Snafus Make Better Companies

jetblue cartoonIt’s Valentine’s Day 2007.  There is a terrible storm plaguing the Northeast with ice and snow. Most airlines have canceled flights. But JetBlue, a newer, innovative, popular airline, is betting the weather would clear up enough for a few flights.

Well, the bet didn’t pay off.

The decision not to cancel flights created the largest fiasco in the young company’s history. Planes were stranded on the tarmac, frozen to the runway. Passengers were not informed about what was going on. Imagine sitting on a plane for 10 hours with the terminal in sight while the air gets hot and the smell from the toilets (which you have been politely asked to use as little as possible) creeps into the cabin.  How would you be feeling about JetBlue?

Apparently, not so bad.

Later that same year, JetBlue was ranked ‘Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Low Cost Carriers in North America’ by J.D. Power and Associates…for the third year in a row.

This success despite the snafu was not just due to the fact that David Neeleman, the company’s founder and CEO, was on every media outlet humbly apologizing. It was also not just due to JetBlue’s full refund and free tickets.

Most of the success was because JetBlue had done the legwork before the tarmac incident to build a relationship with their customers—more leg room, no price gouging or nickel and diming, in-flight television, etc.

jetblue insideJetBlue’s leaders also used the incident as a catalyst to change the way they do business.

“From the board leadership level into the organization, there was no doubt that this was a wake up call,” says David Barger, JetBlue’s current CEO.  One of the founders, Barger was COO in February 2007.  “We had tremendous growth and, at some point, all companies go through something like this.  But if you have the right attitude, amazing things can happen.  We created comprehensive fixes. We got to the core of those issues and solved them.  We wanted to become a better company as a result of it.  I firmly believe that we have done that.”

Since the Valentine’s Day snafu, JetBlue created a Customer Bill of Rights.  Among some of the more interesting entries, JetBlue will provide customers experiencing an Onboard Ground Delay with 36 channels of DIRECTV®, food and drink, access to clean restrooms and, as necessary, medical treatment. For customers who experience an Onboard Ground Delay for more than 5 hours, JetBlue will take necessary action so that customers may deplane.

Also, they changed their leadership structure to create more stability and continued to look for more ways to go beyond their customer’s expectations.  This sort of sweeping change could only take place in a company that created an environment for entrepreneurial thinking and flexibility.  A company that uses the unexpected to its advantage.
So, in the end, the bet paid off.  Their biggest screw up was turned into a catalyst for a different way of thinking about how they relate to their customers and allowed them the time to work out what was needed in their company.

Here is something that is not a screw up: their first quarter earnings reflect that the company is continuing to grow…most other airlines can’t say the same thing.


How can you turn your biggest screw up into your largest asset?  How well are you prepared for the unexpected?

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5 Ways to Say “No” to Being Predictable

“Gosh honey! I’m so apathetic! Today, I shuffled over to that average deli and ordered myself a dime-a-dozen turkey sandwich. I tell you what, that service there was almost pleasant and the people were just passable and generally tolerable. I think I will go back tomorrow.”

People don’t get excited over average sandwiches and passable service, so why are you running your business the way that you have been told to? The last thing that our current economy needs is more businesses to think like other businesses. We need people unafraid to unleash their ideas.

Check out this video of a guy who refuses definition:

Here are 5 lessons from the video on Pete Carroll:

  1. Repeated failure is not necessarily an indication that there is something wrong with you. Perhaps, you just have not found what works, or you need to change your definition of failure. Carroll couldn’t win in the NFL and was despised upon entering USC’s campus, but he did not let past failures stop him from pouring himself into new opportunities. What is stopping you from working in the arena that you are most suited for?
  2. True strength comes from something bigger than you. Your company or your brand has to be a cause. Carroll has been able, through his coaching and mentoring background to give hope to those most in need. He understands that the idea that he is a coach between certain hours and something else later on does not apply. He refuses to serve only himself with his gift. He is serving something bigger.
  3. Authenticity is not always just a buzzword. Sometimes people really live by who they are, and it has an exponentially huge impact on those around them. I enjoy the interview with the sergeant who is a 13 year veteran of fighting gangs in LA. Even the most rightfully cynical of Carroll had to concede that things were better with Carroll in the picture. That he meant what he said. That he is who he is at all times.
  4. Play is important. Carroll has a kid-like attitude toward his team. There is no failure in play. It’s always okay to ask “why?” when you play. While some would right it off as hopeless optimism, his attitude of looking for the next exciting thing has given him the freedom to have fun at all times in everything that he does.
  5. Some people are plain crazy…in a good way. The most successful people I know do things that “normal people” think are unbalanced. Riding around some of Los Angeles’ toughest neighborhoods and handing out your mobile number is remarkable. It is unexpected, radical and powerful. You have to put aside the way that most people see the world. Allow people to see how crazy you are. You will attract the right partners, and you may change their worldview.


What would southern California look like if Carroll saw himself as just a coach?

What would your community or business look like if you stopped allowing conventional boundaries to tell you what is and is not your business?  In the time we are in, we don’t need another small business. We need people dedicated to serving others in an authentic way. Small businesses are wonderful employers and excellent for the economy. But, behaving in prescribed patterns will get us nowhere.

It’s time we started thinking of our businesses as ways to reach others in new ways. We need to reawaken our imagination.


Do you know anyone who has allowed for their creative imagination to run their business?

– Jeremy Nulik, Creative Energy Officer, St. Louis Small Business Monthly

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Creative Freedom of a Restrictive Economy


The latest issue of Wired has a special feature on design. The subject that they hit upon is one that is close to my heart.  Here is the article. They are designing in a medium that predates embedded video and infographics. It is a blank white rectangle. “At Wired, our design team sees this as our daily bread,” they point out.

The constraint of the page actually inspires more creativity.

It reminds me of a creative writing course in college.  You would think that the most clever and creative work would come from a no-holds-barred approach to expression.  However, that was not the case.   The best work we produced came as a result of placing restrictive guidelines and forcing us to come up with a way to express an idea from inside a cage.  The most inspiring work happened when we had to write in iambic pentameter or rhyme certain lines or begin our stories with some random sentence (I saw the horse in the rain, and I knew I had to leave my wife…who couldn’t write a good story with that line?).

The constraint of the economy can inspire your creativity.

The beauty of our current economic situation is that it forces us to strip down our business into the essential elements.  I am not a neurologist, but it feels like there is a part of my mind that works better under restriction.  Be it real or imagined.

The same is true for many successful companies that I talk to.   They are coming up with ways to still express their value when prospects have less money.  One example is Kuhlmann Leavitt, Inc., a St. Louis-based design firm.  They have spun off a new company, Stax Modular, a mobile display product that can be used for anything .  So far, the response to their new product has been exciting, and they are going to showcase it as trade shows in the Spring.

With markets crashing around us and a breakdown of the financial world, this gives those who have always been on the outside of traditional forms of capital even more reason to innovate.  Small business owners have always had to be creative and design something striking and beautiful out of very little.

The trick now is distilling your idea of what your business is and allowing constraint to design your business better.


Here are questions you can ask yourself to get to the root who your company is:

  1. Who would notice if my business went away? List the people, institutions, etc. These folks are your champions.  Get to know them better. Most people cover up when times are tough. People will be more important than ever now.
  2. What is it that is valuable about my company? Is it people? Is it a product that is unique? You service. Whatever it is, don’t fall into the temptation to cut it lose for budget reasons.
  3. What makes us money or raises our funds? These are revenue streams.  Pour resources to them.  They, as our former commander-in-chief says, “keep food on your family.”
  4. What other talents do I or others on my team have that we have allowed to go by the wayside? These are new revenue opportunities. You have good ideas already. Use them now. See the Kuhlmann Leavitt example above.

This is only a beginning to a job that really should not require a crappy economy.  You probably have some better questions.  Now is always the time to continue innovation.


Send me some better questions to distill a business down to its core.  I will send you a copy of the sestina they made me write in my poetry class. If nothing else, it will be a good laugh.

– Jeremy Nulik, Creative Energy Officer, St. Louis Small Business Monthly

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How to make sure no one will read your blog (or listen to your ideas)

not-listeningAfter only a few months at this blogging thing, I think that I have found something that I can truly say I have incredible perspective on: being a terrible blogger.

The blogging world has a set of values and ideas. I am certain that this phenomenon will make for the kind of stuff that fine academic institutions will soon create use to create literature and sociological theories. It sounds like the kind of class I would have taken, ENG 562: Blog Theory.


Here are some of the blogging communication mistakes I have made.

THE LIST (of unwritten miscues…well, I guess they ARE written now, but, nevermind)

  1. Don’t post regularly. If you are not posting at least a couple of times a week, then don’t be shocked when nobody is regularly commenting or digging or stumbling or whatever stroke of validation you were searching for. In blog world, as well as the world outside, consistency matters over being clever…much to my chagrin.
  2. Being a great writer is better than being a good reader/listener. Blogging is to offer something to the world, so it needs to be unique. You begin this process by looking at and imitating other’s blogs. Find some to whom you can relate. Write down what you like. Start doing those things. If you are even mediocre, you are ahead of the game.
  3. Fall victim to overt ploys at traffic-nabbing. Being Stumbled Upon can be great, but that is the ADHD of web browsing. Stumblers and traffic seekers are sometimes like Homer Simpson when he was saw a military-grade deep fryer that could flash-fry a buffalo in 40 seconds, he whined, “Forty seconds? But I want it now!” Nothing is more important than consistent, relevant content. There is no secret traffic pill/search engine optimization pill. Anybody who says differently is selling you something.
  4. Join everything. It is not required nor is it an advantage to rocketship your name and presence into every single social networking site out there. You need something that you are going to add to each place. Also, it is not a requirement that you add every widget in the world to the side of your blog (or Facebook page or LinkedIn profile). Visit Adam Kreitman’s blog for more on how to not get sucked into the shiny, sexy, overwhelming vortex of social networking.
  5. Be afraid to screw up. I only learned these rules by breaking them and not by following advice. So, I really should have taken my own advice, not posted these, which allowed you to figure these out for yourself. However, these are merely suggestions, so, if you think I am off my blogging chair, then try it for yourself. If what I said doesn’t apply to you, please let me know how you did it. I need to learn.
  6. Feel the need to create the deepest most Earth-shattering idea before you start writing. I do this a lot. Ask yourself some tough questions…what types of readers do I want? What would they need? What is my goal in communication? Usually, they don’t need your ability to sound incredibly clever. They need something real they can sink their teeth into and implement.
  7. Don’t worry about your readers. While “good content” means relevant, it doesn’t mean clinical or verbose. Be terse. Be entertaining. Be authentic.

Looking over the list, it strikes me that these mistakes apply to the world outside of blogging. Being consistent, authentic and truly seeking to serve another person is just a more effective way to live and communicate. It took screwing up at blogging for this guy to get that.


Here is my question…if you had to teach the ENG 562: Blog Theory course who would you use as your examples? How would you structure the course? What is unique to blogging language?

Also, please let me know if I missed anything important. I am still new, you know, with much to learn.

The person with the best reply gets to have a FREE lunch…note, that I am not specifying where the lunch would take place.

– Jeremy Nulik, Creative Energy Officer, St. Louis Small Business Monthly

You like? Let others know:

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5 Ways To Make Your Customers Publicly And Joyfully Sob Into A Microphone About How Awesome You Are*

Alright…I admit it. I like a train wreck. I complain about the gawker’s block on the Interstate, but…if you guys ever see a blue Honda Element slowing down near a wreck…you can guess that it is me.

So, that sentiment alone is enough motivation for me to post this video:

Favorite parts: “IT IS STILL REAL TO ME…DAMMIT!” and “Among the choices are Jim Carrey, Mike Myers and Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

On a more serious note, though. Take note of this:

wwf-wrestlingThe level of belief and enthusiasm that these guys have for wresting is amazing. This is WWF-style TV entertainment. Are they really that serious? Of course they are. The sport has such a hold on them that they have become more than just fans…they are followers. They are believers. They are unashamed worshipers.

Are you creating that for your customers during this recession? Are they at your office door asking who would play you in your autobiographical movie? Do they believe in you so much, they would cry fearlessly in a high school auditorium with other grown men?

Right now is the perfect time to do the things that no one else will do..the tough times allow you to stand out more. Here are some ideas to get you started that I received , but please create your own as well.



5 Ways To Make Your Customers Cry Over You In Public Places

  1. Face-to-face time with your key partners. This isn’t just customers, but investors, vendors or just plain professional friends who get what you are doing and support you. Go to more lunches. Attend more charity events that are important to you and your partners. The more people see your face, the more confident they will be in you and in their choice to do business with you.
  2. Expressing authentic gratitude for business. This cannot be forced. It needs to be real. If you are not actually that grateful, then please don’t send cards, don’t call and don’t offer discounts, etc. BUT, there is nothing like tough times to make you grateful. Take this humbling as a wake up call. Now you have room for some gratitude.
  3. Find out more about your key customers as people. What is it they really want out of their business? What goals and dreams do they have for their families? Do they have families? Do they have food allergies? What are their pet peeves? Get to know these people…in a tough time, they are going to save your ass and help you to thrive.
  4. Get the right people on the bus. Don’t settle for less than great performance from employees or partners. If they are not performing with passion, then it won’t cut the recession mustard.You need ambassadors of your good news, and right now, there are lots of A-players available. However, the passion and the will to go above and beyond has to be yours first. Before you blame employees, look in the mirror.
  5. Stop lying to them. If you are telling them that everything is “JUST GREAT” with your business, you are most likely not truthful. Be honest about weaknesses. Be honest about your concerns. You can still approach them from a position of strength and belief about your company. But, pretending that there is no elephant in the room makes you sound distant and naive.


When I wrote “Right now is the perfect time…,” I really meant, “Right now is always the perfect time.” In other words, let’s not wait for an economic collapse before we decide to change the way that we do business – here is more on that perspective.


What are you doing to inspire your customers? How are you reconnecting with them during hard times?

– Jeremy Nulik, Creative Energy Officer, St. Louis Small Business Monthly

*Results are NOT guaranteed to produce actual tears, the existence of a microphone or WWF wrestlers, but they will at least allow you to remain in business.

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The Best Business Bobs, or Rising Above Any Name

nametag-copyEveryone knows a Bob. He is your uncle, your next door neighbor or your Dad’s friend from college.

“You know Bob, right?”

“Oh, of course I do. Hey, Bob, how’s the wife and kids?”

It is the most unassuming name there is. It is the small pickup truck…the quarter-pounder with cheese…the denim shirt of names in the United States.

Being a Bob, however, could have some drawbacks. Since everyone knows a Bob, how can you make yourself known if you happened to be christened with that label. In a world of Bobs, how do you make yourself stand out?

I have seen this dilemma occur with business. “Hi, we’re in IT, and we provide um…technology solutions.” Or, “I like to blog about innovation, creativity and leadership.” Wait, that one hits too close to home.

You may be the best company ever, but, as far as most people are concerned you are Bob…an IT company or some blogger.

There is no reason to fight this. Don’t try to be an Alejandro. You very well may be Bob. There is nothing wrong with Bob…in fact, being Bob has some great advantages, since people are comfortable and familiar with Bob. Embrace your Bobness.

In my experiences, I have met some Bobs that have transcended their moniker. They have made a profound impact on both my personal and business life. I sometimes even forget that they are named Bob. I only remember the difference they have made in the way that I think.



Here is a Possibly Incomplete List (in no particular order) of The Best Business Bobs (and sometimes Roberts or Robs since this is my blog and I can cheat if I wanna):

Bob Sommers – If you want to meet someone that understands how to be approachable and likable, look no furbob3ther than “Maui Bob.” His website, Recognized Expert, is an incredible resource to entrepreneurs, writers, bloggers or anyone who wants to get known on the web. More importantly, Bob is a good person. When you get done talking to Bob, you can’t help but feel good about yourself.

Favorite quote: “Likability is not your ability to make everybody like you. It is your ability to make others feel liked.”

Bob Costas – Not necessarily a “business” Bob, but a master of personal branding. How can you not like Bob Costas? Consistent. Cool. Humble. Mr. Olympics (even when he is putting the smack down on ego-driven athletes).

Favorite quote: “I don’t believe there’s a single American sitting around saying, ‘I’d like to see Bob Costas’ take on this.’”

Bob Burg – Author of the books, The Go-Giver and Endless Referrals. More than an expert on stratospherically successful life attitudes, he is also a student of business thinking. Having a conversation with this Bob is like talking to a library of business knowledge and application.

bobburg2Favorite quote: “I think perhaps the most prevalent false-dilemma question is: ‘Would you rather be rich OR happy?’ What an awful question. Why not be both? And far too many people have bought into that artificial contradiction. Let’s instead see the world as one of abundance. In this great country, if you can create, if you can add value—you can be rich and happy.” From BusinessWeek.

Robert Kiyosaki – The first non-Bob. The Rich Dad guy – author of many books, notable speaker and personal financing guru. Some of his truths can be hard to swallow, but there is no finer analysis of how the rich get richer and how to think differently about what wealth means.

Favorite quote: “A lot of people are afraid to tell the truth, to say no. That’s where toughness comes into play. Toughness is not being a bully. It’s having backbone.”

Robert Skandalaris – An innovator, author, smart entrepreneur and philanthropist…Skandalaris is the type of guy who has his name on the side of buildings. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurship at Washington University. An inspirational guy who walks an innovative, fearless walk.

Favorite quote: “Innovation is America’s last bastion of competitive advantage…”

Bob Kochan – A guy who is not afraid to be a little goofy…Bob was named one of Small Business Monthly’s Top 20 Under 20. Starting out his professional career as a Six Flags magician, he now owns Kochan and Company (founded in bobkochan1987), an innovative and fun advertising company in St. Louis that continues to grow.

Favorite quote: “I look for talented, enthusiastic people, so we have low turnover. It’s a family environment, so we check our egos at the door.”

Rob Amberg – Another advertising/marketing guy, Rob is the vice president and general manager of Cushman/Amberg Communications. He has a cool blog where he shows his abilities at telling a relevant business story…he understands both the value and the costs of Internet marketing.

Favorite quote: (from his blog) “When it comes to marketing ‘shoes’ you can only last in the painful eye-catchers for so long. And you’ll know when that time comes. It’s when you have to walk the talk. The rest is just show and tell.”

Bobby Knight – The opposite of likeable. Not a business man, but one heck of an inspiring leader and clearly a passionate person. I can’t say that I agree with his style, but 1. I have not coached successful teams and 2. his ability to inspire greatness is clear – 902 NCAA Div. I wins, 3 National Championships and 11 Big Ten Championships. Most of his players graduated.

Favorite quote: “You don’t play against opponents, you play against the game of basketball.”

Robert Sutton – You know him…he’s the No Asshole Rule guy. Anyone who can get the Harvard Business Review to suttonprint the a-dash-dash-hole word is to be revered. The management science professor from Stanford has the cajones to call most workplaces on their rudeness and lack of civility…and his research is impeccable. Also wrote – Weird Ideas That Work – another must-read for any entrepreneur.

Favorite quote:

See all the magic and inspiration that can come from a Bob? See the irony in Bobby Knight and the No Asshole Rule guy in one blog post?


What is the Bob about your business that you have not really made shine? People like a Bob. They can relate to a Bob. They feel comfortable with Bob. The Bob is the human part of your business that is authentically more concerned with the client or customer than itself…it achieves great things without suffering the sin of significance.

Let your Bob shine.


Do you know any good Bobs that I missed? Please post your favorite Bob.

– Jeremy Nulik, Creative Energy Officer, St. Louis Small Business Monthly

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Stop worrying about the credit market…get creative

schlafly_3colorTom Schlafly is one of the most successful business people (and human beings) I have had the pleasure of talking to. He built the St. Louis Brewery in the town that has…, know… THE Brewery. However, since InBev came to town, Schlafly now enjoys status as St. Louis largest locally-owned brewery.

As Tom points out in his witty column Top Fermentation, “In any discussion of local industry in St. Louis, Schlafly is now The Brewery.” The irony is thicker than the head on one of Tom’s stout winter brews.

The man who:

  • claims that he “would never have started his business if he knew anything about business”
  • attracts an entire team of people with liberal arts degrees and no business background
  • had to change Missouri laws on microbreweries to grow his business
  • holds an irrational love for St. Louis
  • continues to bring a creative wonder to his business

…is now wildly successful against all odds and in the shrined shadow of a St. Louis darling – Anheuser-Busch.

Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice and a way of thinking differently about:

  • what it means to be in business
  • what it means to have success
  • what it means to be professional

Many times at the root of this decision (to rip the employee label off your life and think in this manner) is a very emotional and peculiar drive. As my friend Richard Sacks (author, consultant and entrepreneur) puts it, “most entrepreneurs are on plan B.” They are creative, innovative, passionate people who got ticked off at the way that their industry was working, or feel that some population is grossly underserved.

If there is this distinction between an entrepreneur and a manager or executive, then why do entrepreneurs constantly feel they have to behave like the rest of business world when it comes to financing their business?

I have heard many entrepreneurs complain:

  • The banks don’t take me seriously.
  • I don’t have the right contacts.
  • The credit market has dried up.
  • Venture capitalists aren’t giving out money.
  • Angel investors are watching their portfolios dwindle away.

This reaction to our current economy is not an irrational response. This is fear-based thinking that will be a secure lockdown to any growth that your business could hope to have.

To survive the slowdown and the limited access to capital, you must see this fear, name it and move along on the path.  You must be irrational. (For more on this see Dixie Gillaspie’s article on moving through fear.)

You are an entrepreneur…be creative. Here are some practical steps that I have seen the best entrepreneurs take to make long-term financial goals. (All of these steps were taken assuming that you had the right attitude, have had solid business ethics and want to grow your business.)

  • Get skin in the game. This is a battle. If you can’t stomach a big personal loss, you may need to find a job. While it does not sound pleasant, I have yet to meet a financial backer who is comfortable taking on all the risk. Collect up your capital and what you have of value. If it was a comfortable process, then everyone would do it. Two retailers I know have doubled their business in the last year by leveraging collateral to get credit.
  • Negotiate and make terms with your vendors. Make it as simple as possible. “Hey, things are slowing down for me. Can I pay you $x amount per month?” Most folks will allow you some latitude.
  • Find easy ways to monetize what you do. This is dangerous because you may end up going down sales paths that can distract you from a primary purpose. What do you do already do that adds value and you can easily charge for? This could be scaled-back versions of a larger service for a reduced rate. However it looks, find new ways to make money at what you are already doing.
  • Find like-minded folks that share your vision. They may not be instant sources of money, but you can certainly find advise, empathy, friendship and accountability. The monetary value of true friendship is immeasurable. The most successful people that I know found and inner circle that they went to in good times and bad. You start finding these people by becoming an approachable person.

It may seem as though the universe is conspiring against you, but take a look at Schlafly’s situation 17 years ago. You do not face nearly the odds that he did. He made it. You can too. It may not look the way you thought it would, but your company will be better for it.

And, if you are a St. Louis-based entrepreneur, then you have access to at least 49 growth opportunities that are unique to your city.


If you wanted to hear what it was like for a passionate, eccentric business owner, then read Tom Schlafly’s book, A New Religion in Mecca. There is a great deal of hope in there. It seems that Schlafly contends that the universe conspired to make his business successful, but, someone who knew what she was talking about once said: Luck is the residue of rigorous, persistent action.

– Jeremy Nulik, Creative Energy Officer, St. Louis Small Business Monthly

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