Low Hanging Fruit: The Best Snack

After I left Wall Street and joined the start up world, I was bombarded with seemingly nonsensical terminology that everyone seemed to have had mutually agreed had meaning but I had never heard before.  It felt like everyone was speaking a different language and I hadn’t bought my dictionary yet.  Besides feeling confused, each time someone tossed out a term like “MVP” or “SME” or “Series A”, I had the moral quandary of feigning fluency or admitting my ignorance.  It felt like a crisis of conscience every few hours.  However, I’ve always loved the mystery of figuring out a new language and the optimist within me delighted at the opportunity to navigate a completely new culture being only a few city blocks away from my old one.

One particularly perplexing term that kept popping up was, “low hanging fruit”.  Urban Dictionary defined this as “easily achievable goals” but I was still confused so I decided to confront my cluelessness and phone a friend. My merciful teammate explained that if you’re hungry and you’re standing in front of a tree full of fruit, you should grab the fruit that is hanging low to the ground before exerting the energy to climb up the tree to access what is out of your reach.  I realised why nobody used this term on Wall Street, where I worked in equity derivatives and the strategy was to climb higher and higher up the tree where nobody else could see you or figure out how the hell you got there. Indeed, in an increasingly complex business world, it seemed counterintuitive to start with the easy stuff.

I learned very quickly, however, that low hanging fruit makes the best snack.   I use the term “snack” deliberately, because if you try to make it your meal, you’ll definitely go hungry.  In literal speak, it’s not sustainable to build a business on “the easy stuff”.  Not only will your revenue projections fall short, but someone else will come along behind and you and snatch up whatever is left just as easily as you did.  But it is still the best (if not the only) place to start.  Peter Thiel frames it a bit more scientifically in “Zero to One” when he speaks about starting with a small, addressable market that at first may seem so small or obvious, it doesn’t seem like a market at all.  You can’t stay niche forever, but solving easy problems in a superior way allow you to prove your team, your technology, and your business while slowly working your way up the tree toward building your larger vision.

When it comes to education, “low hanging fruit” is particularly potent as there are still many simple problems that are yet to be solved using technology.  The average teachers spends over 50% of his or her day grading papers by hand.  The majority of applications and admissions for K-12 schools are still handled by pen, paper, and fax. Over 200 million children in developing countries can’t read or write because they don’t have access to traditional education (but in many cases, they do have access to mobile phones).  These challenges may seem too simple to solve for the typical tech genius, or too small of markets for the typical hungry venture capitalist.  But when the right team rises to the challenge — a team that is  practical enough delight in an easy snack but visionary enough to see beyond the immediate win — we think they represent the most exciting opportunities to invest.   Straightforward solutions create value and are usually easy to monetise.  They are also the first step toward integrating entrepreneurial thinking, efficiency, scalability, and innovation into the global education system.