61. Yousif Almoayyed: Good Business Ethics Are Simply Good Business

Austrians maintain an active focus on business ethics. Why? It’s simple self-interest. As entrepreneurs, we want to succeed; individuals can’t do it alone, we need to co-operate with other people.

Key Takeaways And Actionable Insights

In continuing transactions and exchanges between two parties, each side must benefit, otherwise, one side will not be open to further transactions in the future, and will terminate the relationship.

Ethical entrepreneurs focus on the long term for their entire business ecosystem.

That’s why Henry Hazlitt (in The Foundations Of Morality) emphasized morality as simply a focus on the long term: what he called The Long-Run Principle. Entrepreneurship always maintains a focus on the long term (i.e., beyond individual one-time transactions), and good business ethics is simply good business sense in this perspective. Transactions that are mutually beneficial are ethical.

Yousif Almoayyed extends this perspective to the entire business ecosystem: customers, employees, vendors and suppliers, and the community in which a business operates.

Good ethics generate sound business relationships.

As we have emphasized many times, business and brands make a promise to their customers. Those customers must have faith that the promise will be kept. Otherwise there will be repercussions such as termination of contracts, and loss of faith in the future relationship. Customers place more trust in a company that demonstrates a higher level of ethics. They’ll pay more and seek to extend their relationship. Banks will extend better terms.

Unethical behavior destroys trust and co-operation and has a very high cost. As Stephen Phelan pointed out in Episode #56, relationships built on trust operate faster with less friction. Trusting partners co-operate better. Information flows unimpeded. Losing these advantages is highly damaging.

Your good business ethics are important to the individual development, personal commitment and productivity of your employees.

The company that is ethical will be able to develop the potential of its employees to a higher level. Ethical entrepreneurs give their employees freedom to take initiative, within the norms and cultural guidelines that emerge naturally from collaborative attitudes.

The tactics of implementation can vary by level and role. Front line workers are paid for their production; managers are paid to enhance the productivity of those they manage. Incentives are aligned via wages and salaries and profit sharing so that every employee is looking out for the best interests of the company. When they are, employees think beyond their immediate task; when they do so they are thinking at a higher level. An ethical firm develops employees’ sense of the bigger picture and finding their highest and best role; employees know they’ll be rewarded for doing so.

It’s not appropriate to try to incentivize employees by paying them above market rates. It’s the wrong incentive. They will become defensive and self-protecting; they’ll avoid hiring people to work in their department who might prove to be smarter and more productive, because they become fearful of protecting their over-compensation, knowing they can’t reproduce it elsewhere in the market. Ethics gets compensation right.

Does your firm prize clever, capable people? Does management keep their promises to help employees develop and flourish?

Ethics are fundamental to a business’s relationship with its community.

This comes up often in the context of environmentalism. But ethical business is not the powerless victim of activists. Ethical business is honest and truthful about the costs and benefits of specific business activities – and there are always both when viewed from a community perspective — and weighs them carefully in the balance of long term perspective. There is an ethical logic to the market — if business manages resources well and for the net benefit of all, it will be awarded with more resources to manage.

You don’t need to be a trained ethicist. Just ask yourself some simple questions about any firm. Whether you are an employee, a manager, an owner, a shareholder or a stakeholder, you can ask these questions to ascertain the ethical nature of any firm — including your own.

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46. 8 Austrian Actions for 2020

Entrepreneurship is action. It’s a process in which the actions of the entrepreneur are decisive. In the final podcast of 2019, we suggest 8 action steps you can take for the betterment of your business in 2020 and beyond.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Below are the 8 actions you can immediately take to make your business more Austrian in 2020.

1. Conduct an Empathic Diagnosis.

The entrepreneur’s first job is to understand the customer, their hopes and fears, their goals and wants, and their feelings. There’s a skill for that, and a method. The skill is empathy – the ability to feel what the customer feels.

The method is empathic diagnosis. The secret is not to ask the customer what they want or what they need, but to ask them how they feel. They can tell you that, but they can’t tell you why. That comes in step 2.

To ask them how they feel, use the Contextual Interview tool.

Think of it as a conversation with a customer whose feelings you are aiming to identify via a discussion in context. Look for responses that have “feeling” words – painful, frustrating, boring, annoying. Success! You’ve hit an emotional seam you can mine. Now dig in to understand their goals, and the means they choose to achieve those goals.

After the interview, you can collate the dissatisfactions, the emotional pain points and the functional failures. Then you can curate these inputs into functional, cognitive and emotional components of a potential new solution – i.e. new features (functional), new beliefs about what’s possible (cognitive) and better feelings about the experience (emotional). You now have a first building block for the design of a service or innovation that has high potential for facilitating new and higher value for the customer.

2. Construct a Means-End Chain to generate insights about hidden customer Motivations.

The output of your empathic diagnosis provides the basis for your next step. The goal is to generate an understanding about the motivations of the customer that they can’t quite explain themselves. People do not have introspective access to their motivations. Motivations are unconscious. People don’t know what Rory Sutherland calls the real why that explains their actions.

Smart entrepreneurs can find out this real why, using our means-end chain tool. 

Take an easel pad or a wall, mark out the links as different levels, starting at the contact point at the bottom and advancing one by one to the highest value at the top. Use sticky notes to populate each level with the appropriate customer responses from the empathic diagnosis. Then join the most pertinent items together that link each level – at this contact point, they perceive these features and attributes, that generate this functional benefit and this emotional benefit all of which are logically land causally linked to the pursuit of the highest value. Recalculate this sequence a few times until you are confident you’ve identified the strongest route to the highest value the customer is seeking when he or she is in your space. You now have an insight into the customer’s hidden motivations, and you can use it to build a strong brand.

3. Build a strong brand with our Brand Uniqueness Blueprint.

Building a strong brand provides you with a financial machine – a capital asset that can generate customer revenues reliably over time, because it meets customer needs and solves customer problems better than any alternative.

You can download our Brand Uniqueness Blueprint here.

The brand uniqueness blueprint helps you identify the two parts of your brand foundation: who is it for – i.e. whose problem are you solving, whose needs are you meeting. The term for this is Relevance. And how are you solving that problem in a superior fashion – that’s Differentiation.

Use our brand uniqueness blueprint by clicking the link. You’ll find an instructions template, an example using a real brand, and a blank template you can use for your own brand. If you want to send us a completed blueprint for your own brand via our Mises For Business LinkedIn page, we’ll be glad to give your comments.

4. Complete a Resource Uniqueness Inventory.

Our first three action items have been directed at your customer understanding and embedding that understanding in your brand blueprint.

Let us turn to your firm’s capabilities. You want these to be unique to your purpose, just as your brand is. Austrian Economics focuses you on individualism, and that includes your own individual experience, knowledge and skills. Our fault often lies in underestimating our own unique resources. One answer to this fault is to conduct an inventory or an audit.

In 2019, Dr Stephen Phelan gave us a resource-based theory of entrepreneurship, under the acronym: PROFIT, standing for Physical Resources, Reputational Resources, Organizational Resources, Financial Resources, Intellectual and Human Resources and Technological Resources. Here’s a link to Steve’s list. You can use it to organize your understanding of your own resources.

5. Imagine a Future Value Experience that your resources can deliver.

Whom shall I serve?

One way to answer this question is to imagine a future experience that customers will value. Mark Packard showed us how to do this by activating customer value as a learning experience in 5 steps.

  • Predicted value – it’s a picture you generate in the customer’s mind with your value proposition.
  • Relative value – it’s a calculation the customer makes compared with alternatives.
  • Exchange value – getting the customer to actually exchange dollars for your offering.
  • Experience value – the act of consumption in which the customer actually experiences value.
  • Value assessment – the customer conducts an assessment of value retrospectively. Looking back on the cycle, was the experienced value greater or less than the predicted value. Was it better or worse than the alternative, perhaps a brand that the customer abandoned in favor of yours? Does it feel that the experience was worth the dollars given in exchange? This is a place to identify a measurement of the value you have generated – but be careful: it must be a measurement of feelings and perception, which is a tricky measurement proposition.

When imagining the new value experience you are trying to facilitate, make sure to imagine every stage in sequence and how you can best stimulate each one. Download the Value Learning Process Knowledge Map to help your understanding.

6. Initiate an innovation project to deliver on the imagined value experience.

Innovation is the indispensable fuel of entrepreneurial success. The customer is continuously changing – rebalancing their preferences, seeking improvement in their circumstances, looking to feel better about their current situation. Dynamism on the part of the entrepreneur is mandatory.

Curt Carlson gave entrepreneurs the formula for managing innovation systematically. He uses the formula he calls N-A-B-C.

N stands for identifying the customer need.

The A is your approach. Your business model, your uniqueness, your capability of delivering, your technology, your logistics, the complete package of commercially fulfilling the need.

The B is benefits per costs in Curt’s language – what Mark Packard identified as relative value to the customer.

The C in the N-A-B-C formula represents competition and alternatives. It’s imperative for entrepreneurs always to understand the alternatives the customer has available to them.

Click here for our Knowledge Map of the N-A-B-C formulation.

7. Conduct a time inventory then cut it.

One of the most important ways Austrian Economics helps entrepreneurs is with a strategic appreciation of the role of time. Production, the process of delivering a value proposition to the customer, takes time. The entrepreneur assumes the cost of time, while the customer values time in their own subjective way and may seek alternatives that offer better time value. We are just beginning to understand how valuable time is to the customer – look at the success of just-in-time restocking systems, same-day delivery and overnight global distribution.

Steve Denning told us that time is now a strategic weapon of the entrepreneur – and a strategic dimension on which competition takes place. The customer wants speed, so the entrepreneur must manufacture speed.

A good step for the entrepreneur is to conduct a time audit. Examine all your processes that take time. Then imagine ways to reduce that time. Look at time from the viewpoint of the customer – where in the service experience would they welcome time reductions or time savings? How could you deliver them? Make time part of your innovation program. Give time back to your customers.

8. Identify your next innovation that makes life easier for the customer.

Austrian Economics always looks at business from the customer’s viewpoint. It sees that the overarching strategy that defines the digital era from a customer perspective is making things easy. Easier by a factor of 10X or 100X. Online purchasing is easier. Overnight delivery is easier. Cloud computing is easier. Subscription models are easier.

Customers today are permanently dissatisfied with the degree of difficulty of getting things done. Because they’ve seen how much easier things can be in so many areas, so many parts of the landscape. Entrepreneurs are competing to make things easier for them.

So here’s an exercise you can conduct. Imagine a way in which you can make things easier for your customers. Your empathic diagnosis might reveal several ways. Then imagine how your system could deliver the increase in ease – by a 10 or 100X factor. Then imagine a piece of digital intelligence or AI that might be able to implement the improvement for you. Then search for it on Github or elsewhere. You don’t have to develop the technology – you just need to imagine what it can deliver in increased ease for your customer.


In summary: these are 8 action items that are suggested by Austrian analysis for improving your business by improving your understanding of your customer and your delivery of new and better solutions for them. All 8 are practical and depend mainly on imagination. They cover empathic understanding, branding, resource assembly, value learning, innovation, costs, convenience, and time. We hope that we have provided valuable content for you to think about as you make your business more Austrian in 2020. Let us know.

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8 Austrian Actions Checklist PDF: Our Free E4E Knowledge Graphic
Understanding The Mind of The Customer: Our Free E-Book

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23. Per Bylund on Entrepreneurial Strategy

Business strategy in books and business schools has tended to towards metaphors of sports or war. There are playing fields or battlefields, and the strategy question is “Where to play, and how to win?” In other words, it’s a competitive strategy, where one firm wins and others lose, within some pre-set boundaries of industry structure. This is hardly useful for the start-up or SME entrepreneur, or indeed for any executive in any company who is dedicated to delivering customer value.

Austrian entrepreneurship, built on foundations from Austrian Economics, focuses on the strategic question of how to facilitate customer value. That requires a 100% focus on the customer — not competitors or industry structures. Per Bylund explains how adherence to this one core principle drives a very different approach to business strategy.

Show Notes

Strategy in business schools is about how to gain a competitive advantage. Austrian entrepreneurs think differently — they are constantly probing their own customer understanding rather than thinking about competition. An entrepreneur’s time is his or her most valuable resource, and they don’t waste it thinking about other entrepreneurs. Competition is usually understood as a firm’s relative position in a well-defined industry. It’s an idea from the economics of the early 20th century, when economists were thinking about market structures like oligopolies producing near-identical goods and services, and how firms performed within these structures. 21st century entrepreneurs don’t think that way.

Entrepreneurs pursue uniqueness: to become the customer’s choice by delivering the greatest value. Entrepreneurs spend their strategy time focused externally on customers and target customers. They are the ones who create value, in the form of an experience of satisfaction or pleasure. The entrepreneur’s task is to facilitate that value experience by offering a product or service that will be perceived as valuable. If the customer is dissatisfied with the status quo, then the entrepreneur’s strategy is to bring to market a solution that eliminates that felt dissatisfaction.

Deep understanding and deep empathy are the entrepreneur’s strategy tools. How can entrepreneurs facilitate value, if customers are the only ones who can create it? The answer lies in deep understanding of customers at the emotional level — how they feel. There is no shortage of data to help shed light: just initiate a conversation with them and they’ll talk about their dissatisfactions and hopes and concerns. They won’t design new products and services for you — that’s the entrepreneur’s job. But the application of deep empathy — truly understanding how the customer feels by seeing things from their perspective rather than yours — will take you to the level of understanding that’s required. If you are really, really good at this — in fact, if you can make it a unique capability — then you’ll realize success. Empathy is the best strategy.

Austrian entrepreneurs are rivals with each other for the customer’s dollar. Entrepreneurs’ continuous striving for uniqueness enables more and more satisfying and valuable customer experiences. All entrepreneurs are rivals — to do a better job of facilitating value for customers. If the customer buys a new digital printer rather than a new dress, the printer maker and the dressmaker are rivals. The dressmaker is stimulated to raise their game in value facilitation so that, next time, the customer buys the dress instead of, say, a bathroom rug.

There are some tools for customer understanding. The best one is conversation. We discussed various research techniques and tools such as the Voice Of The Customer, a method of data and information collection across all kinds of knowledge categories, capable of analysis and potentially leading to insightful interpretation. Dr. Bylund thought these tools worthwhile, but with the risk of being too formalistic. The Austrian route to deep understanding is one-on-one conversation: talking with customers about their feelings and their lives and their preferences, and perhaps getting them to discuss a prototype or rough description of a product or service. Numerical surveys and quantitative analysis are less useful.

Voice of the Customer Tool

There are also tools for internal allocation of resources to support uniqueness of products and services. We discussed the VRIN principle: reviewing the resources and capabilities of the entrepreneurial firm to ensure they are:

V – Value-creating: how much does a resource or capability or software feature or service element directly contribute to facilitating a valuable experience for the customer.

R – Rare: to achieve your uniqueness in delivering value, look for resources and capabilities that are unique, or at least rare. These could be particularly skillful individuals on the team or processes and recipes developed over time that are uniquely refined and uniquely aligned with the value preferences of your target customers.

I – Inimitable: if your capability can be imitated with a similar (but perhaps not identical) feature that delivers the same level of customer value, then your uniqueness is temporary.

N – Non-substitutable: if you are able to preserve uniqueness, but customers find they can substitute an alternative about which they feel just as good, then you are marketplace position in not sustainable. Customers can sometimes find value not only in direct substitutes but also indirect substitutes — like choosing a glass of wine over a glass of beer. Your unique beer recipe isn’t non-substitutable.

The VRIN formula is a useful lens to look at your internal capabilities. But Dr. Bylund stressed again and again that the strategy answer can not be found inside the company. Entrepreneurs must only think about the customer, and how to facilitate the greatest possible value for them. It’s the only way to build and sustain a business. Always reinvent and innovate. Always look for some new value that you can deliver. Keep talking to the customer, keep tapping into the infinite resource that their dissatisfactions represent — just ask them, they’ll tell you.


PDF icon Download the Voice of the Customer PDF (287 KB)


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11. Per Bylund – What Is Competition?

How should entrepreneurs think about the economic concept of competition? Is there anything to learn? Is thinking about the concept useful for entrepreneurs running businesses? We asked Per Bylund to steer us through this thicket.

Show Notes

In mainstream economic theory, competition occurs between producers or suppliers of commodities. The good is pre-defined and undifferentiated, and competition is a matter of price and the production function. If this theory were looking for an example, it might find it in the gasoline market, where there are lots of gas stations with identical product, everyone has the same information, and price is the main means of competition. Economic theory calls this “perfect competition”, which is an ideal compared to “imperfect competition” (monopoly, duopoly, oligopoly, etc). It’s all pretty unrealistic and there’s nothing for an entrepreneur to learn.

Austrian economics sees competition as entrepreneurs competing for the customer’s dollar. The starting point is consumer sovereignty – the idea that the consumer (or the customer in B2B exchanges) is the one to exercise choice, and therefore determine what is purchased and, consequently, which brands, products and services are successful. An entrepreneur is competing with all the other ways a consumer could spend their dollar: by not buying at all, by buying a direct substitute, or by spending it in another category, or by deferring their purchase to a later time.

To succeed in this competitive environment, the entrepreneur should seek to create unique value. The Austrian logic of competition is value-centric. Value is subjective – it’s a perception of the consumer or customer. The entrepreneur competes for the consumer’s dollar by creating a value that the consumer can not realize from any other source – including non-consumption. The entrepreneur searches for uniqueness, to find a niche where he or she can serve the consumer in a way that no-one else has done before. This is what Peter Thiel calls a “monopoly” in his book Zero To One: a unique offering in a precise niche.

The way to compete is to develop a better empathic understanding of consumers’ needs. Every entrepreneur has the opportunity to be the best at developing an understanding of a target customer’s needs. In many cases, the competitive edge will be in choosing the right audience to serve – narrow enough that the empathic diagnosis is specific and precise and therefore more likely to yield an opportunity to serve the segment in a unique way. Generalizations and common denominators may not be precise enough and may cause the entrepreneur to miss precisely what it is about an audience’s needs that provides an opening for differentiation. Differentiation means a higher level of perceived value for that audience.

Positioning and telling a uniquely persuasive story are a big part of competitive value delivery. In so-called “perfect competition”, all players, producer and consumers, have the same information. Of course, the opposite is true in real life. One of the important differences in information lies in how value is positioned to the consumer, how the value story is told. Entrepreneurs compete to tell the best stories and communicate in the most persuasive ways.

In this way of thinking about competition, so-called “business strategy” is not particularly useful. Five-year plans and specific organizational goals (like doubling sales) are not useful and there’s a high likelihood of failure. They represent the wrong focus. The right focus is “how can we increase value for the consumer” or “how can we be unique?” How can we satisfy consumers in ways that no-one else does? Dynamism means that all players are changing all the time, including consumers, and so entrepreneurs must be learning and adjusting all the time, and always trying to create new value.

Can strategy tools be useful? Strategy tools can be useful to help structure thinking and help you to be sure not to have overlooked some element you should have considered. The VRIO method helps you to think about assembling a unique set of resources to support a unique value delivery to customers. Modern entrepreneurship education offers a number of frameworks to help entrepreneurs in starting a business, like the Disciplined Entrepreneurship Canvas and the Lean Startup Canvas. They are both pretty good at starting with consumers and the value the entrepreneur can create for those consumers. We’ve re-created a few versions of the Lean Startup Canvas for you to download here:

  • a version with explanatory notes, to help you better understand what each section represents and how it should be used (download);
  • an annotated canvas that can be printed on regular letter-sized (8.5×11) printer paper (download);
  • and a blank one that can also be printed, for you to complete yourself (download).

Bottom line: Austrian Economics’ value-dominant approach provides better guidance for entrepreneurs than the formulas for strategic thinking that come from business school. Start with the customer. Understand their needs, create value for them, and keep refreshing that value. In fact, this is a collaborative view of the market. Entrepreneurs share the desire to find a unique niche and establish a unique service, and they’re happy to compare notes and methods in order to help each other, which is one of our aims at Economics For Entrepreneurs.


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