When you think like an entrepreneur, you see everything around you differently.
4 min read
A few months ago, my wife and I were brainstorming ways to market our novel. We spent three years writing it together — it’s called Mr. Nice Guy, and it comes out October 16. And as any author knows, publicizing and marketing a book is tough. It’s a crowded space, few publications cover books in any meaningful way and readers are hard to reach.
We stared into the air for a while. Then I thought, What would happen if I stopped looking at this like an author, and started doing it like an entrepreneur? And with that, a new world opened up.
I don’t see entrepreneurship as a career choice. It’s a mindset. That’s the thing I marvel at most when spending time with brilliant entrepreneurs, and it’s the skill I think everyone should continually hone. When you think like an entrepreneur, it’s like wearing augmented reality glasses. You see the same things as everyone else, but you see them differently. They appear as inactive opportunities, just waiting to be activated. All you need is to find a new way for something old to be useful.
There are ample famous examples of this, of course. Airbnb realized that a house isn’t just a house; it’s a rentable space. Uber realized that a car isn’t just a car; it’s a taxi service. But this happens on a smaller scale, too. Consider the inventor of a butter dish called Butterie, who told me she couldn’t afford $10,000 in market research. She realized the airport wasn’t just a place to travel; it was actually a perfect polling place, filled with people who have nothing better to do than answer questions about butter dishes, and so she began showing up early for flights and surveying travelers. Or take the man I interviewed whose camera equipment business was slowing. He realized Amazon wasn’t just a site to sell products — it was really a giant R&D lab, where he could scour reviews of other products, see buyers’ feedback and then build products to meet the commenters’ specific desires. “I like this clock, but I wish the numbers were bigger,” someone might write. Bingo. Today his company, C+A Global, sells tens of thousands of products and has offices around the world.
So I started thinking about what I’d overlooked. What had I once thought of as just a part of my book, but that was really an inactive opportunity? And then, aha! There’s a critical scene that features a remote-controlled vibrator. (You weren’t expecting that, I bet. Mr. Nice Guy is a romantic comedy about two people who each week sleep together and then critically review each other’s performance in a magazine.) What if that vibrator wasn’t just any ol’ vibrator but was instead…some brand’s vibrator? I called the adult product company Adam & Eve with a proposal: I’d put them in the scene, in exchange for them emailing their entire list about our book. They said yes.
Inactive opportunity: activated. This was exciting. And addictive!
I kept going. Would Elliott Clark, a well-respected cocktail creator I met who goes by Apartment Bartender, make drinks inspired by the book? Sounds fun, he said. Most authors launch their books at bookstores, but…what if that’s actually an inactive opportunity? I emailed a friend at WeWork; would they host our party and invite members? Yes, they would! Now, back to Elliott: Would he come? Yes! Could he get us a liquor sponsor? Yes! Opportunities everywhere!
This thinking is equal parts thrill and anxiety. There’s the thrill of finding opportunities, and the anxiety of never possibly finding them all. But at least there’s a solution: Make this mindset a habit. Do it until it becomes second nature, until you can’t remember what it was like to not see opportunity everywhere. You’ll see more every day.
Why else do you think I wrote this month’s column the way I have? This, right here, was an opportunity I needed to activate. Now you can let me know if it was successful.