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The 5 Killer Myths For Any Business
The era of globalization is penetrating every nook and corner of the world. Today’s home is the marketplace where people buy or sell products or services. Everyone wants to achieve the highest volume of customers and the largest market share. However, the same phenomenon is now making the journey difficult for entrepreneurs around the world.
Through my many interactions with entrepreneurs from South Asia, Europe and North Africa as an academic, researcher, trainer and consultant, I have been able to observe some deep-rooted problems associated with business failure. In most cases, such failures are blamed on the market, competition and some other external characteristics. When I started researching the same phenomenon in India in the late 90s, I found some interesting psychological barriers in the minds of entrepreneurs, which I call the ‘5 Myths That Kill Every Business’. Recently, in a similar study in the UK we found similar myths prevalent within the entrepreneurial community. Interestingly enough, Indian entrepreneurs were mostly owners of goods-oriented manufacturing units and UK entrepreneurs were service-oriented organizations. Here are those 5 myths as I’ve noticed them across the board:
1. Product growth myth: The belief that since our product has been doing well in the market regularly for several years, there will be no problem for the next few years.
2. The myth of no alternative: Our product’s substitute has such characteristics that the market will not accept.
3. The myth of quality: The market accepts quality first and cheap products will not be accepted by the market.
4. The no-change myth: Growth will continue even if we don’t change after the market has accepted the product.
5. Myth of friendly environment: Environmental factors will not affect us much.
Let’s look at them in a little more depth with some examples.
1. The myth of product growth: While working on an EU funded project, I came across this industrial cluster called ‘Rajkot Diesel Engine Industry Cluster’. The group had seen phenomenal growth since the 70s and started losing ground in the early 90s due to Chinese and Korean competition in the market. However, it took the group 10 years to realize the same mistake and guess what, it’s still struggling to reach previous growth levels. Will he ever get it back is the question and we all know the answer. When entrepreneurs start to get complacent about innovation, we know the cycle of disruption (or sure fire failure) isn’t far away.
2. Myth without an alternative: In Egypt, during the Eid period, children use Fanoos (lanterns), made of paper and stick to it. They go to the neighborhood houses and ask for sweets and other things. This type of celebration is also observed in other parts of the world at different times, such as Diwali time in India or for that matter ‘trick or treating’ on Halloween. Well, until 2003-2004 these Fanos were made in Egypt only by local craftsmen. However, as business with China grew, a Chinese businessman saw the opportunity and made some changes to Fanoo’s concept. He used a small battery-powered light instead of a candle and changed the paper Fanoos to a plastic Fanoos. The result is, as one might imagine, a durable, safe and easy-to-use Fanoos that is far superior to its previous incarnation that has been used for centuries. The local industry has almost disappeared within 2 years. If you think the market won’t accept your replacement, it’s one of the best ways to fail.
3. The myth of quality: This myth is so ubiquitous that it is sometimes easy to overlook. Every entrepreneur I have met has told me how their product is a quality product and how much care they take in their production processes. My only question to them is, does your customer really care about this? And every time the answer has been a resounding YES. Somewhat rarely do I get the same response from their customers. If customers really cared about quality, why was M&S in the UK struggling as a retailer while Tesco and ASDA were growing like never before. How is it that Primark (the discount clothing retailer) is one of the most successful retailers in the UK? How did George (another low-end clothing retailer) become the best-selling clothing brand in the UK? Customers don’t understand an entrepreneur’s obsession with quality. They want VALUE FOR MONEY. As Wal-Mart does day after day, it is now the largest company in the world and larger than all of its US competitors combined. How could anyone imagine this just 40 years ago when Sam Walton started in Bentonville, Arkansas. Remember, quality lies in the minds of the customers and no matter how good or bad you are, it is decided by them in their minds. In fact, discrepancies between company and customer perceptions would not be unusual at all. However, even if the company is working itself to the proverbial bone on the quality regime, if customers see it as cheap, then it is cheap – in their eyes, and that matters most.
4. The No-Change Myth: This is another classic myth. I call it the symbol of the breadwinner. After a product or service has become a breadwinner for more than two years, entrepreneurs become obsessed with it. Buddha said 2500 years ago ‘change is the only permanent constant’ and this statement is truer today than ever before. All the examples I cited above fit into this field. Furthermore, while speaking to several service firms in the Essex area of the UK, I asked the entrepreneur when was the last time he/she or their employees had been on some kind of training to improve their skills. The answer was shocking. 90% of the time it never was. In 10% of cases it was more than a year. In today’s world, if we don’t update ourselves, not even God can save us.
5. Myth of friendly environment: I have observed this myth mainly in developing countries like India, Egypt and others where entrepreneurs are quite dependent on local, state and national government for subsidies and protection. As the waves of globalization have hit shores around the world, local, state or national governments can do very little to avoid global competition and if entrepreneurs are not prepared for it, their fate is already known to us. This myth is also observed in other parts of the world through the phenomenon of the market. It was in late 2005 or so, I saw an interesting pet shop concept in Brighton, UK. All the pink decor and it looked nice from the outside, however, the first questions that came to my mind after seeing that shop in the city center how long will it survive? The entrepreneur’s logic behind it was pretty sound, as 7 out of 10 British pets get presents at Christmas alone. However, within two years the store has moved for as many environmental reasons as one can imagine. Another program on the BBC called Dragon’s Den really captures this phenomenon to the core.
Well, when considered these myths may seem a product of the environment, however the starting point may be different than what seems obvious. Most of the times when the environment is blamed for failure, it is actually the person behind the business who fails to observe such changes. My suggestion would be for every entrepreneur to take a ‘thinking break’ and observe if any of these myths are present in their mind or business? If so, the time to act is sooner rather than later.
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