Eating the Big Fish

Eating the Big Fish – How to challenge big brands as a start-up entrepreneurBy Roche Mamabolo


In every field of business there are always the big players who dominate the industry (we always refer to them as the big five or big four). For instance in construction, you will find: Murray and Roberts, WBHO, Aveng, Basil Read and Group Five, in the audit industry there is the big four: Pricewaterhousecoopers, Ernst and Young, KPMG and Deloitte.


In the banking industry there is: Standard Bank, FNB, ABSA and Nedbank and in soccer there is the so-called traditional four: Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirate, MamelodiSundowns and Moroka Swallow. Practically every industry has the big established businesses, the big fish.


The question therefore is: As a start-up entrepreneur how do you over time compete with the big established businesses, how to eat the big fish. This can be a daunting task and at times very intimidating. This article attempts to answer the question of how to eat the big fish, and is based on the book Eating The Big Fish by Adam Morgan. Other sources include interviews, other literatures and books.


Successful brands have adopted certain traits that led them to challenge big established brands. The following are the main traits or behaviors that entrepreneurs can adopt in their quest to compete with established businesses and/or brands.
Behaviour 1: Human behaviour is predictable
The Bell Curve, by Harvard psychologist Richard J Herrnstein and published in 1994, was a good place to start. The book covered the distribution of IQ across the American population, with some rather controversial findings, mainly because of its hypothesis that there was a correlation between race and IQ. I won’t deal with that now, however, the key point it made was that most people have an average IQ, with a smaller number of people with a high and low IQ, hence the term “bell curve”.
This “bell curve” pattern also applies to many other forms of human behaviour – most people behave in the same way, with a smaller percentage of people deviating from that pattern – spending patterns, sleep patterns, bad habits, income and so on. The implication for entrepreneurs is that predicting human behaviour on the whole is quite simple.

So, if you want to introduce a product or service, take a look at human behaviour and let that guide what you do. You can aim to change behaviour or leverage that behaviour.
Behaviour 2: Old rules don’t necessarily apply


The world is changing faster than ever before and advances in technology are accelerating the pace of this change. In this new world, opportunities for entrepreneurs are abundant as cracks start forming on the walls of established businesses, brands and institutions.

Who would have ever guessed that PEP Stores would be the largest distributor of mobile handsets in the country? When the world changes, someone drops a ball and that presents entrepreneurial opportunity for another.


LeornardRavenhill said “The opportunity of a lifetime has to be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity,” therefore opportunities have a deadline. Successful entrepreneurs have the agility to move at the speed of light to seize opportunities. The big do not always eat the small but the fast always eat the slow. Like elephants, big businesses takes time to turn and seize opportunities, therefore as a small start-up entrepreneur your ability to adopt changing environments is far quicker that big established businesses. The bankruptcy of Kodak, a big established company is proof that the big do not eat the small.

Behaviour 3: Everything you do communicates
Often marketers think that their responsibility for communication lies in the traditional marketing media they control (TV, radio, events, websites). They have a blind spot about the way they treat their staff, about small things like the customer feedback box, big things like their trucks on the road, or the look, feel and etiquette of the security guards at their entrances. Everything is a medium of communication, use each one effectively and you will stand out.

Behaviour 4: Assume thought leadership
Thought leadership is about reflecting a vision of the future in the things that you do. It could be through writing, speaking, product or marketing innovation. It’s different to market leadership, which belongs to the established player in the market. Thought leadership exudes momentum and energy which most market leaders struggle to do.

Behaviour 5: Hit the ‘refresh’ button
People are generally too busy to pay attention to your brand all the time. You need to constantly be entering their mind space and maintaining top-of-mind status. What you need to do is refresh your brand and make people notice you. Coca-Cola is a good example because it has continuously refreshed its message from “Live on the Coke Side” to the current “Open Happiness” campaign.

Audi did it with the launch of the TT in 1998 and again with the introduction of the LED beams that most motor manufacturers are now copying. What does your refresh button look like?

Behaviour 6: Sacrifice
“If you try and be everything to everyone, you will be nothing to no one” – Bob McClain. It’s as simple as that. Often entrepreneurs don’t have sufficient resources to do all they want to do but that’s a good thing because sacrificing a segment of the target market or a particular distribution channel or even a communication medium, such as TV, gives you the resources to do what you are able to do, better than anybody else.


Behaviour 7: Over-commit
Linked quite closely to sacrifice, over-commitment is possible when you focus your resources effectively. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of the 10 000-hour rule, which purports that one must practice for at least 10 000 hours if you are to become an expert at what you do. Practice is not the thing you do once you are good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good. To be a world-class expert in your area of business, you will have to practice at least 10 000 hour in an area you want to be an expert in. This basically translates to an average of 1000 hours per year, which will take about 10 years to be an expert. The question therefore is where are you investing your 10 000 hours in order to be an expert.

Most people will never even get halfway there, so that should encourage you to commit yourself, being better than the rest isn’t that far off.

Behaviour 8: Leverage technology and popular culture
Social media and technology have made it cheaper to communicate to customers. Leverage on social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to amplify your message, which allow two-way communication with your customers. Leverage this capability to share knowledge and interact with your customers.New technology, in the form of mobile and tablet computing, introduces new channels of engagement. Eighty-five percent of cellphones in South Africa will be smart-phones by 2015, so this becomes a real and significant channel for everyone.


Behaviour 9: Be idea-centered, not consumer-centered
Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Steve Jobs believed that “Customers don’t know what they want until we show them”. People will only give you incremental ideas, not revolutionary ones – we simply aren’t wired like that. Idea generation is a skill that entrepreneurs must harness. Ideas are the currency of the future.

In Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, he argues that the world has moved from the knowledge age into the conceptual age. Economic growth will come from nations and people that are able to conceptualise new ways of using resources and solving problems. It is anticipated that the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg will still come from the USA.
The entrepreneurship fallacy
Finally, the fact that you have to leave your organisation and start your own enterprise to be an entrepreneur is a fallacy. Entrepreneurship is an attitude. All the behaviours listed above can work just as well within organisations as they do outside of one. Don’t let the fact that you have a job detract from your entrepreneurial spirit. When eating the big fish make sure you’ve invested in some razor sharp, titanium teeth.


Eating the Big Fish – Adam Morgan, The Pirate Inside – Adam Morgan, The Tipping Point and Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell, A Whole New Mind – Daniel H Pink and Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson, Abbey Mokgwatsane – Cape Town Entrepreneurship Week Presentation (2011)


Roche Mamabolo


Roche is a managing director of Radipolelo Entrepreneurship Consulting. He is passionate about entrepreneurship development and his experience ranges from entrepreneurship research, training on various entrepreneurship topics, mentorship and coaching, organising and facilitating entrepreneurship seminars. B.Com (Accounting), Postgraduate Diploma in Taxation, Post Graduate Diploma in Company Law, MBA (Finance), PhD in Entrepreneurship (Current).

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