What makes one business succeed, while others around it fail?
There is no one thing. But a simple question asked by famed investor, Chris Sacca, to then new founder, Alex Blumberg, in an early episode of the Startup podcast reveals a critical, yet often overlooked trait.
I want to invest in companies that have an unfair advantage. What’s your unfair advantage?
In Sacca’s mind, without that, it’s a nonstarter. For Blumberg, his answer was, well, him. Alex’s unfair advantage was the years of experience producing radio for some of the biggest shows on air. He knew how to grab attention, tell a story that was impossible to stop listening to and build a show around it. That made him a rare commodity with a rare skill-set in radio and an even rarer capability in the newly emerging landscape of podcasting.
That was certainly a huge differentiator and a giant asset in the company’s quest to succeed. But, that, alone, wasn’t the entirety of his unfair advantage. There was something else.
One of the shows he’d helped produce for years was public radio and cultural juggernaut, This American Life. He’d developed not only a longstanding professional relationship with the show’s founder, Ira Glass, but also a close friendship. That gave him the ability to do something nobody else could. He launched what would become Gimlet Media‘s first show, Startup, as a special segment on This American Life. This effectively let him borrow This American Life’s massive audience to give Startup endorsed exposure to a giant listenership out of the gate.
That one relationship catapulted Startup immediately to the top of the charts, opening with incredible numbers. Along with Alex and his team’s ability to produce a fantastic show and an iTunes podcast ranking algorithm that kept the show in a top spot giving it tremendous ongoing exposure to new listeners, the audience exploded. This then gave Gimlet the ability to leverage Startup’s audience to launch new shows under the company’s moniker.
Hello unfair advantage.
Question is, what about you?
When thinking about launching or growing a venture, building a private practice or breathing new life into an existing endeavor, we’re often asked to define how we can deliver a desired result in a way that is different than anyone else.
It’s an important question. But, Sacca’s call to identify your unfair advantage takes this a step further. It’s not just about what makes you different, or better. It is about what, if anything, makes you capable of delivering on a deeply desired experience, outcome or result in a way that nobody else can? On a level that yields an advantage so great that it just might feel unfair to others?
Is this mandatory for success on a scale that would make you happy? Maybe, maybe not. For exponential growth and mega-scale, it is likely a must. For more incremental growth, which can still generate a wonderful living and very real impact, it will help greatly, but may not rise to the level of a mandate. Either way, it’s something to think about as so many of us contemplate the year to come and what we’re building or looking to breathe new life into.
So, what is YOUR unfair advantage? If you don’t have one and your vision for growth includes mass-scale, what might you do to find or create one?
By the way, your unfair advantage might just be…you. Question is, if that is true, how do you build around it in a way that honors the potential limitations in your own personal bandwidth, while also creating something that does what you want it to do in the world?
Important questions to explore. Love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
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