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Element 3. Sustainable Differentiation > Practical Experience—This Deserves the...

Practical Experience—This Deserves the Minimum Weight of 1

Your ability to sustain a unique advantage could be the toughest element for a new venture to forecast. Once you go public with the idea, if it is compelling you can expect a surge of pretenders who hope to duplicate your feat. If you can own a unique piece of cyberspace (such as the name registry), indeed a piece of space itself (such as the one or two geosynchronous orbit slots from which telecommunications can stretch between the Mississippi and the Volga rivers), some uniquely valuable real estate, or some rare booty from which commercial value can be squeezed (such as a train set from the Orient Express), you can perform well here.

However, it is sometimes not realistic to forecast that you will be able to achieve effective sustainability. Patents often do not function as perfect defenses against replication. Appealing alternative locations in real estate can normally be substituted for the optimum spots. My experience is that claiming that your venture is guilty of not having a sustainable uniqueness is the typical excuse for prospective investors who “tank the deal” by somehow demolishing the possibility of your receiving cash from them if they are short of funds and want to back out. Honestly, they will never want you to know that they are out of money because that would harm their stature in the market. The truth is that in the long run, compelling products or services are not often sustainably unique. If you are rejected for funding for not being sustainably unique, you are likely to have lost the deal because of something else, perhaps a lack of funds, or possibly a politically incorrect matter such as your race, gender, age, or religion. Sustainability has little to do with uniqueness and very much to do with you and the management team. Let me move the dots a bit closer: if the investor declines to invest because your products are not sustainably unique, that rejection has little or nothing to do with the product or its uniqueness and a lot to do with something else, either their own embarrassment or something disquieting about your management.


Here are some possible examples of sustainable uniqueness:

  1. Patent for the production of a critically useful pharmaceutical that is recognized by the FDA (note the double protection of the USPTO and the FDA). Here is one of those odd conundrums: do patents work or don’t they? Investors and I believe that they are of limited utility. Why? Foreign intervention. Many countries that are robust in new technology development are reluctant to enforce global patents. So patents are therefore suitable only for casino odds. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Good luck on predicting when and where.

  2. Ownership and exhibition of the lost exhibits of the Baghdad Museum.

  3. Ownership of the only bridge possible between two inhabited islands.

Dr. Market’s Observation:

Businesses sometimes find ways to make it appear that they are sustaining their uniqueness. Don’t be afraid to use a little poker bluff from time to time with a new feature or benefit that is interesting but not necessarily earthshaking. As in poker, however, don’t get caught bluffing too often or someone will call you on it. New paint on your cab, a new menu at the restaurant, a name change on an ancillary product, a new software revision with only modest (and low cost) adjustments—these are all superficial yet potentially effective sustainers. From time to time, however, you will need to sustain your uniqueness with significant (and possibly costly) upgrades such as all-wheel-drive cabs, a new specialty chef, a new product instead of a name change, or a new piece of software from the bottom up. Do anything you can to keep your enterprise out in front of the game. The key here is relentless, energetic attention to distancing your enterprise from the competition at every opportunity. You snooze, you lose.

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