How David beat Goliath with a positive tripwire

We may understand why it’s important to set a tripwire for when things go awry. Van Halen and their M&M’s are proof.

But a tripwire doesn’t just check our slide into the abyss. It can also accelerate our charge to success. This is often ignored.

In the late 70s, Minnetonka introduced liquid soap in the crowded US bar-soap market ruled by Unilever, P&G, and J&J. Dispensed from a distinctive (and novel back then) plastic hand pump, the product (Softsoap) showed early potential in local pilots with boutique distributors.

Minnetonka leadership recognized the opportunity–if they could get shelf space for 6 months without the big players snapping at their heels–and what stood in the way of exploiting the opportunity–they needed to have enough hand pumps if demand shot up through the roof.

What did they do? They set up a 𝐩𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐭𝐫𝐢𝐩𝐰𝐢𝐫𝐞.

At the time, only two suppliers made the hand pumps they needed and Minnetonka signed options contracts with both. Minnetonka secured itself the right to purchase the hand pumps at a preset price and by a date. And sure enough, soon it had the world’s supply of plastic hand pumps!

The big players had to wait for supply to build back up or set up factories to make their own pumps. By controlling the supply chain, Minnetonka built itself a moat that secured future domination.

Just as a negative tripwire limits exposure to risk, a positive tripwire helps double down on opportunity.

👉As a founder, it could be to press the pedal on hiring when conversion hits a certain number.
👉As a parent, it could be to support your child once she starts willingly putting in the hours to learn something.
👉As a creator, it could be to monetize once you gain a certain number of weekly followers.

When opportunity knocks, we blow our chances by hesitating to open the door because we haven’t decided in advance who a good visitor is. In 1980, a small liquid-soap maker showed the power of recognizing opportunity and cashing in on it by setting a positive tripwire.



I write about decision-making, mental models, and better thinking and things in between

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Satyajit Rout

I write about decision-making, mental models, and better thinking and things in between