- Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and the author of “Entrepreneurial You.”
- She says entrepreneurs often make the mistake of pursuing an idea for a product without first checking if customers would use it.
- The key is to listen to what people say they need, and to find out what you’re uniquely capable of providing for them.
It’s hard to admit you’re wrong — especially when the thing you’re supposedly wrong about is something you’ve spent time, money, and energy on. How delicious it would be if you ultimately left all the naysayers dumbfounded when you actually perfected that coffee-infused-pancake recipe you’ve been working on since high school.
But here’s the thing. Are you currently pursuing this project because you can’t bear to kill your darlings? Or because you’ve carefully deduced a gap in the market that you are uniquely capable of filling?
No need to answer right away. But it’s something every aspiring entrepreneur should be thinking about, all the time.
So says Dorie Clark, a marketing and strategy consultant, an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and the author of “Entrepreneurial You.”
On an episode of the Art of Charm podcast, Clark suggested that entrepreneurs can easily make the mistake of throwing time and money at a seemingly brilliant idea without listening to what their intended customers actually want.
Clark shared a story that illustrates this lesson, drawn from “Entrepreneurial You.” Bozi Dar (a pseudonym) was an executive at a Fortune 500 biotech company. On the side, he experimented with creating apps. Clark writes in the book:
“Dar’s first product was an app that helped people change their mood by looking at their personal photos paired with music. It was a cool idea, but he’s convinced the reason it failed is that ‘I started my app not really testing whether there is a problem [that customers wanted solved], not testing what is my audience, not testing whether anyone was even searching for a solution. I just fell in love with my idea, started putting money and time into it, and it never worked.'”
On the Art of Charm podcast, Clark said:
“As he was smarting from the wounds of losing all this money and having his entrepreneurial venture not really succeed, he started paying attention to what people actually kept asking about. And in his case, he had been promoted a lot at work, for whatever reason, his magic combination of skills. He kept getting promotions like clockwork, just moving up in the organization.
“And people started seeking him out and saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing? This is really cool. You’re doing something. I want to learn it.’ … He decided instead to do an online course, but it was one that was focused specifically on this question: How do you get promoted? How do you get more successful at your job and move up the ladder?
“When he created that, it was almost an immediate fit because that was something that people already wanted it from him. He knew that there was a market, and so he’s been able to be hugely successful.”
Like Clark, life and business coach Tony Robbins advises entrepreneurs not to fall in love with their product idea, as Business Insider’s Richard Feloni reported. Too many new entrepreneurs make the mistake of ignoring changes in their demand from their customer base because they’re so caught up in their first product, Robbins told Feloni.
Importantly, Dar never quit his day job at the biotech firm.
Dar’s experience sounds somewhat similar to design thinking, a five-step process that’s typically used by engineers, but can also be used to solve problems in your personal life. The final two steps in design thinking are “prototype” and “test and get feedback from others.”
In Dar’s case, he prototyped — built the mood-changing app — and got feedback from others — this is not something useful right now. Fortunately, he listened to that feedback and cut his losses before it was too late (though he still lost some money).
The lesson here is not to be afraid to change course. Sometimes the best ideas are right there in front of us — and because of pride or stubbornness, we’re oblivious to them. Save yourself a headache down the road, and don’t make that mistake.