07 Apr 2012

Jeff Skinner

An instinctive approach to children’s play enabled two entrepreneurs to make a success of an adventure park in Norfolk. But can the same approach take them further? This case study examines whether the spirit that creates a start-up can be part of the move to growth

This case explores how the core values and character of an entrepreneurial team shape a new venture as it develops from an idea into a fully fledged business. A close study of the experiences of the entrepreneurs behind the BeWILDerwood adventure park, this case acts as a basis for discussing whether – and for how long – these core values constitute a distinctive capability or whether they become a constraint.

In 2007, Simon Egan and Tom Blofeld combined their resources and enthusiasm to open a new kind of family adventure park. Recognising that British families with experience of high-quality parks elsewhere in Europe were no longer satisfied with the often less-inspiring offerings in Britain, they developed BeWILDerwood, a wholesome, eco-friendly, low-tech, woodland park that proved a huge success. Attracting 150,000 visitors in its first year, the business soon began producing a healthy profit, won a clutch of industry awards and became one of East Anglia’s leading attractions.

One of the keys to the success of BeWILDerwood was the distinctive set of values held by the founders, which informed every aspect of the park’s creation. For them, the project was not worth pursuing unless it embodied their ideas about childhood play that crystallised around concepts such as old-fashioned, magical, naïve and healthy, in contrast to over-structured environments where most of the imagining was done by architects rather than children. From the very beginning, the project was an extension of the characters of the founders and was driven by a strong shared vision of what child’s play ought to be. This fresh approach was a central factor in the success of the park.

With the first park established and profitable, the founders are looking to expand to other sites, because staying with the one park is unlikely to be sustainable. Better-resourced competitors are already sniffing around, impressed and interested to know what they can learn from BeWILDerwood’s success and imitate in the fabric of their own parks. The window of opportunity for the founders to capitalise on the park’s success is already beginning to close.

The need for growth has raised a question familiar to many start-ups: will the values that provided the basis for the original success help or hinder growth? In this case, can a particular shared vision, a culture of experimentation and close relationships between founders, employees and end-users really be a part of a growing organisation operating across multiple sites?

This case study examines closely the options for BeWILDerwood. It looks at the crucial question of whether some of the very capabilities that have contributed so much to the project’s success could become core rigidities that constrain future growth. It examines the likely tensions within the core team caused by different approaches to growth, and it asks whether the close personal attention and values that have underpinned the birth of the business can be sustained in a growing enterprise.

These are questions that afflict nearly all successful start-ups. The enthusiasm, principles and personal attention that are so central in getting a business off the ground are not necessarily the ideal ingredients for expanding that business beyond a certain point. But staying where you are is rarely an option.

This case looks in detail at how this common dilemma confronted one particular business. Using extensive interviews with the founders, employees, advisers and commentators and applying the Institute’s expertise and deep research, it offers an illuminating example of how businesses can deal with this perpetual problem.

To read the case study in full, email innovation@london.edu.

About Jeff Skinner

Jeff Skinner is Executive Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London Business School.

He teaches on the following programmes: