Start a Boring Business—Not an Innovative One. (Also Filed Under: Business Advice I Never Thought I’d Give.)
July 9, 2020
I once met a guy whose job is to gut dead poodles and freeze dry their corpses—and I didn’t even get this luminary's phone number.
I know, the recklessness in it all!
If I may offer some advice, anytime you meet someone with a business card that says, “We won’t turn your poodle into a puddle,” you follow up. At the very least, you’ll (finally) have a tip to submit to Unsolved Mysteries one day.
Anyway, our poodle pal here was RICH. That wasn’t his name, it was his economic status. He was rolling in it, this canine slayer. Maybe because all of his clients were from Dallas, Texas, which is absolutely something I just made up. But mummifying a Toy Poodle seems like an exceedingly Texan thing to do, does it not? No fear, no frills, just the body—give it to me extra frosty, Roy! (His name was definitely Roy.)
The entire focus of his work was pet taxidermy: preserving your beloved little Teletubbies FOREVAAHHHHH.
And you know what I thought to myself in that airport bar?
I mean, there are plenty of things I thought to myself in that airport bar—what was the name of Roy’s black market dog jerky, for one—but the most immediate thought that kept playing through my mind the entire time we sat there drinking our respective pints of Bud Light was…
…And people are scared to start a knitting business?
I’ve been thinking about jobs a lot lately—by which I mean the last ten years of my aging, thirty-six-year-old ass's life. A decade ago when I began researching what it meant to do meaningful work as a young, stubborn ballbuster, I put a great deal of energy toward understanding the dichotomy between:
(a) Those who view work as something given to them by others in power, and;
(b) Those who view work as something they do freely with their own power.
One of the conclusions I’ve drawn has everything to do with that five-little word: power—and how much of it you think you have over the outcome of your life. (Another word for this is personal agency: my favorite, because I can pretend I’m in the CIA.)
Power, personal agency, authority…these are all things that have nothing to do with your business acumen, and everything to do with your psychological acumen. You might have taken 59 online courses about starting a business, and therefore possess a very high level of theoretical knowledge, but none of that knowledge matters if you are too paralyzed to exercise it.
You see, Roy here—disgusting as his job is—is someone who does well for himself in business, not because of his knowledge, but in spite of his lack. Knowledge itself doesn’t make a business: actions do. But taking action requires self-confidence: specifically, the confidence that even if you don’t know something, you will figure it out.
THIS IS WHAT CREATES THE DIVIDE. Those who trust themselves to figure it out as they go, and those who believe they need a plan laid out for them to follow. The former becomes an entrepreneur; the latter becomes an employee.
And god, nothing is wrong with being an employee. But let me ask you this: Do you feel safe right now? Confident that your job will provide? That the systems that so many people have unfailingly believed in to their own detriment—corporate America being one—are there to protect you?
The thing is, coronavirus took away everyone’s plans. There are no plans for anyone to follow now. So what do you do when you no longer have someone telling you what needs to be done?
You do for your life what entrepreneurs do every day for their businesses: you reinvent it.
Right now, your best strategy might very well be: “Well crotch it—what have I got to lose?” You can either sit there and wait for doom, or you can create something.
Contrary to how it may seem, history suggests that right now is actually a good time to start something new. The Great Depression seemed like an absolute rat’s breath of a time to start a business, but a ton of success stories came out of it. (Seriously—Google it.) Ditto during The Great Recession of 2009. In fact, the number of people between the ages of 20 and 64 who became self-employed during that time rose from 300 per thousand people in 2007 to 340 per thousand in 2009.
Some of this is what they call “survivalist entrepreneurship”: the kind where you’re selling canned tomatoes and lawn-mowing services out of your garage because you do what you gotta do when you gotta do it. It’s different from the way we usually think about entrepreneurship, what with all the glam of Teslas and gadgets and Dollar Shave Clubs based on disruption and innovation. Survivalist entrepreneurship doesn’t concern itself with innovation: it’s all about taking an existing product or service and selling it yourself. For money. So you can survive.
And the money you make doing it is just as damn good.
Both forms contribute to the economy. Both forms create jobs. Both forms create a marketplace. And both forms can save you when you need to save yourself.
You don’t need to be the most creative, interesting, original, ground-breaking genius on the planet in order to start a little business of your own. Starting any little business, especially ones that have been done 1,000,000,000 times over, have a valuable place in the market, too: they help keep money and goods flowing.
So to those of you who have been lacking in self-confidence: aim for average right now on purpose. Create something entirely expected, done-before, obvious, and unoriginal. GO FOR IT. DO IT. Do not let the perception that you need to be Elon Musk in order to enter the business world, stop you from entering it.
Ain’t no one gonna laugh at you. We’re gonna clap for you.
Because you do have personal agency. You do have power. You don’t have to wait for some employer to give you a job; you can—and dare I say that you should—create your own. Even if it’s boring. Even if it’s beneath your wildest dreams. Even if it’s only temporary. You can always iterate later.
No one’s stopping you from working.
They’re just saying you can't work for them.
And maybe it’ll be the best thing that ever happened to you.