When you're learning a musical instrument, it's sage advice to practice what you can't do rather than what you can do. If you can speed through your scales on guitar but struggle changing between chords, there's no use spending half your practice time on scales since you're already good at those. Concentrate on the chords instead.
But, sage advice for budding musicians gets completely turned around for entrepreneurs, who should pay less attention to what they're not good at and concentrate on what they do well. If you put almost all your money and effort into what you can do, it often overshadows what you can't do.
It's worked for some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world. Let's see how these billionaires used their strengths to build powerhouse brands.
R&D (and only R&D)
Elon Musk and his approach to Tesla are a good example of how near singular focus on one aspect of your business can propel your company forward without having to think a lot about other aspects of it. Being a problem solver who loves to rely on technology, Musk concentrates basically all of his efforts on building a better product with Tesla.
Think about the last time you saw an advertisement for a car company like Ford, Nissan or Volkswagen. I bet it was easily within the last few hours. Now think of the last time you saw a Tesla advertisement. I bet you can't even recall one. But, somehow you still know about Tesla.
That's because Tesla is in the news a lot and it's in the news a lot because its products are changing an entire industry. The blackout on advertising is by design.
In Musk's own words: "At Tesla, we've never spent any money on advertising. We've put all our money into R&D, engineering, design, and manufacturing to build the best car possible. When we consider spending money, we ask if this will create a better product? If not, we don't proceed with spending the money."
Regardless of what your strength is, whether it be production or marketing, differentiate yourself by using that strength. When it comes time to allocate money, dedicate the majority of your resources to what you do best.
But, the caveat here is that your product or service truly has to be phenomenal. If you are a whiz at marketing, but your products or services are subpar, you're just going to end up alienating people.
For Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the focus was on getting as many people using the site as possible, particularly early in its existence. Once upon a time Facebook actually did have competitors in MySpace and Friendster, but while those platforms got sidetracked with music and kept the virtual barriers up between people's profiles, Zuckerberg understood the social aspect of social media.
Social means making connections and connections means more users. More users means more influence and more influence means more word-of-mouth advertising, which means more users ... For Zuckerberg, accumulating more users meant everything and, therefore, every aspect of Facebook's development was focused on the pursuit of attracting new people to it.
According to Facebook employee No. 30 (Noah Kagan to his mom), Zuckerberg once said: "I will not entertain any idea unless it helps Facebook grow the total number of users."
No matter what your business is, the more people who use your products or services, the better. That might mean advertising or it might mean the aforementioned research and design, but if you reach a kind of critical mass with your product or service, the word-of-mouth advertising takes over and propels itself.
With this one, the caveat is that your product or service has to appeal to a wide audience, which is why this kind of focus works well for social media platforms. If you're in a niche market, there's probably only a relatively small amount of total users to go around.
Sometimes a strength can be something as simple as being patient and steadfast. Take Berkshire Hathaway Inc. CEO Warren Buffett for example. A lot of people pushed Buffett to invest in tech stocks, but he resisted because he has a specific investing strategy and sticks to it.
An extremely oversimplified version of his strategy is:
- Mature, stable companies that are involved in industries that are consumer staples.
- Companies that will conceivably be around in 50 years.
- Focus on a handful of stocks, no matter how many companies you have in your portfolio. (About two-thirds of Buffett's holdings are usually only in a handful of stocks.)
As you can see by this criteria, tech stocks don't usually fit into what Buffett looks for. Due to the nature of technology, it takes a tech company a long time to mature and become an established brand name that is assured of being around in 50 years. Despite pressure to do so, Buffett held off investing in companies like Apple until he was totally convinced the company fit with his stringent criteria and it's paid off for Buffett and his holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Here, the caveat is that if you're not willing to take risks on tech companies, you may indeed miss out on the next Facebook or some other massive opportunity. Playing the long and patient game works for Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway, but if your gut is telling you that tech startup you keep hearing about is going to be huge, your gut may just be right.
By focusing on their strengths, these three titans of entrepreneurship have built themselves business empires. If a weakness is truly hurting your business, you should shore it up, obviously. But when allocating resources, remember that concentrating efforts on your weaknesses will at best make your company mediocre. It's your strengths that will differentiate you from your competitors.