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The failure that turned into a $1billion dollar idea

September 22, 2014

In 1874 a door-to-door book salesman named David McConnell had an idea which ultimately lead to a business worth $10billion a year and operates in over 100 countries with 6.5 million representatives. His story contains valuable lessons.

 

And the story goes like this. To get people to listen to his spiel, young David O'Connell would offer his prospects a free gift. As he went from door-to-door he noticed it was usually the lady of the house who would answer, (no doubt because in 1874 when the world was politically incorrect, the 'man of the house' would have been off conquering nations, shooting elephants or shoveling coal). So he figured out pretty quickly that his potential customers were women. Hence his ingenious idea.

With the help of a local pharmacist our hero offered small bottles of perfume as a free gift to the lady of the house if they listened to his sales pitch. Brilliant idea when you think about it apart from the fact that it backfired. Even though the ladies loved the perfume, book sales actually went down.

Fortunately our young champion was undeterred and had the courage to learn from his failure. He was smart enough to ask 'what if' which led to new ideas. What if he sold perfume instead?

 

Which is exactly what he did and it worked. They bought the perfume. Shortly after he added other related products such as rouge which they also bought. His genius was if being open to the fact that the market didn't want what he had to offer and then adjusting his business plan to offer what they did.

 

From there evolved another another brilliant idea. Because his customers were women, he decided to recruit female representatives and it wasn’t long before our enterprising young salesman hit pay dirt. In 1886 he created the company that would become a household name - Avon - and in the process David McConnell changed the face of direct selling as we know it and helped many people reach financial success.

This story because it contains some very important lessons for not just finding viable ideas but also in being open and figuring out what your customers actually want.

1. David McConnell found a gap in the market and found what the market wanted.
2. He took action rather than pondering and wondering if he should. He just did it.
3. He wasn't afraid of mistakes. In fact he learned from them.

 

But what I love is the thought that what if young David McConnell had given up when his first idea went South? What if after he gave away all his perfume he simply packed up shop because he failed to sell his books? What if he was so focused on selling his books that he never saw the amazing opportunity that lay at his feet? We may never have heard the wonderful words ‘Avon Calling’.

I wonder how many 'Avons' we let slip through our fingers because we simply don't see them for what they are.

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