What every entrepreneur can learn from the bicycle

By Jason Feifer, Entrepreneur

bike_unsplash_webIn 1896, the bicycle was a thrilling and newfangled invention. But not everyone was impressed. A writer named Joseph Bishop went around interviewing angry business owners, who claimed their sales fell as a result of the two-wheeler. “Before the bicycle craze struck us,” one barber said, “the men used to come in on Saturday afternoons and get a shave, and a haircut, and maybe a shampoo, in order to take their lady friends to the theater, or go out somewhere else in the evening. Now they go off on a bicycle and do not care whether they are shaved or not.”

 

 

Booksellers said people weren’t reading as much, because they were cycling. Saloon owners complained that they weren’t selling as much beer, because bicyclists drank more refreshing beverages. The cigar trade was in a panic, claiming that it was shrinking at the rate of one million fewer cigars sold a day. Shoe-makers raised the alarm, because nobody was walking anymore. And hatters, Bishop reported, “say they are injured because bicyclists wear cheap caps and thus either save their more expensive ones or else get on without them. One irate member of the trade proposes that Congress be asked to pass a law compelling each bicycle-rider to purchase at least two felt hats a year.”

Today, of course, the humble bicycle doesn’t seem to be very threatening. And yet, this hysteria should sound familiar to any modern-day reader. Throughout history, short-sighted companies have made the same mistake: They saw a technological change as a threat, not an opportunity. In the past decade, we’ve seen this in music labels that resist streaming, gaming companies that resist mobile, energy companies that resist solar, and many other short-sighted stands on increasingly shrinking grounds.

As I explore in this new episode of the podcast Pessimists Archive, it was foolhardy to fight the bicycle. And yet, so many different kinds of people fought it over many decades. (You can listen in the embedded player above, or through iTunes or any other podcast provider.)

In looking back on the history of the bicycle — and, importantly, the history of people freaking out about the bicycle — we can take a lesson that every entrepreneur of every generation should embrace. When change comes, it cannot be stopped. You can either fight it and lose, or embrace it and win. Read more …

Photo:  Neal Fagan

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