Wednesday, November 4, 2009

#7 The Best and the Brightest

July 13th 2009

The Best and the Brightest

We are now nearing our 1 year anniversary, which falls on July 15th, and it is both exhilarating and strange looking back on the first year. Exhilarating in the fact that it’s been one of the most crazy, erratic, and depressing years in economic memory. Strange in the fact that we are doing business in completely different markets than what I had stated in my business plan. If someone told me last July that I would be working the markets that I am working now, I would not have believed them. In fact, I probably would’ve looked at the markets with a bit of snobbish disdain. Through my young and na├»ve eyes, I saw the world as such that I believed that I could only make money and have success by replicating, to a certain extent, my business based on the markets I knew and had always worked. The notion that other markets, less sexy markets, could bring me success did not occur to my pride-filled ego.
I now know better. I have learned that to have success in a market, previous experience in that market is not an essential item. It helps, it absolutely helps, but it is by no means the most important thing. My business partner told this story to a roomful of Directors whom he works with and it has really hit home for me over the past 6 months. In the UK 9 times out of 10 the best and the brightest end up at either Oxford or Cambridge. Over here they called it an “Oxbridge education”. One particular man ended up graduating from both Eton and Oxford, and his peers were all getting snapped up by the top law firms, investment banks, and hedge funds. Meanwhile, he decided to start a small business cleaning offices. All of his friends, and particularly his family were appalled. Why did he go to such prestigious schools if he did not want to carry on the tradition of white collar aristocratic success? His reasons were clear and simple: why go into an area of business where they already have the best and the brightest? He had spent most of his education with these ambitious, intelligent and incredibly successful people and he had no doubt they would continue in their successes in their chosen fields. Why would he want to compete with the best in an already saturated market? He didn’t. He chose to go into a market where he had no experience, where he couldn’t leverage many of his contacts, but also where his chance of becoming incredibly successful was very high. Now I am not saying that the office cleaning industry did not have bright and successful people in it, but I can safely say it was not full of the best and the brightest of each graduating class. While his friends worked steadily up the ladder, he grew his small business into one of the largest office cleaning companies in the UK. He is now worth near 100 million pounds, while most of his graduating class at Oxford will only dream of that net worth unless they inherit it.
So the lesson learned is quite simple. When I started the company my experience lay within one part of the industry. It was an area that is highly profitable, one of the largest sectors and where the competition pays high commissions and attracts some of the best consultants in the industry. So being a small start up, literally a minnow amongst giants, was the most attainable path to success competing in the same market? I had thought so at a time when I hadn’t even entertained the notion that I could do something different. Now I have learned that moving into different markets, less saturated, where my competition don’t pay the best commission and have not attracted the best and the brightest, is one of the best moves I have made. Rather than try and be the best amongst the best, I now want to be the best amongst the average. My chances of success are far greater, and having worked in what is considered one of the best companies, I know the standard of consultant it takes, the work ethic, and the ambition. It’s no less profitable of a market, just less high brow. And by bringing the best and the brightest to this new market, our chances of becoming a market name in a short amount of time suddenly becomes a reality rather than a dream.
While what I am doing now is nowhere near as cool sounding, and my new client’s offices are a far cry from the London boardrooms of past clients, I have come to understand that money, no matter which market you make it in, is all the same colour when it’s sitting in your bank account. And finding success that is not only relatively quick but sustainable is a far greater achievement that carving out 1% of an already saturated market. As I enter my second year in business, I get excited not as much by how far we have come, but more about the real possibilities that lie ahead. By making this move it means that this year we have a chance to start carving out some real market share, rather than fighting for the crumbs the big boys overlooked. It’s exciting, it’s scary, most of it is all new to me, I am completely out of my comfort zone, and I have never felt more alive.

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