New entrepreneurial thinking can bring profitable differentiation to all markets.
In a recent podcast episode, Jeremy Vesta gave context to this notion by explaining how his business, Harmony Beef, brings innovation to a lightly differentiated industry like beef. Check out the results below or click here download the PDF version.
Jeremy Vesta is a partner in Vesta Holdings, and a manager of Harmony Beef, a greenfield start-up in the fresh beef industry. Fresh beef might be thought of as a commoditized industry. But new entrepreneurial thinking can bring profitable differentiation to all markets. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
What’s the entrepreneurial response if you are operating in a commodity-like market?
A fresh beef processor stands in the middle of the production chain, downstream from the unprocessed inputs and upstream relative to the distributors, retailers and consumers. Some abundant products and services that are inputs to finished consumer goods are deemed to be commodities and subject to price competition – the lowest price gets the contract. Market conditions like these can be very challenging for entrepreneurs, apparently leaving little room for the kind of value creation or brand building that will generate higher prices and customer loyalty. What’s the right entrepreneurial response?
Operational excellence is a primary pillar of value provision in commodity markets.
Jeremy’s first foundational principle for value creation in his industry – fresh beef – is operational excellence. It is often overlooked as a source of value by theorists, but not by customers. When they can count on exactness in meeting specifications, when their preferred timing is respected, when the quantities they ordered are the quantities that are delivered, customers translate the reliability of promises kept into trustworthiness, and the integrity of contractual precision into relationship strength. Operational excellence is often underestimated as a source of customer value.
The same is true further up the production chain. When an operator exhibits excellence to upstream suppliers and vendors, they are reassured that they are selling into a waste-free and efficient partnership, without operating friction or relationship tension. Check out the rest of Jeremy’s fundamental principles for value creation in his industry in our PDF download: Value Innovation Pathways for Harmony Beef.
An operator in a lightly differentiated market can provide the valuable service of transmitting market signals up and down the chain.
Austrian economists say that the capital structure of an industry reflects the preferences of the end-consumer. Once customer and supplier relationships are established, the middle-of-the-production chain firm can provide a valuable market function as a curator, evaluator and transmitter of market signals. In Jeremy’s business, consumer signals pass through retailers as a request for “more products like that” or, conversely, as a non-purchase that shows up as “shrink” (a perishable product that is unsold before its expiration date). Jeremy’s firm can pass these signals to the upstream suppliers to adjust their production practices. Similarly, social conversations in the marketplace about grass-fed beef, or organic beef, or hormone free/antibiotic free beef can be passed up the chain to producers willing to respond, and the resulting new products can be marketed as innovations by the retailer.
Careful and responsive market signal management enables increasingly sophisticated consumer, customer and product segmentation.
True commodity markets, if there are such things, defy segmentation. The operator who senses the potential for market changes by curating market signals can create effective segmentation to increase differentiation and therefore profits. When the upstream producer provides more grass-fed beef in response to the market signals transmitted through Jeremy’s company, the supply side is newly segmented to Jeremy’s benefit. Then his company can supply the beef to selected retailers, restaurants and foodservice distributors who have expressed an interest in serving it to consumers, thus creating strong downstream segmentation and relationships. The capability to organize market signals, deduce evolutions in consumer preference, and to be a catalyst for innovation in the production chain is an important value-creation skill, even in (perhaps especially in) a lightly differentiated market.
The use of technology is another source of differentiation.
Jeremy identified vacuum-packaging as a consumer-value creating technological advance in his industry. The product arrives at the consumer in a fresher condition and better protected, and provides the consumer more convenience as well as greater confidence in storing and handling. Jeremy’s company is an early adopter of such operational technologies, procuring the most advanced machinery and the latest componentry (such as high-tech bag material) to ensure the best functional performance (better / more complete vacuum) and therefore the greatest level of consumer emotional benefit (trust). Beef is still beef, but packaging and presentation are open pathways to greater customer satisfaction.
Most importantly, a firm can bring its own distinguishing values to bear in any market.
Culture, values and integrity can’t be commoditized. Jeremy’s family chose the name Harmony for their beef company with great care and purposeful intent. Harmony up and down the production chain is built on trust and service. The company realizes more value when it exhibits core, true, genuine empathy. All market participants operate more efficiently when there is unquestioned trust. Each helps the other realize its goals. That doesn’t mean that there are never any problems or disputes, but integrity always defuses tensions, and trust always finds collaborative understanding. Setting high standards and adhering to a distinguished set of high values is beneficial for the whole production chain. Fairness pervades transactions. The market synchronizes when the counterparties in trades include care and trust in their dealings.
https://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/e4e-long-1.jpg3001000Hunter Hastingshttps://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/hh-logo-blk.svgHunter Hastings2019-05-28 14:00:072020-01-22 14:23:4415. Jeremy Vesta On How To Create Differentiated Value In Seemingly Undifferentiated Markets.
Hunter breaks down the life of an entrepreneur with C Jay Engel, a successful digital technologist and author.
The entrepreneurial life is good for the individual, the family, society and civilization. Whether your entrepreneurial undertaking is something small or something huge, or somewhere in between, doing something entrepreneurial, utilizing your own resources, benefits others and is therefore heroic.
Successful entrepreneurs should not be called upon to “give back” to society. The entrepreneurs’ role itself is socially beneficial. They make money by producing goods and services that consumers value more than the money they pay to acquire them. Society – in the form of the market – has its own feedback loop to tell the entrepreneur whether or not value is being created for others: profit is the signal that society is experiencing value, and loss is the signal that the entrepreneur got it wrong and is not creating value. There is no need for a bureaucrat to tell us.
But you don’t need a social purpose or a change-the-world idea, or even a monetary goal to be an entrepreneur. Just get started.
C Jay Engel started straight out of school. Entrepreneurship was stability; bread and butter. He had skills in project management and found that people needed those skills, and he developed a consulting business. He was able to try to expand in other areas, which took him into technology; successes and failures were part of the recipe, as was fun. He enjoyed himself and was able to develop as a person.
The pursuit of higher values can come later, when your entrepreneurial business matures and stabilizes.
Initially, C Jay focused on what was immediately in front of him. Plans shift quickly and new directions open up, and agility is required. You can’t plan your entire entrepreneurial life at the outset. Now – still in his thirties – he is able to reflect on what he calls “grander things”, like the legacy he will leave to his kids. Not the financial one, but the kind of world he can contribute to, that they will live in. He likes to think that there are hundreds and thousands of entrepreneurs all over the world doing the same thing to help bring about that good world. It’s an exciting and inspiring spontaneous order: entrepreneurs making a better world by helping individuals.
Is entrepreneurship especially arduous?
It can be. Think of Elon Musk. The task of getting people to Mars to establish a colony is pretty arduous. It’s less so if you’re setting up a consulting shop. But there is uncertainty to grapple with, and doing so requires a certain mindset. It’s a learning process, and trying different ways to handle uncertainty in the multiple different ways you’ll encounter it makes you a better, more developed person. Constant self-awareness helps you realize what you need to do to handle conditions of uncertainty.
Does that mean that a special set of personal attributes is required to be an entrepreneur? Is there a personality test?
We’ve had a number of guests talk about elements of entrepreneurship, like a bias for action, risk mitigation, and brutal determination. But these are patterns of behavior more than they are personality traits. C Jay’s advice is: just do it. Examine yourself along the way and you’ll find out your strengths. And when you find that there are places where you can strengthen yourself (or your team), that’s what other people are for. You can’t be highly successful without engaging other people, so focus on that rather than on any so-called “weaknesses” you may be told you have.
Technology helps you assemble not only your team, but also a full set of entrepreneurial resources. The entrepreneurial economy is highly collaborative.
Whether it is Upwork or LinkedIn or Alibaba or Amazon, technology can help you assemble a team, a full set of resources and a supply chain. You can find marketers and accountants and engineers and interconnect them all over the globe or locally, in a team. Team building and team motivation are core skills (and can be a limiting factor). Self-reliance does not mean the same thing as it did in the past. The rugged individual is not the driver of the market economy. In fact, the entrepreneurial economy is highly collaborative – self-supporting rather than self-reliant. Any capital you acquire depends on the entrepreneurs in the earlier stage who produced it for you, in anticipation of your needs. Price signals from other entrepreneurs guide you. No entrepreneur is alone. The invisible hand is actually visible – it’s the price mechanism connecting you to all the people and all the resources in the world.
How do we communicate this narrative to the world? The socialists are better at marketing than the entrepreneurs.
Such harsh words are used about profit, and yet it is the social signal of approval. People who are benefiting from capitalism, like Hollywood celebrities and Silicon Valley billionaires, do not understand capitalism and decry it. What should entrepreneurs do? Just keep working at entrepreneurship. Keep making life better for customers and everyone else. It’s also healthy to reflect on how you are benefiting people around you. If you have a chance to say something or write something and share an idea then take it. Doing so is itself an act of entrepreneurship. Our message will emerge from the communication efforts of individuals.
It’s a new publication located somewhere between the academic rigor of QJAE and the shorter articles of Mises Daily. Original content in longer form articles, in your choice of digital or a beautifully designed and printed physical magazine. For C Jay, starting a magazine is another example of economic action rather than political action.
https://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/e4e-long-1.jpg3001000Hunter Hastingshttps://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/hh-logo-blk.svgHunter Hastings2019-05-21 15:00:362020-01-22 14:23:5114. C Jay Engel on The Entrepreneurial Life
Per Bylund talks to Hunter Hastings about the value-centric model for successful entrepreneurship, and we provide an infographic to help you apply the model to your own business.
Subjective value is an important subject in economics — and even more so in entrepreneurship, where it is fundamental to what entrepreneurs do. It’s the critical factor in entrepreneurial success. Business schools talk about “creating value” and “value added” as if value creation were an objective process. But it’s not. And businesses can fail if they misunderstand value, because they can easily produce something for which there is no market.
Value is a felt experience, 100% inside the consumer’s head. Value is a satisfaction that consumers feel. It’s the result of an escape from or a relief from a felt uneasiness, or felt dissatisfaction. That’s often called a “consumer need” in business language, but unease or dissatisfaction are better words to describe what the consumer feels before the entrepreneur’s new solution is offered. Unease and dissatisfaction are hard to articulate, they are emotional conditions, they are affected by context and circumstance, and they can be inconsistent and idiosyncratic. The consumer feels, perhaps vaguely, that life could be better, or their current circumstances could be improved. Value is the feeling the consumer experiences in the period after having consumed the entrepreneur’s offering that relieves this vague feeling. They feel better – perhaps in a way that the entrepreneur never expected.
The consumer’s perception of value can change, in unanticipated ways, and very quickly. Take food as an example. Consumer needs are changing rapidly. There’s a new unease about ingredients and methods of production. It’s not exactly clear what the consumer “wants”, but their preferences are changing to include notions of holistic health and wellness, so that taste and calories and other attributes of food are less important to them. We can’t rely on consumers wanting today what they wanted yesterday. Just look at the problems big companies like Kraft-Heinz are experiencing as they try to keep up with this rapid and broad-based change in consumer preferences. And it is even harder to predict where the consumer is going next on this journey of change.
So, if value is perceived by the consumer, what do entrepreneurs really do? Do they create value, or add value, or something else? Per Bylund thinks of entrepreneurship as facilitating value. Entrepreneurs can’t create it and can’t add it. They design a value proposition based on their empathic understanding of what the consumer wants and of their sense of unease about their current circumstances, and they present this value proposition to the consumer. Then they must listen for and measure the consumer’s response to find out if the consumer is experiencing value.
Production must be designed with the consumer in mind. The consumer is the boss, and the production chain must reflect the consumer’s preferences and change with their evolving tastes. The economists refer to consumer sovereignty — the consumer determines what is value, and therefore which entrepreneurial initiatives are successful and which are not. The successful entrepreneur designs a production chain that can deliver value. In a very real sense, the physical and financial and human capital in the production process must be a reflection of the consumer’s preferences and desires. The consumer’s preferences determine the capital structure.
And since the consumer’s preferences are continuously changing, the successful entrepreneur practices a kind of capital dynamism that follows these changes and, to the extent possible, imagines where the consumer is headed, because production takes time and entrepreneurs are always concentrating on facilitating future value.
Advertising, marketing and communications are a fundamental part of the value proposition and not a supplemental part. The entrepreneur must tell a persuasive story about the value the consumer will experience. Advertising and marketing are ways of communicating to the consumer that there are new alternatives available to them — new ways to improve their circumstances and feel like life is better. Often, the entrepreneur is a pioneer, creatively interpreting the consumer’s need and developing a solution that the consumer might not have thought of on their own, but which they’ll embrace when they find out about it. Sort of like the Model T the consumers got in place of the “faster horses” they asked for in the (probably apocryphal) store about Henry Ford. Advertising and marketing tell the entrepreneur’s story, and they’re an important and integral part of the value proposition.
This consumer-first (or customer-first) process works in B2B businesses as well. When selling to or supplying a B2B customer, it’s important to know the customer’s individual preferences and needs, which are subjective — the need to feel satisfaction — in just the same way that the consumer’s needs are subjective. In fact, since the ultimate consumer determines what is valuable throughout the production chain, an entrepreneur who is knowledgeable about the B2B customer’s end consumer can establish an advantage. Being able to demonstrate (1) a deep knowledge of the end-consumer’s needs (especially when they are changing), and (2) how to bring the B2B customer’s position into greater alignment with those needs, makes the vendor-entrepreneur an especially important partner. The B2B customer will experience their own sense of satisfaction and value in the exchange.
The entrepreneur who adheres to a value-centric process has the greatest chance of success. The entrepreneur’s process of thinking must start at the consumer and work “backwards” to production. The entrepreneur must live inside the consumer’s mind, and employ empathy to understand the consumer’s subjective needs and wants. From an empathic diagnosis, the entrepreneur designs a product or service and a value proposition and takes it to the consumer when it is ready. By this time, the consumer may have changed, and so speed and agility are mandatory. It’s easier said than done. But it is critically important, especially for a new business or initiative. For established businesses, when the consumer changes, it’s extremely hard to change with them.
https://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/e4e-long-1.jpg3001000Hunter Hastingshttps://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/hh-logo-blk.svgHunter Hastings2019-05-14 15:05:012020-01-22 14:23:5813. Per Bylund on Subjective Value
How should you think about the different stages of Value Facilitation?
On a recent podcast episode with Per Bylund, we discussed the notion of subjective value and its importance in business development. We created the following infographic to help entrepreneurs gain a better understanding of the process. Check it out below or click here download the PDF version.
https://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/e4e-long-1.jpg3001000Hunter Hastingshttps://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/hh-logo-blk.svgHunter Hastings2019-05-14 14:00:292019-06-25 11:33:21The Subjective Value Cycle
In our ongoing project to build a solid bridge between the theory and practice of entrepreneurship, we explored the connection between organizational psychology and the entrepreneurial personality.
Lisa Stevenson studied I/O Psych as an undergrad, in connection with business courses, and became fascinated with it. I/O Psych is shorthand for Industrial and Organizational Psychology – the application of psychology in the workplace. Lisa went on to post-graduate studies and a Masters Degree in I/O Psych. She applied it in consulting companies, first as a recruiter and then as an organizational development consultant.
The application of I/O Psych is aimed at improving people outcomes and people performance within firms.
The discipline embraces talent and fit – does an organization have the right talent to get jobs and projects done now and in the future, and do the people with the right talents “fit” the firm’s values. Often, firms use I/O Psych to develop pro forma profiles and compare individual assessments to those profiles, looking to emphasize the most desired characteristics and avoid those that are unwanted.
One of the methods of I/O Psych is the application of self-assessment tools.
There exists a wide range of psychology-based or psychology-inspired self-assessment questionnaires and surveys that are focused on assisting firms and their HR departments to evaluate and optimize their employee base. One particular application is the combination of different personality types in teams in an attempt to balance strengths and maximize collaborative output and productivity. One of the prominent self-assessment tools Lisa mentioned is MBTI (Myers Briggs Typology Indicator) – a popular free version of which is available at 16personalities.com. Another is Business Chemistry, the internal tool used at the global consulting firm Deloitte, where Lisa works in Talent And Development. You can take this self-assessment yourself at businesschemistry.deloitte.com, and find the explanations and implications of their personality classifications. A third widely used self-assessment tool is StrengthsFinder from Gallup.
Can self-assessment help entrepreneurs to succeed?
Lisa says yes – but not in the same way that corporations use self-assessment. The entrepreneurial role – whether (co-)founder / CEO or team member – is different. It requires adaptability, being able to do lots of things well, not just one thing; to earn new jobs and skills, including “dirty work”; to be deeply involved in all aspects of operations to understand and master how the entire business functions, not just one aspect of it. When she is hiring for entrepreneurial roles she looks for (1) a bias for action and (2) a willingness to take risk (such as learning a new skill or taking on a new task) combined with a skill at mitigating risk (learning fast, narrowing options quickly, reversing bad choices when new information requires it, without self-criticism). Entrepreneurial self-assessment is not concerned with strengths and weaknesses, but with knowing oneself candidly and acting on that information. There is an entrepreneurial personality based in bias for action and risk mitigation, but it’s not the same for every entrepreneur. It’s best to find your own balance. (At Economics For Entrepreneurs, we are developing a self-assessment that assesses behavioral traits rather than personality traits – you can take the first iteration here.)
As an entrepreneur, Lisa applied the lessons of self-assessment both to herself and to her brand.
Lisa started a growing jewelry brand called Rise Hawaii. Initially, it was based on her hobby of free diving and scuba diving. She would collect shells and sea glass and sell them to jewelers. She discovered that there were no jewelers making exactly the kind of jewelry she preferred personally – a combination of delicate elements with high-end precious metals. She started designing, then manufacturing – learning skills like dipping shells in molten gold – then selling online and distributing to retail stores. Rise Hawaii is now a fast-growing international brand selling online and through more than 20 retailers.
Personality analysis helped her in two ways. She understood her own personality from the self-assessments she had taken, and could observe her own behavior in stretching herself too thin in her business by trying to please every potential customer and meet every demand. By understanding the underlying personality traits, she was able to change behavior for the good of both her business and her best customers. She also applied a similar assessment technique to the personality of her brand. Lisa realized that, initially, she was trying too hard to emulate established “Hawaiian jewelry” branding adopted by others, but this did not reflect her authentic self. She consciously realigned her brand’s personality with her own. The result is a unique and sustainable brand positioning and a happy owner.
And self-assessment helps Lisa imagine her entrepreneurial future: growth through alignment with companies and causes exhibiting values she shares, including worthwhile purposes such as ocean conservation.
There’s a way for all entrepreneurs to benefit from self-assessment and self-awareness.
Take one or more of the self-assessments accessible via the links provided here. Absorb the background information that’s provided. Use it to be self-aware: what do the results tell you about yourself? Did you learn anything new? Can you observe your own behavior and see personality traits at work? Are there any ways in which you are being inauthentic – behaving in ways that others want you to, rather than being true to yourself? What do the results tell you about your personal balance? Where does your profile need shoring up with new practices, new learning, or someone’s help? The key is to be aware, to understand yourself.
https://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/e4e-long-1.jpg3001000Hunter Hastingshttps://hunterhastings.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/hh-logo-blk.svgHunter Hastings2019-05-07 15:16:082020-01-22 14:24:0912. Lisa Stevenson on Organizational Psychology And The Entrepreneurial Personality