Beyond the balance sheet

Stolen? The truth about these 3 great business ideas

Simon Smith 13/7/2017 4 minute read

Simon Smith FCCA explores the successful businesses whose founders may have capitalized on the ideas of others to make millions.

Corporate trailblazers, such as McDonald's and Facebook, are esteemed by the public for their innovation and success. But movies such as The Founder and The Social Network have revealed that the origins of these great business ideas may be less attributable to their founders than we may have at first thought. In fact in the case of McDonald's, the film's title is amusingly ironic.

Does the credit for these successful businesses lie with those that had the original ideas or the ones that actually turned them into multi-million dollar enterprises? As this blog post will demonstrate having an idea for a business is just one aspect of entrepreneurialism, actually setting it up and running a successful operation is entirely another.

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McDonald's: Ray Kroc v. Dick and Mac McDonald

In 1948, two brothers began to transform the meaning behind "fast food." They traded a 30 minute wait in a seated dining room for a 30 second wait at a counter. This concept paired with a small menu only offering burgers, fries, and drinks helped create the first McDonald's outlet in San Bernardino, California. Dick and Mac McDonald were content to expand their restaurant to a handful of other locations, but never dreamed about a national franchise.



From the moment he discovered the new restaurant, multimixer salesman Ray Kroc had much bigger plans for it. He saw this revolutionary idea and wanted to scale it across the country, making McDonald's nothing short of an American staple. in short, as Kroc's dreams for the restaurant became larger, the McDonald's brothers became more hesitant and resistant.

Kroc set up of a new franchise company that owned the land for each outlet and by 1955, the brothers gave in and sold the name and rights to Kroc himself for $2.7 million. Until 1991, Ray Kroc was the only founder the company ever knew, celebrating him as the man who started it all.

However, as information has surfaced through films such as The Founder, the company realized they owed more credit than to just one man! In the case of McDonald's, we find that the word, "founder," refers more to the enhancement of an idea rather than the creation of it.

So as you eat your hamburger, fries, and drink you soda or milkshake, remember to not only thank Kroc for the location near you, but also the brothers for coming up with the fast food concept.

Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg v. the Winklevoss twins

Mark Zuckerberg began his relationship with social media at Harvard. With sites such as Coursematch, a service that allowed students to see what classes their friends had enrolled in, Zuckerberg became known for his skills across campus and was recruited by the Winklevoss twins to help launch their dating site, Harvard Connection or UConnect.



Though he agreed to help this group with the mechanics of the site, relations between him and the group became muddled as Mark began to work on his own idea, "The Facebook". Tensions grew even more as Mark released The Facebook and simultaneously backed out of his commitment to Harvard Connection. The Facebook name was simplified down to "Facebook" and the rest is history.

The Winklevoss twins claim that Mark not only stole their idea and structure for the site, but also intentionally delayed their project as he quietly worked on his. One large lawsuit uncovered that some of this story was true. Though technically Mark's site was different to theirs, the two platform's similarities, timing, and Mark's IM messages with friends showed that he believed both sites could not coexist successfully and thus he launched Facebook first.

No one can argue that Facebook would've been as successful without Mark, but many would argue that the Harvard Connection might have benefited from his absence. 

Dip & Squeeze ketchup packet: Heinz v. David Wawrzynski

In 2010, Heinz revolutionized the ketchup packet market as they released the Dip & Squeeze model, a to-go ketchup container that gave users multiple ways to access their sauce condiment. As large restaurant chains became enthralled by this simple, yet elegant product idea, David Wawrzynski, a Michigan native, furiously claimed that he had presented this idea years ago to Heinz as the "Little Dipper" product.

Wawrzynski's story is he met with Heinz in 2008 where he pitched his idea, one they believed was promising, but never got back to him about. Heinz claimed that they were working on a very similar product before the "Little Dipper" was pitched to them and thus they owed Wawrzynski nothing.

It ended up in a patent suit in court and a grand jury rejected his notion that the Heinz dual-function ketchup package came about as a direct consequence of him showing them the drawings to his concept. Wawrzynski still believes that his idea was at least a launchpad for their million dollar product, something he feels he deserves credit for.

A common thread?

The main theme arising in each of these accounts appears to be the difference between an idea and its execution. While a business is born through a great concept, the people who actually implement those ideas effectively are remembered as the founders and given credit that some might argue shouldn't just be attributed to them.

Is the concept of a founder changing or did these businesses take more credit than they actually deserve? What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

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The content of this post is up to date and relevant as at 13/07/2017.

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