market will bear, rather than what is fair based on your cost of production
  • Don’t suck by designing ever-more-expensive stuff just because “someone will buy it”
  • Don’t suck by saying you love customers, and providing crap service
    • I really hope there’s a special, special place for phone companies and other utilities that say, “We value your account…now please wait 55 minutes to talk to someone.”
    • Or chatting for 30 minutes to Amazon and then having to do it again because they didn’t say what they were going to do
    • Or having the uber-chirpy, canned greeting give way to surly agents who clearly don’t care
    • Or…hell, you know where I’m going, this is probably why you’re cynical
  • Don’t suck by hiding (behind the wall of dealers, customer service, etc)—be available and helpful as much as humanly possible
  • Don’t suck by not believing in anything other than money
    • Unless you are professional management working for a F500 company with an ivy league degree and a trust fund, you should be doing something you love, and know there will be crap quarters, bad years, etc, but if you’re good and persistent, things will work out.
    • Try never to get yourself into a situation where it is unavoidably all about the money, like being over-leveraged, or over-invested, or over-extended, or whatever—be beholden to as few financial entities as possible
    • No, seriously, not getting stuck in the money trap is really your freedom…don’t overspend, don’t plan on future triumphs before they have happened, be suspicious of short-term success
  • Don’t suck by making your employees miserable
    • This includes both salaries and working environment
    • No, seriously, again, don’t be a cheap asshole
    • No, I can’t stress this enough, don’t cheap out, don’t be a dick, and don’t let buttheads work for you
  • Don’t suck by being a robot—read the room
    • Beep boop we are a large company beep boop we do what we do beep boop forever optimized by data beep boop…this mantra will not save you when other, more human, options exist
  • Don’t suck personally by being a robot online, especially in video interviews—the press doesn’t do beep boop corporate stuff, they want a story
  • Don’t suck by not standing out
  • Don’t suck by trying to please everyone
    • This leads directly to McDonalds
    • As in, this leads directly to mediocrity
    • As in, Immortan Joe will not take you personally to Valhalla
    • (And who cares, it’s not possible to please everyone)
  • Don’t suck by benchmarking too much
    • But this repeats the previous points
    • No, seriously, what you (and only you) can do well is less important what your competition is doing
    • Yes, we know this is hard
  • Don’t suck by hiding behind barriers to entry (regulations, tariffs, stuff you lobby the government for, stuff that the government already gave you, being a trust fund baby, etc)
  • Don't suck by creating your own barriers to entry when if you are lucky enough to get that big
Again, this is only a tiny list. I could keep going for another hour. But at 4000 words already, I think you get the picture. There are many, many, many ways you can not suck.

Too many ways? Fine. I’ll get to the commonality at the end.

But before that, remember when I said this is a subject I’d teach in business school, if I had my druthers? Yeah. In my opinion, a great business school should slap you around. It shouldn’t all be about meetings and how to kiss up to the boss, how to offshore or nearshore everything, how your brand is all and you can be just a marketing company and it can extend beyond your niche.

So, before the summation, a small beating:

You can’t stand out without doing something amazing. You can’t abdicate all responsibility to low-wage drones. Your brand is largely bull that nobody cares about. No company can be just a marketing company. Your niche is your niche, aim to be the best in it, rather than escape it. Be there and be human, and you will be well. This is the actual reality.

Go back and read that a bunch of times.

Because that’s what business school should be teaching. Well, and case studies shaming some of the worst examples of suckage would be good to, it’s fine to learn what NOT to do by example.

So you want the summary? Cool. Here it is:

You KNOW what it means to not suck. It’s what would delight YOU. It’s not being a cheap ****. Or an asshole. There isn’t much magic. Do something cool, make customers happy, figure out if you can do better, do better, and be transparent while doing it.

Sounds simple? It is.

Go out there and create more enterprises that don’t suck.
 
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Thank you for this post! I am not planning to start out a new company per se but I sure do need that push against the seemingly increasing rate of cyncism I have against the world recently and that general sense that the world is out to get me

i.e. I need to be reminded sometimes that for all of the new evils are out there in this world, there are also all of the new good stuff out there that can help counter them provided you know what to do with them
 
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Excellent stuff! Thank you for sharing some of what's lead you guys to this point!
 
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2020, Chapter 13:
How To Not Suck



“Oooh, that is soooo unprofessional,” some are already saying. “How to not suck? That’s just offensive. And grammatically incorrect. And so out of keeping with what is just and proper. What kind of businessperson would use such unseemly language?”

That’s cool. Skip this chapter. Stick to the teachings of a Proper Business School that tells you to do Proper Things for a Proper Outcome. This chapter isn’t like that.

This chapter is for people who want to have a business, and have fun doing it. This chapter is for those who want to create an enterprise, and not lose their soul. This chapter is for people who want to avoid all the grinding boring horrible bureaucratic doublespeak sucky parts…and who want to stand out, be different, and inspire others.

In short, this is the kind of stuff I think should be taught in business schools. But then again, I thought it was a good idea to name a company “Schiit.”

So. There’s your warning. This is 100% IMO, of course. YMMV, always. I may be crazy. Our whole company may be a bit, er, eccentric.

But I thought it was time for a chapter like this. Because so much in business life is slanted towards sucking, and soooooo much more is architected around justification of said suckage. crappy products, shoddy services, crap service, ridiculous prices, impenetrable contracts, confusing options, opaque benefits…the list goes on and on.

Because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Really.

Someone is snickering in the background. “Really? The business world is broken in so many ways, I don’t know how you’re gonna fix it. Hell, everytime I talk to my cell service provider I want to knife someone.”

And yeah, I hear you. It’s wayyyy easy to get cynical these days, and decide the whole world is out to get you, that all businesses suck, and everything is just terrible 100% of the time. Even when the reality is, many things in business have never been better.

Aside: well, maybe up until 2019 anyway, before the whole COVID thing. But I’m talking historically.

“Never been better?” someone cries. “Now I know Stoddard is nuts! How can things be better, with all the crazy stuff going on in (insert problem area du jour here)?”

Well, let me get to that. Because I realize I should break down this chapter into three sections:
  1. Why we think everything sucks, especially relating to business.
  2. Why things (in business) are actually better than they’ve ever been.
  3. How businesses can work towards not sucking (including some hard truths.)
Sound good?

Cool. Let’s jump right in.


Part One: The Parable of the Fruit Cocktail

The full title of this section should really be “The Parable of the Fruit Cocktail, and Several Other Evil Practices that Make Us Cynical Assholes.” Because there are actually several things worse than fruit cocktail, some of which came about only recently.

“Ohhhh….kaaaayyy,” some of you are saying. “Stoddard’s really fallen into the outhouse this time. I have no idea what he’s talking about. What’s this fruit cocktail stuff?”

Yeah.

Deep breath.

Let me back up. Waaaayyy up.

As in, it’s probably pretty clear to most people that the world is not a paradise architected around their every whim very early in life. As in, by the time you’re maybe 18 months old, ya gotta be thinking, “Why am I stuck in this cage that I can’t crawl out of?” or maybe “why is everything so damn high I can’t reach it, especially when something smells so wonderful in that other room?”

So, it’s pretty easy to decide that the world is stacked against you. Maybe not personally, because you’re still existing in a place where the position of doorhandles and countertops are as random as the placement of trees in a forest. But yeah, the world ain’t perfect. And that kinda sucks.

But the first inkling you might have that the world is actually being stacked against you…like, actively, in a way that’s a little bit evil…well, that’s fruit cocktail.

As in, after you’ve seen the contents of the seventh or eighth can of fruit cocktail, you gotta be thinking, “What the hell is with the half a cherry?”

As in, every single friggin can has HALF a friggin cherry in it.

No, there’s not a can with 5, nor can with zero. Every can has half a cherry.

Now, the cherry is the best part of the fruit cocktail. Not because it tastes any different, but because there’s only one of them—er, I mean, one half of one—per can. The thing is, the rest of the dreck fruit cocktail is made of is totally random. You might get one that’s mostly peaches and only a few grapes, or vice-versa. And the mix might change from brand to brand.

But the cherry? Only one half. In. Each. ****ing. Can.

And it’s the best part.

Which means only one thing: some asshole is sitting there on the line, tweezering exactly one half of a cherry (perhaps cut by some other asshole in the Giant Cherry Conspiracy) into each can.

Just out of spite.

Just because they can’t let you have too much fun.

Just because they hate you.

Either that, or someone built a $100 million optical cutting, sorting, and placing machine to ensure that cherry was always one-half a cherry, and only one half went in each can, and paid the millions of dollars in yearly maintenance to ensure there was no untoward breakdown that could result in more than one-half of one cherry going in any can.

Aside: you didn’t think about stuff like this when you were 4 years old? You’re weird.
Aside to the aside: you live in a country where they actually allow a random number of cherries in fruit cocktail? Bully for you (and **** you too at the same time.) Alternately, your fruit cocktail doesn’t have cherries, what kind of horrible regime did you grow up in? Alternately, you don’t know what fruit cocktail is? Gawd, you don’t know how lucky you are. Hopefully you were never introduced to FCs kissing cousins of Jell-O and Cool Whip, or its adjuncts like Velveeta and Miracle Whip.

But back to it…fruit cocktail is probably that first experience with the world being actively stacked against you…starting you down the cynical path that leads to even worse things like mortgages, quit claims, and pay-to-unlock schemes, which will certainly solidify in most sane persons’ minds that businesses all suck mightily, that they are all truly evil and out to drain the blood of their firstborn.

Because yes, there are things worse than fruit cocktail.

Like mortgages.

Mortgages, at least in the US, are simultaneously the most strict exercise in risk management…and the loosest exercise in total futility.

I mean, on the surface, they make sense. You shouldn’t buy something you can’t afford, so there are strict rules on how much of your earnings you can spend on a mortgage. The banks also make sure that your earnings aren’t also being eaten up by silly things, like financing an Escalade, three jet-skis, and a Polaris. They also check your credit rating, make sure you have a good history of paying rent on time, etc…

…and at the same time, they know it is 100% meaningless.

No. Seriously.

When I bought my first place, I couldn’t qualify for the loan. Period. Even though I had a business (Centric) with great cash flow, even though I had stellar credit, even though I had no other debts, even though I’d been paying rent in excess of the mortgage I was going after for the past two years.

So, I didn’t get the place, right?

Wrong. The loan sharks (er, brokers) had an easy solution: “Just put your parents on the mortgage!”

“Um, my parents don’t have any income,” I told them.

“No problem!” they said cheerily.

I thought about protesting that for a while, you know, just on logical grounds, but decided to try a different tactic: “I don’t think they’ll be too thrilled about being on the hook for my mortgage.”

The loan sharks beamed. “That’s no problem either, they can do a quit claim.”

Seeing my puzzled expression, they explained: my parents could simply sign off any interest in the house anytime a month after the mortgage closed. Then I’d have a house and they’d be off the title. Boom. Done. Easy.

My head exploded. “Wait a sec, so you put them on to get the loan…and then they can immediately drop off of it?”

“Not immediately,” the sharks said cheerfully. “Only after 30 days!”

Now, I may be weird, but 30 days into a 30 year commitment felt like it rounded down to pretty much immediately.

So what did I do?

I did what they said. Got the parents on to qualify. Quit claimed right after. Wham bam, here’s your house, man.

And you know, that’s really only the half of it. After you’re in the house, there’s nothing to stop you from financing an Escalade and a Mustang and a Tesla and eight jetskis and a boat and a Polaris right after you close…and then you’re in just as big trouble as if you had them to start.

Bottom line, the banks love to run you through the wringer…but the only reality is if you keep your word and pay like you said you would (or not).

So yeah. Even more cynical.

Want more? Sure. In recent years, a whole new insane level of cynical ****ery has begun. This supreme suckage is selling you something you already have.

Huh? What? Selling something you already have? How does that work?

If you’re an engineer, you may not be confused. Because I actually experienced this first in engineering. It’s only lately that the practice has started to slime its way into other areas.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about charging customers to upgrade something they already own—and that already has the capability built in!

Like with oscilloscopes.

In the old days, oscilloscopes were large and costly devices, built to a wide range of specs. If you wanted a 20MHz scope, you got something quite different than a 100MHz scope—they were built totally differently. Some scopes were also modular, so you could add additional capabilities, like differential probes. But the modules you purchased were physical units that plugged into a mainframe.

Today…not so much. Now, it’s entirely possible to buy an oscilloscope that is totally capable at running at 200MHz…and also being a function generator…and also being a logic analyzer…

…and actually having the scope gimped to 50MHz with no function generator or logic analyzer, because firmware.

Then the company tries to upsell you on buying the capability that is already in the oscilloscope.

Oh yeah.

I’m sure I’m not the only person to say, There’s a special place in hell for you guys.

This is 100% pure evil. This is something some cynical hack thought of in a meeting he showed up late for because he was too hungover to get his normal tee time in the morning, some dood who has never built anything in his life, someone so jaded and coddled they probably have never interacted with anyone doing real work, ever, in their entire existence.

A little extreme? No. This is the kind of crap that blows up any shred of goodwill you might have with your customers.

Another case in point: my new car does over-the-air updates. I recently got a questionnaire about how the over-the-air update experience went. Cool, fine, whatever. What got me super-excited was the penultimate question of “Would you be cool with getting capability upgrades by over-the-air update—like faster acceleration, better handling, driver assistance, etc.”

I immediately thought, “Oh hell yeah, are you kidding me? Bring it on!”

Until the next question, which asked how much I’d pay for it.

OH **** YOU.

All the warm fuzzies I’d been feeling exploded in a mini atomic blast. Are you ****ing kidding me? I raged. How about zero! How about never bother me again! How about you give me a rebate for gimping my car!

This is 100% how is is how TO suck. In grand fashion.

So yeah, I get it. It’s easy to be cynical. Because there are sooooooo many examples.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.


Part Two: The Elysian Fields of Opportunity

Here’s the thing: even as you rail against the inherent unfairness in life, and despair at all the things that are stacked against you, in many ways things are better than they’ve ever been.

“Oh yeah, now you’re totally nuts,” someone is saying. “In this crazy world, in this completely bonkers year, after all the examples you just laid on us…how can you possibly say that?”

Because it’s true.

Because right here, right now, we have more opportunities to be better than we ever have been. More signposts that light the way to a better future. More ways, to be blunt, to NOT suck.

Because, right now, if you want to be seen or heard, there are more opportunities than ever existed, ever before.

Because if you want to create something, there are more tools to visualize, design, and create it than have ever existed.

Because if you want to start a business, it’s easier to reach an enthusiastic audience than at any time in history.

Because if you want to connect to like-minded people, it’s easier than it has literally ever been—whether you’re looking for friends, employees, people to jam with, whatever…

Because the walls have come down. Modern communications have demolished them.

And because the gatekeepers are dead.
New media killed them.

The old and structured hierarchical way of doing things is actively being remodeled. Millions of enterprising people around the world are finding new and better ways of doing things every day.

Consider just the example of business.

In the old days, sure, you could start a business. A small business, like a retail store or a bakery or design studio was feasible. But it required a ton of investment, and it ate most of your time. You didn’t scale it unless you were incredibly lucky…a tastemaker discovered your store, your designs won national recognition, your culinary creations were noticed by an uber-powerful reviewer, etc.

But a big company? Something that made products and sold them in a national or international marketplace? Something that offered an incredible service that could change millions of lives? Oh no.

No no no.

That simply didn’t happen.

Unless you were already so rich you could spend literally tens to hundreds of millions in advertising. Or unless you were literally discovered by the most powerful glitterati tastemakers. Or, in later years, you ran the gauntlet of venture capital and scored in that lottery so you could make yourself known.

Need a more micro example? Sure. Here you go: as recently as the 1990s, it would have cost somewhere around $50K per month in advertising to launch a direct-sale audio business.

Why? Because you’d be buying ads in all the major audio magazines. Every month.

And you’d have to have staff to take phone orders.

And do fulfillment.

Not to mention making products.

It would be a huge, money-eating investment, with no guarantee of return. Even if you had a few million to throw at it, you might end up with nothing more than a year of nail-biting, until the cash ran out and you found that it wasn’t gonna work.

Which is why most start-up audio companies of the era chose a different route: they sold through dealers.

As in, they approached the gatekeepers of What Was Right and Good in Audio, typically at trade shows, in hopes the dealers would take a chance on their products. If they had good stuff, and if they were very lucky, and (let’s be frank), if they gave the dealer more points than some of their more established brands, they might get that chance. And if they were very very very lucky, the dealer would support them well, customers would be happy and buy more, and they could be on their way to success.

But look at all the disconnects there. The company isn’t selling to customers, it’s selling to dealers. Dealers are doing the customer support. The company is insulated. The company is out of touch. The company is also completely dependent on an extremely scarce product—that is, dealer shelf space. The company is also dependent on the dealer paying for their products in a timely and fair matter.

Disconnects create friction—the primary one being that prices have to get higher. But there are more. Selection is limited by the dealers’ shelf space. And the company itself is insulated from the raw and unfiltered opinions of the customers who actually own the product.

Sure, some could navigate this complexity and do well—but how many great products never happened because a fledgling company couldn’t?

Compare to today. Want to start a direct-sale audio business? Sure. Create a product, set up an e-commerce website, be ready to fill orders and support customers, and you’re there.

No gatekeepers.

No friction.

But that’s just the start. It also means you have almost infinite freedom to create whatever you want. You don’t have to go for the audio masses. You can create something aimed at a tiny and very specific niche.

And it can be the very best thing in that niche. It can surprise and delight.

In short, you don’t have to build the half-a-cherry-in-the-fruit-cocktail machine.

You don’t HAVE to suck.

And there’s more. Because you have a direct connection to your customers, you know better what they really love, and what they don’t like so much. There’s no filter in-between. So you can create even better products that delight them even more.

You don’t have to do something totally evil like lock features out and try to sell them back to your customers. (Seriously, no purgatory…straight to hell.)

In short, you have every opportunity now, in business, to NOT suck.


Part Three: How to Not Suck

“Well, okay, that’s cool and all,” someone says. “But you haven’t gotten into how to NOT suck. Is there an easy three-step plan on never sucking, or something like that?”

Well, as much as I’d like to say, “Yep, absolutely, step right up and get my Sure-Fire Business Bestseller Idea for only $19.99 in my new book, How To Not Suck (and Look Good Doin It!),” well, that sucks!

As in, that’s what you expect. You expect me to sell you something now. Because of the fruit cocktail, and the mortgage, and your new car.

But if I’m gonna be honest, there’s no easy three-step plan. Nor a twelve-step plan. Nor a book.

Because not sucking will be personalized to every business. What works for Schiit won’t work for a bank. What works for a bank won’t work for an app developer. And the examples of how not to suck can be essentially infinite. Let’s start with a super-short list:

  • Don’t suck by not being the guy who makes the fruit cocktail machine
  • Don’t suck by being the the dood who locks up functionality in crap you sell, hoping to make more money.
  • Don’t suck by being a wretched nonhuman marketer online, completely devoid of any humanity.
    • Note humanity includes non-ideal behaviors, such as getting pissed, getting sick, etc.
    • Note this non-ideal behavior can get irritating really fast too
  • Don’t suck by yelling at people in second-person ad-speak (agency peeps know what I’m talking about)
  • Don’t suck by making something exactly like someone else and claiming it as special
  • Don’t suck by jumping under the price/performance bar and trying to justify it
  • Don’t suck by pricing things at what the market will bear, rather than what is fair based on your cost of production
  • Don’t suck by designing ever-more-expensive stuff just because “someone will buy it”
  • Don’t suck by saying you love customers, and providing crap service
    • I really hope there’s a special, special place for phone companies and other utilities that say, “We value your account…now please wait 55 minutes to talk to someone.”
    • Or chatting for 30 minutes to Amazon and then having to do it again because they didn’t say what they were going to do
    • Or having the uber-chirpy, canned greeting give way to surly agents who clearly don’t care
    • Or…hell, you know where I’m going, this is probably why you’re cynical
  • Don’t suck by hiding (behind the wall of dealers, customer service, etc)—be available and helpful as much as humanly possible
  • Don’t suck by not believing in anything other than money
    • Unless you are professional management working for a F500 company with an ivy league degree and a trust fund, you should be doing something you love, and know there will be crap quarters, bad years, etc, but if you’re good and persistent, things will work out.
    • Try never to get yourself into a situation where it is unavoidably all about the money, like being over-leveraged, or over-invested, or over-extended, or whatever—be beholden to as few financial entities as possible
    • No, seriously, not getting stuck in the money trap is really your freedom…don’t overspend, don’t plan on future triumphs before they have happened, be suspicious of short-term success
  • Don’t suck by making your employees miserable
    • This includes both salaries and working environment
    • No, seriously, again, don’t be a cheap asshole
    • No, I can’t stress this enough, don’t cheap out, don’t be a dick, and don’t let buttheads work for you
  • Don’t suck by being a robot—read the room
    • Beep boop we are a large company beep boop we do what we do beep boop forever optimized by data beep boop…this mantra will not save you when other, more human, options exist
  • Don’t suck personally by being a robot online, especially in video interviews—the press doesn’t do beep boop corporate stuff, they want a story
  • Don’t suck by not standing out
  • Don’t suck by trying to please everyone
    • This leads directly to McDonalds
    • As in, this leads directly to mediocrity
    • As in, Immortan Joe will not take you personally to Valhalla
    • (And who cares, it’s not possible to please everyone)
  • Don’t suck by benchmarking too much
    • But this repeats the previous points
    • No, seriously, what you (and only you) can do well is less important what your competition is doing
    • Yes, we know this is hard
  • Don’t suck by hiding behind barriers to entry (regulations, tariffs, stuff you lobby the government for, stuff that the government already gave you, being a trust fund baby, etc)
  • Don't suck by creating your own barriers to entry when if you are lucky enough to get that big
Again, this is only a tiny list. I could keep going for another hour. But at 4000 words already, I think you get the picture. There are many, many, many ways you can not suck.

Too many ways? Fine. I’ll get to the commonality at the end.

But before that, remember when I said this is a subject I’d teach in business school, if I had my druthers? Yeah. In my opinion, a great business school should slap you around. It shouldn’t all be about meetings and how to kiss up to the boss, how to offshore or nearshore everything, how your brand is all and you can be just a marketing company and it can extend beyond your niche.

So, before the summation, a small beating:

You can’t stand out without doing something amazing. You can’t abdicate all responsibility to low-wage drones. Your brand is largely bull that nobody cares about. No company can be just a marketing company. Your niche is your niche, aim to be the best in it, rather than escape it. Be there and be human, and you will be well. This is the actual reality.

Go back and read that a bunch of times.

Because that’s what business school should be teaching. Well, and case studies shaming some of the worst examples of suckage would be good to, it’s fine to learn what NOT to do by example.

So you want the summary? Cool. Here it is:

You KNOW what it means to not suck. It’s what would delight YOU. It’s not being a cheap ****. Or an asshole. There isn’t much magic. Do something cool, make customers happy, figure out if you can do better, do better, and be transparent while doing it.

Sounds simple? It is.

Go out there and create more enterprises that don’t suck.
Amazon is one company I just don't do business with. Full stop.
Easy :beyersmile:
 
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Special award to Apple for finally venturing kinda-sorta-a-little-bit out of the land of mediocrity (by reviving the good small phone) while simultaneously sucking by stealing the charger and earbuds. Yeah, I know, e-waste and all that, but a lightning-to-USB-C cable only is a mega dick move in a world still dominated by USB-A chargers.
 
Schiit Audio Stay updated on Schiit Audio at their sponsor profile on Head-Fi.
 
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Special award to Apple for finally venturing kinda-sorta-a-little-bit out of the land of mediocrity (by reviving the good small phone) while simultaneously sucking by stealing the charger and earbuds. Yeah, I know, e-waste and all that, but a lightning-to-USB-C cable only is a mega dick move in a world still dominated by USB-A chargers.
Feels like they really didn't read the consumers well this time and just want to be recognised as an "eco-friendly" comapny in a cynical manner
 
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Excellent chapter. Having worked for companies and Universities that definitely DO suck for most of my life, I envy your ability to do what you do. Keep not sucking.
 
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Special award to Apple for finally venturing kinda-sorta-a-little-bit out of the land of mediocrity (by reviving the good small phone) while simultaneously sucking by stealing the charger and earbuds. Yeah, I know, e-waste and all that, but a lightning-to-USB-C cable only is a mega dick move in a world still dominated by USB-A chargers.
2 billion chargers probably means (well over) 3 billion lightning-to-USB-A cables out there.
The USB-C cable allows to fast-charge the phone off of ultrabook chargers (not to mention the laptops/PC themselves), which is cool.
 
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AMEN @Jason Stoddard!!!!

Having worked for a number of companies that flat out SUCKED!!! I totally feel this chapter.

I actually had the opportunity to work for my dream job from when I was a child and the best part was they approached me and promised me the world. This company had a HUGE budget and all the tools and capability of ruling the world in their field. Unfortunately I soon found out that instead of spending that huge budget and talent on innovation and world domination, they would rather sit back and ride on past accomplishments and do just enough to squeak by to make the numbers look good instead of really going for the gold. Being that this was a dream gig I rode it out WAY too long before finally accepting that the place was sucking the life out of me.

I'm now at a company that has maybe 1/10th of the budget, but spends that $$$ on innovation and improving an already awesome product and moves more product in a week than the previous temple of SUCK company I was at did in a month...
 
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Apple not providing a conventional charger (a move I do not agree with for the record) can be understood in light of them adding their MagSafe technology to iPhone 12. Much like eliminating the headphone jack drove faster adoption of their wireless earbuds, this will drive use of their magnetic charging solution. And unless you are brand new to the iPhone universe, you most likely already own one if not several charging solutions for your phone. At least I do.
 
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Apple not providing a conventional charger (a move I do not agree with for the record) can be understood in light of them adding their MagSafe technology to iPhone 12. Much like eliminating the headphone jack drove faster adoption of their wireless earbuds, this will drive use of their magnetic charging solution. And unless you are brand new to the iPhone universe, you most likely already own one if not several charging solutions for your phone. At least I do.
But why o why did they remove magsafe from the Macbooks? It was the best feature ever. This, and the fact that I had keyboard and screen problems with my last Macbook, were the reasons I did not buy another Apple product.
 

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