164 episodes

Each week Stephen reverse engineers the keys to success that took little companies and built empires. We believe in building empires and learning from those that have already done it.

The Empire Builders Podcast Stephen Semple and David Young

    • Business
    • 4.9 • 21 Ratings

Each week Stephen reverse engineers the keys to success that took little companies and built empires. We believe in building empires and learning from those that have already done it.

    #162: Avon – Ding Dong Avon Calling

    #162: Avon – Ding Dong Avon Calling

    David McConnell ditched his door to door book selling gig to pursue the bribe that he we giving for attention.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders podcast, teaching business owners the Not-So-secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner Dave Young. Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is, well, it's us, but we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients. So here's one of those.



    [Travis Crawford HVAC Ad]







    Stephen Semple:



    Ding dong. What makes you think of when the doorbell rings, what ad? Ding dong.



    Dave Young:



    Ding dong. Well, I was expecting a topic, first of all.



    Stephen Semple:



    Okay, well work with me here. What do you recall?



    Dave Young:



    Shoot, in the last five years, just chasing people away from my front porch.



    Stephen Semple:



    Oh, okay.



    Dave Young:



    Avon calling.



    Stephen Semple:



    There you go. Avon calling. That's who we're going to talk about.



    Dave Young:



    Yeah, I don't think they're doing that anymore.



    Stephen Semple:



    No, they aren't. But that recall is really, really interesting from the fact that you were able to remember those ads. Because those ads have not run, they stopped running in the late sixties. We were like...



    Dave Young:



    Oh my gosh.



    Stephen Semple:



    We were really young when those ads stopped, and yet you were still able to recall it.



    Dave Young:



    And I'm probably recalling it as a persistent meme in our culture that Avon calling, it became, not, it was woven into probably movies and TV and mass culture, so that for the next decade or decade and a half, it was still echoing, right?



    Stephen Semple:



    Correct.



    Dave Young:



    Yeah. Yeah. Wow.



    Stephen Semple:



    So think about how powerful that was. We're going to talk about Origin, a little bit about Avon.



    Dave Young:



    I think that's a fascinating phenomenon. I'm anxious to hear the Avon story. It reminds me of cigarette jingles as well that ended when they banned cigarette advertising in the mid-seventies. Yet for the next 20, 30 years, I mean, anybody that was alive then could still tell you Winston tastes good like a cigarette should, right? There's so many of those. So yeah, they just become a part of us.



    Stephen Semple:



    And they're powerful enough that they're, as you said, spoofing them on Simpsons and things along that lines. But back to Avon. So Avon's a really old company. It was founded in 1886 by David McConnell, and today, it's still around today. They do 9 billion in sales, they have 23,000 employees. There's over 6 million representatives of Avon, and it's still privately held by Natura Holdings out of Brazil. And they're giving you an idea, there are four Avon lipsticks sold every second.



    Dave Young:



    Dang, that's a lot of lipstick.



    Stephen Semple:



    Boom four, boom four, boom four. Isn't that incredible? Isn't that amazing? Avon's founder, David McConnell, started in sales back in the 1880s as a door to door book salesman. And so we've heard this happen with other businesses because he then used a popular gimmick. Remember Wrigley's? Remember how Wrigley's didn't start by selling gum? The gum was the free giveaway? McConnell offered a free gift in exchange for a moment of the customer's time. So it was a gift with appointment. And guess what he gave away? Perfume.



    Dave Young:



    Oh, okay.



    Stephen Semple:



    Most of the customers McConnell dealt with were housewives who were home in the afternoon hours while their husband was away at work. And so he decided to work with a local pharmacy to create a fragrance that he could give away, little quantities for anybody who was willing to listen to the book pitch. But a funny thing happened, they were way more interested in the perfume than the books. So just like Wrigley,

    • 16 min
    #161: How To Create A Strategy – Let’s get real.

    #161: How To Create A Strategy – Let’s get real.

    Do not confuse Strategy with Best Practices. Creating a great strategy will allow you to stand out, not fit in.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to The Empire Builders Podcast, teaching business owners the not-so-secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner, Dave Young. Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is, well it's us. But we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients. Here's one of those.



    [Colair Cooling & Heating Ad]







    Dave Young:



    Welcome back to The Empire Builders Podcast. Dave Young here, with Stephen Semple. The topic you whispered in my ear today is not a brand name, it's not a service, it's not an invention. My favorite word to describe this is President Bush, the young one, the W.



    Stephen Semple:



    Okay.



    Dave Young:



    He called it strategery.



    Stephen Semple:



    Strategery.



    Dave Young:



    You want to talk about strategy today.



    Stephen Semple:



    I do.



    Dave Young:



    Or strategery.



    Stephen Semple:



    Strategery. Well if you think about it, this whole podcast, every episode is really about looking at a business and strategically, what did it do that made itself really successful. I get a bit frustrated because, a lot of times, businesses don't invest in strategy. They don't want to have a strategic session and invest in that. We all know that strategy ends up becoming really important. Then there's lots of things that are being paraded around as strategy, that frankly, aren't strategy, they're other things.



    What I wanted to do is talk a little bit about what strategy is, isn't, and how you create it, and why it's important. Basically, I think it distills down to this. When people sit around in a group and go, "Hey, let's think about this thing that we can then parade out to people in an industry, we have this idea." That's not strategy. That's best practices.



    Dave Young:



    Okay, yeah.



    Stephen Semple:



    They're best practices because they're looking at, "Oh, here's the best things that have gone on in the industry." Those are best practices. If it's something that's really common, it's a tactic. It's not a strategy because a strategy can't be repurposed.



    What a strategy is, is a business looks at its problem, "I've got this problem. I have these assets that I can leverage. Here's a creative way in which I can use these assets to solve this problem." Now what often ends up happening is it solves the problem so well, that they then systematize the solution, and now it becomes a best practice. Then that best practice gets so adopted in the industry, it becomes a common tactic that everyone does. That's what happens.



    But for it to be a strategy, it can really only be used in that situation.



    Dave Young:



    Okay. Can you give me some examples?



    Stephen Semple:



    Great examples. M.M. LaFleur. They invented this whole idea of mailing out clothing to people on this subscription basis, where they then try it on and send it back. They didn't start off going, "Hey, let's do this." They had a problem. They had clothing and they couldn't find a place to store it. But because they had been doing these private fittings, they had an asset. The asset was, "We have the contact information of all these customers, along with their sizes, and their preferences. We can actually send clothing out to them that we think they would like." They did it to solve a problem, and in the process, made more sales in a month than they had done in the entire history of the company. They then went, "Huh, let's turn this into a thing. Let's systemize it and make it actually our business.?"



    Dave Young:



    Yeah. I looked it up, it's episode 54.



    Stephen Semple:



    Thank you. That was looking at their problem, looking at these unleveraged assets, and solving it in a way in which it had not been solv

    • 18 min
    #160: Hires Root Beer – The Origin Of Root Beer

    #160: Hires Root Beer – The Origin Of Root Beer

    What do you d



    What do you drink when water is not good for you and your only other option is alcohol? Well, you rename root tea to root beer.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders Podcast, teaching business owners the not-so-secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner, Dave Young. Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is, well, it's us. But we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients, so here's one of those.



    [Tapper's Jewelers Ad]







    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders podcast, Dave Young here along with Stephen Semple, and we are sharing stories about empires, business empires, brands that were built and grew really big, and figuring out what they did to make them grow really big. And Stephen just mentioned today's topic, whispered it in my ear as the recorder was counting down, and you said that I probably haven't seen this in a while. But I feel like it's maybe still around, but it's Hires Root Beer.



    Stephen Semple:



    Hires Root Beer, yes.



    Dave Young:



    Hires Root Beer, and I was kind of a root beer snob when I was a kid.



    Stephen Semple:



    Oh, were you?



    Dave Young:



    Not so much anymore, right? But I knew the difference between Hires and Dad's and A&W and all the big root beer brands.



    Stephen Semple:



    Which was your favorite?



    Dave Young:



    There was nothing that compared to an A&W root beer coming out of a fountain, not a can.



    Stephen Semple:



    Yep.



    Dave Young:



    Going to A&W and having a root beer in a giant glass cold mug. But we're here to talk about Hires Root Beer.



    Stephen Semple:



    Yeah, which is now owned by A&W. I do not believe that Hires is still available in the US. You can get it still in Canada. But at one point, they were the largest in the United States. And Hires is actually kind of the inventor of the root beer business. And today it's like $600 million a year of root beer sold.



    Dave Young:



    Wow.



    Stephen Semple:



    So I thought-



    Dave Young:



    That's a lot of root beer.



    Stephen Semple:



    I thought it was worth exploring.



    Dave Young:



    Yeah.



    Stephen Semple:



    Because this is the origin of root beer.



    Dave Young:



    Okay.



    Stephen Semple:



    So it's the early 1870s, and the population in the United States is booming due to massive immigration. And sanitation is becoming a huge problem in cities. Polluted water is spreading disease and people frankly turn to alcohol for safe drinking. The average American at that time was consuming seven gallons of alcohol a year.



    Dave Young:



    Wow.



    Stephen Semple:



    Primarily beer and things along that lines, but part of it was because of water. So in 1874, protests start around alcohol, the anti-alcohol movements start. But the challenge is there's no good alternative to water. And so, Charles Hires is a pharmacist, and he always had these little side hustles and was always looking for opportunities. And while he's on his honeymoon, he is served this beverage called root tea. And it's made by fermenting, so it's carbonated, but the fermentation is cut off before alcohol forms. And it's really popular in these rural areas, but not in urban areas.



    And he's a member of the Temperance Movement, so he knew it was hard to find good alternatives to alcohol. So he starts to experiment on recipes for root tea. And he felt this could be a temperance drink because it had the feeling of a beer, and it could be sold in stores. And it was delicious, and he felt he could create a shelf-stable version. The first version of it was this powdered mix that you would boil, add water, add sugar, add yeast, let it ferment, cut it short, and there it would be. Right? And so, he met with this local Reverend, Russell Conwell, and he was sharing with him this idea of this root tea.

    • 17 min
    #159: Calendly – Made It Simple

    #159: Calendly – Made It Simple

    The secret to creating something viable is you better be highly engaged in it. Tope Awatona learned this lesson the hard way.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders podcast, teaching business owners the not-so-secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner, Dave Young. Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is, well, it's us, but we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients. So here's one of those.



    [No Bull RV Ad]







    Dave Young:



    Welcome back to the Empire Builders podcast. Dave Young here with Stephen Semple. Today, Stephen mentioned, it's the app, Calendly, C-A-L-E-N-D-L-Y, Calendly. I've used it. We still use it for a couple of things. It's a way that you can give people a link to sign up for a time on your calendar to talk to you or make an appointment with you or make an appointment to get their haircut, or I think all kinds of things now.



    Stephen Semple:



    The first time I was exposed to it was through you-



    Dave Young:



    Oh, all right.



    Stephen Semple:



    ... where you had sent me this link, and I was like, "What the heck? What the heck is this?" which then caused me, after experiencing it as a customer, because the cool thing as a customer, it's just a link you click on, there's no software or anything, and then it sends you something that immediately populate your Google or iCal or whatever, that I ended up exploring it. Now I use it for absolutely everything because it even has automated follow-ups and all this other stuff I'll do. I found, especially if you're trying to get a group of people together, it's a complete game-changer because you can also put all your calendars on it. It'll look at everybody's calendar and find the free spot. This experience I've just talked about, hold that in your head because it becomes important to the story. Calendly was founded by Awotona, I'm sure I'm pronouncing it wrong, in Atlanta in 2013. Today, it has over 400 employees and is valued at $3 billion.



    Dave Young:



    A real unicorn of a startup.



    Stephen Semple:



    Really, really is. Interestingly, in 2021, Calendly moved to a completely remote workforce. They have no office space anywhere any longer. Tope was born in Nigeria and immigrated to the United States when he was 15. He went to the University of Georgia where he did computer science, and he graduated with business. During school, he was working for a while at CVS as a cashier. Then he got a job doing door-to-door selling alarm systems in Athens, Georgia, on full commission. One of the things he learned was the best time to knock on doors is right before dinner. He's one of those guys, right before dinner.



    Dave Young:



    Yeah, right before dinner because everybody's home.



    Stephen Semple:



    Yeah. Now, he made good money, way more than CVS. On the first day, he made like 500 bucks because he sold two units. But the rest of the week there were no sales. But he still liked doing it because he understood there was a hit rate. He also liked that he could influence how much he could make, become better, work harder, make more. And it was a different outlet for him than coding.



    He graduates from university. He had a few offers. He landed a sales job at a luxury travel company and then IBM. But he started looking for a small, fast-growing company to work for because there'd be more advancement opportunities than a big company like IBM. So gets a job where he moves to Kansas City, and he's working for a company that digitized files and managed content. Now, this was an interesting experience for him. Because while there, one of the onboarding things that they did for all the new employees was they would meet the founders of this company where the founders shared their story of starting this company and growing this company. For him,

    • 19 min
    #158: Yahtzee – Part Myth Part Real

    #158: Yahtzee – Part Myth Part Real

    Edwin Lowe, yes the Beano... uhm Bingo guy took all he learned and created Yahtzee. You need to be observant.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to The Empire Builders Podcast, teaching business owners the not-so-secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner Dave Young. Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is... Well, it's us. But we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients. So here's one of those.



    [Travis Crawford Ad]







    Dave Young:



    Welcome to The Empire Builders Podcast. Dave Young here alongside Steven Semple. And as we always do, Steven... Wait a minute. You didn't whisper anything in my ear during the countdown?



    Stephen Semple:



    No, I didn't this time



    Dave Young:



    We're going into this blind. I have no idea what we're going to talk about.



    Stephen Semple:



    I didn't this time, but there's one thing I ust wanted to mention before we got into it is we're north of 156 episodes. I think this is 157 or 158. And when you think about it-



    Dave Young:



    Isn't that crazy?



    Stephen Semple:



    It is crazy. We've crossed the three-year mark. And for you and I, we haven't missed, we've not missed a week in that three years.



    Dave Young:



    I'm amazed. That's double the number of birthdays I've had, at least.



    Stephen Semple:



    I wanted to recognize that because I was looking... when I was doing the preparation and looking at this, I went, "Wow, three years. That's quite amazing." When we started this adventure, I knew we had committed to a year, and here we are still at it, which I think is pretty cool.



    Dave Young:



    It is. I don't have any stats handy, but I know that podcasting, this is one of these things that is like, "Oh, this is going to be fun." It's going to be fun to do a podcast. And it is. My participation in it is a lot of fun because I show up, you do a countdown, and I chat. But I know that it's a heavy lift, and people thinking that they're just going to start podcasting, unless you're just going to just start your own live morning show without any back-end production, it's not an easy thing to do. And you've got a whole team working behind the scenes.



    Stephen Semple:



    Yeah. There's you and I. And then we have an outsourced person who does the production, and then Dylan Bernier turns all this stuff in the shorts and whatnot. And then Matthew Burns and Gary Bernier get it all posted to the social media. And I'm going to say, if this group of people were not working on it, this would not still be going today. And I think last I looked at the stats, most podcasts I think are 10 or 12 or 14 episodes or something like that. They-



    Dave Young:



    Yeah. That's as far as you get.



    Stephen Semple:



    As far as you get. And then all of a sudden it's like, "Oh, this is a grind. This is more work than I thought it would be." And things along that line. So, well-



    Dave Young:



    You're like, "I'm going to go back to grad school," and, "Oh, God, what was I thinking?"



    Stephen Semple:



    Exactly.



    Dave Young:



    I started podcasting in 2010 and got 30 episodes in before I gave up. And I think it was just because the shine came off, the shiny object, for me, and nobody knew what a podcast was in 2012. So-



    Stephen Semple:



    Yeah. So I just want to thank you, thank the team, and just recognize this milestone. But onto the reason why people actually have tuned in, it's not to hear us chat back and forth.



    Dave Young:



    It's not.



    Stephen Semple:



    Well, it's not about that. It's not about praising ourselves. What we're going to talk about today is a game called Yahtzee.



    Dave Young:



    Yahtzee. I grew up with Yahtzee. I mean, Yahtzee's been around for a long time.



    Stephen Semple:



    Sure has. Yeah.



    Dave Young:



    And I never played it until, I think after I got married.

    • 18 min
    #157: Pictionary – Followed a Path To Success

    #157: Pictionary – Followed a Path To Success

    Recognizing problems growing a new game and then looking for solutions that have worked in the past. WTG, Robert Angel.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders podcast, teaching business owners the not-so-secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom-and-pop to major brands.



    Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner, Dave Young.



    Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is, well, it's us, but we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients. So here's one of those.



    [Tappers Jewelry Ad]







    Dave Young:



    Welcome back to the Empire Builders podcast. I'm Dave Young, and Stephen Semple is sitting right here with me. Well, we're recording. We're virtually sitting directly next to each other. I'm in Austin. He's in Canada. He's right there, and he just whispered the name of today's topic into my ear, and it's Pictionary. And man, it's been a long time since I've played it, but I have played it. I don't know the whole story about it, so I'm all ears and I've always sucked at it because I couldn't draw a paper bag to save my life.



    Stephen Semple:



    I'm with you there.



    Dave Young:



    And convince you that it was a paper bag.



    Stephen Semple:



    My challenge is drawing even a straight line.



    Dave Young:



    Yeah, exactly.



    Stephen Semple:



    Pictionary is a pretty big deal. In 2001, it was sold to Mattel. At that time, they're in 60 countries, 45 languages, and just in the United States, 11 versions of the game. And I haven't looked into what the different versions are, but they have sold a total of 32 million games worldwide.



    Dave Young:



    Oh, that's amazing.



    Stephen Semple:



    That's a big deal.



    Dave Young:



    It's almost like Charades, but you're drawing. Help me remember, literally, it's been a long time since I've played this.



    Stephen Semple:



    It is very much Charades on paper, and that was the inspiration to the game. So it started in 1982 in Spokane, Washington. Robbie Angel has a degree in business and he's working as a waiter and a bunch of his friends would stay in to play games, right? Because they don't want to go out to spend money. They want to hang out together. And so what would happen is they would start drawing something and people would guess what it was. And again, it was like this whole idea of Charades on paper.



    But the problem was what made it slow was they would struggle with a word to come up with. That would be the slowest part of the game. So it'd be like your turn to draw something and it would take you forever to even think about what it is you wanted to draw. So they would start opening the dictionary to look for words randomly to come up with the idea to draw. And they realized this would make a great game. And it led to the name Picture plus Dictionary, Pictionary.



    Dave Young:



    All right.



    Stephen Semple:



    And so they started thinking about doing this as a game. And Robbie's Mom sent him Trivial Pursuit to make him understand how to package a game, because remember how innovative that game was at the time in terms of the packaging. In looking at Trivial Pursuit, he realized the words would become the challenge. And he also looked at Trivial Pursuit and he saw Trivial Pursuit has 6,000 questions, so he probably needs 6,000 words, but he looked at it and said, they've made it work with that. So that's probably the goal. And them, he created four categories.



    So the whole idea categories and the number of words came from looking at Trivial Pursuit, and you need to make it fun. So how do you make it fun? It was by creating a time limit. The other problem that he noticed was one team versus the other.



    Dave Young:



    You already draw poorly. Now do it fast.



    Stephen Semple:



    I'll do it fast, but at least we only have to watch you for a short period of time. The other problem that he noticed was when it's one team

    • 17 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
21 Ratings

21 Ratings

Iphigene Murphy ,

Great listen

I just found this podcast (saw it mentioned on a friend’s Facebook) earlier this week and now I’m bingeing! It’s a great way to learn the history of businesses with lessons to apply. I really like the banter too. I’ve listened to about 20 episodes at this point. So far my favorites are Mary Matilda Harper (really how is it possible we all don’t know about her?????) and Smirnoff. I can’t wait to catch up more. Thanks for the great podcast.

Luis Castaneda ,

For business owners

I love the Empire Builders Podcast because it is insightful, always has a valuable lesson, and is delivered in a short amount of time.

Wes Kronberg ,

Empire Builders

They tell inspiring stories about successfully people and companies. Then they break down the stories to principals that you cam apply.

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