In mid-2010 I brought in a consultant on one of my businesses. He was a dynamic guy with an eye for opportunity, but he was always in a hurry. Then relatively inexperienced with building online businesses, I let him take the lead and build things his way, rushed – despite my reservations. I ignored the #1 rule on how to build your business right – listen to your gut. What my gut told me then was, “Don’t rush into this,” but we didn’t listen.
And the product worked – if generating revenue is what you mean by “working.” But while it successfully doubled the business’ revenues and profits, it also just about tripled the amount of work the business required.
Because it was my own business and I was the one running it, that meant I suddenly had 3 times the work for 2 times the revenues – but not even that. With all the new customer contact the new product added, I soon had to hire an email outsourcer to take over writing and responding to emails. And that wasn’t cheap.
Next, because this wasn’t a project I was able to devote myself to full time with all my other obligations, I soon found myself falling further and further behind on getting out the monthly product. Customers started cancelling. Problems in the IT infrastructure – built sloppily and rushed – began accumulating and people were getting double-charged. All this made me begin to despise a business I’d once loved. I ended up shutting down the product following a problem with the billing system for it that I struggled to fix for 2 days, and I scaled the business back down to its original pieces to continue building it the way I originally intended after that. My lesson was learned.
In the end though, this highlighted, bolded, and underlined something for me I’ve known a long time – that something being, if you’re going to build your business, make sure you do it right.
2 Ways to Build Your Business: Rushers and Defenders
Ever play strategy games?
I’ve always been pretty good at them personally. And I’ve found that business building and strategy games have a good deal in common – if you know a man’s strategy in strategy games, you can very quickly intuit his strategy in business and in life.
Me, I’m a Defender. I’ll sit back, throw up some defenses, and just build infrastructure and research technology like crazy in strategy games. I don’t actually come out of my shell and go start taking over the world until I have a super strong foundation to swing from.
Now, my way isn’t the only way, but the effective strategies primarily fall into too camps:
I’ll talk about each below.
Rushers build fast and light, betting everything on a fast attack that takes their opponents off balance and helps them expand quickly. Rushers are at their most effective at the beginning; they throw everything they’ve got at you, grab for resources right away, and just go, go, go.
Defenders, on the other hand, build slow and heavy. They bet everything on keeping the rushers at bay long enough to get their infrastructure in place. They focus on foundation first, expansion second.
There are also the players who don’t really know what they’re doing and don’t have a cohesive strategy. That’s most players, other than the pros – they mix a little defending, a little rushing, and get a whole lot of nothing. I won’t talk about those guys because they don’t know what they’re doing and they rarely win anything.
Back to Rushers and Defenders. Rushers are great in the early game – it’s not uncommon to see a Rusher devastate a Defender early on by throwing large quantities of attacks the Defender’s way. The early game is a very dangerous place for Defenders – if they spend too much time building infrastructure and forget to give themselves a few teeth to defend against the Rushers, they stand a good chance of getting unexpectedly wiped out.
But, by the middle of the game, the Defenders have begun to stabilize. Their infrastructure building and development of new technologies have enabled them to start having an easier and easier time shutting down Rusher attacks, and before you know it everything the Rushers throw at the Defenders is crashing against the Defenders’ walls and being shattered.
The late game is dominated by Defenders. By this point, the Rushers are on their way out, taking a heavy toll for their lack of infrastructure and development. Their ability to efficiently expand retarded, Rushers tend to stay small and loose, and keep the attack on to try and keep their foes off balance. But because the Defender is getting larger and larger and more and more powerful, the Rusher’s attacks become increasingly less effective. Eventually the Defender becomes powerful enough to now take a well-placed defensive action – the best defense there is: a good offense. The Defender then sends out a heavily armed and upgraded force the likes of which the Rusher simply can’t produce and can’t defend against to subdue the Rusher once and for all so that the Defender can have peace.
Business is just like this.
The businesses you see that seem the most prominent early on are the Rushers. The ones that get the long term success are typically the Defenders.
Case in point:
Pets.com vs. Amazon.com
Pets.com was a Rusher. It was everywhere – commercials all over TV, nonstop advertising, everybody knew it. Everyone was certain it was going to succeed. But it expanded too fast, too sloppily, and it lacked the proper infrastructure to maintain that expansion – and it collapsed.
Amazon.com was a Defender. It was unprofitable for 10 years – all it did was build, and build, and build, and develop, and develop, and build. And then, when it finally was ready to send out its massive force to crush the opposition, it did – and it won.
Here’s another one:
Microsoft Windows vs. Apple
Microsoft is a Rusher that actually did quite well for itself. Apple is a Defender.
What seems to be happening now is that we’ve entered the midgame for operating systems and computers. Microsoft nearly toppled Apple in the early game – the 1980s and 1990s. But Apple hung in there, and kept building, and developing, and laying down the infrastructure for its future success. Microsoft is playing fast and loose, getting wins wherever it can, and keeping the attack on. Apple isn’t doing that – instead, it’s building and developing and focusing on building its business correctly from the beginning.
What you’re starting to see now is that Microsoft’s attacks have become ineffective against Apple. Apple’s established itself, and Microsoft is beginning to break against Apple’s fortifications. I would expect that, at some time in 5 to 10 years, once computers enter the late game, Apple will become large enough and prominent enough that it is then ready to launch a Microsoft killer – and that’s exactly what it will do.
The Rusher’s 7 Deadly Sins
When you look at history, what you see time and again is that Defenders ultimately win. The only way to win as a Rusher in business is if you’re in it to build and flip – if you plan to sell out in a few years and give the business to someone else.
And, of course, when you look at the majority of businesses that get flipped, what do you see? Failed businesses. Just take a look at Google’s collection of acquisitions. There’s a list here:
How many of those went on to be anything significant to the company? 10% maybe? Less?
And Google’s good. They know what they’re doing. Think of all the businesses that get acquired every year by people who aren’t as good as Google at picking winners, or don’t have pockets as deep to pay for the companies that are already winning. Google’s the 2000s New England Patriots of the Internet – they know how to pick talent.
The point is, Rushers tend to build businesses that rocket up, then turn around and fall back down to Earth again.
Now, over a long enough span of time, every business fails eventually. e.g., remember who started the department store model? Woolworth’s, back in 1879 (and now defunct). Or who began the fast food chain model? White Castle, back in 1921 (still open, but with only 1.3% the number of stores of another business that launched 20 years later as a copy of its model – McDonald’s). (perhaps this tells us not to name your business something that begins with “W”)
Every business eventually fails. It’s just that Rusher businesses fail a lot sooner than others.
Why do Rusher businesses fail so quickly most of the time? It’s because Rushers tend to make 7 deadly sins – that ultimately doom them. Those sins are:
- Gluttony (not focusing on just one thing at a time)
- Greed (wanting everything now)
- Sloth (failing to do the work they need to)
- Acedia (neglecting to build a proper foundation)
- Envy (wanting everything other businesses have)
- Pride (thinking they can do it all, all at once)
- Vainglory (promoting themselves as bigger than they are)
Here’s a detailed look at each:
Deadly Sin #1: Gluttony
Nothing dooms a business faster than an inability to get focused on its core strengths.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple Computer, he made the word “focus” a key refrain of his, as he pared Apple’s product lines down to only a few core essential products, and discarded everything else. When you build your business, you need the same refrain.
One of the reasons why Rusher businesses fail is that they fail to laser their sights in on the best opportunities. They try to be everything to everybody, and end up being nothing to no one.
Deadly Sin #2: Greed
Right along with Rusher businesses wanting to be everything to everybody, they want to have everything right now. That means they don’t want to wait for tomorrow – tomorrow isn’t soon enough.
Rusher businesses try to get everything they can. If they see a way to get another nickel out of a customer right now, they will, even if that means that customer doesn’t come back to spend $500 or $1000 later. A certain nickel now is worth more to Rushers than an uncertain $500 or $1000 later.
Add that up over time though, and Rusher business’ short term focus can and does lead to a lot of lost revenue down the line.
Deadly Sin #3: Sloth
Sloth, or apathy, is a surprisingly common trait among Rusher businesses. You wouldn’t think it – they seem to always be so energetically on the go – but in fact, they neglect a lot of the little things like finance, accounting, metrics, and customer service because it isn’t fun or exciting and they figure they can do it later – or, they figure that if they expand fast enough, all of those things will take care of themselves.
Because of their sloth, Rusher businesses build up inherent glitches in their systems that accumulate larger and larger and larger with time and disrepair, eventually leading to system failures. This makes it very difficult to continue expanding in the long run, and very difficult to continue getting new customers and new business, especially once the business is large enough that its growth in the marketplace has slowed and everyone knows who it is and the kind of products and service it puts out.
Deadly Sin #4: Acedia
Acedia’s related to sloth, but in a way it’s even more insidious. Acedia is listlessness, torpor… growing unconcerned with maintaining one’s status or position.
What happens with Rusher businesses is you’ll often see them reach this point after they’ve expanded a bit. Rusher businesses expand quickly, but then they start hitting the walls and fortifications of the Defender businesses. Suddenly, they find themselves unable to get more success – the Defenders have their “walled gardens” of customers that the Rushers can’t access, and now the Rushers have reached nearly everyone they can reach with their current go, go, go mentality. After that, business slows way down.
And once business starts slowing down, Rushers quickly become demotivated. That’s the point they start becoming listless at – and that’s the point at which they begin to fail.
Deadly Sin #5: Envy
Rusher businesses are guilty of wanting to have everything that other businesses have – immediately. Where a Defender might look at another business and say, “That asset would be good to have… I’ll get it in time,” a Rusher is wont to say, “I want that asset – how can I get it right now?”
There is a certain merit to the Rusher’s desire to get things now – except when it starts becoming too much. And if one thing can be said about Rushers, it’s that they never quite know when too much is too much.
So, Rushers end up wanting everything that other businesses have, immediately. And they stretch themselves thin trying to get those things – even if the benefit to them right now is minimal. Other businesses have it, and if they’re going to win, they have to have it to – or at least, that’s what they think. So, they spread their resources out far and wide to try and get everything they think they need, preventing themselves from building their foundations in core areas and instead adding a mish mash of puzzle pieces here and there from different puzzles that don’t go together and don’t work well at all.
Deadly Sin #6: Pride
Rushers tend to be totally confident that they can do everything all at once. Because of this, they pile more and more and more on their plates – and the plates of those around them – thinking that they’ll be able to handle everything.
And then… they crash. And it all falls apart.
Rusher businesses often get so overinflated trying to do so much at once because of this pride that they doom themselves. Nobody else did it to them – they did it to themselves, assuming they could do it all. They grow themselves too fast, and get too big for their britches – expanding before they were ready to be able to sustain that expansion, and having to either scale back dramatically later, or risk falling apart entirely a little later on.
Deadly Sin #7: Vainglory
Vainglorious Rusher businesses are happy to go around talking about how big, great, and wonderful they are before they’re able to deliver on those promises. Because of this, they tend to get themselves in sticky situations – either being exposed as frauds (saying they could do something or do do something that it turns out they can’t or don’t), or ending up committed to delivering something they only then come to find out they just can’t deliver.
Vainglory is deadly to businesses because it leads them into areas where they can become overstretched and underequipped. In battle, the side that’s the most overstretched and underequipped is the side that’s usually going to lose, and it’s every bit the same in business – vainglorious businesses tend to put themselves in position to be beaten, and predictably they end up beaten.
Learning from Rushers: How to Build Your Business for Sustainable Success
I probably seem really down on Rushers right now. I’m not. Defenders have their problems too – namely, that they can frequently move so slow that they end up getting crushed by faster moving and faster evolving businesses. One thing the Rushers get (partially) correct is that the more resources you have at your disposal, the more you can do, and this is something Defenders often don’t fully realize. A Defender could build infrastructure twice as fast if he had twice the revenue streams – but he usually isn’t thinking that way.
So, while we don’t want to be Rushers ourselves, we do want to learn from them the key lessons that they have to teach us about being more effective. Ultimately, what we want to do is build your business with the profile of the Defender with a dash of the strengths of the Rusher and create an 80% Defender, 20% Rusher style of business that absolutely kills in the marketplace.
And here’s how…
Recipe for an 80% Defender | 20% Rusher Marketplace Killer
- Proper foundation and infrastructure building (Defender)
- Market research and targeted products (Defender)
- Focus on high quality products and channels (Defender)
- Large quantities of channel building (Rusher)
- High touch, high quality channel maintenance (Defender)
- Continuous refinement of products (Defender)
- Testing and gradual product rollouts (Defender)
- Target aggressive rollout dates for finished products (Rusher)
- Follow up and monitor customer reactions (Defender)
- Incorporate customer suggestions into product (Defender)
- Set to work building the foundation of your business before you do anything else. Even if this is just a basic foundation, understand what you’re trying to build and how you want to build it before you get to work. This takes a little time up front but saves you a lot of hassle down the road.
- After foundation is built, research products and product channels thoroughly to target products at unmet needs with heavy demand. Use effective channels, and use every channel at your disposal.
- Build a method for working on channels. Either automate channels, or hire staff to work on individual channels. e.g., a staff member who manages your social media accounts, another who handles your social bookmarking, still another who manages your appearances at trade shows, and another who takes care of your print advertising.
- Get your products right. It doesn’t matter how many products you have if nobody wants them. On the other hand, if you have only one product, but everybody wants it, needs it, loves it, and tells their friends about it, you’ve got a successful business with tons of growth potential. Keep testing your product and roll it out gradually to make sure you get it right the first time around if at all possible.
- At the same time, maintain strict deadlines. Without deadlines to get things out, you might very well take forever. Make sure you have a date when you need to have things out by, and make sure that date is sometime soon.
- Finally, monitor customer reactions – and use those to make your product better. No matter how good your product is, it’s never going to be as good as the one that has feedback from thousands of customers incorporated into its design. Get it as good as you can get it before you put it out – and then once it’s out, make it better.
Mix all that together, and voila – you’ve got a winning recipe to build your business right the first time around.
Learn from my mistake – avoid getting into situations where you’re rushing to build a product and get it out before your business is set up right to handle the product. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in Rusher territory, and chances are you’ll either need to scale back later or shut down altogether if you can’t get a handle on things.
Instead, user an overall Defender strategy, and incorporate the best elements of the Rusher strategy to keep the Defender from moving too slow or taking too long. That’s how you win at business – and that’s how you build a business that you can love.
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And I’ll talk to you again soon.