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Start-up Advice

Knowing When To Give Up On Your Idea

How to make the decision to pack it in.

Richard Branson

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I am a young entrepreneur who ventured into a popcorn-selling business in a small town. A long time has passed, but I am not reaping enough profits. Should I quit? 

I’m sorry that you’re at this low point – the moment when you’re getting ready to concede defeat is always tough. While the Kenyan popcorn market is not one I’m familiar with, Virgin has done business there, and recently opened a safari lodge called Mahali Mzuri in the southwest.

The core challenge you face right now is deciding whether to persevere with your idea or to adapt it to meet customers’ demands. This can be a difficult call to make, because many entrepreneurs start their businesses after gaining some insight into how to do things better. But there’s not much point in persevering with an approach that is failing to make adequate profits or drive your company forward.

When you put your heart and soul into your work, it can be very hard to let go.

One of the most difficult moments of my career took place in the early ’90s, after a couple of years during which British Airways had thrown all its resources into driving Virgin Atlantic out of business. We realized that if we were going to defend ourselves adequately, we were going to need a lot more money. Our only option was to sell Virgin Records, the label that we had used to launch some of the most influential artists of that generation, making our brand a household name.

I had loved creating and running Virgin Records – every bit of it. Gritting my teeth and signing the documents of sale wasn’t easy, but it needed to happen. If I had refused or delayed, the Virgin Group would probably be a shadow of the company it is today. That’s why, one day in 1992, I found myself running down Ladbroke Grove in London, crying my eyes out, despite the check for $1 billion in my pocket.

Things to investigate

Before you throw in the towel, there are a number of questions you should ask yourself, no matter what industry you’re in – whether it’s selling popcorn or Porsches.

  • Have you done your market research and discovered what your customers are looking for?
  • Have you offered them something that’s not already out there?
  • Is your business making a difference for them?

If you’re satisfied that your product, branding, marketing and customer service are all spot-on, then think carefully about how and when your potential customers buy the product you’re offering. If possible, you want your shop or your product to be at hand exactly when people find themselves in need of what you’re selling.

Related: Get Your Business Off the Ground

What do your customers want?

If you’re not yet making a difference in your customers’ lives, consider helping your community in a way that’s integral to your business.

If you don’t know where to start, try leveraging the power of social media. It might seem a little disheartening to start from a small base of followers, but if you give this the attention it deserves, that can quickly change – interactions with potential customers are gold dust. Use them to discover your company’s unique voice and find out what people are looking for.

Tell everyone what you’re all about, so that by the time they come to your shop they already know what’s on offer.

Related: Evaluating Your Talents and Weaknesses

Be innovative

Finally, there is no substitute for innovation. If you’re feeling disheartened because larger competitors have saturated the market with their products, well, that’s exactly what they were hoping for.

Remember that once upon a time, there were lots of airline executives and industry experts who thought they understood the market and that a new entrant like Virgin Atlantic, which was run by a company with a background in music, wouldn’t be able to keep up.

Yet it was our fresh perspective and unique take on travel that brought about our success, and Virgin now has three thriving airlines, while many of our former competitors have gone out of business.

Remember that you can always take a new angle on a familiar product. How does your popcorn taste? How do the flavours your business offers compare with those already on the market? Do they truly pop? (Pun intended!)

Most important: Are your popcorn-loving customers being given what they want, how they want it, when they want it?

If you get these essentials right, your popcorn company could have a Hollywood ending.

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He is the author of "Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur."

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Sandy Sand

    Apr 29, 2014 at 21:24

    i am not sure how long the Popcorn Business have been running however i know that sometimes we tend to rush to greater profits while we are still at just a door step of being in Business.

    my inputs will be that try also invest more improving the Quality of the Popcorn Grade / the Containers you put it in / the spices that you use for flavors etc …

    also if you buy the same number of Quantity in stock every week / month as the case maybe i guess than there hasn’t been much growth in your business ! for you to realize more returns you will need to double the Sales over time that shows growth in your Business.

    i run a small Short myself and it is growing everyday as i reinvest most of my Profits to improving the service, appearance and put more on increasing the stock every month.

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Start-up Advice

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden

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You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden

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Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck

luck

This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black

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Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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