On the value of being specific, or, as it is more popularly known, the specialization of skillsets.
My personal tendencies- perhaps because I’m from an art background which relishes the elaborate, interconnected, and unclear, and cringes at the obvious- well, my personal tendencies are always to lean away from the specific, and avoid stating the obvious.
Despite the fact that specificity is important, valuable, the key to success, as it taken me many long years to accept.
Think about successful businesses: most start by doing one thing well, and then trading on that success to enter other, related markets. Trying to do more than one thing well makes a story too complicated.
For instance, major businesses started in the age of the internet, and their initial specialization:
- Google: searching the internet
- Amazon: selling books over the internet
- Starbucks: selling decent coffee in a fast-food model
- Paypal: Transferring money over the internet.
Specialization is not that sexy and it’s a little boring, but it’s profitable and attracts viewers and users. People want to know what they are going to get (which is why, when traveling down 95, you look for the Starbucks sign before pulling off the highway.)
Now, in my experience, specificity has been the key to business growth. The minute I stopped running Brook There like an art project, focused on manufacturing and building inventory for the key styles of organic cotton undies and wireless bras – the business took off.
It’s simple, it’s stupid, but it took me years to accept:
How to Run a Business
- Make something good that people like
- Focus on that thing and optimize it
- Make it in sufficient variations but not too many variations (i.e. sizes and colors for clothing….lattes and cappuccinos for coffee)
- Have sufficient inventory at all times
- Let people know about it
There’s a quote by Reid Hoffman in Tools of Titans (Ferriss) that goes like: “Part of the reason you work on software and bits is that atoms are actually very difficult.” Atoms are difficult in science and technology, and atoms are expensive in other industries.
Like most in the fashion industry, we’ve followed news of the dramatic rise and subsequent fall to bankruptcy of Nasty Gal- a youth clothing retailer and manufacturer who just a few short years ago was the darling of the tech and clothing businesses. But clothing manufacturing (atoms) is not software.
Growing a business that sells atoms is incredibly cash-intensive. It’s no wonder that most of the economic growth of the past few decades has been from selling the much more ephemeral bit or byte.
No marginal cost, baby!