Bizarre Tactics: How These Startups Came To Be
Necessity isn’t always the mother of invention. From mom-and-pop stores to sprawling transnationals, companies are as often as not born out of whimsy, near-psychotic obsession, mad love, or even accident. Here are the stories of three wildly different brands that demonstrate the crazy crucible that is starting up.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Although Kickstarter started crowdfunding very personal labors of artistic love, the portal connects eager up-and-comers with an ocean of would-be patrons. (The fast evolution of Kickstarter and its ilk is itself a story worth telling.) At this point even well-established personae use the site to bankroll projects in an ad-hoc, subscription-style manner, but much of its traffic comes from left-field hopefuls with modest proposals. When two engineering students teamed up to roll the dice with their iPhone-synced wristwatch brand Pebble, they aimed at the moon—or so they thought—with a target goal of $100,000. Two hours after the donation gates were opened, a group largely made up of strangers gushed in that goal, an amount they were praying to reach in a few months. Three days later, Pebble had received $7 million with which to get in on a very posh ground floor.
Throwing Logic Into The Fire
Back in the fad-crazed 1970s, entrepreneur Gary Dahl decided that if people would pay good money for lava lamps and hula-hoops, they might just buy anything. So when he heard his friends kvetching about how troublesome pets are, he came up with the oddball idea of marketing a pet that wouldn’t bite or miss the litter box—or do anything for that matter. Dahl’s brainchild was the Pet Rock, nothing more than a palm-sized beach stone with two felt ears flopped on. (Later, upscale models boasted googly eyes.) Even as a gag it should have hit the ground like lead, but the Pet Rock was a goldmine, making Dahl a millionaire and opening the door for other inanimate additions to the family, such as the Furby and Gigapets.
The Great Airline Swindle
In the midst of the same 1970s England that produced such art-punk tricksters cum arch capitalist provocateurs as Factory Records’ Tony Wilson and Malcolm McLaren, wunderkind Richard Branson emerged as a fully-formed member of the “It’s So Crazy It Just Might Work” school of entrepreneurship. Out of a chain of independent record stores, Branson launched the Virgin record label, which, to the shock of straight-world onlookers, succeeded resoundingly well despite Branson’s mercurial signings of avant-garde German rock bands. He even managed to get conned out of a king’s ransom by punk legends the Sex Pistols (managed by cynical pied piper McLaren at the time) when he dared sign them to Virgin.
Such mayhem was the seedbed of Branson’s Virgin empire of megastores, and then in 1984, an airline. Not that Branson knew anything about running an airline. Just as before, it sounded like fun at the time, and Branson—Sir Branson today—ran with it with mad playboy panache. Virgin Airlines soared, and currently he’s the sixth richest person in his country. Never has so much cash risen out of chaos.
If there’s a moral in all this, it’s that success is truly an elusive animal, as we see odds-on favorites collapse out of the gate, while dark horses like those go on to surprise everyone. Getting started isn’t always pretty, but time and time again it sure makes a good story.
Camille McClane is a passionate writer who dreams of someday starting-up her own business and turning it into a success story. She dedicates her time to researching topics of emerging technology, online marketing trends, and its correlation to business.She hopes the readers of VentureBreak enjoy her article as much as she enjoyed writing it!