During a retreat in 2003, the Amazon executive team ran through a quick exercise designed to identify the company's core competencies. Some were obvious. Offering a broad selection of products. Warehousing, packing, and shipping orders.
One was less obvious: Amazon had gotten really, really good at running data centers and infrastructure services.
"We realized we could contribute all of those key components of (an) internet operating system," Amazon CEO Andy Jassy says of that time, "and with that we went to pursue this much broader mission, which is AWS (Amazon Web Services) today, which is really to allow any organization or company or any developer to run their technology applications on top of our technology infrastructure platform."
In short, Amazon had built a "product" for its own use -- a massive, responsive cloud network -- and then realized customers would pay to use it too. Today AWS is the most profitable segment of Amazon's business (Netflix runs on AWS), contributing over $6 billion in operating income in the first quarter of 2022 alone.
Of course, that's not the only time Amazon has developed tools and systems for internal use that it turned into a revenue stream. When Bezos purchased The Washington Post, the newspaper's content management and publishing system was extremely inefficient.
Fixing that internal problem eventually resulted in Arc XP, a world-class digital publishing system currently used by over 2,000 media (and nonmedia) brands: Of the 20 largest American newspapers by print publication, eight use Arc.
Granted, you may not have the resources to turn an internal "product" or core competency into a new revenue stream.
But then again, you might. A client of mine developed a project tracking system so effective that subcontractors asked to use it. A friend who owns a construction company realized his supply trucks were crisscrossing the region to such an extent that he could easily make deliveries for other companies. Over time, a friend built a set of quantified self tools -- to track his own health, productivity, finances, happiness, etc. -- that he then realized could become a software product for others to use.
So maybe you won't play the Bezos long game: 1) Build a product or system for your own needs, and then 2) find other people happy to pay for it.
But you can find ways to turn something your business does well -- a core operating or skills competency -- into a product or service that other people will be happy to pay for.
After all, you invested the time and effort into building an exceptional skill, so why not find a way to get paid for it?