October 16, 2017  
 
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The Success of Unplanned Entrepreneurs

Some entrepreneurs plan, plan, and plan until they have a business plan that can raise venture capital and validate many assumptions about their business. Many other entrepreneurs forego detailed planning and move forward on a hunch and instinct that they can offer something better to the market. Many of these "unplanned" entrepreneurs have created some of the most successful firms within their respective markets.

Subway, Sleep Train, and Dominos pizza are three firms who started their businesses on instinct from a hunch that they could deliver something better to the market place.

None of the founders wrote a business plan, tried to raise venture capital, or even planned or expected to become the nation's premier companies.

Subway, founded by Fred Deluca from a $1,000 loan from a friend, opened his first sandwich restaurant while in college to help pay for his college education. The submarine shop was an initial success from day one by offering a college community great submarine sandwiches that they could not get elsewhere. After their initial success, Deluca and his partner had the enviable plan of opening 32 stores within 10 years. Subway of course has gone on to become the number one sandwich restaurant in the world as well as one of the most desirable franchised restaurants to own.

Sleep Train, the leading West Coast mattress retailer founded by Dale Carlsen in 1985 is another epic story of a young new college grad that went against the odds and opened his own mattress retail store. Having worked at a local mattress retailer in Sacramento during college, Dale thought that there was a better way to sell mattresses to consumers by implementing such practices as letting consumers actually lie on the mattress with out any plastic on the bed and by making the consumer buying experience more relaxed and less "salesy".

Against his parent's wishes and advice, Dale used some personal savings to lease a truck, lease a store and buy some mattresses. He opened his first Sleep Train store and initially sold enough mattresses to pay rent each month to stay in business. Dale eventually turned a profit with his first store and continued to expand regionally in Sacramento and has now become the largest retailer of mattresses in the west coast.

Dominos, the well known pizza delivery firm founded by Tom Monoghan and his brother in 1960 with a $500 loan acquire a pizza franchise that delivered the college community in Michigan. Domino's has gone on to become one of the largest pizza restaurants in the world.

The lessons from all 3 unplanned entrepreneurs are the same. First, find a better way of doing something; you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Secondly, test your assumptions with your first store or your first sale. If your first store/sale is a success, iterate the process and the value and expand to a second location, then a third, and so on.

The founding and success of these three firms serve as a reminder to the fundamentals that underlie every new business. Every business should be based on a simple value proposition with a simple plan. Sometimes it's the complexities of planning that take something simple into something to complex.

For Subway, it was a better place to get a sandwich. For Dominos, it was a better way to deliver pizza. For Sleep Train, it was a better customer experience for buying a mattress. Think of how you can simplify your solution and deliver your value proposition with out the nuances of complexities.


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