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Walk The Line

How far can you push the perfect opportunity?

This story appears in the April 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When a truck dumps half a ton of lemons into your backyard, it wouldn't be an insane idea to start selling freshly squeezed lemonade. But when an unexpected flood threatens to ravage your town, is it right to unload your stockpile of sandbags with a sign on your garage door reading "Neighborhood Special: 3 for $5"? There's a fine line between capitalizing on an obvious opportunity and taking advantage of an unfortunate situation for personal gain. And entrepreneurs-opportunists by nature-often have to risk their reputations (in both the business and consumer worlds) in the name of seizing their chances at success, be it long-term or not.

We talked with some entrepreneurs who've spotted "sure thing" opportunities too potentially prosperous not to pursue and pre-existing businesses blessed by the gods of timing. Some have cashed out, and others didn't generate quite as much interest as they'd hoped for. So can we conclude that when a blatantly opportunistic endeavor fails, it's because the quality so many successful entrepreneurs swear by-having passion for a venture-was absent, and that consumers can smell a gimmick devoid of value miles away? Or is spotting an opportunity and capitalizing on it, by any means, rewarded and applauded in this Survivor era? A scientific answer, there is not. Each entrepreneur must be his or her own judge-and await public opinion, of course.

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