“It’s possible to create a good start-up with a good idea, but great start-ups are often the result of ideas that would have seemed ridiculous if you had heard them prior to seeing them working.” —Michael Wolfe
Big business successes start as small, innovative ideas that grow through a combination of great timing, hard work, and lots of luck—as well as a willingness to move forward in the face of risk.
Even when an idea goes against the grain and is contrary to what experts would recommend, vertical, non-traditional thinking is what the marketplace needs to stay innovative and jump over the hurdle of “same” to create an edgier norm.
Here are four stories about people who did things differently. These people were handsomely rewarded for sharing and committing to their vision, even if it seemed kind of “out there.”
1. PayPal: a Risk That Transformed Online Payments
Before buying online was as common as brushing your teeth, people had real, valid concerns about sharing bank information online—especially with companies they didn’t know. With a limited understanding of the web and e-commerce safety, it was risky to push customers to overcome their fears in order to create a standard platform that would transform the way people exchange money online.
To bridge that gap, PayPal needed to build trust with customers and get them comfortable with using their email addresses to make payments. They began by giving out free gift cards for new clients and referrals. Soon, people were posting information on eBay about PayPal. Why does that matter? Because eBay had already built considerable customer trust, so PayPal would as well, by proxy. Despite eBay trying to promote its own payment options, PayPal was still the preferred payment method. Instead of competing, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion and today PayPal makes up almost 40% of eBay’s annual revenue.
Not too shabby for what started out as a really risky idea that needed to drive a change in customer behavior in order to be successful.
2. AirBnB: a Quirky Idea that Completely Changed Travel Accommodations
Letting complete strangers stay in your home was a “way out there” idea. In fact, it was so radical at the time that AirBnB could have totally flopped. The main reason it didn’t was that the execution was perfect. AirBnB offered the perfect trifecta to build user trust and fill a niche with customers: 1) low-cost room and house rentals for travelers, 2) an insurance guarantee to cover damages, and 3) top-notch professional photos of available spaces (paid for by AirBnB).
AirBnB is now available in 33,000 cities and 192 countries, and it continues to expand.
3. IKEA’s Trip to Bondi Beach in Australia: Top-Notch Creative Marketing
Okay, this idea was crazy, but it was also a perfect combination of things that don’t go together—which is why it got so much attention. Here’s the story.
IKEA celebrated the 30th birthday of one of its most popular items, the “Billy Bookcase,” by setting up several red Billy Bookcases on Bondi Beach and filling them with books—for just one day. Beach-goers had the option to exchange their current reads for a new book, and to donate to the Australian Literacy Foundation. This stunt could have easily been brushed aside for something more traditional, but instead, it left a lasting and heartwarming impression.
4. J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Series: the Power of Committing to an Idea
J.K. Rowling was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International, and was on a delayed train from Manchester to London, when she thought of an idea that sparked the Harry Potter series. Shortly after her spark of genius, her mother died, she got divorced from her first husband, and she was left barely scraping by for seven years, until she finished her first novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Rowling could have easily given up at any point, but she stuck to her magical idea of writing a novel about wizards and warlocks to become one of the bestselling authors of all time.
Sharing ideas is essential to innovation and worth the risk that comes with it—even if your ideas seem “off the wall” at first.
The most important thing for teams and businesses to remember is that it never hurts to have a list of riskier ideas on deck to keep the spark of inspiration close at hand. This also gets you comfortable with thinking like an industry leader instead of a follower.
Already have a great idea that’s not getting buy-in just yet? That’s not always a bad thing. It might mean you’re ahead of the curve in seeing what people need—before they know they need it.