Monthly Archives: January 2014

How To Be Good At Being Wealthy

When I was in my early twenties, I spent a good percentage of my winter nights at the Crimson Grill in Harvard Square. There was only one thing special about that bar; the beer was OK, the food mediocre, the prices right in line with everything else in town. But they’d play all of my alma mater’s basketball games, and as I was living in a town where I hadn’t gone to college and didn’t know that many people, hanging out with other alumni became important to me.

So every few days between November and March, I would get to the bar about ten minutes before game time, score a seat, order a pitcher and some fried food, and watch sports with people who eventually became, if not friends, friendly acquaintances. I did this for two years, with nothing much interesting to report. We won some games, lost some games, drank some beer.

Then one day in early 2000 Kevin showed up. He was seven or eight years older than me, and I knew him both through college and high school – he had attended the same as I for both. He had founded a company called Student Advantage back in the mid-’90s, a kind of proto – dot com firm that made student ID cards that gave the holder a discount at various businesses. To know what businesses gave the discount, you would either see a sticker on the door or – wonder of wonders – you could check a website and see what was in your town. In these days of location-aware smartphones and instant discounts, that’s not that big a deal, but back in the ’90s, it was a revelation. I’d heard through the grapevine that he’d sold his company to another firm that year, and had done quite well.

When he walked up to us, he was dressed in business casual clothes, tall, slender, with a big smile and an engaging way about him. He met the usual crowd, didn’t drink any beer, ate a burger, cheered our team, and took off early when it became apparent that we were going to win the day.

After the game, the bar started to clear out – it was perhaps a Tuesday night – and our waitress didn’t come over with the bill as she usually did. My friend Ernest eventually walked up to her and asked for the check. She walked back over to our table with him.

“Guys,’ she said. “Don’t worry about it. Your skinny friend – the guy who was here – he paid for all your stuff.”

Such a small thing, but…we were all one or two years out of college, with intro jobs and grad school classes and loans that were only getting larger. Kevin was ahead of us in life and success and wealth, and…he put his money to work in a small, nice way.

Kevin died a couple of years ago, far too young. But I’ll always remember his lesson to me.

That, I think, is how to be a good rich dude. Writ large and writ small, know that others have less, and if you can help out, do.

How To Be A Customer

(This is a sister post to How to Be An Awesome Counter Agent)

The customer is always right…unless the customer is a jerk.

I went to the Apple Store the other day. On New Year’s Eve day, at a little before lunchtime. The place was a disaster – a freewheeling, crowded space full of red-shirted employees going hither and yon, confused tourists playing with iPads, frustrated PowerBook users trying to learn operating system tricks on the computers they just got for Christmas. It was as hectic and stressful as you’d think it would be.

And I was adding to the stress, because I had a problem. A month ago, my iPhone 5 stopped being a smartphone. It would connect to a 3G signal, then go roaming, then go 3G, then roam. All within a ten second period. It wouldn’t get any Web pages, apps didn’t work, voicemails would show up three days late…my iPhone was an iPod crossed with a 1996-era flip-phone. I spent a few days going back and forth to a Sprint store, where they finally directed me to Apple. As far as we could tell, an Apple software update had broken my phone.

I was not looking forward to this; Apple does many great things, but their attention to customer service isn’t in the same league as, say, Zappos or LL Bean. I was nervous as I walked up the stairs to the Genius Bar, where I was intercepted by a young, bearded dude in a red Apple shirt.

“Hey,” he said. “How can I help you?”

“I’ve got an iPhone problem,” I said. “It won’t connect to 3G…it’s this Sprint thing, you see, and…”

He cut me off, gently. “OK, do you have an appointment?”

“I do,” I said. “I’m…there.” I pointed out my name on the appointment list on his iPad mini.

“Great,” he said. “We’ll get someone to look at that for you – can you have a seat here?” He pointed me to a row of stools and benches in front of the bar. Every Apple person at the bar was working with a customer, and most of the waiting-stools were taken. I sat, and watched the people, and thought about what I was doing and what I wanted.

Know what you want.  What are you, as a customer, hoping to walk away from your transaction with? If you know that, you’ve taken the first step. If you’re just hoping to vent, there are many places on the Internet where you can do that without repercussion or making people feel terrible.

I kept that in mind as I waited. I wanted to leave with a phone that connected to the Internet like a smartphone is supposed to. I didn’t want to pay a bunch of money. Those were my mantras.

Be patient.

I waited for about thirty minutes. I’m not ordinarily a particularly patient person, but I was really focused on staying calm. And kudos to the Apple store staff – the bearded guy came back to me a few times to make sure that I knew that my turn was coming. I could definitely have started to pull the “I’ve been here for x minutes…is there a manager?” card. I didn’t, because it was obvious that the place was a little nuts and doing so wouldn’t actually help, which leads to

Think “how will this action help me get to what I want?”

When I got to the bar, a young woman named Angel was ready to help me out. She had a nose ring and a tired look. I explained my situation, and all the steps that I had already taken. She looked at me suspiciously.

“Weird – my boyfriend has Sprint and his phone has been fine…”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said. “I just know what happened to mine, and what people have been saying on the Sprint boards.” I stopped talking there – she was skeptical of what I had to say, but shouting or saying you don’t believe me? was only going to make her day worse

She did a few things to my phone, reset it, and looked at me.

“Well, your phone is out of warranty, so we’d be looking at a full replacement here.”

That’s code for you’re going to pay a bunch of money, 

I breathed deep, and smiled.


“I think that’s going to be tough for me to swallow, because it was an Apple software update that did it…”

She looked at me, looked at the phone, then plugged it back into the laptop she was using. I kept smiling – not a creepy toothy San-Diego-mayor smile, but a mouth closed I’m not going to freak out on you smile.

“Well, let’s try to reset the firmware…”

As the phone reset, we chatted a bit about how the day was going, how late she was getting off of work, and what are the kind of people who come to the Apple Store at 9 pm on New Year’s Eve. I thought about how much days like this must suck for the person behind the counter, but didn’t say it. After the reset…nothing.

“Let me check this SIM card,” she said. She brought out another phone, put my card in it, and fired it up – it worked fine.

“Huh,” she said, swapping the card back to my phone. “This is a weird…hang on. Let me go talk to my manager.”

I smiled. “No problem.”

Be friendly

I was pretty proud of myself – even though it looked like I was going to get hit with a phone-change fee, I kept my cool and had definitely not ruined Angel’s day.

“OK,” she said after a few minutes away. “We’re going to take care of this for you. When I put the SIM card back in your phone, the thing stopped recognizing SIMs altogether, so…we’re going to set you up with something new.”

I was shocked. So shocked it took me a few seconds to react properly.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you so much.

Say “thank you.”

Say that because the person is helping you, and that’s what you say to someone who helps.

Now, I have no idea if how I acted during these exchanges was why I ended up with a new refurbished phone. But it certainly didn’t hurt. I’d be willing to bet that if I’d blown up or been angry, Angel wouldn’t have tried the SIM card thing, and it wouldn’t have conked. Or if it had, I would have been charged. Or something. I don’t know.

I just know that by being a good customer, my day ended up a bit better. And hers, as well.