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This article was published on August 6, 2014

    The ‘magic’ of business: Uncovering the trick to making your startup fail less

    The ‘magic’ of business: Uncovering the trick to making your startup fail less
    Callum Laing
    Story by

    Callum Laing

    Co-Founder and Director Marketing Group PLC, Partner at Unity-Group (Private Equity). Author of 'Progressive Partnerships - The future of bu Co-Founder and Director Marketing Group PLC, Partner at Unity-Group (Private Equity). Author of 'Progressive Partnerships - The future of business'

    Callum Laing is the CEO of Entrevo Asia and the founder of Fitness-Buffet, an employee fitness business in 11 countries.

    Magic has always fascinated me. As a kid, there was the sense of awe and wonder – and the desire to do the impossible. Then as an adult, even though it’s much less cool and sometimes downright cheesy, I have to sheepishly admit I’m still fascinated by it.

    It’s not showmanship of magic, but the misdirection. Look over there, whilst the real stuff happens over here!

    Part of what makes a good trick believable is that we cannot conceive how much effort the magician will actually have made in order to make the trick work. Something as simple as hiding a card in a bottle that he might have had to do days prior doesn’t even occur to us as the audience.

    It’s not magic. It’s preparation.

    Look deep into my eyes

    There are many similarities between magic and business. We see someone successfully launch a product or a service and it looks like magic to us. How do they do that? How is it they have 100,000 prospects queuing up to pre-order the product, and yet when we launch we hear crickets?

    Here are some common refrains I hear on a day to day basis.

    • “It’s too hard to get through to decision makers”
    • “No VCs would even respond to our inquiries”
    • “My clients have no money”
    • “I can’t sell my business”

    Have you found yourself saying any of them?

    What you don’t see

    Penn & Teller were ostracized by the Magic Circle for revealing the secrets of magic. To P&T, there is no ‘magic’ – just the correct activities in the right order and skill to do it well.

    I find a similar dynamic when I meet successful business people. They see things through a different frame, even when they don’t know the answer, they don’t see it as a frustration.

    These are the people that can get to the decision makers they want. They are the ones that can raise money without the struggle, sell to people with ‘no money,’  et cetera et cetera.

    How do they do it? Preparation.

    I remember when I was (much) younger at a conference asking a successful business man what was the best way to make a million dollars. He answered, “Create something with a value of $2m and sell it for half price.”

    Although it got a good laugh at the time, his answer has stayed with me. What was I prepared to do above and beyond the obvious in order to get that result?

    Let’s look again at those common complaints. Here are some things I’ve learnt about preparing for success over the years that might help.

    “It’s too hard to get through to decision makers”

    It is if you go the conventional route. That’s what everyone does and it’s why they hire ‘gatekeepers,’ so don’t bother.

    Instead, start volunteering for a charity that your contact works at, join a golf tournament you know they will be playing in. Find a mutual interest, or even feign it, until you have built a relationship well enough that it would make sense that you would ‘share an opportunity’ with them.

    No VC’s would even respond to our inquiries

    All VC websites should be required by law to state that they will not take you seriously unless you get an introduction from someone they respect.

    Never cold call a VC, you have better odds of winning the lottery. Who do they know that it would be easier for you to forge a relationship with? You want your VC target to have heard your name at least two or three times before they ever meet you.

    My clients have no money

    Either that’s true – in which case, what are you doing? – or they do have money and you just need to get better at understanding how you can create enough value for them to happily spend their money on your product.

    Take the time to find out exactly what your ideal client will pay for, preferably before you go anywhere near actually creating your product.

    I can’t sell my business

    People I know that regularly sell businesses rarely go out looking to sell their business, they go out looking for people to buy their business. That may sound like semantics, but the difference is huge.

    I first learnt this lesson years ago when a friend of mine in webhosting had decided that he was going to be bought out by a much bigger competitor. Have they expressed an interest I asked? “No,” he replied, “but for the next 12 months we are going to poach all their top clients until they get so annoyed they buy us.”

    He did. And they did.


    What do all these answers have in common? Understanding the game and plenty of preparation. Well, maybe not the last one.

    The magician is always a couple of steps ahead of the audience, and in my experience, so are the successful business owners. How many steps ahead are you prepared to go in order to get the result you want?

    Read next: So you have a business idea. Now what?