The Umbrella Man

Find the gap, fill the gap, profit.

Under My Umbrella, Broadgate Circus

When I got to Manhattan the other day, it was raining (heading towards snow). There was a very long line waiting at the cab stand for a taxi away from Penn Station. Walking back and forth near that stand was a man with a bag full of umbrellas. He kept saying the same thing.

“Umbrellas. Don’t get wet.”

It was a simple sale. Honestly, I wanted to change it just a little. I wanted to tell him to say, “Umbrellas. Stay dry.” Because that would sell the benefit of the umbrella. But then, what did I know? He was out there doing his thing.

I didn’t talk to him. I watched him. It was a simple experience. I’m sure he bought the umbrellas from a distributor for cheap, maybe around $2 a unit. I’m pretty sure he would sell them for $10. Maybe if it really started to pour, he’d go for $20. It was an obvious win for him to stand there and get those things sold, because if he bought 20 umbrellas for $40, and he sold them for $200, he was going home with more money than he started with for a very straightforward effort.

That’s the basics of entrepreneurial thinking: find a gap, fill the gap, profit.

When people say they’re entrepreneurs, I’m often skeptical. I think they tend to think that having more than one pursuit makes them an entrepreneur. No, that makes you an ADD sufferer. I had a really hard time calling myself an entrepreneur, but starting and running three companies that fill a need seems to have me feeling like I can say that about me.

But also maybe not.

Because I don’t always think the way that Umbrella Man does. If I did, I’d be doing many more deals. I’d be making bigger wins. I’d be helping people more directly.

I think we need to think about the Umbrella Man more often, if we want a healthy business. Because I’m pretty sure he’s not wasting his time on half the stupidity we are.

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