Thursday, February 02, 2017

Never Start a "Tiger Tank" Company


I have a friend who runs an international business.  A real one.  One with employees, divisions, departments, and multiple offices.  It is indeed international with clients in the US and production in China.  And he is indeed successful, enjoying the finer things in life that the 99% will never work up the work ethic to enjoy.

The company is also the bane of his existence.

If it's not shipping, it's customs.
If it's not customs, it's some critical employee who put in his notice.
If it's not an employee, it's a customer who didn't pay in time.
And if it's not the customer, it's his fledgling subsidiary with a never ending litany of growing pains.

On a GOOD DAY 40% of his time is spent actually managing.  The remainder of it is merely putting out fires and dealing with problems.

Thus are the problems of starting a "Tiger Tank Company."

If you don't know what the Tiger Tank was, it was the "premiere" tank that debuted in WWII.  Virtually unstoppable, superior in nearly every regard, if you pit any other tank against it, that other tank would lose.  And thus when the Germans released their Tigers on the field, other tank crews would rightfully fear because there was a good chance they'd lose their lives.

But the Tiger had a huge disadvantage that nearly every other tank did not have.  It was overly complex.  And since it was overly complex it had infinitely more problems than any other tank.

The transmission would break, the gas consumption was unsustainable, the fuel system would leak, the suspension would break.  It may have delivered on everything a tank commander could ask for...that's while it was working and not in disrepair.

Inevitably it was the Russian T34 tank that would doom the Tiger Tank.  Though not as massive, armored, or weaponized, it was cheaper to produce, faster to produce, more efficient, and had only a fraction of the problems.  So while the German Tiger Tank could take out 3, 4, even 10 of the enemy's tanks, the Russians could produce 11, 12, 13, even 20 more of them, all of which would see more field time than a Tiger.

Companies are the same way.

Not to brag (because it was originally intended as half a lark), but compare my buddy's company to Asshole Consulting.

Asshole Consulting has the least moving parts possible.  In part by it's nature and in part by intentional design as it evolved.  There is a bare bones (some would dare say "craptastic") website.  A simple e-mail server.  A paypal account.  A laptop.  And one Grade A, professional asshole.  5 pieces of machinery, in total, that generate a tidy sum above beer money.

Compare that to my buddy's company.  Three divisions.  One subsidiary.  About 30 employees.  A score of company phones.  Two score of company computers.  Tracking software.  Suppliers.  Vendors.  Production facilities.  Their employees.  Managers.  Accountants.  Phone operators.  Delivery men.  His operation has infinitely more moving parts which means things go wrong at his company infinitely more times.

Now, admittedly, he is a millionaire and I am not.  But if you are a regular reader of Cappy, you know that I endorse entrepreneurship not so much as the path to riches (which is certainly nice), but primarily as the path to freedom.  That your time is more important than money.  And that if you live the life of a minimalist, then the amount of money you need to make as an entrepreneur is just that much less, making your goal of true freedom just that much closer and more attainable.

The problem comes in where the entrepreneurial idea you concoct may indeed be brilliant, may indeed make you millions, but if it sucks your time and life away, then it was all for naught.  This is not to belittle the value of money and riches, nor to tisk tisk you if you make millions (more power to you), but to make you realize the value in not only evaluating which business ideas you should pursue, but how to streamline their operations when you set them up so as to have the least amount of moving parts possible.

Here there are a couple lessons I've learned either through my mistakes or watching the mistakes of others.

1.  PEOPLE are the NUMBER ONE CAUSE OF ALL PROBLEMS.  We're not talking just employees.  We're not talking just supervisors.  We are talking ALL PEOPLE involved with the business.  Employees, supervisors, suppliers, vendors, lawyers, customers, ALL OF THEM, ALL POTENTIAL SOURCES OF PROBLEMS.  This is why I only have one employee at Asshole Consulting and why I control the product process with an iron fist.  Like the soup Nazi I DEMAND my employees follow instructions, do EXACTLY as I say, and get paid up front because not only does that limit the amount of problems that can go wrong, but it also lowers prices DRAMATICALLY providing better service to my customers (just think about how expensive therapists are when it comes to insurance, co-pays, billing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and bill collectors).

2.  Run one business at a time.  While my buddy runs technically one business, there are two separate divisions within the company necessitating twice the amount of managerial overhead.  He also sponsors a sporting event annually which is yet just another unnecessary piece of machinery that can go wrong, and at BEST consumes his vital and limited time.  Do not chase every little bunny rabbit that might make a good entrepreneurial venture.  Focus on one at a time, and until you have that set on auto pilot freeing up additional time to pursue new ventures, do not pursue new ones.

3.  Do not bring Tiger Tanks into your personal life.  I know two people who got dogs.

Why?

Because they wanted to have dogs.

Never mind neither have jobs or are able to support themselves let alone the dogs.  Never mind they're living at home and got into this mess by agreeing to take care of other people's dogs.  They simply wanted the dog, and who can refuse a cute little doggie?

Well now, even with something as innocent and unassuming as a dog, look at how much of your freetime is consumed and your life complicated by by providing for a retarded-child-equivalent.

You have to feed the dog.
Walk the dog.
Take the dog to the vet.
Take it out to go potty.
Spend time with the dog.

And never mind the new logistical hurdles you face.

You have to get a dog sitter.
You can't go on planes.
You can't go into most restuarants.
You forever have to rent apartments that only accept dogs. 

You just sank the equivalent of a 10 hour per week part time job for a dog.

And dogs are just an example.  You need to look at every decision in your life and ask if it adds an unnecessary cog to the streamlined machine.

You want to get your MBA?  You sure?
You want to buy a boat?  You sure?
You want to start a restaurant?  You sure?
You want to get a roommate who may or may not stiff you on rent?  You sure?
You want to buy that fixer upper dream home?  You sure?
You want to get involved with the local civics group, church group, or run your children around town for their 31 different flavors of sports?  You sure?

Everything takes time, and not only does it take time, it may unintentionally become the single largest waste of your time in your life.  It may ruin you, even driving you into bankruptcy.  But while that is certainly not the most common outcome of blindly making your life more complicated than it has to be, most people unconsciously saddle themselves with at least 10 hours per week of unnecessary moving parts.

Be smarter than that.

Time is your most important (and only) resource you have on this planet.  Before either blindly following the crowd, or starting some kind of business venture that will make money, but torpedo you life, evaluate and contemplate how much time that move is going to cost you, and how to design it so that it takes the least amount of time to run.
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16 comments:

Doug Cranmer said...

Man you're an a-hole.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I mainly lurk and don't comment much, but I must say, great article.

Frank Cervi said...

This was such a great post. Loved the connection to history and the example of the Tiger tank. Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Dogs now take up too much time? Cappy hasn't seen "Up in the Air"

David Jravis said...

It's work like this, specifically from "Bachelor Pad Economics", which I discovered by accident some time ago, that set me on the path to minimalism and re-evaluating my beliefs about the meaning of success.

Which reminds me... I still haven't read "Reconnaissance Man" yet. Need to get on that.

Jim Scrummy said...

Excellent points! I have been slowly influencing (I hope?), my college age nephew on life after college. He's an engineering major (Electrical) and I have been gifting him books on entrepreneurship, to get him a flavor of what it would be like running your own "shop". I need to direct him to your site, specifically this post so he can see what you are doing. The heartening thing that happened over the Christmas Season, when I was able to visit and talk with him, he was already thinking of starting his own business...while in college! When he told me that, I said "DO IT"! But, by all means, do finish the degree, because it's not worthless.

Only have people in your life that add value to it. Only do stuff (e.g. hobbies, vacation trip, and buy things that add value to your life. I don't need a lot of crap in my life these days, because it just slows me down from doing the things I love to do!

Anonymous said...

As always, another excellent article/post that is something I often think about and very much agree with.

-I don't have a dog in part because I don't want to have to wake up at the crack of dawn to take one out, especially in my cold state. Nor to clean up after their fur or if they track mud. Nor worry about how long its been since it went out while I'm at work.
(I do have a cat though, cause I still wanted a tad of companionship. But I never have to take it out, it seeks attention only when it needs it, its not loud or particularly messy compared to a dog etc.)

-I regularly avoid dating or even hitting on single mothers. They're an insta-family, and a false one at that, since if you leave or they do, the kid is left high and dry. But talk about upkeep. Once when I was younger I had to make some kid cereal and who knows where that kid is now...to do that every day for years for some chick when its not your kid is the biggest most pervasive joke society is trying to push on men at present. If I didn't think "maybe" Some Day I might want one of my own, I'd have already gotten a vasectomy (still might), because fuck that.

-My place isn't huge. I mean its great for me, but many people have bigger. But they also have more rooms & airspace to heat than me. And bigger lawns that need more upkeep. Doubly so if in some manicured neighborhood.

-I could also walk from where I live to multiple pizza places, multiple chicken & fry places...a big department store, sporting good store etc. Many other people I know would Have to drive. Means more cost in gas. More vehicle wear & tear. Both those things mean need to work more to maintain for fill or fix.

-I haven't married because if you think a retarded child aka puppy is bad, well, imagine someone eating up half your funds or more all while being moody, taking up half your places space or more, and entitled to half your stuff that you likely worked more years to accumulate if older than them anyways, and future payments if they decide to cheat or leave you, aka indentured servitude.

Anyhoo I could go on and on but the point is you're right on the money, as always. No pun intended. "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone." -Henry David Thoreau

SoCal Stoli said...

I actually am manager at an international logistics company, a licensed customs broker, so the beginning of that article made me laugh out loud.

Oh-so-painfully-true...!!!

Anonymous said...

You mean like this:

http://dilbert.com/strip/2015-4-24

Phil B

Anonymous said...

Spot on!

With a dog... I'd say, it depends. Wouldn't want to miss my dog and apart from the extra time spent after buying it as 2month old up to age 4 months I don't think I spend extra time on him. That said, I'm my own boss, I go hiking a lot, spend walking time almost daily anyway and the rest of the time the dog just tags along or sleeps around somewhere in a corner.

And as with everything, done right a small to medium dog (18-25lbs) doesn't cost me more than 20 bucks a month all costs covered.

But I agree. Don't get a dog if your life style isn't dog compatible already.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your work and perespectives! Keep up the great job!

Unknown said...

Always with the negative waves Moriarty, always with the negative waves......

Richard Cranium said...

I used to be the manager of a company that was a wholesaler for water softener products. They literally had three separate companies under the roof that in essence did the exact same thing. It was a logistical cluster fuck constantly trying to do the invoicing and billing out figuring out which customer dealt with which company and which company purchased supplies from which vendor. Later on I figured out it was just a way for the owner to shuffle his assets around but it made a huge amount of extra work where there didn't need to be any.

Unknown said...

As a counter point a consulting job --

* Won't produce the motorcycle you ride.
* Nor provide the bed you sleep in at night while on the ride.
* Or provide the meals you consume while on the ride.
* Or make the camera you use to take the pics while you are on the ride.

Or essentially everything your existence depends on. Slacker.

Ryan said...

Or to summarize, read Boyd's theories on aircraft design?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Cappy! Another great article. You changed my life for the better! Can't thank you enough!