This is part III of a three part series. Click here for Part I and Part II
John Fitch was first. He spent the majority of his adult life fruitlessly attempting to capitalize on the novelty and uniqueness of his invention. Unable to raise funds from wealthy individuals, he solicited $300 from a hodgepodge of small businessmen, including tavern owners, grocers and physicians.
In a matter of months, he developed technology that was superior to that created by the world’s leading scientist over the prior 15-years, despite his lack of a formal education.
He debuted his technology in Philadelphia at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It exceeded his expectations and thrilled those who witnessed it, including a number of prominent Founding Fathers. However, he was still unable to secure adequate funding to commercialize his technology.
Fitch spent the next three years traveling the country repairing clocks as a means of surviving, all the while saving money for the eventual launch his venture. In 1790, he began offering a service that eventually transformed world commerce and generated trillions of dollars of wealth. Unfortunately for Fitch, his adVenture folded 18-months after it began.
In 1798, at the age of 55, a frustrated, destitute Fitch scrimped together enough money to purchase a handful of opium pills, which he used to end his life. His suicide note was prophetic:
“The day will come when some more powerful man will get fame and riches from my invention, but no one will believe that poor John Fitch can do anything worthy of attention.”
In his premier film appearance in the blaxploitation send-up “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” Chris Rock inadvertently illustrates a key pricing issue faced by most entrepreneurs when they initially launch a new product or service.
Watch this 93-second clip and see if you can identify the pricing pitfall addressed in this humorous clip. Caution: the clip contains a bit of profanity. It is Chris Rock, after all.
Note: This is Part II in a three-part series on Fast Followers. Click here for Part I and Part III
When Superman was introduced in 1939, he was truly a breakthrough comic book character. At the time, most comic heroes were very human, such as Dick Tracy, The Lone Ranger and Tarzan. The very attributes which caused Superman to be unlike anything that came before subsequently became clichéd conventions, which makes it difficult for modern audiences to appreciate just how startlingly different Superman was at the time of his debut. His super powers, costume, dual identity and crime-fighting focus have been endlessly imitated, sometimes a bit too closely.
Within months of Superman’s first appearance, Fox Features Syndicate created Wonder Comics, starring “Wonder Man.” As shown at left, he had super powers, wore a red uniform, fought crime and had a large “W” on his chest. Sound familiar? The public rejected this dismal imitation and the comic sold poorly.
Copies which lack originality are similar to those successively made on a Xerox machine. Each copy is an inferior imitation of that upon which it is based.
Note: This is Part I in a three-part series on Fast Followers. Click here for Part II and Part III
Lou Pearlman, owner of Trans Continental Airlines, watched five teenagers crowd into one of his private planes. He asked himself, “How the hell can these kids afford to charter a private plane?” The answer surprised him.
The “kids” were the pop singing group “New Kids on the Block” (New Kids or NKOTB), which at the time was one of the most successful musical acts in the world.
Pearlman was unimpressed with the group, but his chance meeting with them sparked an entrepreneurial adVenture. He wondered, “How hard can it be? Get some cute kids who can sing, teach them to dance and unleash them on the public.”
With no experience in the music industry, no musical talent and no fear, he developed musical groups and solo artists that collectively sold over 160 million records, twice as many as NKOTB. Pearlman’s most successful artists include The Backstreet Boys, ‘NSync, Aaron Carter and Jordan Knight.
Whether or not you like or even respect the music created by Pearlman’s performers, the manner in which he conquered the music industry offers relevant lessons for any entrepreneur attempting a fast-follower market-entry strategy.
Salmon live most of their lives swimming with the current. However, once they reach reproductive maturity, they make an arduous journey upstream, often jumping up waterfalls, in order to reach the spawning grounds of their birth.
Salmon do not decide to make their epic trek based upon weather conditions, the flow rate of the streams they must traverse or even how far they happen to be from their destination. Rather, they begin their journey when their biological alarm sounds, irrespective of exogenous conditions.
This is the same mindset that would-be entrepreneurs should have when deciding the right time to jump into the startup world.
Not all flops are failures. Take Dick Fosbury’s for instance. He began experimenting with alternative, unconventional methods of high jumping as a high school sophomore. Rejecting the straddling approach, which had been the standard for the prior forty years, Dick tweaked the old-fashioned scissor kick, eventually morphing it into a new and unique approach, which was eventually dubbed the “Fosbury Flop.”
The track and field community initially scorned Fosbury’s approach, labeling it “unsafe” and “too unorthodox” for the average jumper to master. However, nothing sells an innovative idea like winning. After Fosbury set an Olympic record at the 1968 Mexico City games, jumping 7 feet 4.25 inches, track coaches all over the world took notice.
“With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.” Really? I would think that with a name like Smucker’s it has to be a vile disease or possibly a large, poisonous, South American leech.
If “Smucker’s” can be slapped on food and annually generate billions of sales, chances are that your company name, no matter how mediocre, will not preclude you from achieving significant success. Thus, join the ranks of Yahoo, Google, Amazon, eBay, Cisco and Microsoft and focus your limited time and resources on perfecting your customer value proposition, not on devising an ideal company name.
When selecting your company and product names, consider the following:
Each of these naming considerations is discussed at length in the remainder of this entry.
Too many entrepreneurs stress about their competition without having enough information to make informed decisions. They need to move beyond the emotional aspects of competing and develop multiple, largely free, sources of competitive information.
There is no need to hire an expensive consultant. As noted in, “Competing From the Fringe,” dedicate a senior member of your team as your “Watson” (you cannot afford a Sherlock, after all). Watson’s role is to diligently and consistently mine the readily available data sources noted below and periodically communicate the state of the competitive landscape to your Core Team.
Let’s face it. Life would be pretty boring without the Darwinian struggle for survival. Without external forces pushing organisms to adapt in order to ensure their continued survival, you would be swimming in a primordial goop, along with the other single-cell creatures, rather than reading this enlightening article. Continue reading “Competing From the Fringe”→