A) Join a startup
B) Work for Amazon or Google or Facebook or Netflix or a high profile tech company like that
C) Change the world
D) Do strategy work and become a Chief Strategy Officer
E) Create and run a boring company
If you could ask a bunch of 23 year-olds what they want to do with their life, using TinyPulse or Survey Monkey or a service like that – my guess is that a very high percentage of them would swiftly and happily choose one of the above answers. Some might wonder why there isn’t an option F for “None of the above” or a fill in the blank option. But I think a number close to zero would choose option E. If you know it’s boring – why would anyone ever do it?
I’ll tell you why.
It seems there are two kinds of smart people in the world. There are those people who want to be doing cool, fun, strategic things all the time – who can get hired to work at McKinsey or be a Chief Strategy Officer or change the world or do a startup. Then there are the smart people who figure out that there’s a really key need everyone has, that’s actually pretty boring that no one else wants to do and they build a business around that, and have other people run the business so they can do anything they want and not worry about a thing. They can go fly fishing in New Zealand or work on something cool and strategic any time they want. They only have to get involved when something unexpected happens.
What are some examples of boring companies?
Waste Management. Dealing with garbage sounds pretty boring and un-sexy. But Waste Management is a $27 billion company listed on the New York Stock exchange under the ticker WM. If you think a company like Zillow is really cool – it’s only worth $5 billion. Which would you rather own and run today?
Robison Plumbing. Never heard of them? Of course you haven’t unless you live on the western side of Puget Sound in the state of Washington. But they are the leading plumber out there – their trucks are everyone you go. And what do they do that makes them different? They show up the same day you call – there’s never any waiting. And for a lot of us, when we call a plumber, we need help that day.
Slalom Consulting. They aren’t a household name like Accenture or McKinsey, but they are a little more than ten years old, and they are on a path to making over $2 billion per year. They don’t compete with Accenture or McKinsey – they do tech consulting every company needs at a competitive rate. It’s coarsely analogous to the plumbing example above. Everyone needs plumbing – and if you can get it done reliably at a decent rate, you will keep hiring the same plumber over and over and over. Slalom figured out a model that worked and then did cookie cutter copying of the model in every city in North America.
Casper. Buying a mattress in a big store like Macy’s is a terrible experience and the world of mattresses hadn’t changed much in ages. Until Casper came along. They took a boring, unpleasant experience, and made a couple of tweaks like home delivery and inflatable mattresses that aren’t too bulky and almost overnight they have a $100 million business.
Amazon Web Services. While Amazon came onto the scene in something like 20 years ago as a radical new thing – AWS is actually a pretty boring un-sexy thing in many respects. Running web services for an organization is important, but like photo copiers that you expect to work and waste management people who come and get your garbage, web services have some of the attributes of a boring un-sexy business as the rest of them. And some have said it will be worth over $200 billion soon.
So before you decide you start the next Uber or Airbnb or some artificial intelligence or virtual reality company, think about something really basic and boring like garbage or plumbing or mattresses and ask what could be done there that could really take off?