Is there any such thing as a bad idea? We persuaded business owners to ‘fess up about their own bad ideas – and the lessons they learned from them...
Good idea, bad execution
Not all bad business ideas are truly bad ideas. Sometimes it’s a good idea, just poorly executed. That happened to For the Ageless, an e-commerce store that specialises in natural rejuvenation supplements.
“Our core idea for our store was to bring beauty and wellbeing together so when we launched in 2017 we decided to give away little sachets of loose hemp tea with all orders of beauty products,” says Kim Amaranth. “In the UK, hemp products were not as popular then as they are now so, as you can imagine, we had quite a few surprised customers call and write to us saying they had received what they thought was a small stash of marijuana along with their order of collagen or vitamins.”
The brand still offers the freebie, but now it’s an optional extra when customers check out online, rather than an unexpected surprise. “Improved packaging has also helped, so you could say the original idea has been successfully rehashed!”
Good idea, bad timing
Next month, travel blogger Tom Bourlet is poised to launch a new app, drinkspal.com, after a year in production. It’s a guide to bars, restaurants and venues based on their facilities, such as whether they’re dog-friendly or have a beer garden.
“There are certainly some bad ideas that will float through from time to time, but the worst ones are ideas that are resource-heavy and end up taking you away from your main focus,” he says.
“It can be tempting to focus on things like a fun campaign or putting a lot of investment into a big event, but if the potential gains don't add up then you can end up with wasted resources – and that doesn’t just mean money. Time is our most expensive and limited resource, which is where you see the real loss.”
Bourlet says his worst idea was a pre-emptive launch event, based around plans to launch the app last January. "We arranged an event with a number of influencers but, following an amazing night, the site had some issues and we had to set the launch date back to April,” he says. “The egg on our face was there for all to see. Our mistake was allowing excitement to overtake us before all the dots were joined, but it was a valuable learning curve.”
Bad idea. End of
London-based inventor James Hamon Watt hit on the idea of sending journalists some samples of a card game he’d designed. Good idea, thus far. Except he decided to hide the game inside hollowed-out coconut shells and send them though the post in a box with a hammer. With no explanation.
“The idea was that they'd eventually crack the puzzle (and coconut) and be amused enough to give the game a go, or at least tweet about it. I took some advice on how make the packages not look like a terrorist threat, so I avoided the police being called, but the PR effort was a solid failure,” he says.
To minimise the chances of investing time or energy in an idea that you might look back on and regret, coach Ruth Kudzi recommends surrounding yourself with the right support – and that includes people who’ll tell you if your idea needs a rethink.
Bad idea. Good lesson
“Focus on what you’re good at and what you know as a starting point,” says Kudzie. “This isn't true for every business, but if you’re starting from a position of strength, you can build on this and then diversify.”
She also recommends prioritising sales to avoid being swept away by a new idea: “Identify your potential customers and how you’ll generate sales before you move forward with the idea, and make sure that you get support early on, especially if you’re entering a new marketplace or investing in technology.”
Ultimately, even bad business ideas can turn into valuable lessons. And even the very worst ideas give us a few good anecdotes on which to dine out.
“I’ve had a number of bad ideas over the years including an idea for an eBay business years ago,” agrees Kudzi. “It was hard to dispatch around my day job and I didn't have the right systems in place so I quickly realised that it wasn't going to be a success and folded it, but I was left with quite a few pairs of lovely shoes, so it wasn't all bad!”