Seizing Opportunity vs Blatant Opportunism

Recently I had an acquaintance tell me about a new business she was setting up online early in the new year.  As we were talking it became really obvious that she was not only passionate about the idea but that she’d spotted a pretty cool gap in her niche.  Her audience is largely affluent women who have a legitimate problem and will clearly spend up big to take care of the issue.

We talked a bit about the logistics of what she’s doing and her product offerings.  It’s impressive because not only is the idea well thought out, her attention to detail is meticulous and her speed of execution is awesome.

I told her without question that I reckoned she was onto something.

She was seizing an opportunity and hopefully going to make the most of it.

Then as we started talking a bit more about the challenges she was going to face, I mentioned to her that the idea itself and her products weren’t really defensible.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of “defensibility” it means that someone can copy your products and execution plan and there isn’t really that much you can do to stop them.  Most online businesses and the associated products and services aren’t covered by things like patents, so to defend your business you just have to be better, more nimble and candidly be better at marketing.

I told her that this defensibility problem was going to open the door for opportunists who don’t really build business models, they simply rip them off really efficiently.

After we finished talking I found myself thinking a fair bit about the discussion.  In my own mind, I’d clearly made a distinction between seizing opportunity (a good thing) and rampant opportunism (a bad thing).

In your business, opportunity is what you look for in order to position your business correctly to grow.  If you do the right things, take the right actions, make good investments and execute well on an opportunity then you’re  more often than not going to be successful.

Opportunism is a little bit different in my opinion.  It’s about taking advantage of situations in ways that are lacking in principle for personal or business gain.

Some people may interpret those two things differently, but for the sake of this discussion, I’m using opportunism with a slightly negative connotation.

Over the years, I’ve seen many predatory business models and individuals that look to create situations where they can take advantage without thought or concern for the trail of damage and destruction they’re leaving behind.  The favoured mantra of these people is always, “Well, that’s business.”

I don’t agree.  I don’t like business when it’s a zero-sum game.  I don’t think that for me to win, you have to lose.  I think the best outcomes are where we both win – maybe each of us wins a little less than we could if we played for keeps, but overall it’s better to share success in business.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there are some situations that are competitive and you have to just win because the alternative is losing.  Usually, at times like that, there are rules and codes of conduct that everyone understands and plays the game by.  You do your best and let the chips fall where they may.

But opportunism is about taking advantage of people and businesses.  It’s about finding ways to extract more than your earned fair share.

And unfortunately, that’s what friend is going to face in her new business.  It’s a great idea, she will do well if she moves very fast, builds a great audience and delivers on her value proposition.  Once she establishes her audience though, some people will smell out the opportunity to ride her idea, they get knock-off products made in China and they’ll try and take advantage of her hard work for their selfish gain.

Those people disgust me.  They’re bottom feeders.

But now that she knows what to expect, she’s planning for it.  She’s going to go even harder at her idea and try to establish herself and her business as the “go to” resource in her market.

She’s seizing the opportunity which is the best thing you can do.

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