A little crazy can go a long way. That’s one of the key lessons I’ve learned by studying the “hows” and “whys” of success. One of the common threads in the stories of successful entrepreneurs is that they aren’t afraid to take an approach that most people would consider unorthodox at best, and ridiculous at worst. Some people are willing to leave the confines of conventional thought and find new paths to profit. More importantly, they don’t mind being called crazy along the way. Often, it works.
One of the best examples of this is Walt Disney. Today, his name is synonymous with corporate power, but in 1959, he was struggling with the prospects of his California theme park. It was missing out on business from the East Coast, where the vast majority of Americans lived. It was also facing stiff competition from other vacation destinations that were springing up in the ideal California climate. His solution? Open a second park on the other side of the country. He decided to buy thousands of acres of land near Orlando, Florida.
Barely populated, hot, humid, swampland that few people would consider for a vacation was cheap, and for good reasons. Disney was able to buy 43 square miles of land for only $5 million, because the idea of that land having any commercial value was crazy. As Disney’s various dummy corporations sent real estate agents (who had no idea who their mysterious clients actually worked for) out to buy each parcel, there was speculation that Disney might be behind it all- but the sheer insanity of the concept did what Disney wanted it to. It kept the price of the land low until he had secured it all.
We all know how that worked out. Rather than going to the customers by purchasing expensive real estate near civilization, Disney had an idea: go somewhere remote enough to make overhead minimal, and use the money you save to build the biggest, most shamelessly elaborate spectacle in the country. Now, Disney World gets over 50 million visitors a year- because a man who figured he could draw cartoon mice for a living also figured people would fly to a swamp to ride roller coasters.
Cultivating your own personal crazy is an art and a skill. Obviously, being a little fearless and creative is much different from being irrational or unwise. In fact, the right kind of crazy is an extremely rational thing. What’s more irrational than being held back by assumptions, prejudices or fears just because everyone else is? The key is to have the courage to seriously consider those outside-the-box options that represent logical, if uncommon, risks.
The $100 MBA itself provides an example. When we first started talking about offering ultra-affordable business education, not everyone we spoke to thought it would work. Some, in fact, thought it was a little ridiculous- mostly because of the price point. I was told we could easily charge double, triple, or ten times the amount, and that I’d be crazy not to. In the end, though, we thought differently. We felt that accessibility was what could make the $100 MBA unique in the role it would serve. In the end, what’s crazy about it is what’s made it successful. Now, what we lose in revenue-per-customer we gain in tapping an almost entirely ignored market of would-be entrepreneurs who don’t want to be saddled with excessive debt for overpriced formal education.
And for a true understanding of how insanity can breed success, there’s no better model than Jason Zook. Entirely unsuited for the standard business models, Zook came up with wildly original ways to utilize social media; namely, he turned himself into ad space. First, he secured sponsorship deals to wear T-shirts with various internet company names and logos on them. When that ran its course, he decided to sell his own last name to the highest bidder, legally changing it to the name of whichever companies would pay him the most to do so.
Neither of these models was exactly sustainable, but the sheer weirdness of them garnered him so great a following that he’s now a fixture in the world of online entrepreneurship, making a fantastic living through book sales and workshops on creative marketing. He also “sells” his future, attracting investors in whatever ludicrous project will bring about his next pile of strangely-earned money.
Making Your Crazy Move
Of course, just because an idea is strange or unheard of doesn’t mean it will be profitable. The crazy has to be weighed, measured, and applied with intelligence and savvy.
For a truly unique idea to work, there has to be a market for it. That’s the line separating the “crazy” but ultimately successful ideas from the truly baseless ones. Unique and creative ideas should be based on the needs of a neglected market- some group of people who would be willing to open their wallets, if only somebody were crazy enough to provide what they want. For example, no one was making quality eyewear designed specifically for pets until Doggles came along. That company works not just because its founders had guts, but because they were able to identify an underserved market.
Before you jump headfirst into your own crazy idea, take the time and do the research necessary to validate it. Make sure a market exists. Make sure that whatever it is you want to sell isn’t just original, but actually adds value to people’s lives. Here at the $100 MBA we even have a 5 step process designed to validate ideas, both orthodox and otherwise. Click the link for the free course and workbook, and even if your idea is from deep in left field, you’ll be able to see if it can work.
Crazy ideas happen all the time, in the minds of potential entrepreneurs everywhere. Most are thought up, disregarded, and forgotten. Some are attempted. Some become a source of wealth- but only when they’re executed on a foundation of viability, honesty, and courage. As long as you have those things, no idea is too crazy to work.