Jan 17 2011

What an entrepreneur can learn from Plankton on SpongeBob SquarePants

When I think of how not to run a business, I think of Plankton from SpongeBob SquarePants™. Sheldon Plankton is the owner of the Chum Bucket, a complete failure of a business. It competes with the Krusty Krab where SpongeBob works.

Plankton, owner of the Chum Bucket

Plankton, owner of the Chum Bucket

Don’t obsess over competitors

Rather than focus on his own products or store, Plankton has become obsessed with stealing the Krusty Krab’s secret formula for the Krabby Patty sandwich. He spends all his energy trying to pilfer his competitor’s intellectual property. This sounds ridiculous, but as an entrepreneur it’s easy to get caught up thinking about what a competitor is doing and forget to push your brand in its own direction.

Even if Plankton did steal the Krabby Patty's secret formula, would customers really abandon the Krusty Krab? They come for more than the recipe: they also like the way SpongeBob cooks it, the friendly staff (well, except Squidward), the building, the efficiency – the whole brand experience.

Don’t waste your best talents

SpongeBob at work in the Krusty Krab

SpongeBob at work in the Krusty Krab

Plankton also uses his considerable ingenuity in his futile quest to steal the secret formula. If he applied his technical skills to improving his business, or perhaps starting another, he’d almost surely be more successful. He’s like counterfeiters: if they spent that much energy on a legitimate business or job, they could make good money without risking jail!

Don’t pick a bad business name

The Chum Bucket is a pretty unappealing name. Although if you’re a fish, maybe chum sounds good?...

One thing Plankton does right: Location

Mr. Krabs, owner of the Krusty Krab

Mr. Krabs, owner of the Krusty Krab

One thing Plankton is probably doing right is locating the Chum Bucket near his competitor. It sounds counterintuitive, but similar businesses often do better by clustering together. For example, if the Krusty Krab were full, diners could go right across the street to the Chum Bucket. A well-known example of this effect is the diamond district in New York city.

Here are other business lessons from SpongeBob.