Don’t Underestimate a Head Start

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Just like participating in any race, getting a head start can be a crucial advantage in business as well.

Maybe that means waking up earlier like Leo Babauta.

Maybe that means voraciously consuming books and blogs like Stuart Foster.

It usually means being innovative, leading the conversation, creating the culture.

What makes a company defensible is that it has scaled to the point where it’s achieved critical mass and has become synonymous with a market (online video: YouTube), sector (rental DVDs: Netflix), or task (search: Google).” – Guy Kawasaki

Here’s what I know.

I know that if you start learning everything you can about the snow cone business nine months before I do it will be tough for me to catch up. Especially provided you’ve learned how to make great snow cones, what flavors are most popular, the best locations, the most useful connections, etc.

If you get content and/or lazy and I learn about new techniques or a hot new marketing trend I might gain momentum and I might swipe a city block or two. But depending on how far ahead you are, I have to ask myself is it worth trying to climb that hill or am I better off with a hot dog stand down the street? Not to mention I’d have to shift my focus to enter your market.

Sydney Owen separated herself from her classmates by learning about all these social tools and playing in the social media sandbox. But what now? I know she’s working on what’s next. Are you?

What are you doing to get ahead? To stay ahead?

*Photo Credit: Scott Ableman

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  • Ryan’s right-on, here. Knowledge and experience will ultimately generate great results. Never stop learning, creating and taking chances and as a result, you’ll always run a step ahead. It can be tough as things shift almost daily in our ever-changing world, but hang in there. You’ll be glad you did!

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Gail – You’re absolutely right though I fear you leave it open for interpretation in that you can get ahead in anything you approach. The reality is we have to pick and choose. While it’s great to have a broad knowledge of this space, to really be successful (success defined as profitability) you have to have a laser focus with respect to something others can’t duplicate, do better, or make more scalable than you.

    [Reply]

  • Cherry is clearly the best snow cone flavor. Moving on…

    On a business level, I agree, staying ahead is important, but its even more important that once you are ahead, you actively put yourself in a position to STAY ahead. If you look at a company like Ford, it was THE original automobile company and now…well…you know. Sure that example is a little extreme since was over the span of 100 years, but it still proves the point.

    When companies get lazy and bask in their own glory, that’s when they open the door for other companies to take market share. Especially in recession periods like now, if the leader backs off a little by cutting costs or scaling back, that gives everyone else a perfect opportunity to cut into you market share.

    So, to summarize, cherry snow cones rock and KEEPING your head start that you worked so hard to get is important.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Jackie – Cherry? Seriously? Could you be more boring?

    You bring up 2 points of emphasis I want to address. One, staying ahead is imperative and it’s the reason a head start is so important. Once you have the head start it’s tougher for others to come catch you, but in reality the best (and the bigger with more resources) certainly can. The second complacency sets in, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

    Second, I LOVE you mention the recession. I think everyone that scaled back made mistakes. I think during a recession is the perfect time to re-evaluate and be more strategic, but to really make some plays b/c when we come out the other side the companies that did will be SO FAR ahead.

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  • Disagree Jackie. Blue is the best flavor.

    Keep evolving, keep learning, keep hustling. I act like I can’t afford to feed myself half the time because it provides me with a vital edge/desperation to learn as much as possible. (Obviously I don’t use the desperate card in client meetings)

    However, you need to be on top of your game and understand that game will change the rules on a consistent basis. It can give you a headache…but usually it’s well worth the effort.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Stuart – Blue is not a flavor, it’s a color. If blue was coconut it would suck. Thanks you, come again.

    Great points. The game is always changing and evolving, especially in this world we live in. The best, the innovators, etc. Not only do they keep up with change, not only do they react to change, not only do they anticipate page, but the CREATE change.

    And I too live very frugally. One thing I’ve learned from my stoic readings are that if you live in bad conditions, you’ll realize it’s not that bad and everything else becomes gravy. For the first week I was in Charlotte, I lived on an air mattress with ZERO furniture. And you know what? It didn’t suck. It was kinda fun, even. Would I want to do it everyday? Probably not, but if that’s the worse that happens to me – that’s nothing my man.

    [Reply]

  • I think we established earlier today that a mix of blue and red snow-cone flavors (aka ‘Purpleberry’) is the most delicious. End of discussion.

    Every day is about hustling and being one step ahead. How many times have you sat up at night, half asleep, saying ‘I can and should go to bed, but I can put the final nail in this blog post’. Those who get it done, those who don’t say, ‘I’ll finish tomorrow’ are the innovators and leaders of their niche. I wake up at 5am to crank out a solid hour or two of good writing and research – a small thing I do to stay ahead and get my brain working in the right direction, first thing.

    And please, no more argument on snow cone flavors. Purpleberry is best. Bottom line.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Matt – I commend your efforts and they certainly shine through. Let’s face facts. There are some people in this world who aren’t brilliant, who don’t know anything the rest of us don’t, but who worked HARDER and SACRIFICED more and as a result they’re uber successful. My great grandfather used to say, you can do anything you set your mind to provided you’re willing to sacrifice everything else. Most of us aren’t willing to make that kind of commitment. For example, I wasn’t going to not have friends and make C’s in college to take batting practice/ground balls 4 more hours each day. But if I had would I be in the big show? Eh, maybe.

    While it’s incredibly unrealistic for most of us, it’s worth acknowledging, as the NBA says, “Anything is Possible.”

    [Reply]

  • Great insight here Ryan. The interesting thing, is that it’s almost never too late to get ahead. After all, you can always innovate, you can always go a different way.

    There’s always people trying to preserve the status quo, and that’s why, if you dedicate the time required, getting ahead it’s easy.

    Think about every spam or flier you receive, every “expert” that follows you on twitter to sell you something, every company that doesn’t get social media…it’s never too late to get ahead. It’s just a matter of wanting to, of effort.

    I think this may have sparked something! 😉

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Carlos – I agree that it’s easy to get ahead of individual people, particularly those intent on preserving the status quo, but in terms of businesses I think (depending on your sector) that’s really hard.

    And is your company going to sacrifice a core competency of your own to shift gears and resources to try and catch another company that already has a head start? Doubtful.

    You have to keep innovating (it’s why Apple’s been a success, right?) but a lot of things have to happen to generate a enough momentum to catapult a new company to profitability, much less catching the leaders.

    [Reply]

  • I concur with Matt on the Purpleberry, though I’m not sure I’ve ever called it that. However, I will say solid blue is a safe back-up in case an opportunity for mixing does not manifest. I’ve spent a lot of time getting a head start on the snow cone market and done some extensive personal research.

    I feel a little sheepish as this was once again one of the “older” posts in my reader and thus one of the last ones to get to reply to. I had 7 left in my Reader at 11:45 last night and I just couldn’t cut it. Now my shame is that much more reading thru the post. So while I’d like to say I agree, I think I’ll definitely have to admit that a “head start” tends to fall under “best laid plans” for me sometimes. Can you have a Mid-Year’s Resolution, similar to a New Year’s one but with much a shorter completion horizon? 🙂

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Elisa – You can have whatever you want to allow yourself. I’m just thankful you find the time to stop by my humble community and contribute at all. I really appreciate your insights and the depth you so often bring to the conversations we’re all sharing here.

    [Reply]

  • Sam

    Sorry kids, my vote’s for red. Oh, and Ryan, this is a great post! I think a good word for what you’re talking about here is passion. If we’re passionate about something, if we really want it, we have to be willing to do whatever it takes. There can be no waiting around or second guessing, because it doesn’t take long for someone else to take advantage of the same opportunity.

    In a space like the blogosphere, where there are so many amazing people, it’s about setting yourself apart and bringing something new and different. I would say the same is true for the booming snow cone industry. Come up with a plan and commit to it, make yourself unique, and sell yourself. Maybe Purpleberry is the next big thing in snow cones?

    One unrelated comment: love the picture! I spent a summer and a semester in DC, and my favorite part of the Nats games was the “presidential race” (unfortunately, the games weren’t too exciting). Plus, they’re so awkward with their disproportionate heads 🙂

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Sam – I definitely think passion is a key component to getting ahead. Without it, I suspect it’s tough to find the incentive to endure what’s necessary to keep pushing forward. And I love that you bring up “waiting around” and “second guessing” because you’re right, there’s no time for either. If you fail, fail fast, adjust accordingly, but waiting, apathy, etc. will get you beat — everytime.

    I won’t even comment on the worst team in baseball, though I’ve been once and I enjoyed the stadium experience until I realized I was watching the Nats. Sad the “Presidential Race” is more enticing than watching Acta’s club determine to stay in the cellar.

    [Reply]

    Elisa Reply:

    Haha, after our series this past week (BoSox of course!) I have to concur with a local sportsradio guy…those games just shouldn’t count. It’s like a Futures at Fenway series…makes me very worried about Smoltz though. Losing your starting game with the clubhouse against the Nationals is not the best way to endear yourself to OUR nation. 🙂

    [Reply]

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