“Influence The Influencers: Ecosystem Building for Customer Success” – Christopher Lochhead and Heather Clancy
Christopher Lochhead is a “Top 30” rated podcaster with “Follow Your Different,” a #1 Best-Selling author, an Advisor/Investor to over 50 Silicon Valley Startups, and a former public company CMO. He is the co-author with Heather Clancy of Niche Down: How to Become Legendary by Being Different and the Harper Collins “instant classic”: Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
Every bit of success we enjoy comes from other people.
Customers say, “Yes,” and give us money in exchange for services. Employers say, “Yes,” and hire us. Other people in our industry think we’re awesome and send us other customers, prospects, partners or employees.
It’s a virtuous cycle.
And that’s why a great category inspires a healthy ecosystem of influencers — maybe we should call them loyal subjects — around its queen or king. That ecosystem might include customers, suppliers, developers, partners and both real and virtual communities of interest.
Many small business owners join networking groups, lead-sharing and/or mastermind groups. When people do this, they are growing their ecosystem.
Take the legendary “Surf Shop” founded in San Francisco by Jack O’Neill back in 1952.
More than just a place to buy surfboards, the shop there — and later farther south in Santa Cruz, California, where it moved within 10 years — became a place where the local surfing community would hang out to trade stories and tips.
It would also become the real-world proving ground for O’Neill’s new category of cold-water swim attire, neoprene wetsuits.
Jack O’Neill felt so strongly about the importance of this gathering place for building credibility that he trademarked the term “surf shop” in 1962 (although he never hassled others for stealing the term). Jack was an intuitive category designer.
The wetsuit slowly transcended the original sport, making big waves in recreational diving. (Full disclosure: Heather is an O’Neill customer who is proud to say she still fits into the 3-millimeter full-skin she bought in 2000 when she took up diving. And Christopher’s first wetsuit was an O’Neill; he wears their products with pride.)
“Jack decided he had to become a stand-up member of the community,” his son Pat told The San Francisco Chronicle for a profile about the late entrepreneur published in May 2012. “He’s always got along really well with people from all walks of life. As a result, he became friends with people from all over the social and political spectrum. He had friends that were wealthy and powerful in Santa Cruz and people who lived in cars.”
More than 50 years later, the operation is still embedded deeply into the community — other local businesses orchestrate their own promotions to coincide with the store’s annual Labor Day parking-lot sale. It’s still innovating with the future in mind. The company in 2016 started a brilliant loyalty program for surf-going moms and dads who outfit their kids with O’Neill togs. As junior grows out of his or her wetsuit, they can be traded for a credit of up to half-off the purchase of a new one. (This isn’t a one-time thing, it can be repeated year after year, until your mini-you grows into the adult size.) When Jack O’Neill passed away at the age of 92, in summer 2017, thousands of surfers paddled out to sea in his honor. Check out this “aw”-inspiring footage of the event uploaded by the company. If you look closely, you might see Christopher in the water!
The key is to build an ecosystem purposefully like Jack O’Neill did, not by default.
Strategically surround yourself with people you trust.
Treat them better than you treat yourself.
Form bonds that go beyond the walls of your company.
Treat your ecosystem like customers. Maybe even more importantly than customers.
Deliver something of value. When you need help, your ecosystem will be there to help you and vice versa.
Rich Novak, a pioneering entrepreneur and avid surfer from Jack O’Neill’s home turf (or shall we say surf?) consciously and proactively organized the emerging skateboarding category. Back when Rich started shredding, the main equipment used by enthusiasts was roller skates coupled with two by fours. Rich helped the category “tip” by mobilizing component suppliers — you can thank him for big breakthroughs in wheel technology during the 1970s — and convincing his competitors to collaborate on standards.
Rich ended up starting multiple companies within the category’s supply chain along the way. When you see problems in ways others don’t, why not fix them?
For example, when the major skateboard magazine that Rich relied on to advertise his various skateboard brands (Santa Cruz, Creature and Independent Truck Co.) pivoted away from its original editorial mission, he helped start another publication in 1981 to fill that gap. As of this writing, Thrasher magazine is still the “skater’s bible” and the Thrasher brand can be seen on t-shirts, backpacks, sweatshirts and more around the world.
The multi-million-dollar company cofounded by Rich in 1973, NHS Fun Factory, is the oldest company in the world dedicated to selling skateboards. All because Rich never stopped thinking about the ecosystem.
“They built the industry before they built their business,” the company’s current CEO Rob Denike told The Santa Cruz Sentinel in October 2013. (Rob was an early product tester who worked his way up in the ranks.) “It was just raw entrepreneurial spirit. They took it from a fad to an actual business and, as a group, decided they were going to focus on growing the industry. If they were good businessmen, they would get a piece of that pie.”
A similar philosophy was behind the collaboration we mentioned earlier between the Girls Scouts of the USA and GoldieBlox, which is laser-focused on encouraging girls to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at a far earlier age. It’s part of a larger series of STEM-related badges adopted by the organization in summer 2017, encouraging girls to code software, design robots and race cars, and collect environmental data.
GoldieBlox partnered with the organization to create mechanical-engineering kits to help with six of the badges. The relationship was personally championed and cultivated by founder Debbie Sterling, herself a former Girl Scout.
“The goal is to get girls inventing and learning what it means to be an engineer,” Debbie told Forbes.“By earning these badges, we are removing the intimidating factor and building girls’ confidence with STEM.”
And it reinforces GoldiBlox’s core point of view, which positions the company as a STEM missionary for girls.
Legends & Losers,“Branding Icon: From Surf Bum To Business Pirate With Santa Cruz Legend Rich Novak,” March 1, 2018.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel, “NHS celebrates 40 years of skateboarding innovation and the creation of an industry,” Oct. 20, 2013.
Forbes, “How the Founder of GoldieBlox Is Creating The Next Generation Of Women In STEM,” Oct. 11, 2017.