Big opportunities for the small
For the last few weeks, I’ve been battling with AT&T about slow internet. Does anyone actually have fast internet? Because if you do, screw you. And, also, how’d you do it?
I honestly don’t know if I've ever had really, truly fast internet. Maybe I did my first year of college. I had a T1 line. That meant something in my day. I could download an entire The Smiths album in under a minute. I can’t believe I even tried to listen to The Smiths. That music is comically depressing. College: Where the internet was good, the music was sad, and my face was an entirely different shape.
Wow, I really digressed quickly from my dilemma of slow internet. Anyway, I have slow internet, and it’s making life not easier. AT&T is also making my life not easier. I have had three calls with them, and I somehow still have slow internet. How can this be? How can you treat customers this way? I sure as heck can’t treat customers that way, so why can they? First, because they’re behemoths and I (currently) need them more than they need me. And, second, it’s still easier for me to stay with them and their crappy customer service than it is to endure the hassle of switching to someone else.
But I'm not mad at AT&T and other big companies. I like big companies. I like them because they make big opportunities for small companies. Small companies just have to ask themselves: "What do the big companies suck at and how do we do it better?" Big companies are also really fun to hate. Remember when we all loved Apple? Remember, even before that, when only weird people had an Apple? 'member that?
Now, Apple is as common as (or maybe more common than?) an actual apple. A Starbucks coffee is more common than a regular cup of coffee. And Amazon is more valuable than the actual Amazon. But they weren’t always big. These were all once sweet little success stories, which then became legendary, whopping success stories. And the bigger they get, the more we dislike them.
But here’s the good part. They create awesome opportunities for average gals and guys. There are now more local, hipster coffee shops. I like that, and I'm happy we have these types of small businesses. But, they’re here because of—not in spite of—Starbucks, because Starbucks created the coffee culture in America. And once they got so big that it wasn’t cool to go there anymore, we got shops like Blacksmith, Antidote, Boomtown, Agora, Catalina, Morningstar, Tout Suite, Slowpokes, Inversion, Southside, The Doshi House, Throughgood, Siphon, Maggie May's, A 2nd Cup, and Black Hole.* These are all real places and all within about a 7-mile radius of our office.
Apple has been a little tougher for the competition. We haven’t quite seen an alt-Apple yet. There are companies like Razer that are making supercharged gaming laptops that look relatively cool. The new Microsoft Surface 2 is a really nice-looking laptop, and it is priced at $999, which has to be appealing to young people. But, personally, I'm not going to shift away from Apple anytime soon. There is one way I would leave Apple and switch quickly and confidently: if someone else made life easier for me and, maybe, made me feel a little cooler. It doesn’t have to be a lot cooler, but a little cooler is still important to me. But, it’s really about me, me, me, and my time, time, time. Which leads me to my last behemoth: Amazon. They make everything easier.
I was shopping for generic office supplies the other day on Amazon. Amazon is an online retailer that… I’m kidding. As I searched for batteries, a trash can, and an extension cord, something somewhat terrifying happened with each search; the first result that appeared was a brand of batteries, trash cans, and extension cords by Amazon Basics—and it had great reviews. And it was cheap. And, good God, Amazon is selling me their own products, and this is the end of civilization as we know it.
There is actually something called "the Amazon Effect." It is defined as the ongoing evolution and disruption of the retail market, both online and in physical outlets, resulting from increased e-commerce. It can also be defined as Amazon absolutely kicking everyone’s ass.
Remember when we all hated Walmart? Now, I kind of just feel bad for them. They’re like a pair of scissors competing against a riding lawn mower to cut an infinite football field. It’s not going to happen. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a situation where Amazon is not the easier choice—not always better, but easier. Amazon is actually getting us closer to living like the Jetsons than any other company before them. I bet you remember the first time you saw that clip of the Amazon drone delivery. I know I do. By the way, that is coming, and soon. This is bananas!
So, Amazon is taking over everything, yada yada yada. And I'm sure that is really bad for free trade or the global economy or something beyond me. However, my point is that there is reason to be optimistic. In fact, Amazon is awesome if your product or service is awesome. If you wrote an amazing book, you can get it published online and sold on Amazon in a jiff. Invent an inside-out umbrella (I have one it’s awesome)? Sell a million of them on Amazon. This is good for small companies, and bad for companies smaller than Amazon. What’s going to happen to Duracell and Energizer when I order batteries from Alexa? Alexa’s going to send me Amazon batteries unless I specify otherwise—which I'm not going to, because I don’t care about what kind of batteries I buy. I'm sorry, Energizer and Duracell. I appreciate all the hard work you’ve done building your brands, but I don’t care about your brands. And that’s not Amazon’s fault, or my fault; that’s their fault.
I also disagree that Amazon will digitally demolish the need for brick-and-mortar retail. It will just demolish the ones we no longer care about. Sorry, Best Buy. But if you're a thoughtful, skillful, local shop, then this is all good news. Amazon can’t give me the experience that Manready Mercantile can give me. The place is beautifully designed and smells like bergamot and teak. And I only know what that smell is because the owner talks to me every time I'm in there about crazy-ass scents I’ve never heard of like bergamot and teak. Amazon can’t give you that. You can’t climb a rock wall at Amazon, but you can at REI. From accessibility to experiences, Amazon is creating opportunities for everybody out there who is really trying to do something. We should be thanking Amazon and Starbucks and Apple for ravaging their rivals. By eliminating the mediocre middle, they have created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There are no more gatekeepers. You don’t need to get your product into stores. You don’t need the big boys to buy what you're selling. Everyone is just waiting for the next best product or service, and it doesn’t matter who creates it. There is nothing** stopping any of us from being that person. And that is awesome.
*I excluded a place named “Ahh, Coffee!” because it is named “Ahh, Coffee!”
** Excluding money, time, children and Netflix consumption