Sunday, May 31, 2020

Made in America (Sam Walton) - Book Review

Summary - 
Sam Walton tells his story on how he founded Walmart 

My thoughts -  
I don't think there's any story more inspirational than Sam Walton's start as the owner of one small town store to the owner of the gargantuan that is Walmart. I must admit that I did judge the book by its cover at first (it was written in 1992!) and wondered just how relevant this book would still be today. However, it came highly recommended, and since I am fascinated by retail, I thought I should at least give it a shot. And I'm glad I did. While it isn't my favorite book, there's a lot to be learned from Sam Walton's principles in life. In particular - two things I took to heart was (1) constant learning, and (2) don't be afraid of being wrong.

What I do admire most about him is how he managed to keep his small town mentality through all the successes he's faced - it reminded me of Warren Buffet. Like with many successful people, it wasn't the money and it was never about the money. It was pure passion that drove him to these heights. 

I also found it very interesting that his success was also predicated on a constraint. He started setting up stores in small towns because his wife said she wanted to raise their kids with small town values and didn't want to live in big cities. And that particular constraint also meant that they were able to scale very quickly with very little marketing budget (word of mouth is strong in small towns) and was able to fly under the radar for years, ignored by their competition. This idea of with constraints comes opportunity, really resonated with me, especially during these COVID-19 times. I do think that creativity flourishes the most when there are constraints and I do think I work best with constraints. As someone who struggles to pick a direction and stick to my decision, I'm thinking I may need to place some artificial constraints on myself. 

Who would like this book - 
The ultimate book for people who's interested not only in starting a company in retail but scaling and growing it from $1 million to $500 billion in annual sales. 

My 5 main takeaways - 
  1. Frugal - every dollar saved is a dollar saved for the customer. Being undercapitalized was also what made them stronger and more innovative.

    When they went on business trips, would stay at motels and share rooms. Operated at 2% general office expense structure (2% of sales should have been enough to carry our buying office, general office expense my salary, Bud's salary)

    Very different from the cash rich start ups we have today. Is cash the death of innovation? Are start ups less innovative now given the easy access to capital? (Or at least it was up until 6 months ago)
  2. He constantly studied his competition and learned what made them succeed. He was shameless too and would bring his yellow notepad and ask the store staff everything about how they ran the store. Even on holiday, if he passed by a variety store he would have to stop and check it out.
  3. Making customers Numbers One - not afraid to send business to a competitor if they didn't carry a product.
  4. Care for your people, give them autonomy and responsibility, and make them partners. Be transparent with your information - that's the only way they can be proper partners. Push responsibility down - people on the ground see the stores from a very different perspective and have a lot to contribute.

    If you take someone who lacks the experience but has the real desire and willingness to work his tail off to get the job done, he'll make up for what he lacks. And that proved true nine times out of ten. It was one way we were able to grow so fast.
  5. Wake up every morning determined to improve something. Don't be afraid of being wrong, just shake it off and move on.

In Sam Walton's own words - these are the 10 rules that worked for him - 

I have always favored the mavericks who challenged my rules. I may have fought them all the way, but I respected them, and, in the end, I listened to them a lot more closely than the people who always agreed with me. 
Rule 1: Commit to your business. Overcame shortcomings by the sheer passion he bought to work. People will catch the passion from you. 

Rule 2: Share you profits with your associates and treat them as partners. Behave as a servant leader in a partnership. Encourage associates to hold a stake in the company. 

Rule 3: Motivate your partners - set high goals, encourage competition, make bets with outrageous payoffs. If all else fails, cross pollinate; have managers switch jobs. Don't become too predictable.

Rule 4: Communicate everything you possibly can. The more they know, the more they'll understand, and the more they'll care. Information is power, and the gain you get from empowering your associates more than offsets the risk of informing your competitors. 

Rule 5: Nothing can quite substitute sincere words of praise

Rule 6: Don't take yourself so seriously. Have fun. Celebrate your successes. Find some humor in your failures.  Show enthusiasm. Put on a costume and sing a silly song. And it fools your competition - Why should we take those cornballs at Walmart seriously?

Rule 7: Listen to everyone in your company. And figure out ways to get them talking. The ones at the front line really know what's going on out there. 

Rule 8: Exceed your customers' expectations. Give them what they want - and a little more. Let them know you appreciate them. Make good on all your mistakes and don't make excuses - apologize. 

Rule 9: Control your expenses better than your competition. You can make a lot of mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation.

Rule 10: Swim upstream. Ignore the conventional wisdom. If everyone else is doing it one way, there's a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction. He was told all the time - a town of <50,000 cannot support a discount store very long. 


Monday, May 18, 2020

My love affair with fashion

My friend asked me the other day why do I love fashion? And I didn't have a good answer for her.

While I put an effort into how I dress, I'm far from fashionable. I don't pore over fashion magazines and dress according to trends. I shop once a year and scrolling through e-commerce websites where they offer more than 100 items on sale stresses me out.

But I started a fashion blog - so clearly it's something that I love.

So what is it about fashion? I think what I appreciate is maybe the aesthetics. The beauty in the clothes and the beauty in how people put outfits together. Clothes as wearable art, as a form of daily self expression.

Or maybe it's kinda like asking someone why they like ice cream - it's just something visceral and innate and a little difficult to articulate.


When I was younger, fashion to me was getting inspiration from bloggers on how to put outfits together. It was experimenting and seeing what fits my body type and creating my own aesthetic. As I've gotten older (this word hangs so much heavier now that I'm on the cusp of turning 30 - but that's for another post another time), fashion to me has shifted away from pure aesthetics to learning about fashion as brands and businesses.

In particular, one of the topic that I've been fascinated with lately is sustainability.

I know, I hear you - this word is so overused it's borderline meaningless at this point. Peppered in the mission statement of literally every company who's trying to tap into the millennial market. The cynic in me also thinks this is marketing jargon but I want to spend the next few posts unpacking this to see if there might be something more there.

So stay tuned!

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Hard Thing About Hard Things - Book Review

Summary - 
A book about the difficult problems and situations start up founders face (chock full of examples from Ben Horowitz's personal experience) and his advice on how to think through these problems.

My thoughts -  
I must be honest, it took me quite a while to finish this book. I read the first half of the book and put it down for a couple months before going back to it recently as I was determined to at least skim through the end before returning the book to my friend. Personally, the first half of the book was fairly slow and I honestly do not recall what it covered.

The second half of the book though, I found much more useful as it focused a lot more on culture building, hiring, motivating and leading. As someone stepping in to a new industry and into a leadership position, it's been a lot of learning by fire so these chapters have provided some sort of anchor for me to frame my thinking. It addressed a lot of hairy, complicated topics with clear examples on how to tackle them - insightful for anyone in a leadership position (or who is working their way there). But it did read more like an amalgamation of a handful of blog posts grouped by topic rather than a traditional book with a clear trajectory.

Who would like this book - 
A good management book for people who are leaders at a start up or who one day want to be a founder CEO.

My 5 main takeaways - 

  1. The primary thing that any technology start up must do is build a product that's at least 10x better than the existing product. 
  2. When hiring for executive roles you've never done - (i) act as the interim to figure out what strengths are critical for the role, (ii) do informational interviews with successful people in those roles to find out what is needed 
  3. Company culture is not bringing your dog to work, or yoga sessions. These are perks, not culture. Culture sets the tone and is a dogma of your companies' values and mode of operation. 
  4. To scale a company - specialization is needed but need to make sure there are still strong communication channels. This is done via (i) organizational design (optimize around functions vs projects), and (ii) a process that ensures communication and accountability.
  5. CEOs are made, not born. CEOs should be evaluated on (i) their ability to articulate a strategy/story, (ii) decision making skills, (iii) ability to build world class team, and (iv) create an environment where employees can get things accomplished.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Hey there!

Wow, it's been almost 4 years since my last blog post and it's crazy to look back and re-read my old blog posts. It's cool to see how far I've come and at the same time also how in many ways I'm still the same.

As we are in the middle of coronavirus and basically on house arrest, I've got a lot more time on my hands and have been itching to start writing again. I've started to realize that I've just been taking in information and often that information goes in one ear, out the other. I'm hoping that writing will help get the information to stick and help me distill the message and communicate better.

So while I think my fashion blogging days are behind me, I would like to start this blog back up again. I haven't quite figured out what I want to focus on but some topics that I've found interesting include transitioning from a large corporate to a start up, sustainable fashion, how to build a business and analyzing retail companies. Maybe even a book review or two in between just to remind myself what I learned from it. 
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