Do One Thing Well
When I set out to launch K12 Data in 2011 I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do. The nice thing about conjuring up a business idea is that you have the ability to tailor it to meet the needs of the market as well as meet your needs and life as the owner. There are many types of businesses that one might venture into. Businesses that are purchased and run under a new proprietor offering the same goods and services. Others might be launched as clones of competitors, having similar business models to work under. There might be improvements made upon current business or slight changes undertaken to garner greater returns on that previous model - next generation/iteration. Or maybe it’s a brand new idea that has never been taken to market. In all of these cases there is still some wiggle room to put your own stamp on the business, unique to your vision of how things will run, how much work you will put forth- the demands of the company, and how profitable or not it will be. These variables are difficult to control as you move forward but you, as the owner, have control over every piece of the puzzle especially at the inception of your new business. After that you need to decide how far you are willing stray from your initial model. You will be presented with this question regularly and well into the future as you forge ahead in with your company.
My goal was quite simple. I wanted to create a business that could fit within my life and not the other way around. I was 43, married, had a 2yr old boy, Gus, and my wife was about ready to burst open with our daughter Ivy. I was accustomed to working from an office in downtown Denver but thought that it would be better if I were to skip the commute (albeit 30mins) and work from home to help my wife and play a larger role at home. I was currently working for D&B and also on my company GrantsQuest (see “Adding Grant Funding Opps to K12 Sales & Marketing”: https://k12-data.com/blog-details/Adding-Grant-Funding-Opps-to-K12-Sales-Marketing). I decided to ditch the D&B position, even with a pregnant wife, and focus solely on GQ. It was liberating but also a lot of work. If you have ever identified and submitted a competitive grant (or any government long form for that matter) you would know that it is a lot of work and has an innumerable number of moving parts. It was at this point, about 2.5yrs into it, that I decided to focus on K12 Data. I was familiar with data from my work with D&B and I liked the idea of selling software over the tedium of putting a successful grant together. Software didn’t need to be stored in a physical location, or shipped, or returned, or be bound by state or country lines. This checked all the boxes as I lined the idea up with how it would fit into my life.
As I started to create this new company I considered the data delivery platform. I was used to the old model of clients calling into an 800# and requesting counts for various job titles in various states- lots of back and forth. Next, how was the data file delivered? Did it have to be pulled from a large database, downloaded, and sent to the client? How was the data gathered and how many people did it take to make this all work? I am a visual guy so I put this all on a flow chart to see the easiest way from A to B. This would be a similar exercise regardless of the type of business I opened. I am looking for the least amount of risk and simultaneously the least amount of friction. The barrier to entry wasn’t too much to overcome but it did take quite an initial investment. What I discovered was that if we created a Build A List platform it would help alleviate a lot of the back and forth between clients and our sales team. It would also provide the data in a more immediate manner in which now seems to be the way of doing any business online. The downside is we are probably losing 25-35% of additional business by not offering all of the other value-adds like offering a creative team or database services or email deployment, but that’s OK. Do I really want to be a full service shop offering “wiper blades, freon, headlights, and an oil change or do I just do oil changes? I change oil.” Above everything I am less interested in a 60hr workweek and would settle for half the income with 50% more time with my family. So on Janua ry 1st, 2012 when we launched K12 we offered our customers the Build A List page and let our customers do the work that others were doing for them. The general consensus was very positive and it worked.
I believe that the more you try to be and do can often ruin doing one thing very well, in most cases. I watched a commercial the other day and I’m pretty sure I saw “Amazon” on the tailfin of a large commercial jetliner. Now I know that Amazon started buying MB Sprinters a couple years back to manage their own delivery but I thought that was a bit of a stretch given that UPS & FedEx are probably working with paper thin margins and that has been their core businesses since 1907 and 1971 respectively. Now it looks like the leader in retail is going into the airline shipping business and probably followed by the “passenger” airline business in the near future. I imagine they will provide electricity to my home (with Elon) in the next five years as well. Who am I to question Bezos and his team of Business Mensas. Obviously they are wildly successful but at what point does their appetite for more to consume leave them bloated and distracted focused on the next offering? I bet it happens more than the public takes notice of beyond a cursory glance at Amazon’s stock price. However, they are not above losing huge amounts of money pursuing verticals that stray from their core business: https://www.businessinsider.com/jeff-bezos-says-multi-billion-dollar-failures-necessary-for-amazon-growth-success-2019-4
I on the other hand I am perfectly content changing oil and doing the best job of that I can. If you want all of the other services they are out there and I might be able to point you in the right direction.
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