SBM #25 - John Seiffer - the OG hustler 

The Original Hustler.  

In the last edition, we explored Ankit Patel’s experience as an industry veteran and owner of Classic Vision Care and My Business Care Team a BPO service for optometry practices. 

This week, we're diving into the story of John Seiffer, a seasoned entrepreneur, CEO coach, and author of the book "Output Thinking." 

Fast Facts:

  • 1977: VHS format was introduced in North America, surpassing Betamax due to longer recording time and affordability

  • 1980s - 1990s: VHS tapes gained immense popularity, leading to the dominance of home video recording and playback

  • Late 1990s: The introduction of DVDs marked the beginning of the decline of VHS tapes due to superior image quality and storage capacity

  • 2005: Approximately 95 million Americans still owned VHS-format VCRs

  • 2006: "A History of Violence" was the last major motion picture released on VHS, signifying the end of the VHS era

Chart:

Overview: 

John Seiffer is a seasoned entrepreneur and CEO coach who was hustling for dollars before most of us were out of diapers or even born.

He is also the author of "Output Thinking," a book that will help you rethink the way you approach managing businesses.

John’s entrepreneurial journey began with a video rental business that he started in the early 1990s and grew over about 10-15 years and then managed down as the market changed.

The Story:

Most of you probably don’t remember the early 90s. Back then you watched LA Law and the Cosby Show on network TV. 

If you wanted to watch a movie, you got whatever was on cable or you hauled yourself down to the local video store to rent a VHS tape. 

It sucked. 

All the good movies were already checked out. 

We didn’t even have Blockbuster yet. 

But John saw an opportunity. 

What if apartment buildings offered VHS tapes as an amenity?

Now you didn’t need to go down the street. You could just pop down to the lobby and check something out.

The best part was video stores would stock up on new releases but within a few weeks or months, people moved on so there were plenty of second-run used tapes to buy at discount prices.

Soon John was signing up apartments looking to add popular amenities and managing their VHS library.

This business was a pure hustle that only a true entrepreneur could come up with. It reminds me of the power-washing hustles you hear about on X today.

The Learning:

The business did well and grew but had one core problem. It was based in Texas and served the Southwest but John and his family wanted to get back home to Pittsburg where they had family. 

In order to make the move and keep the business, John had to learn how to systemize the operations so he could keep it running remotely. 

This was a huge challenge back then. There was no internet and no cloud so John had to ship data tapes overnight to see sales and other data. 

Being remote forced him to document processes long before we all started talking and writing books about it. It was through documenting those processes that John came to see the key to defining what outputs he/the business needed from each employee. 

He refined this concept over the years and it eventually led him to write and publish, Output Thinking, last year.

In John’s view, many of the frustrations and mistakes we make with employees stem from the lack of clarity of what outputs they are responsible for. 

We use vague and open-ended job descriptions. Defining outputs forces us to think more thoroughly and clearly about what it is we need from each person in our business. 

Additionally, once we know what outputs we need, we can better define what a good output is versus a bad or mediocre one.

I took a few lessons away from this part of my conversation with John. Two from Output Thinking and two from the video business:

  1. Start systematizing as soon as possible: John was forced to do it and I like the framework. Take a look at your business and think, if I had to move across the country, what would it take to keep this place running? Or better yet, if I was in Asia in a radically different time zone, and didn’t want people calling me at night, what would it take?

  1. Outputs force clear thinking: I think most people won’t implement output thinking. Why? Because it forces you to slow down and think. Most people just want to get problems off their plate and they’ll avoid the short-term pain of effort and take the long-term pain of misaligned employees. I urge you to defy my expectations.

  1. Opportunities abound as technology changes: Don’t forget that VHS tapes and rental stores were once cutting-edge and new. John kept his eyes open and found a nice business to start based on the emerging demand for movie rentals.

  1. Constantly evaluate exit opportunities: Looking back, John sees potential missed opportunities to sell the business. In particular to Blockbuster. It always had too many copies of a new movie after its initial release had died down. John’s channel would have been a perfect complement to their business. He’s built a foundation that allows them to expand internationally. 

By the way, John’s company still exists in a greatly diminished form. 

The last customer was sold to a woman who is running the business remotely. 

I guess someone somewhere still has a VHS player. Who knew?

📅 Next Week:

Next week we are going to look at John’s Stages of Business Growth Model and how you can use it to help you understand what kind of business you want to build and run.

Keep growing,

Alan

P.S. 

The most recent episode of The Small Business Mentor Podcast is live. My guest this week was Ankit Patel. We went into detail on his journey as an entrepreneur in the ophthalmology industry and how he created a BPO service for optometry practices.

Check it out here: 

P.P.S. 

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