Seizing Opportunity

Posted: May 26, 2013 by Chuck Matthews in Innovation, People, Planning

Opportunity is missed by most people

because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Thomas A. Edison

UC Chuck MatthewsThe classic definition of opportunity refers to a favorable set of circumstances or a chance for advancement, as in the opportunity to buy a computer on sale or an opportunity to go to college.  While useful in most situations, when it comes to business in general and entrepreneurship in particular, it misses the mark at best and can be downright misleading at worst.

For entrepreneurs, there is only one kind of opportunity: what is the unserved and/or underserved market opportunity?  There are four core elements of the entrepreneurship process underscored by creating value for the customer: There must be a clear focus (product and/or services, customers and competition); scanning a changing environment (uncertainty, ambiguity, and external forces); and the entrepreneur (creativity, leadership, and communication).  The fourth element, the engagement or execution (opportunity, resources, and team) is our focus here.

Opportunity.  Not long ago, I received an excited phone call from an acquaintance about an opportunity to rent a larger retail space for his three month old venture.  He used the word ‘opportunity’ numerous times within the span of sixty seconds.  “The opportunity is [fill in the blank] great, time sensitive, will never be available again, etc. etc.”  I asked him, “What is the unserved and/or underserved market opportunity that having this larger retail space will allow you to better serve?”  He was unable to tell me.  Basically, the “opportunity” he was describing was more of an expense than an opportunity.  Moreover, the market opportunity needs to be of sufficient size, quality, and durability to sustain the business venture in which you are engaged.  The opportunity is not to start the venture, but rather to identify a problem or pain point, devise a solution, and discern the dimensions of the unserved and/or underserved market potential.  This can be tricky.  For example, advancing technology can lead to goods and/or services that address problems for which previously there might not have been a viable market. If you were born before 1942, do you really need a smart phone?  If you were born after 1992, could you possibly live without one?

Resources.  Identifying a market opportunity is one thing, assembling the necessary resources is quite another.  Building on memories of “snurfing” on snow in high school, by 1977, Jake Burton Carpenter, envisioned a more sophisticated way to “surf on snow” and introduced the first Burton Snow Board.  But like other entrepreneurs, initially he was ahead of his time and his early attempt failed as he improperly calculated the potential market for this new entry in sports equipment.  By 1980, however, he had brought together the resources to simultaneously innovate the board itself, put the wheels in motion to “create” the emerging sport of snowboarding (now an Olympic sport), and launch the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of products targeted at an emerging market.  The entrepreneur constantly balances scarce resources for optimal impact to define and develop the product/service offering, build brand awareness and acceptance, and gain a market entry point.  Today, Burton Snow Boards Burton products are in over 4,300 stores worldwide with 40-70 percent market share depending on the category.

Team.  Entrepreneurs by their very nature are not timid, especially when it comes to their ideas.  Yet, they are always quick to note that the secret to their success is from surrounding themselves with people who are better, brighter, smarter than they are.  Building a cohesive and focused team is both an art and a science.  While we are familiar with team sports and the reliance on each member of the team performing as a unit to achieve excellence, we often overlook that even in individual sports there is a reliance on a team that often goes unseen yet is equally important to success.  Entrepreneurship is both an individual and a team sport and identifying core team members in the short, intermediate and long term is essential.  Team is critical to execution and while investors would like every new venture to be an “A” idea and an “A” team, they are often drawn to an “A” team with a “B” idea over a “B” team with an “A” idea.

As Winston Churchill once famously opined, A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.Entrepreneurs are a very optimistic group: they see opportunity everywhere!  Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

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