Building Fire

One of my favorite books is about fishing for catfish using your bare hands. It’s called “Noodling for Flatheads,” by Burkhard Bilger.

He is a master at telling stories about average people doing cool things.  Tonight I ran across an article he wrote in 2009 about a group of people who have the goal of building a better stove.  I’m not talking about a fancier La Cornue.  These folks are trying to build stoves for the other 50%.  The 50% of people who burn solid fuel every day for warmth and for cooking.  

According to the article,”The average cooking fire produces about as much carbon dioxide as a car, and a great deal more soot, or black carbon—a substance 700 times as warming ,” that’s atmosphere warming not by the fire warming.

With four billion people building a fire this way every day, it’s a huge impact, on fuel, on the atmosphere and on their lungs.  Well to make them better and make a global impact they need to:

1. Reduce fuel use by more than 50 percent.

2. Reduce black carbon by more than 60 percent.

3. Reduce childhood pneumonia by more than 30 percent.

4. Be affordable (US$10 retail or less).

5. Cooks love it.

6. Gets funded.

The problem is described as “Building a stove is simple. Building a good stove is hard. Building a good, cheap stove can drive an engineer crazy.” 

No problem. Um no.  I’m fascinated by this. This applies to marketing as well. Marketing is easy.  Good marketing is hard.  Good marketing on a tight budget can drive people like me crazy.

I’m going to see how I can participate.  Who wants to try and build some stoves?



Customer Service For The Win! Verbena in El Dorado Hills



I thought I was ahead of the game. I called on Tuesday February 12th to order flowers from Verbena in El Dorado Hills for my wife on Valentine’s Day.  I figured I would stop by on my way home on the 13th and pick them up. Put them in the fridge in the garage on Wednesday night and boom, I’m good to go with flowers when she wakes up.

As sometimes happens, I was a little late getting out of the office and wasn’t going to make it.  While driving, I received a call asking if I was going to make it before they closed. I said probably not. They offered to wait for me, but given traffic I said, thank you but I’ll pick them up tomorrow.

Well, tomorrow is today and I’m running late again.  While driving from Sacramento to El Dorado Hills, I’m on a conference call and see that the florist calls again.  It’s well past their closing time when I roll in to the parking lot and all the lights are off.  At that moment, when I’m rolling through the options of picking through the carnage that would be left at Safeway at 6 pm on Valentine’s Day, a message pops up on my phone.

It was the florist. They had left the flowers out for me and told me where they were.  Just stop by or call and pay us when you can.  I had never been there before. Never bought anything from them.  They now have a customer for life.  Well done Verbena.


Trey Parker and Matt Stone Have Given Us Many Things…Including ‘Viral Videos’

In 2008 I wrote about “what makes a video go viral.”  The examples in that post are pretty dated now, but today while listening to NPR I heard about ‘”Viral Video’s Patient Zero,” and it was created by none other than the guys who went on to create “South Park,” Book of Mormon” and the incredible “Idiocracy.”

“The Spirit of Christmas”

Listen to the story from “On the Media”and you’ll be reminded that what makes a video “go viral,” is that it does something special.



Find your voice, find your speech, find your farmer. Dodge had the best ad of Super Bowl 47 in 2013


I was lucky enough to grow up in two worlds. One world was one of big cities and big business with part of my family that ran a company known worldwide. The other was where I lived and included small businesses on main street and quite often ‘farmers.’

In our town, the ‘farmers’ often owned rice farms and the people who ran them were special in that they worked hard every day at the core of their business. Not so different than millions of others across our country who run businesses, but they are.

Just a few weeks ago, I spoke with a group that puts on county and state fairs across the western United States.  Their core audience if you will, are farmers. People who every day choose to continue a business that isn’t glamourous, isn’t flashy yet every day provides them with opportunity to be their own boss, and put their family, and often their community on their shoulders every morning when they walk out of the house to work before the sun comes up.

There were several interesting, and funny, advertising spots during the Super Bowl, but only one caused our whole party to stop and listen.

Some people stopped because they recognized the voice of Paul Harvey (although most couldn’t place it), and others stopped because the sound was different than other ads (because it came from a speech given in 1978 to the Future Farmers of America Convention), but it stopped me because it was real.   I believe that the hard work done by farmers is at the core of their brand.

Dodge makes trucks for work. It’s what they do. Their ad represented the work we all want to do.  God made a farmer, and The Richards Group made one heck of an ad for Dodge.

Beyond this being an incredible advertising spot it shows the strength of self-published content. What does that mean?  The internet has changed the world of needing to buy a 30 second segment for millions of dollars or talk a newspaper reporter into writing about your company.  You see, the greatest commercial of this years Super Bowl came from a video created by with a selection of still images and an old speech.

Find that voice. Find the old speech..and remind people why you are important.