I’m going to tell you a dirty little secret about this business that you probably aren’t going to read in a lot of the FBA blogs or books out there. This business isn’t for everybody. My goal isn’t to ruin anybody’s dream to become self-sufficient, go into business for himself or herself, or anything else. But, my goal is to tell you the truth and it’s a lie that this is for everybody.
I like a quotation from Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E:
My strategy has always been: Be wrong as fast as we can. Which basically means, we’re gonna screw up, let’s just admit that. Let’s not be afraid of that. But let’s do it as fast as we can so we can get to the answer. You can’t get to adulthood before you go through puberty. I won’t get it right the first time, but I will get it wrong really soon, really quickly.
This sums up a business phenomenon that gained popularity in Silicon Valley and has spread over the past decade, often dubbed Fail Fast. The idea can be applied in either the micro or the macro. One book on the topic (Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win by Ryan Babineaux, PhD., and John Krumboltz, PhD) tells the story of a pottery instructor who broke his class into two groups. Group A was told they’d be graded based on the quantity of pottery they produced. 50lbs for an A, 40lbs for a B, etc. Group B was told they’d be graded based on the quality of pottery they produced. In theory, if you could make a fantastic piece in week one, you could take the rest of the semester off and get an A. When it came time to do the grading, our pottery instructor found that the qualitatively best pieces were created by those in the quantity group. Over the course of making dozens of bowls or whatever, they experimented, learned new techniques, and became skilled at molding the clay. The Group B students focused very intently on a few pieces and did not show much improvement. The takeaway is that by failing quickly, we can learn what we need at the lowest cost possible and position ourselves to capitalize on opportunities.
In general, I think this is better at the micro level than the macro. A micro example would be entering Private Label and asking yourself what is the cheapest, fastest way that you can possibly fail with your products? Can you get a sample sent from your supplier and use that as a quick, inexpensive test? Do it. Generally speaking, you don’t want to play around with a single product for a full year trying to figure out if there is a market, whether your product can satisfy that market, etc. Get in, figure out of it works, and if not, find a better niche.
However, I’m going to focus on the macro. Bill Gates (and Paul Allen) is known as the man who founded Microsoft. The story is complicated and has spawned several Hollywood adaptations, but one theme is generally clear: some teenagers with a penchant for programming had a dream to put a personal computer in every home in America and through innumerable obstacles (and perhaps shady business practices) ultimately achieved their goal. However, this isn’t the whole story. Microsoft wasn’t their first company. Before Microsoft there was Traf-o-Data, a business designed to take data from traffic counters and convert it into usable reports for traffic engineers.
Most people who have found this blog probably hope that e-commerce (via Amazon, I’m assuming) is their Microsoft, but I want you to stop and to consider that it might be your Traf-o-Data. Western culture (especially America) values perseverance. “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Nonsense! Henry Ford gave up on two automobile companies before he got to Ford. Richard Branson, perhaps the quintessential entrepreneur of our generation has so many failures that he gave up on that it is hard to list them all, but let’s try: VirginDrinks — a potential competitor to Coke, VirginStudent — a sort of social networking site that predates Facebook and even Myspace, VirginBrides — perhaps a double entendre business focused on selling dresses, VirginVie — cosmetic company, VirginClothing, VirginCars, VirginWare, and there are several more! Branson has many skills and many successful businesses, but the successes only happened because he was willing to quit the losers and move to the winners.
On the flip side, we have the stories of perseverance that finally paid off. Whether we look at Edison and his 10,000 failed light bulbs; or Colonel Sanders sleeping in his car as a poor senior citizen, traveling the road to try to hawk his chicken recipe; or Steve Jobs being ousted as CEO from his own company; or any other perseverance story, we see people who had a vision and stuck with it through thick and thin.
There is a certain cadence or pattern to blog posts. You can tell your audience any number of hard truths early on, so long as by the end you’ve come full circle and can sign off with something uplifting. It’s easy to do. Untold number of movies, sermons, and blogs follow this formula and there is a reason: it works. It’s called a narrative arc and it usually ends with some sort of resolution or denoument. It is emotionally satisfying to be taken to the depths of your emotions, just as long as you get to come out on the other side better, stronger, more resilient.
But I’m not going to do that. At least not this week. I’ll be back next week with more on this subject, but I want to leave it in limbo for the time being. I want people to actually wrestle with this question. Is e-commerce actually right for them? Is this your Traf-o-Data or your Microsoft? Is there a way you might be able to figure that out? What might the signs be? No answers from me … at least not this week. I won’t tie this up in a neat little bow, just yet. I will say this: the chances that every single person who is reading this is meant to sell on Amazon are exceedingly unlikely. Conversely, the chances that everyone who is currently struggling should quit are exceedingly unlikely. Traf-o-Data or Microsoft?
I’ll see you next week.