by Brandon Reiter
Starting a business is like setting out for a long road trip. Before you begin, you need to pick out a car. The right car. Since you are the driver, you have to be comfortable in the vehicle you choose to operate.
Think about the last time you bought or leased a car; what did you consider? Cost? Down payment? Gas mileage? Horsepower? Aesthetic? Safety? These are all (to some degree) the same aspects to consider when deciding what kind of business you want to run.
As much as I would love to buy myself a Lamborghini, I don’t have the funds for it. Not yet at least. Go buy some brand new Skyview Merch. Anyway, just like a Lamborghini, I can’t simply sink money I don’t have into a start-up with initial expenses (the down payment) that are too high, coupled with ongoing maintenance fees that would continue to bleed me dry. Also, as someone living in Manhattan, it would not make sense for me to even own a car in the first place. There are other methods of transportation that are better suited for my lifestyle. Even if I had enough money to buy a Lamborghini, in Manhattan, it would make more sense for me to hire a luxury car service. Thankfully, I’m not faced with these dilemmas yet. I just ride the Covid-infested subway for now.
If you’re starting a business, the odds are that you already have an idea for the type of car you want to drive. But before you commit, you still want to make sure that it’s the best fit for you to maintain your lifestyle and reach your destination. If it gets poor gas mileage, if it’s unsafe, if it’s pink, you probably will want to consider other options.
The good thing about cars is that if they breakdown, they can often be fixed. Along your journey you may need to change a tire, fix a broken muffler, change the oil, and so on. But even if you start driving and realize the car isn’t right for you, you can always turn around and restart you journey with a better suited vehicle. Of course, you’d rather make that decision 5 miles from where you departed as opposed to halfway across the country. BUT just because you start off driving with one car, doesn’t mean you have to commit to it for your entire life. In fact, one day you might even be able to buy a Lamborghini….
In the late 1800’s, a young engineer left his job at the Edison Illuminating Company to start an automobile company. After receiving praise and encouragement from Thomas Edison himself, he took his talented mind and exceptional engineering skills to begin a new chapter. However, the engineer’s company was not able to produce the sort of vehicles at the price and quality he intended, and it quickly failed. Instead of walking back to Edison with his tail between his legs, he designed a new car: A race car. It was a work of art that captured the attention of many players in the industry.
The success of the race car gave the engineer another chance at launching a new automobile company. The mission was to provide an affordable car for the average American (at the time, cars were a mere luxury for the rich). The engineer, however, had trouble shifting his focus from racing cars, where he was seeing success, to everyday cars. His financial backers grew impatient with the stagnant sales. The engineer decided to leave the company after many conflicts with the financers. That company was the Cadillac Automobile Company and was purchased by General Motors in 1909 for $4.75 million (approximately $145 million adjusted for inflation).
On his third attempt at starting a company, the engineer finally found his groove, and was able to finally focus on producing an affordable car. He and his partner leased a factory from two brothers, John and Horace Dodge. After a few rocky years, they were able to build and replicate the type of inexpensive car the engineer had envisioned. It was the first car to have its steering wheel on the left side, the entire engine and transmission enclosed, and a suspension using two springs. I don’t know much about cars, but apparently this was a big deal. It was very simple to drive and, when it debuted in 1908, it only cost American’s $825 (roughly $23,750 adjusted for inflation). About ten years later, a majority of Americans learned to drive with using this specific model, due to its affordability and simplicity.
If you haven’t guessed by now, the name of that design is the Model T, and the engineer was Henry Ford. Despite Ford being a huge anti-Semite and documented scumbag, his persistence and development of the Model T, and eventually the assembly line, are two of the most important contributions to the industrialization of America.
Ford had many ideas but was considered too volatile to be the president of the company that bore his own name. However, the Model T was led to his unfathomable success. Had he quit after the failure of his first few concepts and sidetracks, who knows how long it would have taken the country to develop a car ready to get America on the road.
When starting a business, it is important to keep in mind that your initial model might not be the one that leads to your ultimate success. Customers may respond differently than you anticipate, it may be harder to pull off than you expect, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be opportunities to receive feedback, adjust your offerings, and come up with a viable solution that can get you where you want to go.
I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit. At Syracuse, I sold T-Shirts that said “Beeracuse”, clever I know. I had many ideas which I never pursued that ended up becoming real companies like BuzzFeed and Fanduel. Don’t believe me, I don’t care, but it’s true. The year before I launched Skyview I had another brilliant idea, or so I thought. The premise was to essentially be able to send gifts to your friends as easy as you would send a Venmo or PayPal. Instead of sending money, you could send a gift without needing the recipient’s address, just their username. The name? Giftmo. Seriously, stop calling me clever, I’m blushing. Before I sank real money into it, I reached out to some of my old professors at Syracuse, who told me that they thought it the idea could have potential, but I better gauge the market first. I did a few surveys, which confirmed my thoughts, but after looking further into the industry I found other apps that offered a similar concept, although not the same. However, I concluded that it was too much of a risk and would require a complicated launch in order for me to be willing to leave my job and give it my all. Although Giftmo died, my desire to run my own company did not. I turned around the Giftmo car, dropped it back at the dealership, and bought the Skyviewmobile.
To be successful on the road, you want to make sure that you get in a car that is right for you. You want a vehicle that you can feel comfortable driving. However, you won’t get a true feel for it until you’re cruising down the highway. Maybe it doesn’t drive as you expected. There’s no shame in getting a new car if your first model isn’t right. I learned a lot from trying to start Giftmo which I can attribute to Skyview’s early success. Sometimes you need to change your vehicle to complete your journey. Or in Ford’s case, design one.