The Bizz by

Business & marketing advice, news and features, design inspiration, and the art of gifting.

How to Do Better Business: Van Halen Explains How to Filter Out Bad Business Partners

How can you do better business? Van Halen’s David Lee Roth explains how seemingly absurd demands in the band’s contracts filter out bad business partners.


by Fausto Mendez / photo by Dawn Huczek

    Van Halen’s David Lee Roth was notorious for including absolutely absurd demands in the band’s touring contracts with venues. One famous demand, often called the “No-Brown-M&Ms Clause”, says that a big bowl of M&M’s must be provided backstage for the band, but that part is not so unreasonable. Here’s the kicker. The contracts demanded - under penalty of the show’s cancellation and full compensation to the band - that there be no brown M&Ms in that bowl. Bratty, right?

There’s a Method to David Lee Roth’s Madness

    Upon closer examination, it’s not madness at all. The No-Brown-M&Ms Clause is a strategic business move that protects the band’s personal safety and guarantees each show’s stellar quality. Roth explains how it works in his memoir Crazy from the Heat.

“Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets.

We’d pull up with nine 18-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through. The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function.”

    With massive pieces of equipment and unprecedentedly technical shows, it became utterly critical for the venue staff to carefully follow all instructions. A simple weight miscalculation could easily result in killing the whole band, literally. Overlooking technical requirements could easily result in a poorly produced show that didn’t live up to the band’s standards.

    As a result, Roth had to figure out a way to filter out the irresponsible venues that didn’t pay attention to every detail in the contracts, not just for the band’s safety but also for the band’s success (and ultimately the success of the band’s record label). Roth’s best bet at making sure their venues were responsible enough and professional enough to pay attention to all the details was to make an absurdly stupid but easily verified demand in the contract with each venue. That’s when the No-Brown-M&Ms Clause found its way into the band’s contracts. 

“When I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl,” he wrote, “well, we’d line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error… Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.”

    The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande expands on the importance of the clause and how it saved the band’s life in at least one recorded incident.

"These weren’t trifles … The mistakes could be life threatening. In Colorado, the band found the local promoters had failed to read the weight requirements, and the staging would have fallen through the arena."

    When the No-Brown-M&Ms Clause first became public knowledge, it’s easy to see why the average person would disregard Roth as being a coked out maniac. On the contrary, his precise demands ensured the band’s success and health to the present day. 

Other Famous Tricks that Filter Out Bad Business Partners

   Henry Ford (or Thomas Edison?) supposedly had a similar trick for filtering out bad hires at his company. He would treat prospective employees to lunch, and legend says that if they added salt to their food without first tasting it, he would ultimately turn them down. The idea is to filter new hires that assume too much. The businessman behind the story changes every time I hear the story, so it could easily by a myth, not true.

    The famous is known for offering prospective employees a big bonus for quitting before they begin their jobs. The point is to filter out hires that don’t know how to identify the better deal. In this case, a quitting bonus is not the better deal.

    Jamie from the Discovery show Mythbusters asks news hires to drill a hole through an x in a wall. He would only hire people that asked further questions, such as, “how big?” 

    If you’ve ever searched for jobs on Craigslist, you may have noticed that some employers ask candidates to include a specific phrase in their cover letters. The goal is filter out new hires that don’t read the job listing from top to bottom.

What’s my Filter? I Test Writing Skills.

    In my own life, I carefully examine people’s writing ability and general communication skills, so I often ask folks to initially contact me by email. The goal is to filter out people that don’t remember basic skills or never cared to learn the fundamentals.

    If you can’t write a simple sentence with perfect grammar, what else didn’t you care to learn? If you can’t write, do you even care about your education? I don’t care if you can code a whole e-commerce site from scratch if you can’t clearly and easily communicate with me.

    Similar to Roth’s No-Brown-M&Ms clause, the test also filters out folks that don’t pay attention to simple details. It also makes it easy to identify people that aren’t self aware. Too many spelling and grammar errors make you look really bad, and if you can’t see that, you’ll never see my vision.

    It takes critical thinking and organizational skills to put together a well-written piece of text. The writing-skills test has never failed me, and whenever I overlook a candidate’s writing ability, it always comes back to bite me. How do you test potential business partners and prospective hires?

Ten Important Changes Happening at Workplaces Around the Nation

It’s no surprise the way businesses internally operate is changing, but exactly what is changing?

by Fausto Mendez / photo by mkosut

    Forbes contributor Dan Schawbel details ten of the most important changes that businesses are experiencing in the United States in 2013.

    Change 2: working from home is much more common, and it’s saving businesses a lot of money. Read the rest of Schawbel’s article at

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Stanford Business: How to Spot Liars at Work - #MarketingMonday

A famous and respected business coach lectures enthusiastic Stanford students on how to spot liars at work. If you spend any time in any office, you should find this quite useful and utterly fascinating. 

By Fausto Mendez

    Watch business coach Carol Kinsey Goman break down ten different ways to identify liars in the workplace. She also offers tips on how to look honest when you are actually telling the truth. Both sets of tips are extremely useful in the marketing industry, but her advice can be applied across the board in all industries. 

    One sign of lying is the use of overly formal language, but you should be careful because “overly formal” is in the eye of the beholder. Do not add meaning where there isn’t, or you might easily become the office’s next disseminator of false truths.

    Keep in mind that these are just signs of lying and not proof of lying. People may give off signs of lying even when they aren’t lying, but having a keen eye for the presence of multiple signs could point you in the right direction when you’re not sure if you can trust someone.

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Creative Advertising Gone Wild: UN Ads for Women’s Rights

Ads are a dime a dozen, but great ads are rare. This week, we profile the UN’s new women’s rights campaign.

By Fausto Mendez

    The UN asked women in various countries to use Google search’s autocomplete feature to find out what people are searching for - in relation to women - in those parts of the world. The ads speak for the themselves, and if you do a similar search in Google in your region, you will most likely see similar results. Below, I screenshotted the sad results from my search with the query “women cannot”.

    My regions is Southern California in the United States, so it’s pretty sad that this is what came up. See the rest of the ads at the behance profile of Kareem Shuhaibar, featuring ads that show autocomplete results from various parts of the world. 

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Illegally Perfecting All-Natural Ice Cream with Nitrogen in Silicon Valley

Stanford Grad Robyn Fisher started her business by illegally selling all-natural ice cream on the street next to unemployed chefs. Today, she’s the proud owner of the super popular Smitten Ice Cream shop.


By Fausto Mendez / Photo by Robyn Fisher

    Wired interviewed Stanford Grad Robyn Fisher on her recent successes as the owner of a made-to-order, all-natural ice cream shop that started out as an illegal operation on the street.

Wired: When you launched, it was sort of a pirate ice cream enterprise wasn’t it? Not strictly legal?

Fisher: At that time I started getting my ice cream out there in 2009, all these chefs had been laid off from restaurants. So they went to the streets to sell their food, and I joined them. We used Twitter and Facebook and about 12 of us would set up in a park or on the street and say “come and get it before the cops come.” It was totally not legal. We would get hundreds of people coming, and it was amazing. I learned so much from all of those street food chefs about pricing, marketing all sorts of things.”

    Fisher partnered up with laid off chefs to improve her recipes and business model. Around the same time, she also perfected the art of using nitrogen, all-natural ingredients, and a custom mixer to instantly freeze the ice cream sans freezer, and it’s not just flashy tech for flashy tech’s sake.

    The nitrogen technique creates the perfect texture in ice cream because the instant freeze enables her to skip some of the chemicals that ice cream makers inject into their product in order to achieve similar textures. Fisher does a really great job of explaining the science behind the cream during the interview.

"Wired: I know ice cream is cold, but what does the nature of ice crystals have to do with how good the ice cream is?

Fisher: The general gist of it is freezing speed makes all the difference in crystal size, and the smaller, the better for mouth taste and creaminess. Freezing speed is correlated with freezing temperature. So if you can freeze it really, really cold, you can get smaller ice crystals.

And if you can freeze really cold, you can freeze really fast. The benefit of that is if you make small enough batches you can freeze to order. Therefore you don’t need any of those extra ingredients that make ice cream far from natural.”

    Smitten Ice Cream is now one of San Francisco’s favorite ice cream spots, and it continues to reach new heights of fame as travelers from around the nation and the world visit the shop during their stay at the Bay Area.

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Four Tips to Help You Pitch to Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors

Pitching is perhaps one of the hardest things to do in business. You’re asking for a lot of money and - even more terrifying - faith in you and your ideas. Here’s some tips to seal the deal for your next pitch.


By Fausto Mendez

    Back in March, Kate Rogers published an insightful piece on tips about pitching your ideas to VC investors, but the same tips can apply to many other types of pitches. These tips will stay relevant for decades to come. Here’s the second one.

Tip #2: 

"…one of the biggest mistakes companies are making today is thinking too small. That won’t get this VC veteran’s attention."

Finish reading this article at Fox Business.

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Creative Advertising Gone Wild: Print Ads for Hovis Bread

British brand Hovis just launched a new advertising campaign, and it’s really hard to stop staring.


By Fausto Mendez

    Creating an effective ad that keeps your eyes glued for more than a few seconds is actually pretty hard to do - unless you’re exploiting sex. In that case, it’s actually pretty easy. Whatever the product, just make sure a naked model is holding it. That’s why we’re really impressed with a new set of ads out of agency JWT in London for Hovis, a popular bread brand in the UK. The ads keep eyes glued without the use of sex.


     As you can see, there’s a lot to look at. The ads spark a sense of nostalgia (or parenthood in those of us with kids). The longer I stare, the more I seem to appreciate the smaller details, the more I long for that simple time when life was just about school grades, silly pranks, quick sandwiches and lots of dirt. Ah, the good-ol’ days.

    I think I want a sandwich now. I guess the marketing effects are kicking in, or maybe it’s just lunch time.

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Fonts make a huge difference…

You should really value a graphic designer that can take a step back to examine his work from other perspectives.


By Fausto Mendez

    “10 Fuckering Lights”. This is what happens when you hire lazy graphic designers, or maybe it’s what happens when you don’t hire graphic designers. 

    Best case scenario: store marks down your product, which makes it sell more than it would’ve without the mistake.

    Worse case scenario: your product gets moved to the sex accessories aisle, which enables you to pioneer a new style of mood lighting in the bed room.

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(Source: theamericankid)

What Scams Should You Watch For When Hiring an SEO Firm?


By Fausto Mendez

    Finding and hiring a great SEO provider is tough. Some businesses can never find one, and worse, other businesses fall for dirty scams that cheat them out of thousands and thousands of dollars. That’s why you should watch out for the following scams when hiring an SEO firm.

    Our experiences with SEO companies has not been so great. Actually, we’ve never worked with an SEO firm that impressed us with measurable results and a reliable work ethic. As a result, we have enough experience to know what to look for in an SEO company that only offers ineffective services that are only designed to eat up as much of your money as possible.

    Search Engine Journal has a great piece on SEO scams. We summarize SEJ’s list below, and we follow up the list with a few scams that we’ve seen ourselves.

+ Don’t fall for “free” services. There is no such thing as a free SEO service that also works. It’s possible that the company selling you “free” services is stealing your data, your customers’ identities, or learning your trade secrets. In the best case scenario, a free SEO service is just a way for the company to get its foot in your door to sell you more expensive services.

+ Watch out for first-page guarantees. Any company that guarantees first-page rankings is (pardon my French) full of shit. Don’t get me wrong. Getting on the first page is certainly possible, but nobody has the power or skill to achieve first-page rankings so consistently that they can actually guarantee it. Real marketers never make guarantees except to guarantee to do their absolute best.

+ Beware meaningless services attached to big numbers, such as “submitting your site to hundreds or thousands of search engines”. The truth is that there are only a handful of relevant search engines, and it’s not hard to “submit” your site to these search engines. Anyone with a minimal level of skill and knowledge can do it.

+ Don’t believe anyone that says they have connections at Google. I’ve heard this line from every SEO company that we’ve talked to. It’s most likely a lie, and even if it’s true, NDA agreements and fat paychecks prevent Google employees from giving out insider knowledge or favors. 

+ Beware anyone that assumes they know Google’s Search algorithm. No one knows Google’s algorithm very well, not even former employees or even current employees. Google Search is developed and maintained by several sets of teams that specialize in smaller aspects of the engine. There probably is someone in the world that manages these teams and has better insight into the algorithm, but I’m sure that guy is paid far too well to risk getting caught handing over secrets to an SEO company.

+ No one has a secret formula for successful SEO. The information that you need to be a great SEO marketer is freely available to anyone that wants it. Even so, SEO is hard work and requires a lot of daily research. Any company that claims to have a secret formula is playing you for a fool. In SEO, the only secret is that there is no secret. Most successful marketers know what it takes to rank well. The problem is most people don’t want to do the hard work that gets them there. 

    SEJ’s list is great, but it feels somewhat incomplete. Here’s a few scams some companies have tried to sell us before.

+ Never (ever) buy backlinks or use a backlink farm. Google killed this strategy a long time ago, and any website that creates unnatural backlinks in mass is only going to encourage Google to drop the hammer of penalty & pain. 

+ Avoid companies that don’t have experienced and well-trained copywriters on staff. SEO firms that outsource copywriters often outsource really, really bad writers that only write English as a second language. That’s because they don’t have a writer on staff, so there isn’t anyone that recognize great copy. Google is getting much better at recognizing well written (user-friendly) content, and if it finds that you are creating a great user experience for your site visitors, your site should rank better over time. However, bad copywriters may actually hurt your rank.

+ Avoid companies that create tons of low-quality content to help your site rank better. Why? See the above details on bad copywriting. Basically, you don’t want to associate your site with low-quality content.

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WTF, Google? What Does the Search Engine’s Massive “Hummingbird” Update Mean for Me?


By Fausto Mendez

    Has Google felt a little bit different lately? On the surface, Google may look like the same, reliable search engine, but under the hood, the company just launched a major overhaul of its search algorithm. And it’s already affecting the way you search.

    Google is constantly updating its search algorithms to better serve the public; most updates barely tweak the search engine’s behavior. However, Google’s latest update - dubbed “Hummingbird” - is a major overhaul, and if you’ve used this week, you’ve already experienced features of the new change. We summarize the update below, the meatier details courtesy of TechCrunch

Presenting a New Focus on Questions & Answers

    Perhaps the most noticeable change is a new focus on questions and answers. Previously, Google Search focused on keywords, but now, Search takes a more intelligent approach to questions. Asking a question results in Google trying to answer it with the most relevant and reliable answers. 


    Furthermore, an update to Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is a database that attempts to store and relate (connect) all kinds of data from various sources, has made the search engine much more effective at comparing and “understanding” data. For example, you could ask Google to compare the nutritional characteristics of broccoli and asparagus, and it should bring up relevant comparison charts, diagrams, Google+ pages/posts and, of course, good-ol’-fashioned links.

    In my test of this feature, I didn’t get any fancy charts or diagrams next to my search results, which is what is supposed to happen (sometimes) if Google understood your question. Fortunately, the first link on the search results did feature a fancy chart. So it looks like the update made the search results more relevant and useful at the very least, but if you’re hoping for fancy charts by your search results, Knowledge Graph may need to grow and “learn” a little more about veggies.

Over 90% Of Searches Affected by the Update

    During Google’s presentation of the Hummingbird update, the company remained quiet on how it all works, but they did mention that about 90% of global searches would be affected by the change. That’s a big percentage for an algorithm update, and that number is absolutely frightening to search-engine marketers as they may have to make big changes to the way they operate, the clients they work with, and the employees they hire. I’m search-engine marketers will ponder it over one too many drinks this weekend.

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Don’t Say These Five Things in Your Next Business Email to Someone Important


By Fausto Mendez

    Encourage intelligent and useful responses in your next business email to someone important by avoiding phrases that miscommunicate your intentions or that make you look like a dumb robotic (thoughtless) employee.

    Business emails are a tricky thing; actually, navigating the social norms of non-business email can be rather weird too. Email culture carries a lot of influence from the good-ol’ snail mail days, and it’s also influenced by well-intentioned manners (or lack of) that can turn fairly standard conversations with important folks into awkward moments of miscommunication. With that in mind, you should probably avoid the following five phrases in your next business email - whether or not the recipient is “important” - in order to sound like a real and intelligent person that deserves a real and intelligent response.

    Of course, you may find that there really are situations in which the following five phrases should be used, but more often than not, they are overused without a second thought - thrown in because we don’t know what else to write.

Don’t Say, “I Hope You Are Well.”

    Please, don’t say this unless you really know the person and actively do things to show that you care because if you don’t actively care, the recipient will assume that you just want something from them. And that’s actually OK, but successful people tend to be very realistic. So if you’re trying to manipulate them, they will sense it right away. After all, they didn’t get to where they are by being naive to manipulation. They don’t like it, and they try to gravitate towards people that don’t try to manipulate them.

Don’t Say, “I Thought I Would Reach Out.”

    Obviously, you had that thought; otherwise, you wouldn’t have reached out. Important people don’t have time for thoughtless conversation. By limiting your email’s content to what is immediately relevant, you show the recipient that you understand how valuable their time is. Important people always value time over anything else, so if you throw in meaningless phrases like this, you are basically saying one of two things: 1. Your time is not valuable. or 2. I’m too stupid to understand how valuable your time is, so I don’t deserve a response.

Don’t Say, “Can I Pick Your Brain.”

    As I noted earlier, there are times when these overused phrases are certainly appropriate, and this is probably one that is harder to misuse. But the reason it’s often misused is not because it’s not relevant, not polite or utterly thoughtless. Actually, it’s misused because you asking for a very important person to spend their extremely expensive time and wisdom on you, not on anything else that he or she would like to get done today. If the recipient is not in a good mood, what seems like a compliment may actually be interpreted as an insult. 

Don’t Say, “Bounce an Idea Off You.”

    This is probably better than “can I pick your brain” because at least you’re going into it with the attitude that you’re going to contribute to the brainstorming that you’d like the recipient to do. It’s not just the recipeitn doing the work; however, it suffers from the same major problem. You probably misunderstand how much it costs for the recipient to do anything for anyone.

Don’t Say, “Sincerely Yours.”

    It’s really weird that we still say this. The phrase really belongs in a love letter, and even just “sincerely” doesn’t sound right. Of course, you are being sincere, so why would you need to say it? The fact is you don’t need to say it, and if you can come up with anything that’s more meaningful or relevant, you’ll probably stand out amongst the other tens, hundreds or thousands of emails that the recipient received today.

    Thanks to Fast Company for the original list of five phrases, but FC’s article didn’t suggest substitutions for these phrases. We offer the following suggestions.

What to Say Instead

    If you’re looking for some good substitutions when avoiding the above phrases, the best thing to do is to say something real. In other words, say something useful or relevant. I might also suggest being entertaining or funny, but that could cause more problems than it solves. If you are not familiar with the recipient’s sense of humor, you should probably avoid humor at all cost.

    More importantly, if you’re asking for something, such as to “bounce an idea off” the recipient, bring something valuable to the table that you can offer in return. I know this can be really hard in some situations, such as when a student reaches out to an experienced executive, but even the inexperienced have valuable info or stories to share. Everyone sees the world from a different perspective, and the important people that you’re trying to reach via email are surrounded by people - more like robots - that never have anything important to share. So you really make yourself stand out if you can offer something useful in return for the favor.

    No matter what happens, you should always thank the recipient for sharing their valuable time with you. That’s actually the signoff I use in most of my serious emails. Later on, I may choose a less serious signoff, such as “may the force be with you”, but I certainly make sure the recipient knows that I know their time is extremely valuable. While the above five phrases can be easily misinterpreted in many situations, thanking someone for their time is always a safe bet.

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When Failure Precedes Success: Tommy Hilfiger’s Life Forever Changed after Bankruptcy at 25


By Fausto Mendez

    Tommy Hilfiger shares details behind his bankruptcy at 25, when he owned several jeans stores under the brand name The People’s Place. He was never the same after this first and major business fail.

    Hilfiger’s initial reaction to his first business fail is humble and eye opening, and it set the stage for his next next business victory.

"We went bankrupt. I was devastated. I was embarrassed. I had started with nothing and worked so hard, and we were so close to making it really big, but I had taken my eye off the ball. I believed that the business would just continue to do well. But it didn’t, because I wasn’t paying attention to the ‘business’ part of the business." 

    As a creative, Hilfiger excelled, but he neglected expense control and the management of big projects with small budgets that bring in big results. Needless to say, he didn’t give up after receiving the bad news. At 28, he started a new clothing design team that eventually landed Jordache as a client. By 1988, he sold over $25 million in product. Today, he expects to pull in over $5 billion in this year alone, but it wouldn’t have been possible without that big first failure.

"My creative side still very much exists. It’s still very important. I use it to create unique designs and clothes. But really, since I was 25, I have viewed myself more as a businessman. That’s made the difference."

    Successful comedians, actors and other performers often have similar experiences at the start of their careers. They call it the first “bomb”. Everyone of them has to experience that big first failure, or bomb, in front a hateful crowd before they will ever develop the skills to succeed. I imagine it’s the same in most industries, and Hilfiger’s story perfectly illustrates that growing process in the real world. 

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