Where to Start? Always Start With Customers!

March 11, 2009 · Posted in business, economics, entrepreneurship, innovation, mindset · Comment 

I recently taught a short introduction to Predictive Innovation class for a group of design students at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). One of the students listed his biggest problem as, “not knowing where to start.” He had a product idea and hundreds of ways to approach it but he didn’t know how to begin to get it to market.

I must apologize to that student because I did not clearly answer his question. The correct answer of where to start is always, “Start With Customers!”

Outcome diagram the customers’ desires. Find the most pressing must be satisfied outcome then base your product and marketing around that desire. Make sure there are enough customers you can reach and who will pay for the product or service you plan to offer. If you can, pre-sell your product to them. Use their up front commitment to get financing to develop the product. That might mean actually having them pay or it might mean showing the width and depth of demand to investors.

Figure out what products the customers already own or use and try to use those as resources to develop your product. If they already own items that perform 80% of the tasks then its much easier for you to be an add-on rather than reinventing the wheel. For instance if they have a laptop with a USB connector then you can get power for your device from their laptop battery. Or you can use the keyboard and screen of their laptop to see and change settings in your small USB device.

Figure out all the desires that your product or future or generations of your product could satisfy. Look at the lifetime value of the customer relationship.

If you’re planning to partner with another company to get your product to market they are your customers as much as the end consumer. Draw the outcome diagram for all the desires related to buying and selling your product. Make sure you satisfy those outcomes.

The particulars of manufacturing or a design alternative over another are just details. The most important thing to remember, “Start With Customers.”

What’s Your Market Share? Yes!

December 19, 2006 · Posted in abundance, advertising, competition, copyright, mindset, sharing · 1 Comment 

When I was trying to raise money for my last business venture, Viral Video Solutions, the one question that always came up regarding the business plan was “What’s your market share?” And when they asked that question I knew they didn’t get it and that there was no point talking any further. We didn’t care about market share. Viral media is all about sharing. We had videos on Google Video, iFilm, Yahoo, YouTube, BitTorrent sites, iTunes, everywhere and anywhere. So our answer to what’s your market share was yes.

Old scarcity based thinking looks at getting the biggest slice of pie. In an abundance based model we make the pie bigger. We don’t compete with people we work together to make more for everyone.

Worrying about doing better than someone else is short sighted. Being king of a garbage heap still stinks. The path to exponential growth is setting your goals on doing better than ever before.

Fighting over a limited market or resource ends up causing diminishing returns. It’s really paying twice for something. If your competitor has created a market and built value then you spend time and energy taking it all you have done is paid for something that your competitor already bought. It might be cheaper for you than making it yourself but nothing new is being created. It’s a downward spiral that ends with you and your competitor loosing.

As Steve Rubel says, “Bloggers Should Think Co-op-etition, Not Competition.”

I’ve personally seen the benefits of co-op-etition. A website took one of my videos and posted it to Google Videos along with a link to their web site. They promoted it very well and that copy of my video received hundreds of thousands of views. I’m sure they got a lot of visitors to their site from doing that.

Was I upset at them using my content? No. I posted the same video two years earlier and now, no one was watching the copy I posted. This new copy sparked new interest and I received 20,000 extra visitors to my web site. It cost me nothing. The other site benefited, I benefited and a whole lot of viewers benefited.

Another example of co-op-etition is how I participate in Revver.com. Our videos have a short commercial play at the end. Revver splits the revenue with me. But if I share another Revver producers video I get 20% affiliate commission. There is a web video series that is a knock off of my show. I had been upset but when I discovered their videos were on Revver.com I immediately posted their videos to my site.

If they copied my show then my viewers would enjoy their show. By offering my viewers more videos they might like I was increasing the value of my web site. Plus I get the 20% affiliate commission and I don’t have to produce the video. The competitor still gets their 50% commission. Everyone wins.

So, I look for ways to help everyone in everything I do. I much rather swim in an endless ocean than own a stagnating puddle. How about you?

Action Items

  • Find one thing a competitor does a whole lot better than you and tell others about it.
  • Identify ways to increase value or create new value for consumers
    • I’m a Sci-Fi Character

      November 29, 2006 · Posted in innovation, mindset, productivity, sharing · 1 Comment 

      Some times I forget how unusual my life is. My friend and business partner, The Shad0w, creator of BitTornado, and I were recently talking about copyrights, the RIAA, abuses of the legal system and methods for fixing the problem. Mind you I have only seen Shad0w face to face once when we happened to be traveling through the same city at the same time. Anyways we were talking about a way for small down trodden people to do a little legal judo to stop the abusive lawsuits of the RIAA. The solution I came up with was an automated system of filing legal proceedings to tie up the RIAA and cause them to loose a bunch of money attacking unemployed people, grandmothers and 12 year old girls. We could make the whole thing free to access by anyone that needed it and create the legal equivalent of a distributed denial of service attack. Yes, that is the type of stuff we idly chat about.

      Anyways, Shad0w said that the idea wasn’t new and that science fiction author Charles Stross invented the concept in his book Accelerando. You can buy the book on Amazon.com or just download a copy because it is published under a Creative Commons license. Shad0w Instant Messaged me a link, I download a copy and start listening to it using a text to speech program then tap the keystrokes to switch to a different computer to continue writing software for one of my clients, again who is in another state and for whom I do all my work remotely.

      As I bounce between online chats, software I’m writing on one computer and 25 different browser windows and checking the movie I downloaded because it was out of print and none of the rental places had a copy when I realized this book could have been written about me. This book is suppose to be science fiction and the character is suppose to be fanciful yet I am doing much of what the character in the book is doing. Wow, I didn’t realize my life could be the basis for a science fiction novel. But maybe the “truth is stranger than fiction” adage is true.

      I live in a house that I basically got for free by using my credit cards to buy it in a repossession auction and renting out the other two apartments of the triplex. I exist in a virtual world having several Instant Messenger accounts, blogs, websites and a cell phone. My physical mail goes to one of 3 addresses and is forwarded to where I happen to be at the time. I create at least one new business model or invention everyday and file them away because I don’t have time to pursue them. I hang out with models, movie stars and talk with technology luminaries such as Eric S. Raymond and Bruce Schnerier on a daily basis. A lot of this happens because I structured my life so that I didn’t have to be in one particular place at a particular time. If someone invited me to do something I would say yes and do it.

      What I have done is escape the limits of time and space. That is very sci-fi.

      I don’t exactly recommend my life style for everyone. There are lots of advantages and disadvantages, but that is the nature of beta software. Pick and choose elements that work for you. The big concept to grasp is there are lots of other ways of doing things. Even what you might believe is out of the realm of possibility could be normal for someone else, and for you if you choose.

      Action Items:

      • Download a podcast of an NPR program and while listening to the show Google for topics mentioned and read about details not covered.
      • Try pausing the audio while reading, or rewinding if you miss something, and try just keeping up.
      • Make a list of things you have done or could do that benefit the world as a whole and you can’t easily sell.