Why did the identical twins cross the road? To tell NSFW jokes at the Improv!

smash_brothers_cory_n_chadIdentical twins Cory and Chad Baumgartner — “The Smash Brothers” — have a unique approach to the business of comedy they’ve used to fuel their careers as comedians. They operate their act under the perfectly named company: Identical Entertainment. Born and raised east of Los Angeles, the brothers had a challenging yet character building childhood:  they attended more than 14 schools! To help make friends they embraced the role of class clowns. It worked!

Those experiences drew them close to each other, strengthening already genetically close ties. They now consider themselves each others best friends. Interestingly, even though they look alike, Cory and Chad are very different: Cory is the “Good Twin” with a laid back style and calm demeanor (he  doesn’t drink or party). Chad is the “Evil Twin,”a bad boy type, who, with his wild party stories, always keeps Cory on his toes.

Their lives are intertwined at almost every level:  they have switched college classes, broken up with each others girlfriends, showed up to work for each other, and even used each others drivers licenses (allegedly). You really never know what to expect with these two: although they are identical twins, their act is one of a kind!

I first encountered the brothers after I praised the Hollywood Improv on how effectively they leveraged their Facebook page. I added that, whenever I teach public speaking courses, I always discuss the impressive public speaking skills of successful comedians. Shortly thereafter I received a message from Cory and Chad offering to come speak to a class of mine.

Comedians Cory and Chad with Matthew Gilbert at National UniversityA public speaking class I teach at National University — COM103, Public Speaking — was a perfect fit. On Saturday, June 4, 2011, they spent nearly 2 hours (with their colleague Mark Gonzalez).  They enthusiastically shared their experiences as comedians with my students. Cory and Chad also provided my students with inspiring and insightful ideas about pursuing their passions. It was a sincere and soft-spoken experience (especially considering how energetic their stage act is).

On Friday, March 30, 2012 everything came full circle: I attended their show at the Hollywood Improv. This was my first time attending their show; it was as wild and whimsical as I imagined! After the show, they spent time with me, sharing insights into their entrepreneurial experiences and efforts as independent comedians. They discussed how, in addition to social media, they continue to use traditional marketing tools (something I stress in my classes). They also mentioned that the marketing tricks they use can translate to any small businesses or entrepreneurial effort.

You can watch the interview in the video below. Note: This video contains some mild profanity (Cory and Chad speak from their hearts). As a result, you might want to avoid watching this at work or in mixed company (or wear headphones). But, I assure you, the insights Cory and Chad share are invaluable.

Here are the top 10 tips from the interview:

1. Accept the Benefits of Bombing: accept that bombing on stage is a good thing; it will light the fire under you to do better next time and improve your act.

2. Be Patient, but Persistent: Comedy is a tough business; it takes years to “get paid” and finally realize results from your efforts.

3. Dedicate Yourself to Your Dream: work for the recognition of your writing and the reward of making your audience laugh; you’re going to hear “no” a lot so anchor yourself to your idea and let that motivate you through the tough times.

4. Embrace Word of Mouth Marketing: Cory and Chad worked every audience after each show, handing out flyers and building relationships with their audience.

5. Invest in Marketing Yourself: the brothers paid people to place 5,000 flyers on cars at concerts or other events. Their expectation was a modest 5 people from each effort; they were willing to invest the money on the exponential potential of getting their name out their and leveraging their brand awareness.

6. Make Your Money on the Road: Building your brand in comedy is not something you can do casually or comfortably; you need to hit the road and tour comedy clubs across the country — around the world if possible too!

7. Maximize Every Moment: the brothers got their break while joking in line at a Starbucks; a club promoter was also in line and thought they were funny. Cory and Chad said they were stand-up comedians and he gave them 5 minutes on stage at the Improv that night!

8. Promote Yourself and Believe in Your Potential: don’t expect a comedy club to promote you; take responsibility for your own marketing and put your heart into it.

9. Put the Effort in You Want to See Returned: show business is just that — a business; to build an empire you need to keep building your brand, work hard, and keep improving your comedic craft.

10. Use Every Promotional Option Available: Cory and Chad have used Craigslist, e-mail blasts, Facebook, MySpace, radio commercials, Twitter, and even 5″ x 7″ promotional cards they hand out after shows.

Smash it!

Sometimes you are just too “F***ing Great” for your own good.

Early last week an irreverent and entertaining YouTube video for Dollar Shave Club (affiliate link), a Santa Monica, California start-up that ships razors directly to customers who subscribe to the company’s monthly delivery service, virally spread across the Internet faster than blood streaks down your chin when you cut yourself shaving.

The promise made by Dollar Shave Club Co-Founder & CEO Michael Dubin in the video (below): their blades are not good, they are  “F***ing Great!”

Social medianew media, and mainstream media were all abuzz with articles about the video and the company’s charismatic CEO. It went viral and the company went from unknown to unstoppable almost overnight.

The video — which cost $4,500 to produce — was uploaded on Monday, March 5, 2012 and, just 11 days later by Friday, March 16 (as of the time when this blog post was published) had 3,456,727 views  — an average of 314,247 per day!

Did views equate to conversion? Yes. According to a Huffington Post article posted on March 8, Dollar Shave Club had already generated 5,000 sign-ups. Imagine how many more signed up in the eight days since then; the video was so popular it caused Dollar Shave Club’s website to crash!

The company’s subscription based razor blade service offers three options:

  • The Humble Twin: Two blades and five cartridge refills — for a monthly cost of $1, plus $2 shipping.
  • 4X: A four-blade razor with four cartridges refills — which costs $6 per month with shipping included.
  • The Executive:Six-blades and three cartridge refills — for a monthly cost of $9 with shipping included.

They also offer affiliate arrangement and provides a unique URL (e.g., https://www.dollarshaveclub.com/ref/l14/13za2y7) with which members can refer others. The deal is simple: for every new account your link refers, you get one month of free service.

Founded in April 2011 by Dubin and his partner Mark Levine, Dollar Shave Club officially launched with the upload of the YouTube video. Despite it’s kitschy video, Dollar Shave Club is well funded, having announced almost $1 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Forerunner Ventures. Other funding sources include Andreessen Horowitz, Shasta Ventures and Felicis Ventures. It also received $100,000 in angel funding from Science, Inc. (which was founded by former Myspace CEO Mike Jones).

How does the business offer such competitive prices? Two words (rather, two countries): China and Korea. The razors the company sells are private-labeled products shipped directly to each subscriber from manufacturers in both countries — “cutting” out the middleman. But therein might lie the problem.

On Friday, March 16 at 3:38 p.m (Pacific) the company sent a letter to new subscribers who opted for the 4x razor with the following message:

In the e-mail Dubin earnestly explains the situation as follows:

Last week the Internet came to visit, and as a result, we’re unable to fulfill your 4X order right now. 

Yes, we think this sucks too. But we’re giving you options.

Here they are:

  • If you’d like to hold your place in line, do nothing, and you will receive your first shipment on May 15th.
  • If you’d like your $6 refund, no problem. Please Click this link. Log in, and click the refund button. We’ll handle the rest.

Please accept our sincere apologies for not being able to meet initial demand. We’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Humbly,

Michael Dubin
Co-Founder & CEO
Dollar Shave Club

It is unclear if the delayed delivery affects all three razor options or if it is limited to the 4X razor. The supply delay could be more easily remedied if it is the latter and not the former — perhaps people could just switch their subscription? But, then again, the e-mail does not provide that option — so it is as yet unknown how significant this problem might actually be.

Update as of March 18, 2012: A colleague informed me he subscribed to the “Humble Twin” and also received an e-mail informing him of a delivery delay, but in his case it was only for one month, not two. He elected to wait and see.

Regardless, a two month delay — even a one month delay — is not a good way to begin a business relationship with new customers. Delaying consumer gratification is one of the worst sins a retailer (or in this case a wholesaler) can commit — once you lose that leverage most customers lose interest and go elsewhere.

As Tim Daloisio (whose screen shot of the e-mail he received is posted above) offered in a tweet: “Easier to win a customer the first time than to win them back — better luck next time @dollarshaveclub #fail.

Perhaps this was all too good to be true? Sales data was not made available so it is hard to know how many people were affected.

But, if you assume that, since they signed up 5,000 people in the first three days (1,667 new accounts per day), in eleven days there could be as many as 18,337 new subscribers.

If you further assume customers subscribed to each of the three options in equal numbers (also not likely, but for the sake of easy arithmetic, let’s keep things simple), there might be 6,112 sadly stubbled 4X subscribers. For shave! I mean, for shame!

At $6 per subscription there could be at total of $36,672 in revenue that was generated but for which no products were delivered. Not a king’s ransom by any means, but certainly not an insignificant amount.

But, more importantly, the company’s inability to meet the demand beg’s the question: had they already ordered inventory or were they waiting to see what the demand actually was?

Perhaps this was the case. From a business standpoint, why sink thousands of dollars into products if you are unsure they will be sold? And, in fairness, projecting and meeting demand is one of the more challenging tasks with which a business must contend.

But the fact remains that, despite their impressive funding and savvy marketing, the delay calls into question Dollar Shave Club’s operational abilities.

To their credit, they have provided an option to cancel and get a refund or to stay put and wait until the razors can ship on May 15th.

However, it could have been an added measure of good faith had Dollar Shave Club offered one month of free service for each month of delay.

Additionally, the company fairly clearly outlines their terms of cancellation in their Terms of Service (which we can also assume nobody has read).

However, as noted in an article titled How to Quickly Read a Terms of Service [Law], “Dollar Shave Club does a good job of explaining how to stop the membership, but requires a vague “reasonable amount of time” to cancel. You might be on the hook for another month.” Food for thought.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Dollar Shave Club needs to make sure it does not violate the “30-Day Rule” established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The relevant portion of this law is explained below:

The Rule requires that when you advertise merchandise, you must have a reasonable basis for stating or implying that you can ship within a certain time. If you make no shipment statement, you must have a reasonable basis for believing that you can ship within 30 days. That is why direct marketers sometimes call this the “30-day Rule.”

If, after taking the customer’s order, you learn that you cannot ship within the time you stated or within 30 days, you must seek the customer’s consent to the delayed shipment. If you cannot obtain the customer’s consent to the delay — either because it is not a situation in which you are permitted to treat the customer’s silence as consent and the customer has not expressly consented to the delay, or because the customer has expressly refused to consent — you must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money the customer paid you for the unshipped merchandise.

So, despite having initially been lathered with success, let’s hope that Dollar Shave Club doesn’t cut it too close and improves its operations. Maybe they can even shave a few weeks of that two month delay?

Update: I finally received my order of 4X blades on Saturday, May 26, 2012!

Since the beginning of the year an interesting online etiquette issue has arisen on Twitter: the use of automatic direct messages (private messages for those unfamiliar with the popular micro-blogging service).

Tweetdeck in action while using Twitter -- From 365 Days: 63/365 (February 1, 2009) by doctoriousBasically, a person on Twitter signs up for a third party service — SocialToo and Tweetlater are the top two that come to mind. These services automatically send a scripted message to people who follow them.

Once activated, these service send out messages created by the user ranging from the banal (“thanks for following me”) to badgering (“click my junk”).

The general consensus is that using automatic direct messages is bad form. Since social media is all about being, well, social, using an automated script to say the same thing to everyone  is disingenuous at best and downright rude at best — especially if all you are doing is promoting a product or service.

Twitter heavyweights Chris Brogan and Loic Lemeur have expressed concern about this issue. Even The Busy Brain discouraged the practice (and you better listen to your brain, no matter how busy it is!).

Long story short: don’t auto DM.

I’ve received several dozen automatic direct messages. For the most part I’ve found them to be bothersome, but also humorous. I deleted most of them and almost immediately unfollowed the person sending the message.

I wasn’t terribly bothered by the posts, but their use communicated to me that the person I elected to follow was not willing to make the personal investment in social media I feel must occur. In some cases, where there was a less “salesy” pitch it was clear the person was sending out the auto messages in a misguided effort to be polite.

If nothing else, the sheer “infomercial” nature of some of them made me wonder how truly effective any of them could possibly be.  My three favorite automatic direct messages (of those I saved) include:

“You totally ROCK. Since you’re following me I’ll be sure to check out your profile. What made you follow me?”

“Thanks Mathew for following. Here’s your gift. Get 1 Million Double-Opted In, Daily Verified Leads For F*R*E*E !!Come get it before they close this free offer ! [Link to website]

“Thanks for following me doctorious. Need a FREE Twitter Background/Theme? [link to website] We also do custom themes.”

Fortunately, a “hero” arose in the midst of this madness: the Twitter account “@optmeout.” However, the relief offered by this account only turnzs off automatic direct messages from people using “Tweetlater.” But something is better than nothing, right? Here is how the process works:

  1. Go to @optmeout on Twitter and Follow it.
  2. Receive a DM from @optmeout indicating it has followed you back.
  3. Send a DM back to @optmeout.
  4. Unfollow @optmeout.
  5. Rejoice!

After completing this process I realized there must be many “awesomely bad” auto DMs out there. Therefore, I invite you to post in the comments box below as many automatic direct messages you received or of which you have become aware. My goal is to amass a centralized list of automatic direct messages.

In closing, embracing the spirit if the Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty, I hereby say to you: Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled Auto DM’s yearning to breathe free!