Building a moat

I just completed reading I like big moats and I cannot lie over at Fool.comand was really impressed with the idea. This is a concept I have understood and practices without every putting a term to it. I have been a part of networking groups which discuss this concept, and barely scratch the surface. In this article Rich Greifner quotes Warren Buffet regarding a term Buffet himself coined: the economic moat.

In other words, what distinguishes you from your competition. What sets you apart? If you cannot describe why you’re business, product, idea, etc., is different from the next hot-shot product, idea, business, service – then you’re just another face. What makes businesses successful is that they can provide something significantly different. Not just another marketing hype of better, faster, cheaper – or perhaps smaller, intimate, personal attention. Those are nothing new. I have a great deal of friends who have their own bookkeeping business. They do a great job at distinguishing themselves apart from larger firms, yet they really have nothing compelling between other small 1 or 2 person firms. They play the, small, agile, personal, flexible card — typically of small start-ups. Yet they really bring nothing new to the table. If they have good references, resume and experience, then I would choose on price alone — and that is a very bad place to be. Small businesses cannot afford to be in the commodity business.

Back to Buffet, he says that when he is evaluating a business to invest in, the key is a large sustainable moat. They key is sustainable. Is what sets you appart something that will fade? Can it be trumpped by a competitor? What are you doing about it? I may be selling a high rise appartment complex and if my speil is that it is the highet, with 360 degree views around Silicon Valley. That is a nice selling point, however it is not sustainable. It will eventually be trumped by a larger building or something that obstructs the view.

As you evaluate your small business – there needs to be something unique about your business that sets you appart from both your competitors, and your peers — as well as a sustainable plan to ensure that remains the case. A drug company can release the next miracle drug and then be off-the-market when the generic form is released, or you can be the next Merck which is constantly investing more in R&D and has one of the largest portfolios of patents. That would show sustainability in innovations.

What is your sustainable moat?