Thursday, September 28, 2006

Moral Support is Cheap

A Canadian entrepreneur friend called from out of province Wednesday to get my reaction to his new web service. At first I was intrigued, but as I heard more about it, I began to develop more and more reservations. The concept didn't seem particularly new, the product seemd unfocused, and I didn't sniff any "specialness" about it.

In the crowded web space, that can be a recipe for failure. Or worse, for spinning your wheels for years - neither failing nor succeeding, but doing just well enough to encourage you to waste way too much time and money trying to make the thing work.

After hearing about the fourth or fifth major feature, I asked my pal what kind of market research he had done. How did he know which features people wanted? (Some seemed cool, but overall they appeared almost to be chosen at random. )

Well, he said, he'd given these features a lot of thought. Plus, he'll be putting it into beta-testing soon.

But, I asked, wouldn't it make more sense to do your research before you develop the product? Isn't that easier than going to all the trouble and expense of building a product and then seeing if it's what people want or need?

He was kind of annoyed by my attitude, I'm afraid. Everyone else who had seen the website, he told me, was very excited and positive about what he was doing. Naturaly I backed off, assuring him that I'm not the target market, I could be wrong, etc.

But startup entrepreneurs and innovators should remember that moral support is cheap. Lots of friends think they're doing you a service by being enthusiastic and encouraging, when what entrepreneurs really need is tough love and sincere feedback - whether they like it or not.

Me, I prefer to deal in the truth. I have seen too many businesses fail because the entrepreneurs didn't do their homework. The more planning, market research and testing you do, the more likely you are to succeed.

Once your company is up and running, you won't have time to iron out all the kinks - so don't be in such a hurry. Plan, research, test and repeat. The business you save could be your own.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick. You make an excellent point and it reminds me of something I experienced recently.

Last year, when I was editing a magazine about dogs, a local entrepreneur asked me to cover his new product: essentially, a dog poop picker-upper. He played up the unique design and its portability (it's meant for walks, not backyards).

I tried it out, and frankly, found it bulky, annoying to carry around and remarkably difficult to use, as it required very strong hands.

When I (delicately but honestly) told him how I felt, and that I would probably not cover his product in the magazine, he responded very defensively, telling me that all his friends and family has assured him the product was wonderful. He was not the least bit grateful for my feedback. Perhaps he realized it was probably too late to change the design.

I have yet to see the product in pet stores.