Coming to My Own Conclusions
Today I spent time learning about a company. Generally, public perception of it is slightly negative. I’ve followed the company for some time, and after my research today I arrived at a different conclusion. I’m bullish on the company. I think it has a good future. I shared this opinion with a few friends, who all pointed to public sentiment. They suggested the crowd is likely right and it’s not a wise investment.
Today reminded me of my early days as a founder: I see something others don’t. When I explain what I see, others dismiss it or disagree. After I start my company and we have meaningful traction, others begin to believe what I’d always believed—that my startup could be something big.
The fact that others don’t see the potential in this company signals to me that it could be an opportunity for an outsize return. These types of opportunities don’t come along often. I’ll continue to research and will likely go with my (educated) instincts and pull the trigger on this investment.
I was getting an investor’s perspective, and he said something that resonated with me. He’s a big fan of taking risks and trying things. Planting seeds, he calls it. He never knows whether the seeds he plants will germinate or, if they do, what they’ll become. One may grow into something massive. He’s lived this way, and it’s worked out well.
I agree, to a point. It’s important to try new things. If you don’t, the chances of having an outsize outcome are minimal. As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.” On the other hand, I think trying to do many things at once isn’t ideal for most of us. You can spread yourself so thin that the thing that could be a winner doesn’t work because it isn’t getting enough attention.
My approach? Try new things in hopes that one will grow to be something big—and give each one the sun, soil, and space it needs to germinate and thrive.
Distribution Is Changing the Banking Landscape
I’ve shared a few of my views on Apple’s potential to be a consumer bank and how consumer lending is heating up. Yesterday I had the opportunity to chat with someone who’s worked at one of the largest US banks for over twenty years. Our conversation was social, but I couldn’t resist sharing my views and getting his take on where banking is headed. Our chat was enlightening. I learned a great deal about the inner workings of the bank, how the largest banks view Atlanta as a strategic city and are expanding rapidly, and how this has led to a hyper competitive Atlanta market for bankers, with salaries rapidly increasing.
One of the biggest takeaways was that what matters to consumers in a banking relationship is changing fast. Historically, large banks won because of their branch networks. The more branches, the better. Consumers knew that wherever they were, they could find a branch and get whatever help they needed. The branches were banking’s version of distribution. The branches were a core part of how the products and services the bank offered reached their customers. Establishing a network of brick-and-mortar branches was costly and time consuming, so the largest players had moats giving them defensible competitive advantages.
Now, consumers are rapidly shifting from in-person banking interactions to digital banking interactions. You don’t need to go to the bank to deposit a check or get a loan. You can do many tasks electronically via a mobile app or website. Because of this shift, consumers evaluate banks differently. Consumers care less about a network of branches because they don’t need to visit branches. They care more about digital tools. They want the best and easiest-to-use technology.
This banker was telling me that digital distribution is changing the banking world. The large banks that previously had the best distribution because of their branches are seeing their moats erode quickly. The companies that offer the best digital experiences are winning.
How companies get their solutions in customers’ hands matters a lot. Said another way, distribution matters a lot. The digitization of distribution will drastically change banking. Apple, Square, and other companies will compete for banking relationships like never before.
Ideas Are Never Too Early for Feedback
I had a conversation with a buddy about a real estate solution this past week. I recognized a problem and called him to get his perspective because he has years of experienced in the space. He agreed the problem is real and the solution seems viable. However, he questioned whether using resources to execute the solution would be the best use of those resources. Based on his experience, he thinks the same resources could be used to implement four smaller solutions in roughly the same time or less. Those four solutions could create value for more people than the larger single solution would.
I’m so glad I asked my buddy for his thoughts. My early thoughts weren’t developed and structured. Even with the rough starting point, though, his experience allowed him to see things I couldn’t. After hearing his perspective, I’m thinking about this solution differently.
This was a reminder for me that it’s never too early to begin talking with others about ideas. Those conversations can reveal gaps in my thinking and refine it.
Weekly Reflection: Week Seventy-Four
Today marks the end of my seventy-fourth week of working from home (mostly). Here are my takeaways from week seventy-four:
- Schedule – This week I went back to a few days with a heavy meeting schedule and a few days with a light schedule so I can focus. The heavy days were hard on my eyes because of Zoom, but they were productive.
- Demo day – I attended a virtual demo day today. It was nice to chat with multiple founders and hear about interesting problems.
- August – The month will be over in a few days. The year is flying by. Before we know it, we’ll be in the fourth quarter.
Week seventy-four was packed. Lots of meetings and other work and very productive.
A Father’s Diaries
I love to understand founders’ origin stories. It’s always interesting to hear what led someone to start a company. I recently chatted with a founder who found the diaries of her father after he passed away. As she read them, she discovered that he’d had an idea for a product. He’d thought through much of it and documented it in his diary. He never executed on the idea, though. His daughter decided she wanted to pick up where he left off. Today she’s building a company around her father’s idea.
This story stuck with me. Her father took the time to document his thoughts for much of his life. He did it for himself, but his diaries had a big impact on others too. Those journals gave his daughter a better understanding of him after he was no longer with her. They also served as entrepreneurial inspiration. They were a gift that keeps on giving: they helped the author, his daughter, and now his daughter’s customers.
This founder was passionate about what she’s working on, and now I see why. I look forward to following her progress as she’s a credit to her father!
The Rise of Second-Tier Cities
Over the past year I’ve spoken with many people who are taking advantage of remote work. They’ve left their home cities and are working from new locations for extended periods of time. Just this week, I spoke with a founder who’s working from New Mexico for the next few months. A few months ago, I spoke with a founder camped out in Mexico City.
Where people work from has begun to shift. Major metropolitan areas will continue to attract skilled workers, but I think we’ll start to see a rise in such workers moving to second-tier cities. If companies continue offering remote work as an option, employees will be untethered from offices in major metros and able to live in places more aligned with their personal priorities. Instead of seeing family for holidays, you can see them every weekend. Instead of visiting the lake during the summer, you can live on the lake year-round. Housing costs have increased rapidly and will likely continue to increase. If you can live someplace with a lower cost of living and earn the same or close to the same salary as you would in a major metro, that can materially improve your quality of life by relieving financial pressure.
We’re probably at the beginning of a major workforce shift. How we work and where we work have changed, and that will have ripple effects. Second-tier cities are in position to benefit tremendously from these changes. I’m excited to watch this play out and hope it has a positive and lasting impact on these communities.
Knowledge Gaps Can Slow Execution
My buddy Bob called me today and described a project he’s working on. He’s having a hard time acquiring a key piece of it—he’s been searching, but he keeps coming up short. As he talked, I thought of another friend, Sarah, who deals with these kinds of items all the time. I got a picture of the item and sent it over to Sarah. She immediately responded with a product Bob might like and a source where he could view other similar products.
Bob didn’t have knowledge or experience in this area. He expended a ton of effort over countless hours trying to fill that gap. This slowed his execution of his project. Sarah, on the other hand, has the relevant knowledge and experience. She was able to point Bob in the right direction with minimal effort, which will hopefully get his project back on track.
This simple story was a reminder: knowledge gaps can impede execution. If not knowing something is slowing me down, I should find someone who can fill my gap so I can keep executing. Kudos to my buddy for reaching out. I couldn’t fill his gap, but I’m glad I knew someone who could.
SMB Operating Systems
I had an interesting conversation today with a founder who’s taking the hassle out of tasks most of us hate doing. His business is experiencing tremendous growth this year. As we talked about it, I realized he’s built a great workflow management business. He’s solving for a consumer pain point and helping the small businesses that do certain tasks for consumers run their businesses more efficiently.
After connecting small businesses with consumers, the founder realized that the business owners needed help executing the work efficiently. They’re routinely sent too few or too many jobs. Or the jobs would arrive late. As he listened to his clients’ challenges, his company built feature after feature until one day the small businesses ran everything through his company’s system. These businesses are now able to do almost double the number of jobs in a day because this system helps them execute more efficiently. The software is helping them grow their businesses.
I’m a big fan of workflow management businesses, especially those that empower small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). I think we’ll continue to see more tools that empower SMBs to grow their businesses. I can’t wait to watch the journey of this founder and his company. I think they’re on to something huge!
Think about the Brand You Want to Build
I went to the store to buy an appliance today. I’m not knowledgeable about appliances, and I wanted to make the purchase and get on with my day. There were a ton of options. I narrowed it down to two or three based on price and features. In the end, I picked one based on the brand name. It was a reputable brand that’s known for making quality products. I got it home and tried it out, and it worked great. I’m a happy customer and will likely buy another appliance from that brand when the need arises.
Brand is important to a company. It’s what it’s known for and how people perceive it. Establishing a brand takes time, so early start-ups usually don’t have much of one. However, founders should be thinking about their brand from day one. How do they want to be perceived by their customers? What do they want to be known for? They should try to align their actions and strategies around the brand they want to build.
I’m not a marketing-minded person. I didn’t spend much time thinking about brand in the early days of CCAW. When I did, though, I knew we wanted to be known for quality products and exceptional service. At the time, we were selling some entry-level products of inconsistent quality that were difficult to warranty through manufacturers. These products weren’t aligned with our desired brand, so we stopped selling them. Our customer service satisfaction went up and our warranty claims went down, both of which did align with our brand.
If you’re an early founder, start thinking about the brand you want early on and reinforce it through your decision-making. You’ll be much more likely to build a company and brand that others respect and admire.