Today’s blog post focuses on the most cited of the reasons why start ups fail: a lack of consumer interest in the product or service the business intends to provide.
Every new parent’s baby is the cutest they’ve ever seen, and every start up entrepreneur starts out thinking their proposed product or service is a great idea, to which the market will respond positively — but the numbers say many, if not most of them, will be wrong. I would attribute this to a type of “magical thinking,” namely the assumption that you (as a consumer) know what other consumers want and how they want to get it. Even worse, an entrepreneur might have their ego so invested in their “baby” that they become inflexible to growth and change, which makes success nearly impossible.
We don’t think that there is any crystal ball which guarantees that your product or service will cause consumers to push the “buy” button. Solving this problem for businesses is the subject of many books and business school courses, as well as the entire basis for a number of popular industries like market research, advertising, marketing, and public relations. Although there are no simple answers, we would like to pass along a few suggestions to help you tackle this challenge.
Strategy 1: Do your Homework!
Do not assume that you know what consumers want or need. Talk to as many people as you can—both before and after your product launch—and listen carefully. Success requires that consumers not only need what you offer, but that they love the details of your offering and the way it fills their needs. Don’t consider criticism to be a negative; rather, consider your critics to be providing you free product design assistance. Social media can be a key tool for you to solicit criticism and advice on how you can improve your product, helping you make it more desirable to your customers.
As important as it is to do your homework on the likely user appeal of a product idea, one thing is certain—there will still be surprises. If you are lucky, some surprises will be good, but many of them will bring new challenges. For one thing, consumers don’t always know what they want or how they feel about a product until they start using it. It is important that a founder remove their emotions from these experiences so that they can learn and grow, instead of clouding their judgment by focusing on the emotional highs and lows.
Strategy 2: Test Your Assumptions
As an entrepreneur with a new idea, your job is to get as much data as possible about the viability of your idea. One way to do that is to go out into the world, and test your assumptions. A great way to do this (and develop great contacts at the same time) is to participate in a “Start Up Weekendtm”. A “Start Up Weekend” is one of many events held throughout the US and the world (almost 3,000 have been held since 2007), usually centered around an industry or theme, at which attendees pitch their start up idea to attendees, who then vote on the ideas that they like the best. The attendees then form teams to develop the ideas that they vote for over the course of the weekend. A final pitch is given by each team to a panel of judges who offer their feedback, and the best start up ideas are awarded.
Whether your idea is ultimately pitched or not, participating in this type of event will give you key insight on your business. “Winning” at one of these events is a great way to know that you are on the right track, while not winning provides you with a treasure trove of valuable insight. As the Confucian proverb says: there are 1,000 lessons in defeat, but only one in victory.
Strategy #3: Master the Art of Pivoting
This brings us to the third strategy, being willing, able, and quick to “pivot”. In start up lingo, pivoting means taking in the initial response to a product, and making changes in order to maximize its consumer appeal. When launching a start up, you will learn that everything takes longer than you expect, and a great deal of stick-to-it-ivity is required. With that said, there is no virtue in delaying product changes in the face of negative reactions from users.
A good approach to designing a product, where possible, is to do an initial soft launch of the product in a basic form, with the intent of redesigning it and adding features after receiving initial user feedback. If you read about the history of successful start ups like Dell Computers and Twitter, you will see that they solicited criticism from their customers and used that information to modify their approach and attain success.
Thank you for reading this second entry in the “So You Want to Start a Start Up…” blog. Continue the conversation by leaving a comment or, if you have specific questions, you can call our office at (866) 954-7687 or send an email to email@example.com.
In the next entry, we’ll explore the second most common reason why start ups fail: funding or cash issues.