Being a great small business


Eagle, CO

Last updated on Oct 26, 2023

Posted on Oct 26, 2023

Today I was in Glenwood Springs seeing my friends Tommy and Tina Divel at Grande Optics.

Tommy and I were talking about what makes a great small business and why great small businesses are what the world needs.

I was telling Tommy how I've never in all my years of owning a tech company, relied on advertising. Instead I've always relied on "if you do it they will come". Translated, make something customers love and must have and they'll come. Once they're a customer, learn what their needs are then surprise them. Operate each day with the conviction that my customers are my best sales people.

I told Tommy how just today, the guys and I were agonizing over fonts and 5 words in a couple new tool tips. That I learned this from Steve Jobs. Steve paid attention to the most minute aspects of his products. It showed. I believe, it's what made Apple such a great company.

Then Tommy said, "have I ever told you my Steve Jobs story"?.

Tommy told me how Steve Jobs used to come to Aspen and Tommy made Steve's glasses (Tommy used to have a shop in Aspen). Apparently word got back to Silicon Valley from Aspen that Tommy was his man. Keep in mind this was before social media. More on this coming.

One day Steve walks into Tommy's shop. Tommy's not a computer guy, didn't know Steve from Adam. Steve says to Tommy, "I hear you're the guy that can make what I want". Now keep in mind this is before social media. Somehow, word traveled from Aspen to Silicon Valley that Tommy was the man. More on this coming.

Steve tells Tommy what he wants. Tommy delivered. Steve then kept in touch, Tommy had Steve Jobs's phone number. Let that sink in.

Listen to this clip I recorded today of how Tommy Divel made the glasses that Steve Jobs wore till he passed. Listen for a side of Steve that you might not have known.

Tommy Divel talking about Steve Jobs

Steve could get his glasses anywhere. Instead, he bought them from Tommy. Why? Because Tommy was the great little small business that could and Steve recognized it.

Now for the rest of the story.

Tommy has been able to carve out a niche in the eyewear business for 40 years. That says a lot. Because if you don't know, most eyewear is owned by this company:

EssilorLuxottica: welcome to EssilorLuxottica’s official website. Discover our products, services, and commitment to vision care.

EssilorLuxottica literally owns the eyewear market. But they don't do what Tommy does. You can't walk into one of their zillion stores worldwide and say, "I want this from that frame, this nose piece from these, these lenses from this pair". No. You buy what's in their case.

Tommy doesn't advertise. He's not on social media. How on earth does he stay in business? By doing great work. Taking care of customers one at a time. By earning their repeat business each time they walk into his shop. He doesn't ask his customers to tell others. They just do. Why? Because of how Tommy operates. Customers see this, because everywhere else they go businesses suck. Tommy stands out and customers recognize greatness. So they tell everyone they know about him. Because everyone likes to share a good story.

How have I made it in the tech business for 34 years now? For years, all our website had was a login. I've never taken in venture capital. My guys have been with me for years. We don't advertise. I have customers who've been with me 30 years. How on earth am I doing this?

Doing exactly what Tommy does. I make stuff that my customers have to have. Then I do what they tell me to do. They're treated like gold. So they then tell others. Why do they tell others? Same reason Tommy's customers do. Because people like to share a great story.

What Tommy and I do isn't new or unique. In fact it's quite old school. The best book I know of written about how Tommy and I think is Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore.

The masses, social media stars, and business gurus want businesses to believe they need social media, that likes matter. The venture capital industry wants the world to believe a business should be built to sell in 5 years. If an entrepreneur hasn't made bank they're a flop. Tommy and I are here to tell you and them that they're wrong. We're living proof, they're wrong.

The world is full of shitty businesses. If you're an entrepreneur, don't be like them. Newsflash – likes don't matter. Sure I'll agree that flipping a company fast make you bank. But it also fills the world up with businesses no one but the VC cares about.

If you're a customer, set a high bar for where you spend your hard earned money. Make them earn your money every day.

Hey entrepreneurs. Make something great that people want, treat your customers like gold. Lather, rinse, repeat. The rest, as they say, takes care of itself.

tty next time,

Share on