Entrepreneurs: Pop Your Bubble and Talk To Customers

I’ve coached thousands of entrepreneurs as they explore their concepts and I have this conversation 80% of the time.  It goes like this:

Me: Have you talked to potential customers about your idea?

Them: No, I don’t want anyone to steal my idea.

My response:

The chance that someone you talk to has the passion and capacity to execute what you dream about is 1 million to one. The chance of being successful launching a business without talking to a potential customer is about the same.

Talking to potential customers is ESSENTIAL.  I cannot stress that enough.  If you only read this much of this post, I hope you digest that.

I tend to call this phenomenon the “Entrepreneurship Bubble.”  In an entrepreneur’s mind, the idea and concept work perfectly.  Everyone has this problem and everyone will pay for the entrepreneur’s solution. The entrepreneur will spend thousands of dollars developing this solution before getting a single potential customer’s input.  What tends to happen at this stage is once they feel comfortable sharing their solution, they realize one of three things:

  • It doesn’t actually solve the problem they thought it would
  • There aren’t enough end users this solution solves a problem for
  • No one will actually pay for this “solution”

Let’s take the example of the Segway.  This is a classic case of what I call a solution-based concept.  They had this great technology and simply assumed the market would buy it.  However, what problem does a Segway actually solve?  When they launched, they assumed people either did not want to walk or had trouble walking.

Well, let’s examine that for a minute.  Those people that have problems walking probably have physical and limited range of motion problems.  Would they really want to get on a wobbly device that could tip over at any minute?  I’ve personally been on a Segway and while they are fun, they are scary.  Here was Segway’s basic value proposition:

Problem: Individuals that cannot walk long distances due to physical limitations can use our product.

Solution: Get on this crazy wobbly and scary contraption so that if you do fall off of it, you will most certainly break something.

Let’s extend this even further and say people do not want to walk.  Are they willing to pay $5,000  to avoid walking? Is this a problem that is so painful the price point makes sense?  The answer was no.

While the technology is “cool” – it did not solve an actual customer problem.  One of the initial investors, John Doeer (backer of Netscape and Amazon), said it would be bigger than the Internet. The result? It took one year to sell the number of Segways they predicted to sell every two weeks.

Essentially, the Segway team invented a product in a bubble.  They didn’t ask potential customers about problems, price points, alternative solutions, etc.  They simply assumed their technology was awesome (which it is) and that people would buy it.  Just because a technology is “cool” does not mean it will sell.

As entrepreneurs, it is essential to get outside your bubbles and talk to real customers.  If you are apprehensive about talking about your solution, ask potential customers about their problems.  I’ve seen time and time again that the problems YOU think your potential customers have are not actually the problems they encounter.

Get out of your bubble and talk to people you don’t know. Don’t rely on friends, your friends will always tell you what you want to hear.  That’s why they are your friends. Get out into the market and ask about strangers’ problems.  When they tell you their problems, be sure to listen.  Pop that bubble.


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