What does Bidwell have to do with my business?


A few years ago, my family participated in the environmental living program at Sutter’s Fort. We all played historical figures from the time of the Bear Flag Revolt, when California declared independence from Mexico. My character was Elias Barnett, a guy listed as one of the land trekkers who came to California with the Bartleson-Bidwell Party in 1841.

We’ve all heard of the ’49 Gold Rush and some gruesome details of the Donna Party. But the first overland trip by European settlers in 1841 was something I didn’t know a thing about. When I first heard the name “Bidwell”, I figured he must be what they named a major street in Folsom after.

So I started reading about John Bidwell and his amazing life. He’s one of the lesser known California pioneers, I’ll admit. Yet, his influence was critical in the founding of the state of California.

So what does Bidwell have to do with business?

You might be thinking, “Great, Aaron. I’m glad you know your California history, but what does this have to do with me?” In reading about a pioneer that’s been dead for over a century, I learned some some valuable lessons I’d like to share with you.

Lessons I learned from the life of John Bidwell

Don’t let failures bring you down

John Bidwell in his youth.

In Bidwell’s autobiography Echos of the Past, he recalled his first attempt to get some land near the current state of Iowa, but lost it after squatters took it over. But rather than become bitter and give up, he set his eyes on a new goal: California. Within two years, he’d be leading the first European settlers to travel overland from the east all the way into California.


Think about the biggest disappointment that’s happened to you in 2016. Will you let your disappointments form roots of bitterness, or will they plant seeds that you can take learned lessons from?

Keep the destination in mind

The Bartleson-Bidwell party set out with a destination in mind: California. They ran into all sorts of obstacles and dangers but kept moving westward. No maps, no experience – only a destination in mind.

There were plenty of places they could have given up and settled down. But they didn’t. They wouldn’t stop until they reached their goal.


Do you have a clear destination in mind for your business this year?

Influence is about more than titles

While John Bartleson was the party’s “captain”, it was Bidwell who inspired, organized and lead the expedition to California. His youth of being only a little over 20-years-old didn’t keep him from trying something that hadn’t been done before.


Are you waiting around for a degree or title before you become a thought leader? There’s nothing keeping you from investing 45 minutes a day to start a weekly blog with content that influences people.

You can do a lot with dirt

Guess what was awaiting John Bidwell once he arrived in California? Dirt!

Yep, that was it. Dirt. But with some dirt, you can grow an empire, and that’s exactly what Bidwell and others like him did. One of the most fascinating parts of his biography, Echos of the Past, were the reports of how many crops he grew year by year. By the time he died, his orchard had over 100,000 planted trees.


What seeds are you planting today that will grow into the crops of tomorrow?

Next week, we’ll look at the successes and failures of a more popular California founder: John Sutter.

Three UX lessons learned from Video Game Turnarounds

Web Design

Everybody makes mistakes. Maybe you made a change on your website, such as a registration form process, and now people don’t like it.

Well, you can always just plug your ears and ignore the feedback, or you can…

Win by applying what you’ve learned from negative feedback

Speaking of negative feedback, I mentioned last week that the sequels to three classic Nintendo games introduced major changes that received mixed. To my recollection, the only major sequel that seemed to generate solid praise was Mega Man 2, which didn’t change much except remove the pointless point system and introduce some of the greatest video game music ever.

But we’re not talking about Mega Man, we’re talking about how score points by turning around a poor user experience.

Third Time’s the Charm

When the third installments of Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda and Castlevania came along, the games appeared to return to they’re respective roots. For example:

  • Mario could stomp on enemies again to swish them. No more pulling up radishes and onions.
  • The Legend of Zelda displayed a birds-eye view again with combat style similar to the first game. No more Death Mountains with everything alive trying to kill you.
  • The Belmonts engaged in a lot less talking to townies and a lot more skeleton-whipping action. The morning sun had finally vanquished the horrible night.

While it seems the game creators learned lessons by going back to the previous experience, they still incorporated some new innovations.

How Classic Video Games Gave the Best of Both Worlds

Break down major goals into baby steps

Super Mario Bros. 3 overworld

When Super Mario Bros. 3 came out, Mario went back to stomping on enemies, collecting coins, and eating Super Mushrooms as usual. But the game offered a new over world view where players could see the entire world with each level laid out in a roadmap. The goal for each world was to get to the castle, and the levels represented the steps to get to that goal.


Make the goal clear to the user, and use content to act as steps to help the user get to that goal. For example, if you sell a gift chocolate subscription program, instead of just dumping information on the user (a.k.a. Death Mountain) or just thrusting a call-to-action button into someone’s face, guide the user with baby steps to get to the goal:

  1. Start with the character: The user.
  2. Examine the problem: The user wants a gift for somebody
  3. Reveal the solution: Gift chocolate subscriptions make loved ones happy, and you don’t have to remember
  4. Verify the solution with evidence, such as:
    • Science: “Chocolate has anti-oxidants and nutrition!”
    • Testimonials: “Gift chocolate saved my marriage!”
    • Explanations: Break down complex words to aid the user.
    • Examples: “Subscribe once and forget it! We’ll remember to send chocolates on your anniversary.”
    • Process: Visually show how the chocolates are created and shipped.
  5. Engage the baby steps with a clear call to action: Buy now!

You’ve now got a formula for building landing pages. However, don’t assume you have to give every user the same experience.

Offer custom experiences to carry out the same goal

Trevor Belmont can take multiple paths to get to the same goal.

In Castlevania III, no longer did a Belmont need to invest in oak stakes. Instead it was back to classic whipping baddies until you got to Dracula. But the game introduced the ability to choose different paths to get to the same overarching goal: defeat Dracula. Depending on which path you chose, you could recruit other characters to join you in your quest, which gave you more powers.


Consider offering multiple customized paths to get people to the same goal. For example, if you’re a coach that specializes in helping children with learning issues, you might want one landing page to cover dyslexia and a much different page to cover hearing loss, but both leading to the same contact form to get in touch with you.

So far we’ve addressed ways of dealing with content structure and landing pages. But let’s not forget the importance of telling a good story for users to step into.

Engage in story

Most of the “stories” in classic video games were either vague or sometimes didn’t exist. Unless you had the original game manual, you might have no idea what was going on. Unfortunately, many websites suffer from this problem of dropping a user in with no story explaining why they’re there and what they’re supposed to do.

If you played Zelda I & II, you could skip the one-page, poorly translated story and getting straight to the action. However, the third installment, A Link to the Past, immersed in the story throughout the entire game. The story wasn’t something that got skipped but something introduced and reaffirmed throughout the gameplay.


Engage your audience in a story. I recommend following Donald Miller, Ray Edwards, and Jeff Goins for their ideas on how to craft a story instead of having just walls of endless words and bullet points.

Who wants to press the Restart button?

Hopefully these comeback ideas will help you with “restarting” the game on your website.