For those of you who have seen the movie “There’s Something About Mary” – the 1998 comedy starring Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller and many other great actors/comedians – there is a scene where a hitchiker (Harland Williams) is picked up by Ted (Ben Stiller) and the hitchhiker – who the audience knows is a psychotic killer – starts telling Ted about his great new business idea:
Hitchhiker: You heard of this thing, the 8-Minute Abs?
Ted: Yeah, sure, 8-Minute Abs. Yeah, the excercise video.
Hitchhiker: Yeah, this is going to blow that right out of the water. Listen to this: 7… Minute… Abs.
Ted: Right. Yes. OK, all right. I see where you’re going.
Hitchhiker: Think about it. You walk into a video store, you see 8-Minute Abs sittin’ there, there’s 7-Minute Abs right beside it. Which one are you gonna pick, man?
Ted: I would go for the 7.
Hitchhiker: Bingo, man, bingo. 7-Minute Abs. And we guarantee just as good a workout as the 8-minute folk.
Ted: You guarantee it? That’s – how do you do that?
Hitchhiker: If you’re not happy with the first 7 minutes, we’re gonna send you the extra minute free. You see? That’s it. That’s our motto. That’s where we’re comin’ from. That’s from “A” to “B”.
Ted: That’s right. That’s – that’s good. That’s good. Unless, of course, somebody comes up with 6-Minute Abs. Then you’re in trouble, huh?
Hitchhiker: No! No, no, not 6! I said 7. Nobody’s comin’ up with 6. Who works out in 6 minutes? You won’t even get your heart goin, not even a mouse on a wheel.
Ted: That – good point.
Hitchhiker: 7’s the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 dwarves. 7, man, that’s the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin’ on a branch, eatin’ lots of sunflowers on my uncle’s ranch. You know that old children’s tale from the sea. It’s like you’re dreamin’ about Gorgonzola cheese when it’s clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.
Hitchhiker: ‘Cause you’re f&*%n’ fired!
The scene is hysterically funny – at least to me! But it might be one of those things you have to see/hear live to appreciate.
Anyway, lately I feel like I’ve been hearing the equivalent of “7 Minute Abs” business ideas. That is, the business premise is to take a successful idea with an existing brand and an existing installed base- make a relatively small refinement – and expect to build a complete company around it – unseating the incumbents, etc.
So, what am I talking about? Someone comes in with an idea for a new CRM application but it has a mobile twist. Someone else comes in with an idea for a real estate website – but with a lot more social capabilities. Another comes in with an idea to connect homeowners with handymen (handypeople?) but it’s a mobile app v a web app.
In fairness, these aren’t bad ideas and unlike “6 minute abs” they are almost always an improvement over the original. However, in my opinion, most of the incumbents could easily replicate the new idea – with little chance of IP infringement – if it takes off.
I think it’s important that if you are going to go after an existing market with an installed base, make sure that your business model/product idea has demonstrable and radical differentiation — something where the value proposition is easy to describe and simple to convey.
In other words, make sure you’re not “dreamin’ about Gorgonzola cheese when it’s clearly Brie time”.