My Entrepreneurial Journey Part 4: Human vs Algorithm
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My Entrepreneurial Journey Part 4: Human vs Algorithm

Longing for the days when products were sold person to person, not via hashtags, rankings, keywords, and search engine optimized.

I am four months into owning Bella Virtu Organics. Having acquired this almost-start-up organic skincare brand, I’ve been working on new branding, new products, and expanded distribution. This latest update is about my recent battles with technology. It all seemed to start when Microsoft Office crashed on my laptop, and all the error messages and instructions were in French. True story.

Since then it hasn’t been as much about glitches or crashes, but just the pain of trying to do what I need to do using instructions that to me are completely non-intuitive. Perhaps it is because I am nudging 50, and admittedly have some “I’m too old to be dealing with this” attitude problems to conquer, but there really are some incredibly unhelpful “help” answers out there. Some examples:

  • I searched “how to enable shopping on Instagram”. The instructions started with “Go to your profile and tap.” Tap what? Tap dance?
  • A text exchange with my Amazon agent in Missouri (see article #2 in this series):
    Him: “Your images are too big, they need to be a minimum of 970×300.”
    Me: “If they are too big – don’t you mean a maximum of 970×300?”
    Him: “No it needs to be minimum. And what that basically means is make your graphic exactly or close to those dimensions.”
    Me: “OK. So minimum AND maximum.”
    Him: “Yeah Haha.”
    Note to self: Minimum means exactly.
  • Instructions on how to point your domain to Shopify:
    1. Add the domain to Shopify
    2. Connect it to Shopify
    3. Verify your connection in Shopify
    Seriously?

I am still too traumatized to even write about my experiences with Facebook.

Beyond these trying but relatively innocuous challenges, I am finding myself faced with some more philosophical dilemmas as I explore algorithm-based tools to drive business. As an Amazon seller, there are services that enable you to pay people to buy your product. Yes, you pay them the price of the product of course, plus a fee for the privilege of having them buy your product. The purpose of this clearly unprofitable exercise is to raise your product up in the Amazon rankings which are based on rate of sales. And when it comes to product copy, the goal is to hit all the most important Amazon keywords so that the listing ranks highly when people search for “organic moisturizer” or whatever they’re interested in. While I understand this rationally, my instinct is to want to express the product and brand in a way a human will respond to, not a search engine. Today that seems naïve at best, and foolhardy at worst.

All this has made me reflect on what I am trying to achieve here, and what is important to me. What I really want to do with Bella Virtu Organics is create great products that people love, that are clean and organic and so allow people to feel good about using them. I want the brand to be about celebrating inner beauty and allowing that to be reflected on the outside through healthy skin. I am happy to spend money to have that message reach the people with whom it resonates, but I’m not in this to be beholden to an algorithm. I find myself resenting and resisting that I am forced to play the game of hashtags, rankings, keywords, and search engine optimized copy.

Sometimes I long for the simpler days of print ads, TV spots, and on-shelf displays, but then I remember that platforms such as Amazon, Facebook, and Instagram are the reason that small businesses like mine can even get off the ground. Anyone with a few hundred dollars can reach an audience on Facebook and be in business, and that is an amazing thing. I wish there were some more wholesome media options than the ones that are dominating today’s landscape, but until there are, I will leverage them with integrity (and a lot of help from experts) to bring my vision of beauty to customers.

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