Anticipation and gumption seem to be the base recipe for a successful entrepreneur. The rest of it is anyone’s guess. While listening to Masters of Scale, a podcast hosted by Reid Hoffman who co-founded Linkedin, I learned this. Hoffman consistently emphasized, in so many words, that this is why Sara Blakley was so successful at starting her company, Spanx.
Blakely said she was constantly on the lookout for what would make her successful, what would land her a spot on Oprah. But it wasn’t a passive lookout, she was active in her anticipation, trying a number of careers and ideas, hoping something would click.
That’s why when she cut the feet out of her hose, she knew she was on to something big, rather than writing it off as some necessitous task.
Hoffman seemed to agree that this is the biggest reason why she succeeded and disrupted an entire industry.
Women (more so in the past; certainly 20 years ago) have always been an underserved market. Products marketed toward us are often more expensive and have less effective versions than male products. And if there isn’t a male equivalent, products are often never improved upon, as in the case of ladies’ shapewear.
The fact that women’s needs are constantly disregarded meant the market was not only massive, but eager to consume products tailored for them.
But while these opportunities are everywhere and seem obvious after the fact, they can be difficult to spot at first. Coming up with ideas for a start-up can be difficult because we can’t be thinking of the here and now, according to Paul Graham, the founder of YCombinator. He said to live in the future and build toward it.
No matter which way to slice it that’s not only going to be a gamble but probably get you laughed at.
Most of us are set in our modus operandi, we don’t want to change because doing what we’ve always done is simpler. Unfortunately, this means we can’t see past our own noses.
Think of all the people who didn’t invest in Airbnb just because they thought it was weird? (Listen to Joe Gebbia talk about this on Guy Raz’s How I Built This from NPR. Fantastic.)
The savvy entrepreneur sees a problem and says there must be a better way.
I’m still waiting for someone to say that about the media/journalism industry.
Of course, the field is evolving faster than it ever, and people are certainly innovating, but the problem of shrinking audiences and circulation remains. Creative problem-solvers in think-tanks and incubators have been trying their hand at this for the past decade, it seems, with mixed results. In some cases, a digital native makes it big and stays steady. In others, they explode with popularity only for brutal layoffs to happen later.
What are we doing wrong? Are people simply less interested in the news? Or are we failing at something basic? There must be a reason.
I don’t know how to identify the problem yet. Personally, I think we aren’t being disruptive enough.