(Photo: Joe Goldberg)

The $100M formula: 7 words to build a fortune, and why you should think twice about taking them

An early mentor of mine passed down a special recipe that would lead to wild business success.

The mentor who had passed it on to him had made $20m that year, and the mentor who had passed it on to him considerably more.

It was something to be uttered in hushed tones in quiet, private bars — from a mentor of a mentor of a mentor.

Today, it’s not so secret, just succinctly stated. It’s so simple it can easily be dismissed, but it’s something many a fortune has been made on.

The magic formula?

Payments under $100, billed monthly.

That’s it. That’s the golden ticket.

And you’ll recognise it from the business models of many of the world’s largest companies — Amazon (with Amazon Prime), Netflix, Dropbox, Google, all the way to newspapers, magazines and gyms.

With a cynical view: the aim of these companies is to fly under the radar while carrying the maximum load. The majority of people don’t check their bank statements every month and these are the optimal criteria to fatten the pig on market day — topping out the amount you can charge a customer without stirring them to cancel your services the few times a year they look.

(And that’s undoubtedly how some executives talk about their business models in the privacy of boardrooms.)

I share this cynicism, and think it awful. But last month I heard a more optimistic take on how entrepreneurs can structure their businesses — without throwing out a proven formula.

A client of ours who’s big in Brazil told me about a system of payment they have over there called boletos.

In Brazil, recurring payments are not the norm. They think of such a system as a ‘very American model’.

In its place, they have a financial instrument — a ticket — that means customers proactively go and do something to continue services the following month. This might sound like an administrative nuisance, but it protects the customer. Companies have to get you to go out of your way to confirm a transaction. You have to make a buying decision every month.

When I heard this, I lit up. Wow, imagine all companies had to do that. Imagine how much hungrier companies would be to demonstrate (and develop) their offering.

It’s a useful thought exercise: what would happen to your monthly recurring revenues if customers had to actively say ‘yes, I want to stay on’ month after month? Would your product be good enough to keep people?

If such a thought churns your stomach, I hope you don’t shy away from the feeling. Instead, we could all use a bit of Brazilian flair and perspective to develop our products.

David Ogilvy once wrote, ‘whenever you write a commercial, bear in mind that it is likely to be seen by your children, your wife and your conscience’. The same goes for pricing and product development.

Today in the US and much of Europe, with the laxity of subscription models and the ease of re-billing, I fear many heads of companies aren’t listening to their conscience. Instead, they ‘set and forget’. They sneak in a subscription to something customers don’t want, hide their company name with a vague descriptor on credit card statements, and make it as difficult as possible for us to cancel.

Now running a company, we’ve decided, this isn’t how we want to do business. We’re about making great products. We strive to make it so that if we lived in a world of boletos, our products, and those of our clients, would top the pile and be the first you reach to pay for each month.

We do sometimes help clients add a recurring element to their courses, not for the cynical reason of having it, but, when it makes sense, to create an ongoing experience.

See at Course Concierge, we’re about affecting behaviour change. And it’s our belief that change doesn’t happen in an instant. It’s a misnomer to think one flash of brilliance alters everything. Real, lasting progress happens slowly, from the compounding effect of being exposed to role models and great ideas for months and years at a time.

As such, we look to create an environment — and a network — within our courses to facilitate that. When it comes to creating this part of a course, we don’t fly under the radar. We make it impeccably clear what customers are signing up for: no small print on checkout, and such products only as an optional add-on, not a forced subscription.

We email customers every month to let them know they’re about to be billed, clearly marking where, and how, to cancel — giving customers the power to do so themselves at the click of a button.

Because we work so hard on the experience, and spell things out so clearly, the majority long to stay. We make our courses a raucous party few want to leave till sun-up.

It’s developing this type of experience that makes our clients seriously profitable, and their customers seriously happy.

12 years after starting his agency, Ogilvy wrote in Confessions of an Advertising Man:

We look to follow in his footsteps. We’re not yet at $100m, nor do our clients surpass HM Government in revenues. But we’re doing well and confident of reaching great heights.

An ethical pricing model with products of remarkable quality is the surest path to success. It’s how we build brands, not short-change customers for six months.

Even if it takes us a little longer to get there, you can’t put a price on a clean conscience.

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If you’re interested in developing a quality online course and would like to work with a company that puts ethics before ignorance, get in touch to see if we could be a fit to work together.

And if you’d like to be the first to hear about job openings at the company, email me with ‘Recruitment’ in the subject line so you’re on our radar.