Start With Reliable

There are at least ten bakeries on the way to my WeWork. That’s ten options for a simple morning coffee. But on a holiday, seven of them will be closed. Out of the two remaining stores, one might look a little suspicious in terms of quality, whereas the other won’t offer the caffè crema variety I usually start my day with.

Of course, WeWork has coffee machines too, but if it’s a holiday after a weekend, chances are, they’ll all have run out. So what do I do? I go to Starbucks. I know, I know. Queue the roaring laughter. But you know what? Starbucks is reliable. I can go there day and night, rain or sunshine, holiday or Tuesday morning, and I know exactly what I will get when I order a grande Americano.

Could I take a gamble on one of the few bakeries that’s open? Sure. Could I trawl around WeWork and hope for a coffee machine that’s not empty? Of course. But when it’s a holiday and you’re trying to do some work, you don’t want to play games. You want a reliable source of coffee — and say what you will, that Starbucks will be at all times.

Is it the best coffee in the world? No. Is it the cheapest? No. But it’s a reliable experience that’s always available. Not just at the Starbucks next to your WeWork, but in fact in any of the 38,038 Starbucks around the world — and at that scale, reliability for a simple service becomes an extraordinary service in and of itself.

In the short term and on a small scale, reliability is just table stakes, and many businesses fail to deliver even that. But in the long run and bigger picture, reliability at scale is exceptional.

When you begin by being reliable, that won’t necessarily lead to greatness, but if you stay reliable long enough, chances are, you’ll never run out of business — and if you don’t, even your most astonishing creation won’t matter. Start with reliable.