This post is dedicated to my absolute fanaticism to the movie ‘Inception’. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, my humble suggestion would be to see it before you read further.
I was calmed and excited simultaneously when I saw Inception. Calmed by the spirituality of the movie and the way ‘transience’ of life was packaged in it. Excited because it just spelt a new rulebook for entrepreneurs.
My point of view:
It’s all about dreams.
Tell me any entrepreneur worth his sleep who hasn’t sold to himself and then to a VC a dream. With poor proof of concept, little or no market data and certainly zero revenue streams, most entrepreneurs make massive leaps of faith when it comes to creating a business. They dream of the future that lies ahead and then dive back into reality to reach there!
In Shanghai around 2001, while pavement pounding for Mobile2win, I had the opportunity to meet the Wall’s (Unilever Ice Cream) marketing team. Wall’s ran a very large business in China and they were keen to use mobile contesting to ‘activate’ more sales. Since we were the first in China promoting short-code based promotions, we convinced Wall’s that we could motivate Chinese consumers to sms a code that they would find on the lid of a Walls Ice-Cream in return to win a prize. This promotion would be advertised by them on mass media and would create the first of its kind ‘digital mobile’ activation led sales promotion for Wall’s China. They loved the idea, bought the dream and we were on!
Dream 2 within Dream 1:
A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to meet Disney (China). They were keen to reach out to large consumer masses in China via the mobile platform. We already had a massive consumer activation going on with Wall’s and this could be the ideal platform for them. But the question was – why would Wall’s allow Disney to ride on its media and product activation plan? We thought hard and hit on dream 2 within dream 1.
The problem Wall’s was facing was that while lots of folks were sending SMSes hoping to win prizes, only a handful were winning. So it was becoming a typical ‘I keep trying but never win’ disappointment. Adding more prizes was not affordable. Even if we gave away small prizes, the cost of distribution of those prizes was uneconomical. Our Eureka solution was to create ‘digital prizes’ – a la mobile wall papers and screen savers of the most popular Disney characters such as Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse and then send it ‘across the air’ via sms to contesting participants for every right answer!! This way almost everyone would win, lots of Chinese consumers would own a Disney character and Wall’s would be happy that its promotion got additional boost. Both Wall’s and Disney bought the plan and dream 2 within dream 1 came alive.
Dream 3 within Dream 2.
What we realized was that we had pulled off a major coup. This new concept of zero cost digital prizes was creating a new reach and activation model in the consumer goods category (add to that – in the largest consumer market in the world), and this was an opportunity that could have resulted in much more than just one time project fees for ourselves.
We built a close rapport with Disney over the months and dreamt with them on how the combination of their Media (channels) + Assets (character library) + Mobile2win’s platform would be the ultimate solution for them to engage millions of young and upwardly mobile Chinese consumers perpetually.
Walt Disney acquired Mobile2win China in 2006 in an all cash transaction and our Dream 3 was fulfilled!!
Creating layouts (biz plans) as you walk…
As in the movie, most entrepreneurs have to imagine and execute a business simultaneously. Its like planning a road and paving it at the same time. There is no grand plan or blue print that can be followed by the book. It has to be imagined, and implemented at the same time. If you can’t do that, you can’t be successful entrepreneur.
In so many client pitches I remember my team and I being asked a question by a client in terms of ability to make a campaign or reach a target audience that we have never done before. Almost every time we said ‘yes’ and then on the way back to the office figure out how to do it. Sure there were some cases of bad deals like the ‘paradox staircase’ in the movie, but those stray cases didn’t dent us from growing and creating a business!
Making sure the ‘Kick’ is in place.
One of the biggest dangers of entrepreneurship is that you fall in love with what you are doing and even when events turn ugly, you refuse to ‘wake up’.
So, make sure that before you start dreaming, the ‘kick’ to wake you up is in place.
In Mobile2win, we created lots of mobile games and were the first in India to start featuring our own games on operator decks. Then operators got greedy and competitors became insane. The game teams by then had fallen into a never-ending dream state of just making games coz they loved to, despite the fact that the ROI was negative. As an investor, I ‘kicked’ them and myself and pulled out of that business before the market destroyed us.
Watch out for your Mal – she will destroy herself and you.
Many entrepreneurs I know go into an ‘ever dreaming’ state of almost coma-like zombie survival. They cannot come to terms that they need to move on. Their business gets stuck, the markets turn against them and the world changes permanently, but they ‘Mal’ themselves. They cannot distinguish fact from reality. They sit on the ledges and jump off windows in the hope that they will wake up. They never do.
We went all out importing a Massive Multiplayer Online game from Japan in games2win in 2007. We believed that this was our Nirvana and also brought our Japanese partner into that dream . Yet, 1.5 years later and almost 500k US$ down, we had hardly earned 50k US$ from the business. It was a disaster. Yet the Japanese Company was ‘Malled’. They believed that the market would turn around and this format of game would redeem us in the future. They saw no reason to evacuate. I had to give myself a big kick and wake up. We pulled out of the game in 2008. It was a very tough and emotional meeting in Singapore with the Japanese partner who refused to understand or believe our rational. It was exactly like the ending of the Movie in which Mal is still in the dream. Having said so, I still know 2 companies in India who have sunk over 7 million US$ collectively in this genre of gaming and believe that India will change to make their game successful.
Watch out for Mal. Either never let her become who she is and if you cannot avoid that, then know when to ignore her and stay focused.
Else your dream will become your death.
Very apt practical examples...