Small Business Competitive Advantage #37: Get There First

Lot of ways to make your small business competitive and gain and advantage over the other guys duking it out for your customers.  One of the best methods is, when you have an innovation or idea to offer customers, make sure you get there first.  You’ll gain a competitive advantage that will be tough to overcome unless your product is God-awful.

The Back Applicator

As a young dude in my 20s, I’d been going to the beaches in Maryland every summer looking for productive things to do, like party and pick up chicks (that is girls or women for the mature yet unwashed masses).  Most of the time you end up on the beach soaking in the rays and getting as dark as possible because of how intelligent it makes you look.  But Houston, I had a problem.  My ethnicity is German, Eastern European, and by now you know that if I don’t get the sun block on in a major way, my summer vacation goes up in the flames of red, burned skin–the anti-chick magnet.

Biggest problem: How do I get sunscreen on my back at the beach to prevent sunburn while being a bit too shy to ask every passing female?  It is a foregone conclusion that, in public, your buds can NOT apply sunscreen to your back.  Anti-cool points to the max, no chance with any girl within 5 miles.

No worries, I thought, I am inventive and resourceful.  I take a paint stick (unused) and superglue a foam pad to the end of it.  I take it to the beach, squirt SPF 15 on the pad, and proceed to apply sunscreen to my back like a champ, avoiding the burn and keeping at arms distance from my male friends.  A true win-win.

“Hey Karl, that’s a great invention dude, you oughta patent it.  Toss me another Bud Lite hoss.”  And so I tossed the beverage and forgot about protecting the idea.  Flash forward 5 years later, I am getting ready for an adult vacation to the Bahmas in the winter by doing the intelligent thing: going to a tanning booth.  I walk in and the first thing I see is “The Back Applicator”, a 18 inch long plastic stick with, get this, a foam pad at one end to self-apply overpriced tanning salon sunscreen.

I walked out, kicking myself for not getting rich on being the first guy with this idea, knowing the other guy or gal was a flipping billionaire by this point.

My Wife’s Big Idea

About 3 months ago my wife presented me with an idea while she was half in the bag on Pinot Grigio.  I can’t tell you the idea because, in my view, it was a game changer.  Literally, as I told her, something that we’d need venture capital to carry out but would change society as we know it if carried out.  Stop asking, I cannot divulge the idea.

Well, we’ve been talking about it for the last 3 months.  I helped out and did some research, and guess what I found?  Three other companies are test marketing this very idea, maybe not exactly but close enough for intellectual property sake.

Missed again!  We’re talking about a spin on the idea now that involves cell phones.  What can possibly go wrong?

 Jack’s Beach

When my son was four or five years old, there was a little strip of land about two miles from our waterfront home via the river that we would take the Jetski to and hang out.  We’d cruise over with my son in my lap doing about 10 miles an hour to keep his head from getting whiplash and spend hours there, wading in the water and drinking non-alcoholic beverages.  Since we were the only ones there we dubbed this little venue “Jack’s Beach”, named after said kid.

My wife Lora gets a mural painter to paint Jack’s room that summer, and she in fact paints Jack’s Beach, with surfboards stuck in the sand and a street sign marking the territory.  Pretty cool.

Now Jack is ten.  We still go to Jack’s beach.  I am not making up this next part, I swear it.  We go there this year and there is an 8 foot high wooden street sign embedded in the sand on Jack’s Beach, with nothing on it!  We did NOT put this there, but it was just too poetic.

Well what do you think I did?  I got a can of paint and a small brush, Jetskied over to the sign in broad daylight, and gave it the proper name.  You could read my kid’s name from 30 yards in the water.

Two weeks later we meet a couple of new friends while out for dinner in a local restaurant.  They tell us they take their boat to a private little beach for fun and so do their friends.  “Where might that be?” I ask, feigning interest.  “Oh, it’s called ‘Jack’s Beach’ over on the other side of the bridge.”

SCORE.

Your ‘Get There First’ Competitive Advantage

OK, I’m not selling tickets to Jack’s Beach…yet, but these three little vignets tell a story.  Don’t be the doofus who didn’t protect his idea of a back sunscreen applicator to watch someone else get all the glory.  If you have an idea, even a little one, that helps your customers or does something differently or better, claim it.

Is it patentable?  Find out visitng http://www.uspto.gov/ and doing a search.  Invent a logo and copyright the artwork.  Go get 5 domains that other people might want to copy and promote your idea with.  Most importantly, don’t hesitate taking action if you really think it’s a killer concept.

CLAIM THAT SUCKER FIRST!  Be the company that sets the new standard before your competitor does.  Ask yourself these simple questions:

The Innovation Acid Test

  1. Do I see this out there in the marketplace?  (Google search please)
  2. Can this really help my customers?
  3. Is this cool and unique?
  4. Can I envision somebody buying this?

If your answers are N-Y-Y-Y (as in no-yes-yes-yes) to these questions, go claim that beach my friend!  If your idea is awful and no one copies it, you can still make money at it or at worst, you lost a few bucks and a little time.  If you get copycats, you know you’re on to something.  If you’ve done it right and deliver value on the promise, your competitors will always be playing catch up and you’ll be patting yourself on the back, with either your hand or your $10.99 Back Sunscreen Applicator.

God D$^&it!

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