Monday May 1, 2017
What I love most about working with entrepreneurs is their passion for what they do. Their enthusiasm for their product or service is contagious. It is unfortunate that not all start-ups succeed. Though start-up failure rates vary from industry to industry, the failure rate within the first two years seems to be somewhere around 35%. There are several reasons for this, which include:
- lack of direction (business plan),
- lack of marketing,
- and over-optimism about the product or service.
We will focus on the latter in this article.
When a child makes his first efforts to draw something, the results may be unrecognizable. The child, proud of his new achievement, will run to his parents to show his new skill. The parents will respond to the child with praise and comments like, “Great job!” or “You are so smart!” Why does the family respond this way? They wish to encourage the child to continue to progress and learn. Over the years, the child grows accustomed to showing his accomplishments and ideas to his parents, and in turn receiving the usual praise and encouragement.
It is important to remember that most of the time, the feedback that you will receive from friends, family and neighbors will likely be positive in nature. It is the “polite” and “acceptable” way to respond to an acquaintance’s efforts. But is it truly helpful? I learned many years ago not to ask my friends and family for feedback on my ideas. At times, I noticed that their responses seemed to be a reflex and did not really relate to the idea I was expressing. When pitching an idea to a potential investor, many ideas are quickly dismissed or questioned as to why the inventor thinks this idea is “good” or will sell in the marketplace. Why is this? Investors have not achieved their success by buying into bad ideas.
They are pitched regularly, as there are many more unprofitable ideas than there are profitable ones. If an investor is not interested in investing his time and money into an idea, why would an entrepreneur want to invest all of his time and money into the same idea? Often, our enthusiasm can blind us from the facts. This is why a business plan is so important. By removing the emotions and looking at just the facts, you can then see more clearly how an idea may be profitable.
'The Poor Man's Focus Group'
So, instead of going to family and friends, I have learned to head straight to the coffee shop. Especially in the mornings, a busy coffee shop is usually full of business people meeting together. They are easy to spot, because they are dressed for success. Many times, I have brought a prototype or drawing of an idea and pitched it to the people sitting around or waiting for their coffee. I call this “The Poor Man’s Focus Group”, and the response has been amazing! Before I start, the first question I ask myself is, How difficult will it be to explain this new idea?
If I cannot do it in 15 seconds, this is not a good sign. My usual approach is something like this: “What would you think of a product that could boil a pot of water in just 5 seconds? . . . Would you use one? . . . Would you pay $30 for it?” If possible, I will also simply hand them the item. This is a great opportunity to observe reactions. You really can simply hand something to someone without saying a word – and most of the time they will take it first – and then ask you what it is. Everyone wants to see what is new and exciting. The feedback I have gotten has seemed very sincere, and the constructive criticism has been very helpful. Many times, I am offered simple ideas to improve the product – ideas that I had previously missed. I try to stay very scientific about the entire affair.
I always ask the same questions – but in a random order. I always get feedback from 100 people (the math is easier that way), and I try to ask an equal ratio of men to women of varying ages. On occasion, I have adapted these methods to street surveys and phone surveys when this type of sampling is more appropriate to the product or service. I have avoided so much wasted development time and money by either abandoning an unsellable idea or by getting valuable feedback up front and avoiding costly design flaws. I highly recommend that entrepreneurs get out of their own way and listen to what the public really wants. Isn’t that the entrepreneur's mission? To make available products and services that the public will demand in droves?
The next step in the process is to start pre-selling the item. There is a big difference between someone telling you that they would buy something . . . and actually reaching for their wallet. Remember, you can always refund the pre-sale participants if you decide not to proceed with the project.
- A pre-sale can be a great benefit in so many ways:
Put your focus on how to sell the product. What are the value offerings? A pre-sale will force you to create promotional materials and think about the sales process. One of the most valuable things you will learn in the sales process are the common objections – some of which can be addressed with a simple adjustment to the design (a nice thing to know before you actually build the item).
- Pre-sale participants can receive discounted service, or gain access to priority product support, or benefit from a number of other perks.
- The process can help raise capital.
It is my hope that you can avoid costly design flaws and product offerings – and therefore enjoy a more successful business – by doing some simple research before embarking on building a new product or service. If you take the time to consider these steps, then maybe “if you build it . . . they will come.”