I want to share with you one of the most inspiring stories I have read most recently. The life and company of Beate Uhse. I remember visiting her Museum in Berlin in 2003 however it was not a few months ago that I came across her life story again in a book, The Aftermath, which is about life immediately after the end of second World War II in Germany.
Beate Uhse grew up in East Prussia. She was the daughter of a liberal farmer and her mother was a medical doctor. She was sent to boarding school as there was no formal education in her village. At the age of 16, she started her first adventure by taking a job as an au pair in the UK to learn English and two years later she studied for becoming a pilot. The combination landed her a job as a test pilot at the Friedrich Aircraft Works in Strausberg. A dream job for anyone at that age. During the second world war, she would fly dive-bombers and fighter planes from various arms manufacturers to airbases around Germany. However this dream job was short-lived and in 1945 as the Red Army overran Berlin she found herself on the wrong side, yet she managed to hijack a civilian airplane and flee from the Tempelhof airport with her 18-month-old son to almost a crash land at a nearby British Military airport.
While initially, this act got her arrested, she was soon released as a prisoner of war and she found herself lodging at a school library. With her flying career over, she spent the next three years dabbling in all sorts of trades, from helping farmers in the field to selling buttons and toys. None of which was really successful.
- Entrepreneurs READ Carefully. (Listen to your customers)
While selling buttons and toys door to door she came to learn from her customers something very interesting. Her customers, mostly women, were mostly concerned about sex and related issues. Many people after the war had found themselves in new surroundings and cities, seeking new relationships. This simple observation led her to write a guidebook on contraception.
Her book, product was a mere 8 page treatise that basically explained the rhythm method. The book titled “Paper X” explained how women were only fertile during a few days. Paper X in my view is the best example of an MVP. Beate did not even bother to check for spelling mistakes. As soon as she had written, she found the most economical way to print it and with that ordered an equally large amount of advertising.
- Start small start local
The advertising was delivered using local telephone books and most of it she hand delivered by cycling around different municipalities.
- Build and Reitrate
By the end of the year she had sold a staggering 32,000 copies. She soon registered a company with the British authorities as “Betu Dispatches”. Initially she expanded her activities by creating a catalogue of erotic goods and only later as the business grew stronger did she open the first sex shop in Hamburg. In essence this the most amazing example of trial and error, timing and much more.
A note for accelerators and incubators. Do you know how important are night stories to children? The same important is success stories about entrepreneurs who succeeded on their own without external help and VC investments. Away from all the hype and noise. These stories and successes are what will inspire your entrepreneurs and make them want to realise their dreams against all odds. Too often the startup founders and entrepreneurs get lost in incubators and accelerators only in search of money and glory.
I help startups align their passion and vision. Group or one to one sessions. From inspiration speeches to startup mentoring. Call me to discuss your requirements.