In his new book, The Power of Starting Something Stupid (Shadow Mountain Publishing, 2013), author Richie Norton details the timeless challenge entrepreneurs face in starting up: Being told their idea stinks. In this edited excerpt, he looks at many successful business ideas that were first considered stupid or silly by critics.
We’re scared of failure. Scared of falling behind. Scared of being foolish. Scared of looking stupid.
It’s a wonder why anyone would turn to entrepreneurship.
Still, maybe the smartest people in the world know something we don’t. Maybe they know that to be smart, to make significant contributions to the world and to spur significant change in their own lives, they sometimes have to act on ideas that others might initially perceive as stupid.
So once you get passed the naysayers and you begin to look at the world through what I like to call the stupid filter, you’ll see successful, dumb ideas everywhere you look.
Let me elaborate: Doggles (yes, fashionable sunglasses for dogs) pulls in an estimated $3 million a year. Approximately half a million Chia Pets are sold each holiday season, and Angry Birds creator Rovio confirmed a profit of $106 million in 2011. (Yes, $106 million from a game where players do nothing more than fling birds at pigs.) Seeing “stupid” as opportunity can be very profitable.
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, saw opportunity in starting something others thought was stupid — formfitting, footless pantyhose. She became the youngest self-made female billionaire, turning $5,000 of personal savings into $1 billion with her crazy idea to revolutionize hosiery.
In her bio, she said “[I] approached several lawyers who thought my idea was so crazy that they later admitted thinking I had been sent by Candid Camera.” When she approached hosiery manufacturers, it was the same story, she added.
But as we all know, Blakely’s persistence eventually paid off. “I received a call from a mill owner who said he ‘decided to help make my crazy idea.’” When asked why he had the change of heart, he said, “‘I have two daughters.’ Turns out they didn’t think the idea was crazy at all.”
It’s not just in niche spaces, nor is it merely among the blatantly silly concepts, where the trend of stupid success thrives. It’s everywhere — from the cars we drive to the celebrities we follow to the computers we can’t live without. It’s in our favorite fashion trends, the type of music we listen to and the books we read. Stupid success can be found in the small, everyday choices you make as well as your biggest, most potentially life-altering decisions.
And just in case you don’t believe me, consider a few other examples:
The telephone. Western Union originally rejected the telephone, saying in an internal memo in 1876, “The device is inherently of no value to us.”
The automobile. In 1903, the president of Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company. “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.”
The radio. In response to David’s Sarnoff’s urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s, his associates said, “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
Man on the moon. In 1957, Lee De Forest, the man who pioneered radio and invented the vacuum tube, said, “A man-made moon voyage will never occur regardless of all future scientific advances.”
Satellites. In 1961, T. Craven, the FCC commissioner said, “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.”
Thomas Edison. Edison himself said, “I don’t know now what it was, but I was always at the foot of the class. I used to feel that the teachers never sympathized with me and that my father thought that I was stupid, and at last I almost decided that I must really be a dunce. . . One day I overheard the teacher tell the inspector that I was ‘addled’ and it would not be worthwhile keeping me in school any longer.”
Walt Disney. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
Elvis Presley. Elvis, the king of rock and roll, was fired from the Grand Ole Opry after only one performance. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
The list goes on…
And how about you? What was your best stupid idea? Let us know with a comment.