You’ve heard the story before.
It's a generic narrative with a thousand faces, a sort of entrepreneurial "hero’s journey." A woman stops working to take care of her children and is exposed to a whole new set of consumer needs that only new parents are privy to. Her entrepreneurial drive to get back to work fights against motherly instincts and—she just can’t help it—she comes up with something that all mothers in the world would want to have and no one is providing! So she launches a funky, new company/brand that sells organic baby food or hypoallergenic baby socks. It’s just a hobby, something to give her some grown-up interaction, but the world’s moms demand more and more, so the hobby becomes a fully operational business.
Well, Julie Pickens’ story may sound the same, but it is beautifully different in at least four ways.
Like the "Hero Mom Entrepreneur," Julie, founder and CEO of Boogie Wipes, was fully engaged in a successful career, helping her father run his sales and distribution company. When her family sold its business, she got involved in several franchises, including Cold Stone Creamery. After her three girls were born, she decided to "do the mom thing" for a while and take her foot off the gas.
Her "aha" moment hit when she decided she wanted a natural alternative to the usual perfumed antiseptic baby wipes. She searched for wipes treated with saline and when she couldn’t find any, Julie decided to explore creating it herself.
This is where her story veers. Instead of making some in her basement for home use and sharing them with her friends as the "Hero Mom Entrepreneur" is supposed to do, Julie made four uncommon choices to outthink even the largest, most well-funded baby consumer products companies. As a result of these four choices, Julie’s company now owns its category niche, holds a position too expensive for competitors to copy, and has inked a collaboration partnership with Proctor & Gamble to bring her creativity and innovation into yet a larger opportunity.
Outthinking your competition begins with looking past the obvious choices, beyond the logical, reasonable ones your competition and industry experts have settled on, and choosing something different. Here are four strategic patterns that Julie put in place to set her on her path to success:
1. Focus on what others ignore: Julie and her business partner recognized the wipes market was saturated, so instead of jumping in to compete for babies' bottoms, they decided to design baby saline wipes for use on babies' noses. What are your competitors ignoring and what would happen if you embraced that?
2. Command an input: From day one, Julie began working on building proprietary technology. She and her business partner pooled together $20,000 and hired a chemist to formulate a product. Then they refined and refined. The result? A patent that severely complicates any competitors’ efforts to copy their innovation and create a similar wet wipe or tissue. What critical input would your competitors need to copy you and how could you control that?
3. Step in where others step out: When Julie’s company Boogie Wipes launched in 2008, they enjoyed a nice tailwind. Some traditional pharma companies with cold and cough solutions were pulling off the shelves because of health concerns, and customers were looking for natural solutions. Saline wipes were perfectly positioned to fill this gap. How are competitors reacting to market trends and what opportunity does this create for you?
4. Create repeated occasions: Venture capitalists put a higher value on repeated revenue than on one-time revenue. You should too. So look to attach to, or create, repeated occasions. Julie shared with me, "[We looked at] how people are using tissues. Most people use it to blot their face or blow their nose. A lot of people buy it for the cute box. I sort of took all those elements and said, ‘If we are going to talk about expanded use, what would we do?’" This gave her one of her boldest ideas yet. She licensed Proctor & Gamble’s "Puffs" brand to create the first wet tissue, which was just launched, available at Target, under the name Puffs Fresh Faces. What repeated occasion can you link to … or create?
Ask these four questions, and you may see an opening past the competition. What are others ignoring? What input can you control? Where are others stepping away? What repeated occasion can you create?
And then? "Plan," says Julie. "There are a lot of great ideas, but how you make them come to life is you plan. Be ready to dig your heels in and know it’s going to be a ton of work. People look at me like a deer in their headlights when I say this, but write a business plan, create a pro-forma [financial projection]."
This last piece of advice is so good, it would make an entrepreneurship professor cry.
[Image: Flickr user Neticola]