A business case for painted cases
Have you ever watched Dragon’s Den? For those of you who haven’t had the entertaining privilege, allow me to explain. It’s a British television series that sees would-be entrepreneurs present their varying business ideas to a panel of five wealthy investors, the “Dragons”. The Dragons then choose to financially invest in the idea or product in exchange for a stake in the company. It’s incredibly entertaining to watch, and by the end of an episode, you’re sitting right next to the Dragons judging ideas and deciding whether or not you would part with money to bring the concept to life.
There’s a particular question that always makes me sit up and pay closer attention, and it usually comes from Dragon and British businesswoman Deborah Meaden, who ran a multimillion-pound caravan park.
“Is there a market for this product?”
It’s amazing, but this one question, without fail, stumps all the wannabe entrepreneurs every…
First, you’ll see their foreheads start to gleam with tiny beads of sweat as they realise they’ve invested an incredible amount of time and money in perfecting a product without actually bothering to find out if people would actually buy it. From there, it all falls apart as the Dragons spot the weakness and pounce like a hungry pride of lions.
Perhaps I find it so entertaining because I see this all the time when working with entrepreneurs. They spend so much time bogged down in the mechanics that they don’t even bother researching the viability with the target market.
This is s a lesson I learned in the ninth grade.
Know thy audience!
I grew up in Zimbabwe. My mother was a nursery school teacher and my father was a farmer. Having lost everything in Zim, we moved to South Africa when I was in grade 8. Needless to say, there wasn’t room for luxuries like monthly allowances.
In secondary school, I would charge R5 to cut hair on a park bench between the boys’ and girls’ hostels to make a little extra money on the side. This was my first journey into entrepreneurship. It’s a business I ran all the way through school and during my time in the navy. Haircutting kept the till ringing. And ring it did.
Then I entered high school, where it took more than a middle path or killer box cut to be cool. You had to be associated with something or have a cause to cut it socially. There were punks, hard rockers, surfers, skaters, petrol heads and geeks Every audience under the teenage sun segmented very, very clearly but each needed to stand out. I could help fulfil this need and make a little extra cash while doing it.
It all started in art class. I refused to paint. I had been painting with oils since the age of ten, and here I was faced with fish and chip paper and dried out watercolour paint pallets. Paint would completely absorb into the paper at the touch of a brush. Hardly a creative outlet.
The audience had a need, I had a skill; the product only became evident once these two were established.
King Fisher. It was the canvas shoulder sling bags that every student had in our high school. The perfect blank canvas, if you would excuse the pun. While rebelling against water colours, I discovered Poster Paint. I used money earned from haircutting to buy the paint, and slowly started painting on people’s school cases for a fee. Every audience liked something else. My product was in demand.
Then came my next lesson. Environment. If one of my customers got caught in the rain, my paint product could potentially run. To address this, I applied clear varnish to the artwork. This not only made it water-resistant, but also increased the perceived value of the finished product.
At the time an LP cost approximately R9.99. I charged R65 for the last case I painted. It was an Iron Maiden record cover.
Skill + market = product/service. Then refine the product to adapt to different environments.
Had I painted on people’s cases without knowing who my different audiences are, I could’ve easily painted a U2 case for someone who preferred the mosh pit mayhem of Iron Maiden.
Deborah Meaden would never invest.