What Does “Like” Mean?

So if the three elements at the heart of entrepreneurship are these:

  1. The United States has a $18 trillion economy
  2. Anyone can create (almost) any idea and insert it into this economy
  3. If people like the idea, then money flows your way

Then what does “like” mean? What does it look like when people really like an idea? Watch this video and watch Jeremy Clarkson’s reaction to the Ariel Atom, especially around the 1:45 point in the video:

Things to notice from this video:

  • The car comes from a tiny company (only 7 people at the time)
  • This is the product of mechanical engineers
  • Jeremy really, really, really likes this idea
  • (and so do millions of other people, because Jeremy showed the world how cool this car is)

This segment ran on the BBC show Top Gear, and millions of people learned about the company and the product as a result. If you are a car enthusiast, the Ariel Atom is incredibly interesting because it is so light and fast. This Top Gear segment acted essentially like an 8-minute product endorsement for Ariel, and the company took off.

Examples of ideas that took off…

Here are some other examples of products that really resonated, so they took off:

  • Five hour energy (the founder made billions of dollars from this simple product)
  • Dollar shave club (the famous, highly resonant video that launched it all is here – it then sold to Unilever for $1 billion)
  • Silly Bandz (“At our peak, in 2008, we were selling more than a million packs of Silly Bandz a week.” [ref])
  • Atlassian (today the company is worth billions)
  • Nike (definitely read Shoe Dog)
  • Fedex (started with a college paper written Fred Smith for a class at Yale [ref] and soon was resonating like crazy)
  • Twitter (history)
  • The Apple iPhone (see Massive crowds await new iPhones to understand the resonance)
  • There are millions(!) of of examples

These are all ideas that, once they were inserted into the economy, they took off. People really liked these ideas, for whatever reason. The ideas resonated.

It’s not always completely obvious why people like an idea. For example Twitter. Pre-twitter – like before Twitter was invented – if someone had come up to you and said, “I am going to invent something I call micro-blogging, where people can post things like a blog, but there is a 140 character limit,” would you have said to yourself, “Wow, that’s a great idea! That is really going to take off, and eventually the company will go public, and eventually a United States president will campaign and communicate with it!”

Speaking for myself, pre-Twitter, I never would have guessed that. It seems impossible to me that Twitter is as popular as it is even to this day. Yet there is no denying that Twitter is popular. Someone inserted the idea of micro-blogging into the economy, and people really liked this idea, and Twitter took off. This is how entrepreneurship works.

And a Counter-example…

But there are also counter examples – ideas that get inserted into the economy and go nowhere. My favorite example of this is the Iridum system. This is the company that developed satellite phones, along with a constellation of 72(!) satellites orbiting the Earth, in order to provide phone coverage planet-wide. The company raised and spent billions of dollars to build and launch all of the satellites, to develop the phones, etc.

It was and is an amazing idea, an incredibly powerful idea (“make phone calls from ANYWHERE on Earth!”), and yet the marketplace really did not care. Eventually the company collapsed: “The company failed to earn revenue sufficient to service the debt associated with building out the constellation and Iridium went bankrupt, the largest bankruptcy in US history at the time.” [ref] Wow. There is just no other way to say it: Wow.

Remember the steps:

  1. The United States has an $18 trillion economy
  2. Anyone can create (almost) any idea and insert it into this economy
  3. If people like the idea, then money flows your way

People have to LIKE the idea for it to succeed. And not very many people on Earth needed the ability to communicate from Antarctica, or the middle of the Amazon rain forest. Most people live in cities, and cities have normal cell phone coverage, and this option works great for most people. So people did not buy what Iridium has to sell, and the company went down in flames despite all of the money that was invested in inserting this idea into the economy. Wow.

To repeat: People have to LIKE your idea for it to succeed. Your idea needs to RESONATE. This is the most important thing about being an entrepreneur today. You have to find an idea that people like.