How Can Girl Scout Cookies and Charity Wristbands Help Your Startup?

by Tim Henningsen on May 1, 2013

It’s not uncommon to get the random “you should check out X” or “they are doing Y but look similar” suggestion now and then. It usually comes up in an email exchange or conversation with people in your startup community. In fact, if nobody else was doing your idea it  would be cause for concern! This type of “support” is highly encouraged. We’re all supposed to be helping each other. Right?

For young companies that have been shipping code, talking to customers, and gaining some traction for several months the seemingly innocuous stream of these exchanges can be a bit daunting. You are focused, but you can get distracted going on these temporary fact-finding missions as they come up. The key to remaining focused is to apply the knowledge you’ve learned from this random “tip” in a rational way. Translation: Don’t take your ball and go home at the next sign of danger. Or, just as worse, play a costly game of cognitive dissonance and let your emotional drive and bias crowd out the reality of market forces that exist in your competitive space.

I recently attended a talk on Social Entrepreneurship and it got me thinking about this topic. The presenters offered two examples of products that innovated the fundraising industry. There have been plenty of clones since, but these products set the standard.

Girl Scout Cookies and Charity Wristbands

These products are nothing THAT remarkable on the surface. Overpriced, average tasting cookies. Pieces of colorful rubber with words on them. Girl Scouts of America got the packaging right. They had cute kids sell the cookies. Livestrong Foundation tapped into a movement and turned the wristbands into a form of social currency.

I’m not suggesting you start lowering the bar of excellence for your product. Nor am I urging you to follow the crowd and hope you can ride the next wave. What I am suggesting here is to have a healthy disposition when you start seeing your space change and evolve. Take it all in, be rational, and have confidence in your packaging. It’s quite simply the DNA that drives your distribution model.

Next time you get a “support tip” from the community, take it graciously, look at it, and then think “Girl Scout Cookies and Charity Wristbands.”

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