Many successful entrepreneurs never set out with the goal of launching a large company, let alone hiring scores of people. They are motivated enough to develop solutions to a direct problem they are facing. Before long, they discover that they are not the only ones with that problem—and, like so, a successful business is born.
How “The Cult of Lulu” Got Started
Consider the genesis of Lululemon, the Canadian athletic apparel company (from The Atlantic‘s narrative of how sports changed the way Americans dress.)
In 1997, a retail entrepreneur in British Columbia named Chip Wilson was having back problems. So, like millions of people around the world, he went to a yoga class. What struck Wilson most in his first session wasn’t the poses; it was the pants. He noticed that his yoga instructor was wearing some slinky dance attire, the sort of second skin that makes a fit person’s butt look terrific. Wilson felt inspired to mass-produce this vision of posterior pulchritude. The next year, he started a yoga design-and-fashion business and opened his first store in Vancouver. It was called Lululemon.
[Yes, that’s the Chip Wilson who gained notoriety for blaming in-poor-shape women for ruining their Lululemon yoga pants by rubbing their thighs together too much. “Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it [his apparel],” he condescendingly declared on Bloomberg TV.]
At present, Lululemon has the highest sales-per-square-foot of any American apparel retailer. Its pricey workout clothing has become a wardrobe staple, prompting other retailers to launch competing apparel lines to cash in on the growing market.
Lululemon kindled the prevailing fixation on a healthy appearance. Its brand continues to be an elite fitness status symbol for the skinny and wealthy set. More broadly, over the last two decades, Lululemon has redefined how the current generation dresses and lives. The company pioneered the “athleisure” fashion revolution, which has blurred the lines between yoga-and-spin-class outfits and regular street clothes.
Sara Blakely’s Personal Undertaking Morphed Spanx into a Big Business
In a similar vein, entrepreneur Sara Blakely started the Spanx hosiery company after searching for a solution to improve the way she looked in a pair of her cream-colored pants. Blakely started her wildly successful entrepreneurial journey by making sure that the specific type of undergarment she ideated to solve her clothing problem did materialize commercially. From her biography on Wikipedia,
Forced to wear pantyhose in the hot Floridian climate for her sales role, Blakely disliked the appearance of the seamed foot while wearing open-toed shoes, but liked the way that the control-top model eliminated panty lines and made her body appear firmer. For her attendance at a private party, she experimented by cutting off the feet of her pantyhose while wearing them under a new pair of slacks and found that the pantyhose continuously rolled up her legs, but she also achieved the desired result.
Idea for Impact: Learn to Pay Attention to the Subtle Clues to Opportunities All-Around
Many entrepreneurs initially got their start by first recognizing and responding to a personal need or a localized problem and later discovering that they struck a universal chord.
If you want to become an entrepreneur, find out if you can solve a problem that you’ve personally experienced. Uncover opportunities that you may otherwise have missed by asking, “Does this have to be time-consuming, arduous, expensive, or annoying?” “How can I improve on this?” and “Can I do this better or different from the other fellow doing it over there?” Then expand your opportunity by asking, “Who else may be experiencing the same problem?”
Theresia Gouw says
All the great entrepreneurs I know don’t start out to create a business. They start out to create something they think is missing in the world.
Dorothy Jenny says
Studies of successful ventures have observed that many successful ones target specific opportunities that the principals identified while working on somebody else’s payroll.