The Unfair Advantage by Ash Ali & Hasan Kubba

According to Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba “Success in the startup world is not simply awarded to the hardest workers. It is awarded to those who develop and use their Unfair Advantages.” Fortunately, they believe that these can be found and cultivated in a range of different ways.

What’s an Unfair Advantage?

They define an unfair advantage as “a condition, asset or circumstance that puts you in a favourable business position” they can’t be easily copied or bought and they are unique to each individual.

As investment partners, they’ve identified 5 key ones – The MILES Framework:

  1. Money
  2. Intelligence and Insight
  3. Location and Luck
  4. Education and Expertise
  5. Status

“For any early-stage startup,” they explain, “the Unfair Advantage of that startup is the sum of the individual Unfair Advantages of the founders.” And further, “The more unfair advantages you have the more you are likely to accrue.”

With this, the advice is to identify our individual strengths so that we can actively seek out a complementary partner or team (people with different unfair advantages from our own).

We can also develop certain advantages of our own, for example by using the internet to learn from others (education and expertise) or by actively trying to expand our network (status).

Startup Advice: Focus on the Problem

With a good team, the focus then becomes adding value to other people’s lives.

We can add value by finding a need and fulfilling it; seeing an inconvenience that can be solved and providing a good solution. However, to do this well, we must develop greater insight into the problem itself.

“The key,” they argue, “is to spend more time on the problem than on your solution to that problem.” In their eyes, the biggest mistake is to have a ‘solution’ (i.e. a product) and then look for a problem for it to solve.

Instead, in the early phase of your startup, they advise splitting your time into two tasks almost exclusively: building your product and speaking to your customer.

By speaking to your customer, you gain insight which informs the very product that you’re building; you get closer to the problem itself and better understand how your customers experience it.

On Learning and Creativity

“Lifelong learning is probably needed more now than at any other point in history. Perhaps, in years past, you could get a degree and it would serve you for life. This is no longer the case… From this point on, the future belongs to the person who will commit to a life of constant growth through continuous learning, not just a traditional university degree.”

Solving problems is a creative endeavour – and creative intelligence is another unfair advantage (intelligence and insight).

One way to become more creative is to expand our interdisciplinary knowledge – to “learn from areas and fields of knowledge, and other industries, that are completely different to what you already know”.

They state, The creativity that we use in day-to-day life and business is all about connecting dots from disparate fields and coming up with unique solutions. Creativity is largely about training your mind to connect things you learn in one domain to situations that seem completely unrelated.”

A commitment to lifelong learning ensures that we’re always able to tackle problems in a new light, as we draw from a wider range of ideas.

Closing Thoughts

The authors remind us that wild success is attributable to statistical variance, meaning that the likelihood of us creating the next Google or Amazon is slim to none, but that it doesn’t need to be our focus anyway. We don’t need a big, bold ‘moonshot’ idea to create our own profitable company; we need insight into a problem and a strong solution to it.

Along these same lines, they advise that we look towards those who are 5-10 years ahead of us for business advice, rather than extreme outliers. We can still shoot for large and audacious goals, but we don’t need to attain them to be happy. “Sometimes,” they write, “you need to believe that anything is possible to get you inspired and motivated to take action… Other times, it’s good to know that you’re probably not going to be an extreme outlier, and to enjoy the simpler things in life.”