Why a Purple Goldfish?

The littlest things can make the biggest difference.

In 2009, I had a moment of truth. This moment, surprisingly at Kimpton Hotels, changed the way I look at the customer experience. Kimpton really understood how big of a difference little things can make. At Kimpton, there is always free Starbucks in the lobby, fresh fruit, wine tastings, and if you’re there for a few days and getting kind of lonely, they give you a goldfish for your stay. It’s called Guppy Love and stood out as one of the most remarkable instances of exceeding expectations. It was then I realized, with customer expectations, you either exceed or fall short.

After my moment of truth, I started a crowdsourcing effort called the Purple Goldfish Project (we’ll get to the purple part in just a bit). I set out to find 1,001 examples of companies known to exceed customer expectations and find the little things they do to stand out in a sea of sameness. And that project turned into the foundation of all my books, keynotes, and workshops.

But why Purple?

To me, the color purple stands out. It combines the stability of blue with the energy of red. It’s not surprising it’s one of the main color of the extravagant party in New Orleans, Mardi Gras. Staying with the New Orleans thought, Cajun culture uses the word Lagniappe which means, “The additional gift or to give more.” You see where I’m going with this?

Together, these two thoughts inspired the purple fish. To me, purple represents the core of what it means to exceed what others expect. To stand out and offer consistent surprising value.

How Goldfish, and Your Business, Thrive

The average goldfish is only three to four inches long, rather small and unimpressive. But the world’s largest is nearly 20 inches long. That’s like walking outside and seeing a person standing three stories tall! This huge differentiation of growth isn’t luck either; it’s determined by five factors. These five factors of growth are the same factors your business faces. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look.


1. Size of the Bowl

The size of the bowl determines just how big the goldfish is able to grow. Whether in a larger pond, bowl, or tank, the goldfish only grows as large as its container allows. So in business, we can ask ourselves, “What is our pond? How big is our pond?” If you haven’t guessed it already, our pond is the market. And if you’re in a big market, you are far more likely to grow bigger than if you were in a small pond, er.. market.


2. Amount of Competition

More goldfish in the bowl or pond? That also determines the size of our little guppy friend. And in business, we can tie the number of goldfish to the number of competitors. The challenge of multiple fish and competitors forces us to grow in order to keep up with the competition.


3. Health of the Ecosystem

The quality of the water —it’s nutrients and clarity — will impact growth. In business, we can equate that outside environment equates to the economy. The things we need, think capital and consumer confidence, determine our success and growth. When the economy lacks clarity or when we’re facing times of austerity, our growth can become stagnant. Just like our little goldfish.


4. The First 120 Days

A baby fish is called a fry. It’s a tiny little guy, rather defenseless and vulnerable. In business, we experience this period as well; we feel like we could break at any moment, we feel unsure and volatile. The first few months, approximately 120 days of life, determines just how well the goldfish will development. Same goes for your business, startup, or new product; The better the start, the bigger it can get.


5. Differentiation

The genetic makeup of the goldfish does more than determine its hair color — just kidding, we all know goldfish have blonde hair — the DNA of the goldfish and how far removed it is from the other goldfish determines its growth potential as well. In business, our genetic makeup is very similar. It’s our differentiation. It’s how we stand out from our competition.

Unlike the fish, we do have control over at least one of these five things. Differentiation. In a sea of sameness, you can determine if you will stand out or go with the flow. It’s truly up to you. If you’d like to learn more about my purple goldfish and how you can set yourself apart, check out my books here. Or, if you have any questions, shoot me an email at