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Monday
Oct222012

Steve Jobs on Marketing 

Lessons From the Six Billion Dollar Man

Shortly after I wrote this I had dinner with two Silicon Valley "Sistahs" that had worked at Apple, one for over 20 years.  During that time she worked 7 days a week and loved it, but eventually chose family and friends over the heady work world of Apple. My other dinner companion told a story of how Jobs had thrown a friend of hers under the judicial bus, ruining her career,  when there was some funny business over postdating stock options. But when she expressed anger, it was not because of his dirty dealings, rather it was because he died, and she didn't get to see whatever he would have dreamed up next. - AM 11.13.12

Steve Jobs was an unapologetic perfectionist. He drove those around him crazy, but his uncompromising commitment to the customer experience built a six billion dollar empire. Here’s a few “takeways” for your own empire building.

Use your intuition: Market research is fine, but small businesses are successful because they can act quickly when they know they are on the right track.

Mediocrity is not an option: For Jobs, everything, from advertising campaigns to the people who worked for him, were limited to one of two categories: junk or genius. If something wasn’t the best it was abandoned or reworked till it was genius.

Networking AND cold calls: Starting out, Jobs networked with former employers and other contacts but was equally fearless about calling up a powerful CEO to pitch an idea.

Simplify: Just because you can add a feature doesn’t mean you should. Simple is elegant. Simple is fun.

Design: Jobs understood the importance of designing products that were not only functional but beautiful. This passion for design extended even to the inside of his computers, something his customers would never see.

You can't have quality without control:
Jobs wanted to control the customers experience from the moment a package was opened. His attention to detail was legendary - from the stone used in the floors of Apple stores to the color of the ipod’s earbuds.

Image is everything: Jobs designed an early desktop computer with a handle, not so much so that it could be carried, but to “impute” it with a friendly, approachable image for folks who found computers scary.

Focus: Say no to all but the top three directions your business can go and then focus like a laser.

Saturday
Oct062012

Bad Girl Badass Books

Books you should read by some BADGIRL BADASS women: Gabrielle Hamilton

Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Gabrielle Hamilton learned to cook coming up through the ranks of diners and catering gigs, not at a fancy culinary academy. Her memoir opens with the summer her parents, a French mother and set-designer father, kind of lost track of her in the midst of their divorce. To keep herself going she got a job washing dishes, and ate from the mysterious jars of food her mother left behind. She has some scrapes with the law, does a stint in the catering business with tales of un-fresh and much-too-handled food, finds a very small restaurant covered in rat shit and transforms it into Prune, and falls in love with an Italian doctor, his family and Italy. This woman loves food, men (women too) and life: Agreed.  I swooned for her, Charlie Rose did too.

 

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams

This badass soldier went to Iraq as an interpreter because she had learned a little Arabic from a bad boyfriend back in Florida.  She recounts the badassitude of the female soldier along with the dirt, grit and general confusion of war.

Wild by Cheryl StrayedCheryl Strayed

When I'm debating the safety of hiking Mt. St. Helena by myself, a popular hike with a paved path and cell phone coverage most of the way, all I need to think about Badass Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (at least the part that wasn't snowed in) by herself, even when, with only 2 cents in her pocket, when on a break, her hiking boots tumbled over a cliff. (To be precise, one tumbled, she threw the other one after it). You'll have to read the book to find out how she survived that and other challenges.

What you'll remember about Cheryl, Kayla  and Gabriella is that they perservered because they just couldn't afford to quit.

Who can?

Thursday
Aug302012

Toast: Price of grapes: A mile makes all the difference

 

The Lanza Family of Suisun Valley This article first appeared in the Vacaville Reporter in my column, "Toast" on August 28, 20122. Thanks to Richard Bammer, my trusty copy editor for catching my misspelling of terroir- duh!

Taking the "back way" to Napa, through Wooden Valley is a beautiful drive. The road winds along with views of vineyards and, in the highlands, mossy trees that shade your eyes. The border between Solano and Napa counties is invisible, except that the pavement changes slightly as one county's roadway meets the other. What is also invisible on that beautiful drive, but all too apparent in the black and red of a balance sheet, is that the grapes on the Napa side command triple the price of Solano grapes.

Can Napa grapes be that different from Solano's? Is it marketing or is it "terroir"? Terroir is a concept borrowed from the French that refers to everything in the environment of a vineyard that stamps a wine with a unique sense of place. The chemistry of the soil, the slope of the ridge, the climate and weather, all contribute to the terroir of a vineyard.

 Just a mile or so down the road from the Napa County line, Wooden Valley Winery co-owner Ron Lanza laughed when asked about the huge price difference between Napa grapes and his family's Suisun Valley grapes.

"Yes, it's a little frustrating," Lanza admitted. "But, hey, more power to them!"

In fact, the proximity of their vineyards to Napa is one of the selling points for the family's wine and grape operations, a business shared by four brothers and their families that was begun by their grandfather, Mario Lanza. Only about 10 percent of Lanza grapes end up in their Wooden Valley Winery wine. Of the remaining 90 percent, about half to go to other California wineries and the other half are shipped east to small wineries and amateur winemakers.

The route east was a savior to many California wineries during Prohibition, when they switched from making wine to shipping grapes to home winemakers.

Even when drinking alcohol was outlawed from 1920-1933, American households were allowed to make up to 200 gallons of wine a year. Do the math -- that's enough for two people to share more than half a gallon a day! The home wine- making tradition continues, but with an emphasis on fine wine rather than the jugs of the past.

"They want to make wine like their grandpa did, only better," said Lanza.

Unlike grapes destined for California winery consumption, which are dropped at harvest time in ordinary containers and transferred to large industrial-sized trucks, the boxes destined for the trip east are artfully arranged in 36-pound boxes with the Lanza Vineyards logo. The careful presentation and branding has paid off.

When Ron went back east to meet some of the amateur winemakers who use his grapes, he was greeted warmly -- and with lots of wine.

"I arrived first thing in the morning, and they are all pouring me wine made from our grapes," Lanza said.

Ron's father, "Chick," grew the business by delivering wine in barrels and jugs to homes like a milkman, along a route throughout the Bay Area.

The route has extended, and now it's not just wine but grapes that are delivered, but the Lanza tradition of wine for families continues. 

Saturday
Aug182012

The Smartest Guy In the World

This is an article from the August 15, 2012 Daily Republic.

When I was growing up, I thought my father was the smartest person in the world.

He could riff on the missions of Father Serra, relate the gossipy backstory of Lyndon Johnson and lay out the physics of a submarine’s torpedo. I remember most of these lectures, and lectures they were, from our family vacations, six of us in the station wagon, tent-camping across the U.S. But the little-known-fact soliloquies could occur almost any time, on the way home from church, during a commercial on TV and, worst-case scenario, when he was helping me with my homework.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I discovered the source of his genius, and it happened when I started to read the same magazines he did.

He would start one of his famous lectures, say, for example, about Native American canoe design or Chinese restaurants in New York City, and I would think, “Wait a minute, this sounds awfully familiar.” I realized then that my father was merely parroting an article from one of the weekly magazines he, and now I, devoured. His talent, I came to appreciate, was for total recall and an air of absolute certainty, but the source of his “genius” was now mine too.

If you are reading this, chances are you developed an appetite for reading and learning, even if it wasn’t in the shadow of Lecture Dad. But what if you couldn’t read? What if all you could learn was from watching and listening?

Reading, even as we move from paper to “the cloud” is still the fastest track for learning. Even as more of our time is spent gaming, texting, watching movies and participating in on-demand everything, we still need to read. In fact, reading is imperative.

Educators, business leaders and social service professionals are all concerned about reading in Solano County. Consider these statistics:

  • 40,000 Solano residents are considered low-literate adults.
  • More than one-third of U.S. children enter kindergarten without the basic language skills they’ll need to learn to read (i.e. knowing the words on a page move from left to right, or recognizing the letters of the alphabet).

Not surprisingly, these statistics are related. Adults with low literacy cannot share books and reading with their children, which leads to lagging language skills and slower literacy development. The consequences of a slow start in reading become monumental as they accumulate exponentially over time. Three-quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school. And the cycle continues.

Solano County Library can help. Library branches hold thousands of children’s books, offer dozens of weekly storytimes, and provide homework help — in person and online. With a free library card, parents who want a better life for their children, a reading life, can give that to them. And they do, we see it every day.

Library literacy tutors volunteer their time to help motivated adults break the cycle of illiteracy. Their goals are achievable: read a bank statement, a prescription bottle, a children’s book to their kids. Currently the Library’s literacy program has 191 volunteers, 111 of whom are tutors who work with small groups or one-on-one with learners.

However, there is still a waiting list of almost a hundred adults waiting to learn to read better. If you are over 18 and can make a six-month commitment to teach someone to read, to change a life through reading, you are needed. Orientations and trainings begin in September. To get started call 784-1526 or visit www.solanolibrary.com, under “Programs” and click on “Literacy.” I thought my dad was the smartest guy in the world, the children of literacy students should think that about their parents too.

Ann Miller is the community relations coordinator for Solano County Library. She recommends “Mennonite in the Little Black Dress” by Rhoda Janzen, a laugh-out-loud, cringingly honest memoir about growing up smart, simple and a little screwed up.

Tuesday
Aug142012

Toast: The Patrón of Winterhawk

This was first published in the June 19, 2012 edition of the Vacaville Reporter, in my column "Toast."

They call him Patrón. "That’s Spanish for Boss Man," explains Martha Gustafsson, the winemaker at Winterhawk Winery. If Patrón conjures up a mustachioed Mexican, think again, this Boss Man is a blue- eyed Swede from Michigan.

The Patrón of Winterhawk Winery is Don Johnson, who found his way to growing grapes in Suisun Valley by way of the army and a career in accounting. He grew up on a dairy farm where he milked cows by
hand, three times a day. Every day. No vacations. “I swore I’d never get into farming again. But it’s night and day between a small family dairy farm in Michigan and growing grapes in California.”

Johnson still works every day but on weekends he’s joined by a community he has built around the Winterhawk Winery trifecta: wine, pizza and live music, all for $7.

The deal is this. For seven bucks you can taste all the Winterhawk wines on the menu, there are eleven of them, then you are poured a glass. Once you decide on your favorite you are poured a glass. Only a wine geek could find time to taste them all because the music is irresistible. It makes a turn on the dance floor, in the shade of the winery shed, almost mandatory. When you catch your breath you can
fortify yourself with a piece of pizza.

The pizza comes from an oven Johnson ordered when he was touring Italy. When it arrived he was shocked by how big it was. "I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I don’t have that many friends," he joked. Well, now he does.

Winterhawk Winery hosts hundreds of people each weekend, many of whom are regulars, without any marketing outside a Facebook page and an email list of 3000. Last year he expanded his regular Saturday get-togethers to include Community Service Sundays, when 20% of the proceeds go to a different non-profit each week. Johnson is happy to wave off questions about wine to Gustafsson, but when talk turns to music, his eyes light up. It’s obvious that entertaining in the middle of his vineyard is what sends him.

The music may be what makes his blue eyes shine, but Johnson is no slouch about his wine. He’s proud of Gustafsson’s U.C. Davis credentials. On the day I visited she was working with cellar master Steve Eaton to ensure that their Pinot Gris was stable under cold conditions. The frosty tank was about the last thing I expected to see on a 95 degree day. Chilling the wine to 27 degrees forces tiny crystals out of the wine before it is filtered and bottled. Gustafsson’s explanations are littered with chemical jargon but it’s the flavors that brought her to winemaking, "What it comes down to is flavor. I think you have to really like the wine you’re making." She enjoys the challenge of eleven different wines. "Each vintage is a story. The weather that year, the rainfall, new farming techniques. Don gives us a lot of autonomy."

All the wines are under $20, three to try:

Refreshing as a sea breeze on a hot day, the 2011 Albarino was bright and crisp with a touch of minerality.

The 2010 Winterhawk Red packed such an aromatic wallop that I could smell it a couple feet away as the glass sat on a table beside me. The raspberry flavors gave way to hints of cocoa, pepper and black cherry on the finish. This would taste great with some Brie and French bread or a grilled cheese sandwich.

Eaton made the late harvest Sauvingon Blanc from grapes picked about a month after the regular harvest. I usually associate “late harvest” with desert but you could drink this with a meal. The apple and lime notes are delicious, if a wine can taste like a margarita, this is it.

Fitting, I suppose, for wine that comes from a man they call Patrón.

 

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