Why Unilever Buying Dollar Shave Club is Relevant for Your Firm

tunnelvisionOr, Why You Might Lose Your Business If You Don’t Change the View:

Michael Dubin just sold his startup for a cool billion $ to European consumer products behemoth, Unilever. His four-year young firm is reportedly not profitable, although it has signed up 3.2 million paying subscribers.

In case you are not familiar with Mr. Dubin, his business, Dollar Shave Club is effectively a mail-order firm for shaving and other personal grooming products. Old tech, but Dubin threw a twist at it. (Remember, Zappos changed the tired shoe retailing industry with a low-tech twist on the business model.)

The idea, which turned out to be brilliant, went straight at the heart of a really annoying problem for men who shave dailythe cost of razor blades at your local retailer fits somewhere between the average monthly car payment and two tickets to the hit Broadway play, Hamilton. The darned things are outrageously expensive and the traditional razor blade manufacturers have been minting profits at the expense of men’s beards and household budgets for decades. Until Dollar Shave Club rewrote the rules.

For a low monthly fee, the firm ships you your blades (you choose from 3 options as of this writing), and they keep them coming. The offerings have expanded to include shaving cream, hair gels, body washes and yes, even “One Wipe Charlies” (flushable wipes).

Michael and Dollar Shave Club found a way to take burden, cost and annoyance out of an everyday problem for a big chunk of the population. Taking burden away from people is a great starting point for a strategy.

The traditional players: Unilever and P&G had no reason to ever think of this business idea. After all, they had a stranglehold on an allegedly highly profitable category.

Unilever solved their innovation problem by buying Dollar Shave Club. P&G, the other consumer products giant has been playing catch-up with its response via their Gillette brand. P&G’s market share has steadily declined, mostly at the expense of Dollar Shave Club.

When asked about this strategic miss, someone described by the WSJ as “familiar with the company’s (P&G) thinking,” offered, “It was probably on the radar but we weren’t necessarily having the right conversation around what might disrupt us.”

At Least 5 Big Lessons from Unilever Buying Dollar Shave Club:

  • Not having the right conversations is potentially fatal to your business in this fast changing world.
  • Assuming your cash machine of a business model will continue to dispense money indefinitely is naïve.
  • Someone is looking at your customers and wondering how to remove burden and remove you from the equation.
  • It’s critical to fire up the right conversations and move beyond the myopic view to how you’ve always done things. The first step involves changing your view.
  • If all you do is look out the window from the conference room to your parking lot, the view never changes.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s time to challenge your team to change the view.

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Related Posts:

Art of Managing: Change Your Field of View

The Painful Process of Pivoting to New Markets

Practical Lessons in Leadership

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Art Petty is a coachspeaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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New Video: 3 Ideas to Help Jump-Start Your Strategy Process

Kicking off a strategy initiative is one of the more vexing challenges in all of business. Aside from widespread confusion or disagreement over what strategy really is, there are the human issues around ego, politics and power that naturally emerge when the idea of a course correction or change in the business is in the air.

The video offers some thoughts on the swirl that often surrounds a new strategy initiative and includes 3 “simple but not simplistic” ideas for getting started and building a collaborative and cohesive process.

(Note from Art: this is one of a new family of videos I am releasing to my YouTube channel. The content is mostly informational with a 7-second pitch at the end. I do have to make a living!)

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Related Articles from Art on Strategy:

From my writing at About.com

The Manager’s Guide to Understanding Strategy: Getting Started

How to Prepare for Your First Strategy Meeting

Selected Articles from the Strategy Category at Management Excellence:

The Painful Process of Pivoting to New Markets

Art of Managing: Change Your Field of View

Art of Managing: Beware Lazy Approaches to the Hard Work of Strategy

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

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The Painful Process of Pivoting to New Markets

shutterstock_150777920Many senior leaders I encounter are grappling with the modern business problem of our time: what to do for an encore. And no, the encore isn’t a personal one, but rather it is all about the business. Long successful businesses are waking up to the reality that not only did someone steal their cheese, but, the thief ate the cheese. That cheese is not coming back.

Reinventing an old business  in the process of being rendered obsolete due to changing tastes, new technologies, disruption via business model or some or all of the above is the most difficult act in all of business. It happens, but it is rare. When it does, we study it in business schools, attempting to grok the deep insights of the firm’s managers so that we can apply these enlightened and obviously brilliant rules for reinvention to our own situations. Unfortunately, the rules always seem to be for a game we are not playing.

For every successful re-inventor there are many, many others that flail and fail in the process. The roots of these failures are found in human nature and exacerbated by our stubborn application of our traditional, short-sighted management approaches. Oh, and leaders with true courage are often nowhere to be found.

Why the Deck is Horribly Stacked Against Reinvention:

The firm’s collective knowledge and experience—the secret sauce is all about one recipe. The knowledge, skills and abilities are focused on the legacy markets, customers and offerings. The dominant logic of the firm is rooted in making decisions around a set of well understood variables in the industry and with customers. What made you great yesterday, may be one of your biggest disadvantages tomorrow.

We are mostly in denial about the creeping irrelevance of our legacy businesses. Even in the face of obviously declining markets, revenue and profit targets are ratcheted upward by senior leaders who naively believe that they can fight gravity. “Our sales team is stronger than our competitor’s…we will take market share,”offered one executive facing a factually undeniable collapse in demand for their offerings. Even if it works once or twice, it is a dangerous mindset that delays the urgent need to replace old revenue streams.

We talk a good game about innovation, but lack the discipline to pull it off. With our traditional strategy rendered obsolete, we have no filters to help us assess the quality of ideas and to select experiments to invest our shrinking company treasure. All the ideas seem good in isolation.

Desperation makes us stupid. As the numbers from the legacy business enter free fall, we start to flail, looking for quick fixes and we swing away, hoping to connect on a last minute home run hit. The distance from flail to fail is very short.

Even when we find a viable option, we tend to starve it for resources, focus and time. Our tendency is to evaluate new ideas against traditional metrics, and when the results fall short, we reduce our investment support and increase our agitation over the slow-to-emerge results.

Why Leadership Courage is the Missing Ingredient:

Some would argue that a declining business should be allowed to die—sooner if possible to minimize squandering any remaining shareholder treasure. I struggle with blind acceptance of the need for creative destruction. Having lived through and led during one of these that worked (and one that did not), I know that there is no easy answer. For any chance of success however, the one ingredient that must be present is leadership courage. Every single step of the process of reinvention demands a level of courage that many senior managers struggle to manifest.

Why Leadership Courage is Core to the Reinvention Process:

Navigating successfully into new arenas is frightening to your stakeholders. Shareholders, board members and external influencers will caution you against taking unnecessary risks and urge you to move carefully into these uncharted markets. They will second-guess every move you make, and if you are not careful, their creeping doubt will infect you. Of course, they will hammer you mercilessly for near-term results.

Employees—the ultimate stakeholders, will struggle to understand what this change means for them. Some will fight it, others will resent it quietly and some may even leave. You are left on one side with the need to engage and motivate your employees and on the other side with the need to blow up elements of the culture.

Real-time demands will challenge you every day to put more attention and more resources into the legacy business. The distractions will siphon your energy, gray matter and focus so essential for the new endeavor.

Scanning for new opportunities is often limited to the firm’s myopic view of the world. It is challenging to push beyond the gravitational pull of the legacy world. You are fighting the internal system and the dominant logic. You need help…and often, you will have to ask for help.

Saying “no” to the many good ideas that you will hear—avoiding what Jim Collins describes as the “undisciplined pursuit of more” is essential for survival. It is hard to say “no.”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If only this issue were simple enough to distill down to one of those ubiquitous “Ten Steps…” type lists so common to blog posts. Life and business are mostly never that easy. And no, my indication of the need for “leadership courage” is not the default answer of a leadership blogger. It is the observation of a veteran of these wars. Without leadership courage present and accounted for in every decision, every day, there is no chance of success.

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Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Art’s Writing and Week in Review for January 30, 2016

put it in contextFarewell January! We Won’t Miss You

For the first month of 2016, the weather and the stock market are setting the tone, with wildly varying conditions and tremendous swings in prices, temperatures and precipitation. At least some of that precipitation must have been tears of despair earlier in the month, momentarily giving way to outpourings of joy given Friday’s impressive upturn in the major market indexes. I’m sure I reflect the broader sentiment with, “I can’t wait to see what February brings for the weather and the markets.” 

When we’re not busy digging out from the latest storm or planning how much longer we’ll need to work before we retire, the political scene is keeping many of us enthralled, engaged, amused or horrified depending upon your view. It’s reality TV for the reality TV era.

In the world of business, Xerox has decided to split itself into two in search of renewed relevance, and Microsoft has become interesting again on the heels of a solid quarter based on the firm’s successes in cloud computing. Talking about both of those firms seems so 1990-ish.

For the writing work last week, I covered a wide variety of material, proving once again that I have little ability to govern my enthusiasm for all things management and leadership.

Leadership & Management Writing this Week:

In this week’s Leadership Caffeine post, the focus is on “Leading Your Peers.” This is a topic that is under-covered in the leadership community, and profoundly important if you’re interested in advancing your career and getting things done.  As a complement, consider:  “Why You Cannot Afford to Ignore Office Politics,” from my blog at About.com. 

For those of you interested in the difference between excellence and mediocrity and management and leadership, here’s a reminder on: The 5 Decisions that Make or Break You as a Leader. 

I added the second article in an on-going series focusing on the fundamentals of strategy, entitled: “The Ten Great Habits of Great Strategists.” The post was inspired by a recent and recommended read that I share in the article.

Last and not least, for anyone who has lived through a counter-productive quarterly business review with the team from corporate, I over a bit of catharsis in: Dear Corporate….Why We  Hate Your Business Reviews.” I’m a fan of the productive incarnation of those meetings, but sadly, they are all too rare.

Other News from the World of Leadership Caffeine:

  • Thanks to some great marketing help, I have new and improved Leadership Caffeine Facebook page where I share the articles and a daily helpful (I hope) post or quote. Shameless pitch: please visit and “likes” are always appreciated.
  • The Jump-Start Coaching program is just about filled. I’ve got a few spots open for anyone interested in getting a running start on accelerating their career this year. It’s executive coaching for non-executives at a one-time price! I would love to fill the program this week and get started on the good work of collaborating to help you move forward.
  • WEBINAR on February 4: Level-Up-Accelerate Your Career. It’s complimentary and comes complete with idea prompting content, a nice webinar supplement take-away and 45 minutes of inspiration!
  • Look for the Leadership Caffeine e-news to become a weekly, offering subscriber-only content to help you survive and thrive as a professional and leader!

That’s all for now! Have a great weekend.

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Art’s Leadership & Management Writing for the Week Ending 1/16/16

boxing glove striking man in the face

Keep fighting!

Some weeks are best left behind in the rear-view mirror. From a stock market swoon that was impressive if not unsettling, to the loss of some cultural icons: glam rocker David Bowie and actor Alan Rickman, you had to look hard to find good news. Of course, depending upon your own political views, President Obama’s final State of the Union address and/or the most recent Republican Debate may have offered some relief. (Or not.)

With no claims on predicting the future, last week’s “Don’t Fall Victim to Gloom and Doom,” might have been my internal alarm foreshadowing events to come.

For this week, I served up the following articles and ideas to support our mutual drive to grow as professionals and strengthen  in our careers.

  • The January Leadership Caffeine e-news, offering a variety of features on succeeding as a leader this year; an overview of some great reads and the usual fare of sound-bites and interesting links intended to prompt thinking and promote positive action.
  • I added the second of my posts in the Difficult Conversations series, offering guidance to help reduce stress and improve your chances of success with the actual conversation. Here are some well-practices tips for Conducting Difficult Workplace Conversations”

Enjoy the articles and use the ideas in great health. The year is young and while none of us individually can control the big events, we can all make a difference in our firms and with our teams by focusing on succeeding one encounter at a time.

Yours in great leading and managing!

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.