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November 1st: Torsten Jacobi, CEO of Creative Weblogging, joins host Anita Campbell. Sponsored by Six Disciplines. Show details.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Getting Rich Offering What Nobody Needs
Today's entrepreneurs are creating successful new businesses offering things that no one really needs. Entertainment, lifestyle and discretionary services businesses frequently are the domain of today's entrepreneurs.

Consider this story in today's Wall Street Journal (requires subscription):
"The movie 'Coyote Ugly' might have faded from memory soon after its August 2000 debut. Most people who saw the Walt Disney Co. film about a honky-tonk bar in New York's East Village couldn't believe the raucous place was for real, and the flick got terrible reviews. But then a funny thing happened: The movie became a cult hit, and fans started turning up at the dive bar, hoping to taste the Coyote Ugly experience -- bawdy, bar-stomping waitresses and all.

'What business ever anticipates getting $40 million in free national and international advertising?' says owner Liliana Lovell, who figured she had a hit on her hands. 'We decided to take advantage of it.'

Four years and 13 bars later, the woman who quit a Wall Street job at age 24 to open a dive bar is a millionaire."
What's more, she's licensed the Coyote Ugly brand to entrepreneurs around the country. Even that stalwart of Middle America -- the Mall of America -- has asked for its own Coyote Ugly. Gross sales last year exceeded $20 Million.

How different the entrepreneurial success stories of the new millennium are from those of early last century. In the early part of the 20th century the titans of industry were making their names and fortunes in just that -- industry. Railroads, automobiles, tires, mining, shipping, steel -- that was their domain. They made their fortunes on the critical building blocks of an industrial economy.

Today in the United States and other developed nations, it's more likely that budding business owners will be involved in services businesses. Those services are often discretionary and not strictly "necessary." (Come on, does society really need a chain of dive bars? No, but we sure want them.)

Services now account for two-thirds of GDP in the United States. Yet as this Forbes article indicates, we are still better at measuring traditional industry based on goods. We do a relatively poor job capturing economic information about services.

Recently I heard a talk by David Brennan, a very successful entrepreneur who in later life has championed the charter school movement. He spoke about small businesses and entrepreneurs saying this: "It never ceases to amaze me what creative livelihoods entrepreneurs make for themselves."
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