03: Here’s What A Specialized Business Looks Like#

I’d like to pull us out of the clouds, to a ground-level view via some examples of specialized businesses. These are drawn from a necessarily incomplete but still helpful list I maintain at http://specializationexamples.com.[Things change on the internet. The examples below omit URLs for that reason, but the specializationexamples.com list includes live URLs and internet archive snapshots for these examples and others.]

Pure Horizontal Focus:

  • Voltage Control: Design sprint workshops

  • The M. Ryan Group: Inventory management

  • Maritz: Employee motivation

Platform Focus:

  • Dave Ceddia: React training

  • The Duckbill Group: AWS cost management

  • ABSYZ: Salesforce consulting

Pure Vertical Focus:

  • Hanno: Digital products for health and wellness

  • IndustrialFX: Digital marketing for manufacturing

  • Agrarian: Digital marketing for New Zealand-based agribusinesses

Audience Focus:

  • &Yet: A digital marketing and dev shop firm focused on “weird” businesses @NOTE: they’ve changed since then.

  • Urban Planet: A dev shop focused on mission-driven organizations

  • Cher Hale: PR for social good-focused companies

There are lots of amazing companies that could have just as easily been on this list of examples. Again, see more at http://specializationexamples.com.

I want you to look at a few of these examples now because they show that when we put aside all the theory and strategy-level thinking about specialization, the reality is that specialization is very simply making a decision about which market you trade with and how you create value for them. It’s surprisingly easy to avoid making and sticking to this decision. Many of you got into business somewhat accidentally. Software is incredibly flexible and adaptable, and that encourages a sort of “reverse Conway’s Law” where your business attempts to behave with a level of abstraction and flexibility that mirrors software itself.

Whether you buy into the arguments for or against specialization, you’ll probably agree that specialized businesses project an enviable clarity about themselves. The price of this clarity is managing some risk.