MTV Start-up Flops; Ratings Soar
THE BUSINESS: Delicious Deliveries, a high-end dessert-delivery service proposed by the 1996 Miami cast of MTV's The Real World
FOUNDED: Just barely CLOSED: Before it began
PRIMARY CAUSE OF DEATH: Irreconcilable differences among founding partners
It was the kind of can't-miss deal entrepreneurs in the real world can only dream of: $50,000 in seed capital, brand-name recognition, and rent-free living quarters. And all the twentysomethings had to do was actually get a business going. The reasons they didn't say more than anyone intended about why some businesses never get beyond the planning stage.
Not that MTV's producers cared: as long as the abortive venture created tension, it served their purpose. For the uninitiated, The Real World is MTV's high-concept, way-popular soap opera that throws seven narcissistic strangers together into hip digs and plunks a camera down to watch the sparks fly.
Cast members were selected more for being photogenic than for being enterprising. Only one had started a company: Joe Patane, who ran a computer-consulting business. So the producers engaged Landon Thorne, a management consultant, to advise the group.
Roll camera. For three months the cast members tasted Miami hedonism. Periodically, they would toss around a concept: A coffee shop? Too prosaic. Designer clothing? Too competitive. A convenience store? That would cut into peak tanning time. Then housemate Sarah Becker made a deal with her boss, Mark Blakely, a distributor of hotel supplies. He offered up a business idea in return for a stake.
The concept? Delicious Deliveries, a sort of Domino's Pizza for such upscale confections as mocha cheesecake and Oreo pie. The cast would distribute flyers and deliver the goods on scooters. Thorne approved: it was simple, inexpensive, and easy to liquidate if it bombed. He asked the cast members to make a business plan.
Which...they didn't. They did some market research--if that's what you call Rollerblading around to check bakery prices. But when it came to appointing a president and deciding on Blakely's share, "people got greedy," says Thorne. "They were dividing up theoretical profits, without a plan to create them." The upshot: no business plan, no $50,000, no free MTV publicity.
What went wrong? With no chain of command, the cast settled in for five and a half months of blissful distraction. Says Becker: "We didn't live up to our part of the bargain. Too many clubs, too many jobs, too many phone calls."
It was hardly the first business to die before it was born. At least half of all contemplated start-ups never actually start up, according to professor Paul Reynolds of Babson College, in Wellesley, Mass. "I can't think of a worse scenario," he says. "People don't generally start businesses until their late twenties. Before that, they don't know enough about a niche." Moreover, he says, it's rare to see seven partners start a business.
But Blakely, for one, says the idea could have worked. It's still out there for the taking.
But would anybody want it? Delivering food is a tough, low-margin business. And cheesecake? In Miami? "Dessert sales plummet in bikini weather," says Claudia Sutherland, a food consultant. And imagine transporting delicate sweets by scooter. In the rain. "Bad weather drives home delivery," says Craig Britton, another food consultant.
But that's taking the idea more seriously than anyone connected with The Real World ever did. Still, what happened to these folks happens in the real world: distractions, conflicts, divergent goals. Pretty soon, the business ends up being beside the point. At least here no one suffered: not the kids, and certainly not MTV. All involved got just what they wanted. Of course, it had absolutely nothing to do with starting a business.
CRAIG BRITTON, 6420 Maloney Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55343; 612-938-5267 26
PAUL REYNOLDS, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Babson College, Forest St., Wellesley, MA 02157-0130; 617-239-5608 26
CLAUDIA SUTHERLAND, When the Mood Is Food, 5712 View Ln., Edina, MN 55436; 612-938-0162 26