Today’s topic is business. Again, a little too vague with a lot of crossover with tomorrow’s topic which is work. Maybe for today we cover types of businesses I’m interested in and why. Try to see if there are any threads that tie them together. This I’m sure will spill into my current opinions on work and what I want to do next, but I will try to save most of that for tomorrow. Ok, I have a couple ideas, let’s see how this goes.
I don’t think I was born a business man. Nor do I hold being a good businessman in any high esteem. That’s a relatively new position for me though, maybe within the last few years. I never regarded business skills as being the basis for your rank in any type of human power ranking, but rather they are a means to an end. Business leads to money, which gives you the chance to make more money, which makes people envious, which elevates your status in society. That loop is what made me want to do business in the first place. Money as a proxy for achievement and status. What you could buy with money also appealed to me – various other types of status signals in effect. But more than anything else I wanted business success to translate into envy and an acknowledgment of achievement from others. Obviously my perception was a little one-dimensional. You can also achieve status through your contributions to society and doing good, completely independent of your earnings – medicine, politics (?), etc. But I was blinded by the dollars, and jumped right into business training before I really understood what it was as an undergrad before even sampling any of these other fields. I majored in finance for the love of god. There’s no way to hide your reasoning when you pursue a degree like this, is there?
Despite my questionable motives, I have enjoyed many aspects of my professional, business career. Namely I enjoy the competitive side of it – both at a macro industry level, how the company you work for stacks up, and at a personal, ambition level. How you advance and measure up against your colleagues. And you learn inevitably, a lot about decision making with uncertainty, and human nature too which is usual across domains. For better or worse seeing how people behave around money gives you a pretty good insight into their character. It can also lead you towards having a dismal view of human nature seeing how people are around money, something I am still trying to overcome now. So I am not bummed that I chose to go into business is what I am trying to say. And I can’t imagine switching over to something new although who knows. I look at the effective altruism job board all the time.
There is a lot of variety within business though, needless to say, and that’s what I want to focus on today. Working for yourself versus working for someone else. Working on something important or working on something fun. Working as hard as you can or working just enough to get by. Those types of things. I have a couple of ideas, so let’s jump into it.
I’d like to think I wouldn’t go back to working for a large, public company. Or maybe even for a largish privately-held company. But I can’t say for certain. Why?
I worked in those environments for my entire career to date, and they are great places to: make contacts, make some money, or even a lot of money if you pick the right horse and the timing is good, and also get some really nice perks. But there is a lot of nonsense, and a disproportionate amount of time spent on figuring out how to navigate the internal bureaucracy and get things done. And generally you are managing one component of a large initiative, or as in my case, you are drawing up plans for many different component groups, but you are not executing any of the plans. You are just following up and asking for status updates. I wouldn’t say this is business in the purest sense. Finally, since you are not taking that great a risk in working for a place like I’m describing, your upside can be limited. Why do it then? Perks, money, not that stressful, prestige, those are all pretty good reasons actually, so I won’t say I’ll never do that again. I can understand why people do it, and why people never leave too.
But more recently I have started following and subscribing to the philosophy of a few people who treat the acceptance of cushy corporate life over trying to run or grow a business of your own as more than a bad decision based on ROI, but as an indictment on your character. Nasim Taleb, Thiel, pmarca, Paul Graham. Basically lots of successful founders and VC people. Easy for them to say! Although they succeeded and are giving advice in hindsight, they still all took a chance a long time ago that led them to this point. And that can’t be forgotten, they do have some credibility. It made me think a lot about all my classmates from high school and college. I would say they all have extremely “high floors” from a career perspective at least. Well-off families pushing them through good schools. If they just didn’t blow it too badly, they should be able to land a corporate job, move up gradually, and then have enough to set their kids up with the same, buy a second house, and probably a couple of status cars. But is that really any type of accomplishment given where they started from? I’m not sure, and that’s kind of how I started to see myself! From where I started, my achievements are really not that great. I was in the band of expected outcome I would say, no over-performance. This suddenly made me feel very unable as it related to the career choices I had made. Wouldn’t it have been better to take a chance?
I am not sure, and go back and forth a lot now. Is the safe choice really that bad? Am I over-glamorizing the entrepreneurial experience. Probably on the later, but there are some unquestionable advantages to from my perspective. One, you are involved in everything. It’s a real business, where you are making business decisions all day every day. And you are responsible for outcomes, can’t blame the poor execution on someone else if you’re doing it! And when you are doing it, you will learn a lot, very quickly. And finally you have much greater control over the choices that give your business shape – who you work with and who you hire are the biggest ones that come to mind, but also how you treat your customers. I should caveat that the example I am dreaming about here assumes no external money, that can change things fast.
So the first question I struggle with is whether or not to start something on my own. Let’s go into some options within each of these categories next.
I’m an entrepreneur!
It would make the most sense to pursue an online business to begin with. Why? The things you already know – minimal upfront capital requirements, ability to scale up quickly, lots of new frontiers, no distribution costs, no overhead. It seems pretty foolish to want to start any non-online business in today’s day and age, but I have ideas for both.
On the online side, make a small, niche app. Very much in the Indie Hackers model. You’re probably not going to succeed on your first try, or even your tenth, but you can keep learning, and apply the learnings to the next project. Get stronger and stronger. If you can code the app yourself even better margins. This is really amazing insight, I am impressing myself here! You can actually get pretty far with limited coding skills now so it is possible. Do I have any ideas in this space, yes, but I’m not going to detail them yet.
The second option is the personal brand. My muse! Set up an online course, write an ebook, a premium podcast, or even better a substack. You could also set up ads on your website, or write reviews with affiliate links, the possibilities are endless! One thing I struggle with in this model is pricing. I have a few ideas, but would want them to be as widely accessible as possible, which would imply low pricing and limited financial upside.
You could teach English as a second language online.
You could do mechanical turk jobs on Amazon.
You could be a remote customer care associate for a bank or credit card.
I’m just starting to list remote jobs you can do online now, so I think I’m done with this part.
The Physical World Still Exists!
Even though online business has unarguably better margins, there are still a couple real world businesses that have always, and continue to appeal. I am going to be pretty brief here.
Just in time juice bar – I love juicing fruits and vegetables. The taste and also the satisfaction of getting all my vitamins and minerals banged out relatively easily gives me satisfaction. I also go to a fruit market here that sells a lot of produce right before it’s about to go off for huge discounts. I was astounded by the discounts actually, maybe 10x the volume you get at a normal grocer for the same price. My idea here would be to have a ghost kitchen where your menu is dependent on what’s available from the discount grocer. Build your offerings based on what’s available, pass on some of the savings from lower raw materials, and there you go.
Extremely small bar – I like some of the bars and restaurants I saw in Japan. Very small, counter style service. Maybe 10 seats maximum, but preferably less if you could make the economics work. One person on staff, limited menu. Maybe beer, wine, whiskey, and espresso. Music, and a TV for sporting events or major elections. That’s basically it. Just run a really small, quiet bar. I might even say a “chill” bar.
Franchising Popeyes or Culvers – I should switch the order. I like the idea of franchising a Culvers, but I also have a few reservations about it. The positives first. The food is great, I like the family atmosphere, the service is always amazing. I am really impressed by their ability to pass on the commitment to service through all the different branches, and I like what they are offering. With the exception of the health impact of eating too many burgers and large sundaes, it’s great. Popeyes I just love the food, don’t have the same affinity for anything else. The service is always bad, the locations are rundown, and now it’s owned by Burger King, so I am sure they are cutting some corners on quality. But the chicken is really good though.
Mental gym – I had this idea of having sessions like group fitness, where you would do meditation, and structured thinking exercises. Train your mind. There are already a lot of apps for stuff like this, but maybe some people would prefer to get together in the real world for enhanced community? This one might be more of a stretch.
Short of starting something on my own, I have other job ideas too, but maybe I’ll say those for tomorrow. Everything listed above is already patented, btw. Don’t even think about it.
Thanks for reading, and I will talk to you again soon. 53 Minutes. 2013 Words.