Best Business Advice Ever: “Don’t Build an Airline … Drill For Oil”

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“I’m going to tell you the best business advice I ever got,” Dylan Ogline said.

The attendees of the intimate mastermind group leaned forward almost imperceptibly. They definitely wanted to hear this. Dylan had, after all, built Ogline Digital, a boutique digital marketing agency, into a six-figure business in less than six months. Then he built it into a seven-figure business in less than a year, on the strength of only a handful of clients.

All of thirty-two years old, Dylan recalled a networking lunch where he ran into a former mentor. The mentor greeted Dylan warmly and asked him how everything was going. “It’s going great!” Dylan said.

Everything was not great. He was nearly $1 million in debt. Twelve business ventures were in various stages of failing, ranging from underperforming to dead-on-arrival. His office chair, in his freezing basement, was a five-gallon Lowe’s bucket. But the unspoken code of social graces dictated that he lie.

But the mentor was a better people-reader than that. He easily spotted the lie on Dylan’s lips, and like most people who have become rich enough to avoid wasting time, he pressed. How was everything really going?

Dylan crumpled in a mixture of shame and relief, spilling the beans about the moribund state of his entrepreneurial career. He ticked off the list of business ventures he had tried or was in the midst of trying—one sob story after another.

Like many titans of industry, the mentor found the sob stories funny. Not because they enjoy the suffering of others, but because they can see the obvious answer hiding in plain sight.

Dylan smouldered until the mentor was done laughing, hoping for some sort of payoff. And Dylan got what he was hoping for.

“Dylan,” the mentor said, “you need to stop trying to build an airline, and start drilling for oil.”

This advice struck Dylan as funny. Of all the failing business ventures Dylan had ticked off, none of them were an airline or an oil extraction company.

But as you might have guessed, Dylan’s former mentor had been speaking in parables. Here’s what he meant …

An airline is a notoriously impossible business—heavily regulated, brutally competitive, always a hair’s breadth away from bankruptcy. The best business minds in the world attempt the airline business and get crushed. Put simply, you have to be the best of the best to even turn a profit as the owner of an airline.

Drilling for oil is a whole other story. Even a child knows how to dig a hole in the ground. Drilling for oil is just that, with a much bigger shovel. Even people who are comparatively bad at the business wind up striking it rich. Once you discover oil, the checks write themselves.

Herein lay the mentor’s point—get out of any business where you could be the best of the best and still fail. Focus on a business where, even if you aren’t very good at it, you can still reach your financial goals.

Dylan went home that night, descended the stairs to his freezing basement office, sat down on the paint bucket, and went on a purge. Every business that showed no promise ended up on the chopping block. An Amazon eBook publishing company? Deleted. An online directory for song lyrics? Deleted. Commercial real estate investment? Deleted.

By midnight, he had whittled his business portfolio from ten businesses to one— his digital marketing agency. That business was yielding an awful lot of revenue relative to how inexperienced Dylan was compared to his competitors. He smelled an opportunity to burrow into a niche.

Direct response digital marketing became his version of “drilling for oil.” Now Dylan spends his free time teaching other people to do what he did—grab the low-hanging fruit.

“I could train one hundred thousand people to do exactly what I do, he said, “and it still wouldn’t scratch the surface of the demand.”

In other words, you don’t have to be the best of the best in order to turn a profit.

Every attendee of the mastermind had the same look on their face—one that said “Have I been building an airline? Why haven’t I instead been drilling for oil?”

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