In business, speed--being in the right place, at the right time, before anyone else--is a huge asset. Sometimes, that happens when you're the most nimble. Other times, you can get there with better decision making. Either way, one of the biggest advantages you can have is foresight.

I grew up in Hawaii, where there's a lot of surfing. Despite Hawaii's abundance of beaches, there's a ton of competition for waves. Most breaks, you see dozens of surfers in the lineup waiting to ride a wave, one at a time. It's not equitable--usually, either the best surfers or the biggest and scariest surfers catch the most waves.

Business is no different. Here are three tips to help your startup get in on the fun:

1. Build an early warning system.

My high school buddies and I were surfers and body boarders. We weren't the best. We weren't the biggest. So we had to improvise.

We had was a good friend who lived in Waialae Iki, a high end neighborhood on a high hill with a great view of all the beaches on the south shore. Just by judging the white water and parking lots, he was able to give us reliable, real-time information about where to go and where to avoid. He wasn't an oceanographer with unique information, but he knew how to interpret the data that was available to everyone.

In business, you don't need a special database that no one has access to. You just have to interpret it better.

Traditional business metrics like market share or market penetration aren't very helpful here. Newer metrics like share of growth and problem penetration are better complements. I even devoted a whole chapter of my book to talking about these new metrics and how they can be combined with superconsumers to create a powerful early warning system to spot opportunities.

2. Change how you go to market.

Occasionally at the beach a longboarder (a surfboard that is ~50 percent longer) would show up. We would groan because the length of the longboard gave him the ability to catch waves much farther out well before they crest.

Since then, surfing innovators have created the hydrofoil: a surfboard that has a single fin extended out. The elongated fin catches the wave below the surface, which exists well before the break. It's an amazing site to see, as it looks like the surfer is actually floating in the air. Laird Hamilton, big wave surfer and innovator, has said this should enable surfers to catch bigger and better waves well before they break.

Innovating an entirely new way to do business isn't easy--but the advantages are huge. The hydrofoil was born out of a never-ending quest to ride the biggest waves ever. New opportunities to create new categories are far more likely if you have a similarly quest-driven mindset than if you're just out to make a buck.

Robotics and drones are re-inventing how we might deliver and distribute our products. Social media is re-inventing marketing. There's never been a better time to innovate your business.

3. Boldly go where no one has gone before.

My friends and I increased our hassle and risk tolerance, and it was the best thing we could have done. We'd go to a break that didn't have a pretty beach, but required us to trudge through rocky mud--which was a pain. We had to paddle through a boat channel where, rumor had it, a resident tiger shark patrolled. (We never saw that shark.)

In my experience, this is perhaps the biggest advantage available to startups. There's a lot of things that bigger companies refuse to do because:

  • It would make them look bad ("That's a crazy idea!").
  • It's too hard to convince the bureaucracy ("Huh, what are you talking about?").
  • Its payoff horizon is too far out ("I'm trying to get promoted in 18 months. Why should I care about an opportunity that's years away?").

If you are willing to look silly, don't have to explain yourself and are willing to be patient, there's a ton of advantages you can have.

Published on: Sep 1, 2017