I grew up in a rural community and loved rabbit hunting as a teenager. Sometimes, it proved a tricky pastime. When I’d enter a field or wooded area looking for game, I didn’t always see my target right away. I had two options for finding a rabbit. The first involved sneaking stealthily around the bushes and shrubs, .22 at the ready, until I discovered my target. When I saw a rabbit, I could take careful aim and squeeze off a shot. Bingo. The long hunt was rewarded—assuming I found a rabbit to shoot. The second method involved casually sauntering up to any given field and rattling off 10-20 rounds into the bushes. No aiming required! But, boy, did it work!
While the first method might seem like a more traditional form of hunting, I found the second method to be wildly successful. Here’s the thing,
though: I wasn’t just firing blindly and counting on a random hit. This rapid-fire method, for the price of a little more ammunition, gave me useful information in much less time. I learned that shooting randomly into the bushes startled the rabbits, causing them to jump out of their hiding places. One rabbit’s jump made another pop up—and then another and then another—and then pretty soon that “empty” field was hopping with rabbits. Instead of spending all my time looking for just one, I had all sorts of choices. Rabbits were everywhere!
During my first five to seven years in business, I assailed the business world with the stealth and cunning I learned from my MBA classes. I quickly discovered there are many variables in business and in daily life, making it difficult to hit any target with your first shot. Frustrated by how my plans never quite worked, I accidentally discovered a way to change my strategy.
Inspired by my days spent hunting rabbits, I decided just to call up the competition and start acting like I was already in business. I wagered that all I had to do was get as many ideas to “jump” as I could. The new process didn’t involve long, thought-out planning, but rather demanded I go out into the market and actually test the myriad of back-burner ideas I had waiting. It worked.
In the early ’90s, new software releases came out every one or two years. Most software distribution was done on diskettes and CDs. A new release was a huge production that took serious project management, coupled with a forebodingly heavy process of developing, releasing, and updating the software. Then Internet distribution changed everything.
Different versions of software suddenly became available by simply downloading updates from the web, which computers were soon programmed to do automatically. Today, the Internet is so comprehensive that people simply develop a rapid-fire product and go live with it while still making changes. In today’s Internet-driven world, if you take a year to write a business plan, your opportunity is likely to pass you by.
Let’s say that you follow conventional tactics and spend six months preparing a business plan, researching the market, buttoning up your pro forma, and gathering your reserves. Meanwhile, the guy next door has a similar idea but forges forward with testing, releasing, improving, and updating his product.
By the time you’re ready to get down to the business of testing your idea in the actual market, your neighbor has been raking in profits for six months, figured out the “sweet spot,” released his seventh update, and firmly cornered his market share. Usually, the market moves faster than it would take you to line up all your ducks. The best way to qualify and quantify the market is by simply getting out in the field, firing off your ideas, and discovering what jumps out of the bushes.
Don’t misunderstand me: planning is an important event, even in the early stages. The question you must answer is, “What planning is essential for me to hit the ground running?” You only have two steps and then you’re off. John C. Maxwell wrote, “No one can wait until everything is perfect to act and expect to be successful. It’s better to be 80 percent sure and make things happen than it is to wait until you are 100 percent sure because by then, the opportunity will have already passed you by.”
In 2003, search engines were riding a tremendous wave. Several ideas jumped out of the field and I decided to shoot at the juiciest by creating a personalized search engine application. I very deliberately applied the Fire, Fire, Fire, Aim principle. My partner and I quickly dumped about $30,000 into our idea, which went belly-up in a few months. Most companies in that phase would have been out beating the bushes for venture capital, which would have taken writing a business plan and going back and forth with the VCs until we had enough to make it happen.
Don’t get me wrong—the idea could have raised funding, no doubt about it. And with that kind of capital, we could have gone to trade shows, hired engineers, and whipped it out into the market only to discover that our idea wasn’t going to work—after two years of wasted effort and millions of wasted dollars. Instead, we shot thirty grand at a dead rabbit and moved on.
More than saving our time and a VC’s money, though, our one shot earned it all back. Even though our initial good idea was off on the market timing, our shooting did scare up a pair of juicy rabbits that became very successful ventures. We left the initial rabbit behind and had great success—and a lot of fun—chasing the other two down. The point is that we did something. Our original plan didn’t take off, but we got ourselves into a better situation because we were out and active in the market.
Here is one of Ron’s favorite quotes, from Jack London: “You can’t wait for inspiration to come to you. You have to go after it with a club.”
In the early ’90s, I had a young man working for me who was a very intelligent chap, absolutely fascinated by business. After surveying his options, the young man decided he wanted to purchase some real estate and begin building his own little real estate empire. He met with me several times and picked my brain on what had worked for me. For some reason, even after all our counseling sessions, he never did manage to get around to making the purchases. Every time I checked in with him, he was hot on the trail of a new property, plowing through the numbers and doing the analysis. Ten years later, I still get calls from him about every other year, wanting to talk about real estate—and he
still hasn’t bought anything!
Does this kind of person drive you crazy? Don’t be one! In order to achieve success, you eventually have to quit plowing and start planting. Get out there and do something that allows inspiration to envelope you! You can’t hit anything unless you pull the trigger, no matter how much time you take to aim.
Porter’s Points – Fire, Fire, Fire, Aim
- Call the competition and ask questions. You don’t need to tell them why you’re calling to find out what they’re selling and how they’re selling it. Talk to administrative assistants and secretaries. They are on the inside track and are often willing to share information.
- Call potential customers and attempt to sell them your model—you’ll find out quickly if you have what they want. Don’t start with your most important target accounts. Start with the least important one and use the feedback to work out the kinks.
- Ask advice from everyone you can. Chances are they’ll offer you an earful. Apply what you think will work and forget anything that has no value to your initiative.
- Run a quick—“quick” being the operative word— model to see if your idea is viable, and then do another quick cash flow analysis to determine if the business can sustain itself. (See chapter3, “Power Tools,” for more about models.)