Kickstarter Lesson #170: My Job Is Stress Relief…and I’m Not Very Good at It

4 January 2016 | 18 Comments

The day before I drove from St. Louis to Virginia for the holidays, I read an article on Inc.com about success, entrepreneurship, and leadership. It features a number of quotes and thoughts from billionaire Mark Cuban.

One of his lines really stuck with me, and I thought about it a lot on the long drive and over the holidays: “One of the ways to be incredibly successful no matter what you do is to reduce the stress of those around you.”

We often think about successful people as those who are the smartest, have the clearest vision, push the boundaries of conventional wisdom, and can command the attention of auditoriums full of people. Basically, we think of Steve Jobs.

As a Kickstarter creator and small business owner, I value all of those characteristics of success. I’ve also thought (and written) a lot about trust–I think a big part of effective crowdfunding is establishing and maintaining trust with backers before, during, and after the project.

But reducing stress? This is the first time I’ve ever heard it attributed to success. And I really, really like it.

I’m just not very good at it.

Here’s an example: A few days ago I posted a project update for Scythe, just as I’ve done every 1-2 weeks since the project funded on Kickstarter (regular updates are a good way to reduce backer stress). I mentioned that we were probably going to include a cardboard box inside the game box to hold the cards and tokens during the original transit from factory to backer. As I write this, I’m realizing that the reason I decided to include the box in the first place (and why I told backers about it) is to reduce backers of the stress of wondering if their game will arrive in perfect condition.

BUT here’s where I failed: I didn’t mention if the box will be able to hold sleeved cards or not. So instead of reducing backer stress, that missing information actually increased it (for some people).

Obviously this is a niche case, but I’m starting to see how I could improve my customer service in general by changing the focus to reducing stress. And not just customer service–this is something I can do better with my business partners, freelancers, retailers, and other companies I work with. I can have better relationships and thus make Stonemaier more successful if I’m always trying to reduce the stress of those around me.

There are so many ways this can manifest (and already has, through pure happenstance). Like, I remember leading up to the Scythe campaign, I got a lot of messages from people asking exactly when the campaign was going to launch so they wouldn’t miss out on early birds. We don’t do early birds, so I was able to reduce their stress in my response. But I could have taken it to a new level and made sure to better disseminate that information (the launch day/time and that we weren’t doing early birds) so those people wouldn’t have to stress about it at all. It seems like every level of stress relief has another level above it.

Leadership doesn’t have to be about power or control or authority. It can simply be about making life a little easier for those around you.

Here’s the full quote from the article about stress and being nice, as I think it’s a good way to end this post: “Being nice pays. Would you rather have business with somebody nice? One of the ways to be incredibly successful no matter what you do is to reduce the stress of those around you. If I have the chance to be nice to somebody, I’ll do it, because the best branding in the world, the best customer service and best customer connection, and the best employee connection is just being nice and reducing stress. Sometimes just being nice makes all the difference, because everybody wants to do business with somebody who is nice.”

What do you think about this concept?

18 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #170: My Job Is Stress Relief…and I’m Not Very Good at It

  1. I agree with the concept 100%. Let me give an example:

    I’m a self-employed DJ/karaoke host (that’s how I pay my bills so I can do stuff like podcasting & game design). I am also very highly regarded in my little corner of Wisconsin specifically because I am nice to the bars’ customers. I have inherited multiple weekly gigs over the years simply by being more pleasant and friendly than the other guy. The way I know this fact is simple: I am told it fairly regularly by many of my regular customers. Actually, if you think about it, if it wasn’t true, they wouldn’t tell me at all because they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to me about it

    So basically, my attitude and ability to get along with the other people I work with (while simultaneously being able to maintain a firm control over the drunk people that surrond me) has been the linchpin of my career. If it weren’t for that, I’d probably have failed years ago and had to go find a “normal job” to pay the bills.

    So yeah… it’s a real thing, and personally I think it’s one of the most important things, especially in niche industries (like mine, and like hobby game publication). If people think a publisher is rude, unpleasant or unethical, they are more likely to spend their money elsewhere.

    Anyway, my $0.02. Just FYI, I love the blog and read it every time I notice a new post. :)

  2. I think more information when you’re free to share it is always better, even at the risk of stressing out a subset of the population you’re trying to keep in the loop. You can’t always predict what questions are going to come about. You could have said “the boxes are big enough for sleeved cards” and someone else would have asked if the boxes are acid-free archival quality cardboard! Do what you can, when you can, and don’t let other people’s stress make you too stressful! (:

  3. Bill: Thanks for sharing your experience. At my previous job, I ran a big annual fundraiser/gala, so I hired several DJs and emcees over the years. I can say for sure that I was much more inclined to work with those who were nice and actually made my job easier (I think a person can be nice but also still make your job more stressful)!

  4. Josh: That’s a good point–there’s always something I haven’t thought of, and it’s great that backers ask insightful questions. But I think I would do a better job if I reviewed my updates through the lens of stress relief before I posted them. I’ll try that next time! :)

  5. Gosh, I see “reducing the stress of others” as a key leadership quality. It sets the tone for others to follow. Merely being nice, however, is only one part of a critical truth: business and relationships rely on trust. “Nice” can increase your approachability, which is great, but I think it falls short. How you respond to blowing it (i.e. taking ownership and making it right) goes beyond nice and builds trust for the long game (pun intended). As creative director of a small brand-focused design house, this post has opened my eyes to a new perspective. Much like Seth Godin’s blog does. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Marc. I agree that kindness (and even trust) are just part of what it takes to reduce stress. Like, I think most of my backers trust me to deliver a solid product. But they still stress out over certain details (will sleeved cards fit? Will I have the chance to update my address? etc) So with Cuban’s perspective, I’m starting to rethink the way I act and communicate so that I’m not just striving to be nice and trustworthy, but also to be a stress reliever for our customers. I have a lot to learn from that frame of reference!

  7. This is great advice. I personally work extremely hard to provide good customer service whenever a problem arises, but I haven’t thought about it like this before. Proactive stress relief before problems arise makes a lot of sense.

  8. Jamey,

    Great thought piece…in both the Air Force and FBI to which I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have served for more than 20 and 10 years respectively, there’s no overt reference to “nice-ness” in our values, but it’s absolutely essential in every one of them. We, as professionals…as leaders, ensure that those around us can rise to the occasion.

    As officers we learned to take care of the people (defined in the setting as reducing or eliminating streess) so the people can take care of the mission.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  9. Chris: I like the way you said it “proactive stress relief.” It’s good to be able to help someone after they’re stressed, but even better when you can prevent it in the first place! :)

    Joe: You’ve read my book, so you’ve probably seen the part about “leaders eat last” in the armed forces, which I discovered in Simon Sinek’s work. That in itself is stress relief, I can imagine. It’s saying to your team that you’re taking care of them and putting them first so they don’t stress out. Did you experience that in the Air Force and FBI?

  10. Jamey,

    Many times did I experience that level of stress relief in the military. I remember back in 1996, I had been in the service for about a year, and we were setting-up for the largest air show at RAF Mildenhall. I’m a 2d Lt surrounded by thirty young enlisted folks when a seasoned First Sergeant came over to assist and after about thirty minutes he turned to me and asked, “how long were you prior-enlisted?” When I responded “Fourteen weeks” which is the length of Officer Training School he was surprised because I displayed a caring leadership style he hadn’t seen in other officers…I was humbled by the comment, and it’s been the way I’be operated ever since.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  11. I think that final quote isn’t just advice about running a good business, it’s the key to a decent life and a more hopeful future in all forms of human endeavour and interaction. It’s at the core of most religions as well. It’s such a brilliantly simple concept that it makes me sad that not everyone gets it. I guess all we can do is try our best.

    I’m a big fan of sci-fi & there are a ton of films & books that paint possible pictures of our future. The two on-screen universes I often think of when pondering the future of humanity are Blade Runner and Star Trek. I know which one I’d rather live in (hint: I’d prefer starships to killer androids), and it’s fun to consider my actions & how they might be contributing to either possible outcome.

  12. Hi, Jamey. Thanks so much for this post. What a profound and simple way to shape one’s thinking and business model. It resonates particularly with me because of its Buddhist undertones, and because of its emphasis on service to others. This is one of those mentalities that takes “a few minutes to learn, a lifetime to master.” Keep at it!

    Geoff

  13. Yes, that quote is absolutely 100% spot on. It can be distilled down to the old axiom: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It works.

    As a customer of Stonemaier games, you being so nice is part of what pushed me to jump into your last KS campaign.

  14. I used to do tech support for email software. If there’s anything that can create stress, imagine a whole office full of people telling you/yelling at you about email being down! So when I would get these people on the phone and hear the stress in their voice, I’d say, “Don’t worry. I know people are upset with you. Put a note on your door that email’s being fixed, close the door, take a deep breath, and I won’t get off the phone with you until the problem is solved and email works again. You have my full attention.” Nobody told me to do this; we were a tiny company that had only four tech support people so we were sort of free to do our own thing, and I found that this really worked. Sometimes fixing email meant minutes waiting for things to reset/reboot (this was 1990!) and I’d say, “see if the coast is clear and you can go get a drink of water while we wait”. As co-conspirators, I developed a rapport with these customers. Many of them asked for me by name if they ever needed us again, and my customer-sat surveys were nearly always positive. I got a lot of “she was really nice,” “she listened to the problem and understood right away,” and comments like that. So it DOES matter.

    Jamey, I always feel that it’s obvious in your campaigns that you try hard to think of what’s confusing or what’s going to worry people, and you just answer those questions right up front before they’re asked. Your campaigns are low-stress, low-confusion, and low-argument affairs compared to some of the other ones I’ve seen and backed. And I appreciate that you are continually trying to up your game. I also love the way you are nice but firm when people ask for things that you or Stonemaier are not going to do/change. Telling people “no” so that they actually come away feeling MORE positive about you and the project is an art, and you often achieve it by respecting the person and their request, and being clear about the reason you can’t or won’t do it. Magnificent. Saying “yes” all the time is actually often NOT being nice, as parenting teaches you pretty fast. :-)

  15. Julia: Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you had a very calming presence on your customer, which is a great skill to have. I appreciate your affirmation as well, and I completely agree that sometimes “no” is the best way to look out for your customers! :)

  16. For me, of the the best ways you can help is by having a comprehensive FAQ section. It let’s people know that you have already put thought into their particular situation. How to make sure everyone goes to the FAQ first….. I don’t think anyone has figured that out yet.

    One of the biggest causes of stress seems to be if the creator can actually back up their claims and deliver the product as promised and on time. This seems to be a big issues especially when projects that are superfunded. I have friends that won’t back a project that gets too big if they have any concerns that the creators can actually pull something off. If you look at the track record of most superfunded projects ability to hit their goals, they aren’t very good.

    My questions is how much information is wise to included when trying to reassure a backer that you can deliver on your promises, even more so if it reaches a superfunded level? Can you give too much information? Here are a couple rough examples.

    1. Ability to quickly expand to meet demands: After looking at all the manufacturing options, I decided to fabricate my Beverage Cooler in my hometown of Pennsylvania vs overseas. Hiring more trained seamstresses is not a problem as we have an overabundance of highly qualified people. After 189 years, a large clothing company just left town to set up shop overseas. Most of these available people have 20, 30 and even 40 years of experience.

    2. Physical Locations: I have tried to source everything from either my town, or a few states away. It is much easier to address a situation/oversee when you can just hop in a car and be there quickly.

    3. Personal relationships: I have a personal relationship with almost all of my suppliers. Some have known me since I was a child, sewing facility, while others have been my friends for over a decade, printer. These are people that I know and who know me. The ones that I don’t have that relationship with were referred to me by friends. These are good hardworking people and companies.

    Bottom line, All projects have issues that pop up. After studying many KS projects that haven’t been able to deliver, I found these common issues. First time creators that were dealing with manufacturing companies in another country, with a different time zone who speak a different language. Most of the companies I will be working with, are just a few minute drive for me with people I know and or worked with for years.

    And lastly I think it’s important to lower the stress on yourself as much as possible. Financially, it would have been easier to me to have gone overseas. As I explored that option, issues with new Chinese tariffs, questions of craftsmanship, freight shipping and getting quotes on an unknown number of products, made me realize at least for now, it wasn’t worth it. For my own stress levels, dealing with people I know was well worth not hitting high level margins. It took a lot of planning and creative execution from all parties but I was able to negotiate deals that worked for everyone.

    1. I think it’s great that you’ve found a way to manufacture locally. As you mention, a part of that means that you can visit the production as often as you need to, which can really help build trust and relieve stress among backers.

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