3 Compelling Stories to Teach The Power Of Small Investments In Business


Much is written in the business press about mega M&A deals, billion dollar strategic investments, and global advertising campaigns...this isn’t one of those articles.

Instead, I wanted to look at lessons we can all learn from three stories about the power of ingenuity paired with very little capital.

The Story of the Swoosh

When you think Nike, your mind might turn to elite athletes rocking sleek sneakers on their path to victory. You also undoubtedly think about the iconic swoosh.

That swoosh screams peak performance.

The current market capitalization of Nike exceeds $100,000,000,000, so it might surprise you that the design that exudes success wasn’t the brainchild of a team of the sharpest advertising minds in the world.

It was purchased for the price of $35 from a graphic design student at Portland State University.

In 1969 Carolyn Davidson met Phil Knight who was at the time an assistant professor at PSU with the idea to strike out on his own to create athletic shoes. He asked Davidson to help him out on some projects at a rate of $2 an hour.

After 17.5 hours of work, the swoosh, “a check mark shape that is fluid and indicates movement and speed” was born.

Lesson Learned:

Never discount the potential to utilize an unorthodox approach to solve a business objective. It might not always work out, but it could be a home run or at least provide you a comparison with which to measure the more traditional solution.

A Sandwich Empire From Humble Beginnings

It may shock you to find out that there are currently over 44,000 Subway restaurants in more than 110 countries around the world.

It may shock you more to find out that the origin of the Subway you know today is the result of $1,000 that founder Fred DeLuca borrowed from a friend in 1965 to open a sub shop in Connecticut.

The goal was to make enough money from the shop to pay tuition for medical school, which took a backseat to sub sandwich world domination once the business gained traction.

Even Subway’s iconic “$5 Footlong” campaign had humble beginnings.

This pillar of marketing genius wasn’t the result of high priced consultants from the best MBA programs, it came from Stuart Frankel, the owner of two Subway franchises in Miami.

In 2004, Frankel noticed that sales were slower on the weekends so he lowered the prices on footlong subs for the weekends only. A fan of round numbers, Frankel decided to make every footlong sub $5 each.

The idea spread and the rest is history, a very profitable history of an iconic promotion. In 2009 alone, the various $5 footlong promotions spawned $3.5 billion in sales for Subway.

Lesson Learned:

Taking the first step is critical and keeping an open mind is the only way to ensure that the great ideas don’t pass you by. The $5 Footlong was not a corporate directive, but it turned into a mega-successful campaign because those at the top identified a winning approach and were not afraid to implement it elsewhere.


The Origins of an Organic Juggernaut

Amazon’s recently spent $13.7 billion to purchase Whole Foods which is an astronomical sum given the Whole Foods origin story which traces back to 1978, when a 25 year old college dropout named John Mackey and 21 year old Renee Lawson borrowed $45,000 to open a small natural foods store called SaferWay in Austin, Texas.

The early days were fraught with difficulties like when the couple got evicted from their apartment when their landlord found that they were storing food products in their residence.

With few options, they decided to simply live at the store.

Due to the fact that the store was zoned commercial, there was no shower stall so they improvised by utilizing a hose they rigged up from their dishwasher.

Things didn’t get easier in 1981 when a historic flood left them with $400,000 in damages and no insurance to cover the losses.

Customers and neighbors volunteered to help with cleanup which saved the store and set the foundation for an ethos of community values which paved the way for massive growth and the eventual acquisition.

Lesson Learned:

Early on in a project or new pursuit, there will inevitably be setbacks that will threaten the endeavor. If you decide to continue on, make sure that you are all-in, because the work required will test your commitment to the overall goal and potentially set you up for a successful turnaround.


What’s my overall takeaway?

There is a bevy of different reasons why companies are successful.

It is inevitable that some of those factors result from decisions involving monetary sums that stretch into the millions or even billions of dollars.

However, success can also result from the decisions that are relatively minuscule in nature and dollar figures. It is shrewd ingenuity and an unrelenting drive for success that can make the biggest difference.

No matter your business, never lose sight of the small factors that can lead to truly epic returns.

Want to continue the conversation? I'd would love to hear your thoughts at matt.confer@abilitie.com!

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