(Note, this is Part 3 of a 3 Part Series titled “My Personal Why”. Part 1 – Switching from Hedge Fund Investor to Software Entrepreneur, Part 2 – Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, and the Principles of Entrepreneurship)
An interesting shaving story
A little over a year ago, I was in Las Vegas with a few business school classmates celebrating the end of the semester.
One afternoon, I found myself happily exploring storefronts along the Venetian’s indoor promenade.
I stumbled across a store called “The Art of Shaving”. The name seemed intriguing and vaguely familiar so I wandered in.
Now, my shaving habits are pretty simple. I use a mass-market razor and buy cartridges & cream in bulk from Amazon.
As I entered The Art of Shaving, it was like entering a different world. I was blown away by how complex shaving could be. There were so many blades, brushes, and ointments of all sorts – I felt overwhelmed.
Luckily, the store wasn’t very busy, and the saleswoman was ready to help. We chatted about their products for a bit, but soon the conversation migrated toward their business model.
Among the things I learned were:
- Procter & Gamble (owners of Gillette) bought The Art of Shaving nearly 10 years ago.
- Some of the store’s best revenue generators and highest margin items are razor cartridges. (And of course, they only sell Gillette cartridges.)
That was fascinating to me. Within the store (and as I would later discover online), the Art of Shaving advertises everything but its cartridges – which makes sense, since the store bills itself as a high-end brand, and the cartridges that they sell are pretty much the same ones you can buy at CVS.
It surprised me that despite all the fancy oils, creams, and gels that the brand advertises – the basic razor cartridge is still one of their biggest money-makers. And it made me think again about why Dollar Shave Club was so disruptive.
I also hypothesized that Procter & Gamble bought The Art of Shaving in 2009 to lock down a premium distribution channel and ward off potential competitors to its cash cow cartridge business. The saleswoman agreed with me – but who knows if we are right.
Ultimately, the conversation lasted a good 30 minutes. I walked out with a $28 bottle of shaving oil – partly because I felt the need to reciprocate for the saleswoman’s time and insights.
Where my mind wanders
Now I do this a lot. I’m not talking about buying boutique consumer products, but rather the act of asking everyone – from friends to strangers about business models and unit economics.
To paraphrase one of Paul Graham’s essays: It is important to pay attention to where your mind wanders when it’s free.
Well, this is where my mind frequently wanders—on vacations, on airplanes, at dinners—anywhere, anytime.
When socially acceptable, I try to steer conversations in the direction of business topics. I do so because I’m constantly seeking to better understand how the world works, and things become just a bit more REAL when the exchange of money is involved. With real stakes on the line, you truly see how incentives and human psychology come into play, and I find it all very exciting.
But what else
While I feel fortunate to have recognized this facet of my personality, that alone isn’t specific enough for me to figure out what I want to do with my career in the long-run.
I know I can grind away and get work done and motivate my teammates to do the same. But I also know that I don’t enjoy leading in such a manner, and it won’t be scalable as I grow older.
What I do enjoy, however, is curiously inquiring (like to that saleswoman), understanding people’s needs, and crafting creative deals.
It also makes me genuinely happy to connect intelligent and motivated people. (Fittingly, I co-founded a business that connects expertise.)
Much like how my mind often wanders toward business topics, it is also on the lookout for potential intros. And I have a tendency to act on those thoughts. My rationale is that, after all, 15 minutes of effort from me crafting emails could change the course of 2 people’s lives and lead to something that could change the world.
As an example, I was at a friend’s wedding last month where the bride told me that her mom is the global head of corporate travel for a prominent tech company. My thought immediately went to my friend Alex Jara who is working on an innovative travel start-up called Deal Engine that should be of great interest to her. I laid the groundwork, and when the time is right, I’ll make that intro.
Putting it all together to arrive at my personal mission
In thinking about what I want to do with my life, I try to take a pragmatic approach.
I recently made an effort to triangulate to the intersection of a) what I am good at, b) what I enjoy doing, and c) what is good for me in the long run. And I’ve come up with this diagram.
I’ve concluded that my personal mission will be to connect people to capture business opportunities together.
I’ve decided that I will use this blog as a means of broadcasting business ideas + my own analysis + personal anecdotes with the explicit goal of connecting people. I will continue to write about things I find interesting, and I will go out of my way to connect those who also find those topics interesting.
I can see how this could evolve into an investment vehicle down the road (and perhaps even merge with my current company), but for now, I will just do it for fun – in my free time.
I should mention that I don’t need to be the person to come up with these future ideas. As everyone knows, ideas are a dime a dozen, it is the execution that is hard – and my goal is to help people execute in the way that feels most natural and fun for me.
So if you think of a business opportunity that you wish to share publicly—let us discuss, and I may write about it! Together, we can spread the word and help you find the right people to connect with!
About the author: Yishi is a former hedge fund investor, current entrepreneur & MBA grad who enjoys thinking about businesses in his free time. He can be reached via yz [at] yishizuo.com
He is also a co-founder & CEO of DeepBench — We connect users with experts on any topic in any industry, and we also license our software to enterprises to better organize and monetize expertise. (Check us out if you are interested in joining our network or using our product!)