Tell a child that things should be done a certain way and you'll likely be greeted with a puzzled looked followed by the question "Why?". As we grow older, we start losing that sense of curiosity and wonder, preferring the comfort of the status quo and accepting the "normal" way of doing things. Many start-ups have cropped up to challenge that status quo in established industries. One start-up founder talks about how maintaining a childish naivety has helped his company achieve unprecedented success against the odds.
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Daniel Flynn is the co-founder of Thankyou. Group, a social enterprise that started off selling bottled water and donate all sales profits to countries that don't have convenient access to clean water. At the Gartner Business Transformation & Process Management Summit, he spoke about the early days when he worked on the idea of Thankyou. at 19 with absolutely no experience in the fast moving consumable goods (FMCG) industry but he was determined to change the world by selling bottled water to raise money for disadvantaged countries. Some may call him ambitious, others may call him stupid.
Despite the lack of funding and experience, Flynn and his best mate Jarryd Burns bluffed their way to meetings with bottled water factories ("We always took the P plates off our cars before we drove in") to convince them to produce goods for the pair for free. While the majority of those appointments didn't yield the results they wanted, the duo did learn a lot about the bottled water industry and business in general. That helped them refine their pitch for subsequent meetings. Eventually, one factory committed to producing goods for Flynn and Burns.
From that point on, Flynn and Burns continued on their journey that sounds more like a plot line from Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure. They continued to fluke their way to meetings with important figures in the industry; Flynn told the story of how he called up the 1800 number for packaging giant Visy and managed to secure a brief meeting with the CEO:
"At the four-minute mark, he asked 'What do you want from us?' and I was like, 'Crap, I should have thought about this before the meeting'… I just blurted something out — which is, you know, a great tactic sometimes — 'We need 10 million bottles a year for free from Visy'."
Visy, of course, denied the request.
These kinds of stories would make some people cringe. It's just not standard business practice and if you were in their shoes, you would have probably died from embarrassment. But Visy did get back to the Thankyou. pair and gave them 30,000 bottles as a one-off donation so the meeting wasn't entirely fruitless.
Thankyou.'s founders encountered many rejections and mishaps that could have ended the business, but their tenacity and unabashed attitudes helped them push through. Eight years on, Thankyou. Group has added a body care product line to raise money for health and sanitation projects in disadvantaged countries. Its products are now stocked by Woolworths and Coles. The company is currently preparing to launch a nappies range that raises money for another cause.
The headcount at Thankyou. has grown to 38 and it is completely owned by a charitable trust. The company has been called the Apple of the food and drinks industry by some pundits.
While Thankyou. has achieved great success, Flynn said the company doesn't want to forget that it originated from an dream that he had as a clueless teenager:
"Today, what we fight for as an organisation as we grow and scale is to keep that naivety; keep the belief and keep the dream going. It was so easy back then and so hard now. "We fight to keep the child-like thinking; it's one of the most power and underrated things that each of us hold."
It's this naivety that drives the passion that each Thankyou. employee carries. It fuels the idea that anything is possible, no matter how farfetched it sounds on paper.
Recently, Thankyou. released a book called Chapter One to raise funds for its charitable causes. The book flipped the layout of a standard book so sentences ran from bottom to top, which Flynn said astonished a lot of people:
"We flipped everything and people were asking 'how did you do it?' "We just hit rotate on the print file. It sounds so child-like, naïve and stupid but here's the interesting thing: if you read this book in public, you'll have to explain to everybody around you what's going on. They'll ask you; I guarantee it. "It's uncomfortable. Making your ideas a reality is uncomfortable. To make them happen you have to get uncomfortable everyday."
To book has gone on to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Thankyou. Group.
Flynn used the book's success to highlight that sometimes crazy ideas can work with spectacular results. Straying from the norm is a scary concept for many people but that's what it takes to make a positive change in your business and, if you're ambitious enough, the world:
"We do believe we each have the power to change stuff… The truth is it scares the heck out of us all. Why? Because you're daring to think differently. Why is that important? Because possibility is only someone's opinion and not a fact. "What if it was possible? What if there was a way to make it work? Let me tell you: we cannot let fear stop us. We can't let fear stop us and we can't let excuses stop us."
What are your thoughts on Flynn's idea of the importance of naivety in business? Let us know in the comments.