TIL2017 – Be Different

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

This post is part of the TIL2017 Summary Series.

We’ve already had a post about Being Different. It was like the song of the year though, so it gets repeated here.

Being Different is valuable because it distinguishes you from others. It’s like when my seven-year-old daughter says ‘Let’s race!’ but speeds off before telling me where the finish line is. If the end is different you can be the first one there.

Danny Meyer did this for restaurants. He wanted to put flavor notes together in a new way. He wanted to emulsify tastes. He wanted new food in New York – and he’s largely succeeded.

We can hold up Meyer and the others in hindsight but the journey to different is lonely. You have to be a loner, a cynic, a skeptic wrote Scott Fearon to be a short seller. Jason Calacanis warned against investing in obvious things. Meb Faber said that “me too” funds will often fail. Marc Andreessen said to look beyond the non-obvious.

Okay. How?

One way to be different is to do something you know. Andy Rachleff suggested this. Create something that you love to use, said Rachleff. In other words, eat your own dog food.

Another way is to learn about something. This is what Scott Norton did when he created a new ketchup brand. If there’s a manual about how to do a thing, it’s not a new thing Norton said.

Marc Andreessen would tell you to look at fringe groups. What are they doing? We see this through history like when the radio went from a novelty to a luxury to a necessity. Cars, phones, dishwashers too.

Sometimes you won’t be different. This is why Gimlet Media doesn’t have a sports show said Alex Blumberg. Until they can do something different than the existing podcasts they’ll sit out.

Sometimes your different thing will be really different. Who, for example, would want to watch eleven hours of civil war pictures? Ken Burns found out that a lot of people would. Burns and Alton Brown both succeeded because they remixed existing ideas to make something new. For Brown that epiphany was when he wondered what a combination of Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, and Monty Python might look like.

Different isn’t a Silver Bullet. The thing still has to be excellent. Jenn Hyman tested the Rent the Runway idea on her sister and friends in college. Scott Galloway tells his NYU Stern students – and anyone else who listens – to build a great product before you worry about marketing. So does Ryan Holiday.

If the different thing succeeds it will be temporary. Others will join this one person race. Edges don’t remain said Ed Thrope. Sports is a petri dish full of examples from Jeff Luhnow to Daryl Morey to The NFL.

Being different will always be hard and sometimes be valuable.

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