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Entrepreneur Ed Reeves: Red Bull, Airbnb and easyJet show why rules were made to be broken

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Im a great believer in learning from history, and the one thing it’s taught me as an entrepreneur is this: rule-breaking is a necessary part of innovation.

Take a quick glance at some of the worlds most successful businesses and youll see that the one trait they share is a willingness to break every rule held sacred by normal convention.

One of the best examples of this is perhaps easyjet. At a time when flying was still very much viewed as a luxury, in waltzed Stelios Haji-Ioannou with his bright, can’t-miss-it orange branding hoping to revolutionise the face of air travel. And revolutionise it he did.

From offering passengers the chance to book directly over the phone to making seat allocation an optional extra, the aviation mogul realised there were a large proportion of holidaymakers who didnt want to spend their money on free coffee refills. He literally rewrote the rule book, and boy did it pay off in the form of easyJet.

Red Bull is another company that has gone against the norm, this time in terms of marketing. Historically, most companies have only ever used event sponsorship as part of a larger marketing plan. Red Bull, however, turned this into an art form. By inventing, creating and branding its own events of which there are around 90 the drinks manufacturer has ensured it gets maximum exposure, stunning brand positioning and a previously unheard of ROI. Cleverly, the firm also realised that creating its own events would demonstrate a commitment to the sport and audience; an authenticity that resonates with the consumers lapping it up.

More recently, Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky is another entrepreneur whos hit the headlines. Essentially a giant online marketplace for sharing homes and spaces, the website has reportedlyshaken up the hospitality industry with competitors being forced to adapt, and fast. Unsurprising given that an estimated 30m consumers have already used it to book a place to stay.

Read more about Reeves’ innovators:

The bottom line is that if you want to be anything other than an “also-ran”, nine times out of ten you have to challenge convention and break a few things.

If we, as business people, listened to every person that told us something couldnt be done wed never even get our company off the ground. I know this is certainly true of my own experiences. When my sister and I founded Moneypenny we were categorically told by every business advisor we saw that we were making a mistake; that there was no market, or if there was, wed not capture it without a respectable marketing budget. Fortunately we both shared the same conviction, and were adamant that we were right.
We knew it was our “easyJet moment”.

Our run of being told something couldn’t be done didnt end there though. The first few years in business were fraught with a seemingly never ending chorus of no . For instance, in an industry where everyone paid on invoice, we wanted to create cash flow by being the first UK micro business startup to get authorised for direct debit origination. It meant dealing with BACS directly to get them to persuade our bankers, but we managed to do it.

Then there was the challenge of setting up our phone systems. According to industry experts at the time it wasn’t possible for one company to be able to route calls for thousands of businesses so we created our own bespoke system. It did on occasion feel like an uphill battle, but these two battles alone put clear water between us, and our then much larger competitors.

In fact, this hasnt changed. Like most businesses, were constantly evolving and this brings with it an inevitability that well venture into unchartered territory. Our new headquarters, for instance, is a current case in point. As an expanding company we needed to find a new home but were left unimpressed by the impersonal, and frankly boring, office blocks on offer. So we threw away the rule book and decided to build our own office. After all, the manufacturing industry has long been creating commercial premises to suit its needs and Ive never understood why the majority of companies simply choose to follow a standard template. This has, again, meant challenging convention breaking a number of British Council for Offices guidelines along the way but itll be worth it. I have absolute faith that it will be the most productive environment possible, and will add immensely to our business.

For us, and for most successful businesses out there, each of the occasions weve deviated from the traditional route have been a turning point for us. Were not always right, and well possibly make some costly mistakes, but we didnt go into business to survive, we did it to succeed. Now I enjoy it when someone says no or tells me something can’t be done. Why Because I know it means theres an opportunity lurking there.

So, my advice to any business is this: by breaking the rules, by laughing in the face of “no”, youll create opportunity, and that leads to success.

Ed Reeves is the co-founder and director of telephone answering service and outsourced switchboard provider Moneypenny.

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