I recently read the book "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big" by Scott Adams. He worked in corporate America for 16 years and then created the Dilbert comic strip. He lists numerous businesses he has tried to start over the years with almost every single one failing. His main point was that he learned from each to make the likelihood of success of his next venture higher.
The book was inspiring because it showed how you need to just go out and try stuff. Each of the failed ideas he had actually seemed like they had a chance for success. For one reason or another they pretty much all failed. Those are the odds when starting your own business. I believe 8 in 10 new businesses fail within the first 5 years.
Knowing those odds it makes sense to take swings. Put your idea out there. Make a prototype. Do a Kickstarter. Put it on a website and try to start selling. The thought of guarding an idea for years to make it "perfect" is just nonsense. You potentially could've just wasted years by moving so slowly!
In reading the book you can tell that each of the failures was painful. Money was invested. Work was done. Partnerships were made. Scott was able to try his best at each and move on when things went South. He hit it big on his Dilbert idea though! All it takes is one.
I am mulling over a new idea and the book inspired me to look at available URL's, do some initial research, contact a lawyer about starting a new LLC and putting the idea out into the universe for people to give feedback on. Action is the only way that progress is made. I'm trying to keep that in mind and not overthink things as I get this next idea up and running.
Bold blog title. I want to talk about coming up with new ideas and where your focus needs to be. It's very easy to get extremely confused in this area and I recently had an experience where I was lost.....for almost a full year. I couldn't figure out why a project was going South and why I was not able to lead my team to a solution that worked.
I lost sight of the CONSUMER. The CONSUMER'S wants, needs and desires are the only things that matter. This actually makes tons of sense and isn't a new thing. The challenge is digging to the core of what the consumer wants and pushing aside everything else. "Everything else" can be disguised as something that looks good on the surface and can be easy to follow right off a cliff.
Here is a list of areas where you can be led off course, as I was for a full year.
"Strategy": Proper strategy should be LED by the consumer insight. Once you have an established business things can shift a bit. Strategy can then be led by what your business SHOULD do versus going back to what the consumer actually desires. An example of this is when brands over-expand into areas that aren't their core competency because it "strategically" makes sense. Think Gap expanding past their core of basics and then end up losing their identity as a brand. Trying to be everything to everyone. Make sure the "strategy" is based on a true consumer insight and not just made up!
Data: Data is great. I am a big believer in data. Data can often be interpreted in different ways though. You aren't seeing the true WHY around consumer decisions. You often have to make some assumptions as to why the data is coming back a certain way. Data is helpful to help support the insight you are seeing, but I struggle relying 100% just on data.
Personas: I am also a fan of personas to ground the team on the WHO. These can also be up for massive interpretation though. Do you know the DEEP insight on the consumer when it's posed as "an educated mom of 2 living in the suburbs who prefers natural products". Again, the DEEPER insight needs to be illuminated that ties to this persona versus solely relying on a generalized persona.
Too Many People & Ideas: Oftentimes your team is too big. You have too many people. Too many ideas. Too much wasted time trying to align everyone. It's interesting to take a step back in conversations and observe the different directions it takes. How one comment can derail an excellent line of thinking. I like Jeff Bezos' thought on a two pizza party team. You shouldn't have more people on the team than it would take to eat 2 large pizzas. Everyone is doing their best, but too many people leads to a total lack of focus. It's VERY hard to get a large group to all agree, as well. And if they all agree it might not be a breakthrough idea. It's likely a safe idea that isn't impactful.
So how do we overcome this? Get as close as you can to the consumer. Get in their homes. Observe them. In COVID times, do phone and video calls to hear their voices and mannerisms. Understand what else is going on in their lives outside of just your product. I doubt your product is the center of their lives. It's usually something they rarely think about, so try to grasp their full lives to see where your product actually fits in. How is it helping? Is it impactful or just so so?
This process takes more time at the outset, but leads to better outcomes. I just wasted a full year on a project and am embarrassed that I forgot a principle that I tell others. It is easy to do for the reasons I mention above. You THINK you're on the right trail, but you've actually been walking into the middle of nowhere. The deep consumer insights will never fail you. Don't take shortcuts!
I have a 1994 BMW 525i with 220K miles on it. I bought it used in 2002. I've had it so long that it has gone from "old" to "classic". I love it and represents something that is important on my entrepreneurial journey. Sacrifice.
I haven't had a car payment in 15 years. I see all those car payments and small investments in Sloane. Google ads. Inventory. Photo shoots. A nice fancy new car has an opportunity cost.
When you start a business you have to sacrifice.....a lot. Saying that you're founding a company and also have a nice house, nice car, go on over the top vacations and are a member of a country club just isn't a reality. Many people often can't fulfill their dream to start a company because their money is tied up.
There have been plenty of times where I thought it would be great to have a new car. I actually LOVE cars. I've loved them since I was a kid and dreamed of having something new and cool. I've had to push that dream to the because my Sloane dream is greater.
My BMW is just one example of the sacrifice I've had to make. I am a book called Peak by Chip Conley now. He was an innovator in the boutique hotel industry in the Bay Area. He said he went years without taking a salary when the economy tanked in the .com bust. YEARS! He said he had to borrow money from friends to make end meet. He went to Stanford undergrad and MBA! Can you imagine what that must have been like?
My BMW is a source of pride for me now. It's a great car and shows my commitment to Sloane. I don't care what other people care about my car. It's embarrassing sometimes because it's not in perfect shape anymore. A couple of the window no longer work. Whenever I get embarrassed I just think......is this embarrassment worth a $400 car payment? The answer is always no!
If you have desires to start a business make sure you save your money and think long and hard about longer term financial commitments. Those commitments could hamstring you and not allow you to have the money to get your business off the ground.
Pick wisely as you choose between what you WANT and what you NEED. I want a new BMW, but I NEED Sloane to keep progressing forward.
To be successful in business the needed characteristics often are portrayed to be directness, winning at all costs, focus on bottom line at all times and just overall being an asshole. That is one way to manage your career, but it feels super stressful and I doubt you'd have many friends. What's the point of being "successful" if everyone thinks you're a jerk.
I can see how this mentality forms by assuming that everyone else is out to beat you. That causes you to keep your thoughts close and not opening up. It creates a win - lose situation.....and you want to be on the winning side. You are in survival mode.
I had a recent experience that reminded me how important it is be the first to extend an olive branch to your employees, partners, vendors, etc. If you open yourself up first you dictate how the relationship will flow versus just assuming the other person is out to screw you. An influencer did a TikTok post that went viral. It got 435K+ views! He did it on his own and didn't have a relationship with Sloane ahead of time. He reached out and started a conversation with me and I had a couple of choices.
1) Selfish Approach: Thank him for doing the video. Offer him nothing and tell myself that I just got some amazing free advertising. This approach maximizes my short term profits, but limits the potential long term wins.
2) Long Term Thinking Approach: Thank him for doing the video. Pay him the commission that I offer current partners. Start a friendly relationship where I offer to help him and his business. Can Sloane do anything for him? I also asked some questions about TikTok because I am curious to learn more about the platform. A relationship is now formed.
Too many people look short term. They see things as a finite game of us versus them. They need to shift to an infinite game where they take into account what COULD happen in the long term by fostering the relationship. Simon Sinek has a great book called Infinite Game that dives deep into the topic. Having an infinite approach makes me feel more optimistic about how I approach everything in my business.
It's true that a small amount of people could take advantage of your kindness. It has happened to me, but it's in the very small minority. To have a short term approach just because a few people take advantage of you isn't worth it. The wins have far outweighed the losses. I also feel lighter and happier about life when approaching every decision with an infinite mindset.
People all in all are good. They are trying their best in life. Wouldn't it be great if you formed relationships with those people that benefited both sides? You can't assume that every relationship will pay off for you, but having an attitude of possibility can't do you wrong.