How Venus Et Fleur Took the Internet by Storm and Became a Fast Favorite of the Kardashian’s

I love a good modern day love story, particularly those who cross the line into the business world. Seema Bansal and fiance Sunny Chadha founded their bootstrapped bespoke floral company Venus Et Fleur in the blossoming stages of their relationship in 2015, and have lived to tell the tale.

One thing is for sure, when you’re setting the tone for floral trends worldwide it’s great to have a partner you can lean on. I reached out to Bansal after seeing her floral arrangements on my Instagram feed on a near daily basis, and found out that like every great love story, the one between Bansal and Chadha was full of surprises.

With sales in 2017 estimated at $7.5 million and growth of 226 percent in the past year, it’s no secret that they’ve disrupted the floral industry. Let’s take a deeper look into how this couple created a company that the Kardashian’s can’t get enough of.

Their business solved a problem.

I remember hearing that the hottest brands on the hit show Shark Tank, were those which solved a problem. We all have ideas on how to better a product, but taking action is what matters most.

Bansal says, “After a horrible Valentines day delivery that Sunny sent me, it automatically sparked the idea that there needed to be a floral delivery that claimed to do what it said and was presented beautifully every time. So we created Venus Et Fleur, a luxury rose atelier which has roses that last an entire year without the need of water.”

Creating a business isn’t always about inventing something that nobody has ever seen before, sometimes it’s distinguishing sore spots and improving on them that makes all the difference.

They used Instagram to increase sales and customer loyalty.

We’re no stranger to the workings of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in 2018, however connecting with customers and turning likes and followers into sales isn’t fool proof. With their brand relying heavily on word of mouth and Instagram posts, Bansal says they’re able to engage with their customers to find out their future wants and needs.

“Social media is where we tease and launch new products. It’s one of the best marketing tools a business can have. We’re so glad we can connect with our customers in seconds, while seeing the joy in each customer who posts our arrangements.”

One of the most important things you can do when building an Instagram account is making sure that the account has a cohesive look and feel. Using the same color tones, and types of pictures you can build a following of like minded people. This way not only do your individual pictures pop but the whole account has a themed feeling to it.

They got a shout out from the Kardashians.

Early on, when Venus Et Fleur was created, they were contacted by the Kardashian team and sent the whole family some of their exclusive arrangements. Ever since then they  have maintained a wonderful relationship with the entire family, which you can see on Instagram on any given day when Khloe and Kim are posting their floral arrangements.

One of the best ways to target celebrities is to target the people around them. This is a quick way to often skip the huge fees that influencers charge but still get your brand seen.

They kept their business relevant.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again, businesses show signs of success and others jump on their coat tails. Bansal and Chadha say they maintain focused on their goals: “We see ourselves as innovators in the floral space, and stay ahead of the trend with research and educating ourselves in our niche market. While moving product is great, consistency and quality is what sets us apart.”

In today’s fast paced world it is important for business owners to find new and unique ways to stand out from the very busy crowd. Innovation is fundamental in creating a disruption that will make your business stand out.

They’re productive at work.

We all struggle with overflowing to-do lists, but time management is key. Bansal adds, “We always have a million and one things going on. Our goal is to manage our time better but never slow down!”

What I personally love about Seema Bansal and Sunny Chadha’s story is that they created a business that solved a problem. In my opinion, these are the types of endeavors that flourish, as they offer a solution that some thought was impossible.

Use their experience to spark your own interests, have you ever run into a roadblock and thought, “Hey, isn’t there a better way to do this?” If so, perhaps others have also had this problem and are waiting for someone like you to create a solution.

Helping Customers Outgrow Your Services Is Actually Good for Your Business–Here’s Why

Like any smart agency, my consultancy has based our financial models around retainers. These clients are committed in both time and money for the duration of the engagement. They’re our bread and butter, and hell would have to freeze over before we moved away from them.  

But it’s not all romantic strolls on the beach and ironclad contracts. This “retainer or bust” mindset isn’t going to serve anybody for the long haul. You need more to get more out of these engagements, and so do your clients. If your clients aren’t learning and outgrowing your services, you’re failing them.

When you help your client flourish and succeed – and then potentially move on – the relationship you’ve formed in the process will easily replace the eventual loss of revenue as they refer peers to your organization knowing they will receive the same valuable empowerment.

Here are three ways to help your clients succeed and become top referral assets:

Make client growth the main goal.

When you’re working with a customer, time should be spent producing value (a la guidance and deliverables) but it should also be spent teaching. In our business, a client will often come to us when they want help implementing, using and maximizing marketing or sales technology.

As we help them dial in their processes, we’re also helping them learn the ropes. We’re empowering their people — not just teaching them how to create a campaigns. We give them guidance and opportunities to practice and grow and fail — and then grow even more.

Eventually, it’s possible that we empower ourselves right out of a job. And that’s okay.

We don’t want to face the fact that someday they may not need us. Yet, if we’re doing our jobs, we should absolutely and intentionally help them outgrow our services.

You might be thinking of all the revenue you’ll be abandoning if you prepare your clients for life on their own beyond your services. But that’s not true. You’re actually creating a hope of engaging them in a secondary fashion later, in the way that they truly need you, while also adding them as part of the most badass referral network you can imagine.

After all, if you’ve gotten them to a point where they can handle it all on their own, they’ve seen some solid success–and they’ll be enthusiastic about telling their friends. This will benefit you, revenue-wise, far more than keeping a client as your knowledge hostage just to milk a retainer longer than necessary.

Benchmark to get clues into their longevity.

A piece of this equation has to do with being in the know about your clients’ status as you’re working with them. If you run — or are part of — a client-facing team, you should be aware of how capable or how behind a client is in each area of your engagement. One of the best ways to stay on top of this is by benchmarking.

If you measure where they are when they come to you, and systematically update indicators of their progress, you won’t be shocked when they say they don’t want to engage with your company any longer. Instead, you’ll be nodding your head and saying,

“Yeah, I wouldn’t expect anything different.” On the flip side, if a client is consistently stagnant with their progress, you’ll readily have this insight and be able to better support them toward success. You can’t afford not to benchmark.

Be their lifeline, again and again.

Just because you’re focused on growing your client until they’re thriving doesn’t mean they hit the road after that. In fact, switching from a retainer model to a maturity model means that you have the chance to now re-engage a customer in a new way.

The price point will be lower, of course, but is meant to give them a support-based engagement they can lean on when the going gets tough. And it’s all but guaranteed to get tough; there’s no way your client can ever be as much of an expert in your field as you are. So there will be a time (or many times) when they need you, and you want to be right there waiting to help them out.

Transitioning to this role happens when your customer becomes a real brand advocate for you, mentioning your business’ name to the people in their rolodex who might be in need of your services.

When you shape your customer lifecycle and nurture the relationship with the long haul in mind, rather than dropping them once they don’t need the full scope of services, you’re rightly seen and turned to again and again as a true champion of their success.

Try A Simple Mind Game That Will Drive Home Just How Fast Technology Is Accelerating

We most often get the future wrong because, to paraphrase economist Paul Romer, “Opportunities don’t add up, they multiply.” Stick with me for a few minutes because the math behind that isn’t as straight forward as it appears to be.

So much of the promise of technologies such as Artificial intelligence seems to be at the very outer edge of a very distant future. It’s not. If there is one sentiment shared equally with everyone I’ve interviewed for an upcoming book, Revealing The Invisible (June 2018), it’s that the future is coming at us much faster than we are able to comprehend.

You’ve likely heard about accelerated exponential change or the singularity. I wrote about both in my recent Inc.com article, According to Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, These Are the Most Dangerous and Disruptive Ideas

Diamandis and Kurzweil regularly point out that understanding that rate of technology change may well be one of our biggest obstacles in adapting to it and building businesses that can take advantage of it.

Advances in artificial intelligence are not progressing in a linear fashion, and that represents a huge challenge for humans who are inherently linear thinkers. Trying to grasp non-linear change that is geometric or exponential is just not how we are wired. We think in linear terms because that is what we’ve observed in how the natural world operates. But that creates a huge disconnect between our intuition and the implications of the actual rate of change. And that disconnect only grows as we add accelerated exponential growth.

For instance, consider this following thought experiment.

Take Me To The Moon

Imagine that I’ve just given you a super ball that has the ability to bounce to an unlimited height (we’ll suspend the laws of physics for this). I then ask you to start bouncing the ball, with the knowledge that each bounce will be twice as high as the previous one. If the first bounce is 10 feet off the ground how high will it go on the 10th bounce? The answer is that it will have topped a small mountain of about 5000 feet.

That’s high but it doesn’t seem extraordinary, and your intuitive guess was probably pretty close. However, how high will it be after four more bounces? By the 14th bounce it will have crested the Summit of Everest and be approaching the ceiling of commercial air traffic.

That’s a bit more impressive, but let’s not stop there. After all, I said that it can reach an unlimited height. So, how high would the ball have bounced after 21, 29, 37, and 45 bounces? The answers now start to stretch our ability to comprehend the distances involved.

“Technology advances no longer add up; they multiply–in the case of AI, by increasingly larger exponential multipliers.”

At 21 bounces our ball is approaching low earth orbit, after 29 we’ve passed by Earth’s moon, another eight bounces and we’re zipping by Mars, and then on the 45th bounce NASA might pick up its faint signal as it whizzes past the first Voyager spacecraft nearly 17 billion miles into deep space. After 88 bounces you’ll never see the ball again since it would now be outside of the visible universe.

Still not impressed? I expected that you might not be, after all, we’ve become somewhat immune to large numbers when it comes to projecting the trajectory of technology. Congratulations you’re starting to think exponentially. But wait, I need to make a confession. I’m really not trying to impress you with how fast a doubling phenomenon can scale. That’s so 20th Century. My objective is something else altogether, how we perceive accelerated exponential growth.

Objects In The Future Are Closer Than They May Appear

So, try just one more question.

If you had purchased a discount super ball that bounced only one inch, instead of 10 feet, (In other words less than one percent of the 10 foot bounce from our full-price super ball) but it bounced three times as high each time (instead of two times as high), at what height do you think it will have bounced past the earlier ball that started at 10 feet? Don’t do the math, just take a guess. Will it have caught up by Everest, low Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, or Voyager? Incredibly our discount super ball, that starts of with only a minuscule one-inch bounce, will have caught up by the time it reaches Everest, after only 14 bounces!

In fact, if you’d started with a ball that bounced a full mile the first time (528 times as much as your original super ball and 6,336 times as much as our discount one-inch super ball) the discount one-inch-bounce super ball would catch up with the one-mile-bounce super ball just after passing the moon! This makes sense when you stop to do the math but it’s far from intuitive.

The reason I’m making this point is to show that linear growth (the actual increase in the initial bounce from 10 feet to one mile) and exponential growth (the doubling effect) both pale in comparison to the accelerated exponential growth of our discount super ball that starts off with just a one inch bounce. When anything progresses with accelerating exponential growth you very quickly get to a stage where the acceleration of change is so great that it just doesn’t matter where you start.  

The same is true of how quickly technologies such as AI are evolving by learning at accelerated rates that have no precedent in the way humans learn. A simple artificial intelligence engine can learn overnight how to play the classic computer game of Space Invaders better than any human can.

Like our discount super ball, AI is accelerating in its exponential rate of evolution. We can argue how incipient or immature it is today but it will soon make no difference. The trajectory we are on will lead us to the future much faster than any of us think it will. Technology advances no longer add up; they multiply–in the case of AI, by increasingly larger exponential multipliers.

Given that trajectory, within just five to ten years I confidently expect that machines with human-level intelligence will be well entrenched within the mainstream of our lives and businesses.

Naive thinking? It’s only naive if you focus on adding up the challenges, rather than multiplying the opportunities.

5 Trends Changing the Future of Search Marketing

It may come as no surprise that more than 70 percent of customers start their purchase journeys on their laptops, phones or tablets. Knowing this, you may have even hired an SEO expert or digital marketing agency to help you capture some of this search traffic. But how much is the target customer actually influencing that strategy?

The landscape of search marketing is drastically changing. Keyword ranking just doesn’t cut it anymore — not with the varied ways consumers are looking for information and the different devices they’re using to access it.

Today, a solid search marketing strategy has to be equal parts data and customer. It’s about taking all elements of the customer journey and experience –brand, content, design, etc. — and integrating them into the search strategy. The following are a few important trends to keep in mind in developing an SEO plan of attack.

  1. The ubiquity of voice search

As more consumers bring internet of things (IoT) assistants like Amazon Echo into their homes, they’re adapting the way in which they search –and it’s markedly different than their text-based interactions with traditional search engines.

For most of search’s history, SEO marketers honed in on keywords, correctly assuming that searchers would rather type in the gist of what they’re looking for versus asking in a complete sentence. That’s no longer the case as consumers become more comfortable talking to their automated assistants.

This shift in behavior means marketers must take into account the careful wording and question-oriented manner in which consumers are looking for information. Furthermore, Google, which is the master of monitoring trends in search behavior, has already begun to adapt it’s predictive search, now prefilling the search bar with more complete sentences versus a set of keywords.

Having a mobile-first strategy for capitalizing on what consumers say and how they say it will prove tantamount to success going forward. That’s because as systems get to “know us” better through speech pattern recognition, they’ll know consumer preferences more intuitively.

2. The customer-experience

Naturally not every search is conducted out of an intent to buy. More often than not, we simply want to gather information. With that in mind, how can you extract the data you already have on your customers and their behaviors and apply it to your SEO strategy?

What challenges, motives, stages in their life, or pain points trigger a search? Where do they begin their search and what are the initial questions they are looking to answer?

Having an intimate knowledge of your customers is crucial to building an effective search strategy. It will help you identify not only what they’re searching for and when, but why they’re looking for something.

With that level of understanding you’ll be able to create content that provides the answers they’re looking for. This will establish and build trust, and demonstrate that you understand them. They’ll begin to see your brand as a resource and when they’re ready to move further down the purchase path, guess who will be more top of mind.

If that sounds like a long-tail approach to winning over a customer, it is but there’s another reason quality content will help your brand rise above the rest. Google is constantly working to improve the search experience, and this is why they’ve started featuring rich-text snippets on their search engine results pages (SERPs) –delivering the answers right there rather than having to click deeper.

This is great for searchers because it enables a quick glance at all of the relevant information, but presents a challenge for marketers as it has repercussions on click-through rates. Still, the overall effect of a better experience and the positive brand association that comes with it are worth making the effort to create good, bite-sized content.

And this is why SEO marketers must begin to join forces with their content marketing counterparts.  

3. Inter-departmental collaboration

SEO has evolved into something much more strategic, and it’s no longer going to come from siloed departments. SEO teams should be working side by side with branding, sales, content and customer experience teams to evolve into experts on problem-solving and engagement.

When these teams work in unison, they’re better equipped to build a cohesive marketing strategy that takes into into account data from the sales team (those on the frontlines who are talking to customers every day), as well as data from content and analytics teams to better understand what’s bringing prospective customers to the site in the first place. This will pave the way for more informed marketing decisions across the board, everyone driving in the same direction, and the ability to deliver a more personalized experience from the onset.

4. Personalization and relevancy

Personalization is only going to continue to gain steam, particularly as more systems begin to talk to one another. Data culled from Google, Facebook and third-party research is already being used to piece together a complete picture of every consumer, which means the future of search marketing will be all about who can deliver the most personalized experiences.

Before, geo-targeting was the most effective way of using consumer data to create contextually-relevant content and take advantage of spur-of-the-moment customer decisions. But connected systems sharing data from multiple platforms goes steps beyond simply knowing where someone is — they can now know what someone wants.

Predictive analytics shines a bright data light on the nuances of consumer behavior and the numbers will soon be able to spell out things like brand preference based on current events and past trends.

This will be a potentially tricky new component of search for marketers to navigate because results will be much more individually tailored than they ever have been. Measuring the effect of individual keywords likely won’t be as simple as it is today, but the tradeoff of a better customer experience means marketers will have to adjust and learn.

SEO is no longer about a quick fix to lead generation. In today’s ultra-connected world, search is transitioning to more of a brand-building and credibility-boosting tool. But a more dialed-in approach to search marketing will likely yield better returns for brands as they’ll turn up more relevant searchers with a very specific need.

Interview Topics Every Young Candidate Should Be Prepared to Answer 

I have been very active recently with interviewing candidates for a number of positions, from board members to faculty positions to student organizations, including the student consulting group I lead at Coastal Carolina University.

Over the years, I have found that a well prepared applicant can typically ace a standard interview, speaking about his or her achievements, experience and general skills. For this reason, I have a few go-to questions I like to use to understand the real character of a candidate.

These questions are nothing proprietary, but rather questions simple meant to get the candidate out of a comfort zone. Ultimately, what I (and most organizations) look for is the candidate’s ability to take responsibility, solve problems, and add value.

For positions that require more responsibility and experience, I also like to assess the initiative, ambition and passion of the candidate. 

In most interviews, my questions are not scripted, but instead derive from the situation and flow of the conversation. With that said, here are a few topics to which candidates — especially young candidates — should really prepare to respond.

Initiative

One of the best ways to disqualify yourself is to answer questions in a way that hints at laziness. It may sound obvious, but I am shocked at how often a candidate strikes a tone that hints, “just how much work is involved here?” No manager likes to hear, “That’s not my job,” so make sure you have examples of when you took initiative to get a job done.  

Problem Solving

There is no shortage of problem finders (complainers) in the workplace. What managers need most are people who solve problems. In your personal anecdotes, demonstrate your ability to identify and then resolve an issue. And when you were not able to resolve it, explain how you sought out the answer before taking it to someone else. 

Leadership

All candidates should be prepared to answer a question about leadership qualities. Often, however, I hear stories of how someone managed or organized a situation rather than actually lead. Understand the key differences between managing and leading and be able to clearly explain how you stepped up and were able to lead a situation to its end.

Failure

Like leadership, most candidates are prepared for the question, “Tell me about a time that you failed.” On queue, they launch into a story about failing to make a team, hit a deadline, or get a job, then reflect on what they learned. These are satisfactory at best. Real, honest and humbling failure, however, the type that leaves the candidate vulnerable, are the failures that demonstrate true grit and character.

Fun

I always like to end an interview with one or two personal questions. I’ll ask about their favorite action movie or cartoon character, their favorite ice cream flavor, or whether they prefer Elvis or The Beatles — just to name a few. This question serves two purposes. First, it gives a small peak into the personal side of the candidate. Second, the line of questioning often throws a candidate off, which then demonstrates their ability to handle uncomfortable and unknown situations.

So as you reflect on these topics, think about times when you were in situations that challenged you in these ways. Be able to articulate clearly the situation, your actions, the outcome and lessons learned. 

If you find yourself deficient in these experiences, then go make some stories.

And, if you are keeping track, the right answer is: The Beatles.

What do you think? What other questions have you had or given to really test a candidate? Please share your thoughts with others in the comments.

Sheryl Sandberg Said This About Leadership And It Was Incredibly Insightful

Leaders need more than one good quality to make them a quality leader. Still, there are certain attributes that separate leaders and great leaders

As we’ve seen throughout history, leadership takes many forms. In entrepreneurship, we tend to be trailblazer, and in that we lead

This is why it’s so important for the entrepreneurship community to practice leadership. Your companies, products and services are movements. And the amount of people who want to be a part of that movement should matter to you. 

So, what do you need to do to be a good leader?

According to Sheryl Sandberg, “The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”  

And I agree. To learn is to grow, it is to evolve, it is to master. These are all things leaders should be doing. 

If you’re the kind of leader who finally becomes a CEO–or whatever your dream job is–and you stop craving knowledge, you’ll hinder you ability to lead. Think about it. When you look at successful companies and their owners (or COO’s in this case), the ones who thrive are the ones who innovate. 

As COO of Facebook Sandberg upholds their mission with this belief on leadership. Facebooks is leading our society by social platform, and they are constantly updating and shifting as their users grow. 

Good musicians do it too. You can see it in The Beatles as much as you can see it in Childish Gambino and Miley Cyrus. These musicians stay ahead because their sound evolves. 

Great leaders prioritize learning, because they prioritize growing. 

Learn your market, learn about your employees, learn about different industries, because these variables  are continuously changing. 

If you want be an incredible leader in your industry, learning is where you should start. 

That’s why Warren Buffet  has said he reads at least 600 pages a day. It’s why Steve Jobs told us to “stay hungry”, and it’s why Jeff Bezos has told audiences that the most dangerous thing is not to evolve. 

Leaders who neglect knowledge neglect themselves, their peers, and the people they lead. Because once you shut yourself off from learning, you stunt your growth.

Think about how detrimental that is for the people who follow you. 

As the Spiderman comics so eloquently said “with great power comes great responsibility”.

If you want to lead people, you should aim to be a strong leader. And if you want to be a strong leader you need to prioritize learning. 

A 63-Year-Old Experiment Reveals the Secret to Solving Office Drama

The key to success for any company often lies in cooperation. Communication and understanding is a precursor of success. The opposite is also true; miscommunication and a lack of mutual understanding between departments are common recipes for any organizational failure.

As a result, maintaining inter-group harmony a critical objective within any organization. What are some strategies for keeping the peace and fostering cooperation? What are the key tools an organizational behavior expert should use for integrating various groups? One answer lies in a 63-year-old experiment, which involved two groups of 12-year-old boys at Robber’s Cave State Park, Oklahoma, America.

The Robber’s Cave Experiment

The Robber’s Cave experiment involved two groups of 12-year-olds, which were chosen to attend a summer camp. Each group, unaware of the other, was housed in its own cabin, where members participated in activities like swimming and hiking. Over time, the bond within each group grew so strong that they gave themselves names: the Eagles and the Rattlers. They even stenciled the names on their t-shirts.

After the two groups were firmly established, the experiment moved to its second stage. Each group encountered the other for the first time, and an immediate rivalry developed. To further encourage conflict, the researchers pitted one group against the other in a series of competitions. This antagonized the groups even more, and they fought intensely to score points over the other. In the end, the Rattlers won, compounding the Eagles defeat with taunts and jeers. This further alienated the groups until, eventually, they even refused to eat together.

With the groups now in open conflict, the experiment moved to its final phase. First, the researchers tried to make the groups mingle together at a movie night or participating in fireworks. Both efforts failed, so the researchers tried a new approach: giving the groups common problems to solve together.

First, the researchers said the drinking water supply had been damaged by vandals. Upon working together to restore the water, the first signs of peace began to emerge between groups. Next, the groups were asked to collectively pay for a movie. Both groups decided on which movie to watch and, by that evening, they had started to eat together.

Over time, researchers posed more mutual problems, and solving each problem strengthened the group’s bond. The key is they were working together on goals which both groups shared an interest in achieving. This made cooperation easier and fostered the seeds of friendship. By the end of the whole experiment, the groups traveled together in the same bus as friends.

The study identifies a critical factor in fostering inter-group cooperation and harmony. Focusing on objectives in which separate parties have a mutual interest boosts inter-group cohesion. Yes, each group retains its separate identity, structure and exclusive dynamics, but when these two parties start working together on goals they both benefit from, inter-group cooperation occurs in an organic manner.

How to Use the Robber’s Cave Findings in Your Organization

When two departments within an organization are in conflict, it’s a recipe for disaster. We can use the Robber’s Cave experiment by defining mutual goals from which both parties can benefit. Perhaps it’s a company target both groups need one another’s expertise to achieve. Identifying a goal where both groups must be part of the solution fosters cooperation and rapprochement.

To further integrate the groups, an organization should make these common tasks a democratic activity where every group member from each group maintains influence. When the members of each group feel influential in the decision-making process, the groups become more unified in their tasks. Conversely, when only group leaders exert decision-making power, little cohesion will run throughout the entire department; conflict will continue to exist at lower levels.

“In a business relationship, I feel it’s actually constructive to have differing points of view to see the bigger picture of where everyone is coming from,” said Clinton Senkow, Co-Founder, and COO of Influencive. “But, in order to solve problems together, it’s important that all team members feel valued and [that] they are contributing to solving the problem. Making it a team effort vs a one or two-person show is key to creating a culture and environment others want to work in.”

Inter-group competition is productive and gamifies achievement within an organization, but it is crucial to make sure that competition does not evolve into tribalism. There should be systems of integration in place that reinforce each group’s need of the others in order to achieve a greater goal, which more often than not is the overall success of the company.

I can attest in the two decades of working with start-ups, that office drama can cripple your organization. Give some thought to 63 years of data. 

**Abhik Shome contributed to this article.