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Designing Business for Customers Instead of Cash Flow

Inc. logo Inc. 7/6/2017 Rhett Power
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How well-known entrepreneurs learned this lesson in their earliest ventures.

Have a great idea for a new product or service? That's a good start, but figuring out how to sell that product or service to consumers is equally important -- and arguably more difficult.

Some of today's most successful and well-known entrepreneurs learned this lesson in their earliest ventures and are known for their failures almost as much as their big breaks.

Before Twitter co-founder Evan Williams reached his current success, he spent time working on a podcasting platform known as Odeo. It never took off, despite the existence of a viable market through Apple's then-newly released podcast section in the iTunes store.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman first envisioned an online dating and social networking site named SocialNet, but he couldn't bring it to life. The current prevalence of these websites certainly indicates market viability, but perhaps not when they're combined.

Lack of market adoption is a regrettably common thread contributing to entrepreneurial failure. Fortunately, there are resources that can help entrepreneurs and industry leaders predict consumer desires and market response before they reach the launch phase. Following these suggestions might avert a memorable failure on the path to success:

1. Embrace focus groups.

The quantity of data being recorded suggests that everything can be calculated, and it can -- to a certain degree. Ultimately, however, consumers are people, not numbers, which means focus groups can be a powerful tool for both new ideas and feedback on current ones.

The term "focus group" was coined in 1956; the idea was put into practice to create propaganda materials. Today, the immediate insights and personal nature of the focus group ensure it remains a compelling source of information, even as the collection method has evolved.

Market intelligence technology firms such as iResearch have emerged to help provide an on-demand platform for reaching key audiences around the world. Founder and CEO Darshan Mehta points out that "more companies are coming to the realization that insight-driven decision-making is the key to innovation and differentiation."

Focus groups, however they're reached, are crucial to narrowing target marketing and tapping into unbiased views and opinions. Creating a virtual focus group to test ideas for things such as product development or pricing can be a great way to start a valuable discussion without inconveniencing members, employees, or consumers.

2. Look at data as the voice of the consumer.

According to Airbnb's Riley Newman, data science is merely the interpretation of the consumer's voice. Airbnb uses consumer data for everything from "designing for trust" and acting as the "mutual friend" between two strangers meeting for the first time to tailoring its search engine to display the most relevant and desirable results.

Guests aren't the only customers for Airbnb -- in fact, they're only half the equation. The company also uses data to help improve the outcome for hosts, making sure guest accommodation requests align with host preferences while helping the latter maximize occupancy.

When looking through data, try to avoid being blinded by merely maximizing revenue. Instead, look at the people behind the numbers, and work to make sure everyone who interacts with the business comes away from the experience happier. Satisfaction forms lasting relationships, whether they're with customers, suppliers, or employees.

3. Fix problems that have become status quo.

The relationship between landlords and tenants is ripe with opportunities for disappointment. Whether it's a renter who always forgets one or two bills or a property manager who can't manage multiple properties, potential tenants and owners have always eyed one another dubiously before entering into any sort of contract.

Rent My Way, which is essentially the LinkedIn for renters. Founder Kassandra Rose is on a mission "to show that the commodity is ineffective communication." Her platform seeks to provide a relationship management tool that can verify renters to landlords and vice versa. The company demonstrates how providing a solution that benefits both landlords and tenants is preferable to designing a tool for one group or the other.

4. Take advantage of social media.

Social media has transformed -- once a virtual megaphone for companies trying to reach their target audience, it's now an educational tool that illustrates for businesses who their target audiences really are.

New technologies are allowing companies to sift through the vast number of interactions on social media to determine what's useful -- not just from a marketing perspective, but for product development as well.

Utilizing listening tools that comb sources such as Facebook and Twitter can help in gaining valuable customer feedback to fix pain points and ensure the best customer experience possible. Hootsuite, for example, compiles posts from a variety of networks to help track who's talking about a company, making it easier to find and join in the conversations.

It takes more than a good product to find success. Identifying a market need is vital, and it requires a concerted effort to truly get to know a target audience. By learning what people want and focusing on delivering it, success will be far more attainable.

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