Got a problem? Start a business!

I love stories of creative ingenuity. Here’s an article from today’s Inc. about a man who started a line-waiting business five years ago: “If You’re Broke But Want to Start a Company and Make $100K+, You Need to Read This.”

Hokey title, but I got past that. Yes, one can apparently make a decent living just by standing around doing nothing. Good to know, right?

What I really liked about this article was the story it told. Robert Samuel started his business, “Same Old Line Dudes,” in response to a problem every single one of us was aware of—but only he had the vision and inspiration to solve. When the iPhone 5 was announced, he ran a Craigslist ad offering to stand in line at the Apple Store in New York City for someone who wanted to buy one. He got enough of a response that he hired friends to stand in line, too. And then he also started offering services to line-standers, like selling people crates to sit on while they waited.

Think of all the lines you’d rather not stand in. Would you be willing to pay someone to do it for you? Would you be willing to do it for pay yourself?

I’ve always admired Peter Lynch (former Magellan Fund manager at Fidelity) for his ability to see things that the rest of us didn’t. Strike that. What Peter Lynch did was understand what he saw that the rest of us merely had looked at without really seeing.

Case in point: when I was walking up Michigan Avenue in Chicago about 25 years ago and noticed a storefront for Au Bon Pain, I realized that the bakery I’d visited in Boston was a chain. “Great!” I thought. “I can get those almond croissants I liked anytime I come to Chicago.”

Then I saw Peter Lynch on “Wall Street Week” talking about how he picked companies to invest in just by paying attention to businesses he frequented in his daily life (like, famously, Toys ‘R’ Us when he was shopping for children’s products). One company he said he liked was Au Bon Pain.

Light bulb! Whereas I was happy this bakery was a chain because it meant convenient purchases of almond croissants, Lynch was happy it was a chain because it meant a publicly-traded company he could invest in.

Louis Pasteur is credited with saying, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” This is one of my favorite quotations. When you read widely and continually pay close attention and practice the art of connection-making, you’re more likely to recognize opportunity when it’s staring you right in the face.

If only I’d been sharp enough standing there on Michigan Avenue to understand the true significance of that bakery storefront . . . .

I could have invested in my croissant and eaten it, too!

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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