By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker
Cool new products get reviews, articles, advertisements, and talk show segments. The companies that make them get to look on like proud parents while their offspring skyrocket in the public eye.
But what about unsexy products and services? Where are their limelights? Who sees the B2B that saves its clients hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in (let’s say) real estate costs? The ratings for companies like that are very low, so they sink into the background, unnoticed. And the next brilliant businesswoman goes about her day, not knowing about niches waiting to be filled with her individual genius.
Attractive doesn’t have to be sexy. I’m delighted when I see attention paid to backstage companies, as in the article from Forbes, “What I Learned From The Best Entrepreneurs Outside Silicon Valley.” I’m delighted because it happens so rarely, and I think potential entrepreneurs are not getting guidance toward some wonderful opportunities because of this dearth of popularized information.
In my own case, the lack of popular coverage in what became my industry did not matter. I grew into my business from my abilities in an existing industry, one from which my business grew out like a branch. I also started it before media became what it is now. Those two elements were enabling in a way not every current entrepreneur experiences now.
Entrepreneurship often starts from knowing that you want to work for yourself. That knowledge, especially in an economic climate like now, can come while you are working in an industry completely divorced from your passions and talents.
The eagerness for employment of any kind often drives people – especially young people – into jobs that don’t necessarily go anywhere. It has become something of a joke to assume that anyone works in the field for which they were educated or which they love. It is couched in words like, “amazingly,” or “finally,” when someone gets a job that actually reflects his interests. That makes it tough to grow out like a branch from your current industry.
This mismatch of interests and incomes is a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs tired of working under someone else with too little incentive. Unfortunately, most of the alternatives presented are to have a brilliant, one-of-a-kind invention that translates directly into a chic product and a spread in Wired Magazine.
Seeing this trend in the storytelling of entrepreneurship, I count myself lucky that I was already in an industry that suited me, and that I could directly apply that experience to propel me in my own business. I rejoice when I see press covering the unsexy businesses, because I hope a lot of frustrated employees see that there are ways to serve industries they love in positions other than front-and-center.
When I was about to start my own company, there was no Internet (here, let me date myself). One of the dangers I see in the incomprehensibly huge amount of information is the temptation to say that “there’s so much here, it must all be here.” This assumption is dangerous because when there’s a gap – like the one where coverage of unsexy entrepreneurial ventures should be – we don’t perceive the gap. We assume everything that should be covered is covered. (This is rather like the assumptions made behind the Heartbleed breach – statistically, it must be covered, went the assumption, but in fact, it slipped through.)
When I was starting out, it wasn’t reasonable to assume all the information was getting the right amount of attention, or was even available to the average Joe. Accordingly, I didn’t get bombarded with the same single narrative of what makes an entrepreneur. There was more ambiguity with less data, and more potential.
I don’t mean for a minute that we should try to put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to the Internet. I am just very glad to see a light shone backstage, on those businesses that make the world go ’round very quietly. It’s a rich world, back there, and I encourage anyone contemplating entrepreneurship to explore it for a niche, waiting to be filled.
Prior to forming USI, Ed McLaughlin spent his entire career in sales and marketing roles at IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Trammell Crow Company. He is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.
Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin All rights reserved.