If so, here's a thought for you: Disruption happens.
It happens much like another word that happens.
And that word is one which we will not state here in the weekly screed.
That is because, unlike many other mediocre harangues available on the internet, we here at the Slow Burn Mountaintop Marketing Fortress wish to project the illusion that our mediocre harangue doesn't merely fire for effect by using scatological BS language.
But boy, does anything have quite as much stink of BS as the faddish notion of being disruptive?
The whole idea of disruption is merely a repackaging of a quality that can indeed make you fabulously wealthy.
And we know the secret. We will teach you.
But first, some cautionary reflection.
Because at some point, someone is going to say to you...
"OOOH, IT'S THE 21ST CENTURY! WE NEED TO BE DISRUPTIVE!"
No you don't.
What you need to do is merely follow the ostensible tenets of being disruptive, which means doing things that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I have been doing in our respective careers in radio and in big ad agencies for decades.
First, let's recap the disruption BS.
If you missed our last harangue about this problem, which happened some months ago, we looked at the Wikipedia page about disruption and distilled it into a single top-line thought.
We walked away with this: "Being disruptive is about not being mediocre."
WHILE DISRUPTION HAPPENS, IT SEEMS THAT AMBITION DOES NOT
Whatever happened to the notion of being successful by being excellent?
I was recently reading an article about one huge, disruptive company that, in 2015, had been valued at over a quarter billion dollars.
A quarter billion dollars! More than that! By about 50% more!
I'd never actually heard of this company, but this disruptive beast was all the rage on college campuses.
Can you guess what happened two years after that quarter-billion-dollar valuation?
This hugely disruptive company was sold to another hugely disruptive company.
The sale price: a paltry 12-million bucks.
What the hell happened?
FOLLOW THE MONEY--WHICH FOLLOWED THE BUZZWORDS
It was all about social media!
Changing the world!
Apparently, one of the failed disrupter's employees is on record, saying that the company's mission is to "Empower the collective creation of the world."
Collective creation of the world?
What does that even mean?
Are we basing a quarter-billion-dollar-plus vision on bringing the entire world together in one big Color Me Mine finger-painting party?
If you look back at the postmortem of this company (whose name we will not state but whom we'll just call Fail), it sounds like a high-tech PT Barnum was leading a flock of pretentious and frivolous youngsters who were more interested in the company's internal culture of beer pong and hot-tub parties than in doing anything that really matters.
DOES THAT SOUND HARSH?
But a lot of allegedly smart people lost a whole lot of big money backing the blustering and fiery vision of Fail.
Unfortunately, it turned out that instead of having a man behind the curtain, there was little more at Fail besides more smoke and mirrors.
Recently, I stumbled across an article about the things that disrupter brands are doing and why their disruptive models work to make disruptive amounts of lucre.
The article had a lot of words about a lot of stuff that made a lot of money, but you can look at it all and boil it down to the F-word.
No, not Fail.
Yes, I'm sorry, but disruption is about little more than Focus.
AS THE FAITHFUL FAN OF HOT SHOTS KNOWS, WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT FOCUS
And we have never once been about disruption.
Because focusing on disruption is stupid.
It propagates the notion that by somehow being troublesome and disturbing and distracting, you can rule the world.
In fact, one of the business ideas that the disruptive model rails against is old-fashioned, interruptive advertising.
"TV commercials and radio commercials are dinosaurs! Interruption advertising is dead!"
You know what the word "interruption" is?
It's a synonym for "disruption."
GET OFF YOUR HIGH, DISRUPTIVE HORSE, ZEITGEIST!
Come on back to the party and practice good, old-fashioned focus.
At Slow Burn Marketing, we have long preached focus to our clients.
One client wanted to just "run some ads" for a particular segment of their business.
We told them you could do that.
But then you'd be just another also-ran.
But if you focus, if you come up with a new brand that specializes in that segment of your business, and run ads for that new brand, you can then compete against the category leader.
And while you're going up against the category leader, your new marketing can focuses on your customer, and tell stories about the thrill that customer gets from doing business with you because your experience is better.
Can you guess what they did?
CAN YOU GUESS WHO STARTED MAKING A MILLION BUCKS A YEAR?
We had another client, a solopreneur, who had two brands in the same category.
One brand was business-to-consumer, and the other brand was business-to-business.
She was tied up in knots about having to re-brand and market both brands.
We said, "Why?"
Why do you need two?
They're in the same category.
Combine them into one brand. They both provide the same thing. You just have a pro version for B2B and a lite version for B2C.
She looked like a millstone had been removed from her neck.
Suddenly, with one sweep of her hand, she had one business she could focus on. It simplified her life and her marketing.
"OH, COME ON, IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE! DISRUPTIVE BRANDS ARE CHANGING THE WORLD!"
No they're not.
Smart, focused people are changing the world.
"No! Disrupters rule!"
OK, let's look at the rules of disruption.
Focus, simplification, a business model delivering a desirable customer experience, and being what the staid and established competition isn't.
Those are key qualities.
By that measure, who was the first disruptive brand?
The Ford Motor Company.
DO YOU DISAGREE?
Well, Henry Ford disrupted the automotive industry.
He flew in the face of a business model that sold high-priced cars to people who had money to burn.
He did it by looking at the model for the meat packing industry, and reversed it.
A meat packing plant has a whole cow go in one end. It comes out the other end as packaged parts.
Henry Ford sent packaged parts in one end. A whole cow--er, car come out the other end.
Henry Ford also strived to make the automobile affordable to the common man.
Henry Ford also improved the customer experience by giving the common man the first-ever car with safety glass in the windshield.
HENRY FORD WAS A KING DISRUPTER
And he did it without ever having pretentious and pointless mission statements or throwing beer pong hot tub parties for his workers.
He also did it without ever being called "disruptive."
Today, one of the anointed kings of the alleged disrupter businesses is Dollar Shave Club.
How did it happen?
Two guys got to talking about their frustration with the high price of razor blades.
They started a focused, customer-centric business model: inexpensive, high-quality razor blades and razors by mail order.
They used their own money, and some startup funding from a business incubator.
They developed a fun, entertaining, engaging brand that connects with men.
They created an experience that let the customer in on the joke.
THEY MADE THEIR CORE CUSTOMER FEEL ONE THING
They gave a guy frustrated with the high price of razor blades a better alternative. They did it with personality and a sense of humor that is completely lacking in the razor-blade market dominated by Gillette and Shick.
They made getting blades in the mail an enjoyable experience.
And just by the way, their first YouTube video was hilarious. It stands up to repeated watching.
They also used old-fashioned, deader-then-dead interruptive TV commercials.
These two guys sick of the high price of razor blades launched their epic disruption in January 2011.
They did it using what amounts to pocket change.
In July 2016, a mere five and a half years later, Dollar Shave Club was sold to Unilever for $1 billion in cash.
WHY ON EARTH?
Why does a multi-national company with over $60 billion in annual revenue need to buy a feisty little company that sells a limited line of razors, blades and male grooming products?
To compete, apparently.
They want to take a slice of the pie owned by Gillette and Shick.
It seems that's the official story.
And Unilever already owns "disrupter" Axe, the men's body wash and (ick) body spray.
But there's another, less popular take on this purchase.
Some folks think Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club before someone else did it.
None of this is the point.
The point is that disruption is BS.
What wins in the marketplace is the F-word.
Focus is your friend.
When you focus your business model and your brand, great things happen.
When you focus on a single, well-defined core customer, you know to whom you are speaking.
Then, you can focus your marketing message in a way that makes your core customer feel one way about your brand.
Your brand becomes magnetic.
And your brand makes friends.
AND IT WORKS FOR ANY SIZE BUSINESS
It works for solopreneurs.
By focusing, Slow Burn helped one solopreneur double his revenue in a year.
Focus works for an established and thriving operation. That's how Slow Burn helped the business mentioned earlier launch a new brand and go from zero to a million.
And focus works for guys like Dollar Shave Club, who started a business based on a conversation at a party, tapped into the zeitgeist, and sold their business for a billion.
But disruption is not the goal.
Nor is pretentious and pointless mission statements or beer pong hot tub parties.
Focus is king. When you understand how to focus, you're on the way to being a brand that matters.
Even if someone else decides that have to call you names like "disruptive."
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
If you were here for the last two installments of the screed, you know that we've been ranting about an internationally famous cult brand that is sexy and enormously profitable.
That brand is filled with azure blue waters, white-sand beaches, suntanned, nearly naked customers, and the Caribbean's best pizza.
Here now, something else.
Here now, an internationally famous cult brand that is unsexy.
It is unlikely to ever be profitable.
It is filled with sweat, blood, grime, thorns, blisters and ridicule.
Customers around the world clamor to do business with this brand--and few ever get the opportunity.
AND IF THEY DO GET THAT OPPORTUNITY?
They can be guaranteed to endure pain, exhaustion and mockery.
Welcome to the Barkley Marathons.
Never heard of the Barkley Marathons?
You've certainly heard of the Boston Marathon.
It's the world's oldest annual marathon, established in 1897.
It is also notoriously difficult to qualify. And its economic impact on the city of Boston is estimated at over $170 million.
The Boston Marathon is the mac daddy brand of organized running.
Everyone who runs wants to get to Boston.
But maybe that's not you. Maybe you're just thinking of getting off the sofa and reaching for your running shoes instead of another slice of pizza.
SOMEWHERE, THERE IS A RACE FOR YOU
And if you want an "epic" distance, you can probably find a Rock & Roll Marathon near you. They presently run more than 30 events in nine countries.
The owner of the Rock & Roll Marathons was sold to a capital group in 2014 for $250 million.
Their races support you like crazy.
They have water, sports beverages, energy foods, aid stations, live bands, encouragement and cheering all along course.
And whether your distance is a half marathon or a full marathon, at the finish, there is always a medal waiting for you. (I should know. I usually finish in the middle of the pack, yet I have medals from half a dozen half marathons, one full marathon, and five triathlons.)
Organized road racing is a national phenomenon. Running USA tells us that in 2015, over 16 million people competed in an organized road race.
ALSO IN 2015, NOT A SINGLE RUNNER FINISHED THE BARKLEY MARATHONS
So what the hell?
The Barkley Marathons has become known as, "The race that eats its young."
Founded in 1986, it has been finished only 19 times by 15 runners.
The brainchild of a former ultra-marathoner in Tennessee, finishing The Barkley is almost impossible.
In fact, it's almost impossible to enter.
There is no official information anywhere about how to enter, how to contact the organizer, when the race is--and after you've entered, there isn't even an official start time. It's all at the whim of race organizer Lazarus Lake.
If you do figure out how to enter, the entry fee is $1.60. Your entry fee must be accompanied by an essay: "Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley."
AND IF YOUR ESSAY PERSUADES LAZARUS THAT YOU ARE BARKLEY MATERIAL?
He sends you a condolence letter.
"Dear Runner's Name, it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that your name has been selected for the Barkley Marathons."
He suggests that while you could spend the next several months in rigorous training, that time would be better spent putting your affairs in order and updating your will.
Or, you could come to your senses, bow out and he'll pass your entry to some other "unfortunate fool."
He will never tell you what time the race starts.
He will never reveal the course until the day of.
He will merely require that you and 39 other unfortunate fools arrive in Tennessee's Frozen Head State Park at the appointed time, at the infamous yellow gate, and wait.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN TO START?
Sometime between midnight and noon of race day, Lazarus Lake will blow on a conch shell.
That signals one hour until the start.
One hour later, he signals the start by striking a match and lighting his Camel cigarette.
Then, you and 39 others will be off.
It's a little different than starting the New York Marathon with tens of thousands of joyful goofballs shuffling along to a big-ass PA system belting out Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York."
IN THE BARKLEY, YOU WILL RUN A LOOP THAT LAZARUS CLAIMS IS 20 MILES LONG
Runners who've done it claim the loop is 26 miles.
You will attempt to run that loop five times in 60 hours.
Over those 60 hours, you will attempt to run the equivalent of five full marathons with an accumulated elevation gain of 54,000 feet.
And you will fail.
There will be no organized support, no aid stations, no live bands.
And there will be no medal.
But you will have survived areas of a course with names like Rat Jaw, Little Hell, The Bad Thing, and Testicle Spectacle.
YOU ARE IN THE BARKLEY
How did this all happen?
Why do hundreds of runners from around the world annually compete for 40 slots in this barely organized madness?
And of those hundreds of runners, who do so many of them shoot for the one, single slot open to the "sacrificial virgin," the one entrant deemed to have no hope at all of completing even one loop?
Welcome to the cult.
No prize money.
No 15 minutes of fame.
At best, you get a hearty handshake.
Lazarus Lake is relentless.
If you come in from one loop of the race and even look like you're going to drop out, he will goad you into doing more.
IF THAT FAILS, YOU THEN GET TO ENDURE THE BUGLER
The bugler announces your failure in the Barkley by playing taps.
Most years, taps is played at least 39 times.
Frequently, it is played 40 times, once for each failed runner. Once for every man and woman who made the attempt and went down in flames.
Like in 2015--when more 16 million Americans competed in an organized road race, and a year after the Rock & Roll Marathons organizer was sold for a quarter billion dollars--nobody completed the Barkley Marathons.
Somehow, there is one runner, a guy from Salt Lake, who has never heard taps played for himself. He's finished the race three times.
His name is Jared Campbell. And his blog is really interesting.
In talking about the Barkley, he uses words like "quiet," "introspective," "exhaustion," "exploits," "heroes," and "tireless. He also uses phrases like, "dark challenges," "preventable disasters," "swallow the pain," and "The Final Hallucination."
YES, THE RACERS WHO GET FAR ENOUGH WILL HALLUCINATE
And in a world of overprotective fussing in the big business that is organized road racing, Mr. Campbell's blog elucidates the appeal of the Barkley Marathons.
He refers to it as less a running race and more a psychological and social experiment.
He says it has taught him lessons about life, himself, and others.
That it has shaped who he is and how he looks at life.
And I get it.
As a guy who has twice crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat, who has spent nights alone on deck in the dark while the wind is blowing stink, having heated, one-sided conversations with the deity, and who has occasionally wondered whether This Is It, I get it.
It's a test. And it changes you.
The Barkley is something most people will never experience.
It is Everest.
NOT THE PAY-YOUR-MONEY-AND-BE-LED-UP-THE-ROPES EVEREST
It is the Everest of Hillary.
It is the Everest of the psyche.
It is the Everest of the soul.
It is a tight-knit group, a brother- and sisterhood, a dare, a genuine and immense challenge in an age marked by coddling and prefabrication and the inanity that is social media.
The Barkley is something that is becoming ever more difficult to find.
The Barkley core customer is a runner who craves a test of the mind, body and spirit.
And the one way that core customer should feel is that the Barkley is unabashedly authentic.
In the social, psychological and physical insulation of the 21st century, authenticity is dead.
Long live authenticity.
Condolences for entering the Barkley.
You will enjoy ridicule.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WANT OVERNIGHT FAME AND FORTUNE BY BUILDING AN INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN, SMALL-BUSINESS CULT BRAND--PART DEUXRead Now
In case you missed last week’s screed, or if those brain cells have just taken a hike, here’s a quick recap...
Two smart, good-looking people quit their jobs in “civilization,” and move to the Caribbean.
They find an aging hulk of a 37-foot aluminum sloop and resurrect it as a floating pizza kitchen, dubbing it PiZZA Pi.
They become media darlings and a raging success--developing a cult brand that has achieved a #1 ranking on TripAdvisor out of more than 200 restaurants reviewed in St. Thomas.
And here in the screed, we’re using PiZZA Pi as an example of how to have a successful brand overnight by doing a lot of planning, a lot of leg work, getting repeatedly hot and grubby, and being intensely focused.
IT SEEMS TARA & SASHA BOUIS ARE CHAMPIONS AT THAT
As it says on their “About” page:
“PiZZA Pi is a concept dreamt up by a young couple too naive to know it would never work & too stubborn to give up.”
Stubborn naiveté has its advantages.
I asked about the secret of their success.
PiZZA Pi’s Chef Tara thinks it’s their made-for-print-and-TV media appeal, combined with their stated mission focus of being hip, wholesome and fun with the Caribbean's best pizza.
Yea, mission focus!
If you can remember nothing else, remember this:
Mission focus is mission critical.
OK, OK, YOU KNOW ALL THAT--BUT WHY ARE WE REVISITING THE CARIBBEAN PIZZA SUPERSTARS?
Because there’s more to talk about.
PiZZA Pi serves as a good model for anyone who wants to have a thriving small-business brand, and I also have a theory of my own about their success.
And yes, it is impossible to overestimate the value of their intense, mission focus.
Too often, a small business wants to be everything to everyone.
And as you know, we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress keep banging the drum for brand focus, namely: the one way your core customer should feel about your business.
“One way” because focus is essential.
“Core customer” because, when you define the person to whom you’re speaking, you can then speak with a voice that matters.
“Feel” because emotion is central the psychology of decision making.
AND THE PIZZA PI PEOPLE GOT THERE INTUITIVELY
Whether by nature or nurture, they are tapped into the nature of mission and brand.
But here’s something else to consider...
When you’re building a floating, sail-up pizza truck, you don’t have a choice but to be one thing to one customer.
You have given yourself blinders.
You have to be a purveyor of pizza to someone on a boat.
There isn’t room for anything else.
“Well, we could have sandwiches, and pasta, and salads, and antipasti, and...”
No. Sorry. Just pizza. Well, that, and PiZZA Pi’s “Stix,” which, as sticks of pizza dough one dips into a reformatted pizza topping, are essentially a deconstructed pizza.
There is also ice cream, along with beverages.
YOU JUST DON’T HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO TOO MUCH
A 37-foot sailboat might sound big.
Especially when you’ve filled the space with a prep area, propane pizza ovens, refrigeration, dry storage and a cashier’s station.
Not to mention all the equipment necessary for maintaining your boat as an actual boat.
We have two focused people who were given even more need to focus based on circumstance.
If I may be colloquial about it, physical limitations and logistics forced them to put not a single ounce more than 10 pounds of crap into their 10-pound bag.
And we all know what it looks like when someone has tried to put 15 pounds of crap into that 10-pound bag. It’s not pretty, no matter how much white sand and blue water surrounds it.
ABOARD PIZZA PI, THEIR EYES DID NOT GET BIGGER THAN THEIR STOMACHS
Which is great.
And that’s my additional pet theory.
But here was the biggest surprise for me.
Among the questions I asked of Chef Tara (who was infinitely patient with me and replied with far more complete answers than I ever had a right to expect,) was this:
What is the one thing you want PiZZA Pi to be known for?
Now believe me when I say I expected a typical, brief, soundbite of an answer.
Something like, “We want to be known for the Caribbean’s best pizza.”
But no. Nothing so shallow.
I should’ve known better than that when asking about a guy who went to MIT and a gal who was a special education teacher.
CHEF TARA'S ANSWER CAME OUT OF LEFT FIELD
She says, “I want PiZZA Pi to be known for helping to rebuild the marine industry in the US Virgin Islands.”
OK. Talk about being on a mission bigger than one’s self.
And to fully understand what this means, a little backstory is in order.
When I was working on big yachts in the Caribbean, it may well have been the heyday for the charter sailboat industry in St. Thomas.
People would fly into little St. Thomas from all around the world and head to the marinas, where they would meet their charter yachts and light out to islands further south.
There was an entire industry in St. Thomas that was based on supporting sailing yachts, their crews and their guests.
However, for various reasons, the industry began to go into decline
AND THEN IT WAS ALL ACCELERATED BY ACTS OF GOD
Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, wreaked havoc on the little island of St. Thomas.
The Yacht Haven Marina in St. Thomas, once my home and a nexus for the charter yacht industry, was thrashed.
To an industry in decline, Marilyn was a crowning blow.
With 80% of St. Thomas homes and businesses destroyed, and $2-billion in damage, how to serve the $1-billion-dollar-per-year tourism industry--of which the marine industry was an integral part?
Over time, tourism at large rebounded from the devastation--but not the charter yacht business.
Says Tara, “I want to help retain day [charter] boats who otherwise head straight for the border and spend their entire day highlighting all the beauty in the British Virgin Islands.
"I’m proud to be part of the USVI marine tourism economy.”
An honorable motive, indeed.
HOWEVER, IT ALL STILL COMES DOWN TO BUILDING AND MARKETING A BUSINESS
And Team Bouis maintains its loftier goal by focusing on the day-to-day realities of slinging pies across the cerulean seas at Christmas Cove.
Last week, we talked about how one’s reputation through the coconut telegraph is critical.
And Team PiZZA Pi have worked the telegraph to build their reputation.
Of course, being a small-business advertising guy, I had to ask: How did you initially get the word out?
Says Chef Tara, “In the beginning advertising was pretty slow going. I passed menus to boats in the bay and especially tried to hit day boats as they came in.
"Because the boating world is a small community, word of mouth became my strongest marketing between boat captains.
“Unintentionally, I also hired a couple people who had lots of connections with boat captains and they helped convince their captain friends to stop by and try the pizza.
AND HERE’S WHERE MADAME BOUIS SPEAKS AN ELEMENTAL TRUTH ABOUT GOOD MARKETING
She says, “The novelty of buying pizza from a boat will get captains to stop once...
“But backing it up with great food and excellent customer service is the key to getting them to return.”
Good advertising is a great thing.
But no amount of good advertising will ever compensate for a mediocre product or a flawed business model.
See also: Pets.com.
The world loved the Pets.com sock puppet mascot and their advertising.
BUT A BUSINESS MODEL THAT GUARANTEES YOU LOSE MONEY ON EVERY SALE?
That is no way to stay afloat.
And in 1998, not enough people wanted to buy kibble on the interwebs.
On a more prosaic level, a couple of years ago, we were very excited to see a new restaurant here in town.
Despite a charming proprietor and a couple of truly excellent dishes, the largely mediocre food and marginal experience rang the death knell for an otherwise well-intended effort.
Good advertising will get a customer to try something once.
Mediocre product and lousy service will guarantee that nobody comes back.
That is a fundamental small-business marketing truth, no matter how altruistic one’s motives.
ALL IN ALL, IT’S HARD TO NOT LOVE THE PEOPLE OF PIZZA PI
Granted, I’m biased.
I’m a lifelong sailor. St. Thomas was my home for a while, and I was a local professional in the marine tourism economy.
I am also an amateur pizzaiolo. Not to toot my own horn, but the best pizza in the entire county comes out of my own kitchen. We live in a pizza desert.
I also work with my wife in a small business that serves small-business owners.
And together, The Fabulous Honey Parker and I are working on a project designed to spotlight and inspire couple entrepreneurs.
But my biases aside, it’s difficult to imagine a smarter, sexier, more exciting object lesson in small-business brand than The Little Pizza Boat That Could.
Their brand focus is impressive. Their intentions are noble. And I’m flattered that Capt. Sasha and Chef Tara were willing to humor me in my solicitations about their work.
Sail on, PiZZA Pi. May there always be plenty of water beneath your keel.
To see the boat, the people, and the blue-water brilliance that is PiZZA Pi, go to www.pizza-pi.com
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Then get busy.
The brand we're going to use as a model for your overnight success is very sexy.
Your brand will also be years in the making. That's the reality of most overnight successes.
Cruising easy-breezy into the international spotlight is simple: do a lot of planning, a lot of leg work, get repeatedly hot and grubby, and be intensely focused.
Simply put: be prepared to just work your ass off.
Our model brand here is built by a smart, good-looking couple working in a stunning environment. Azure blue waters. White sand beaches. Muscular, suntanned yachties as customers.
This couple is a living, breathing, made-for-photos-and-TV example of small-business brand focus.
And if you're equal parts courageous and crazy, you can do what they do.
THEY ARE EXACTLY WHAT YOU'D EXPECT FROM A PIZZA BUSINESS
Yes, pizza. Really.
On TripAdvisor, their brand has become the #1 restaurant in St. Thomas, USVI--which is saying something for an island destination whose lifeblood is tourism.
That #1 rating is out of 204 restaurants rated by TripAdvisor users.
Here's the catch: to get their pizza, you need a boat.
The pizza is being served to boaters in St. Thomas from a sailboat anchored in beautiful Christmas Cove at Great St. James Island.
The business has garnered international attention in the press, and became an overnight sensation.
It has been covered by the press internationally, and has become a bustling operation that serves about 70 pizzas a day. (That might not seem like a lot relative to, say, any other pizzeria anywhere. But how many of those pizzerias are on a boat in a remote location?)
And who is this happy couple and what is their bustling little business bobbing away at anchor in paradise?
MEET CHEF TARA AND CAPTAIN SASHA OF PIZZA PI
These two are certified Smart People.
Capt. Sasha graduated from MIT before going to Wall Street and working for Standard & Poors. That lasted about six years, until he "chucked it all" to become an instructor at the New York Sailing School.
Of course, as great as sailing in New York Harbor is, it has little on sailing in the limpid, cerulean waters of the Caribbean. So Capt. Sasha lit out to the Caribbean, where he began captaining boats.
That's where he met Chef Tara.
A special education teacher from Indiana, Tara was spending her summers in the British Virgin Islands as a scuba instructor.
Meeting Capt. Sasha put a voluntary end to the teaching career, as Tara decided to "Chuck it all to follow [her] heart & boyfriend into a life of sun and sailing."
Which led to a new career as an award-winning chef aboard charter yachts.
BUT SMART PEOPLE OFTEN NEED TO DO CRAZY THINGS
That's my analysis, not theirs.
But let's face it: what they did seems just a little crazy.
They decided they needed to open a food truck.
Except they're in the islands.
So naturally, the food truck had to become a food boat.
And that food boat would fill a void so glaring, it seems almost painfully obvious that someone should have filled it--except that most sensible folks would say, "Nah, that's crazy!"
Understand, I say this not just as some branding geek sitting high atop a mountain outside beautiful Park City, Utah.
I say this is a guy who used to work on sailboats in the Caribbean, who loves pizza, and was one of many people in the same job who would sit around a boat at night, drinking a few beers or some excellent cheap rum, saying, "Damn, if only we could get a pizza delivered."
None of us did anything about it, of course.
IT TOOK TWO SMART, POSSIBLY RECKLESS, STARRY-EYED DREAMERS
Again, my analysis, not theirs.
They don't actually look starry-eyed or reckless.
They might be dreamers.
How else do you explain finding an old hulk of an abandoned 37-foot aluminum sailboat, refitting it as a pizza kitchen, and opening up shop in a tropical island anchorage where the only guaranteed traffic is from people with boats?
And if the dream seems reckless, it helps to back it up with some good old-fashioned smarts and responsibility.
I asked Chef Tara what kind of pizza they serve. She says, "Sasha is from NYC. I had no choice in the type of pizza we would be serving."
OK, sell what you know. And as a Yankee who has eaten a lot of NYC pizza, I cannot begrudge the good captain his preferred pie.
Tara continues, "We went to the Pizza School of New York to learn the art of NY style pizza and sauces. As a bonus we were also given a crash course in restaurant management and accounting."
OK, EXPERT TRAINING IN ALL ASPECTS OF RUNNING THE BUSINESS HELPS
It makes things seem a little less reckless.
And if the results are any indication, their dream has been enormously realized.
From Day Zero three and a half years ago, they've ramped up their business to the current slinging of 70 pies daily.
They've also ended up as media darlings. There are dozens of news stories and videos about PiZZA Pi. They've even been covered by business-news giant Bloomberg.
And, of course, their business is booming.
I didn't pry into the financials of PiZZA Pi, but just doing some quick math, let's assume that nobody orders just a pizza. (They also serve soft drinks, alcohol, ice cream and nitro cold-brew coffee.)
Let's just assume 70 tickets at an average of 30 bucks.
THIS COULD EASILY BE A MILLION-DOLLAR-A-YEAR OPERATION
But again, I'm just making a wild guess. Let's say it's half that.
How many new businesses wish they could pull off even that?
A wildly popular local brand, ranked #1 in their category by the fans, making a better-than-living-wage in paradise, winning friends and influencing people from around the world by serving pizza.
This is such a tremendous small-business story for so many reasons.
Wanting to know more so this small-business freight train of a brand could be shared with the Hot Shots faithful, I asked more questions. Chef Tara was good enough to reply.
I asked her what she believes is the secret to their success.
Chef Tara says, "The more I think about it, the more complicated this question becomes. PiZZA Pi has experienced success on many levels for a variety of reasons and together they equal success for the entire business & brand."
"HERE ARE SOME OF THE MAIN POINTS THAT I FEEL HAVE REALLY HELPED US."
"In national media, the notion of quitting your day job to pursue life in paradise has been trending in the past couple years.
"When production companies hear about us they go nuts because we fit within their story line (left Wall Street to open a pizza boat), as a couple we don't look terrible on camera, and our business setting is visually stimulating enough to attract attention.
"Being featured on national television, big-name print, and online publications has elevated our brand across the board and spread awareness and excitement to tourists traveling to our area."
AND GUESS WHAT ELSE: THEY HAVE A MISSION STATEMENT!
Believe it or not.
As the faithful fan of the weekly screed knows, that's exactly the kind of thing that we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress love to harp upon: have a clear and defined mission.
And you want a good example of why that mission matters and how it informs the success of your brand?
Chef Tara continues: "Our mission statement has been our guide as the company grows. It keeps us true to the initial reason for our existence."
Oh, look. A guide. As the Fabulous Honey Parker would say, it keeps them good, right and true.
Chef Tara says, "Consistency is key to surviving in a small-town atmosphere where your reputation is discussed everywhere from the bars to government offices."
Oh. My. God. Consistency! If we do nothing else consistently here, we bang the drum for consistency.
And never discount the significance of your reputation on the coconut telegraph. In a place as small as St. Thomas, a reputation is easy to acquire--and you better hope people like you. Bars to government offices, indeed.
BUT WHAT'S THE MISSION?
"Our mission statement is as follows: 'PiZZA Pi is a hip and wholesome "food truck on the water" that is out to have fun while serving up the best pizza in the Caribbean. We cater to day-trip, term-charter, and local boaters and are dedicated to surpassing expectations by serving small-batch, high-quality foods sold at a reasonable price by friendly, knowledgeable staff.'
"Though our story is portrayed as having moved straight from NYC to owning a pizza boat, in reality it has been a ten-year adventure. Sasha and I left mainstream and worked as professional yacht crew in the Virgin Islands for a number of years and became intimately familiar with the marine industry and the surrounding communities.
"It was with this base knowledge that we developed our business plan, chose a location, spec'ed out requirements for our boat, and assembled a team to help secure appropriate licensing.
"We did open PiZZA Pi on a wing and a prayer, but we also (sort of) knew what we were getting into."
WHO EVER REALLY KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE GETTING INTO?
But being prepared, doing your homework, learning your craft, and anticipating the unknowns all contribute to the potential for your success.
And without ever once having stumbled across the Slow Burn Marketing mantra about brand, they knew intuitively what they needed to do: make their core customer feel one way about their business.
They want their customer to feel that PiZZA Pi is hip, wholesome and fun with the Caribbean's best pizza.
And that alone is something you can take to the bank.
But wait, there's more.
And we're going to have to continue it next week. Because there's a lot more ground to cover with the hip, wholesome and fun couple behind this sexy, island-time cult brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.