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.

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.