What are you waiting for? What do you stall for?
There’s a tea place in Old Town by the edge of the sea. I don’t frequent it that much these days but… when life gets too much, that’s where you’ll find me. Drowning it all in a steaming dark sweet cocktail of coffee, cinnamon and ginger─ a lot of ginger; watching the ocean outstretch like a trembling blue carpet to the other side of Marina hotel. There’s a quiet understanding between the regulars here. Though misery doesn’t deserve company, we recognize we’re all running away from something─ at least the ones I’ve talked to. Whether it’s from a hectic long day of work, a nagging wife at home, the looming expectations of society on you as a man or just hiding from yourself in the company of others. We’re running. The upper bench for solitude and contemplation; the lower one, everybody else. It’s busy most evenings, and you won’t turn your head left or right without bumping into somebody’s BIG plans.
I remember one evening late last year, before my graduation when a heated discussion became personal on the everyday frustrations of your normal 20-something. Circling around getting a job─ which none of us had at that time, or internships, which were hard to come by. But then again, also none of us wanted to be employed, high on the spirits of entrepreneurship. In the perfect world, working for someone wasn’t really an option for any of us.
Ideas darted back and forth. One, to start out, had plans to open a cybercafé because there weren’t any in the block. Another, the water business and he spoke of a desalination plant he was already researching. Spirits were high. Another went, and another, ideas vomited all over the place. And just like that, all went quiet. Until Jamal chimed in.
“But why is it when we talk about entrepreneurship; our thinking is always skewed along these lines. Subscribing to the fallacy that an idea has to be ‘in-your-face’ and BIG to be great when most of the time, great ideas spring from the most nuanced, arising when we think along smaller lines.”
“See that old man over there,” He pointed to this grey beard clad smartly in a blue kanzu. “He grew up in India. He had this brother he tells me whom his family depended on. When there was an issue pertaining to money, he was the brother you sought out. Yet surprisingly, he hardly did much the whole day. When everyone else left for work, he was asleep and was the last person to wake up. So where was this golden goose he was hiding? Turns out the brother used to wake up at 3 every morning and head to the market. His clientele was the many grocers in the city; he’d purchase whatever they needed for the day and deliver it to them. By the time the rest of the family woke up, he was done for the day and earned his freedom to do whatever he wanted, in his case, sleep some more.”
I smile every time I remember that story. I smiled, even more, when I encountered that concept in MJ Demarco’s book, ‘Unscripted’ (Recommended read BTW). He calls it crowd-feeding. Where instead of being part of the chain, why not just serve it; provide a small convenience and the market will reward you greatly.
So long as people will be lazy, presenting convenience will have you welcomed with open arms. As long as the world isn’t perfect there never will be a shortage of ideas. And the world will never lack funding for a good idea. At least that’s what I think.
Well then, where are these opportunities we don’t see? To kick-off, I’d like to present 3 concepts I hope will stir something:
Listening to the Market
A common mistake new entrepreneurs make is wanting to set an enterprise in their area of specialization. “Oh! Since I’m an editor, and I’m pretty good at it, maybe I should start a publishing business,” when that area is maybe saturated or the market has no need for it. A better approach when looking for what to start, when you’re in need of an idea, it pays to pay attention to all the negative language used by people: I hate… this sucks… I’m tired… I wish… how frustrating… I don’t like… Why do I have to… why is this…. (dangerous, unhealthy, hard). Social media is full of those (hey, I finally said something nice about social media). More than anyone else, pay attention to what you hate, however petty and seemingly trivial.
Arbitrage is a sort of common sense yet unconventional approach to things. Not wanting to get into the economics of it.
Imagine being one of the traders in a market where you all sell tomatoes for 10bob. Then suddenly, one trader drops his tomatoes to 5bob. That means the rest of you will have to match his price and sell at a loss or the customers steer towards him. That doesn’t do any of you any good. So, how do you handle that? Well, an arbitrageur would notice the small window he has to buy out the other trader’s tomatoes at 5bob so no one else has to lower their prices. The market stays as is and you still earn your profit for selling at 10bob. Common sense? It is. But also, it’s not.
Arbitrage comes in different ways. There’s value arbitrage; this is when you add value to a poorly made or old existing product. Like buying old furniture and repairing them, varnishing, fixing a leg, and then reselling it at a higher margin. I’m guessing that’s the deal with refurbished computers too. There’s marketing arbitrage; can be as simple as taking better pictures of a product for those who sell things online, improving on the packaging and better order fulfillment. You could look more into it.
And we’re back at where we started. In a crowded market let’s say overrun by government-subsidized restaurants, rather than being another cog in that wheel and starting your own restaurant, you could linchpin all around it and supply everything the restaurant needs instead, except for the food itself.
The best opportunities rarely come from joining the crowd, but by serving it. When people are rioting, don’t riot with them, sell them water and T-shirts. When everyone has a grocery store, be our old man from India.
The thing about concepts though is that they only present us with ways of looking for and looking at things which isn’t what many of us are after. Many of us suffer from what MJ calls the silver-bullet syndrome. We imagine success, in this case, financial freedom to be this macro-event we hit and then everyone hands you their money, umaskini kwaheri, but it’s never like that. All manner of success is made up of micro-processes. Daily rituals, routines and sacrifices woven into the fabric of your life. No shortcuts. Like I sometimes picture that old man starting out, perhaps talking to the first grocer, and the many no’s he heard, maybe starting with one yes, maybe delivering for free for a while, maybe repeating that for years even before tasting his newly discovered elixir of wealth.
There’s a laziness that plagues our society that success is this tiny secret we come along and BAM, a miracle for extraordinary results. We idealise events instead of principles. Success is simple, take away that principle of idealism and respect the work. It starts by getting rid of the notion that you are special, that idea puts you in a mental state that hard work is optional for you. That’s something I realise we all suffered from that day at the tea place late last year, and the reason some of us are currently in safe jobs (which we like) and others still waiting, for a silver bullet.
I’ll stop with that right there lest I turn into a motivational speaker- a breed I’ve come to… not despise, but I’m not a fan.
Anyways, regarding the title of this article. “What are you waiting for, what do you stall for.” In the Hamilton musical, those are the questions Hamilton asks Aaron Burr after he refused to be in the defense for the first United States constitution. It was not due to anything but fear of what’s uncertain. I catch myself asking myself that again and again and I’d like to ask you as well, sitting in the sidelines: What are you waiting for, what do you stall for?
We have this tendency; which has become widespread with the rise of motivational speakers: Action-faking. Action faking is when you lie to yourself that what you’re doing is contributing greatly to where you’re going. That it accounts greatly in the grand scheme of things when in reality, it doesn’t. It can be going on a binging marathon of motivational videos for hours, convinced that you’re changing yourself; that it’s making a difference in you when it’s not. (That’s a thing I have against self-help BTW being an avid consumer for years myself. After a time, you realise, you’re more addicted to the act of consuming self-help content than driven to doing anything worthwhile. It’s a business designed that way but… that’s a discussion we can have over tea someday). Action faking can be having the sudden urge to clean up and re-arrange your room when you have to study, telling yourself you’ll study better that way, and in the end, being content even when you did not study. Cause well, at least you have a clean room. Your brain says you did something but you didn’t. In our case, action-faking can be attending entrepreneurship seminars, webinars, reading blogs and entrepreneurship books, convinced that they are preparing you for where you’re headed when in reality, YOU STILL ARE WHERE YOU ARE. Staring at the starting line of this race. Until when? I ask myself. What is it I’m waiting for? What are you stalling for?