The best entrepreneurs are some of the greatest thieves that the world has ever seen. There are very few ‘new’ ideas available. Sure, you may take an older idea and “borrow” or recycle it in a new market, in a new industry, but coming up with something entirely novel is rare. Even if you do come up with an idea that is revolutionary, who is to say that people will buy it?
If you can’t sell it then it’s not a good idea — it may be a new idea, but it’s still a sh*tty one. In the world of entrepreneurship, the best ideas are the ones that have been proven to work — proven to sell. Think about it; why start from the very bottom when you can get a running start? Why create entirely new ideas and risk probable failure? Why fix something that’s not broken?
Fabrice Grinda (@FabriceGrinda) is the founder of one of the largest classified-ad websites in the world, OLX. The idea of OLX came from Craigslist — in fact, Grinda describes OLX as “Craigslist 2.0”. A few years back, he realized that although the concept of free classifieds has been well developed in the U.S. and Western Europe, it has not been hit upon or developed in the remainder of the world.
Back in 2006, he and his partner, Alec Oxenford, deployed OLX in 96 countries and in 45 languages. Five and a half years later, they have 150 million unique visitors a month — making them the 25th largest site in the world. I am sure that you can imagine the sort of revenue their company produces. Now, my question is this: are Grinda and Oxenford just lazy entrepreneurs that didn’t take the trouble to develop a unique idea? Or are they geniuses for realizing that they didn’t have to?
If you look at some of the most prominent entrepreneurs today, you will notice that most of them did not make their fortunes off novel concepts. Instead, they would steal ideas that have already been proven to work. Take Richard Branson — his entire business strategy revolves around the concept of taking things that already work/sell (music and entertainment, cellphone carriers, airlines) and improving them.
In fact, Virgin Air started when Branson was displeased with an airline after they had cancelled his flight. Branson decided to rent one of the commercial airplanes, wrote Virgin Air on the side of it and his airline was born. More recently, he opened Virgin’s banking sect: Virgin Money. Also displeased with banking institutions, he decided to reform the way banks do business.
A great entrepreneur is the smart and efficient entrepreneur. You only have so much time to get your projects off the ground and so much capital to do it with. Creating a novel idea takes time and money all at a much higher risk than were you to simply start a business selling a product or service that has already been proven to be profitable. Sure, you can come up with an idea that has never been thought of before and it may work. This is how innovation works. However, if you are an entrepreneur just getting off the ground then I urge you to focus your first endeavors in areas that need slight fixing and not a total reconfiguration. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it — this doesn’t mean you can’t improve it.
Think about some of your most popular brands. Do you love them because they are constantly coming up with groundbreaking products and services? Are they changing your lives drastically each and every year? No. Apple’s iPhone was not the first smartphone — but it was the best when it first hit the market. It had the best design, the simplest functionality and it improved the way that you used a smartphone.
Apple took out functions that it deemed unnecessary and added those that it thought would improve the user experience. Nike doesn’t come out with revolutionary shoes every few months; it comes up with new designs that make the consumers want to continue buying them. Sure, Nike may tell you that it has just come up with the newest of innovations in the footwear department, but be serious. How innovative can a running shoe get? It’s a shoe.
In order to start any venture, you will need funding. Venture capitalists are much more likely to hear out pitches that have less risk of failure. Entirely novel concepts may or may not work — and usually they don’t. It’s difficult estimating how consumers will react to a new product or service without it first being tested out. Doing market research and testing also costs money.
The planning that is required to get any venture off the ground is extensive and time consuming. An entrepreneur is not an inventor. Sure, they could be, but it’s not a prerequisite. Elon Musk did not invent the electric car or the space rocket — he’s simply improving both. Maybe an idea does not need to be improved, as is the case with Grinda and OLX. Maybe there are markets that current products and companies providing them have yet to reach. You don’t have to always even improve on something, but simply sell it to people that haven’t before had the opportunity to buy. Be smart. Steal.
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