The Four Rules Of Scale – Zig Zag Principle #49

October 30th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

I have developed four rules I follow whenever I create a business.  There are times I violate them, but I do so deliberately.  Keep in mind that these are my rules that fit into my skill set and values.  You will need to look at your own situation and determine the rules that work for you. 

Rule # 1 – Ride a Wave:  I like businesses that are on a wave.  Just like a surfer who gets in front of a wave and rides it to the shore, I want the environment to be right before I get on a wave in my business or my life.  If the wave is big enough, then just being in its vicinity will generate enough power to propel you toward your destination.  But if you catch that wave wrong, life can come crashing down around you.  The key is to get on and off the wave at the right time.  September 12, 2001, would have been a terrible time to start an airline.  This same day would have been the perfect time to start an anti-terrorist airline security business.  Purchasing a row of new condos in 2006, when housing prices were at a point where experts were beginning to see they were unsustainable, would have been a bad move.  Purchasing those same condos after the housing bubble burst and prices were slashed in half would have been the right time to add scale.  You need to assess your environment and pick the right waves to ride.

Rule #2  – Transaction Businesses:  I like businesses that sit in the middle of a transaction.  A well-known example is credit card companies, which make 2-5 percent every time one of us slides our credit card through a reader.  None of us give what we’re paying a thought (and if you think we’re not paying, think again).  Merchants are happy to pass along the fee because the convenience brings more people to their business.  Customers love the convenience of not having to carry cash or write a check, so they willingly pay their annual fee (and high interest rates) as well.  Positioning yourself in the middle of a transaction puts you in a great place to make money.

Rule #3 – Own the Customer:  I like to own the customer.  I don’t like being in a business where I can’t look into the eyeballs of the customer and resolve the issue.  I like to be in the middle of the transaction, but I do not like being sandwiched between brokers.

During the rise in the housing market, I was riding a great wave with a company called Mortgage Saver 101.  We had an awesome web site that generated leads of people looking to obtain mortgages.  The company was riding a wave and was a transactional and a digital business.  The only problem was that we did not sell our leads directly to the banks or the people who were coming to refinance their loans.  We sold our leads to a broker who would then sell them to multiple vendors.  Many times the broker would come back to us and say he did not like some of our leads.  We would ask what he didn’t like and he would simply say, “It wasn’t a quality lead.”  Without being able to talk to the bank or the customer, we were left to guess at what they really wanted.  This left us very vulnerable, giving all of the power to the broker.  If there was a problem, we had no way to solve it.  On the other hand, credit card companies are good examples of being able to own the customer.  The credit card company can communicate directly with the merchant that is selling the product or the customer that has signed up for the credit card.  They own the customer.  They can manage the relationship on both sides of the transaction.

      Rule #4 – I Like Digital Assets:  This is my very personal preference, but I love digital assets.  I really do not like retail.  Why?  Because I stink at retail.  I don’t have enough discipline and I am not patient enough to succeed in retail.  It doesn’t scale as well for me.  I know many other people who have been highly successful in retail, but it is just not my preference.  Once I make a website or an application, I have made it once and as many people as want to come will fit into that store.  That’s the primary reason I like digital assets

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