Willie Sutton: the most prolific bank robber of all time

Willie Sutton has robbed over 100 banks! 

All of 5 feet 7 inches, he is a master of disguise. He would disguise himself as a postman or a police officer, or a maintenance man. Then head to a bank before it opened, and rob it. He oozed charisma and was a super slick talker with an innate ability to get out of sticky situations.

In the 1950s, the FBI listed him in the Top 10 Most Wanted personnels! 

In his long career, Sutton has been caught quite a few times. But he ingeniously escaped every time. 

  • One time he held a guard hostage with his own gun to escape.
  • Another time he and 11 other inmates dug a tunnel out of the prison and escaped.
  • And the third time, Sutton and a few friends somehow got their hands on prison guard uniforms.  Wearing the uniforms, they took 2 ladders across the prison yard to the wall after dark. When the searchlight hit them, Sutton simply yelled “It’s Okay!” – and no one stopped them!

In February of 1952, Sutton was arrested for his final time. Mitch Ohnstad, a journalist, gains permission to interview him. And Ohnstad is greatly impressed by how smart Sutton is. Ohnstad felt that Sutton could have become successful in any venture. He could have become a CEO or even a senator. So why did he rob banks?

Ohnstad reported that when he asked Sutton this question, he replied: “I rob banks because… that’s where the money is!”

After getting out of the prison his last time, Sutton still chased the banks. But he became a consultant and helped them with their security.

Going where the money is

A lot of people spend their lives building a better mousetrap. And end up failing because no one finds them. The most successful fishermen don’t build the best baits. They just go where more fishes can be found.

The surest shortcut to success is to go where the money is. Chase the wallets. Go where your audience is going to spend their money and find their solutions.

Location location location!

McDonalds prides themselves in finding the best location to open an outlet. Ray Kroc is famous for saying that McDonalds is not in the food business. It’s in the real estate business. 

And so McDonalds scours the data to find places in town where a lot of people pass through. Airports, malls, toll booths, and prime city spots.

Burger King on the other hand just places their outlet next to a McDonalds. Why not go to a place where people are already going to go for their fast food?

The reason why so many retail shops of the same kind cluster together is because this strategy works. Your chances of success improves when you get in the path of where your audience is already going. 

Airbnb.com launched in 2007. And by 2011 they had become a billion dollar venture! They famously growth hacked their way to success. When anyone listed their place for rent on Airbnb, they could click one more button and list the same place on craigslist.org too! People were already searching for short term rentals on craigslist and tapping into that pool exploded Airbnb’s growth!

Leverage your competitors

Go where your competitors are mentioned. Ask the journalist who wrote about them to cover you too, and your chances of getting free ink will increase dramatically. Ask bloggers who have reviewed your competition to review you too. 

Is it too sneaky and aggressive? Yes. But that’s where the money is. 

Action Summary:

  • Go where your audience goes. This often means hovering around your competition.