Cheerios JTBD

“Don’t eat them for the 100% whole grain oats. Don’t eat them because the oats can help lower cholesterol. Eat them for her.”

Cheerios commercial, 2023

The good. Jobs-to-be-done uses “Mario marketing”. Sell the power, not the flower. Why is ‘being healthy’ a goal? It’s to spend longer with your granddaughter.

This ad ran on a Wednesday morning in Florida. Who is watching television? Retirees. This CAC is money well spent.

The bad or the confusing. None, it’s a good advertisement.


One of the best ways to get better at something is to do it.

One of the best ways to get better at some thinking is to notice it. The human tendency to confirm beliefs is generally useful. So be curious. Give something a name and label to your experiences.

You stick your hand in shit…

This is from a daily email I write with my friend Aaron.

Mr. Cohen was at his summer job, waiting for his delivery truck to be loaded up for the day.  

“Yeah college is fun,” he told a mechanic while the two waited, “but I’m dropping out.”  

“Why?” the mechanic inquired.  

“Well, I don’t like it,” said Cohen. 

“Ahh, you stick your hand in shit you wash it off,” offered the mechanic.  

Mr. Cohen created one of the greatest brands in the United States. You know it. You’ve probably bought it. We’ll get to that in a moment.  

Cohen didn’t immediately apply the mechanic’s advice. He quit college. He mopped floors for a bit, but quit. He worked as an ER clerk, but left. He drove a taxi for a while.  

It wasn’t until Cohen had a partner and a plan that he persevered.  

The duo’s first store was an abandoned gas station. They slept there. They couldn’t pay their contractors in cash, so they paid in kind. They couldn’t afford equipment. Instead, they reached out to their friends and family asking them to check the classified sections for going-out-of-business sales.  

They faced obstacles and found solutions.  

They persevered. 

They opened Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream in Burlington, Vermont.  

You stick your hand in shit you wash it off.  

You get knocked down, you get back up.

Your product is the feta on the salad

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Operators live in their business. It’s nights, weekends, holidays, birthday parties, and vacations. 

Customers don’t care. 

To a customer, a business is just mustard on a sandwich. Nice, but not their life. To a customer, life is nights, weekends, holidays, birthday parties, and vacations. 

Hamdi Ulukaya immigrated to the United States when he was twenty-two years old. He signed up for an English class – Hamdi spoke Kurdish and Turkish – and was assigned a ‘how to’ paper. Hamdi grew up shepherding sheep in the Turkish hills, so he wrote his paper about making cheese. 

His teacher loved it. Not for Hamdi’s encouraging English, but for the content. She owned a farm upstate and needed help making cheese. Hamdi agreed to help. 

It paid enough to get by and continue his studies. Hamdi’s cheese was good, it was “old world”. Americanized cheeses, like feta, didn’t taste like the cheeses of his youth. After working on the farm, Hamdi opened a cheese factory with his brother. 

People liked their cheese, it was good, but the restauranters didn’t care. Pricey but good feta from a regional supplier wasn’t what operators wanted. It was just a salad component. Restaurant operators ordered from the major manufacturers because the price was low and the quality was consistent. That’s all they needed. 

Hamdi worked nights, weekends, holidays, and birthday parties, and didn’t take vacations. Hamdi lived cheese. He was a shepherd, a farmer, and a manufacturer. There was no one in the world better equipped to run a feta cheese business. 

But it was just ‘mustard’ to his customers. To Hamdi, it was his life. With a lot of hard work, he grew the business to be a regional success. 

In 2005 Hamdi got a letter about an adjacent business for sale. It was in Ithaca New York and the last owner couldn’t make it work. Let me take a look, Hamdi thought and he called a friend to tag along. Are you crazy, his friend marveled when they arrived, this factory was owned by Kraft and they couldn’t make it work! What makes you think you can? 

Hamdi thought he could, this time with yogurt. Like with feta, he made a great product. Unlike feta, people cared. His first distribution deal was with ShopRite. After two weeks, his contact said, “I don’t know what you put in this yogurt and I don’t want to know – but I cannot keep it on the shelf.” This new, thicker yogurt was a hit. Within five years Hamdi’s yogurt company, Chobani, passed one billion dollars in sales and was the leading American yogurt company. 

Businesses service customers and fit in their lives. No one cares as much about your business as you do. Customers want to live their lives with their mustard, cheese, or their Chobani yogurt. Entrepreneurs live the mustard, cheese, and Chobani yogurt.

Hello Fresh Copy

We were HelloFresh customers. The food is good enough. The recipes are simple enough. The logistics are easy enough. Is the copywriting convincing enough?

(Received August, 2022)

The good. This card has two goals: get our attention and convey ease. The ‘$155 OFF’ attracts attention and interest. The ‘3 surprise gifts’ is good too. Gifts are better than discounts because they are a CAC Trojan Horse, seed additional purchases, and delight the customer. Businesses undervalue gift giving. 

The bad. ‘Packed schedule?’ & ‘We’ve got your back.’ & ‘…more time around the table with fam this fall!’ Terrible copy. There’s no story. 

Persuasion is about ease. One form of ease is the story we tell ourselves. I’m a busy mom/dad and about to be busier because school is back/holidays are coming/ summer camps and vacations and need help to make food that is cheap/quick/tasty/easy. Help me tell myself this story. It’s like mad libs.

One idea:

Erin, back to school? We’ve got your supplies. With Quick & Easy Meals ready in ~20 minutes or less, you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time eating your favorite foods with your favorite people. 


Erin, back to school, back to the office, back to the store for more folders, then candy, then gifts. With Quick & Easy Meals ready in ~20 minutes or less, you can spend more time at home with the family than at the store getting their groceries. 


Erin, what’s for dinner tonight? Something Quick, Easy, and Healthy for the whole family? Remember how easy it was to have everything delivered, prepared, and ready to go? Come back to Hello Fresh and save $155.

Surprisingly there’s no indication that we were customers. People are customers for a reason. HelloFresh must find the JTBD and use that language for good copywriting.

The interesting. That QR code. Tools work best in the right conditions. Restaurant menus could be great for QR codes. It’s interesting here. Getting the app must be a point of friction, this may solve that. 

Good copywriting begins with curiosity. Businesses must talk to customers, identify their priorities, create prototypes, get feedback, and work out the kinks. Then they can use the customer’s words to present a solution. 

It’s hard to crique copywriting without knowing the goal. Maybe this works. Maybe the ‘$155’ is the most important thing. Maybe – but maybe not. 

Remember Rule #27:You can’t sell anybody anything, they must discover they want it.

How we decide

Our first boil, 2019

Moving to Florida in 2018 has been mostly positive. Y’all and ma’am are great and I use them each day. The weather is wonderful. We also make a boil.

A low-country boil (minus the pesky crawfish) is a holiday and weekend staple. Boil water with seasoning; add potatoes, corn, onions, sausage, shrimp, enjoy. The ratio of work to taste is very low. It’s a good deal.

But making it the first time was hard. We had friends over and I didn’t want to be the person who gave everyone food poisoning or served potatoes that tasted like dirt. The whole meal went great, if not a touch spicy, and each subsequent preparation has been slightly easier even for serving a crowd.

There’s a lot of other options we could do as well. We made a lot of chili when we lived in Ohio. We could order out, make sausage stuffed potatoes, or any number of things. But we don’t. We make a boil.

A boil is familiar. It’s easy. The opportunity cost is opaque. Will <other meal> be better? We don’t know. Let’s make a boil.

A lot of decisions are like this. Opportunity costs are hard to quantify.

During the late teens one bit of regular startup advice was that a product had to be 10x better than the existing option. While JTBD offers a slightly different approach, the idea is a good one. People do switch from one thing to another all the time but it’s often because the decision to do so is easy.

Making a boil in Ohio: hard.

Making a boil in Florida: easy.

Organizations then can consider how to dial the friction up or down. To keep serving people, make it easy for them to stay. To serve new people, make it easy for them to switch.

Cowen’s Chow Choices

One local topic during COVID has been motor homes. Some fellow dog walkers want one, some don’t. The obstacle, as often the case, is cost.

A few friends have them and universally they mention the deal they got. It was either a family friend, a distressed seller or a trade-up-buy-out-sale. For us, the math doesn’t work. Thirty-thousand dollars is a lot of nights at a Hampton Inn.

“Buying good things can’t be the secret to success in investing. It has to be the price you pay. It’s not what you buy, it’s what you pay. There’s no asset so good it can’t become overpriced.” – Howard Marks

Great rewards come where value diverges from price. This is the moneyball insight. This is the JTBD insight. This is Tyler Cowen’s Dining Guide insight too.

Where are the wrong metrics being used?

Consider the name of a restaurant suggests Cowen. Would you eat at an Ethiopian restaurant called EYO Sports Bar? Cowen commented: “When I heard that name I thought, this place must be great. When Americans want to eat Ethiopian food what kind of name are they looking for? The Red Sea? Queen of Sheba? Fine. But when it’s EYO Sports bar you know it’s really for Ethiopians.”

In general, better food will be at places with bad names.

Also avoid places on the beaten path, full of beautiful people, and with famous chefs. These are all metrics some people use to choose a restaurant but that don’t necessarily contribute to the quality of the food. It might be good food, but won’t be a good deal.

Instead, use the economic Cowen espouses. Like the name Rus-Uz, a place that serves Russian and Uzbekistan food (and caters!) in Arlington Virginia. Ask, “‘What is the appeal to the masses?’ In relative terms it’s the Russians, so of course that means the Uzbek dishes are better.”

One way to think about metrics is to consider anything that has been quantified, counted, or numbered. It’s easy to count units but hard to count quality.

Part of the reason personal productivity has been an internet subject for so long is that it’s hard to measure. How does someone measure their work? Ask anyone who creates content online and they’ll tell you that it’s the oddest posts that get shared the most. The best productivity advice might just be: don’t give up.

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