86. Allan Branch: Entrepreneurs Are Authors Writing Their Own Story

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Entrepreneurship is a way of life that can be learned around the dinner table.

Allan’s parents were entrepreneurs, although it would never have occurred to him to call them that. They were in the service business, including restaurants and car washes. As a kid, Allan would help around the car wash, everything from washing down cars to emptying the trash to accounting. He internalized the idea that entrepreneurship was always doing two jobs, such as running one car wash while getting another ready for opening. The “two jobs” metaphor stayed with him.

Around the dinner table, the family would talk about how the businesses were going. It wasn’t so much a lesson in entrepreneurship as immersion in a lifestyle.

Entrepreneurship can be the source of a sense of control over one’s destiny.

Following this childhood immersion, Allan quickly realized his felt need to control his own destiny. Being an employee would not achieve that goal. He did not want to await permission to try new pathways. He studied design in college and took on clients for design work, and quickly found out that he had a taste for business. He found out that print design work was not profitable and in declining demand as design shifted to the web. From web design, he migrated to internet software design and production. He calls this pathway “slowly adapting to what I find interesting”, which has been his story for 20 years.

Allan applied his “two jobs” mentality to launching a SaaS accounting software business.

Allan developed a software design and consulting firm, which generated cash flow. He and his business partner poured the cash into developing a superior SaaS accounting software. They worked on it on nights and weekends — doing two jobs. He describes juggling the clients and leads and sales and payroll of the consulting company with the development of a new business with different customers, leads, sales and payroll. The “two jobs” mindset is typical for entrepreneurs as they grow and ideate and innovate.

Agility is a more effective and productive pathway than planning.

Allan tells us that he never had an official roadmap or business plan for the SaaS software company, with known milestones a year or two years or more in the future. Entrepreneurial management lies more in knowing how to be nimble, how to move fast, how to make decisions quickly. The hardest part is knowing what features to work on, when to work on them and how long to work on them.

Orchestration is the entrepreneur’s organizational skill.

To be an entrepreneur, and to build a business around you, it is necessary to attract talent, motivate talent and keep talent. It’s like being a conductor in an orchestra. You may not be the best violin player, but you know what another great violin player sounds like. You know how to assemble a team of players and blend them in a harmonious way.

And the attitude of the employees is as important, if not more important than the talent. Churn in employees is typically a business killer. It’s important to be able to recognize both talent and the right attitude. Allan ascribes success to transparent and continuous communication about the company’s mission and values — these will attract the right talented people.

The journey is strewn with mistakes all the way to its successful conclusion.

Allan built and steadily grew his SaaS software company over a ten year period and then sold it. His analogy is that of the duck that looks like it is gliding smoothly over the water, while kicking like crazy underneath the surface. Self-doubt along the way is normal. Errors and mistakes that require correction are normal. For entrepreneurs, it’s important to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Entrepreneurs are in the human reaction business. The measurement of success is making people smile.

All businesses are human reaction businesses. The goal is to make an emotional bond with the customer: they enjoy the experience you make possible for them, whether it is managing their own accounting using your software over a long period of time, or whether it is finding out about one new feature that they discover and find works well for them. Entrepreneurs strive for those moments of understanding. Making people smile is the metaphor — but in software, it’s hard to see them smile, so it’s necessary to find the right KPI’s that will be a proxy for smiling. Empathy is the skill of being able to feel when invisible customers are smiling.

Allan advanced into real estate and other ventures — but sees it all as storytelling.

After selling his SaaS business, Allan continued in software design and consulting for clients. He also involved himself in real estate, including a brewery in his home town. The brewery is a platform for telling the stories that make up the history of the town. And it is storytelling that Allan makes the overall metaphor of the entrepreneurial life. You are writing the story that your grandkids will tell about you in the future. What is the story you want to write? What is the story you want to tell about your business to attract and engage customers? The great brands and great businesses tell great stories. Entrepreneurship is a story told about life.

Free Downloads & Extras From The Episode

Allan Branch’s Entrepreneurial Journey (PDF): Download PDF

Hunter Hastings mentioned effectuation theory in his prologue to the conversation with Allan Branch. For those interested to learn more, refer to the useful definitional academic paper by Saras D. Sarasvathy, “Causation and Effectuation: Toward a Theoretical Shift from Economic Inevitability to Entrepreneurial Contingency” (PDF): Download PDF

“The Austrian Business Model” (video): https://e4epod.com/model

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Thinking About Reducing Marketing and Advertising During This Down Economy? Perhaps You Should Think Again.

These are interesting times for sure, with many small and large companies making hasty decisions to cut back and, in many cases, to cut out of their budget, the most competitive market tool – advertising.

Companies that are in survival mode should not decrease their advertising spend in the short run. It is an error to assume that customers are not searching for information about a product or service that you can provide. While on the surface, it might seem clear-headed to eliminate marketing activities to protect your firm’s assets, but might we not forget that marketing in general and advertising, in particular, are, in the end, informational devices that drive revenues for the long-run? Everything has a cost, even information, which increases customers’ knowledge of what you offer, location, and price. Advertising identifies sellers to customers and reminds infrequent customers about changes in the state of the market. Companies change what they offer and at what price, along with the changes in customer consumption patterns. Therefore, marketing is an investment, not an expense – this especially rings true for a down economy.

Some say companies that consistently advertise reap significant market benefits more often than competing companies, even during a down economy. Marketing – as far as advertising is concerned – offers firms a market advantage when it comes to customer search costs and brand awareness in the long run. Decreasing marketing and advertising during a down economy comes at a cost to the company and the customer. Cutting advertising diminishes the amount of information in circulation, thereby cutting brand awareness, customer conversions, and unit sales. Essentially, in a COVID economic landscape, firms that do not produce information, i.e., do not advertise and promote their products and services, increase customers’ search costs. In a post-COVID landscape, those firms that decided to decrease marketing and advertising will have created an uphill battle for themselves, making it extremely difficult to break through the noise! If you want to be a market leader, understand that it costs to be the boss!

Marketing is information dissemination, and the firms that do not provide customers with useful information promptly are sure to lose market share, awareness, and customer commitment. Even more costly to the firms that do not advertise during this COVID economy will be the loss of permanence and significance, especially for nascent companies. Newer companies will suffer the errors of not advertising during a down economy in the long run. As opposed to established companies, nascent companies have to break through established brand positions in the market.

Case in point, customers do not know what they need to know unless you tell them – and trust me; they want to know! Without your firm’s marketing, customers will be forced to search and purchase elsewhere. In other words, customers have high time preferences – they want satisfaction now – and added high search costs now will result in a more uncertain future for a company.

Now is the time to be even more vigilant about informing and educating your customers based on specific quality measures, prices, and your offering’s importance to them. Remember, market success is about the delivery of a timely, essential product or service information. Information delivery can be accomplished by incrementally informing customers via content pages, digital campaigns, podcasts, digital marketing, and digital promotions to reap the benefits of digital flexibility that increasingly lower customers’ search costs.

We must also not forget that advertising is a social function. A function that should not be ignored but fulfilled. At the same time, advertising is the primary device in which companies of all types bring forth market opportunities to customers. That is, the information costs incurred by the customer are the driver from not knowing to know. Why would customers cease to accept information from their market providers during a down economy? Do customers cease buying things of importance during a down economy? Brands that are choosing to go dark on marketing must think about the subjective nature of customer value and expectations. Failure to meet expectations in the future will result in long periods of resuscitation going into a post-COVID economy.

There are many new methods on the horizon for you to deliver timely advertising. However, it is best to use the technique most satisfactory to your customer, not to all customers, i.e., customers are different in the information needed. Tailored information delivered to your customer during this slowdown is a moment in time where much ground can be gain in lowering knowledge acquisition costs and increasing rapid-fire production of information. Continuous advertising, during this down economy, enables customer conversions and, at any rate, reduces the information cost for customers who find themselves searching for updates of the state of the changing market.

Knowledge comes at a cost. Therefore, the mistake of not advertising will indeed allow a competitor to reap the benefits of your inaction. Unfortunately, customer information and decision-making often are based on past market conditions. Trust me; your customers will love you for keeping them in mind and lowering their search costs, and showing your commitment to them when times are not so great.


Value-In-Experience Is The New Way That Firms See Potential For Value For Their Customers.

Firms who follow the Austrian Business Model framework are focused on value for their customers – a special kind of value. It’s worth reviewing the history of value theory, and how far it has advanced to the present day.

Goods-dominant thinking about value: value-in-use.

In the past, there was a belief that value was inherent in goods. Tide detergent from Procter and Gamble, for example, boasted special ingredients on which the manufacturer based their promise to make white clothes whiter and colored clothes brighter. The value was claimed to lie in the superior performance of the product formulation. The consumer was the happy recipient of this value that the manufacturer had embedded in the product. This was the prototypical value-in-use scenario, wherein value was created by producers.

Service-dominant thinking about value: value-in-service.

At a later stage in the evolution of value theory, it was realized that the economy was shifting from goods-dominance to service dominance, so the logic of value embedded in products was no longer relevant. Consumers and business customers were not, it was further realized, passive recipients of value. Services are a two-way interaction in which the customer is as active as the service provider. Value, it was identified, is co-created by the service provider and the customer. Think of IT services provided by a vendor to a customer. The customer makes the service value possible by identifying or prioritizing the problem to be solved or the performance to be upgraded; by providing access to the building and/or computer systems; and by providing people to assist and direct the IT service provider. Co-creation of value becomes the norm in service exchange.

Further, it was realized that Tide is actually the provision of a service to the consumer of helping with laundry tasks. The consumer buys the product for the service it provides, The consumer also provides the washing machine, the timing and occasion of the washing task and the kinds of clothes being washed, feedback about performance, and additional aspects of co-creation of value. Therefore co-creation of value became the standard value theory for both products and services.

Value-dominant thinking: value-in-experience.

Businesses have now advanced further in their value theory and value provision. It is now realized that there is no value unless it is identified by the end-user, either the consumer or the business customer. Value is formed only in their domain. In this context, value has a new definition. It is value as an experience. Value is a feeling in the customer’s mind. Customers first appraise a value proposition made by the service provider or goods manufacture – a promise made to them that they evaluate: is there anything in this proposition for me? If so, the customer compares the proposed value to all the alternative substitutes available on the market, as well as comparing the proposed value to not buying at all, saving money for a future purchase opportunity. If they detect relative value, they will make a decision on a value exchange – actually parting with dollars to acquire the service or good that’s on offer.

The most important part of the value process follows: the customer uses the product or service and evaluates the experience of doing so. How does it feel? What emotions are they experiencing? A feeling of satisfaction? A feeling of ease and convenience? A feeling that the experience is better than anticipated? Or worse? Does the task performance feel as enhanced as the service provider promised?

The customer steps back after this cycle of anticipating value / appraising relative value / value exchange / value experience in order to make a final decision: was the overall experience valuable? If they feel that it was, they will enter the cycle again to repeat the experience so long as the same feeling continues to be available to them.


There are significant implications for firms and brands who internalize this new understanding of value-as-experience.

  • They realize that they cannot create value. Value-creation is standard business school terminology, but it is not an accurate description of the value process. Firms can only facilitate value as a contribution to the customer’s value creation. Facilitation means designing a value proposition based on an understanding of customer needs and preferences. It means making a value promise to those customers to make them aware of the potential for new value. It means monitoring customers in their evaluation, exchange and experience. It means understanding their final value appraisal, and the experiential emotions behind it. Facilitation is complex and requires constant attention, but the final decision is the customer’s.


  •  The skillset that is required for successful value-facilitation is built on customer empathy. Empathy is a boundary-crossing capability – it’s as applicable to the production department and the IT department as it is to the marketing and sales departments. Understanding the mind and emotions of the customer is job 1 for everyone in the contemporary firm.


  • The standard mode of action for the value-facilitating firm is responsiveness. They continuously monitor changes in customer preferences and their changing assessment of their options and priorities. They know that customers are continuously adjusting, rebalancing, re-evaluating and re-assessing their choices and decisions based on their life experiences. They are comfortable with this mode of continuous change. They are flexible and agile, avoiding rigidity and hierarchy. They don’t let bureaucracy or any other organizational design attributes get in the way of responding to the customer.


  • The ethic of value-facilitating firms is service. They understand that the customer’s preferred experience includes a feeling of trust in their chosen service providers and brands.

Value facilitation is the new required core competency for firms and entrepreneurs. It’s hard to learn through case studies because the process is so dynamic and responsive to changing market environments. It requires every one of your employees, all your software and all your data collection capabilities to be focused on empathic understanding of customer behavior and the deduction process to determine the changing emotions and preferences behind that behavior. We try to explore value facilitation and value-in-experience in depth in the Economics For Entrepreneurs podcast.