Having a unique concept is a great first step to becoming a successful entrepreneur. But if consumers don’t understand your idea, you could find yourself starting from scratch all over again.
This was certainly the case for Gabrielle Dolan and Yamini Naidu, who are the founders of One Thousand & One.
Based at Melbourne co-working space The Hub, One Thousand & One specialises in teaching people how to tell funny, exciting and engaging business stories, also known as organisational storytelling.
Dolan and Naidu, who met at university, discovered the field of organisational storytelling in 2004 when it was emerging out of the United States.
With their respective corporate backgrounds, the pair immediately identified a business opportunity, embarking on months of research. In 2005, they founded One Thousand & One.
“No one was really doing [organisational storytelling] in Australia,” Dolan says.
“They all said something similar – I knew there was a better way to communicate and engage but I wasn’t sure what it is. I think this is it.”
Dolan and Naidu initially worked with NAB, using a branch manager as their guinea pig.
“One of the managers was in charge of 20 branches. He said NAB had quality sales leads targets, but for two years not one branch had matched their targets,” Dolan says.
Through working with Dolan and Naidu, the branch manager was able to turn a story from his childhood into an effective form of organisational storytelling. This is his story:
“When I was a kid, I hated eating Brussels sprouts. I would push them to one side and eat the rest of my dinner, knowing full well mum would make me eat those cold Brussels sprouts.”
“I decided to eat them straight away. I’d eat them and then sit back and enjoy the rest of my meal.”
“Let’s treat quality sales leads like Brussels sprouts. None of us can leave the table until they’re done.”
Dolan says the manager told this story at 14 of his 20 branches, and every single one of those 14 branches went on to meet their quality sales leads targets.
While Dolan and Naidu were confident organisational storytelling would take off, they failed to recognise that most people had no real understanding of it, so demand was almost non-existent.
“In 2005, people still were not sure what organisational storytelling was. They had no idea. We tried to run a few public workshops but the market wasn’t ready for it,” Dolan says.
“We invested a lot of time and money into developing and marketing a program that ran at a loss.”
“Because the market wasn’t ready, we felt we were pushing something they didn’t need or want yet. That was a really early learning curve for us.”
Dolan says the turning point came when she and Naidu ran a program that only a small number of people attended.
“When you’re just sitting there and people literally aren’t buying it, you realise you haven’t got it right,” she says.
“We were six months into developing the program and we’d spent thousands of dollars. At that time, it was the biggest investment we were making.”
While Dolan and Naidu realised they had made a mistake, their efforts didn’t go entirely to waste.
“What we didn’t realise was that some organisations were ready – they were more mature and more advanced,” Dolan says.
“Instead of running public workshops, we would go and work with the likes of NAB and Ericsson, and do internal workshops.”
One Thousand & One has only recently ventured back into public workshops, but has taken a far more cautious approach the second time around.
Dolan and Naidu intend to continue operating as a two-person band, but they’re expecting to turn over $1 million this financial year.
“We went down the road of bringing on other people to do the training for us. They weren’t getting the engagement and inspiration, and our clients wanted us to do the work,” Dolan says.
“We do everything. We see our business as a practice.”
Dolan’s advice to other entrepreneurs? Be prepared to educate.
“We had to educate the market. We tried to write as many articles as possible. We also publish our own posts on a really regular basis,” she says.
“It’s about being prepared to educate as much as possible.”