If there is any one secret of business success, it lies in the ability to get the your customer’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own. A famous quote from Henry Ford is “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” So it’s not always about what the customer wants. There are times when the customer didn’t know what they wanted until they saw it, and then they wanted, usually big time too.
How does somebody know what they want if they haven’t even seen it? Steve Jobs didn’t believe in focus groups. Actually, he avoided them like the plague. Jobs believed in building great products that he would want to use himself. To a large extent he had a point. For example, in 2010 how many of us would have asked for a third device in between a laptop and a smartphone? Most people would never have asked for an iPad, but once millions of consumers saw it, they couldn’t live without it, and it opened up entirely new categories of business applications. When I was doing research about the Apple Store, I learned that Jobs revolutionized the retail business because he asked better questions. For example, Jobs did not ask, “How do we build a better store than our competitors?” Instead he asked, “How do we reinvent the store?” Don’t do things better; do things differently.
But we aren’t all Steve Jobs, so most of us will start by doing some market research about our brilliant idea to solve a problem that, quite frankly at this stage, only we are concerned about fixing. We need to do some research. A really easy way to start is to use Google to see if our idea is getting many hits, ie. being searched by many people. For example, when I was researching my business to publish advertising over wi-fi networks, I used the Google keyword search to see how popular the subject was (see adwords.google.com) and could see that there was about 10,000 searches a month. At the time, I didn’t really know whether this was good or not but it gave me some sort of moral support because people were searching for this set of keywords. There’s a lot more to learn about Google’s keyword tool and I can only suggest that you go look yourself. For me, using the tool was a degree of validation about the idea of publishing advertising over wi-fi networks.
My next level of validation was to ask the industry. I trawled through LinkedIn for CEOs of advertising companies and digital media agencies. Of the 20 that I sent messages, 18 never bothered to respond, not even to tell me to rack off. One did feel sorry for me and agreed to meet. After spending 30 minutes explaining my idea and how I saw it could work, how I could attract customers and how it could scale, he basically said, “…what you are planning to do, no-one can do this at the moment”.
That was enough to get me to start my new business.