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3 Lessons Service Business Owners Can Learn from the F-35 Fighter Jet

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The F-35 was supposed to be the most impressive, versatile fighter jet ever built. In the air, it’s virtually invisible to enemies, but after 20 years of development what’s visible to the Pentagon is that the F-35 is not going to be the affordable, nimble stealth fighter the Air Force needed to replace our aging fleet of F-16 jets. What happened? It went to committee. The Joint Strike Fighter Program tried to make that one new jet work for the Air Force, Navy and Marines and for our allies too. Making a multirole jet led to delays which gave the makers more opportunities to add more technology—so much technology that they may never work out all the bugs and cybersecurity vulnerabilities. The F-35 is still not fully functional for the Air Force, Navy or Marines. It now weighs too much at 25 tons and costs way too much at about $100 million. So the Air Force announced in February 2021 that they need a new affordable, lightweight fighter to replace their F-16s.

After reading this news about the F-35, we don’t know if the Pentagon will learn anything from this, but there are at least three lessons service business owners can learn from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program.

Know Your Customer

Your service business is best suited to serve a particular type of customer. The Pentagon was convinced they could build the F-35 for the Air Force but also make it work for the Navy and Marines. Nobody is happy with the end result. 

If you try to attract all types of customers and serve all of them, nobody will be happy.

Determine who your best customer is—the one that you wish all your customers were like. This customer wants and needs your home services. They won’t be comfortable and secure in their home without you. And you love to serve this customer. Everybody will be happy when you market to and serve the customers that are the best fit for your business (and stop trying to please those that aren’t.)

Cut Your Losses Before It Gets Worse

The Air Force wanted an affordable, lightweight fighter jet but the F-35 is turning out to be a slow-flying dreadnought. They still need lightweight jets, but $1.7 trillion has been poured into the Joint Strike Fighter Program and we don’t know how much more money will go into it.

We’ve invested so much money already we can’t stop now is also an argument we hear from service business owners about employees who are failing to produce. If you haven’t been working on developing your team, the best thing you can do now is to cut the bottom 20% of employees, improve the middle 60% and reward the top 20%. This will get your team and your business moving in the right direction.

Learn From Your Mistakes

As far back as 2015, Senator John McCain was upset by the out-of-control cost of the F-35 program. He warned, “We must learn from past failures to ensure American aviators can safely and effectively perform their missions, and that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently.” Joint aircraft development had already failed miserably with the F-111 in the 1960s.

You can’t learn from mistakes and prevent them from happening again if you want to pretend that you haven’t made any mistakes. Have you hired the wrong people? How many times? Have you run marketing that failed to produce results? How many times? Face your failures to figure out how not to fail again.


The U.S. Air Force has admitted that the F-35 Stealth Fighter program has failed. While we hope the Pentagon learns from this, we know that service business owners can learn three lessons from the F-35: know your customer, cut your losses before it gets worse and learn from your mistakes. These are the stealth strategies used by service businesses that grow faster and dominate their markets.

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