Hedgehogs and Entrepreneurship

Have you ever heard of the “hedgehog principle”? The term comes from one of the best-selling business books of all time, Good to Great by Jim Collins. In it, Collins describes his research defining what it means to be a “great” company.

One of the concepts that stood out most to me is the idea of the “hedgehog principle.” The phrase refers to a hedgehog’s ability to roll into a ball and defend itself better than any other species, resulting in success. So what does this have to do with entrepreneurship? The author argues that all great companies have this in common: they know what they can do better than anyone else, and they stick to it.

Think about this for a second, because it isn’t as obvious as it sounds. Many entrepreneurs will try to offer a variety of different products and services to try to stay afloat in difficult times. They think that if they just offer enough variety, surely they will attract some customers. But Collins says that the opposite is true. Companies succeed when they offer something with a quality that no one else can match.

I was traveling a few months ago, and went into a coffee shop that had recently opened. This was a classic example of a business that didn’t know who it was. It acted as a jazz venue on Thursday nights, had a pasta feed on Wednesdays, and had just added pizza to their coffee menu, which could be eaten beneath their tiny wall of prints that they called an art gallery.  These were all good ideas, but none of them were done well. A successful coffee shop would focus on perfecting its core competency: coffee.

So there should now be one question that you should ask yourself: what can you do better than anyone else? Do that and do it well. There will be plenty of opportunities to become distracted with unrelated opportunities. Don’t dilute your product or service. Instead, remember why the hedgehog succeeds.

Want more tips on starting a business? Check out our episode, “Crash Course on Starting a Business.”