Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Mundane or Original?

Nearly five years ago when I was taking the college entrance exams, one of the essay questions I encountered was this: would I invest my money in a shop selling cellphones (which was what most people were doing at the time), or invest it in a state-of-the-art, never-seen-before toilet seat. Now on one hand, I have something that's everyone is using. On the other, I have something wholly original, something which people doesn't have access to as of yet. I passed the exam, but upon retrospect, I don't think my answer was really sufficient. Several years older and a tad bit more educated, I'll discuss the pros and cons of both choices, and why they aren't necessarily the best choices.

First off, we have something mundane, such as the cellphone. Whenever I look at something, I first look at its weaknesses. Now the problem with something mundane is that everyone has it already, whether it's a refrigerator, a TV set, or yes, a cellphone. And the other biggest problem I had at the time with selling cellphones is the fact that you have lots of competitors. I mean many small businesses are involved in the buying and selling of cellphones and its related paraphernalia. But in favor of something mundane, peddling cellphones isn't exactly something I should convice people. I mean people (or in this case, a good number of Filipinos) will inevitably buy cellphones. It's just a matter of who they'll buy it from. If I can find my niche or cater to a specific loyal consumer base, then I won't have much problems. But in order to do that, I have to find them (my loyal customers), and give them a reason to buy from me.

Now let's look at the item that's original. We have your toilet seat. Let's give it features, such as it lights up when you sit down, and let's just say it's really extra comfty (maybe it has fur on it or something). When I was a kid, I thought the key to a successful business was offering something that other people couldn't. And to me, that meant products, products, products. With the toilet-seat product, I had something nobody had yet. I essentially have no competitors. And compared to other toilet seats, it's a superior product when it comes to features and comfort. So why would this be a bad thing? Well, unlike the cellphone idea, I first have to convice my customers why they want this toilet seat and why their old one wouldn't do. I mean when computers came out, a good number of people were skeptical about it. "It's a glorified typewriter" some might say. And the same goes for the cellphone. "Sure, it's possibly useful, but it's too expensive." Fast forward several decades later and computers and cellphones are now the norm of modern civilization. But in order for that to happen, the world (or those who have money) had to be conviced that they needed this product. And when you're a new product, that's pretty difficult to achieve, unless you're the miracle cure for some existing significant problem (i.e. cancer). I mean several decades ago, people didn't really "need" computers or cellphones. They were luxuries. But now, they're necessities to some people. I want my original product (in this case, the super toilet seat) to be a necessity to them.

So both options have their own sets of advantages and problems. Which one should I choose? Right now, I realize that I should work with a different paradigm. Products are a favor, but they're not the most vital element. I was on the right track when I thought that successful businesses offered something that other businesses couldn't. I was, however, mistaken to think that "that special something" had to come in the form of products. For example, do you really think Henry Sy is rich right now because of the superior items Mega Mall sells? It's really more about the service, of setting up a place like a mall, that makes Henry Sy rich. In the same way, McDonalds or Jollibee doesn't serve quality food. What makes them successful is that 1) they're fast, 2) they're very accessible, and 3) they have good promotions. There are a lot of other factors to success. It's not just about talent or superior goods. If that were so, a lot of people would be successful by now. I mean I know a lot of skillful people who are either unemployed or are overqualified for their jobs. Marketing can play a vital role. I mean the reason why Skyinternet was popular several years ago was because of the advertising, despite their really inefficient and ugly service. There's also thinking using a different paradigm. I mean if everything came down to hard work and loyalty, a lot of Filipinos would now be rich. Do you think many Filipinos are currently enemployed because they're afraid to work? Why do you think the Philippines has many maids and Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs)? It's because they're willing to work and work and work. But if many people are hardworking, why isn't their status improving? Because it's not being channeled in the right direction, and they're using an archaic formula for success (which involves working hard and depending on the graces of others to make you succeed). Henry Sy worked hard for a time, selling shoes and sandals just to earn enough capital. But after a certain point, he stopped selling shoes. He still worked hard but it was channeled in a new direction: towards making himself successful. Did he accomplish this by thinking of simply working hard? Of course not. He had the vision and the idea to channel all the accumulated wealth and effort into something different, such as building SMs and Mega malls. That's what I mean about using a different paradigm. And of course, there's also speed. I mean convenient stores and fast foods thrive on the fact that they're faster than the rest. Convenient stores are more expensive than going to the market, but hey, they're near and the lines aren't as long (plus they're open all day and night). Fast foods aren't exactly fine dining, but above all, you get instant gratification. In a matter of a few seconds, the food's there (of course advertising, customer service, and location also helps).

The question for me really isn't whether I have something mundane or original as a product. I think the real question is what else do I to back it up with? If I have a successful system which is what franchises gives you, then I'd go for it. It doesn't matter if I'm selling something crappy or something superior as long as I have a good system to back me up. But if it's something I have to build up from scratch, well, then a lot more thought must be put into it, even if I'm peddling the best product in the world. And like any good researcher, the question one must continually ask is how will I find out, or where will I find the resources to answer my problem?


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