Just because you built something cool does not mean that anyone will come look at it, buy it, or invest in it. This is mistake #2 in the top 20 entrepreneurial mistakes list.
I’m not saying that building something amazing is pointless…just that doing so is not the last effort. Marketing and business strategy is just as important as it ever was, if not more. The world does not seek out new solutions and arrive at your door as soon as your gadget or Website is announced. The world is too busy, and this situation will continue. Hang on – we’ll get into marketing strategy in a minute.
Too often, entrepreneurs or engineers build a better solution to a problem and wonder why it doesn’t take hold in the marketplace. The better solution is not as welcome in the consumer’s mind as folks might think. How often do you personally abandon your current products or services in order to try something better? It takes a serious improvement to make you switch, right? How about a serious drawback to your current solution? That helps make switching easier, too. The adoption of innovations is FAR greater, though, when the problem has not yet been solved. If no satisfactory solution exists for an important problem, then you might find the world beating a path to your door.
When deciding whether or not to pursue an idea, ask yourself what problem it’s really solving. If you have a reliable answer, then ask a bunch of other people who have the problem if they like your solution. Do this before you put much effort into your idea. You may learn that nobody cares or no one is willing to spend the right amount of money on your innovation. Then you will have saved time, money, and emotional pain. If you’re really smart, and good at inventing things, then you should be smart enough to realize that market research is like a scientist’s field data. It can – and should – invalidate your hypothesis that you have created something with business potential. Of course, you may also find that everyone you speak to is foaming at the mouth to get a hold of your wonderful creation. That would be great!
Have you ever seen a comedy sketch where the players act out a commercial for a fake product? Commonly, the fake product is something only marginally useful. How about a cell phone case that also holds your money and credit cards? At first blush it sounds somewhat interesting…until you realize that you’ll be holding your wallet up to your face in the middle of the Chicago Loop about 10 times per day…as if to say “Would you rob me, please?” Not so good.
The reason silly inventions are fodder for comedy is because we’ve all seen them…and all find it entertaining that a bad idea would have good effort behind it. We ask our friends “Someone ACTUALLY MADE that?!?” and have a good laugh. Maybe we even take a picture of it on the store shelves and send it around. How did all this happen? Some entrepreneur thought it was a good enough idea to spend valuable time bringing it to market. My guess is that they figured it was a good product and therefore the world would embrace it. Chances are good that thorough market research was not a part of the startup efforts. Ugghhh…I wouldn’t want to be that person.
Ok – I assume you get the point. Don’t build things that nobody wants. What about the truly valuable things that still don’t succeed? That’s the real entrepreneurial mistake. Perfectly good solutions need to be placed in front of the people who need them. Simply building the solution does not make it sell…and without sales you haven’t solved any of the world’s problems. You’ve just created a big one for yourself and your investors.
There is far too much information swirling around everyone these days. This makes it harder for good solutions to get noticed. One advantage of the massive information flow, however, is that it is easier than ever to discover connection points with your target market. Let’s give ourselves a product to work with here…how about a nice little iPhone app that plans all the drop-off and pick-up times for your daughter’s soccer games? This is certainly useful for those parents who need to make these schedules. Go ahead and build it, and then put it in the App Store. Watch it not sell.
Why didn’t it get 2,000 downloads in the first week (or month or year)? There are plenty of parents with iPhones with children who play after-school sports, right? Yes. There are plenty of people who would prefer to have an app keep track of the schedule instead of using Post-It notes on the family whiteboard, right? Yes again. What went wrong is customer awareness. All those parents were not – and are still not – aware that your wonderful solution exists. You were caught in a Field of Dreams mindset and you figured they would somehow stumble across it and buy it. That didn’t happen because they weren’t looking in the App Store to solve their problem. They won’t start doing that, either.
The way to gather sales for your app is the same way you would gather sales for any other product. You will need to reach your target market actively instead of passively. Try reaching out to the administrators of the soccer clubs or the team coaches. They have direct access to the parents who will care about your app, and they might even help you spread the word because they would prefer to have more players arriving and leaving on time. Now you’re reaching your market!
The growing mobile apps industry made me want to write this article. I’ve seen too many appreneurs1 losing money recently because they forgot that an app is just a tiny software business. It still needs the business part of the formula. You must market your apps the way Proctor & Gamble markets its consumer goods. By reaching the people who will want to buy them.
The lesson here is to remember that an engineering mindset can get your innovation built, but that alone will not lead to success. If you build it, they still won’t come…unless they want it and they know about it. Think about how you are going to reach your target market before you spend a significant part of your life running with a turd toward the finish line. The planning you do will pay great dividends later on, and it may even help you overcome some other entrepreneurial mistakes (such as #1 where you don’t share your equity because you think you can do everything alone).
1 The term “appreneurs” is what Jeb Ory uses to describe entrepreneurs making mobile apps. Ask him – he loves talking about it.
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