Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, June 29, 2020
A few of my more devoted readers have suggested that I consider doing a podcast. They are suggesting that I need to enter the 21st century and join the 800,000 active podcasts currently available worldwide featuring a combined total of 54 million episodes. Wow, how could I possibly resist?
I teach business analysis, so let’s see if the world needs another podcast. Like any entrepreneur, I had to figure out what problem I could solve, who would care, and whether there was any way to make a buck doing it. There are approximately 53,000 CEO/executive coaches in various configurations worldwide today, with about 17,000 of those in the United States. OK, I am not afraid of some competition. Next slide, where will I find my market fit?
There are approximately 1,000 technology incubators in the United States. A target-rich environment indeed. So, is there no shortage of people who want to give advice, mentorship and entrepreneurship to avoid a sinking ship to the folks in these incubators? Frequently, the classic young entrepreneur comes to me and explains that if he only gets 2 percent of the market, he can be a unicorn. I know that is absolutely specious. I have heard that argument 100 times from companies that have gone broke, failing to understand that you either cross the chasm (more than 2 percent market share) or you fall into the ocean with the others who did not achieve launch velocity.
Let’s bypass the team slide and the financing slide (which shows that this venture turns cash flow positive in 2029), let’s look at the social media/ego/marketing slide. This one shows the top 100 sites, along with the number of “followers” associated with the top 100 people at those sites. Big number. This makes me think of the guy on the street corner who does the sign twirling to get the attention of people who are driving by at 65 mph (on their phone, texting, putting on makeup, yelling at their daughter in the front seat, eating a burger) to pay attention and to attend the real estate open house down the street. Try to model that in terms of cost to acquire a customer (CAC), lifetime value of the customer (LTV) and take rate from gross merchant value (GMV).
As we enter the summer and begin to find out what the world is going to become, post COVID-19 and post George Floyd, I am going to argue that the “look-at-me model” needs to morph into the “look-at-the-other-person” model. I am not referring to diversity, race or gender here. What I am arguing for is taking time to stop looking at yourself in the mirror. It is not about accumulating followers; it is about inspiring leaders. If you want to be an influencer, then influence something of importance, not a pair of sunglasses. Inspiration is different than influence.
On the website Cameo you can buy what New York Times writer Ben Smith calls “a short video from minor celebrities” (of course you have to have a podcast to become a minor celebrity). He says you can buy a failed Twitter joke from Chuck Norris for $229.99. (How could I resist?) This niche is called the “passion economy.” Examples are Patreon and Substack. You pay to follow your band, your China expert, your financial newsletter, your favorite sports writer. I get it and I love that the micro gig economy allows the freedom to create and be compensated, while admittedly working hard for a somewhat limited audience.
But what happens when the audience wakes up and decides that they want to start selling stuff back to you? In other words, if everyone becomes a peddler, in the very end, maybe there are no buyers. And so we come back to ego. My personal opinion is that often the softest voice is the one that has the most to say and is the one that most needs to be listened to.
Rule No. 665
Turn down the volume.