Some of the entrepreneurs of our time haven’t been the inventors we believe them to be. It’s not a criticism, entrepreneurship goes far beyond inventing and ideas. In fact some of our most revered entrepreneurs are simply good at cross fertilization.
Let’s take Steve Jobs for example. He didn’t invent the GUI (Graphical User Interface), the mouse, icons, paint, folders or any of the ‘user friendly’ things that Apple became famous for.
He ‘borrowed ideas’. By looking at related categories Jobs was able to adopt new thinking and bring it to his market in a way that made sense. He was a great normative thinker. The best example of Jobs in action was when he was invited into the Xerox PARC office for a study tour to ‘share knowledge’. In essence, they gave Jobs the key to their kingdom. This is where Jobs vision of the future of the personal computer grew from.
The first GUI was on a Xerox office workstation called the Alto. Closely followed by the Xerox Star in 1977 – see picture below.
The trip to Xerox by Apple computer’s Steve Jobs in 1979 led to the graphical user interface and mouse being integrated into the Apple’s Lisa and, later, the first Macintosh.
Jobs borrowed ideas, ideas born in a photocopier company.
Ebay took the excitement and quick sale of the auction process from real estate.
Craigslist made an electronic web based newspaper classified.
So the question begs to all entrepreneurs, what new technologies, ideas or systems can we borrow from adjacent industries?
I bought this reasonably cool pair of board shorts for surfing this summer.
They cost me a whopping $80. Which is what I call ‘insult pricing’. It’s a pretty simple equation actually. The key players in the surfwear industry (Billabong, Quiksilver and Ripcurl) charge these prices because they can. They don’t have any ‘credible competitors’ in this board short subsegment of clothing.
In recent years surf brands have been hit by many competitors in other areas of the market which they used to ‘own’. Especially in t-shirts, from the myriad of streetwear companies, to the uber cool on-line players like Neighborhoodies and Threadless. Interestingly the shorts in this photo would cost >$5 to make. There is significant margin in the product. Such high margins often begets competitive entry into the market place.
The arrogance of said surf brands has invented an opportunity for a nimble entrepreneur to steal part of this market. And the way to do it is exactly the way Threadless have. Go online and build a community to design the uber cool boardshorts / shorts and sell them globally at a fair price. In fact, surf wear is so clichéd and over branded these days that I avoid wearing it. Most of the designs are very rank and have really lost their edge. I only use surf brands for surf equipment. The only reason I bought the pair in the photo is ‘lack of options’.
If anyone knows some one already doing it – let me know
If anyone wants to do it – let me know as well. I think it’s worth ‘investing in’.
Competition is eternally existential. We compete for love, money, attention, fame, wealth, recognition, and sometimes, we even compete for food. Turns out humans aren’t the only species who must to compete to survive. All living things must do it. Even trees in a deep forest compete for sunlight by growing as quickly as possible forgoing width for height.
What I find most interesting about competition is how we or any being chooses to do it. When a competitor catches us unaware, they usually achieve this through using some form of subterfuge. Like growing in a smaller segment of the market. Focusing on a neglected geography. And the really smart competitors disguise what they are doing so you don’t even see them coming. A little like Google has done to Microsoft who was overly focused on the ‘desktop’, while the world was moving to web app’s and gathering and storing of information externally.
I noticed this phenomenon first hand recently. My business was moving along swimmingly (which in this case is my tomato plantation). As you can see from the photo below. My Roma’s looked healthy and almost ready for the picking:
But upon closer inspection a competitor had been eating away at my market for quite a long time without me noticing. Once I turned around the tomato to inspect the back side of them – I was devastated to find my competition. They caught me napping and had a very big impact on my market share. As can be seen here:
How did they manage this?
- The caterpillar was smart enough to attack on the reverse side out of view.
- His color is exactly the same as the tomato proving an excellent camouflage.
- He waited till the market was already developed (by me) and the tomatoes had a reasonable size and were worth attacking – in this case risking his life over!
- In true terrorist fashion he penetrated the market at one entry point and ate it inside out. That is, the caterpillar was so deep inside the market, he was completely out of view.
None of this was by mistake. It has been driven by millennia of evolutionary survival and subsequent genetic coding. Nature is smart.
The implications for startups are many. When we start out to compete, the best thing we can do is replicate what nature does. Stay out of harms way. Stay small and unseen. Try and gain some momentum and size. If we’re lucky will have built our share of the market and be ensconced before anyone notices.
(FYI – I picked the tomatoes, and placed them in another location of the garden to let the caterpillars fight another day – they may just leave some seeds which will flourish next season!)
Got an idea for an iphone app you can’t find?
So write the brief for the app you want and can’t find, contact the developers and get it made. Get your itunes account up, choose a cheap ‘low barrier’ price, like a ‘dollar’ or so and sell that puppy. Remember it’s better to sell a $1 iphone app a lot of times than a a $5 or $10 one no times at all.
This micro-entrepreneurs opportunity is as simple as they come. Global distribution with an engaged audience – rare indeed. A classic ‘trend hijack’.
Go now – make it, sell it.
People are very time poor, or maybe just a little impatient. Regardless of which it is we have to be able to tell our story quickly.
Vanguard Investments do it in 2 seconds. Click here to see how they do it. (Watch the animation)
Even this chart below tells the story on long term ‘index’ investing. Of which Vanguard are the founding forefathers.
The recent downturn is a best a ‘blip’.
How long does your startup story take to tell? Here’s a tip – we’ve got a few seconds at most.
If you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve never been ‘people watching’, then start up blog strongly recommends a session. For a lot of reasons it’s a cool thing all entrepreneurs should do. For one, all our revered entrepreneurs are champion trend spotters. And they spot these trends a long time before they are reported in the Sunday newspaper lift outs.
Go some where busy, go somewhere where there are zillions of transactions, go somewhere sans commerce, go where families hang out, go somewhere singles hangout, look for the subgroups, watch people looking at shelves in stores – guess their decision process, see if this process is the same for all or different for all, see what they wear, see how they move, how did they get there, where are they from, bring a notepad with you and write down ideas, go places you’ve never been before…. Watch people, guess their motivations, view their life in action and then we’ll be the ones gaining life experience…. Just go and watch.
The funny thing about our world is that we are all in it every day, but very few of us are actually paying any attention to it. Step off the stage and become the director. Make it a habit to pay attention to what is going on in our world.
As entrepreneurs and marketers we are lucky. We can do our homework everywhere we go, and our start ups are the key beneficiaries.
One of our jobs in business is this:
“Make it as easy as possible for people to give us their money”
It’s already hard enough to convince people to buy our product or service, so why some businesses minimize payment options is beyond me.
photo by Mike Monteiro
Cash only, just doesn’t cut it these days. Regardless if we are on line, business to business or in retail, minimizing the payment options has this simple repercussion: It minimizes revenue.
Live example is a café in Melbourne called ‘Journal’. I had a company breakfast there and they wouldn’t accept my credit card. They even had the audacity to say ‘Who doesn’t carry cash on them?’ Answer: plenty of people. That’s fine. I’m never going there again and they missed out on around $100 this week.
Startups ought make it easy to collect revenue.
Steve – founder rentoid.com
I was recently enthralled by the in store theatre of local Melbourne sports shoe retailer Active Feet. In fact it was much more than theatre. It was service, theatre and attitude. The store is owned and run by podiatrists.
We walked in the store and the first thing the store assistant did was introduce himself, and ask if we’d been in the store before. When we gave the ‘yes’ response and name, he asked to be excused for a few moments and went out the back to check the computer. Upon his return the assistant asked how the flat feet were going, how the particular joggers purchased worked out, and even how boot camp was going. It wasn’t contrived, but I could sense in the tone of voice and body language that this guy cared. I could sense it. All humans can, we can sense people who are faking it.
After this we moved onto the walking machine to assess the feet with some pretty impressive podiatry tools. He then went onto recommend some shoes to try based on the treadmill assessment and a mutual discussion. All of which can be seen in some action shots below.
How many companies have things like databases and valuable customer information that just sits on a computer somewhere and never gets reviewed, let alone used to great value for a returning customer.
Startup lesson: If we are going to collect information for our customers, then maybe we should use it, and not only use it but customize it.
Oh, we bought the shoes there.
Steve – founder rentoid.com
Maybe you’re a great web designer
Maybe you’re a great coder
Maybe you’re a financial wizard
Maybe you’ve got a flair for industrial design
Maybe you’re a craftsman with unique skills
Maybe you’re great at managing and building a supply chain.
Maybe selling isn’t something you enjoy, like or even care about. Maybe making presentations is the part of business that really isn’t your thing.
Problem is this: There’s plenty of great ideas, businesses and people who never reached their full potential because the selling bit was missing.
Step forward the ‘Sandwich man’
Startup blog definition: Sandwich Man – a gun presenter and public communicator who presents the ideas and sells the dream on behalf of the business.
A sandwich man is called such, because he holds together all the good things like the bread does on a yummy sandwich. Without him all the ingredients, nutrition, ‘reason for being’ could all fall away.
A good sandwich man would start and close any business presentation to people like venture capitalists, suppliers, key accounts, customers and the media.
Quite often successful businesses are run by a team where one of the members is the tech genius and the other is the Sandwich Man. Who then communicates the ideas and vision to get people on board. Rarely people are lucky enough to have both skill sets. Regardless of which skill set we have, we always need a sandwich man. We can even bring one into the team on a needs basis.
But without one, we may end up with a great product or business which never gets the traction it deserves.