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Starting small

I wonder if you have heard of the book, “How to win friends and influence people”?   It  is a self-help book written by Dale Carnegie, published in 1936. Over 30 million copies have been sold worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books of all time. In 2011, it was number 19 on Time Magazine‘s list of the 100 most influential books.

Yet this huge hit had small beginnings. Dale initially presented it as a short talk, with the key words on a card the size of a postcard.

Here’s what he says about its beginnings:- “I prepared a short talk. I called it ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ I say ‘short.’ It was short in the beginning, but it soon expanded to a lecture that consumed one hour and thirty minutes.”

After giving this talk for some time, Carnegie found that the attendees started discussing their experiences and some “rules” emerged. Eventually the talk became a course, and there was a need for a textbook of sorts. Here’s how the now famous book became a reality:  “We started with a set of rules printed on a card no larger than a postcard. The next season we printed a larger card, then a leaflet, then a series of booklets, each one expanding in size and scope. After fifteen years of experimentation and research came this book.”

I found that astonishing – the book came out of a short talk and a few notes on a postcard-sized piece of card. Interestingly, I think a lot of the really big successes start like this.

Which brings me to a principle for entrepreneurs who are seeking ways to bring their idea to market. The principle?

Start everything with an MVP

Eric Ries, author of the Lean start-up, really nailed this concept with his notion of the Minimum Viable Product. The great thing is, we see that even historical successes like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, started as just a short talk and a few notes on a small piece of card. That was the MVP, and it was a perfect way to start.

I believe that we could and should start to think about everything beginning as an MVP, starting much smaller than we might currently think about it.

Richard Branson started the Virgin brand with a student magazine, but Virgin is just one of many examples which shows that the reality is counterintuitive: actually, the best things we know and love started as small things.

A great South African example is that of Bell equipment.  We spent 11 years in Zululand and remember that Bell was considered one of the big 5 of Richards Bay.  The company started out over 50 years ago when Irvine Bell, after serving with the Army Corp of Engineers in the Second World War, established the Bell Company as a small general engineering and equipment repair shop serving the pioneer farming community in Zululand, South Africa.

Since then the company has grown exponentially and spread its footprint across the world. This JSE-listed company, with its headquarters and factory at Richards Bay, manufactures an impressive range comprising over 50 different models of Articulated Dump Trucks (ADTs), wheeled loaders, rigid and articulated haulers, triwheeler rough terrain material handling equipment and tractor loader-backhoes.


So entrepreneurs….

Start small

Develop a great solution for a real problem or meet a need

Build your MVP quickly

Find, keep and build your client base

Stay focused and enjoy the journey



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