What entrepreneurial lessons can be gleaned from the unlikely success of the selfie stick? As it turns out, quite a few.
Though they're slightly eye roll inducing, from an entrepreneurial point of view, the selfie stick is intriguing.
It’s simple, cheap, and has limited uses—and yet has experienced incredible success. Selfie sticks have quite literally reached every corner of the globe, and it’s impossible to ignore their pervasiveness in pop culture.
As a business owner or entrepreneur, what lessons can be gleaned from this unlikely success story?
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1. Create Something With a Purpose
Selfie stick naysayers have pooh-poohed the product, calling it silly and saying that it’s a product of millennial narcissism. Still, the selfie stick reigns supreme. Product analysts believe the device’s popularity lies in its utility, despite the widely held idea (especially in North America) that selfie sticks are “uncool.”
As it turns out, selfie sticks are handy tools. For vacationers, the selfie stick makes it easy to take a photo of the whole family in front of a landmark without handing off an expensive phone to a perfect stranger.
People who participate in extreme sports such as skydiving also use selfie sticks to document their experiences. The selfie stick is even taking the art of the “rooftopping photograph” to the next level, inspiring viral shares all over the web.
The takeaway? Critics will criticize all they want, but if your product or service has a tangible purpose, you’ll gain a loyal following. Consider your product’s value proposition.
- What pain points is it hitting?
- How is it solving a problem?
- How is it telling a story?
People love and use the selfie stick because it helps them take better pictures. “One of the main reasons why people get blurry photos is due to the shaky movements while taking a selfie,” according to a blog post from Selfie Stick Gear. “Although it is quite normal, it can often cause great frustration, as all your pictures get ruined.
Therefore, by using a selfie stick for holding your smartphone or camera, you will find that taking high-quality and clear selfies will become easier. Why? Because the selfie stick minimizes the shaky movements of your hands while taking a selfie.”
Great selfies improve social standing and online credibility, and selfie stick users take advantage of this trend all over the world. In sum, it’s not just about whether a consumer could use your product or service—it’s about whether people will use it.
2. Don’t Limit Yourself to Just One Product
The first rule of improv theatre is “Yes, and?”—which is to say, it’s important to affirm what your acting partner does, but it’s also important to build on it in your own ways.
Similarly, the selfie stick’s phenomenal success doesn’t rely solely on the product itself. For those who want to take a better-lit or more advanced photo, the selfie stick alone isn’t enough.
Many businesses have created spinoff products to compliment the success of the core selfie stick product. These extras and accessories include things like wide-angle lenses, portable charging stations, LED flashbulbs, and more.
These supplementary gadgets didn’t come out of nowhere. Product designers saw a need, and they created a product to meet that need. It comes back to doing your homework. An unmet consumer pain point—whether in terms of price, quality, or the service or product itself—is an opportunity for businesses to create solutions.
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3. Focus on Your Own Brand
Here’s a little history lesson.
While the selfie stick in its current iteration is less than a decade old, the concept of the selfie stick has been around for decades—or, arguably, even longer. The “selfie”—or photographic self-portrait—could be as old as the 17th century.
In terms of physical archives, however, Robert Cornelius took the oldest self-portrait photo in 1839. After Cornelius’ photo was made public, artists everywhere began taking pictures of themselves using classic selfie strategies, either in mirrors or with their arms outstretched in front of them.
Let’s fast-forward almost a century to 1925. Recently, Alan Cleaver submitted a photo to the BBC. The image features his grandparents, Arnold and Ellen Hogg, and appears to have been taken with camera fixed to the end of a pole. The pole itself is prominently displayed in the photo, making this photo the first documented record of the selfie stick as we know it today.
Later that century, in the 1984, two Japanese inventors patented a telescopic extender for supporting a compact camera. The creators behind the device, Hiroshi Ueda and Yujiro Mima, designed it with a mirror at the end of the rod so that users could see themselves, smile, and pose before taking the picture.
The patent for the “telescopic extender” expired in 2003. Soon afterward, an inventor named Wayne Fromm launched a similar tool, called the Quik Pod, in 2006. According to Fromm, today’s selfie stick would not have come about had it not been for the Quik Pod.
So what’s the point of this story?
Well, as the selfie stick surged in popularity, Fromm caught wind of the phenomenon—and a lawsuit followed. The inventor accused other companies of cloning his invention, committing copyright infringement. The issue with this accusation, however, is that a utility patent like Fromm’s does grant the holder the exclusive right to sell the product, but it does not prevent other manufacturers from creating similar products.
Similar products may take the concept of the selfie stick (or the Quik Pod, as it were) and run with it, but a new take on an existing idea does not copyright infringement make, according to intellectual property lawyer Bart Lazar. Simply put, Fromm may be fighting a losing battle.
It’s easy to get all wrapped up in what other companies are doing. Knowing your competition is a useful tool, to be sure—but playing catch-up with your competition is decidedly unhelpful. It’s best to focus on original thinking and to consider how you can make an existing product better.
4. Be Patient
Another lesson we can learn from Fromm is that of patience. In the mid-2000s, when the Quik Pod was first patented, the inventor marketed his product relentlessly. The idea was great, but it wasn’t the right time for it to shine.
When the present version of the selfie stick took off running, it was clear that the invention had a lot of potential, but that it needed to be thought through a little further before it hit the shelves.
Intuition is important, and Fromm had that. But intuition alone isn’t enough to create and sell an amazing product. Data-driven results reign supreme in the world of business, and it’s critical for all companies to do the work to gather current, relevant market data.
Part of gathering this data involves talking to customers, meeting with them, observing them with your product, and asking questions about what they need. All of this takes time, but it’s time well spent when it comes to bringing about success.
Putting it All Together
While the selfie stick is cheap, simple, and essentially “uncool,” it’s still experienced major market success. As a business owner or entrepreneur, this is all the more reason to look at this real life case study. While these four takeaways are by far the most important, there are plenty more to be uncovered if you look hard enough.
Image via Flickr