Every year thousands of entrepreneurs will have another great idea that is sure to take off and bring in millions of customers. However, most of these great ideas will turn into another business failure. But, in the case of Dropbox, it is multiple business failures that eventually created a huge success, giving hope to millions of budding entrepreneurs.
With 300 million users, the file sharing ‘Dropbox’ is certainly a success, estimated at a value of $10bn. But it didn’t happen immediately and was preceded by a few failures. So, what is the secret to success in this case? The co-founder of Dropbox, Drew Houston, said that it is all about providing something that customers want. In the case of Dropbox, customers are crucial: the more people use it, the easier it becomes for others to use it too, as it allows file sharing on a much larger scale. Perhaps here we have a case of network externalities.
With Dropbox people would tell their friends about it and collaborate. So when you go into work and work on a project with colleagues you recruit them in essence to become Dropbox users because you’re all working on a project together.
No doubt there are many other examples of businesses that have proved a success after several failed attempts. Providing customers with what they want, at the time when they need it is clearly a key ingredient, but so, it appears, is business failure. The following article from BBC News considers the rise of Dropbox.
Dropbox and the failures behind it BBC News, Richard Taylor (1/7/14)
- Customers are clearly crucial for any business to succeed. How can a new entrepreneur find out if there is a demand?
- Why was timing so important in the case of Dropbox?
- Given that customers can actually use Dropbox for free, how does this company make so much money?
- What are network externalities? Explain them in the context of Dropbox.
- Drew Houston says that ‘distribution’ is another key ingredient to success. What do you think is meant by this and how will it help create success?
What does it take to create a successful business? From the looks of it: mud, electric barbed wire, icy water, enormous walls to climb, big jumps to make, team work and complete exhaustion – the recipe for every successful business.
Tough Mudder was founded in 2010 and runs gruelling extreme obstacle courses for anyone mad enough to think it might be fun. In the BBC News article below, you’ll see that there is a discussion as to intellectual property rights, but whatever the outcome, this company has become the main provider of such extreme sports in a remarkably short period of time. Within 2 years of being established, it had gained 500,000 participants and now records annual revenues of more than £60m. Add to this, that there has no external funding and this organic growth is beyond impressive.
A key question, then, is what creates such a successful business? Without a doubt, this depends on the product you are selling and the market a firm is in, but there are some aspects that apply across the board. Understanding what your customers want is crucial, as they represent your demand. Differentiating your product to create inelastic demand may be a good strategy to enable price rises, without losing a large number of sales, but the differentiated product is essential in establishing demand, loyalty and reputation. Marketing something in the right way and to the right audience is crucial – word-of-mouth is often the most effective form of advertising.
If you have all of these aspects, then you have the makings of a successful business. The next step is putting it into practice and climbing those high walls, taking the big jumps and hopefully avoiding the mud and ice. The following article considers Will Dean and his fast growing business.
Will Dean: ‘The Mark Zuckerberg of extreme sports’ BBC News, Will Smale (9/6/14)
- If you were starting up a business, how might you go about finding out if there is a demand for your product?
- Why is product differentiation a key aspect of a successful business? Using a diagram, explain how this might help a firm increase revenue and profits.
- What forms of marketing might be used in persuading customers to buy your product?
- In the case of Tough Mudder, which aspects have proved the most important in creating such a successful business?
- Are there any barriers to the entry of new firms in this sector? If so, what are they are how important are they in allowing Tough Mudder to retain a monopoly position?
- Which factors should be considered by a company when it is thinking of global expansion?