Sometimes success means having the right idea, in the right place, at the right time. Other times, it’s about not being afraid to quit and move onto something new. For every Netflix, there’s a Blockbuster. Every Facebook, a MySpace.
Every innovator will tell you, “there’s a myth in business that innovation happens spontaneously — like an apple falling on Newton’s head or the cartoon-style lightbulb moments.” And if companies aren’t smart about their innovation efforts, taking risks becomes THAT much riskier.
If your business isn’t “tracking, managing, and executing the great ideas it comes up with, you risk losing them.” You also risk losing the potential returns you could be experiencing.
As I am growing my business, I have to manage these risks and learn from the successes and failures of others. I also have to realize that every success at one time or another had a failure. But I have to be willing to take a risk.
Here are a few inspirational businesses that took a risk and it paid off.
The story of Microsoft is long and varied and riddled with missteps, especially when it comes to mobile devices. But back in 2001, the tech giant pushed the envelope with its first gaming console: the Xbox. At a time when it seemed like there could be no rival to the Playstation, the company doubled down on their marketing budget for the device. Now, the Xbox isn’t just a way to play games, but is also a major player when it comes to OTT television and video streaming.
Now, car and ride sharing seems natural, but back in 2000, Zipcar was just an idea that co-founders Robin Chase and Antje Danielson came up with while dropping their kids off at the same kindergarten. With just $68 in their bank accounts, they turned the idea into a tangible business — they sold to Avis in 2013 for $500 million and changed the way people drive.
Remember when buying organic and natural products seemed like a fancy idea? You can blame four guys from Texas, John Mackey and Renee Lawson Hardy, owners of Safer Way Natural Foods, and Craig Weller and Mark Skiles, owners of Clarksville Natural Grocery, for the rise of the all-natural economy. They all left their popular shopping market gigs to bet on Whole Foods, which could have been a major flop. But by believing in the model, and starting out with just 19 employees in 1980, they’ve changed the entire culture of grocery shopping and food preparation.
In 2008, Twitter’s user base was growing, but it was turning profits like many insiders thought they should’ve been. Facebook offered $500 million to take over the growing social network — an offer Twitter promptly rejected. It’s hard to imagine life without the platform, but whether the risk really will pay off in the end, still remains to be seen. Sometimes, saying no and sticking it out through the tough times is the hardest risk of all.
Sometimes it’s the little things that count. In 2014, the toilet paper company decided that it was going to use potty humor to engage its audience. And it totally worked. Getting sassy and turning a wholesome family brand into one of the most engaging, hysterical brands on social media was a big leap — but they keep rolling with it.
Once upon a time, there was no Google. Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin created the company while PhD students at TK, and almost gave up on it all because it was taking way too much time. Page almost sold the company in 1997 for just $1.5 million. Later on in 2006, when no one understood the potential of a little video service called YouTube, the tech company bought it up. The rest is history.
When Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS, many investors laughed at the business model and the fashion. Mycoskie went all in though, starting and running the business from the very beginning. Not only do they have multiple product lines, but the “buy one, give one” concept has defined an entire generation of millennial consumers and the sharing economy.
Can you imagine saying no to Steve Jobs? Dropbox founder Drew Houston did. Houston didn’t back down when Jobs told him that the cloud wasn’t his — and now the file sharing company is worth around $8-10 billion.
Intel is one of the foundational companies of, well, everything digital. But just this spring, they announced that they’re totally reinventing themselves and ditching their main focus on chips and getting into the cloud and storage. They’re betting it all on the Internet of Things.
When FedEx was denied a business loan they needed to foot a gas bill and stay afloat, founder Fred Smith took $5,000 to Las Vegas to raise the cash. If that’s not the epitome risk taking, we don’t know what is.
When Pandora was completely out of money in 2001, CEO Tim Westergren asked 50 employees to defer their salaries for two years. They were eventually bailed out by investors, but employees stuck around. Asking for help and team effort isn’t easy.
Elon Musk took all of the capital he had from the sale of PayPal and threw into his passion project, SpaceX. At one time he had blown every penny he’d earned in the past, not even able to make payroll for the company. Months later, he closed a multi-billion dollar deal. Musk knows how to take big leaps. I personally base how my company operates very similar to how Musk opperates. Take big risks.
Gurbaksh Chahal started his online advertising network after being rejected from McDonalds and dropping out of high school at 16 years old. He started Click Agents in his bedroom and sold it for $40 million in just two years. Not being afraid to wing it takes guts.
Apple takes risks all the time on design and products, but when they decided to focus on phones, they changed the world (and how everyone connects with each other). This year, they’re changing the way users listen to music, going against popular opinion and betting on better audio all around.
Spanx founder Sara Blakely knew nothing about business, but all about how uncomfortable pantyhose were. After being told over and over that her idea was “so crazy,” she wrote the patent herself and went for it. Now, they undergarments are everywhere.
As Zig Ziglar said, “you were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” And, of course, whether you’re running an international firm bringing in billions or a small, one-man shop, you can set your sites on staying afloat and just tread water instead, playing it safe. But your business will appear as tired as it is after a while and drown if you go that route.
Better to take smart risks and focus on winning, because if you don’t, your competition will!