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The 5 reasons why the “Disney Dream” causes start-ups to fail

Walt Disney once said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”. What he should have also said is “… but if you don’t research them probably, you’re probably going to fail”.

Walt Disney once said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”. What he should have also said is “… but if you don’t research them probably, you’re probably going to fail”.

The “Disney Dream” is a term I use to describe businesses that sound great in theory, but they lack the practicality to work. The only place they would achieve success is in a perfect world where dreams really do come true – where courage alone is enough to succeed – and reality is nothing but a distant nightmare.

To put this into context, we receive around 750 applications for our programmes every year, and review around 400 business plans. There are 5 fundamental flaws which are made, which turn us straight off a plan and the applicant.

With each of these I’m going to use some examples which are based on actual applications we’ve received, but in cases have been inflated a little to demonstrate our point:

1. The applicant has no experience in the sector

If we receive an application for (for example) an app that aids learning in schools, we would really expect the applicant to have some experience within the education sector – ideally in the given country where the project is going to be implemented, but if not, similar experience in another country where the challenges may be similar.

This doesn’t mean they have to be a teacher – it may be that they’ve developed similar programmes and rolled them out in schools before, so they have some knowledge of the challenges and opportunities they’re going to face.

2. The applicant has no connection with the sector

It may be the case that the person has no practical experience with the sector, but does have a great idea. In this situation, we’d expect a very good explanation as to why the person has been attracted to this business sector and why they have the knowledge / experience / skills to make it work.

For example, the applicant may have had a bad experience themselves which led to them developing a better way of doing something. It may be that they just have a great interest in the subject matter (in this case, coding apps or learning) – but if this is the situation, we need good, solid consumer research – see the next point!

3. The applicant has not done their research

Market research is key to everything. What is the current solution? What is the challenge with the current solution, and hence the pain point? Why is your solution better and how does it address the pain point? Who have you spoken to about the challenges and your solution? How do you know people would accept and PAY FOR your solution?

We receive so many ideas (I’d say 80%+) which have performed desk research through a search engine, but have not spoken to a single potential user / customer about their idea. They expect their idea to work based on nothing more than some google searches, and often employing a business plan writer to pull together their thoughts into a plan.

Consumer research is everything. It lets you understand the weakest elements of your idea, so you can address them accordingly and build a winning value proposition and plan.

4. The applicant doesn’t have the knowledge or skill to implement it

How will your system / product be implemented and supported? In many cases, the current solution or infrastructure is prohibitive to the implementation of the new idea. Does it involve anything physical to be built, changed, implemented or otherwise? Does it have to interact with other physical systems or software in a manner which may cause disruption? Does this cost time, money or inconvenience?

In many cases, someone has to fit the new solution – who is going to do this, and would the end user be able to – or even want to – support the implementation of the new system considering disruption to their current system? What happens if they don’t like the change and want to go back to the old system again – can they?

There are a lot of implementation issues to address including Rudyard’s old favourites – who, when, what, where, why and how.

5. The figures just don’t stack up

If you’ve done your research properly, you know what people are paying for the current solution and hopefully you’ve asked a few people about your price point, so you know what you’re charging too. You’re not going to sell in Month 1, especially if your software takes 3 months to develop AND you’ve got to market your wares – it’s amazing how many people make this mistake! In addition, whatever you’re selling you’re probably not going to get 4,000 sales your first full month either.

Make sure the figures stack up – we’ll want you to back them up with assumptions. Ramp them up in a sensible manner, but make sure that you’ve accounted for the resource required to roll them out and support them! By way of example, 4,000 sales in Y1 sounds lovely – but assuming you can work from day 1, this equates to 16 sales every working day (given a 5 day working week). Can you achieve and support this?

Here’s an example based on applications we’ve received this month:

The first helps teacher support the home life of their pupils. The applicant has no experience in the sector, has not spoken to schools or parents, and is making a great number of assumptions. They’re assuming teachers want to and are capable of doing this, and that the school would pay for it – even though it’s not their responsibility and budgets are already always stretched. The finances have been build to ramp quickly, assuming that schools will take this up on the back of a social media marketing campaign (another old favourite). 

The second is from a current head teacher within a school. They’ve designed a system which takes a number of the things that teachers already do in schools (but don’t enjoy as it’s onerous and filled with flaws) and developed a much better way of doing it. It’s cheap and easy to implement, saves teachers time, and saves the school money. They’ve spoken to a number of other head teachers who all like the idea, and think their school would use this system. He’s identifying 20 schools who would roll this out as a pilot programme as he’s got great contacts within the UK education system.

So I’m hoping it’s pretty obvious which we’d prefer? Please think about your idea. Make sure that you have the will and the skill to make it work. In many cases, making sure that you are doing things for the right reasons can save you considerable pain and stress in the longer journey.

To summarise, Walt Disney was right in saying “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them” – but courage alone is only enough in one of his fabulous films.

If you want any help developing your business ideas and plans, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Richard Harrison