Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marketing techniques: what not to do

Close your eyes and imagine this (you can peak to read it): you've created a product/service that you would sell to your mother, brother and neighbor.  You're probably thinking of lining some stalkings with it this Christmas.  You think you know your target market, you think they love it, and you think that marketing is going to be fun, successful and swift.  You go out on your first day, meet the mayor, Guy Fieri, and hundreds of others, which boosts your ego almost beyond capacity.  It's hard to change shirts because your head is getting so big.  You sign your autograph on your dogs chest when she greets you and you go to sleep dreaming of happy, sun-filled meadows with butterflies and ice cream scoops.

You wake up from your blissful dream world and listen to a voice mail detailing why your marketing plan is horrible, fear-based, and preventing someone from enjoying their Cheerios.  They are not going to ever use our services and think we are terrible, just terrible.

Okay.  You can open your eyes now.

I returned this call to find what I did to create such a negative reaction, and I must say, I was asking for it...

I handed this 'parking ticket' promotional flyer out to pedestrians at the Mpls farmers market.  Apparently, one of them thought it would be funny to put it under the windshield wiper of a marketer in St. Paul.  He apparently did not think it was as clever as me.  He mentioned his affinity towards old people as his main concern.  Sharing this concern, we stopped the marketing campaign shortly after....  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Funny stories from paddleboarding the Mississippi

If enough time is spent doing something, one is bound to experience the tails from the bell curve of 'normal.'  These experiences break the comfort found in expectation and take us to someplace new.  I find these can be either terrifying or hilarious, maybe both, at different times, depending on the subject.

Earlier this month, a tour stopped at Blue Heron Bay, the island/rookery which is home to around 10 different heron families.  We found 2 dead heron, both laying on the beach, where we landed.  Both were fairly large, one laid peacefully (cause of death unknown), and the other lay painfilled, awkwardly, on it's side.  These birds spread an impressive 5 foot wingspan, and are amazingly thin.  This was all too evident when we found this bird, head twisted back, mouth open, large fish wedged half-way down it's throat.  It was obvious this bird bit off more than it could chew/swallow.  Some kind of sadness, dark humor came over me, which then turned into chaotic surprise as one in our group screamed that she had just been struck in the head with multiple fish!  The herons above us were throwing fish onto us.  Were we desecrating their burial grounds?  I felt urged to give them a proper water burial, so the critters wouldn't do what is natural in front of the families.  After I pushed off, I couldn't help wonder if nature was telling us something.  This wasn't the first time, either...


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Groupon - a necessary monster?

Soo.... Groupon is one of the most successful companies of our recent, recession-feared times.  I once thought it was a great idea: saving 50% or more on my favorite activities and stores?  Sign me up.  No surprise why their model is being copied by more and more segmented groups around food, entertainment and who knows what else...

This perspective has changed now that I've been to the inner layer of the beast, and back.  After my marketing efforts (consisting mostly of social media, walking the streets of Minneapolis, and passing out flyers at beaches) did little to bring in paying customers, I almost felt summoned to prostrate myself before the specialists at Groupon.

Don't get me wrong, working with Groupon was a semi-pleasant experience for this college-educated business owner.  They let me propose which service to offer, which price, how many, and when they would expire.  One of the main caveats, and first major surprise, was a promise to let them write the script and pay them 50% of total revenue from the sale.  [So, if you have a service that is worth $100.  You discount by up to 50%, bringing in $50, $25 for Groupon and $25 for your business to provide $100 in value.]  While this might be practical for low-overhead businesses like fortune telling gypsies, we could not pay this rate and talked them down to 20%.  Look at me!  What a businessman, or so I originally thought.  I barely understood that we are still paying them 20% for their email list and screwing around with our, already affordable, prices.

It felt pretty phony to increase our prices by 30% in order to be able cut them by 42.35%.  But this is exactly what I did.  And it worked.  We sold 197 packages for $98.  Not bad for 2 days of marketing!  It ended up costing us over $4,000, but at least we were in business!  The next puzzle came in the form of providing 394 people with $32,640 in value with only $15,366.

(I will have to provide a breakdown of our costs in another post, because this is getting long)

One of my main concerns is for the small business owners who don't know they can negotiate, or what others have been paying.  They tell everyone that 50% is required...  I've met people on tours who have signed up with a discounter out of desperation and end up giving all of their profits away, getting discount shoppers who may not return again, end up skimping on the service and end up shooting themselves.
I could sit here, listening to Ben Folds, and argue this survival-of-the-fittest competition is always bound to produce collateral damage in the form of dead businesses, but it hurts to know that this is being done and that small business owners are being, dare I say, unknowingly put to sleep by the collective American dream of a free lunch.

 NPR did a story on how these businesses change how we shop, and I wonder if it has changed the way we shop or if the way we shop has changed the supply.  Isn't a common critique of America (and maybe capitalism) one of instant gratification, shortsightedness and spendthrift?  It's hard to defend America (or myself) with a negative national savings rate (shown below), rising child obesity rates, Costco and Walmart loyalty, and current federal and state deficit issues.

Enough with the problems, let's talk solutions. After all, September is obesity awareness month.

This experience may not change your perspective, but as for me?  I try to not use Groupon, Living Social, or any other discounter, always tip any service provider 20%, pay for the value I receive, ask everyone before signing anything, automate repetitive processes, self-schedule appointments, clearly state policies, cry to my friends, over-perform for my clients, and no matter how phony it can feel at times, keep on smiling...

- listening to Ben Folds

Entrepreneurship - a relationship killer?

Separating your business life from your personal life....  Work/life balance...  These simple sentences seem like advanced calculus to this backyard business owner.  With so many demands from suppliers, clients, partners, competitors, and regulators, and a seemingly always-growing task list, just how does one balance anything, let alone something as fragile and important as another person's feelings.  

This has been one of the latest trials I have found myself in and currently am working through.  It calls into question the very reason for working, trying, being...  I have said before that businesses are like relationships, well this analogy (like most) breaks down quickly.  A business cannot provide us with warmth on a cold night, listening ear on a bad day, or any kind of intimate personal connection!  Things it can do: mask fears by coddling our ego, occupying our psyche, and potentially destroying any chance of a relationship with a real human.  

Maybe I just need to figure out what work/life balance really means?

From my dining room table in St. Paul,
- Austin

Monday, August 1, 2011

Adjusting boards, menus and attitudes

Just as it is with most things in life, modifications and adjustments have to be made in re-sponse/action to experiences. some people refer to this as 'smoothing out the kinks' or 'hammering out the details', etc.

Well we have found that our boards don't seem to 'track' as straight as some people want, and so instead of teaching advanced stroke techniques, we made 'runners':

We tried a couple adhesives, and are still waiting for the perfect glue. It turns out the marine glue we used was too brittle and broke with any large impact on the trailer. The silicone was more flexible here, but didn't seem to have a strong enough adhesive. We are going to keep trying different adhesives until we find the right sticky stuff.

Our menu has been changing on our extended and full Paddle Pubs. We struggled finding a local juice that is packaged in a pouch or juice box. The closest thing we found was a non-local juice box from Whole Foods. While these are easy to transport, they aren't as tasty as, let's say, a raspberry iced tea from Common Roots Cafe.... Does anyone know of a local juice box company?

We are getting really excited to finish the summer strong. The weather is just about perfect and people are spending more time in the sun, soaking up the last few rays before fall reminds us of winter. We were very priviledged to have R.T. come on a tour and share his thoughts about Minneapolis. Having a down-to-earth politician is rare...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How the Mayor became our biggest fan...

Last Thursday, Brian and I decided to meet at Dunn Bros in northeast Minneapolis.  This decision turned out to be one example of many that make us believe what we are doing is important and that we need to continue forward as diligently and care-filled as possible.

The gentleman standing before me in line, ordering a decaf late, was Mayor R.T. Rybak!  I was shocked and could barely talk.  I had $20 of quarters in my pocket ready to hit the streets and I was talking with the man responsible for those streets!  We had met earlier at a Kindred Kitchen event, and he immediately asked what we were doing.  After telling him about our stand up paddleboard tour company, which supports so many different local businesses, he enthusiastically exclaimed: "what more do you need to say?  I am now your biggest fan!"

Needless to say, this boosted our spirits and carried us through a rainy day of promoting the streets of Minneapolis.  Check out R.T.'s post below:

After speaking with just about every hotel in Minneaoplis, hoping to catch tourists looking for something fun to do in the summer heat, we then bumped into Guy Feiri as he was leaving the W hotel!

We have officially labeled our first promo day a success.  Looking forward to round 2!


UPDATE: RT came out with his daughter for an early (7am) Paddle Pub. Here are pics from the tour:

Monday, July 11, 2011

PayPal Verified

It's been almost two months now and Stand UP MN is up and paddling!  This small start up is taking it's first steps and I am so proud.

It's true, Minnesota really is an easy place to start a business. (Legally speaking, of course) Everything was done online and quite easily. The most difficult part is crossing the T's and dotting the i's.  No one tells you exactly what you need, where to get it, who to talk to, or when to quit.  I have a new level of respect for all the food entrepreneurs I've been working with at Kindred Kitchen. (can you tell I helped design their website too?) Many of them have more liabilities, like children, who depend on them.

That being said, support and encouragement go a long way.  I've been blessed with both.  I still think the most exciting part of this venture is bringing in so many local pieces into the pie.  It feels like every detail is connected either someone I or a friend know personally!

We just got verified on PayPal.  All this means we have a bank account and an EIN.  However, it feels good to get verified by someone/thing!

Official PayPal Seal

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Harriet Brews make good board meetings great

On the way to our first board meeting with Paddle Pub guides, a quick stop was made at Harriet Brewing for refreshments.  The hops were definitely aligning...

Just in time for a tour of the facility, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that although they are only 6 months old, they are just as passionate as they are knowledgeable about their brews.  They gave us a full rundown of their shop and lesson on home brewing, all while keeping our glasses filled.  This is a must try for any and all beer lovers.  These people are the real deal.  They are local, they have an in house artist, they give away free beer, and they are accepting volunteers in exchange for more beer!   Hurry up, because they sell out quickly.

Needless to say, our board meeting went well.  Seeing all of these young people genuinely interested in Stand UP MN, and our mission, gave me a renewed burst of enthusiasm and belief that we are doing the right thing.

It may have been the 3 growlers of beer, but we seemed to bond well.  After the meeting, we all sang a couple karaoke songs before saying goodnight...  This is going to be a great summer.

Stay tuned for the minutes from the meeting.

[caption id="attachment_190" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Can you see how much fun we're having?"]The Paddle Pub Team[/caption]

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Trips only get better...

It feels like every trip improves with new scenery, wildlife and conversations.  Today we finished another training trip, this time with Erin and Emily.  Like usual we saw many Great Blue Herons, but this time we saw a hawk carrying a big fish back to it's nest just after a huge Bald Eagle flew over our heads!  The huge bird was only about 20 feet away! 

Taking newbies through the lock is probably one of my favorite parts of the full Paddle Pub trip.  The Army Corp of Engineers who operate the dam are usually pleasantly surprised to see our little group enjoying their prized machine.  This is the first of 29 dams before the Gulf of Mexico.  Each year more than 2 million tons of cargo and more than 6,000 recreational crafts pass through the lock.  Made in 1917, this really is a man-made marvel!

Grants, Blue Herons, guide training and one wet camera

The Blue Herons soared effortlessly above our heads.  I've never seen so many at one time.  Erin, Izaac, Brian, and I were training on the 'light course' and we found the most amazing bird island sanctuary.  It felt amazing meeting the new guides and learning about their interests and goals and finding over 15 nests filled with beautiful birds was just icing on the cake.  (oh, and a Bald Eagle also flew over head)

NDC (Neighborhood Development Center) called me 2 days ago.  We discussed the business plan and the beautiful people at this organization said they were so excited about what we are doing, they would push the grant through before the regular hearings, deadlined for the first of the month and scheduled for the 15th.  They said 2 weeks would be a reasonable time to get it processed.  This means no more credit card debt!  Now I owe uncle Sam...

Ok, I don't want to admit this, but I fell in today...  I told myself, and my guides I wouldn't and packed accordingly, which was too much tempting fate could handle.  Lesson learned.  Dress to get wet.  Except if you're a girl.  (so far, not one girl has fell)

Today, I gave 3 tours, totalling 6 hours of paddle boarding.  Thank God for Psycho Suzies and their flaming volcanoe drinks!  This is going to be the best summer ever.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two short feet

I went to the DMV today to find out if our paddle boards need a watercraft license.  After talking with a few people, they recommended I call the DNR, where I discovered that boards under 9 feet do not need registration.  Since mine measure in just over 11, I ended up spending 3 hours in line and $120 in fees.  But the woman was very nice.  =)  The couple next to me were signing their wedding license.  He didn't look very happy either.  Maybe it's all the waiting that puts people in a bad mood? 

At least now everybody's legal...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


We just got a call from our insurance guy, and avid paddler, Mark Phillips.  He is working on finalizing our insurance which means we should be set by Friday!  Just in time for the guide training and our first PaddlePub!

It feels good to be protected.  It seems like the protection just gets more complicated as time goes on.

PayPal, Bookwhen and Franklin National Bank

In the past two days, we have been working on the financials, getting our reservation system set up through It was pretty straight forward. Once the PayPal account was set up, we booked our first tour. Thanks mom!



We are running our business through Franklin National Bank in the North loop of Minneapolis. They are committed to investing responsibly in the urban community and we are happy to be a part of their mission. They set us up with a business account and helped with applications for loans and other lines of credit. I would highly recommend this bank to new business owners!

We are working hard to get our guides trained up this weekend so the paddling can begin!

Streaming Studios is also moving quickly and we are planning our first instructor training 2 weeks from today!


Paddle Pub Promo Video First Draft!

Our first video promo draft is complete!  Check out the great work David Pederson at Piraje Film can do!  This is probably the best investment for any new business.  A lot of fun as well...


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Connecting local eats, artists, and sponsors?

SUP MN continues to be ignited by a variety of passions. Connecting relationships and engaging people are two of the core values which continue to bubble up...

MUSIC - Devout followers of the Roe Family Singers at the 331 club on Monday nights, we asked if they would donate music for our video.  They have been more than helpful and we are excited for the result.

ART - Connecting people to the MN art scene is a rewarding feeling.  We are going to be commissioning the boards to local artists, and then donating the end of year profits from these 'Boards of Art' back to the artists.  Other local artists include graphic designer, Emily Ralph, and videographers, Dave Pedersen and Patrick Tracy.

FOOD - Colin Murray, a friend and executive chef, is designing a locally source menu, featuring farmer's produce, micro-breweries, and small wine-vineyards.  What a delicious way to experience MN!

SPONSORS - Our local sponsors are still under works.  Suggestions are welcome!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yoga Video and Inaugural Tour Complete

We have been working like crazy over here...

Check out our latest production:

Streaming Studios - Paddleboard Yoga from Patrick Tracy on Vimeo.

We just finished the video shoot for the Paddle-Pub tours.  We have one scene to re-shoot tomorrow, and then it will be done.  I am so happy for friends/professionals who know how to work efficiently.  Thanks Dave Pederson and Patrick Tracy!

I just posted ads on craiglist for tour guides.  I'm hoping to get a few solid applicants to lead tours, and build a yoga/pilates package over the next couple weeks...  Then this project should really take off!

Tomorrow's tasks? Open business bank account, finish business plan, look into loan packages, contact local artists to paint boards, research partners for marketing, cross-promotion, and sponsors.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Web hosting, logos, yoga videos, broken toe nails, and delicious cheese

This past week has been wild.  Patrick Tracy, who filmed for the Perennial Plate, set up and shot a yoga promo video featuring Terese, Sofia, Matthew and ... I'm blanking.  These girls were impressive.  Imagine headstands while floating on a creek.  Instead, just take a look below.  The water flowing underneath makes a surreal experience.  We ended with pasta, wine and cheese.

On the more technical side, we finally got our wordpress site hosted on godaddy and finished editing some pictures for promotional materials we will hand out this weekend at Grand 'ol Days, in St. Paul.  We also decided on an amazing logo, created by Emily Ralph, which illustrates our mission well.

We are pushing forward with: insurance quotes, business bank accounts, locating/refitting trailers, finalizing the business plan, finding/writing grants, meeting a Score mentor, buying t-shirts, printing flyers, creating chef menus, finding lifeguard-trained yoga instructors and river guides, and getting sleep in between.

At least we now have a sweet logo.  Good work all.  This is a fun ride!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

1st Impromptu SUP Meeting

We were able to round up some of the SUP team (Yvonne, Terese, Mika, Ryan and Alexandra) today for lunch at the Seward Cafe.  The food was excellent. We discovered what a phantom 4th nipple looks like.  Created a 6 word life statement.  Learned why an F3.5 is the proper setting for shooting Mika's face.  And brainstormed on SUP details and a potential $5k grant from Seward Co-op.  All good things.

After this, we went to check out the SUP launch point, took a brief nap on the dock with some excited water fowl, and started working on our tan lines.

Now, we are off to meet the Silver Creek Paddle crew on Lake Calhoun, testing boards, learning about their distribution channels and getting other primary market research.

This summer is going to be great!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Business Plan and Financials

I went to the James J Hill online resource center and started working on the SUP MN business plan.

I feel like it is coming together pretty well.  Not bad for a couple hours work.  Oh and I ran the financials in about 4 hours and it seems like this 12 week business is profitable!  Yay!

Now, I need to finish the B-Plan, round up my team and partners, incorporate with the Secretary of State, create the marketing material (business cards, board and trailer wraps, t-shirts, flyers), buy the equipment (boards, paddles, trailer, life jackets), train the staff, and start touring!

Is it unrealistic to dream up, create and launch a business in under 1 week?  We are about to find out...

Legalities 101: Filing for an Federal EIN #

First thing to do: get federal and state tax ID #s. is straightforward and easy:

You have chosen Limited Liability Company.

What it is...

  • A limited liability company (LLC) is a structure allowed by state statute.
  • An LLC is formed by filing articles of organization with the state's secretary of state office.
  • An LLC must be unique in its state. There can be no more than one active LLC with the same name in the same state.
  • For federal tax purposes, an LLC may be treated as a partnership or a corporation, or be disregarded as an entity separate from its owner.
  • An LLC can have two or more members (multi-member) or one member (single-member).
  • An LLC can have an unlimited number of members.
  • An LLC's members may include individuals, corporations, other LLCs, or foreign entities.

What it is not...

If you need to change your type of structure, we recommend that you do so now, otherwise you will have to start over and re-enter your information.  Additional help may be found by reviewing all types of organizations and structures before making your selection.

Looks like I typed too soon:

EIN Assistant
Technical Difficulties

A technical problem has occurred. Please try your request again later.
If the error continues, click,,id=13148,00.html

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What's SUP MN?

I don't know, what's up with you?  Now that the easy joke is behind us, let's continue...

SUP (stand-up paddling), according to Wikipedia, is a sport that became popular in Hawaii, probably by hippies, riding the waves of the great depression in the 1930's.  It has been gaining momentum ever since and has now blown up in California, Austin, TX, British Columbia, England, and soon-to-be Minnesota...  SUP has had an interesting history, yet the future seems to be even more exciting as different groups are adapting the sport with their passions.

I am passionate about relationships, animals, education, adventure sports, sustainable economic growth, and the Mississippi River - Twin Cities' umbilical cord.  I hope to engage each of these passions through this organization and maybe enable others to hear their own calling.

Starting a Business in Minnesota

How long does it take to start a business in MN?

How much capital does it take?

How much experience?  Education?

These are questions I am about to find out...

Two days ago, I became hooked on a new sport and am about to pursue it wholeheartedly, part-time.  I am hoping business experiences, old friends, new relationships, friendly financiers, nature lovers, and first timers all come together to make this endeavor a successful and enjoyable journey.  Stay tuned for the fast progression of Minneapolis' first Stand-Up Paddleboard Tour Company.