Seinfeld on Startups: The Bicycle
Season 7 had a lot going on; didn’t they all? Episode 13 was “The Seven” and at its heart was George’s name for his first born. “Seven Costanza” – it’s a great name for a boy or a girl. While that may be a subject for another day, I’d like to draw your attention to the bike.
Elaine is sifting through an antique shop and finds herself a sweet retro bicycle. The only problem is that when she tries to pull it off the wall she messes up her neck. Kramer to the rescue. Not only is he a proctologist, he’s also a noted chiropractor. In exchange for his help in fixing her neck, Elaine had agreed to give him the bike. As is often the case, Kramer’s assistance lasted about a day and her neck was hurting again.
Now we could focus here and talk about services, contracts, risk and liabilities. But I’d rather talk about the bike – as the metaphor it represents for a business. Stay with me. A bike has two wheels – the back wheel provides the power, the production, the operations, the “guts” if you will. It’s incredibly important to any business because it’s the stuff you do. That said, a bike has an equally important front wheel. The front tire sets the direction and steers you around the random bumps and potholes you encounter.
It’s vitally important to have both – less you end up in the ditch – yes, the metaphors just keep on comin’! Unfortunately, far too many firms are back-wheel centric. The focus on their product or service, their internal operations, and being really good at their craft. All well and good, but eventually you are going to hit a pot hole or a small cat and find yourself sprawled out on the concrete – yard sale style.
I think for many of us the back wheel is comfortable and it’s what you know. As a technician you take pride in that piece of things. The truly great firms know that you have to pay just as much attention to the customer, what they want, your competition, and where you are headed. That can be a much harder task because it leaves you vulnerable to that fact that you may be headed down the wrong path. No one wants to think that it’s their service or product that is unwanted by the market – if I love it, surely everyone else will, right? We’d all rather assume that the consumer needs to adjust to us. And thus the front tire gets neglected until you become Blockbuster, Circuit City, Kodak or Schlitz to name a few. (Yes, I realize PBR is making it again, but they are a tiny version of their former scale.)
I better wrap this up before the wheels completely come off of this installment (get it?). Anyway, the point is that a business is more than just the stuff you do. It’s about finding customers that care about the stuff you do. Until you have that latter part figured out, it’s just an expensive hobby. Like buying an antique bike, crinking your neck, and having to pay for neck therapy with an antique bike. (Trust me, it makes sense and helped me tie this is all neatly together.)
Dan Beenken is Director of the UNI Small Business Development Center