Another “stupid” business idea that was anything but stupid

A while ago, I wrote about how defeating doubt is essential as you start a business.  The number one killer of business ideas isn’t lack of funding but rather nagging doubt.

Maybe that doubt is the result of some bad business advice!  Jason Cohen and I are totally grooving on the same wavelength these days.  In his most recent post, distinguishing constructive criticism from bad business advice he writes:

It’s easy to cut down ideas; it’s hard to create and execute them. Give me any idea and I can find someone who thinks it’s dumb. So what? “Constructive” criticism means constructing, not just blasting. Look for advice with a clear method for implementation and a clear path for results.

Maybe you’ve got an idea for a new business – but you think it sounds ‘stupid’ or “dumb”.   Take heart!  There are so many stories about “stupid”  business ideas that don’t sound “stupid” now that they are a success!

If you’re starting a new business, remember that many hugely successful businesses didn’t appear to be the work of “genius” in the beginning.  As a matter of fact, more often than not, these successful businesses appeared to be the work of pure madness in the early days. Keep that in mind as you’re starting a small business.

Recently,  I tuned into the biography channel’s piece on George Lucas and was absolutely glued to the television as the show recounted all the “counter intuitive”  (a.k.a. ‘stupid’) decisions made by Lucas during the making of the original Star Wars.

The making of Star Wars provides a GREAT blueprint for success for anyone who wants to start their own business.  There are lots of lessons aspiring business owners can learn from the making of the original Star Wars.

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #1:  You’d better be passionate about your idea.

One of  the most important lessons in business to be gleaned from the  making of Star Wars is that George Lucas wasn’t driven by a desire to create wealth.

In the first installment, Steps to Starting a Small Business: #1 – The Idea, I share that starting a small business with the idea that you’re going to make a LOT of money is a really poor reason to launch a business.  You’d better be passionate about your idea. It’s hard to imagine, but in 1976 it appeared that Star Wars was on it’s way to being an 8 Million dollar movie disaster instead of marking a new era in movie making.

As you learn about the obstacles George Lucas overcame to create his movie masterpiece, it’s obvious that making money wasn’t first and foremost on Lucas’ mind.  Instead,  he had a burning passion to tell a story and to make a movie in a “new” way.  It was that passion that provided the fuel necessary to overcome the hurdles inherent in the making of the movie.

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #2: Expect obstacles and lots of them on the path to success.

An essential step in starting a small business is failure and the making of the movie Star Wars is filled with many, many “failures”.   However, like every other success story – each failure was viewed as a temporary set back instead of being viewed as the death blow for the project.

For example, the struggle of getting the original movie made began with securing funding for the project.  The first few “rejections” could have easily been viewed as epic failure – instead they were viewed as temporary set backs.

If you’re trying to get people excited about YOUR vision, remember that at the time, the major studios (such as Universal and United Artists) didn’t think that movie audiences would be interested in seeing a science fiction fantasy.  Those older, “wiser” studio executives were not shy about sharing their learned opinion with Lucas at the time.

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #3:  Be careful when it comes to relying on “expert” advice.

If Lucas had listened to the “experts” at the large and established studios – Star Wars would never have been made. Fortunately, 20th Century Fox (the decided “underdog” studio at the time) decided to take the gamble and gave Lucas the green light to make his film.

However, the struggle of making the movie doesn’t end there.   The path to creating the movie was filled with one obstacle after another.  From the special effects to the score, Star Wars was a movie which at the time seemed to feature one “stupid” decision after another.

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #4:  Conventional wisdom frequently isn’t conventional OR wise!

Star Wars is a product of the 1970’s.   If you don’t remember the 70’s – then think of the music featured in such movies as “Saturday Night Fever” and “Smokey and the Bandit.”   Now , think about the musical score for Star Wars.

At the time, creating a science fiction movie using a traditional orchestra was an act of madness and not brilliance.  Conventional wisdom said “use popular music to score your movie” and Lucas turned a deaf ear to that advice.  Today – more than 30 years later, we can all be thankful that the original Star Wars wasn’t scored with the conventional “wisdom” of the time.  (Aren’t you glad the Bee Gees didn’t write the score for Star Wars?)

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #5: Marketing is still the key to making any business – stupid or not- work!

After a series of “stupid” business decisions regarding the production of the film, it came time to bring the product to market and release the film in theaters.

Fox studios had carefully promoted their upcoming movie to science fiction fans at the previous Comic Con convention- because studio executives knew that science fiction fans would be the primary market for the film.

However, despite laying the important ground work of marketing the film in advance to sci-fi buffs,  theater owners were definitely NOT on board with taking the risk of showing this highly counter intuitive piece of film making.

To get the film into theaters,  20th Century Fox issued an ultimatum.  Theater owners who wanted to show the highly anticipated film “The Other Side of Midnight” had to agree to show Star Wars.  It worked.  Theater owners agreed to show the “ugly duckling” film and  the rest is movie history.

Of course, today we look back on the tale of the making of Star Wars and chuckle warmly, thankful that George Lucas had the courage to persevere.  It’s easy to forget that the process of making the movie took such a tole on Lucas’s health that he reportedly had to be hospitalized due to hypertension!

Success isn’t easy – and the path to creating a successful business is anything but smooth.   When you’re in the trenches – it’s easy to get discouraged.   When the going gets rough – remember that many “celebrated” ideas started out as “stupid” business ideas in the beginning.  (Twitter anyone?)

Do you have a favorite “stupid” business idea that is now a success?


  1. Yeah — a local department chain store we shopped at a few times in a small town whose owner decided to compete with the biggies in the business like Sears, Montgomery Wards, and K-Mart.

    The owner was a down-to-earth fellow named Sam. The small chain was in northwest Arkansas. I’m sure that Sam had some naysayers when he first started to expand.

    You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m talking about Walmart. A lot of people are down on the company, but I wish I had had the foresight to buy a few shares when we first shopped there in the early 70s.

    By the time we were shopping there, the chain was in eight states, though we were shopping in Walmart’s first discount store in Rogers, Arkansas.

    Mike Goads last blog post..What will 2009 bring for blogging and you?

  2. Sam Walton is another “stupid” business hero of mine! Walmart started in places where the big players and “conventional wisdom” said didn’t have enough population to be profitable. A great example of another “stupid” business idea gone global!

  3. Hi Kathy. The first book that Dr. Seuss wrote was rejected by 27 publishers. Imagine that.

    Hey, I just Googled “stupid business ideas” and our friend Cath Lawson popped up on the first page. Go Cath!

  4. I should have known that Cath would have beat me to this idea!

    There it is:

    The Most Stupid Business Ideas Ever

  5. The “pet rock” is practically a cliche at this point, but, well, there ya go. LOL

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  6. But hey – back in the day it made a LOT of money and definitely qualifies as a “stupid” business idea! As a matter of fact, it’s one of those rare “stupid ideas” that STILL sounds stupid years later!

  7. A very informative post, and has come at a good time in my life.It’s the new year, and I have been considering an idea for a while but put it off because I thought, oh no this is dumb… but hey stupid could be successful! Am taking the plunge.

    sharons last blog post..The Top Ten Posts and Thank You!

  8. Sharon,

    GO FOR IT! The worst case scenario is that you’ll LEARN something in the process!!! The best case scenario is – you might be the next huge success!!!

  9. Thanks Kathy! I like the StarWars example.

    It’s true that breaking the rules and not listening to conventional wisdom is often where you find inspiration and uniqueness. But sometimes traditional wisdom is right!

    One thing I’m still struggling with is deciding which is which!

    Jason Cohens last blog post..Distinguishing constructive criticism from bad business advice