After starting Triton, my partners and I gradually found contracts to apply our talents and built an experience base. Because of our experience prior to starting Triton, we pursued government contracts. With some of them we made money, and with others we lost money. But we found that in general, the government cared mostly about cost and very little about quality, despite their claims to the contrary. It also became clear that much of the contracting success of our competitors was based on their superior political skills rather than their technical expertise. So after a couple of particularly irksome examples of this, we made the decision to no longer pursue government contracts and quit cold turkey.
We then entered a phase in which we considered that we were far too talented to waste our efforts on a single business, and we became involved in several. It did not take long before we realized the mistake of our ways. It is hard enough to grow one business much less several.
Oddly enough, I still see large companies make this same mistake on a regular basis.
Cisco decided that it needed to buy the company that made the Flipcam badly enough to spend over half a billion dollars on the purchase. Now you might ask: “Why did a company built on providing leading edge technology solutions for the internet networking world want to buy a digital camera business?” And that would be a valid question considering that only two years later they pulled the plug on the business.
Anyhow, as it turns out, our epiphany at Triton was driven by the Billy Crystal movie, “City Slickers.”
After one of my partners went to see this movie, he was insistent that my other partner and I go see it too without telling us why. Since he was not normally given to such unconventional behavior (well, that is not entirely true, but this is not the forum in which to go there), we indulged him.
The purpose of his request was to have us see the scene in which Billy Crystal is talking to Jack Palance. While discussing the secret of life, Jack holds up one finger and goes on to say that life is about, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean …”
You get the idea.
Having struggled for some ten years, we decided that the only thing to do was take the advice of an actor in a western comedy. With that decision made, we got out of the bikini business (that story is for another blog post altogether) and our contracting business, and we decided to focus on one thing.
It was great.
Instinctively, we knew we had made one of those life-changing momentous decisions. The only problem was the same one that Billy Crystal had…
What was our one thing?
At the time, my partners and I would periodically go on retreats (which we called board meetings consisting of eating great steaks and sipping on a bottle of Jack) to a National Park because it was nearby, but far enough away to escape the hassles of daily life. There were no phones there, and it was cheap. I recall that we used to argue over who got to sleep in one of the two bedrooms and who would be relegated to the twin bed on the porch.
As an official corporate meeting, it was necessary that we record our meeting minutes, a task that fell to me. Now the reason that I was the company secretary was that when there were only two of us, I lost the coin toss to be president. But not to be out done, I insisted on being Vice-President AND Secretary to have two offices, a decision that I came to deeply regret. When I later realized the err of my ways and tried to convince our third partner that HE should be Treasurer AND Secretary he told me …. Well it wasn’t very nice, but the gist of it was that he said, “no.”
So, I ended up with the job of recording the minutes. No matter how poor a job I did, I could not get one of my other two partners to take over the job. I never took this job very seriously so, never imagining that our board meeting minutes would ever be read by anyone, I invariably spent a great deal of time documenting the sleeping arrangements in our corporate minutes. When we later sold the business and were forced to hand over all of our “official” corporate records, I often wondered what the accountant who was tasked with reading our papers thought of my minutes.
In the end, we eventually saw an opportunity in providing ATM services to locations such as convenience stores, bars, restaurants, and malls where conventional ATM technology was cost prohibitive.
ATMs for a niche market was our one thing … and it served us well.
What is your ONE THING? Whether it has to do with work, family or hobbies… have you found a ONE THING that has served you well? Comment below…
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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