Tails, You Win
Steamboat Willie put Walt Disney on the map as an animator. Business success was another story. Disney’s first studio went bankrupt. Later cartoons were monstrously expensive to produce, and financed at onerous terms. By the mid-1930s Disney had produced more than 400 cartoons – most of them short, most of them liked, and most of them losing money. Disney and his studio were nearly broke.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs changed everything. The $8 million it earned in the first six months of 1938 was an order of magnitude higher than anything the studio earned previously. It transformed Disney Studios. All company debts were paid off. Key employees got retention bonuses. The company purchased a new state-of-the-art studio in Burbank, where it remains today. By 1938 Walt had produced several hundred hours of film. But in business terms, the 83 minutes of Snow White was pretty much all that mattered.
Long tails drive everything. They dominate business, investing, sports, politics, products, careers, everything. Rule of thumb: Anything that is huge, profitable, famous, or influential is the result of a tail event. Another rule of thumb: Most of our attention goes to things that are huge, profitable, famous, or influential. And when most of what you pay attention to is the result of a tail, you underestimate how rare and powerful they really are.
Venture capital is a tail-driven business. You’ve likely heard that. Make 100 investments, and almost all of your return will come from five of them; most (Read more...)