Some years ago, a friend of mine told me about the story of Africa and shoes—a business owner of a shoe company sent two of his sales representatives to Africa to check out the market and see whether they could start selling shoes there. One came back with bad news and said that people in Africa didn’t wear shoes; therefore, it wasn’t a good market. The other one came back with great news—he said that people in Africa don’t wear shoes, so it was a great place for expansion. This little story always reminds me that there is more than just one way of looking at things, and often, different perspectives give you the spark that leads to great change. If you think about it, many of the people or companies that we now admire challenged the status quo, accepted the idea that eventually a change will take over, and decided to embrace it. Things, situations, or success simply don’t last forever, and if you try to make them last, you will become overwhelmed. What you really want to make last is your ability to reinvent yourself and your company, because the only thing that is truly permanent is change.
For example, have you ever considered that there are a lot of similarities between the games Tetris and Candy Crush? Although the dynamics might not be exactly the same (we call it evolution for a reason), the principle is very similar, and the fun part of the game is to overcome all the levels by destroying whatever construction—be it of candy or bricks—the computer tries to build. If you want to play, both games are downloadable on your smartphone for free, but Tetris doesn’t have an average daily revenue of $435,748 like Candy Crush. Why is that? Because Candy Crush created a new business model where you don’t play by yourself—you can choose to connect with friends through Facebook and check your progress or your score against theirs. Not only that, but you can also help your friends by sending them lives and help such as tickets for boats and airplanes. The simple fact that you aren’t playing alone and that, at the same time, you aren’t exactly competing against one another is the winning card for Candy Crush.
Another company that took a big leap and made a change within its own market is Red Bull. The energy drink that we are all very familiar with used to be a concoction that Thai night truckers would drink in order to stay awake. So how did it become so popular all around the world, to the point that people of different ages drink it? One aspect that certainly helped was the adaptation of the Thai formula to meet European tastes, but that wasn’t enough. The second big step was to make the drink notorious by sponsoring sports events. The only problem was that when Red Bull decided to enter the market, there were already other energy drinks that held a large slice of the entire market. Therefore, any kind of sports team sponsorship required a consistent amount of money. The idea of not sponsoring sporting events was a no-go, as sports was the best way to demonstrate the effectiveness of the drink and grab the attention of spectators. Faced with this difficulty, the company analyzed a sine curve of sports data to see what could be done. They noticed that on the far left of the big curve stood all the people who rarely do sports and do not participate seriously. In the middle were all the classic sports, like basket, baseball, football, and so on, and on the far right side were all the people who practice and follow extreme sports. They also noticed that all the other energy drink companies focused their attention on sponsoring classic sports. Red Bull decided not to compete on the same turf as the others and focused instead on extreme sports, as at the time, there wasn’t much fuss about them, but everyone admired people who practiced extreme sports because, well, they are extreme sports. The strategy implemented by Red Bull turned out to be hugely successful, and now the company is a major stock holder in the energy drink market. They decided to take a step back and look at things from another perspective, and the risk paid off very well.
Red Bull and Candy Crush are just two examples of companies that started off small and became billionaires in a relatively short amount of time. Of course, we need to remember that there are many other factors that occurred to supplement their success, but in my opinion, they were clever enough to realize that if they wanted to be successful, they needed to play different cards. They challenged the status quo of their industry and that paid them back. If you are thinking of starting a company, don’t think inside the tiny box that other people built before your arrival. If you do so, you will be suffocated by the presence of all the other big companies that take up most of your sector’s space. Remember that even if you have the impression that outside of that box, there isn’t anything that fits you—well, there might be a whole world to discover. So don’t feel discouraged, embrace that entrepreneurial spirit of yours, and look for a bigger place that you can claim for yourself.
Noemi Clark, CEO of Athena Parthenos srl.