Open Letter to Aspiring Entrepreneurs: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Don’t create an earth-shattering, new product. Instead, succeed by making user-centric adjustments to existing products and services.
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While it's true that some figures have achieved this level of notoriety, the reality for 99 percent of entrepreneurs is very different. Their success is based not on creating an earth-shattering new product from scratch, but on learning what their customers want, making user-centric adjustments to existing products or services and providing it for them.
Visionaries redefining the market are few and far between.
It's likely you can rattle off the names of several legendary entrepreneurs without even thinking about it: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Elon Musk.
You know these names because they created things their respective markets had never seen before: the first computer with a graphical UI; a versatile operating system for the masses; and a zero-emissions car that combines outstanding range and luxury features, and is the first successful new American car company since Ford.
It stands to reason that entrepreneurial successes like these are at least partially tied to the inventiveness of a product or service itself, right? It's a tidy and compelling narrative, but it's far from the everyday reality of most successful businesses. One of the primary reasons why you know these names so well is because they are the exceptions and not the rule.
These leaders built their companies and their reputations on the backs of unparalleled product innovation, but that is far from the only path to entrepreneurial success. Assuming otherwise ignores the millions of business owners and the vast majority of brands across the world that have delivered immense value to customers without getting their names in the history books.
There is almost an infinite amount of existing products and services out there today that the market has already proven it demands, in some form or fashion. However, many entrepreneurs ignore the chance to capitalize on ways to simply improve those offerings and deliver better service to customers. In other words, the opportunity to create and capture value is all around us. We are just often blinded by the more glamorous appeal of reinvention.
Instead of viewing everything from a developer's perspective, approach problems from the customer's point of view.
Over the past decade, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) industry has exploded. As a result, many new entrepreneurs have backgrounds as trained software developers. These founders often get themselves into trouble when they become overly concerned with creating a product that has "revolutionary" features instead of just responding to their customers' needs and market realities. They become too consumed with "innovating" and forget to listen to what customers actually want.
Many of them have dreams of being the next Bill Gates, but the odds of that happening are low. However, if they can stop looking at entrepreneurial opportunities solely as inventors and instead focus their energies on solving customer problems, they will have the foundations of a company that can grow sustainably and delivers an outstanding experience to its users.
Over the years, we've realized that our customers, at Amerisleep, ultimately want a bed that's designed and engineered to improve their sleep quality so they wake up feeling refreshed. To do that, we've applied research, science and innovative technology to craft a mattress that directly addresses their needs by providing superior support and targeted pressure relief which facilitate a deeper and more restorative sleep.
We've also made eco-friendly manufacturing and delivery a core tenet of our business, which allows us to create more sustainable consumption habits and is something our customers highly value. Rather than reinvent the mattress, we made a range of beds that are well-suited for our customers and the environment.
When in doubt, ask.
So, how do you know what it is your customers are looking for?
It turns out that asking them, without a predetermined answer in mind, is a good place to start. This technique is part of a process known as "effectual reasoning," and it has been the basis of many successful businesses throughout history.
Many serial entrepreneurs get ideas for companies simply by interviewing other business owners or managers. To apply this to your business, ask your peers questions about their processes, needs and struggles. From this exercise, hopefully, you can arrive at some truths about your customers' pain points you can solve.
If it is feasible, all you have to do is ask the customer if they would be willing to buy a product that eases this pain and what it would be worth to them. If the answer is yes, then your nascent company has made its first informal sale.