Maybe your business idea has been called crazy. Or, worse, maybe you have.
Well, congratulations: You're in good company.
- When Wendy Kopp proposed creating a national teacher corps in her senior thesis at Princeton, her adviser responded, "My Dear Ms. Kopp, you are quite evidently deranged."
Kopp went on to found Teach for America.
- Years ago, Eric Migicovsky was brainstorming ways to answer calls and read text messages--all from a wristwatch. "If I had come out six years ago and pitched anybody... they would have thought I was crazy," he recently said at a Jolt event.
Even so, Migicovsky announced his brainchild, the Pebble smartwatch, years ahead of competitors like Apple. His company ended up raising more than $10 million--back in 2012--and has since sold more than 400,000 smartwatches.
When crazy is a compliment
Based on examples like these, and the fact that Sam Walton's idea that ultimately led to Walmart was once dismissed as "crazy," some experts actually argue that not being called crazy is a warning sign your product or service might fail to gain significant traction.
"If you're not called crazy you're not thinking big enough because, probably, a lot of other people are doing your idea," says Linda Rottenberg, author of the newly released book Crazy is a Compliment and CEO of Endeavor, a global nonprofit that supports high-impact entrepreneurs.
"It's a compliment because entrepreneurs are supposed to be contrarian and disrupt the status quo. A lot of times people who say you're crazy are risk averse."
Being misunderstood is part of the entrepreneurial process, Rottenberg argues, and often your best hope is to find other outliers who share your passions.
Stop trying so hard
But avoid trying too hard to be crazy or quirky. Instead, entrepreneurship experts say, focus on creating a product or service that the market lacks or needs--and then maybe the name-calling will follow.
"I don't think it matters if [a product is] quirky or not--a good product is a good product," says Lori Greiner, the QVC inventor and Shark Tank investor. "The more unique something is the more it might be able to take a stronger foothold on the market because it doesn't have competition."
Tiago Dalvi took a unique approach--and heard from his fair share of naysayers--when he launched Solidarium. The company aims to help poor artisans in Brazil by selling their handmade products through major retailers.
"I started Solidarium at 19 years old," he says. "The whole idea was to connect the 8.5 million artisans we have in the country. Imagine a teenager starting a company like that who wanted to work with major retailers. Imagine a 19-year-old trying to get a commercial agreement with Walmart. That's frickin' crazy."
As it turns out, Dalvi's goal was only somewhat unrealistic. His agreement with Walmart came to fruition by the time he was 20, and his network of artisans has since grown to include around 6,000 active sellers--each of whom receives 85 percent of their product's sale, while the rest goes toward commissions.
Success may not mean an end to disparaging labels
"People are still calling us crazy," says Dalvi, whose social enterprise is cycling through the 500 Startups accelerator in Silicon Valley and receives support through SAP's Emerging Entrepreneur Initiative in partnership with Endeavor. "It's something that motivates us to go even further and prove that they're wrong."