STORY INLINE POST
Having studied at Tec de Monterrey, even those who pursued a bachelor in engineering had to learn and practice entrepreneurial concepts. I hated with all my heart that “new trend.” Let’s face it, in the ‘80s, entrepreneurship was only a posh word that had to be explained to everyone. I really believed that entrepreneurial culture was only a temporal trend that my college was pushing for marketing purposes only. People, was I wrong!
I had to engage in an entrepreneurial project and, since we were the nerd overachievers, we had to come up with some crazy, fantastic idea. It was 1985 and I was only 16 years old, my teammates a couple of years older, most of us pretty annoyed for having to distract ourselves and work as a team on this “crazy and pointless” assignment.
On a family trip 30 years ago, we talked about entrepreneurship and innovation.
Since I was a minor, my family used to drive me everywhere. Driving me on a Saturday to school so I could go with the team to pursue our “entrepreneurial task” was taken by all of us as family time. I wanted to seize the moment and tell my father how our great innovative idea was inspired by him, and I started the conversation:
“Dad, I inspired my team with what you told me about alegrías, our traditional treats. I explained that they are made of amaranth and are rich in protein. So, we have done some research and we found that with its flour we can make cookies, cakes or even tortillas. They loved the idea and we are going to set up an amaranth products business for the Entrepreneur Program project. So, the trip we are engaging in today is to visit some of the amaranth fields nearby, because, as you have told me, our state has an important amaranth production.”
My parents have never been shy to express their doubts or criticize me and my brother, so my mother interrupted me right on the spot:
“Isn't it easier to do something else? Because alegrías are delicious, but making bread with them … I don’t see that happening. Why don’t you find another business for this assignment? Like…”
“Mom, I'm not going to wash cars, or bake cakes! Can you imagine us, the highest averages in our class, doing something obvious? We must do something different, novel,” I replied, quite disturbed by my mom’s comment.
“Mmmm, Karlita, I think your mother is right. That processing can be complicated. I'd better give you another idea of a product that is sure to be a success, it's not complicated at all and in addition to getting a good grade, you can even do business,” was my dad’s way to “ease the tension.”
“Daddy, better than amaranth, the ‘food of the future?’” I replied, lovingly, trying to gain his approval, after all, it was his storytelling from the numerous visits he traveled to our state that had inspired greatness.
-”es, a thousand times better,” he replied, enthusiastically. “Look, do you see how the water from Mexico City tastes like chlorine, or how Acapulco’s taste like seafood?”
“Yes dad, it tastes horrible, not like the water here. Everybody says that. But what? Do you want us to invent something that takes away the flavor of Mexico City’s or Acapulco´s water? I mean, we are the brightest, but chemistry is not our strong subject, and our teacher is nice but I think that involving her might be cheating…”
“No, no, of course I don’t expect you to do that. That is very complicated, not only to create, but to demonstrate its safety and test it. No, what you should do is bottled water.”
That triggered my mom, and with her impatient tone, she said, “Come on, Carlos, there is already water in 10-liter glass containers. They have been selling it for years and people are not going to buy a different brand just because it is from Cuernavaca.”
“No Graciela, not in large containers. I mean, sell it in bottles, just as soft drinks are distributed and sold,” he replied immediately, quite offended by the lack of understanding and backup from my mom.
“Dad, bottled water is going to be very expensive: the glass bottles, the roll of caps... water from Cuernavaca... Seriously!” I replied, quite angry and annoyed for not being taken seriously and receiving such nonsense as feedback from my parents.
“Well, imagine a plastic bottle, like a shampoo bottle, with water from Cuernavaca,” my father insisted.
“No daddy, really? Bottled water, plastic bottles... that is worse than selling cakes or lemonade! Who is going to buy natural water, like that from a well, or like what you can have by opening the faucet just because it is bottled and drink it at home or in a restaurant!” I replied with a trembling voice and tears in my eyes.
“Carlos, don't confuse your daughter,” answered my mother, reading the situation. ”That amaranth thing is fine; besides, it's great that she and her friends engage in some outdoor experience. Let's see if she gets off the TV, and loses a couple of pounds for the upcoming graduation. It's about time she steps away from the screen, stops watching that new MTV stuff and activates herself.”
“Did you hear dad, Carlitos?” I asked my 11 year-old brother who was already showing signs of life. He wants to sell Cuernavaca water to the Chilangos (nickname for Mexico City inhabitants who flooded our city every weekend) in bottles like Coke, but made from plastic instead of glass,” I said, giggling.
“Tap water? But it 's tasteless!” my brother replied. Even he could see the absurdity of my father's idea.
“Well, it was just an idea, it's not a big deal, it dies there, it dies there,” my very ashamed dad replied, understanding that if even Carlitos, his junior fan, had discarded the idea, he was better off forgetting about it.
Innovation not only depends on generating new ideas. For it to happen it is necessary that this new idea, or invention, satisfies a market need. And, more importantly, innovation requires a real business opportunity. And for business opportunities to thrive, we need to anticipate those market needs. Prospective planning is a very important activity that enables businesses and entrepreneurs to anticipate future needs and then, ideas that are crazy one day, years later are part of our daily life, like bottled water.