What is “Smart”?

Someone once asked me whether I considered myself to have many smart friends.

I didn’t know what to say at first, and the question bothered me for a long time afterwards. Besides not liking the word “smart” because I think it’s a boring version of intelligence, I found the question offensive since it implied that this person wasn’t convinced that I did indeed have many smart friends, at least by his standards. I asked him to clarify what “smart” meant to him, and he said that he saw it as someone who succeeds where they are, whether that be in school or a job, someone who can do well and move up in those places.

Hm. To do well in school, or in the traditional structures of business, you need to follow the rules. You need to perform at a decent rate, not make waves, complete tasks and get correct answers. I don’t think it is very hard to be “smart” if this is the definition.  It’s also not very interesting, and none of those things requires intelligence.  Intelligence is comprehensive.  Being “smart” in this day and age doesn’t mean much.

Many of my friends have eschewed traditional schools, jobs, and ways of living. Many of them went to art schools instead of ivy’s. They pursued their passions, they changed their minds and they tried various paths. They didn’t ever define themselves by their degree, their school, or their job. They weren’t happy with moving up in someone else’s corporation, so they started their own company.  They didn’t like the way things were done, so they did it differently. Many of them wouldn’t fit into the definition of “smart” that was given to me along with the question.

The smartest people I know – the people I am indeed surrounded by – are those who display intelligence. They don’t accept that there is only one way to do things. They are open minded towards people and experiences. They question. They create. These people don’t always find it easy to succeed in existing educational or corporate structures. They don’t color within the lines. They don’t stay in their comfort zone. They make me think about things I’ve never thought about before, and they come up with their own ideas. They don’t accept the rational, sensible path in life as their definition of success. Their head is filled with more than information memorized from books and professors.

Don’t get me wrong, education can be a great tool – but only if you apply it in broad ways to your life, to the world. If you read the book and stop there, take the test and stop there, get the job and stop there…. it all stops there. If you read the book and notice a pattern, or a metaphor, or how the same lessons learned in that story can be applied to the world around you, or it sparks a new idea… well, thats worth something. That’s intelligence. And to take that intelligence and make it work for you, to infuse it into everything you do, to continue learning and opening yourself to new things… thats smart.

On Doing Business Differently

Just because something is done a certain way, or always has been, doesn’t mean it’s the best way.

One of the most important things I’ve realized in the last 10 years, is just how much of business is done in this way – because this is how it’s been done for years, because no one questions it anymore, because it’s worked relatively well (or even very well) in the past. However, just because something works, doesn’t mean it’s the only way it works, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s the best way.

I’ve been doing business differently for a while now.  When I started CityBird, I was adamant about two key things from the beginning.

1.  We would be highly curated. Because we only want to promote places we truly believe in, and feel confident about recommending to our customers. We want to build our customers trust in our taste.
2.  We would never sell “deals” or discounted offers.  Because we believe that our partners are worth every penny.  We don’t believe offering deals leads to repeat customers for our partners.

However, in most other ways, CityBird looked and functioned very much like any other listing service for experiences. We signed businesses on board, and took a percentage of every sale made. And even though this is a perfectly fine existing model, something about it didn’t sit right for me.  It didn’t mesh well with those first two core values.

If a great business that we respected and wanted to put on our site didn’t have the margins to pay us the percentage we wanted, we wouldn’t be able to share them with our customers. Everybody loses.  The business loses out on the additional exposure and access to the registry market, we lose out on being able to maintain the taste level and brand experience we want to curate, and our customers miss out on being able to find out about truly exceptional businesses, and the ability to give, receive or register for them. How is this a good model?

But in the early stages of building this businesses, the thought of doing things differently was daunting, because I hadn’t seen it done before.  Being new to the startup scene, I figured that the existing model was around for a reason, because that was the best way. I don’t believe this anymore.

Why can’t my business be a win-win-win for everyone involved? Why do most companies function as a give and take? You give me this, in exchange for that, where one half of the equation feels as though they are subtly getting screwed?

Now CityBird has a few new ways that we do business.

3.  We do not take a fee for Standard Listings. Because we want to remove barriers for bringing the best places on board. Because we believe in providing value first, profiting later. Because we want to be able to share everything we love with our customers.
4.  We focus on Collaborations, Unique Events and Exclusive Offers, crafted together with our partners.  Because we believe that what we can offer together is more valuable than what we can offer alone . Because we share the same customers, we don’t compete for them. Because we want to constantly provide new ways for our customers to discover our partners and all they can offer.

The result?  We’ve already started to see a massive shift in the relationships we’re able to build with the businesses we promote, and the increase in opportunities for future collaborations and expansion as a company.

What will this way of doing business ultimately do for CityBird? Who knows. It sure isn’t a fast track to explosive revenue or profits. But I have never been more convinced that a solid foundation of providing value, quality and trust is never a bad place to start.