The idea of an overnight startup success is only a recent phenomena that I am convinced has been driven mostly by modern day social media. The reality, as many of us know, could not be further from the truth when it comes to overnight successes.
Time is your friend, not your enemy
If there is one thing I have learnt in my career is that good things take time. If you need proof you only need to look to the measly old umbrella to learn that innovation and cultural change can take a lifetime, particularly if you persist with an idea the market does not value. This is often a lesson often lost on entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs who believe that success comes overnight.
The challenge is the execution
I am not sure why everyone who has a good idea thinks their idea will be the one that bucks the trend and become an overnight success. Sadly thought this is reality and as a note to those thinking they are going to be the one that does they seldom ever happen overnight.
The hidden secret of a good idea
There is no doubt that bringing an idea to life takes dedication and passion but there is more to it than that. The hidden secret is that you need to be able to divorce yourself from your idea. You need to be able to disconnect emotionally and not feel defensive when someone challenges your idea. If not, you can be blinded into thinking that you have all the answers, when in fact your success might only be one small product change away.
Briollogy - The book worth a read
This is where the book “Brolliology” comes in. Authored by Marion Rankine, she describes the history of the umbrella from the time it was invented through to its success as a widely accepted consumer product.
Living in Melbourne I didn’t really give the creation of the umbrella much thought until I read Brolliology. I assumed they had existed since before time itself.
In fact I am convinced that when Melbournians are born our umbilical cords are cut, our bottoms slapped and we are issued with our first umbrella, right? Maybe. However, it took over 100 years for the umbrella to truly come into it’s own and we have the British to thank (that was painful). But what has that got to do with startups and what can we learn?
The 1700's was a different era
To understand how this is relevant to startups, you need some context to how society functioned in the 1700's. In the most part you need to know that when it was first introduced it was seen as a sign of shabbiness and dishevelment.
To understand why Londoner’s thought this way you only need understand that there was 2,000 years of ingrained habit in using capes, oiled cloaks and mantles for protection against the rain. Couple that with the pompous English attitude that if you want to keep out of the rain use sheltered transport, like a horse and carriage.
The morale, changing attitudes takes more than just a good idea, it takes time, empathy and the product must fit the market needs. When you read ‘Brolliology” you’ll see these needs were ignored to the detriment of the inventor. He quite simply lacked empathy for his market.
Jonas Hanaway, the inventor of the umbrella
The creation of the umbrella, came from Jonas Hanaway, a socialite, philanthropist and businessman who brought the concept back to London from his trip to the middle east and in particular Persia (where they were used to protect people from the sun). Despite his efforts to have the umbrella accepted in rainy old London, Jonas died knowing his umbrella had not been accepted socially. In fact it was quite some time before this common sense idea caught on.
So why did it take so long for the humble umbrella to take off?
Well the reasons are many and most of them could have been solved quickly precipitating Jonas to an almost overnight success had he only considered approaching his business idea using design thinking principles such as customer empathy, prototyping and fast testing with his market.
A word from the author
Marion explains best why it took so long and this is what she had to say;
“The cost of an umbrella was significant and not remotely commensurate with their quality or usefulness. Before industrialist Samuel Fox pioneered the steel frame, umbrellas were made with whalebone, and they were heavy, labor-intensive affairs. The ribs were not hinged at the stick but strung on a wire, and apt to become disordered. The whalebone was liable to crack if not dried with the utmost care. Coats of wax or oil waterproofing were not sufficient to keep the huge cotton covers from soaking through, and once the umbrella was folded up again it had to be carried under the arm, wetting one. The whole structure more closely resembled a loosely ordered bundle of twigs swaddled in heavy fabric than it did the modern-day brolly.
The umbrella has come a long way. In 1855 alone, over 300 patents were submitted for improvements to the umbrella’s design and manufacture. Add to those patents the vast improvements made to materials and technologies since 1855 and you have the brolly today: 100% waterproof, lightweight, and stashable in all but the daintiest of handbags.” (Ref: Marion Rankine)
Overnights successes are a fallacy
The idea of an overnight success is for the most part a fallacy and it can and does set unrealistic expectations with founders of startups. The reality of any new business is it takes time and empathy for your market. We should be careful not to blindly believe the stories we read on social media channels such as LinkedIn, simply because someone we connected with published a post on how they were an overnight success.
11 points to create a product your market will love
If you are thinking of jumping into a startup there are a few lessons that you can distill from reading Brolliology, these are;
- Set your vision on longterm success.
- Utilise design thinking methods, like customer empathy.
- Be prepared to let your idea out in market and have it struggle. The engage all your passion and drive to make it better.
- Ignore the saying 'if ain't broke don't fix it' and fix or improve it anyway.
- Have empathy for your market.
- Test and test often.
- Don't fall for the idea of 'failure is necessary'. No one wants to fail and no one sets out to fail. Look at things differently and maybe just be prepared to have to change things that do not work.
- Don't fall in love with your idea, it can blind you.
- Don't be scared to talk to your customers often about your idea.
- Don't be scared to let someone else shape your idea, no matter who you are you don't have all the answers, and finally
- Read all kinds of books, like Brolliology and dissect them and look for the the lessons, they are always invaluable.
I am sure there are many more points and tips you can garner about how to drive a successful startup, however at the end of the day just be prepared to wait. Sometimes good things can take time.