Mils-Thank you for the post! The more I think about how blindsided entrepreneurs can be by their own passion and belief in their idea, the more I think about the valuable experience I had in PM 101. The professor knew we were in the class with an idea that we ‘knew’ worked and some of the feedback we received was “You and Sarah are clearly in love with your idea.” It was very easy for us to jump into the mindset of “we know best” but, through the class, we had to interview multiple people and come up with a persona we were building our product for. Reflecting back on the exercise, it was a really tangible way of building a product/service for the target customer (vs. ourselves). I think building a product for a ‘persona,’ as tedious as the exercise may seem, is a really valuable way to distance one’s personal feelings about the venture and truly build what is right for the customer.
Rodolfo-Thanks for your post! I completely agree with this – the only failure is failing to extract some lessons from one’s venture. The only thing I would add is that, entrepreneurs, especially in early stage ventures probably know when their start-up is about to fail. I think analyzing what one can do to make it something that you are proud of before you leave is crucial when we talk about how not to fail.
Upasana – thank you for the thought-provoking questions! I think a generalizable lesson (for us at least) would be to start with the least complex model or product, experiment and learn lessons, and scale from there. In undertaking the multi-cultural hair market, we were trying to optimize, for well, pretty much every style (Braids-we did it! Weaves-we can do it! Extensions-yes we can do that too! Blowouts? Of course!…you get the picture) It quickly became apparent to us that every stylist specializes on very different things, which forced us to recruit stylists as quickly as possible. Had we started with the most common hairstyle that can be done by a wide variety of stylists, we could have chosen the stylists much more carefully by thinking about their capacity, availability, location, etc. On the customer end, I definitely think that once you have decided who the customer is, the customer is king since they have the ability to make or break your business.
Thanks Caitlin! You are right that this is a chicken and egg problem. We were able to leverage the HBS network to establish partnerships with bigger brands (for example an HBS alum that worked at Sephora was able to make an introduction that secured in-kind sponsorship for us) which helped us establish credibility even as a small start-up. Once we had the credibility of a bigger brand, it was easier for us to say we are a small start-up but “gaining significant traction, have even secured sponsorship from X and expecting customer orders in the next two weeks of Y.” This way, even if the customer orders don’t go through, you worded it as an expectation, not a promise.
Lynn – Thank you for your post! As I read your post, I thought about a male guest’s advise to our PM 101 class: ‘Fake it till you make it,’ which I think is telling of how men and women perceive the entrepreneurial challenges they undertake. If we buy Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk “Fake it till you become it/Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” the ‘fake it till you make/become it’ mentality changes your psychology, behavior, and perception of yourself in a way that enables the individual to succeed. To my surprise, many of the male guests in our various classes have accelerated their businesses by exaggerating their capabilities and/or selling a product that doesn’t yet exist, a proposal that not one of the female protaganists have proposed. Just like Amy Cuddy was able to start a movement in how people (mostly women) perceive themselves by adjusting their body language, I wonder how many more women entrepreneurs and successes we would have in society if we trained women with entrepreneurial aspirations to ‘fake it till they make it.’ I agree that this run contrary to our societal norms, but nevertheless, it would be an interesting experiment to run.
If anyone is interested in Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk, here it is: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en
Eric thank you for your post! Your point rings especially true after today’s case on Pixamo/HitBliss. The founders experienced ‘record’ growth within a few months and modeled financials after the success and apparent virality of their product. However, after a closer look at their customer acquisition strategy (essentially having users tag pictures of non-users, who would inevitably sign up in order to access photographs they are in), it was clear that the desired growth numbers would be fairly easy to hit-the bigger question and threat that could undermine the business was actually the competitive landscape. Pixamo’s competitive advantage was the tagging feature – although the growth in the use of the product may have indicated market potential, Facebook already had the customer base and could easily introduce the tagging features, essentially rendering Pixamo worthless. Sharon Peyer and Andrew Prihodko were lucky to have sold Pixamo, but they could have easily winded up in a situation where seemingly positive metrics could have dictated the decisions they took, when in fact, the basis of their decision should have been dictated by other factors.
Thanks for your post Enke! I love this–Given that the beauty industry is dominated by male management and male executives (these figures posted are shocking: (http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/2014_WomenCompanies5.png), I cannot wait to see how a women led skincare brand/company will shake up the industry standards and norms.