Posts Tagged ‘business opportunity’

Lessons From Our Past

by Guy Ralfe on February 3, 2010

I have been riding the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Commuter rail service for 5 years and the service has not changed much in this time, but year on year the cost of a ticket rises, often more than inflation. In addition the daily parking rates received a 100% increase a year ago supposedly to help cover MBTA staff costs and yet the only way you can pay at most stations is by stuffing one dollar bills through a slot – no monthly contracts, pay by credit card etc that are commonly available in many municipal parking lots across the country.

I am moaning but I am trying to make a point here too – on February 1, 2010 a new rule has been put in place where commuters must only board where there is a conductor present. In effect about a 30% reduction in the number of places to board a train that already only has an entrance at each end of the carriage. I doubt in the history of rail service, its  origins date back to 1889, has this situation ever been the case and it is sad that our modern day educated commuter cannot let themselves on or off a train unescorted.

Most commuter systems around the world are being redesigned to eliminate the human element and to abstract the ticket management to before the actual commute, which is the prime purpose of the conductors on the MBTA. Even the T, the metro system in Boston, running alongside this same service operates with just a driver.

What I observe happening is that people with power today are making decisions because they operate in the vacuum of state/municipal organization, thinking they are immune to the consequences of the value their organization produces. At the end of the day the leaders of the MBTA are exposed to the same market pressures as any other free market business.  When the marginal utility or value does not exist passengers will consider alternative means of transport – it has happened before. When the cost of operation exceeds the value paid by customers and from the state taxes, it will draw significant attention by both disgruntled commuters and non-commuters who will see it as a waste of their tax dollars. It will not be perceived as a necessity but a problem.

Where there are problems there are opportunities… successful businesses thrive on the vulnerability of these sorts of problems. When opportunistic businesses, observe organizations entwined by their own history, they quickly swoop in with fresh ideas not constrained by the existing historical standards and cultures. Today’s impossibilities will become tomorrow’s opportunities. These options will sound welcoming and fresh to a disgruntled commuter and tax base. Although things generally move slowly in state/municipal processes once a movement starts it is hard to stop the momentum of the masses.

When this shift takes place it will become quickly apparent that even the state/municipal organizations are competing in a global marketplace irrespective of if the infrastructure is immovable such as in a train infrastructure. People and organizational practices can always be changed – it depends who holds the most compelling and valuable story at the time, which is what business is essentially. There are many transport service companies all over the globe that given the opportunity, and having no sentiment for existing established policies or traditions, will gladly start anew – possibly without a conductor or possibly one to keep all the doors open for their valued customers.

No customers  = no service, the value has to be there, and if you are not producing value with existing assets and opportunities there are a lot of companies out there determined to make better use of established assets like a rail network. Of late has been the acquisition by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment company of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the nation’s second-largest railroad for $34 Billion, their biggest acquisition yet.

Surprisingly this lesson has not been learned by the MBTA where this situation has already transpired in Boston’s Transportation History to quote

“The West End Street Railway had a virtual monopoly on all streetcar lines in greater Boston, but high profits, poor service, high fares and a general lack of concern for the public had resulted in alienation of the West End’s management from its customers. On December 9, 1897, under the supervision of the Transit Commission, a lease was entered into with the West End Street Railway by which the property of that company was leased to the Boston Elevated Railway Company”

Remember I told you so!

Notice the Exit as an Entrepreneur

by Guy Ralfe on December 2, 2009

exitHave you noticed how you live life and then suddenly one day you notice “something”, seemingly for the first time? Then after noticing that “something”, it seems to be hounding you – they just suddenly appear everywhere?

One of the best examples is the emergency exit sign at the movies. Amazing how an illuminated red/green sign in a dark room just goes unnoticed. Think back to the last film you watched and see if you recall  where the emergency exit was? Yes it was there, law requires it be there and clearly visible too!! You probably even left through the emergency door afterwards.

So what does this have to do with business? It occurred to me that many entrepreneurs start something that they identify as missing, flawed or incomplete. The fact that they are able to vision this means that they have a concern for this need and that is why they can notice it. This is good from the point of visioning, but it will also prove very difficult to get investors, partners and consumers interested until they too can see the need.

For big organizations they put their new products in front of us through marketing and advertising and telling us the story of the possibilities the new product will create for us. This gets it quickly adopted and widely noticed. For the entrepreneur it is a far longer and slower process. In the same way a salesman looks at his prospects and tries to convert as many to sales, the entrepreneur must maximize every interaction to ensure that the listener leaves with a clear vision of this product’s need, and the space of possibilities it will create once  in the world.

Once your listener can notice, they too will suddenly feel like they are being hounded by the opportunities for your product – and they too will then unconsciously become your speaker. This is important from a promotional point of view but more important in drawing in interested parties to build your products network.

Make sure you produce the vision every time in your listener, because that is where you will get the most powerful interaction, these listeners will see the exit signs like the fire alarm was ringing. If the listener leaves with a blurred vision, they will not notice that exit sign but take the exit!

3 Pre-requisites to Spot Great Opportunities

by Vijay Peduru on September 4, 2009

spotlightWhy do some people always seem to find new opportunities and new solutions, while some don’t. We all know that the first step is to keep looking. But sometimes even if we keep looking, we cannot recognize opportunities. However hard we work and think, we cannot spot opportunities.  The reason is we don’t have the right knowledge. Consider this story.

Two friends Jack and  John traveled to a foreign country for the first time and Jack took care of all the arrangements. One day, both of them were taking an evening walk enjoying the soft, cool breeze. As they went about chatting during their stroll, a paper floated gently in front of them. John ignored it as it was just a paper, while Jack ran after it and grabbed it. John was perplexed and he asked jack whey he was running after a piece of paper, Jack said that it is not a piece of paper but it was a local currency  equivalent to a US $100 bill.

What just happened? Well…  since Jack already had the knowledge of what the local currency looked like (remember? He made the travel arrangements), he was able to spot the opportunity, while John was not.

Each one of us live in our own worlds. Millions of people still believe that this world should appear the same to everyone, but scientists have proven that this is not the case. The world appears differently to different people based on their knowledge, which is a pre-requisite to spotting great opportunities. So, the question then becomes – How do we accumulate knowledge relevant to us so that we are in a position to spot great opportunities?

Here are 3 steps:

1. Decide what is important to you :  First we have to decide what is important to us in our life. There are 7 main areas in life. We can write down the goals in each one of them, commit to them and set out to make them real.

  • Social
  • Financial
  • Family
  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Spiritual
  • Career

2. Look for Fundamental Knowledge : Once we know what is important to us we need to get down to acquiring fundamental knowledge in those domains.

Here’s a small example: We know that all humans have an inherent need to belong to communities. This  is fundamental knowledge about humans.  Once we know this, we can understand why people become members in  myspace, facebook and other social networks.  Then we see trends… like Myspace slowing down. Why does that happen? Well… fundamental knowledge again… its the same need of humans to belong to communities; only now the community is moving to facebook.

So, one of the important areas you can consider to focus on to accumulate fundamental knowledge is study humans and how they behave.

3. Look for Practitioners: In the entrepreneurial world, Practitioners are entrepreneurs who are successful and who are willing to teach. They don’t have to teach you one on one –  you can learn from them by looking for any books, blogs which they write and/or following them. Keep looking for fundamental knowledge from them as they too rely on fundamental knowledge through which they interpret the world… and chances are you will learn a lot quicker and a lot more with them around you than without them!

Special thanks to Robert Kiyosaki for the inspiration for this story.

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Vijay Peduru is an entrepreneur in the bay area and is the co-founder of a bootstrapped startup. His interests are bootstrapping, leadership and spirituality.