Mr. Brown finished his career in software at age 50 to start a farm. He bought a plot of land in Smalltown, Kansas, and moved his family to live on the 40 acres. Observing the neighbors, Mr. Brown, saw that they were growing corn, wheat and soybeans, and selling their crops to the local Co-op. He considered that strategy, therefore, to be what his previous industry would have called “best practices.”
Mr. Brown (now Farmer Brown!) bought a 60hp John Deere Tractor, planted his fields and began to farm. After the first harvest, he saw that the profit margins were tight. He realized that he had to become very efficient, as his neighbors were, to have a profit left over after covering expenses. His neighbors were familiar with that strategy, and also became more efficient. Prices went lower, as efficiency increased. Farmer brown eventually took a job in town to support his farming habit.
Hold the story there for a minute. Lets try a different, daring and possibly dangerous strategy from the start. IGNORE THE NEIGHBORS.
Take it from the top:
Farmer Brown bought 40 acres of land in Smalltown, Kansas. He looked around to find some potential CUSTOMERS. A half hour drive from Smalltown, he found Middlesize, Kansas, with a population of 400,000 people. Farmer Brown planted 2 acres of pumpkins and a small apple orchard, and advertised both in the local paper in the fall. Many of the folks in Middlesize had never seen a pumpkin growing on a plant, and found it fascinating. Parents were happy to pay full retail price for both pumpkins and apples, especially if the kids got the glorious experience of picking the crops themselves. (And Farmer Brown was happy to let the kids do the work, and save him the trouble of storage, shipping, and loss of margins to a wholesaler.) For his second year, Farmer Brown added a corn maze and a hay ride, and expanded the pumpkins and apple orchard. The local paper wrote an article on Farmer Brown, because NOBODY HAD EVER SEEN A BUSINESS LIKE HIS in Middlesize before.
In 2004, Authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne published a book called Blue Ocean Strategy: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant. The idea, in summary, is that existing markets are “red oceans,” bloodied by the competition of companies fighting for the same customers (market share). The authors encourage a search for “blue ocean,” wide open markets uncluttered by competition. Blue Oceans take a little effort to discover, but they reward the adventurous with open waters and endless opportunity.