In the summer of 1923, Walter Elias Disney arrived in California with an untested and unique idea. He wanted to become a cartoon producer, and build a brand around one single animated character. Four years after overcoming several challenges and learning many painful lessons, he created, for the whole world, one of the most admired cartoon characters, the ‘Mickey Mouse’. When he started off, cartoons were not so common, but very soon it became a part of every child’s world. But Walter Disney did not stop there. He extended the ‘Mickey Mouse’ and Walt Disney brands to films, network television programs, theme parks, resorts and several products based on these animated characters. He created a ‘power brand’ that touched upon the lives of several age groups across the world. Today, the Walt Disney Company epitomises the “childhood at any age” theme and is one of the largest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world. So go ahead and dare to dream differently.
The ‘Eureka’ moment
If there is one thing that we can learn from history, it is the fact that unique out-of-the-box ideas come from unexpected places. Bicycle mechanics invented the airplane and university dropouts created the world’s first operating system. So, clearly, an idea is born out of sheer passion for a particular field, or because we observe a problem that, we believe, can be solved, or we identify an untapped market segment which can be serviced successfully.
“There are early adopters who are quick to appreciate any new development, and jump right into buying it. And, then there are the ‘rest of us’ who wait for the market to mature. The transition between these two markets is anything but smooth.”
To implement the idea, we need to ensure that we have the expertise to do so. Over the last few years, several Indians are jumping into uncommon sectors, with the mission of conquering a business challenge and at the same time pursuing an interest. In 2006, 28-year-old Prakash Mundhra, after graduating from the MBA program at Symbiosis, Pune, started a company called ‘Sacred Moments’ to sell ‘designer pooja kits’ to corporate customers (as festival gifts), retailers and several e-commerce portals. His aim was to organize a fairly unorganized industry in India, and he approached the whole process with meticulous planning. For example, he realized that packaging of the product was as important, to ensure high-end retailers stocked his product. He started selling to Indians in the U.S. after identifying a gap in the market and created separate brands for different target markets. Sacred Moments broke even within 3 months, and their turnover was greater than Rs 50 lakhs in only his second year of operations. He ensured his overheads were low, and he negotiated a sizable credit period with his suppliers.
Two Harvard MBA graduates, Sridevi Raghavan and Raghavan Jawahar, moved back to India in 2008 to setup Amelio Childcare, India’s first employer-sponsored onsite day-care providers. A strong passion for the idea led Sridevi to research the idea while still at business school. She worked on a business plan, attended several business plan competitions and raised angel funding to setup Amelio. Their main differentiating factor is their well-researched curriculum, along with the fact that the childcare facility is very close by to the parents’ work place. One can have great ideas, but a clear vision for the business and a robust revenue model is very crucial.
When you own an unconventional business, it’s extremely important to take your product or service beyond the early customers. Geoffrey Moore, the author of ‘Crossing The Chasm’, a book that talks about marketing and selling game-changing products to mainstream customers says, “There are early adopters who are quick to appreciate any new development, and jump right into buying it. And, then there are the ‘rest of us’ who wait for the market to mature. The transition between these two markets is anything but smooth”. But, the key to build a sustainable, revenue-generating venture is to go mainstream by entering newer markets and extending the brand to other related products or services.
Let’s consider the example of Amelio Childcare. Daycare is still a very new concept in India. Parents prefer to leave their children with their grandparents or other relatives when they go to work. Having said that, Amelio is solving a ‘real problem’ faced by working parents. While spending time in safe environs, the child is also learning from a well-researched curriculum that is a major selling point for Amelio. Parents also like to visit their kids during the day, so an on-site daycare close to work makes even more sense. Being not just a ‘daycare’ but an on-site daycare with well-researched curriculum gives Amelio the edge. It’s important for innovative uncommon ideas to create that niche. The DNA for your brand and marketing that aspect of your business will go a long way when you try to scale up. Once you iron out all the kinks in your product and operational model, identifying newer markets and customer base (going mainstream) should become a priority.
Implementation, the key
The first movers haven’t necessarily been the most successful. Little known sixdegrees.com was the first social networking site ever created, but facebook and myspace rule the space now. Google, which is now synonymous with search, started operations a good 4 years after two other search engines, Lycos and Alta Vista, were launched. This just suggests that the idea for any business is only the beginning. Planning a smooth transition from innovation to implementation will help build a sustainable value-creating venture. So take that bold step and go pursue your creative idea, but keep in mind, the idea is only the beginning.
Through this story, we have covered unconventional business ideas that are springing up from India. We have featured four companies that dared to dream differently and implement their ideas successfully. We learn from them their modus operandi and the pitfalls they had to overcome to reach their idea to the end user.
The ‘to do’ List
Here’s what you can do to make your idea work
By drawing examples from the success of Walt Disney, and based on the research we conducted of several businesses, we’ve put together some things ‘to do’ before trying to build an unconventional business.
Get cracking, and go work on it
The first step to starting up an unconventional business is to take that bold step to “do”. You need to get clarity on your idea, put together a business plan and figure out how you are going to fund your venture. Hire the right set of people, and start “working”.
Identify your niche
Any business, irrespective of whether it is conventional or unconventional, will have competition. Differentiating yourself from the rest of them, and identifying your strength is very important. Walt Disney created the ‘Mickey Mouse’ after several other animators and cartoonists created many other cartoon characters. But Walt Disney had the vision to build a brand around cartoons. His strength was the ‘power brand’ he built. Make a mission and vision statement, and abide by it.
Is there potential for my idea to serve a large number of customers? Can I extend my concept to newer markets, products or geographies? Am I taking efforts to build a team to scale up and grow? Having answers to all these questions will definitely help you serve a larger market and scale up your operations.
Raising money for your venture is one of the most important factors. Several good ideas have not gone mainstream, purely because of the lack of funds. Depending on your business model, money can be raised from several sources- HNIs (high network individuals), angel investors, venture capitalists or even friends & family. If you have a clear business model, the process of raising money is a lot easier.
Review the progress periodically
Successful companies have a very strong review system in place. The Walt Disney Company was a firm that thrived on innovation. But all its business units, from theme parks to motion pictures, had a clear business vision. They had 2-year, 5-year, 10-year and 15-year directional plans that were reviewed on a regular basis. You’ll always have short-term problems that need to be solved, but ignoring the long-term vision will prove to be a huge mistake.
Systems and processes
During the early stages of your venture, the focus has to be on innovation. The onus is on creating a high quality product or service. But as the business grows, you need to have systems and processes in place to ensure there are no operational hassles as you keep growing. To draw one more example from the Disney stable, any major business decision has to pass a mutually exclusive, yet completely exhaustive (MECE) checklist before making any big decisions. For example, before entering new markets, they need to have answers to questions like – do we need a local partner? Does senior management in the new market understand the local culture and mindset? Is market research complete? Do we have the support of government officials? And, several such questions need to have positive answers before the green signal is given. MECE rules almost all management decisions at Disney, and efforts are taken to ensure no questions are left out.
Believe in your idea
If, as an entrepreneur, you don’t have complete faith in your idea, your customers, employees and investors will not. Believe in yourself, and know it can be done.