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Larry David’s pretty pretty good guide to businessCurb Your Enthusiasm was one of the highlights of the last decade, as far as the TV is concerned. One single episode contains more belly laughs than a whole year’s worth of comedy programming on BBC3. 

And why? Because Larry David tells it like it is, regardless of the personal consequences that may arise as a result of his actions. 

We all have our Larry David moments and while we may not (typically) react in the same kind of sociopathic way, we feel his pain, and his sense of bewilderment at perceived injustice, slights, lousy service and the weird reactions to his amazing lack of tact. 

So let’s see if there are some lessons to learn from the wit and wisdom of Larry David…

“I was gonna give him the benefit of the doubt, but something told me no; that’s not for you.”

Translation: Only do business with people you want to do business with.

The customer isn’t always right, nor profitable for that matter. 

“I don’t like talking to people I know but strangers I have no problem with.”

Translation: Don’t hide your light under a bushel.

It’s time to set up those social media profiles. Start talking. Remember to listen first. Oh, and don’t fear your customers / audience!

“The whole cashew-raisin balance is askew!”

Translation: Manage expectations.

This is one of the most important things in business. If there are any surprises then you’d better make them pleasant surprises. All too often they’re not. Avoid mislabelling and false advertising and loose promises.

“You can’t get sweet potatoes anywhere. Have you noticed that?”

Translation: Scarcity generates demand and word of mouth.

Product scarcity is one thing, but you can apply scarcity to business and marketing more generally, such as via the creation of limited edition products, time-limited offers, exclusives, and so on. Luxury brands understand the concept of scarcity more than most.

“Oh my God, what a drink! It’s milk and coffee mixed together! You’ve gotta go there! Sit down, have a doughnut! Have a bagel!”

Transalation: Customers can be brilliant cheerleaders.

So ok, Larry was being somewhat sarcastic as far as that quote goes, but it helps me make the point about customer evangelism. Word of mouth drives higher profit margins, repeat business, and satisfaction. Echo chambers like Twitter have greatly increased the power of referrals (and sarcasm / complaints).

“I’ll have a vanilla… one of those vanilla bullshit things. You know, whatever you want, some vanilla bullshit latte cappa thing. Whatever you got.”

Translation: Keep it simple, stupid.

You can overcomplicate the decision-making / purchase process by introducing more options than are strictly necessary. Watch out for unexpected side effects if you do (like reducing overall customer satisfaction levels).

Did Starbucks really suffer because of the recession? Or was it because honest coffee drinkers became sick and tired of waiting for ‘baristas’ to make those ridiculous fruity ice drinks with names that take about 30 seconds to spit out, and too many minutes to make?

“We don’t have any plans, we just don’t wanna go to dinner with you.”

Translation: When you’re out, you’re out. 

I’m the kind of customer that remembers appalling levels service, shoddy products and rude staff. No kind of financial incentive would ever entice me back. I complain, I let people know, and I’m generally intolerable until I feel like I’ve let off enough steam. I can now do this on review sites and social networks. A bad smell can hang around for much longer these days.

Of course, this can work from the company’s perspective too! I think it’s a wise move to avoid bad customers, nutjobs and people who aren’t really worth the trouble. 

“Bald asshole? That’s a hate crime. We consider ourselves to be a group.”

Translation: The world is full of tribes.

And you know what they say: people behave differently in groups. What does this tell you? It tells you to appeal to groups and to identify influencers (and to try to avoid annoying the noisiest group members!). 

“I am not an ass man! I don’t have an ass fetish! I am not obsessed with asses.”

Translation: Be careful of (mis)labelling your customers. 

If I buy a George Jones record for my grandmother then it doesn’t necessarily mean that I like George Jones (as it happens, I do). Personalisation is not without its challenges. Recommendations need to be well-targeted, and – I think – they need to learn about customer preferences along the way. 

“It’s completely unprofessional. And I know because my whole career’s been based on being unprofessional.”

Translation: Stop pulling the wool.

You’ll get found out, sooner or later. Honesty and transparency are vital in today’s business world.

“That is obscene, you know that? [imitating the doctor] ‘Can’t disturb the doctor on the weekend! Don’t call the Dr. Zeppler on the weekend unless it’s life-threatening!’”

Translation: People want service when they want service.

We live in a 24/7 world. Service comes in many shapes and sizes, and the better you are at delivering a good level of service, regardless of the time, the better. It’s vital for both customer acquisition and retention.

“I’m applying the golden rule.”

Translation: Learn the golden rules of business.

Make up some of your own too. 

“An employee is told that the customer’s always right and, in fact, the customer is usually a moron and an asshole.”

Translation: Customers aren’t always right.

Don’t believe what they tell you at business school! That said, most aren’t morons or assholes…

“Can I tell you something about apricots? … 1 in 30 is a good one. It’s such a low percentage fruit.”

Translation: Standards are really important.

It’s trickier for the average apricot, but in terms of products and service, quality really matters. A consistent level of quality needs to be attained. Keep the bar as high as possible, at all times.

“Pretty good. Pret-ty pret-ty pret-ty good.”

Translation: All is well in the world!

[Screenshot by <<graham>> via Flickr, various rights reserved]

Chris Lake

Published 10 February, 2010 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (5)


Rich and Co.

We would add: - Rejection = Protection: If someone really doesn't want to work with you they are doing you a favor. - Do the Opposite: The contrarian principal works well in most areas, not just investing. Cheers

over 6 years ago


Alex Moss

C'mon, I'd expect the "Where do you put the toothpick" analogy to be implemented here - there is a place to put everything, but people expect you to know where to put it (or don't care). If no care is taken it could poke Ben Stiller in the eye.

That and one more analogy (more risque) - don't always think it's the man who has the small penis when it could be the woman who has the big vagina.

over 6 years ago


Liam Ahern, Online Marketing Specialist at I-COM

"Lincoln approval - I need Lincoln approval..!

Translation: Always get sign-off from the client before proceeding.

over 6 years ago


Massimo Burgio

Pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty good article! =)

over 6 years ago


Ken @ Ghillie Suit Clothing

Great post.  Sometimes business people need to hear the truth and not the same ole' business school stuff.  Pritteeeee good. LOL

about 6 years ago

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