Does Success Have to Be Sexy?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On January 6, 2014

Some businesses—and their leaders—just seem to come up with cool, innovative, sexy ideas. What Steve Jobs did at Apple was pretty incredible. What Richard Branson has done with Virgin continues to impress. What Elon Musk is doing with Tesla is remarkable. Those leaders not only put out great products—it could be argued that they shaped whole industries.

Those of us with even an ounce of entrepreneurial blood coursing through our veins get kind of excited by stuff like this. We want to do something a little different. We want to change the way things are done. We want to make a mark on the world. We want to be successful.

But do we have to introduce something cool or earth-shatteringly innovative into the marketplace in order to be successful? Does success have to be sexy?

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Last summer some friends were in Glenwood, Colorado and had stopped at the (then) newest Tesla supercharging station in the country to charge their car. It only takes about 20 minutes to charge a car to 50 percent capacity—or a little under an hour to reach full capacity (a range of about 280 miles). As they were charging their car, they noticed someone watching them from a vehicle parked few feet away.

The man in the car got out and introduced himself. He worked for a company called Black & Veatch Corporation. Not exactly a household name. But then he explained why he was watching. His company has the contract to build all of the Tesla supercharging stations across the United States. That’s not exactly a super sexy endeavor. It’s not like building the Tesla itself. People don’t ooh and ah over a charging station.

The story, of course, gets more interesting. Currently there are just over 50 supercharging stations spread across the United States. That’s not too bad. But here are a couple of maps showing what Tesla plans to have in place by the end of 2014 and by the end of 2015.

Each of those little red dots represents a supercharging location. And the average cost to build a supercharging station is about $250,000.

Are the folks at Black and Veatch doing something really sexy? Not particularly. Does it look like they’ll be successful? Well, that’s a lot of red dots at $250,000 a pop. It’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.

My point in all this is that success doesn’t have to be sexy. Sometimes what’s required is recognizing when someone else has a good idea and figuring out how to take advantage of their innovation and vision. And by the way, Black and Veatch didn’t just fall into this. If you’ve tracked the folks at Tesla at all, you know they are pretty darn picky about the vendors with whom they partner.

Even if you’re short on earth-shattering innovation and ideas, it’s good to keep your eyes and ears open. There just may be someone out there who needs your help and your expertise to make their idea take flight.

Maps and Roadster image from www.tesla.com