Billions Business Advice: How Do You Know Your Business is Ready?
What are you the best at? What makes you unique? How can you make your business ready for the next level?
In Season 2, Episode 5, Showtime's television series Billions asks hard questions about what it means to be a successful business. And, it's one of the best examples of why one business succeeds, and another doesn't.
If you want to grow your business, bring on a partner or investors, then you need to be able to answer these questions.
Over the past few weeks, I've become re-obsessed with fictional billionaire Bobby Axelrod, his investment firm Axe Capital and all of the suspense, drama, money and business talk going on in Billions. You know when Aaron Sorkin's name shows up on the list of show creators you won't be disappointed, and this show doesn't let me down.
Though most of the show doesn't talk about business strategy or entrepreneurship, one of the episodes I just watched had a very clear description of what makes a business “ready” for growth, major success, and outside investment.
While your business might not be one that would attract investors, or the prospect of significant growth might not be something you're yet thinking about, the questions posed by Bobby to his wife Lara apply to every business. And, they're spot on.
To set the context for these questions, let me set the scene. Bobby's wife Lara started a business, and she's facing fierce competition. Like most founders of startups, Lara is looking for outside investment to have the capital she believes would give her a competitive advantage. At the end of a long day, she describes a meeting with investors, how it went, and why she was frustrated. After sharing her thoughts, Bobby offers his harsh but accurate advice.
How to Know Your Business is “Ready” from Billionaire Bobby Axelrod
If you can't answer these questions, you're not ready for the big leagues.
What is it that you do that you're the best in the world at?
If you want to be world class, you have to become world class. People who are average get average results, even if they want world class results.
This may seem basic, elementary even, but I can't tell you how many entrepreneurs come to me with an “average” mindset. Every day we're surrounded by “also-rans,” the people who showed up and expected a prize but didn't do anything extra to actually win. In business, that attitude won't cut it.
If you're going to ask people for fork over their cash, you've got to be the best. Nobody wants to buy the second, third or fourth best products and you'll never make money if you expect people to settle on you. If you can't be the best at what you're doing, find the thing at which you can be the best, be world class, and do that.
Do you do something patentable?
If you watch ABC's Shark Tank, you know that businesses with patented products are always more attractive (and often get more deals) than businesses without patentable products.
To paraphrase the words of Bobby Axelrod, your company must make something nobody else can make in a way nobody else can make it. Product components, ingredients, designs, all of these can be patented and can be things that set you apart from your competition.
What do you do, make, build, cook or create that is unique to you?
Do you do use a unique process?
Lara Axelrod's business is a service based business. So is mine. Lots of people can do what we do, lots of people may do what we do, so what is it about HOW we do what we do that makes us unique?
I remember going to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse about fifteen years ago. Up until that point, I'd never seen a steak more than about an inch thick, so when the massive slab of beef arrived on my plate at Ruth's Chris, I was pretty impressed. When I asked how they did it, the waiter told me they cooked every steak in an oven that was 900 degrees, and that process was how they delivered amazing results.
Customers don't always place a premium on the end results. They often value the process more than the final product.
If you disagree, pull out your phone and order a town car to take you to your next destination.
Do you have an isolated segment of the market?
I've been talking about finding your isolated market segment for years now; I just happen to call it your “avatar.” Bobby's description may sound more “business-y” but it's the same thing. To be successful, you must find a niche, an isolated segment of the market, a specific avatar whom you can serve.
Your avatar could be a person or business; the process is the same. To read more about identifying and isolating a segment of your target market, read this post, listen to this podcast, and download this resource.
Have you created a brand around your business?
One product does not make a business. We've seen this play out several times on Shark Tank as entrepreneurs come into the tank with a great product, but no real business around it.
In Lara's case, her business provided a single service. Yes, it was a needed service; yes, it was highly profitable, but it was still a single service. Bobby's argument was that Lara didn't invent the product, she didn't invent the ingredients involved, and she didn't invent the method of delivery. Lara's customers could get a similar product in a similar way from a similar company.
When you build a brand around your business, you build mind share, and mind share is far more important and valuable than market share.
Legally speaking, your business is a person. And, like any person, your business needs to have a personality, things it does well, areas where it excels, friendships and partnerships, and an element of excitement. If you want your business to be ready for the big leagues, build a brand around what you're doing. Tell a story, slay a dragon, and find people with whom you can storm the castle.
I really like the show Billions, especially the anti-hero, Bobby Axelrod. I know the show is a work of fiction, but Axelrod's character is an excellent example of how successful people think and plan. Axelrod and his counterpart Chuck Rhoades never focus on today's problem, they focus on the issues they'll face three moves from now. The successful people I've observed always have a plan in motion, and they always have a strategy in place.