Running a business – or, even better, starting one – is exciting, right? It’s fast-moving, world-changing, paradigm-smashing. But while it’s true that some of the highest-valued businesses on the planet seem to exist in a constant whirlwind of excitement, being exciting isn’t necessarily good for business.
Crash and burn
Take Uber – just the most well-known example of the tech industry’s so-called ‘bro culture’. In recent months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that soap opera scriptwriters rather than businesspeople are making the decisions. Take the dramatic ousting of founder Travis Kalanick, software engineer’s Susan J. Fowler’s blog which detailed her experience of sexual harassment and prejudice at the company, and its self-driving vehicles being caught running red lights.
Of course, these scandals haven’t destroyed Uber. It’s still valued at around $68bn. But that value is falling. Competitors such as Lyft are coming up hard on its heels. And in a world where purpose and values are becoming more important to consumers, it’s easy to see how they might prefer to use a different company.
The appeal of the everyday
But away from the flashy short-termism of Silicon Valley, boring companies might not be making headlines but they are certainly making profits. And they’ve been doing it for a long, long time.
Unilever, that haven of safe, boring brands – Domestos bleach, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Lifebuoy soap – was formed back in 1929. In the first quarter of 2017, its profits shot up by 27 per cent to £4.1bn.
And it’s not just the famous boring brands that are pulling in the profits, either. You’ve probably never heard of Victoria plc. This UK company designs, manufactures and distributes flooring products.
It’s not exactly sexy. But this ‘boring’ company has seen its shares rise by 635 per cent over the last five years, using a tried and tested acquisitions business model of buying small companies, then ploughing profits back into buying more.
Test of time
Warren Buffett has first-hand experience of working in a boring business: he started his career in his father’s grocery store. He famously prefers to invest in companies that are in it for the long-term and have seen out boom and bust.
The companies he focuses on investing in, he says, have thus far withstood the test of time. Many have been in business for more than 100 years and they’ve faced virtually every unexpected challenge imaginable, from the First World War to the financial crisis.
That long-termism might seem dull in a world where everyone’s looking for the rapid return. But the tech superhighway is littered with those who crashed and burned. Remember Segway, which was going to render the car obsolete? Or Netscape, which lost the ‘browser wars’? Both seemed like sure things at the time – but both lasted less than a decade.
More of us than ever before want to live the dream of creating that disruptive, world-changing brand. A recent survey from Yell Business found that more than three-quarters of current 16-24 year olds said they dreamed of running their own business when they were a child, as opposed to just 14 per cent of 55-year-olds.
And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting excitement in your business life, it’s worth reflecting on the value of simply being boring. After all, not everyone is so keen on living in turbulent times. Your business’s dullness could end up being its USP.