Five businesses who really should have had a better plan

Posted on May 5th, 2016 | Running a business

Whilst Leicester City’s Premiership title win was surely one of the biggest shocks of 2016, the doors closing on The New Day newspaper after just three months probably wasn’t.

Trinity Mirror, also the Publisher behind the Mirror, quickly rushed to fill a perceived gap in the market when competitors The Independent shifted to a web-only business this February. What they failed to recognise though, was that there was a good reason for their rivals’ decision to go digital-only – that being a plummet in print readership, and thus in advertising revenue.



The New Day Facebook account described the closure as “disappointing”, stating that circulation for the title was “below expectations”. It had reportedly hoped to sell about 200,000 copies a day, managing only about 40,000.

The Guardian’s Head of Media Jane Martinson commented that the failed venture showed that “this is a terrible time to launch a newspaper”.

“We have to welcome a brave and optimistic attempt to do something in this market. Was it ill-conceived though? I would say yes.”

So long, New Day. We hardly New ya.

Jumping headfirst into an established market and thriving is a real gutsy move, and one that has paid dividends for the likes of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. But a good business plan (based on a lot of market research) is vital if you’re going to try and fix something that ain’t really broke – as these other entrepreneurs discovered.



Google Plus

As Facebook grew larger, it began to harness huge amounts of data from its users, who were more than happy to provide the company with an astonishing amount of personal details in order to use its free social media platform.

This stuck in the craw of search engine mastodon Google, whose Adwords business heavily relies on the kind of intelligence Facebook was hoovering up.

“Vic was just this constant bug in Larry’s ear: ‘Facebook is going to kill us. Facebook is going to kill us,'” a former Google executive told Mashable, referring to Google Plus founding father Vic Gundotra.
“I am pretty sure Vic managed to frighten Larry [Page, Google co-founder] into action. And voila: Google+ was born.”

Unlike industry leader Facebook’s utter devouring of Myspace before it though, Google failed massively at coercing people to switch platforms. There’s nothing particularly awful about the site, but attempting to get users to jump ship is a bit like trying to get people to leave a party (already in full swing) to go to one down the road that might pick up a bit later.

Despite boasting an impressive membership of 418 million active members, it’s rare to find someone who actually personally uses it, and didn’t just sign up to use Google’s other, much more practical services. The statistic didn’t make much of a mark on Facebook’s 1.65 billion monthly active users either, and rumours are brewing that Google Plus is soon to go to the big archive in the sky, just like Google Buzz and Google Wave before it.



xfl final


We’ve all heard complaints that the Premier League is full of crybabies and thespians, unlike the good old days when shorts were short and players stayed on their feet after a challenge. Valid criticisms perhaps – but imagine if a multi-millionaire decided to bring back the glory days, promising to bring the ‘fun’ back into the game. Then imagine they were planning to do this by starting their own league from scratch.

That’s what happened over in the States, albeit with that other type of football where the players mostly use their hands. The National Football League (NFL) is the biggest sports league in the US, and its flagship event, the Super Bowl, occupies the entire top 5 all-time most watched U.S. television broadcasts. Taking it on would take some serious chutzpah, right?

Enter eccentric WWE (then the World Wrestling Federation) chairman Vince McMahon, who together with American media company NBC launched ‘the XFL’ in 2001, hoping to intrigue fans of both football and pro wrestling. It didn’t, and the league was nixed after just one critically panned season.

Despite some elements of the broadcasts (like flyover cameras) eventually making it to the big leagues, the over-the-top, pro-wrestling-esque gimmickry and inferior quality of the teams reportedly led to the XFL haemorrhaging 75% of its audience by week two.

McMahon later admitted the league had been “a colossal failure”.



Virgin Cola

“It’s fair to say that our launch of Virgin Cola in 1994 was not subtle” says Richard Branson on his decision to drive a tank through an enormous stack of Cola-Cola cans. Well, you can say that again.

“With Virgin Cola, we felt confident that we could smash our way past Coca-Cola and Pepsi, our main competitors. It turned out, however, that we hadn’t thought things through. Declaring a soft drink war on Coke was madness”.

As Branson said himself, people were already getting a product that they liked, at a price they were happy to pay. There was no need to enter the cola arena, and despite the fanfare the product ended up gaining just 3% of the market in the UK.

Surprisingly however, the product is still available in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Malta, Nigeria, China, Switzerland, Tunisia, and Philippines, as bottling companies in said countries still own the licence to use the Virgin name.



Trump Steaks

‘The Donald’ may have aspirations of ‘running America like a business’, but many of the businesses he has spearheaded over the years have famously bombed. One of the most notorious instances of this came in 2007 when he realised he hadn’t yet put his name on slabs of beef.

Apart from ‘Trump Steak’ sounding like ‘rump steak’, there isn’t much explanation available as to a link between the billionaire and the food product, although he did describe them as his favourite food. Even more bizarrely, Home Products retailer Smarter Image was the chosen dispensary for the product, despite not having a reputation for food retail.

Ever one for hyperbole, the steaks (provided by Buckhead Beef) were dubbed by Trump as ‘the world’s greatest’, but it didn’t stop them from being discontinued by Smarter Image after two months. The store’s then-CEO Jerry Levin admitted:

“We literally sold almost no steaks”.

Need a hand devising a better plan than these folks? Check out our free business guide on the essentials of an entrepreneurs’ business plan.

Virgin cola image via Satomi Abe

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Written by Tom West

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