Chip Shots by Chip Griffin

Investing in complementary or competing businesses

I often have something on the television in the background while I’m working. It’s a habit I developed working on Capitol Hill 25 years ago when we always had either the House floor proceedings or CNN on the TV’s near our desks.

Yesterday, I watched two different shows that coincidentally brought similar issues to mind.

The first was HBO’s Silicon Valley. I’m just starting to watch this series, but in one of the early episodes it comes to light that the oddball venture capitalist, Peter Gregory, invested in a half dozen or more similar companies. The idea was that he would be more likely to win his bet on the future of the marketplace that way, even though most of the investments would go bust.

Next up was CNBC’s The Profit. In an episode about a graphics and sign company, the show’s star, Marcus Lemonis, invests in the business to help turn it around. It becomes clear throughout the telling of the story, however, that he sees a real opportunity for the Pennsylvania-based business to service many of the other companies he has invested in.

As both of these show suggest, there can be real benefits in investing in competing and complementary companies — or even ideas within a business.

Investing in competing options is more challenging, of course. The potential payoff must be so great that the risk of losing most of the upfront resources becomes palatable. If the winning idea doesn’t turn into a home run, the downside could be huge.

Complementary business investments represent a much safer play. It can be worthwhile to look at the largest suppliers and other vendors your business utilizes and determine if it might be prudent to either invest in one of them (or a suitable replacement) or even take that work on yourself. If you can find a new profit stream based on your own business activity — with the potential to tap into the needs of other businesses at the same time — it might be a good idea.

The best entrepreneurs spot these types of opportunities. And then have the stomach to take them on.

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