Case study

Lance Armstrong has a Podcast?

I subscribe (I have no idea why) to a guy who occasionally posts some interesting things otherwise out of my orbit (oh, that’s why) and one of those things today was a link to Lance Armstrong’s podcast. Did you know he had a podcast? Did you know he still existed? Me neither.

I haven’t listened to a second of it yet and there’s a strong chance I won’t. Ok, I’ll likely listen to a bit of it because the person who sent me there says Armstrong “doesn’t give a shit.” Swoon. If you know me you know I love when people don’t give a shit. I want the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house to see what happens when they stop being polite and start acting like the bag of cat anuses they really are. In this instance, just the one anus will do; LA’s anus. That sounded different then I meant it.

Then I came across this as the top review on iTunes.

lancearmstrong

Whoa. Hold the phone. Betrayed? Fraud? Cheated? Those are some sharp knives to be throwing at Armstrong and I think only one or two of them may be accurately placed. I think we should avoid “betrayed” as when has a celebrity ever been loyal to you? That’s your problem right there. You don’t have a relationship with these people. Move on.

But then I thought about it for a second and I realized why I was prone to jump to Lance’s defense. Not only did the man beat Stage 3 Cancer, but then when he was done with that he did the work necessary to win the most physically demanding competition on earth, not once, not twice, but seven god damned times. In a row. In (*clap) A (*clap) God (*clap) Damned (*clap) Row.*

armstrongcancer

If I got this news I would have rolled myself into a ball and died silently while sipping scotch between sobs. Sure, drugs are bad, mkay. But let’s not pretend this is a Popeye cartoon where Lance squeezed open a can of spinach and bench pressed a battleship. Lance had to train like the Taking of Pelham One Two Three in order to tea bag the rest of humanity with his one remaining – look, you know what I’m saying. The man was literally Superman – drugs or no drugs.

He gets credit for doing the impossible. And I truly mean impossible. Some 4,000 people have summited Everest. Not 1,000, not 3,000, but 4,000. Shout out to my boy Tenzing Norgay. Know how many have won seven Tour De France? Just one. And as a Stage 3 cancer survivor no less. This is an appropriate place to bow down. Give that man his propers.

For real though, I never owned a LiveStrong bracelet. Partly because I don’t like fads. But also because I don’t like fads. I understand that the person that wrote the review was likely heartbroken over the discovery (*insert photo of Taylor Swift’s shocked face here) that professional athletes engage in performance-enhancing drugs to stay on top. Emphasis on “enhancing,” please and thank you.

shockedface

Maybe the person is bitter because they know in their heart of hearts that Armstrong has achieved more in a decade then they (and their children, and their children’s children) will ever accomplish in three lifetimes. That’s fair. But let’s not conveniently forget that despite the doping (which it’s widely been said everyone else was doing at the same time, so, even playing field?) this guy still dunked on all of our existences in the most complete way. That’s worthy of esteem.

Avant-Garde, modern-day philosopher-king, Malcolm Gladwell wrote this in regards the silliness of doping scandals. The main focus wasn’t even on drugs but on manipulating one’s own body by getting deep into the weeds of how to push the human machine to its absolute limit of performance. Removing your blood and putting it back into yourself before a race doesn’t seem immoral, does it? It’s your blood. It’s just a fascinating read and I urge you to follow the link and get your mind blown. Here’s a taste:

“Lance and Ferrari showed me there were more variables than I’d ever imagined, and they all mattered: wattages, cadence, intervals, zones, joules, lactic acid, and, of course, hematocrit,” Hamilton writes. “Each ride was a math problem: a precisely mapped set of numbers for us to hit. . . . It’s one thing to go ride for six hours. It’s another to ride for six hours following a program of wattages and cadences, especially when those wattages and cadences are set to push you to the ragged edge of your abilities.”

Hematocrit, the last of those variables, was the number they cared about most. It refers to the percentage of the body’s blood that is made up of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The higher the hematocrit, the more endurance you have. (Mäntyranta had a very high hematocrit.) The paradox of endurance sports is that an athlete can never work as hard as he wants, because if he pushes himself too far his hematocrit will fall. Hamilton had a natural hematocrit of forty-two per cent—which is on the low end of normal. By the third week of the Tour de France, he would be at thirty-six per cent, which meant a six-per-cent decrease in his power—in the force he could apply to his pedals. In a sport where power differentials of a tenth of a per cent can be decisive, this “qualifies as a deal breaker.”

Bottom line, don’t hate on the GOAT because he broke some rules in pursuit of greatness. Just because you suddenly found yourself unable to wear your growing menagerie of LiveStrong bracelets doesn’t mean you should hate on the guy who inspired you to buy them in the first place.

*I really like clapping.

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Apartment Video Maintenance Tips, Made Easy

I hate when things break around the house. Having bought my first one three years ago, I’ve often found myself in the position of trying to figure out how to repair various issues on the fly. With YouTube as the Time Life books of our generation, there haven’t been many things I’ve needed to call someone for.

A light bulb came on: quick access, to short videos about common maintenance issues, would be wildly helpful to our Residents. Housing college students means that necessarily a good number of them have never; done their own laundry, run a dishwasher, or unclogged a toilet. A website that explains how to do it themselves is a non-starter. Ditto for a manual or handbook. For Millennials, video is king. Even better, every one of them come with a mobile video player permanently affixed to their hand. How do you leverage that?

We worked on a series of videos with important questions in mind: What’s the vital information we’d want someone to know in a moment when they need it most? What are the types of calls we get all the time that take seconds to fix? Resetting a breaker, a GFI, unclogging a toilet, resetting a garbage disposal – all the easy stuff that a Resident could do themselves in seconds, if they only knew how.

Important to the project was making sure we didn’t make each video too long, or make it complicated in any way. A three minute run-time would kill our click-through rate. Most of our videos are 20 seconds or less and specialized to whatever you’re looking for in the moment.

Knight Circle's new magnetic QR code/short URL sheet for fast video maintenance tips.

Knight Circle’s new magnetic QR code/short URL sheet for fast video maintenance tips.

You can either scan the QR code with your phone or type in the short URL for each area of the apartment, and then you’ll get a playlist of videos to choose from on our YouTube page. At first, we toyed with the idea of stickers on each appliance or area of the home with a quick link to a video specific to that item, but this quickly proved unwieldy. We settled on a 6″x9″ magnet that could be placed on the fridge in each unit – an area where it’s likely to survive and be ever-present in our Residents lives, but not intrusive.

Starting this August, we’ll be placing them on each Fridge as we complete our final inspection walks prior to move-in and dropping some info to look out for them with our new move-in email.

Our mission states that we seek to simplify the complicated and we think this is a huge step in that direction. By allowing our Residents to quickly learn easy lessons about apartment maintenance, and by relieving the work load for our Technicians and CAs, we can free up time better suited to proactive items that really deliver value.

School Shootings about Loneliness? Can We Help?

I recall hearing ages ago that rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power. At first it seems counter-intuitive, but then quickly makes sense. The horrible people committing these acts are attempting to gain something they lack – power.

Simon Sinek (Who I’ve written about often) says in the clip below that school shootings are a new endeavor (16 years since Columbine) that are based entirely on loneliness. And that necessarily, our new technologically connected society is helping to create that sense of loneliness.

The true irony of the connected age: It’s never been easier to connect with anyone in the world and yet it’s never been more difficult to connect with your neighbor. 

I don’t know if you’re old enough to recall Columbine, but in the immediate aftermath the media blamed just about anything not nailed down: Marilyn Manson, violent video games, violent movies, the list goes on. Given the fact nothing like that had happened before, SOMETHING had to be responsible. That same fall I’d started a psychology class in Gainesville and we must have debated the cause for a week and I don’t recall anyone ever blaming loneliness. To hear it now, it seems equal parts obvious and ground breaking – a paradox wrapped up in a centuries-old stone tablet.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fundamentals of why things work the way they do, and why organizations are the way they are. Inevitably, these thoughts take me back to the very heart of what motivates individual human beings: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs

After we’ve covered the basics for survival (the first two tiers) we get immediately to belonging. Sinek’s supposition is that each of these shooters are missing this basic component in their lives, and that if we, as leaders, would make it our mission to help give people a sense of belonging, we could do a lot to limit the instances of these shootings.

Honestly, out of all of the years of speculation I’ve heard on the matter, it makes the most sense to me. The next question becomes, how do you do that? What’s that look like in practice? What’s that look like in the work place? In our communities? Is it even possible in modern communities? Do we, as Student Housing providers, have a responsibility to help connect our Residents to one another – to REALLY make that passionate aspect of our operations and not just say we’re covering that by throwing pool parties every other month?

I don’t know the answers to any of these but I have some thoughts.

Check out Sinek’s theory in the clip below and if you have any ideas about creating a sense of belonging in our schools or our communities, let me know in the comments.

Do you really care? Hoodie does.

Rapper, Hoodie Allen, has a rabid fan base and one he’s well earned. First, there’s the fact that the guy is just good at what he does: Creative lyrics, a fun, easy-going demeanor, and just a great overall entertainer. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

While coasting through twitter recently, I saw this:

HoodieAllen.jpg

Hoodie has over 600,000 followers on twitter. Nearly as many subscribers on his YouTube channel. Suffice it to say, he’s a busy guy. Not only are there the regular replies to his fans in comment sections and tweets and Instagram, but then he goes and sets up a help email for anyone going through a tough time? Yes.

And people love it. There are probably a thousand replies all stating essentially the same things:

hoodieHelpPraise

Right? That’s love.

And as if that wasn’t enough on its own, he inspired others to do the same.

hoodieHelp

It’s a hell of a moment when you see a celebrity use their fame and reach to positively affect the human condition. No personal gain in mind, just the awareness that people are hurting sometimes and he has the ability to be that outlet. It’s inspiring.

The takeaway? If you’re saying you “love” or “care about” your fans/customers/employees/stakeholders, etc… what are you doing to show it?

BTW, check out some Hoodie videos. The guy is ridiculous. In the good way, like you want.

Personality Goes a Long Way

How far does a little chalk go? A very long way if you’re “Not a Burger Stand” in Burbank, CA. These guys run a thriving business with some daring food choices – Coco Puff encrusted fried chicken, anyone? In addition, they have fun with their clientele. Each week they post a new chalkboard outside their place inviting their patrons to live a little and, in combination with their evidently amazing food, has caused quite the sensation.

Check out some of my faves in no particular order:

Stefon lloyddobler ronswanson samelliot mattfoley doubtfire joker thriller everything-is-awesome

powerrangers zissou

The lesson? Let your people share their art -in this case, literally. Don’t be afraid to have a personality and make a connection with your customers.

The artists for "Not a Burger Stand" - Lila & Kyle

The artists for “Not a Burger Stand” – Lila & Kyle

If You Build It: Leasing Through Better Meals?

One of the most interesting things about CVI-Orlando (Collegiate Village Inn) is that we have a dining hall and meal plans. NO ONE in off-campus student housing markets have these things – and for good reason. The cost to build a commercial kitchen and dining hall are staggering and the space they consume could be used for rentable units. Nowadays if you want a meal plan you outsource the operation to a 3rd party meal plan company of which there are many.

modern on-campus dining options

Our chief competition - on-campus dining halls of the 21st century

Fortunately for us, CVI was built 20 years ago when UCF had virtually no on-campus housing and the surrounding area in general was sparsely populated/built up. Originally, CVI housed mainly football players and other athletes and with food costs being what they were, it obviously made financial sense to serve meals in-house. Does it still make sense? What are the margins? Can a café’/meal plan serving 400+ students daily be profitable?

Apologies, but you’ll need some rough numbers to get this next part of the challenge. I know, stats are a killer for these blogs but they’re absolutely required. I promise to be gentle.

Plans are included with the monthly rental rates. Here are the meals per week we serve with the corresponding percentage of the community that has selected that option. Differences in price between the plans is about $30 per month. Again, these numbers are only an example:

Any 7   MPW                17% of Students

Any 14  MPW                23% of Students

Any 21 MPW                60% of Students

Any idea what the redemption rate is on meals? That’s the number of meals we actually serve each week compared with how many we’re responsible to provide under these terms. Go ahead and guess a percentage. I’ll tell you a little later.

The largest initial challenge regarding the café’ was figuring out what being successful there meant. I mean, serve great food and have an amazing experience and more meals get eaten. More meals consumed means greater cost, means less profit. Also, the number one factor in people choosing us is the meal plan so if you skimp on quality and cut costs you kill your number one area for adding value. You can see the dichotomy rearing it’s 9 hydra-like heads with its hankering for filet mignon and strawberry blintzes, can’t you?

Before we could do much of anything we had to establish how many meals we were responsible for and how many were being consumed. What were our costs per meal? Believe it or not we had only estimates. Sure, people “signed in” to redeem their meals but the numbers were never compiled as there were around 3000 meals served weekly and who had time to count up all those hash marks?

We made a new excel spreadsheet which pulled directly from our day-to-day occupancy report which also reflected the current meal plan option. This gets updated weekly and the host stand uses this to verify the number of meals consumed for each Student. At the end of the week we click the hash marks into the electronic version and it auto tabulates the meals consumed by day/meal/plan type, and gives us our redemption rate. After two months of solid data it turns out it’s about 45%. So if we’re on the hook for, say 5000 meals in a week, we’ll likely only serve 2250. That’s about 321 per day, or closer to 370 M-F and 200 on Sat/Sundays.

It’s my belief that the best way to succeed at anything is to start with a picture of what the best possible way to succeed would look like. If Donald Trump and Bobby Flay teamed up to do a venture that looked like this place, what would they do? What would the food look like? What does the right mix of; delicious, cost effective, fast, nutritious, visually appealing, and convenient dining, look like? How do you brand an in-house cafeteria and make it more than a school lunchroom without dropping a quarter million in the process?

Bobby Flay really likes that chicken, yo!

Would Bobby Flay have the same thoughts about our chicken?

We knew that listening to Resident feedback was a huge part of this endeavor. People (especially our female students) wanted healthier options, and more accurately – more visual appeal from our healthy options. We had to focus on being less utilitarian and more customer-centric. We could do this. We could also do it for less money if we were smart.

Fewer burgers and more to-go mandarin orange-sesame salads. Out with “café” as the generic name – we were now “Bistro 106.” Complete with a new logo. BTW, the “106” comes from CVI being 106 in roman numerals – clever, right? I wish I could take credit but alas I cannot.

We eliminated deserts as we couldn’t do them well and they were going uneaten. In their place was a ton more fresh fruit – strawberries, melons, pineapple. We began Mongolian Grill nights on Wednesdays with presentation tables while we show classic Kung-Fu movies on a big screen. These became a huge hit. We closely paid attention to waste and reduced it through observing eating trends and predicting with great accuracy how many meals we’d go through on a given day.

Not all decisions were popular and we’re always working out the kinks. People miss their deserts so we do them a couple of nights a week now and in exchange for checking in on Foursquare to help promote the “Bistro 106” brand. It may not be every night, but it is of a much higher quality and we’re proud of that fact. One of our team members lamented the loss of pepper-jack cheese. Many still wish we had more vegetarian/vegan options. We’re still figuring out exactly what we are in terms of a fast-casual dining experience and we’re hoping our latest innovation will help.

Eat & Tweet

We want your feedback so badly we'll even embrace Twitter!

Starting this week we’re rolling out “Eat & Tweet” where through table-tents we’re encouraging Residents to give us real-time feedback on the food/experience through sending a message to @bistro106 or #bistro106. Those that do will automatically be entered to win a weekly prize valued at around $25. We’re fanatical about feedback and want to know the whole story so we can be our best.

In future posts I’ll fill you in on some of the specific changes we’re making to food/purchasing/processing, etc… and what mix and metrics we settle on as our ideal benchmarks. If you’re in the neighborhood (University and Alafaya in Orlando) come see us and have a meal at Bistro 106 on me!