Understanding Your Customer

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Becoming and Entreprenuer

First Steps to Better Understanding Your Customer

As an Entrepreneur with a new idea, the number one thing you can do to increase your chances of success is to get a understanding your customer. It helps to know some personally, or to have come from amongst their ranks. Minus that personal connection, you are wise to dive in and get to know their frustrations, pain, joys, successes and daily routines. Anything that will give you an insight into an opportunity missed.

Understanding Your Customer - First 3 Steps:

What are the first steps to gaining the better understanding of your customer?

  1. Research - Google is your friend. I am often amazed at how much knowledge about a market can be assembled quite rapidly with appropriate use of Google Search. A few years back I compiled a comprehensive list of every retailer in the USA that carried a particular sports equipment category. It took me the better part of a day, however that list allowed me to develop the contacts necessary to build a decent sized wholesale business. Start out your research by determining who your customers might be. If retail, get an idea of forums, blogs and podcasts your consumers frequent. If B2B assemble your list.
  2. Interviews - Once I have a known list of potential customers it is time to locate a few who are willing to go out for lunch or coffee and talk about their hopes and dreams. What pain are they facing? What is hard to do? Are their tools or services they wish existed? Have a well thought out list of questions you want to answer. I find it is often easier to just get them talking about their business or if direct retail, then their daily lives, and then ask clarifying questions.
  3. Use the Competition - Find a way to get your hands on the competitions products or services. You need to understand their features, strengths and weaknesses and the best way to gain that is to actually use it.

As a future topic I will delve into the tricks I use to really leverage Google search to better understand customers. Each of these first 3 steps should be a full blown podcast or post, and I am all but certain you have questions. I would love to hear them, so leave a comment and I will do my best to answer.

Entrepreneur Reading List

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Reading List and Homework

Entrepreneur Reading List - Part 2

In part one of my Entrepreneur Reading List series I covered The Four Hour Work Week and The Lean Startup. In this installment I am going down a slightly different path, rather than focusing on efficiency these two are based around brand development, another critical skill for entrepreneurs.

Branding Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

Brand Bible The Complete Guide to Building Designing & Sustaining Brands

I cannot overstate the importance of brand development, regardless of whether you are creating consumer facing products. The core principals are critical to your success. This book might have a grandiose title, but it is a very good guide to understanding brand development.

From the Publisher. A comprehensive resource on brand design fundamentals. It looks at the influences of modern design going back through time, delivering a short anatomical overview and examines brand treatments and movements in design. You'll learn the steps necessary to develop a successful brand system from defining the brand attributes and assessing the competition, to working with materials and vendors, and all the steps in between. The author, who is the president of the design group at Sterling Brands, has overseen the design/redesign of major brands including Pepsi, Burger King, Tropicana, Kleenex, and many more.

Designing B2B Brands

As an Entrepreneur you need to understand the subtlety of branding and the biggest gap in knowledge for most people is around B2B brand development.

From the Publisher. Get tactical insight from the top business-to-business branding experts and gain a global presence This comprehensive manual lays out the steps necessary for creating an iconic global identity. It uses the lessons and inside knowledge of Deloitte, the world's largest professional services organization, to help other business-to-business operations deliver a high-impact, value-added brand experience. This book will illustrate all the components of an integrated brand identity system, and how they can be crafted and implemented for optimal effect. Here, the speculative is replaced by the proven: a seamless framework for global brand success, created and followed by an organization renowned for its consulting and advisory services. Features essential up-to-date strategies for keeping your brand fresh and enduring Addresses the role of designers; the marketing and communication function; human resources and talent teams; agencies and vendors; and more Considers the impact of digital and social media, two massive forces requiring new thinking for B2B brands Incorporates best practices for emerging markets With guidance that takes you on a clear, linear path toward achieving your brand objectives, this impressive single-source volume is the one book no business marketing professional should be without.

How Brands Become Icons The Principles of Cultural Branding

This is my favorite of these books and one I find myself constantly referencing. The concept of the "identity myth" is a critical one to grasp. The most powerful brands on earth all have mastered this and it shows in their control of their respective markets.

From the Publisher. Coca-Cola. Harley-Davidson. Nike. Budweiser. Valued by customers more for what they symbolize than for what they do, products like these are more than brands--they are cultural icons. How do managers create brands that resonate so powerfully with consumers? Based on extensive historical analyses of some of America's most successful iconic brands, including ESPN, Mountain Dew, Volkswagen, Budweiser, and Harley-Davidson, this book presents the first systematic model to explain how brands become icons. Douglas B. Holt shows how iconic brands create "identity myths" that, through powerful symbolism, soothe collective anxieties resulting from acute social change. Holt warns that icons can't be built through conventional branding strategies, which focus on benefits, brand personalities, and emotional relationships. Instead, he calls for a deeper cultural perspective on traditional marketing themes like targeting, positioning, brand equity, and brand loyalty--and outlines a distinctive set of "cultural branding" principles that will radically alter how companies approach everything from marketing strategy to market research to hiring and training managers. Until now, Holt shows, even the most successful iconic brands have emerged more by intuition and serendipity than by design. With How Brands Become Icons, managers can leverage the principles behind some of the most successful brands of the last half-century to build their own iconic brands. Douglas B. Holt is associate professor of Marketing at Harvard Business School.

Notice that each of these three branding books is not design focused. Look and Feel effect the brand identity, however they do not define it. Just as how you dress affects how people perceive you but does not define you. Nurturing your brand identity as you develop your next project is one if not the most important part of being a successful entrepreneur. Hopefully this installment of the Entrepreneur Reading List helps you.

Top 5 Entrepreneur Podcasts for 2016

My Favorite Entrepreneur Podcasts

This site is largely dedicated to the Success U Entrepreneur Podcasts. In making that program, and generally, I listen to quite a few others, as well as read many books and blogs. Here is the list of my favorite entrepreneur podcasts in 2016 and a few other shows I enjoy and want to share.

The Top 5 Entrepreneur Podcasts

In no particular order here are the 5 top entrepreneur podcasts I am listening to in 2016

  • The Impact Entrepreneur - Host Mike Flynn engages in evocative conversations with entrepreneurs, going beyond success and failure and into the reasons behind the story. This is a very new, well produced and ambitious show. I have added it to my itunes subscriptions.
  • The School of Greatness is a must listen. The host, Lewis Howes is a New York Times Bestselling author, a lifestyle entrepreneur, high performance business coach and keynote speaker.  He was recognized by The White House and President Obama as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in the country under 30. He has accomplished greatness repeatedly and the show is very inspirational.
  • The Rv Entrepreneur I like the description by host Heath Padget: "Living and traveling in an RV used to be only for retirees or the occasional family vacation. But over the past few years there has been a new movement of young RVers who have intentionally chosen to live with less stuff, be mobile, and take their lives on the road. This podcast is for people who are interested in downsizing their life, creating remote income, and working from anywhere." There are great lessons to glean from this show. it is not the lifestyle I have chosen, and maybe not for you either, but many of the concepts are ones I agree with fully. And in most ways I think becoming a successful entrepreneur starts with cutting the necessities of your life down to the essentials.
  • Startup Podcast What it is really like to start a business. Currently in their third season, their is a treasure trove of great knowledge in their catalog. Turning your ideas into reality is the hardest part of business. it is what separates actual entrepreneurs from regular thinkers and this podcast goes deep into creating your business.

Other Podcasts related to Entrepreneurship

  • We Study Billionaires - The Investors Podcast - Hosts, Preston Pysh and Stig Brodersen, research and study the habits, traits and reading lists of billionaires. To use their own words: "We believe success leaves clues. Our job is to define the critical habits and elements that successful people share and bring them to our audience."
  • The Art of Charm - I only found this podcast recently, and have already found it to be worth the listen. They claim "You’ll learn our top strategies to improve your career, confidence, lifestyle and love-life from top experts like life and business-hackers Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi and Noah Kagan to Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Olivia Fox, The Art of Charm team and more."

Not Entrepreneur Podcasts but worth listening

  • Faking it - The Podcasts? I am not entirely sure how to sum up this podcast other than to say it is based on the maker community... Other than that you'd just have to listen.
  • Stuff to Blow Your Mind - Futurism, transhumanism, mind blowing science and technology all brought to light in this podcast from Howstuffworks.com.
  • Still Untitled :the Adam Savage Project - One of my favorite shows of all time, Mythbusters, is no longer filming. Thankfully one of the hosts, Adam Savage, has not slowed down and this podcast is one of his current projects. It seems that nothing is off limits for this show, and that is one of the great things about it.

If there is an entrepreneur podcast or other show you think is great and want to share, post a comment and tell everyone about it.

Becoming and Entrepreneur – First Steps

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Becoming and Entreprenuer

Becoming an Entrepreneur

Becoming an entrepreneur is a perilous voyage, and the first motions in that direction are critical to arriving at your goal intact. The hardest step of any journey is often the first one.

I have spent the vast majority of my life traveling that road. Frequently I question the choices that lead to this course. Maybe there was a simpler, nicer, cleaner route through life. Might there be the possibility of joy and fulfillment down a route I passed by?

Questioned yes, but regretted never. It is a life not everyone is suited for, but most people can do it.

Being an entrepreneur - A warning

Being an entrepreneur, is not an easy journey. To succeed it takes dedication, commitment and a high tolerance for failure. Never should this direction be chosen on a whim. That hard step, turning the course of your entire life to a singular goal, is terrifying for most people. The serial entrepreneurs I know have never felt that fear. I am not sure if we choose to ignore it or lack the intelligence to understand the overwhelming odds and risks we face.  I don't remember any other choice. Opportunities present themselves if you know how to see them, and either you take them through, you half ass it (guaranteeing failure), or you skip it entirely.

My beginning has the air of legend, at least within my family. I was too young for me to trust my memory of the events, so I will tell it as has been reported to me.

My first ever 'business', a sign of the future course of my life, happened when I was in daycare. I had learned to make origami items, and other children were eager to obtain them, so I started selling them to the other kids for a quarter. Rapidly, the demand outpaced my ability to supply them, so I made the logical conclusion that I could pay some of the other youngsters to make them for less than I sold them to the others. I went so far as to create a catalog (pretty sure it was rendered with crayon). Evidently the overseers, frowned on me charging others for the items, and they talked my parents into helping end my fledgling operation. Undeterred, I pivoted to charging the kids to teach them how to do origami.

My next significant adventure in entrepreneurial pursuits, occurred only a few years after the first. I was at church camp that my grandparents ran. Following each camp group (roughly every week) they would have a end of term party, with balloons etc. Grandma paid my brother and I a few bucks to do clean up after the parties. As it turns out one of the items that was banned at camp, was water balloons. So, rather than popping them we untied and pocketed each of the balloons during cleanup. We'd fill the balloons and sell them to campers. As it turned out, contraband is lucrative. I used that knowledge to start a string of ventures during elementary and middle school. I bought candy in bulk and resold it by the individual piece. Occasionally some new fad would catch on and I'd repeat the process with that toy or item. Yo-Yo's, fireballs, even toothpicks soaked in cinnamon oil. At an early age I learned the value of the supply and demand curve, and developed a fairly keen sense of where the market was heading, and picking out opportunities early.

I am using my origin story to illustrate a few important lessons I learned early on.

  1. I never made a large bet, each attempt had minimal downside, and a low initial overhead. I was able to enter each market with a limited outlay, and my profit potential was high, but limited as well.
  2. I was always responding to an existing, unmet, market demand. Never did I rush in with an idea or product that was not already demonstrating a strong draw.
  3. I always knew my market and customers, never tried selling to someone outside of my peers and sphere of influence.
  4. Never, was I afraid of failing, not once did I put in place a fallback. If something disrupted the market, I adjusted to that new environment.

In very simple terms a successful entrepreneur needs to:

  1. Minimize risk
  2. Identify and respond to the market
  3. Know your customer
  4. Plan only for success but be willing and able to adapt

What should be your first steps as an entrepreneur? You should learn to identify problems that have not been solved. In my examples it was pent up demand with no outlet. Since then I have also learned that the problem can be summed up as friction in any market. Something that slows down transactions from happening at the speed of thought.

You rarely need to invent something new, often the best approach is improving an existing product. Knowing what defines an improvement means understanding the customers and the pain they have with the existing offering. To be successful, you only need to get this right, once, if it is the right opportunity. Everything else you need to learn can be developed on the fly. Chasing the wrong thing never works out, so developing the ability to identifying opportunity is a critical skill.

With my podcast coming back, the first episode of the new series will focus on the dissecting the success of the iPod and iPhone. That story is illustrative of how one brilliant entrepreneur was able to tweak an existing product and turn it into something revolutionary, and I think gives a great place to focus attention as you start your own journey as an entrepreneur.