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Average is Beautiful: An Opportunity Worth Pursuing?

Bertels, H.M.J. & Lehman, M.S. 2017. Average is Beautiful: An Opportunity Worth Pursuing? Case Research Journal, 37(1), 1-13.

Abstract

Nickolay Lamm, a recent university graduate, has been interested in entrepreneurship since his childhood. After running two small start-ups as a teen, graduating with a marketing degree and being laid off from his first traditional job, he finds himself working as a freelance designer, creating original visual representations of data that go viral.

In his latest project, he utilized data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3D printing technology and Photoshop to make a speculative illustration of what Barbie® would look like if based on body measurements for an average, 19-year-old American woman.

The online community immediately started buzzing after the Huffington Post published Nickolay's "average is beautiful" images. Over the next few days, many media outlets followed suit, including BBC Radio, Cosmopolitan, CNN, Good Morning America, MSN and Smithsonian. Nickolay also started to receive requests from parents asking where they could purchase an "average is beautiful" doll that was based on his visual representation. Nickolay paused and asked himself an important question: "Is this the entrepreneurial opportunity for which I've been waiting?"

The case then follows Nickolay as he reflects on his own skill set and entrepreneurial motivation, researches the toy industry (including Mattel and Hasbro), and analyzes competition in the fashion doll space. He considers the market interest in his idea and runs preliminary financial numbers. In the end, Nickolay has a decision to make: to explore the feasibility of a partnership with Mattel, Hasbro or another established player related to his "average is beautiful" concept; to launch his own company, either with business partners or by himself, and try to manufacture and market this new doll; or to ignore the initial market interest and continue to pursue his passion of making beautiful speculative illustrations as a freelancer (and wait for another entrepreneurial opportunity to emerge...).

The case ties together a number of entrepreneurship theories typically addressed in the beginning of an entrepreneurship course: entrepreneurial orientation (E.g., Lumpkin & Dess, 1996; Morris & Paul, 1987), effectuation theory (Sarasvathy, 2005) and feasibility analysis (E.g., Abrams, 2012; Barringer, 2015; Barringer & Ireland, 2015; Karis, 2015). The decision point in the case also utilizes the concepts of breakeven analysis and of the resource-based view of the firm (Barney, 1991; Peteraf, 1993; Wernerfelt, 1984).

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