Barriers to Entry…

Learned this lesson the hard way, at a cost of several thousand dollars. You’re getting it here for free.

This story goes back to 1981 and my early days as a part-time consultant. IBM had just introduced the PC. Our major client, a vocational school, asked for an evening class that focused on how to use PCs in small business.

Their original request was for a multi-week series, but realizing how valuable time is to a small business, my business partner and I suggested a single four hour evening session instead. They agreed.

So, off we went. We developed the class, and the school advertised it in their next bulletin. We knew we had a winner when over 80 people showed up for the first class. We repeated it several times, got good reviews, and the attendance continued to be strong.

Recognizing an opportunity and with the school’s permission, we decided to expand the class to a full day and offer it ourselves. This meant placing expensive newspaper ads (no Internet in those days) and renting a hotel meeting room.

Figuring the class was a certain success, we plunked down several thousand dollars and went for the gold. We didn’t bother with a pre-registration, but opted for walk-ins. After all, “Build it, and they will come, right?

But when the big day arrived, only three people showed up – and they were all from the same small company!

Well, the show must go on. There we were with three students, a room that could seat 40, and plenty of (expensive) refreshments. Over lunch we explained we didn’t know what had happened. After all, the previous sessions had been so successful.

“What did we do wrong?“, we asked. One of them replied, “Nothing. The class is good, but we are here only because we missed the FREE class last week.”

“FREE!!! What free class?” we responded. Well, it turns out that a new computer store had just opened, and to bring in business, they decided to offer a FREE seminar. Now how do you compete with FREE?

So that was the end of that adventure. It also quickly killed the classes at the school. But as we were licking our wounds, I ranted, “We are engineers. Never again will I go into a business where some kid from a computer store can eat my lunch. I now fully understand barriers to entry!

Not long after that, we decided to focus our efforts on Electromagnetic Interference, an area in which we both had extensive experience. It usually takes a degree in Electrical Engineering plus several years of direct  experience to become proficient. Furthermore, most engineers would rather not deal with these problems in the first place — another good reason to pursue this niche.  Thirty years later, those barriers are still there.

What are YOUR barriers to entry?

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