NO GOOD IDEA
My two sons, who are in their mid-twenties, came to me a
few years ago and asked which industry they should focus on for their
budding business careers.
I thought of the scene in the movie, "The Graduate,"
where Mr. Robinson took Dustin Hoffman aside and whispered in his ear the
secret ingredient to everlasting success: "Plastics."
With that in mind, I gathered my boys close to me, looked
around to make sure no one else was listening, and quietly told them what I
envisioned as the product that will make them billionaires.
That's right. Socks. Laugh now if you want, but think about it.
Who doesn't wear socks? Men wear them, women wear them, kids wear them, even
newborns wear them. And the latest craze, which in my infinite wisdom I
believe will last forever, is to wear wild and crazy socks instead of plain
black, white or brown ones.
"Think of t-shirts," I explained as they began to
walk away and seek alternative advice. "In the 1950's everyone wore
only white t-shirts. Then tie-dyed ones came along in the '60's and there
was no turning back."
Naturally, they didn't listen to their wise old father. They
started another business which has been very successful. If only they had
put that time and energy into socks, though, they'd be on easy street right
To their credit, they finally saw the light a few months
ago. Because it blended into their existing business fairly easily, they
designed and imported a wild and crazy assortment of socks and started an
online store, finally following their father's sage advice.
"Any other brilliant ideas?" my older son said
to me the other day as he trudged into my office and showed me the latest
dismal sales from their new venture.
It was clear the problem wasn't with the pug socks, the
pineapple socks, the rainbow socks, the USA flag socks or any of the other
50 styles they designed. The problem was with their online profile. They
weren't being seen.
"You're the stinkin' Millenial," I answered.
"You're supposed to know how to make things work online. So do
"We are doing it," he patiently explained.
"We hired a firm to work on our SEO."
Of course I knew what SEO meant, but I wanted him to look
smart, so I let him explain it to me. That's how we dinosaurs roll. It
stands for Search Engine Optimization, he told me, and you have to keep
working on it until your online company comes up near the top of the first
page when people search for wild and crazy socks.
"When we started, we were on Page 10, and now we're
up to Page Four," he said. "You've just got to keep chipping
He then went into a lengthy explanation as to how SEO
companies work their magic. He mentioned something about Google Ad Words,
blogs, digital marketing, SMS, affiliate marketing, and much, much more.
My head was spinning. I understood nothing about what he was
saying. The only thing I picked up was the need to advertise on Facebook and
Google in order to increase the online exposure.
I wondered whether Mark Zuckerberg's father had counseled him
to go into socks. Probably not. But he sure was benefitting from socks in a
"So what you're telling me is that you'll have to continue paying
Google and Facebook to have any chance at this online stuff."
"Yep, that's right," he answered. "They're
the only ones making any money off of your great idea."
Increasing the revenue of Google and Facebook wasn't
exactly what I had in mind when I told them the future was in socks. I
thought about trying to argue that they had misunderstood me years ago, that
I had meant "stocks" not "socks." But I doubt he would
have bought it.
So they'll continue to support the Googles and the
Facebooks of the world, while struggling to find some poor soul who can't
live without a hot chili pepper sock.
And I'll wait for the next time my sons will ask me for
advice. And wait, and wait and wait.