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Story of How a Start Up Venture Crashed and Burned

In martial arts classes when being tested, the student is expected to demonstrate not only excellence in technique, but also core fitness.

One example of a core fitness test is the “Saddle L-sit Rope Climb”:

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Imagine someone who hasn’t developed strong core attempting the climb. They wont get off the ground. If they do, they’ll probably end up with a hernia.

“Champions aren’t made in the ring, they are merely recognized there. What you cheat on in the early light of morning will show up in the ring under the bright lights.”

—Joe Frazier

Story of How Not to Run a Start Up

In college I jumped at the opportunity when I was offered a full-time Creative Director position at a start-up marketing agency.

The CEO, a smooth talking salesman with past experience at AT&T and Saatchi & Saatchi had grand plans of developing various advertising platforms. Everything from digital billboards to Eco-friendly bus stops.

He’d go out and get contracts. My team and I would deliver on the creative assets. Later I learned that the billboard and bus stops was an idea that didn’t get the towns approval so he moved onto ad catalogs (basically a catalog full of ads) and door hangers.

The CEO made a promise to the company clients saying if anything was off and it didn’t meet exact specs, they wouldn’t have to pay for it.

That’s a bold promise to make. But, that’s the easy part. Challenge is being able to deliver. From a business perspective, a smart decision would have been to focus either:

  • Designing in-house – which we were great at
  • Printing – which would require some serious hardware
  • Distribution – which would require a systemic method of delivery, a process similar to a mail house.

The staff started to realize that the CEO, although a smooth talker and client closer, had no idea what he was doing with the business. He insisted we do all three.

He purchased a printer. However, instead of buying the kind of printer they use in a press, he bought an office printer.

If paper and print quality would raise an eye brow, technical issues would be the deal killer. No one was trained on how to troubleshoot it and – waiting for the technician to come around didn’t help either.

To top it off, CEO’s idea of distribution was to have the support staff, all two of them, go around town and deliver the catalogs door to door. When clients started seeing the reality, they started pulling out. As you can imagine, payroll suffered.

While all this is happening we were also being instructed to produce TV commercials and trade show stuff. Mind you all our resources are already going toward the catalog production, printing, and distribution.

Soon staff started leaving, deadlines couldn’t be met, most clients left, and eviction followed.

Instead of focusing on our team’s strengths and building a competitive niche in a large market, we ventured into areas that we had no strengths in. Sustainability comes from building a strong core, a distinct strength that allows you to be competitive in a diverse industry or community.

I understand the importance of cutting costs and building multiple streams of revenue. In fact it’s crucial to the growth and sustainability of a business that you do that. However, not before developing and establishing a strong core. Whether looking at this from an individual or organizational perspective, whatever revenue streams you hope to establish has to stem from your core strength.

This is where strong brands come from.

Violate the principal of the core and you risk seriously injuring yourself, or at the very least burning out. Neither of which benefits you as an individual or society.

Being part of the Muslim community in the US, I feel most mosques are great offenders of this principle. Many have been around for over 20 years, yet the activities they’re involved in are desperately trying to hang on, progressively losing their grip.

Climbing without your core strength developed will lead to burn out, collapse, or injury.

“Inside a ring or out, ain’t noting wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

- Muhammad Ali

Focus on developing a core distinct strength. Once you’re sustainable through that, leverage it to venture out into new areas.

Starbucks Venturing into New Areas

A little while ago Starbucks acquired Teavana for $620 million in cash. Starbucks isn’t new to acquisitions. According to Huffington Post article, “Starbucks Buys Teavana Holdings For $620 Million

Last summer Starbucks bought small bakery chain La Boulange for $100 million. Last year it added fresh-juice maker Evolution to its stable for $30 million.

The Teavana deal also positions Starbucks for stronger sales in parts of the world where tea is more popular than coffee.

Starbucks has an exceptionally strong core in the area of real estate within the food and beverage industry. Acquiring such businesses only strengthens it’s core further.

Advice for Students and Recent College Graduates

Students can benefit from this principal greatly, especially those who are unsure about their career path. Advising someone to do what they love or have a passion for is, in my humble opinion, a load of crap.

Passions are fleeting.

If you’re in high school or college, focus on developing strengths. Start with areas of your natural talents or inclination. Layer it with knowledge, education, and skill building through deliberate practice and guidance from mentors and masters.

Do this for the next 10-15 years.

If you’re a college graduate, you’ve already spend the last four plus years gaining knowledge. However you may be lacking in technical skills. Your focus for the next 10 years should be on acquiring and mastering specific skill sets that you can leverage in a particular industry.

In the words of Muhammad Ali,

“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them — a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

If you want passion to come from the core strength that you’ve built – or are building, devote it to something bigger than yourself. This I believe is the distinction between a job and a career.

This way when you engage in your work, you’ll flow because you’re in the zone practicing what you know with mastery – or at least working toward it. You’ll have passion for what you do because of what you’re climbing toward.

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