Julien Smith is the co-founder of Breather, a Montreal-based startup that provides on-demand private spaces for work or relaxation. In this Unmistakable Creative interview, Julien talks about identifying massive opportunities and capitalizing on technology trends.
For Julien, risk is essential to capitalize on opportunity. By staying ahead of the curve and anticipating emerging trends, Julien has started multiple companies in different industries.
Choose Something You'll Care About for the Next 10 Years.
It turns out you have to work on things for a long time to have an impact. When you are young, you believe it will take two years or three years to do something. Zach Sims was running his company for 11 years before he finally had an outcome of selling his company. The primary impact was actually at the tail end of those 11 years. It wasn't in year one or year two, or year three. So in my mind, I think what do I care about that I'm going to care about for at least five or ten years.- Julien Smith
Sam Altman has said that a startup founder's most significant competitive advantage is a long-term perspective, which he defined as ten years. Many people delude themselves into thinking that they'll work hard for 3-4 years and spend the rest of their life sitting on a beach.
- If you want to do something that has a meaningful impact, you have to climb what Robert Greene calls the ladder of descending goals.
- The small goals you accomplish each day lead to a cycle of accelerated returns and help you achieve big goals over a lifetime.
Because you won't see the impact of your effort until the tail end, it's best to choose something you'll care about for the next ten years.
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Identify Opportunities By Paying Attention to What Most People Are Ignoring
People tend to start things when they're in the popular consciousness. And when they're in the popular consciousness, they tend to be too popular. Being able to look in little corners where nobody's paying attention is how you start a company ahead of the game, minimizing the amount of competition. – Julien Smith
When I told my old roommate Matt about my plans to teach an online course, record a podcast and host a conference in virtual reality, he said, "but hardly anyone has an Oculus." In response, I said, "10 years ago, nobody was listening to podcasts either.
Massive cultural trends eventually lead to platform and market saturation which increases competition. And before something becomes a huge cultural trend, most people ignore it. That's often where the most significant opportunities lie.
Medium was our most significant source of new email subscribers for three years. Publishing my content on Medium eventually led to a six-figure book deal with a publisher. But once the rest of the blogosphere hopped on the bandwagon, the platform was saturated. Today, even writers with massive audiences on other platforms have very little visibility for their work on Medium.
In 2010, hardly anyone listened to podcasts. Some even said that podcasts were dead. Today there are millions of podcasts on iTunes.
- Many successful podcasters were the beneficiaries of a substantial head start on something that's become a massive cultural trend.
- Others already had a large audience on other platforms.
What was once a trend that most people were ignoring has become a part of the popular consciousness. The opportunity isn’t what once was.
In our interview, Julien said, "There are always waves of things that occur either generationally, or they occur in small little places where some people don't notice. I think Oculus probably is one of them."
Innovation has made things possible that weren't before throughout history, which most people ignore.
- The commercial web browser and ability to process credit cards on the internet gave birth to e-commerce.
- Mobile phonies combined with location tracking gave birth to companies like Uber, Doordash, and many others.
To capitalize on emerging technology trends, you need to continually ask yourself, "what does this make possible that wasn't before."
Oculus and virtual reality will give birth to the next wave of billion-dollar companies. Because we're not bound by the rules and limitations of our physical world, anything that we can imagine becomes possible in VR.
- Visual artists can create galleries without renting physical space, invite people to their gallery opening, and sell their paintings.
- Podcasters can host live shows with their guests and invite their audience without renting an auditorium.
- Educators can reach audiences across the globe.
By paying attention to trends that most people ignore before mass adoption, you'll set yourself to capitalize on the most significant opportunities in any industry.
Asymmetric Upside vs. Downside of Risks
You have to have a sentiment for yourself that I have nothing to lose. If I have nothing to lose, I'm just going to go all the way and create like the most ballsy thing that I can make. That's a really difficult thing to do, but you get better with practice. – Julien Smith
Learning to take risks is an essential skill we should have learned in childhood that determines nearly every outcome in our adult lives.
- You risk rejection when you apply to college, apply for a job, or ask someone out on a date.
- When you start a company or build something, there's always a risk of failure.
But by making what Peter Sims calls little bets, you can take small risks, get feedback, iterate and evolve your ideas until you increase the odds of success.
In the spaces where entrepreneurs put themselves by and large, with enough failures and experiments, eventually, a success will occur that completely overwhelms all your previous failures. My view now is to take as many shots on goal as possible that have good access to the upside and limited downside. -Julien Smith
By the time Gareth Pronovost started his company Gap Consulting, he'd already started five businesses that were abysmal failures.
He took an approach with limited downside and massive upside to begin his next business.He recorded a few video tutorials about using Airtable, uploaded them to youtube, and spent five dollars a day driving traffic to his videos.
If it didn't work, at most, he'd lose $150.00. In the first month, he made $10,000.00. If you do a google search for Airtable, his videos will be at the top of the search results. Today his company is on track to generate over a million dollars in revenue.
Look for opportunities where the downside of risk is limited, and the upside is substantial.
It's the people with the staying power or the people with huge audiences from elsewhere that were able to keep growing, build a business and succeed.
People who succeed with their ideas go far past where the average person quits. In the process of building a business or pursuing an ambitious goal, there are detours, dead ends, inflection points, momentum windows and moments when you'll be tempted to quit.
Getting through what Seth Godin calls The Dip separates people who succeed from the ones who fail. People who fail quit right before the inflection point or when they're in the dip.
However, there's a delicate balance between knowing when to quit and when to persist. If you're unaware of how cognitive biases influence your decisions, you'll do the former when you should have done the latter and vice versa
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