5 Great Entrepreneurs Who Proved You Don’t Need a ‘Great Idea’ to Start a Successful Business
Like gold, a great idea is precious and not readily available. You have to go out, explore, speculate and search for it to find it. Yet I see many young people today sitting back and expect to discover gold in their comfort zone.
It is a common conception that you need a great idea to start a business that will become successful, especially in the 21st century. The belief holds that those who launch highly successful businesses usually begin first and foremost with a brilliant idea and then take their business to exponential growth. As compelling as it is, this belief does not reflect in most successful companies; and if relied upon, often result in procrastination, self-limitation and latency.
Procter and Gamble started as a simple soap and candle maker, Motorola started as a struggling roadside battery eliminator repair business. A great idea is like gold; to discover it you must get out there and start digging.
In this post, you will learn how great companies proved that you don’t need a great idea to start a business. You’ll also learn what you need to start a business and how to discover great ideas in the process. Before we get to it, be sure to subscribe to After School Africa for more insightful videos like this.
- Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard – HP
On August 23, 1937, two graduate engineers in their early twenties with no substantial business experience met to discuss the founding of a new company. They had no clear idea of what the company would make. They only knew that they wanted to start a company in the field of electronic engineering.
They brainstormed a wide range of initial products and market possibilities but had no compelling ‘Great idea’ or business plan that served as the founding inspiration for the company. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard decided to first start a company and then figure out what they would make. They started trying anything that might get them out of the garage and pay the light bills.
According to Bill Hewlett:” When I talk to business schools occasionally, the professor of management is devastated when I say that we didn’t have any plan when we started – we were just opportunistic. We did anything that would bring in a nickel…”
HP struggled and stumbled along for nearly a year before it got its first big sale – 8 audio oscilloscopes. Today, HP is a multinational information technology company.
- Masaru Ibuka – Sony
When Masaru Ibuka founded Sony in August 1945, after World War two, he had no specific product idea. In fact, Ibuka and his seven initial employees had a brainstorming session – after starting the company – to decide what product to make. For weeks they tried to figure out what kind of business this new company could enter to make money to operate.
They considered a wide range of possibilities, from sweetening bean-paste soup to miniature golf equipment. Sony’s first product attempt (a simple rice cooker) failed to work properly and its first significant product (a tape recorder) failed in the marketplace. With the Sony Pioneer Spirit, Sony had grown to become a global leader and manufacturer of electronic products and more.
3. Sam Walton – Wal-Mart
Sam Walton also started without a great idea. He went into business with nothing other than the desire to work for himself and a little bit of knowledge and a lot of passion about retailing. He didn’t wake up one day and say, “I have this great idea around which I’m going to start a company.”
He started in 1945 with a single Ben Franklin franchise five-and-dime store. Walton built incrementally, step by step, from that single store until the ‘great idea’ of rural discount popped out as a natural evolutionary step almost two decades after he started his company.
In his words:
“Somehow over the years, folks have gotten the impression that Wal-Mart was something that I dreamed up out of the blue as a middle-aged man, and that it was just this great idea that turned into an over-night success. But our first Wal-mart store was totally an outgrowth of everything we’d been doing since 1945 – another experiment. And like most overnight successes, it was about 20 years in the making.”
- Igvar Kamprad – IKEA
Ingvar Kamprad started buying and selling matches and pencils at an early age. At age 17, with a cash reward from his father, for doing well in school, he founded IKEA. He continued to expand his business to a variety of goods, including wallets, watches, jewelery and stockings. In 1947, Kamprad introduced furniture into the IKEA product line. He later decided to focus his business on furniture making.
One day one of his employees, Gillis Lundgren was having difficulty fitting a table into a delivery truck. After several unsuccessful trials, out of frustration he shouted: “Oh God! Let’s pull off the legs and put them underneath!” That incident gave Kamprad the ‘idea’ to produce furniture, at lower cost, to be assembled by customers on delivery. This established IKEA as a cost leader in furniture business worldwide for its innovative and stylish designs – a great idea that was discovered on the field. Here is one more example…
5. Mrs Ogunwale – Baker Water
Mrs. Ogunwale, of Baker Water told her story, on how she discovered a business opportunity and quickly shifted focus from her initial passion-oriented business. She was passionate about catering and started her catering business with a deep freezer she won after a vocational training program. In addition, she sold cold ‘sachet-water’ from her freezer.
One hot afternoon, a young boy, one of the hawkers along the expressway, approached her to help him freeze his bag of sachet water, which has gone hot from the scorching sun. She reluctantly agreed on the terms that he’ll pay ten naira for the bag. By the end of the day, she made more money doing business with the little boy than what she makes from her catering business. She went from selling a single sachet to selling chilled bags of sachet water with more profit.
More and more customers patronized her to freeze their bag of sachet water until she had more customers than she could handle. She quickly abandoned catering to focus on the sachet water business. She soon moved to start her own bottle water and beverage company.
Moral of the stories
Woody Allen once said that “80 percent of success is showing up”. You cannot discover gold if you don’t get out there and start exploring. Sometimes, you just need to start with the bare minimum and look out for opportunities within your reach. Many successful businesses started with a simple idea and adapted as they discovered new opportunities. The important thing is that they got started, and were ready to take advantage of opportunities.
These businesses and many like them demystifies the widely help myth that you need to have a great idea before you can start a business. Great businesses are not always the product of a far-seeing entrepreneur who envisions a great idea and founds his company to capitalize on a visionary product idea or market insight.
Lesson for aspiring entrepreneurs
If you desire to start and build a business but have not yet taken the dive because you don’t have a ‘great idea’, you are not alone. Don’t feel inadequate. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Most often, you’ll discover your great idea when you are already on the journey, tinkering and stumbling along in the field. Take that first step, get started, and learn as you go.