When entrepreneurs ask me for help, they usually fit into one of three categories. Regardless, the common thread is the desire to focus their entrepreneurial spirit and design a strategic path to success.
A Great Idea
The first category is the entrepreneur who is focused on “a great idea” for a business but has not proven the actual business model yet. In other words, they have not left the building and actually talked to potential customers. They have not communicated with customers to see if the idea for their product or service solves a problem or eliminates some pain. Additionally, they don’t know what potential customers will pay for the solution or if there is a profit for the entrepreneur.
Sometimes “great” ideas implemented without customer development turn into losing propositions because customers will not actually pay for the solution, or pay enough for it. Another way of looking at this is that the solution may be easy enough for the customer to implement themselves, and they don’t need to pay for it. This is something that can be easily missed. Or the entrepreneur has not discovered that another business is already selling a similar, but cheaper, product.
There is nothing that focuses the spirit of an entrepreneur better than the customer development journey. This process can save a business doomed to failure or propel a good idea to success faster.
An Idea with Legs
The second category of entrepreneur comes to me with an idea, but the idea has as many legs as an octopus! A product that has more than three versions from the get-go, and customers that fit into several diverse demographics, is going to be difficult to focus on. This is a surefire way to dampen the entrepreneurial spirit by fragmentation and will overwhelm even the most dynamic entrepreneur.
The solution is to pick two or three fairly similar versions of the product —even better, pick just one— and do customer development to find the best version to get started. Obviously, this will focus on real customers who are ready to pay with real money.
A start-up is challenging enough without having to juggle multiple products and markets. Be realistic; focus on one and make it successful. Then, talk to your existing and potential customers to find out if product extensions interest them. And listen to their feedback! Your customers might be willing to pay for a logical add-on product you haven’t even thought of yet.
Feedback like this from real customers is invaluable. Every entrepreneur should be excited about focusing on customer development. Stay jazzed about how customer development will keep you focused on your entrepreneurial mission, and your entrepreneurial spirit will stay alive and well.
If an entrepreneur has no clue as to what they want to do, you may ask, “Are they actually an entrepreneur?” I think they may be. However, this brand of entrepreneur is relatively new on my radar. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve been approached to help find the actual focus for the entrepreneurial pursuit, even before creating a strategy to implement the idea.
This third category of entrepreneur is someone who has the entrepreneurial spirit but doesn’t have the idea yet. So how to get them to focus on something they can do, want to do, are passionate about and are financially able to take on?
I start with having the would-be entrepreneur create two lists; excel works well, but don’t discount the back of an envelope or a paper napkin. List what you are good at (accomplished, expert, trained, etc.) and then list what you are really passionate and excited about. Then see where the two lists intersect. Voila!
For example, recent aspiring entrepreneur William came to me for mentoring and found his intersection between passion and expertise from the lists he created. He was passionate and knowledgeable about gardening, and he already had a Master Gardener credential. Starting a landscaping business seemed obvious, but the start-up costs, as well as the established and respected competition in the area, said to look further.
William identified the prevalence of water-intensive landscaping in his arid region and looked for ways to solve the need to intensively water during prolonged dry spells. Was rain collection viable? Could people be persuaded to try drought-resistant Zeriscape designs? Both of these business ideas might be a challenging, social engineering prospect, which William didn’t want to tackle. Would an innovative drip-irrigation device save water? William understood the mechanics, had an idea, and had the ability to create a prototype.
His opt-in was to publish a blog to gain credibility as the go-to person for water-scarcity problems in his area and other arid climates. His plan was to gain social traction and test his system prototype and business model on both his blog audience and those in the local community. He got out of the building, talked to his potential customers, and tried real-life testing of his prototype.
The entrepreneurial spirit is not limited to small business and start-up companies. It’s a state of mind. The process of focusing and creating new and innovative ways to solve problems, minimizing or deleting a “pain,” can be found anywhere; in a start-up, a small business, and sometimes even in those who have chosen a career in a corporate environment.
When you started your company or business, what type of entrepreneur were you?