According to Netherland's most recent statistics, in 2015 Amsterdam residents owned 847,000 bicycles, not including those owned by children under age twelve. That's a lot of bicycles, about 1.9 per household -- most any imaginable size, color, and condition. Bicycles and bicyclists are everywhere.
While taking a recent photography holiday weekend in Amsterdam, I noticed inspiring parallels between entrepreneurial brand marketing and Amsterdam's ubiquitous, sometimes overwhelming bicycle scene. Here are four business lessons I drew from the experience that every entrepreneur should learn:
1. Fit in just enough.
Creativity within convention differentiates. Finding a parked bicycle among hundreds or thousands of others can be an interesting endeavor. The oh-no-where-is-my-bike phenomena is especially true when your bike looks like many others.
Total product standardization is an enemy to standing out. Yet, bikes need to fit in spaces provided between other bikes, have foot pedals, brakes, a seat, and a chain. As a solution, bike owners in Amsterdam are famous for designing their bike to be different, to fit in and stand out at the same time.
The same holds true for smart entrepreneurs when determining product or services differentiation and brand building. How will your company's groundbreaking idea fit it? What makes your business special? What level of conformity is required to fit in a classic sales category while still standing out, redefining things enough to make a powerful brand statement. Be intentional and creative alike as you craft your product or services brand, conforming just the right amount and blasting out of the box.
2. Aim high--invent timeless solutions to solve multiple problems with compound benefits.
Bicycles are an original killer app, a better mousetrap, an enduring innovation spanning centuries.
The first verifiable claim for applied bicycle design for usage belongs to German Baron Karl von Drais, a German civil servant to the Grand Duke of Baden. In 1818 von Drais patented his design, which led to the first commercially successful two wheeled, steerable, human propelled velocipede. Other innovations building on the design were rolled out around the world.
Bicycles solved many problems, not the least of which was mitigating the need to feed and water livestock for transportation and getting places quickly at a low cost. Countless other benefits include healthy physical activity and hanging out with friends in groups - old school social media.
The invention of the bicycle caused a huge forever-ripple, even stirring cultural rites of passage, such as taking the training wheels off, teaching children from generation to generation, going on dates. Just imagine if bicycles did not yet exist and YOU invented it. How good is your business? Strive to create everlasting innovations.
3. Protect your assets as reasonably possible.
Amsterdam features 165 storied canals, with an aggregate length of about 60 miles. Authorities dredge up between 12,000 and 15,000 bikes from canals each year, likely to a great extent from vandalism.
An Amsterdam cop told me some bikes in the canal were illegally discarded by owners, but the vast majority resurfaced from canals were not locked down before being tossed in the drink. A crime of opportunity, preventable with a simple lock and chain.
Safeguarding assets applies to being an entrepreneur. Protect your service marks, copyrights and trademarks through reasonable contracts with vendors, partners, and employees. Keep business and customer data secure to the greatest extent.
Don't be an easy target for business espionage which can ruin your company. Don't be the unlocked bike at the bottom of an Amsterdam canal.
4. Watch your back, front, and sides.
On or off a bike, Amsterdam streets can be perilous, especially to the unfamiliar. Bikers converge in intersections, whizzing by at breakneck speed. Bystanders must quickly look left, right, front, back, then left and right again.
Reconnoitering a marketplace requires the same constant vigilance to stay safe in light of competitors and business conditions speeding by. Think about looking in all directions as an analogy for business intelligence, both competitors and internal factors. Entrepreneurial endeavors absent alert awareness is like cycling in Amsterdam without looking both ways. Boom!
Fit in just enough. Aim high by inventing ageless solutions to solve manifold problems, with multifaceted benefits. Safeguard crucial assets as much as possible to limit those who might mess with your business. Be careful out there! Watch your company's back, front, sides and all angles.
And, if so inclined, take an afternoon off and go for a nice bicycle ride.