The saying “Ideas rule the world” is apparently attributed to the great philosopher, Plato. However, it seems so many Nigerians have got a copyright on the saying, it drives them to put together proposals they hurriedly send to the marketing managers of blue chip companies. Many marketing professionals spend a great part of their time listening to, receiving or reviewing proposals.
These proposals are based on a ‘great idea’ originating from the minds of the writers. They are intoxicated with the obvious wisdom of their idea, drunk on the euphoria that their idea would fetch them millions of naira by the very grateful corporate organization. I have personally received many of such proposals, listening to the ‘ideator’ tell me in hushed tones how their idea will take my company from zero to hero.
For a lot of them, I let them ramble on and on but when I’m really pressed for time I quickly jump in to stop them wasting both our times. I do this because I have a conviction that I’m yet to be persuaded otherwise: Ideas don’t rule the world, business models do.
Ideas are the basic entry level to changing the world but it takes a refined business model to rule the world. The idea of democracy in and of itself was not enough to rule the world; it has been backed by the institutional models of participatory government and the superstructure of globalization and capitalism.
I’m sure some are wondering: what then is a business model? Simple, a business model is an end to end process that shows how an idea can be made into a profitable cash cow for an individual, company or nation. It’s not enough that the business model be merely a process flow, it must also be supported by credible resources (human, system and intellectual) that will deliver the conversion of an idea to a cash minting operation.
This is the graveyard of many proposals that get sent to nearly every company or individual who remotely seems to have cash to waste. A lot of them have not built in a clear business model that shows the profitability of the idea they are proposing or on the flip side, they simply cannot demonstrate that they have the resources (human, system and intellectual) to implement the idea. This in my book generally translates to the lack of a well thought out business model.
Until Simon Cowell figured out how to make money for himself, the TV networks, the sponsors, and the telecom companies through the staging of talent discovery shows, it was almost impossible for any brand to want to associate with not to talk of sponsor a talent show. He built the structure and the business model that has made talent shows such a big money spinner for its creators, sponsors and partners all over the world. His model has been copied by many to their everlasting financial benefit.
Simon created Britain’s Got Talent, American Idol, Pop Idol, X Factor etc. He also owns the Idols franchise that is leveraged on every continent of the world. For Simon, it isn’t his idea that is ruling the world, it’s his business model.
He creates the talent discovery platform, sells the sponsorship rights to the platform to major corporations, buys primetime TV spots to air the show, signs agreements with telecom companies so audiences can vote by calling or SMS, chooses engaging personalities to be judges for the show then selects people who not only have talent but have a story to participate in his shows. He knows that’s the way to ensure that his shows enjoy the highest viewership. The man has a bullet proof business model!
Otunba Gaddafi is the owner and managing director of D.M.T Mobile Toilets. His business was built on the awareness that people must relieve themselves in a city as big and diverse as Lagos. He then found out how to import his mobile toilets into the country and make their use in public spaces very affordable going as low as N20 per individual use. I also saw somewhere that 25% of his business revenues come from the advertising space he sells on the doors of his mobile toilets!
Gaddafi went on to ensure he created another client base only interested in having mobile toilets at their social events; these are either individuals or companies. His business therefore services the B2C and B2B sectors. It goes without saying that Otunba Gaddafi didn’t just have an idea, he created a business model. A business model that ensures a constant stream of cash flowing in the direction of his bank accounts. Clearly as he himself says it, “shit business is serious business!”
I choose to use these two men as case studies so that we can drill a little deeper than many proposal writers tend to do. If we study the business practices of both men carefully you will see that they crafted some structure of their models before approaching anyone for funding or for business.
They ensured they had some level of strength and credibility before putting together any pitch for sponsorship, funding or support from large corporates. It is this initial independence that many people lack.
They have not built their professional competence to deliver on their idea, they have not created a proper prototype, they do not have a relationship with some partners that can compensate for their own lack of skills, they have not factored in how the idea could be a game changer for the sponsor either.
It becomes clear when you hear them pitch for sponsorship or to provide a service that signing them on would be a gamble. Being a good steward of the company’s resources, one must say ‘no’ to a lot of such proposals that are only based on an idea not a business model.
You are then confronted by a stunned man or woman who cannot believe you said no! How could you? Their idea is a good idea! Don’t ideas rule the world? These questions swirl in their minds as they grapple with the initial rejection. For the extremely thick skinned proposal writers they come back with the standard question, “But can you at least pay me for the idea?”
It breaks my heart when I have had to deliver the bad news: “Most companies don’t pay for ideas, they only pay for sure deals supported by a solid business model, I’m sorry”. It takes the really perceptive ones amongst them to understand the full gravity of what I have just said.
The truth is that many people could really do better with their ideas if they took the time to ‘cook’ them properly. You may actually not even need to approach anyone for support or sponsorship rather the big corporates should be courting you for partnership! Once the ‘meal’ is well cooked, it’s not so hard to find willing partners to help consume the feast.
So if you’re out there and you have an idea you intend to send to a company very soon, pause and ask yourself if your proposal is just another good idea or it’s a good idea backed by an even tighter business model. Go figure.
Atimomo who manages a youth brand for a leading Telecoms Provider, contributes to Shopfloor from Lagos. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org