“How’d you like them apples?” asks Matt Damon’s character as he gloats over some entitled ponytailed frat boy in a famous scene from Good Will Hunting. As for our six Romanians traveling across the US in their Startup Odyssey, we don’t know how they like apples, but they sure do like L.A.’s Apple stores, visiting one on the second day of their journey.
While Cosmin Scripcariu, the designated driver of the group, was parking the car, careful not to get the third fine in just two days, the others made their way inside one of Los Angeles’ biggest Apple stores. For Alex Burghelia it was the first time he entered one: “They had 15 customer service agents. It was an awesome experience for me. This is something that makes this company one of the most valuable in the world.”
The same thing made an impression on Dan Condurateanu as well: “I learned how to edit a video from my phone in an apple store from 2 employees who were there just for that. They had 15 people on customer support in a single store at one time. Amazing hospitality.” While for Iulian Puiu, Apple’s mono-brand store concept made him realize the power of this approach: “Besides their excellent customer experience, I believe that having your stores where you sell only your products is a great way to gain power over partners because now the business has a new, solid sales channel.”
As Cosmin finally got around parking the car in a permitted area, just a couple of blocks away, he made his way towards the Apple store, contemplating on the L.A. driving habits: “There’s no cutting corners here, in everyday life and in traffic. You have to follow the rules. If you don’t, people react accordingly. As much as you want to change lanes before a stoplight, the other drivers just won’t let you,” he thought walking down the sidewalk. But what are the chances of meeting a university colleague, more than 10,000 kilometers away from home? Slim, Cosmin wondered as he bumped in a former colleague he hadn’t seen for a couple of years. Small world, after all.
Missing Cosmin, who was still chatting up his old friend, the group left the Apple store to find their designated driver. They met the two talking in Romanian just outside and decided to find a place to eat, disappointing Cosmin as he didn’t get to check out the Apple store. They didn’t have to search for too long, the Grand Central Market, with its international food court popped up just before them. With food from dozens of countries, all around the world, concentrated in one place, it took them longer to decide what to eat than the actual meal. “What if we would have this international food warehouse, with all the tapas, Chinese, or fish and chips, in the heart of Bucharest? Maybe Bucharest isn’t a good market for such an idea. Maybe it is. I don’t know, but I think that this idea is worth exploring.” Iulian, passionate about nutrition, thought out loud initiating a conversation about food, marketing, and eventually wine.
“Marketing is everything,” Catalin Petrisor replied. “They market every little thing. They market even the exchange shops with someone in the middle of the road with a big sign in their hands. They are very creative in terms of marketing and they take advantage of everything that is popular now. For example, ‘tired of seeing your ex in the supermarket?’ that’s how they marketed a food delivery service.”
“Indeed, it is a great marketing campaign. We can make a parallel with a wine company(If you focus the entire attention only on the product, your company may come to a sad and fast end. At the same time, it isn’t very easy to build a solid business if the customer won’t return to buy the product for a second, a third time, and so on. You need both a great product, great marketing, and fantastic customer experience. Contrary to an old assumption – `underpromise and overdeliver` – people sometimes live up to the reverse – `overpromise and underdeliver.` At least that’s what I believe.” Iulian, intrigued by Catalin’s point of view replied.
Talking about wine made them a little thirsty, so they bought a bottle on their way back to the hotel. Once there, they laid back and cracked it, reminiscing about their second day in Los Angeles.
“Almost everything is twice as expensive than in Romania, except gasoline which is around 1 dollar/l. And they have huge cars. Some parking spaces have written `compact` on the floor so you would know that your immense pick-up truck won’t fit in there. They even have bigger car models that are not available in Romania like Toyota Sequoia or Volkswagen Atlas. For us, it seems like an obsession of theirs to have such big cars and so many of them.” Dan Condurateanu remarked.
The talk about big trucks and gasoline got Iulian Puiu thinking about subjects he’s passionate about: “For me, it is frustrating to see that people always keep the lights on. It is a useless waste of resources. They do not care enough about the climate, and neither are people who don’t care enough to eat healthily, to recycle or to make all the things they know are good but require an extra effort. I’m starting to believe that this is the way humans work, so it is almost impossible to change their behavior throughout awareness. This type of problem requires another approach. As a CEO of a big plan-based meat company said, you can’t stop people from eating meat, but you can create an alternative to it that is identical (in terms of features) to real meat. The main idea (good for NGOs): Offer a better alternative that, by default, will change the bad behavior that you target.”
As the wine bottle kept getting lighter, so did their evening talk, as they all noticed how happy the people they’ve encountered seemed to be, regardless of their job or the time of day.
“They are genuine happy to help you and to serve you. The majority of them are proud of their jobs even though it’s not a fancy one and they serve you with a big smile on their face. I consider that they are raised to be happy somehow. We might be close to Hollywood, but I don’t think that all of them are such good actors.” Says Catalin.
“I was also impressed by how naturally happy people seem to be while working, regardless of the nature of their job. Shopkeepers in souvenir shops will greet you with a smile, business people exiting tall glass buildings will still give you the time of day, and street vendors are friendly and welcoming, without trying to hustle you. If you enter a store, you might end up talking about your day with a complete stranger.” Cosmin concluded, trying to close the day on a positive note.