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Paused… for now

Hi Folks –

You’ve probably noticed that there haven’t been any posts here for a few years. I’ve been focused on my current business and haven’t been working on word of mouth marketing.

  • Still here: All the archives of timeless advice at
  • On hold: Startup advice, consulting, speaking. 
  • Paused: Feel free to sign up for the newsletter — you’ll be the first to know when I’m back.

My book is $5 on Amazon — less than cost. Use it, share it, give it to a small business that needs some advice. Drop me a note if you want a cheap case. 

I still believe that word of mouth marketing is the single most powerful advantage any business can have — and you should learn it and live it. It’s more than just marketing. It’s a simple philosophy: Earn the respect and recommendation of your customers, and they will do the rest. Treat people well, and they will do your marketing for you, for free.

Here’s what I’m up to. 

I’m running GasPedal,, and (three brands, same company) with an amazing team out of Austin.

We build vendor-free, peer-to-peer communities for people leading meaningful change at the world’s biggest companies. The massive scale of these organizations means that a little bit of better creates a whole lot of good for millions of people.

How it works:

  • Our communities enable senior decision-makers with a common mission to help each other. We bring together people with the same kind of jobs, at the same kind of companies, and with the same kind of problems. We surround them with love and support so they can thrive and achieve their mission.
  • We help the people trying to make meaningful change inside the world’s biggest organizations. They’re the ones who take on the hard challenges, the big causes, and the things that matter.
  • We do this because we’ve found a point of leverage where we can do a whole lot of good with our little team. Just a little bit of positive change, multiplied by the incredible size and resources of these organizations, creates a huge impact on their customers, employees, and communities. 

Thank you for all your support over the years. Please feel free to reach out any time. I’d love to know how you’re doing.


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How to get slowly famous

I’m writing this post for someone who has a book to promote, but is horrified by the idea of being a self-promoting marketer. He does a lot of writing and a lot of the right promotional things, but they aren’t adding up to a big hit.

Here’s the secret: Make it easier to be a fan, and make it easier for fans to share.

  1. Every time you find a fan, let them sign up to be be notified of the next thing you do. The easiest way to do this is with a blog and an email newsletter.
  2. Everything you publish anywhere (print, web, social media, etc,) should point people back to this single site with a polite reminder that they can sign up for updates.
  3. Everything you publish anywhere else should be re-posted to the blog, and then emailed to the people who signed up.
  4. Pick a few social media sites to be good at, and re-post all of your content to all of them. This lets you gather followers on each of those sites, and lets people get your updates from the medium they prefer. (Don’t try to be everywhere. Choose the sites where 1) your fans already are and 2) your stuff fits naturally.)
  5. Make it easy to share. Include simple links for fans to share what they see. (You don’t care how people share, you just want to make it easy for them to do it in the way they like best.)

Repeat until you’re famous.

Why does it work?

  • You’re building an audience.
  • Once you have an audience, every future thing you do has a head start, so the next work has more impact.
  • Fans share, which brings more fans. Over time it gets huge, like compound interest.
  • You only need 1000 true fans. It’s surprisingly easy to get 1000 followers, and 1000 followers are enough to snowball anything into a word-of-mouth success.
  • It’s not marketing, it’s customer service. You’re not pushing anything at anyone. You’re giving your fans the updates they’re waiting for. You’re helping them by making it easier for them to reshare it with their friends.
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Oil: What the heck is happening?

Want to really understand what’s going on with all the crazy things happening in the oil business?

Read this book: The Green and the Black. The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy

The book is by my brother, Gary Sernovitz, described as “a brilliant novelist, hilarious cultural critic, energy-industry insider, and self-described ‘liberal oilman.’ This has to be one of the most searching, literate, and funniest books about American energy ever written, and it will usefully complicate even one’s most zealous certainties about fossil fuels.” — Tom Bissell

To get a sense of it, here’s an excerpt by Gary, originally published on Medium:

Everyone knows that the U.S. oil and gas shale revolution is important — see $29 oil, $2 per thousand cubic feet natural gas, and U.S. producers starting to export this month both liquefied natural gas and oil, as if we’ve suddenly turned into Qatar. Yet the popular understanding of the shale revolution is sometimes simplified as a morality tale about grit and Texas exceptionalism (and, okay, Oklahomans too): that the world forever changed because, starting in 1998, stubborn coots and debt-drunk wildcatters like George Mitchell, Harold Hamm, and Aubrey McClendon found new ways to frack and drill horizontally in nutty places like North Dakota.

This country-fried, overly personalized explanation has some truth in it, but it ignores the fact that the shale revolution fits into the business world’s favorite explanation for everything today: Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s “disruptive innovation” theory of how market leaders lose their crowns. In the 1990s oil business, just as you’d expect in Christensen’s theory, smart money technology leaders like ExxonMobil and Shell had largely abandoned U.S. onshore fields, especially third-tier impermeable shale reservoirs. Smaller, low-tech U.S. independents began experimenting with these abandoned reserves because, well, they couldn’t afford the big kids’ toys. Then through long trial and error, using off-the-shelf technologies and some clever new adaptions, operators made the shales competitive with the cost structure of other sources of oil and gas. And just as the dot-com boom took off in the mid-1990s even though AOL and Prodigy had been around long before, production from the low-cost shales post-2009 exploded from further technical adaptations and powder kegs of capital. For five years, the shales grew faster than almost all other new global sources oil and gas, were cheaper than most of those other sources, and also “better” — coming in simpler projects, with quicker return of capital, and more flexible cash outlays.

The U.S. shales are the Internet of oil not only because they completely changed everyone’s understanding of how the oil business must forever be — no longer were oil and gas fated to be ever more expensive, coming from ever harder to reach reservoirs, driving us all into practicing our Charlize Theron moves for the next Mad Max — but because they opened up the business to smaller operators, with democratized technology, producing oil and gas more effectively than Big Oil.

Thinking about the shales as a disruptive force, like the Internet, helps us process the brutal, fight-to-the-death state of the oil business today. Business disruptions, whether in the Christensen model or from new technology (as in the case of the Internet), can be sloppy — and should be sloppy, confusing, jarring, and rude. Hundreds of billions invested by old paradigms are no longer true. Saudi Arabia’s decision in November 2014 to abandon its role as a swing producer, the precipitating factor of the long collapse in oil prices, was rational. The country was facing competition from a new disruptive supply. It couldn’t ignore the shales any more than Barnes & Noble could have decided that Amazon was a Seattle fad.

Investors are asking: if it is now 2002 for the Internet of oil, which companies will be the Google or Amazon of Shale 2.0, winners of the first land rush that used the market downturn to consolidate their position, or buy cheap tuck-in acquisitions, to become even more dominant in the next phase? Which companies will be the unicorns of Shale 2.0 (if Internet unicorns are not bubbling over right now as the next big joke), the Ubers that didn’t even exist in the 2002? And, sweet billions, could there be a Facebook of Shale 2.0, a colossus that emerges from nowhere, and fast? For me, at least, the metaphor breaks down here, given the finite amount of land that is prospective for the best shales, the commoditized nature of oil and gas, and the fragmentation of U.S. oil and gas producers.

Then again, in the Internet too, few in the bleakest days of 2002 saw clearly the changes, growth, and dominance to come — maybe even Mark Zuckerberg, who in 2002 had just graduated high school.

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Newsletter #1063: The “Shared Space” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

Space is a highly valued commodity that most businesses have. And often, when you share it with another group, cool things happen like collaboration and resource sharing.

Here are three shared spaces that make their organizations more remarkable:

1. Pre-schools and nursing homes
2. Movie rentals and pizza
3. Laundromats and libraries
4. Check it out: Library of Babel

1. Pre-schools and nursing homes

In Seattle, a nursing home and a pre-school share the same space at the Inter-Generational Learning Center. The kids and the elderly hang out, read together, do activities, and make crafts. The nursing home residents love being around the fun, energetic kids, and the kids get a chance to interact with and learn from seniors. And since both parties need a safe space and supervision, the combination works out for caretakers too.

The lesson: The very young and the very old have more in common than you would think. What other unlikely groups could benefit from one another’s company?

Learn more: Collective Evolution

2. Movie rentals and pizza

It’s a tough world out there for movie rental stores. But some have gotten creative and forged partnerships to keep customers coming back. For example, Family Video locations are often next door to Marco’s Pizza, so they’ve added a window inside the video stores to the pizza shop. Customers can order a pizza when they get there, and by the time they finally decide what to rent, their pizza is ready.

The lesson: Marco’s and Family Video know their customers, and they know people like to eat pizza on movie night. They just helped their customers skip a step and get both at the same time.

Learn more: Imgur

3. Laundromats and libraries

A group of people from Oxford University came up with an idea for parents in South Africa who spend an average of nine hours a week doing laundry over a washboard to spend that time reading with their children instead. How? By creating an affordable laundromat that’s also a library. Customers at these “Libromats” spend laundry time reading with their children and learning about “book sharing” from the trained staff while washing machines do the work. Within just a few weeks of coming to the libromats, children have improved language, concentration, and social understanding, according to the researchers.

The lesson: The team says they chose laundromats because they fit conveniently into the parents’ lives, and it gives them a chance to work with them every week. Libromat found a way to fit their learning program into something that would help make their customers’ lives easier.

Learn more: NPR

4. Check it out: Library of Babel

The Library of Babel is a site containing every possible permutation of 1,312,000 characters. In theory, that means it contains every book, play, song, and every word every written — and while most of it will look like gibberish, you might stumble on something great. You can browse, search for something, or start with a random work of writing.

Check it out: Library of Babel

Recruiting for culture is hard.

There are only a handful of truly culture-driven companies. (There’s a lot of talk, there’s a lot of values statements, but little actual culture.) Real culture is hard. It’s hard because it takes emotion, introspection, commitment, and endless hard work.

It’s also hard because it requires a different kind of recruiting. You have to make judgments around deep ideas like passion, values, kindness, and vision (above and beyond the necessary job skills). These are emotional calls, which are hard and uncomfortable.

Culture is a choice. It’s an agreement by the team around a shared destination and a shared method for getting there. It’s an agreement around who gets permission to play on the team, what they need to believe, and how they behave. It’s really hard to find people who want a particular culture, will fit in that culture, and can thrive in that culture.

But it’s worth it. Because a company that has true culture sync is astonishingly fun, healthy, and effective. Worklife has meaning and intensity. You know why you’re there and why it matters.

We have one of the most consciously built cultures in Austin, combined with a mission that impacts society on a deep level. We’re about to get much larger, and we’ll deliver meaning on a much larger scale.

Here’s the question for you: Do you know how to run a recruiting program that can grow and improve a culture? If you do, this is a once-every-few-years opportunity to do it right. Do you have a vision for recruiting and culture done well? This is your chance to build it.

Is this you? Apply here.

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My company’s moving to a 44-acre ranch next year

Last year, we bought 44 acres of land in northeast Austin to build a brand new campus for my company, GasPedal. It’s been our dream to have a place to make our own that’s both communal and private, where we can collaborate in shared spaces, but also retreat to somewhere quiet when we need to. […]

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Newsletter #1062: The “Stuff People Notice” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.] None of this stuff will win awards, and it might not have a huge impact on your bottom line. But it’s […]

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Newsletter #1061: The “Food for Good” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.] People have found ways to do something good for other people with food since the beginning of time. So it’s no […]

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Newsletter #1060: The “Like They Own the Place” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.] Every once in awhile, you find customers who want more than to just buy your stuff and go home. Sometimes, they […]

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