A group of professionals in suits, pixel art
A trend I’ve started to notice across many different disciplines is that when you deny the “majority” in favor of a high quality “minority”, you tend to come out ahead. Some examples:
My first exposure to this concept was a few years ago when I was working at a company that manufactured light fixtures. It was a smaller shop, so we had a harder time keeping costs low since we couldn’t order in bulk like the larger manufacturers. My boss at the time explained to me that other companies buy their light fixtures in bulk from China for pennies on the dollar, then just sell them in America for a reasonable markup. These light fixtures were poor quality but they got the job done. I asked him how we were able to sell our lights for cheaper and he simply responded with “We don’t.” He went on to explain that following that model is a race to the bottom – what we did instead is focus on building high quality light fixtures and make sure to charge for it, because people will pay for quality.
When I needed a new job, I (foolishly) decided I would put every technology I knew or had worked with at some point in my life on my resume. I then sent that word vomit of a resume out to hundreds of companies. In over 300 companies I managed to get maybe 5 phone interviews and only one got a second interview. That’s a pretty terrible ratio. After watching a video on what it’s like from the recruiter’s point of view, a light bulb clicked on in my head and it became immediately obvious what I needed to do. I wrote a script to go through a JSON list of all my skills to conditionally create a custom resume for each job depending on what was in the description. I also edited every single one of my job descriptions to emphasis my skills with the Django framework. I wasn’t going to write python scripts for you (even though I could), I wasn’t going to work on AI (even though I could), and I wasn’t going to build internal tools (even though I could) – I was only going to work on websites that use the Django Framework.
This worked fantastically. By boosting the signal to noise ratio of my work proposition, I made it crystal clear to anybody looking specifically for Django developers that I was their guy. I only applied to maybe 12 companies max and got interviews at almost every single one.
Last year when I was delivering food for DoorDash and Uber Eats, I was making about $700/week (before gas) doing it full time. At some point I came across some gig work subreddits and informational videos about strategies. As it turns out, by accepting every order that came across my screen I was leaving money on the table in terms of travel distance and delivery time. And not just a little money, but a lot. I set some personal standards in line with what my local market could bear in that if I’m going to deliver your food to you, you better pay at least $1/mile and live relatively close to where the restaurant is. For this rate I made sure to always dress up a bit (polo and belt) and always be kind and timely. No messing around, I treated this like a professional job.
This ended up boosting my total pay per week up to $1000 with relatively the same amount of effort, and I was even able to push it to $1200 at one point. I was making more than my friends who had standard non-gig jobs, all because I made the decision to have standards and filter.
I recently attended a robotics competition where I was a mentor of one of the teams. Our team performs OK, but I wanted to be better, so I asked one of the more consistently better performing and respected teams if I could sit in on one of their meetings. It was both eye opening and depressing because it showed me just how far we had to go. A lot of what they do is designed to focus on quality.
We consistently perform poorly at competitions and they consistently perform well. After that meeting, there is no mystery to me as to why that is the case.
A year or two ago a friend of mine was an insurance salesman. And a property manager. And a real estate agent. And maybe 5 other things that filled in the cracks of his busy day. His own grandma bought a house and didn’t ask him to help with the deal. Why? Because she simply forgot that that’s what he did. Since my friend was doing everything, nobody remembered him for anything. After explaining my thought process to him, he agreed and made the decision to focus on his personal brand as a real state agent and only a real estate agent. Yeah he does a bunch of other stuff still, but all he markets is that he is a real estate agent who buys and sells homes. This way whenever anybody even gets close to the thought of buying or selling a home, he is the first person that comes to mind.
For each topic listed above, there is the deliberate exclusion of things that are below a certain standard or outside of a certain subject. This leads to the benefit of the person or organization making that decision. I think there’s a good lesson to draw from here for startups. Let’s say you make a todo app for things you need to clean around the house. Your customers might be able to use your todo app for grocery lists, but you artificially exclude those people from your marketing because you are trying to boost the signal to noise ratio of your message. If that signal is strong enough, the critical mass of customers who absolutely need a todo list just for things to clean around the house will flock to you because you have made sure that everyone knows that that’s what you do (assuming those people even exist).