Topic: Economics


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There’s No Best Age to Start a Business: The Story of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart

Walton

Photo by tsweden

After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1940, Sam Walton took a job with J.C. Penney.  He was 22 years old.  He spent five years with J.C. Penney learning the retail industry.  In 1945, Walton became an entrepreneur and bought a Ben Franklin variety store in Arkansas for $25,000.  He was 27 years old.  Walton spent five years growing his Ben Franklin store.  But in 1950, after Walton’s landlord refused to renew the five year lease he had on the Ben Franklin store location, Walton had no choice but to sell the franchise.  He sold it for a fair price, and then had to start all over again.  Walton was now 32, and it was at this age when he opened his first Walton’s Five and Dime (again in Arkansas).  But it wasn’t until he was 44 years old that he opened the first Wal-Mart.  It was a very gradual progression.  So, does age really matter when starting a business?  I doubt it.  There is no best age to start a business, no perfect time – none of that.  And Sam Walton is the perfect example of this.  Read More »

How to Avoid a Bad Business: The Ravages of Commoditization

Busy

Photo by Stuck in Customs

Certain aspects of business can behave in fairly predictable ways.  One of the ways, which is more painful than funny, is the tendency of products or services to become commodities over time.  When this happens, it’s often five mental models that come together and drive everything towards commoditization.

First of all, Zipf’s Law (R.I.P. George Zipf) has been repeatedly observed in many different environments.  Zipf noticed that the most common word in the English language appeared 10 times more often than the tenth most common word.  He noticed it in other languages as well – he got excited.  What he really noticed was the phenomenon we now call “winner takes all.”  So in any market, this is at work.  Get to number one – it’s just better that way.  Read More »

How to Build an Empire: The Story of Harvey Firestone and His Tires

Firestone Tire

Photo by Desert Bug

In 1926, Harvey Firestone sat down to write Men and Rubber: The Story of Business.  It outlines his philosophy on how to succeed in business, and to this day it’s still the best and most comprehensive story on how to build a business from nothing.

Firestone’s philosophy is quite simple.  It says that honesty is the fundamental principle of any business.  It says that a business must exist for a reason, and the single reason for the existence of any business must be that it supplies a human need or want.  “To make money” is not a good enough reason to be in business.  If fact, if all you want is money, Firestone advises you to get out of business as quickly as you can, and go work for someone else.  You are destined to fail otherwise.

Firestone was clear that a business must exist to supply a human need or want, and this philosophy can be further explained through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  The primary need for all humans is physiological, followed by safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.  Humans seek to satisfy needs in this order.  Firestone was supplying tires, or facilitating transportation.  Transportation, depending on its intended use, could fall under physiological needs (driving to the grocery store for food), safety needs (driving to the office for work), or love/belonging needs (driving to family).  Either way, Firestone was clearly satisfying human needs with his tires.

This logic applies today as well.  For example, Mark Zuckerberg’s reason for starting Facebook (“to meet girls”), while it hurts my heart, does provide for the love/belonging needs that all humans naturally have.

That’s the end of my Zuckerberg digression – now back to Firestone…   Read More »

Metrics: The Measurements that Control the Masses

Metrics

Photo by Stuck in Customs

We are being controlled.  Of our own free will of course, but nonetheless, our thinking is completely manipulated by society’s chosen metrics.  If society defines inflation as the CPI Index, everyone defines inflation that way.  If society defines growth as an increase in GDP, everyone defines growth that way.  We are all puppet’s to society’s metrics.  And if we try to escape it, who will understand what we’re talking about, anyway?

Of course, there are occasionally people who create their own metrics – people who take the time to figure out what drives the results they want to achieve – people who know the system isn’t quite right.  And those people are usually rewarded.  Read More »

But What If It Isn’t Cool?: The Story of Eric Ries and IMVU

IMVU

Photo by pixelsebi

Eric Ries, with a few others, started a company called IMVU in 2004.  As in IM (Instant Message) VU (view) – the novelty of the concept was the introduction of avatars to instant messaging.  He tells his story through the following five core principles of the Lean Startup Movement:

  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere: in other words, the constraints to being an entrepreneur are minimal, if they exist at all.
  2. Entrepreneurship is management: or, a start-up requires a different set of management principles than a mature company does.
  3. Validated learning: One of Ries’ core concepts, basically stating that start-ups exist to learn how to build a sustainable business
  4. Build-Measure-Learn: a critical feedback loop that Ries developed – he advocates that all successful start-up processes should be geared to accelerate this feedback loop
  5. Innovation accounting: traditional accounting doesn’t properly measure what matters to him (and on this, I wholly agree with him), so he set up a different process to measure progress, set up milestones, and prioritize work.

Eric and his colleagues eventually grew IMVU to annual revenues of more than $50 million in 2011 (and some level of profitability, which he doesn’t disclose).  It’s important to note, however, that Ries is in no way shy about admitting the repeated mistakes that he and his team made at the outset.  You can read all about his adventure in The Lean Startup.  One of the more amusing issues was the unwillingness of test users to tell their friends about it.  After all, it was new to them, and they weren’t quite sure whether or not it was cool.  And as well all know, it’s totes obvi that you gotta protect your rep.

Of course, there is another way to look at what Eric did to create his organization.  Eric’s success can also be deciphered through mental models…   Read More »

Mingle with Powerful Models: Using Mental Models to Make Better Decisions

French Clock

Photo by slack12

Charlie Munger likes to say that 80-90 mental models will give you the bulk of the material you need to be a “worldly-wise” person.  Part of being worldly-wise is making good decisions, and although Charlie mentions 95 models in his book (by my count), they can each be used and combined for different purposes.

So, how do we combine them to create the ideal decision-making process?  Since I’m in love with the number 7 (figuratively), I’ve put together what I consider the seven most useful mental models in decision-making.  Good decision-making will involve an understanding of Statistics, Economics, and Psychology.  And the decision-making process becomes much easier if you take mental models from these disciplines and put them into a checklist.  To me, the following seven mental models are the best checklist available.  Read More »

The $240 MBA: How to Be Better at What Matters

@ Sprengben

Photo by sprengben

The most important skills (or really, the most valuable) are the ones that are the hardest to codify.  I think this is probably true throughout life, but it’s especially true in business.  And in business, the single most important skill is decision-making.  It won’t guarantee success, but it will certainly increase the odds.  And since we’re all constantly having to make decisions without complete information, it’s understandable to think of decision-making as an art.  But, decision-making is likely as much science as it is art.  And in fact, understanding the science of decision-making is more valuable in the business landscape than all the knowledge you would gain from an MBA combined.  And you can become a pretty good decision-maker in way less than the 18-22 months that an MBA typically takes to complete.  You can also do it for WAY less money: $240 according to my latest review of Amazon. Read More »