The People Business

April 21, 2023

Written by Rei Llazani | 3 minute read

A big mistake many companies make is not understanding the business they are in.

Spend a few minutes recognizing a nuance I’ll describe in this article for 2 reasons:

  1. It will help to develop a clearer picture of the market
  2. It will create defensibility in a rapidly changing market

Uber’s former CEO, for example, made a mistake by classifying Uber as a technology company (and stating specifically they do not identify as a transportation or taxi company).

You might think: “But Uber operates an app, not a taxi fleet, right?”

Yes, but cars and technology are both vehicles to get someone from point A to point B. They are the means to an end; and not the end themselves. A phone, for instance, is a vehicle in which you can communicate with someone. That is, communication is the end-result or objective; and the phone itself is the tool (means) to get to that objective.

…and as a side note: this phenomena shows that people aren’t actually addicted to their phones, but they are addicted to belongingness and being social with each other. The phone is simply a path to achieve these feelings we biologically crave.

In effect, Uber is neither a technology company, nor a transportation company.

What are they then?

It is what every company is actually in, whether they realize it or not: the people business.

At its purest form, the purpose of any business is to serve another human being.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon understood this exceptionally well, who disregarded any classification of Amazon (watch 2:55-3:05) in a 1999 interview. He refused to let the interviewer pigeonhole Amazon as an “internet company”. Kudos.

Any decision, process, or action ultimately should always lead back to serving the customer; and remembering we are all in the people business.

So, how can you apply this nuance to establish defensibility that I mentioned above, particularly in a rapidly changing market? There is of course no simple answer, as smart leaders carry the burden (or what I refer to as the privilege) of figuring it out.

However, for those interested, I did take a few minutes to provide some examples in this brief article here.

Ultimately, companies that design their business to put the customer first and remember the business they are actually in (the people business), will be the winners in this exciting time and evolving landscape.

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