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I attended a stellar event last night at the Westport Library, the first in a two-part series called “Creating and Growing Businesses that Thrive.” Doug Bernstein, of Melissa and Doug fame, was interviewed by NPR reporter Alison Freeland in front of a packed house of business owners. The 90 minutes flew by as Alison tossed out questions to Doug and he shared his vast expertise.
Here’s some of the wisdom I heard (interviewer’s or audience’s questions in italics):
- What’s a typical day? Every day is different. Every day you get thrown a lot of pitches. You decide which ones you want to hit. There are always more than you can get done.
- If you’re not failing a lot, you’re not testing yourself hard enough.
- What is your definition of entrepreneurship? Wanting something to be different; wanting to effect change; making something different or better
- We begged our first customers (toy store owners) to watch our video [their first product]. It’s ALL about the customer!
- What advice would you give people who are starting a business? I’ll go out on a limb here and say, this Internet thing is going to stick.
- While the NYTimes recently wrote that toy companies are going techno, we love being contrarians.
- How do you manage the PR for your company? “We don’t. We’ve spent $1.87 on marketing in 23 years. Our customers do the marketing for us. The best marketing you can do is taking care of your customers.
- We stay intimately involved with our customers. It is always ALL about the customers.
- Our culture is unique in its lack of meetings. I’m not a big fan of meetings.
- Rejection is the best thing that can happen. It fuels your success. Mistakes are the best part. There’s a hunger you get from them.
- Are you worried about imitators? No, we realized that while they can copy a product, it’s the combination of our product, our interest in our customers and our innovative style–the culture and soul of our business–that can’t be duplicated.
During the Q+A session following the interview, I asked for confirmation on something I thought I heard him say while being interviewed. I asked, “Just to be clear, did you say that you left your job at MCA (Marketing Corporation of America) without a business plan or a product?”
He did. Without a plan, a product or a safety net, he quit his job. He then explained how he and Melissa went to their parents (they were in their late 20′s and not yet married), sat them down and told them, “We’re going to have a… business.” The rest is history.