The importance of doing the right thing

I was recently speaking with a successful entrepreneur selling enterprise software. During our discussion he mentioned that he hadn’t predicted the very fast growth that his company experienced over the last year. Digging a bit deeper, it emerged that the company had a substantially different product a year ago. As a result of speaking to existing and potential customers, and getting input from their mentors, the startup then pivoted to a significantly different product. The technical requirements of creating the new product were similar to what the company was originally working on, however the new product addressed an unmet customer need. On the other hand, the company’s original product was simply one of many options that customers could choose from in a crowded space.

This startup was fortunate to discover the right product on which to focus its limited resources early in the game. Unfortunately, there are many more startups that dedicate substantial time to developing a product which fails in the marketplace. There may not be enough customer demand, there may be too many competitors offering an undifferentiated product, or the technical challenges may simply be too great to overcome. Whatever the reason, this lack of success is often possible to predict before the startup dedicates 4 employees and 6 months of work to a problem. It’s not enough to simply dive into an idea and work hard in a direction that hasn’t been premeditated. Before doing things right, startups need to make sure they’re doing the right thing. With a bit of foresight and planning, you can save thousands of employee hours, and significantly increase the chances of your startup being successful.

If you’re an entrepeneur deciding which product to prioritize right now, or you’re new to the game and are thinking about starting a business, what steps can you take to make sure that you do the right thing? A key element is to have a clear vision for how your product responds to an unmet customer need. Is there an actual problem that your product will solve differently than competition, and how can you build and market your product to maximize the value that it gives customers? Being different from competition is key here because if you do the same thing as your competitors who have a head start you’ll at best capture a part of their pie. What you want to be doing is making new pies that your customers want to try.

The best way to make a new pie is to have the right ingredients. Just like a cook will find it easier to make an apple pie if they have apples, most successful entrepreneurs already have a natural inclination or experience in the industry that they’re serving. If you’ve been selling real estate for several years, you’ll likely be better informed about the needs of real estate agents and better able to design a product which meets these needs. If you haven’t been selling real estate, you should at least enjoy browsing homes on Zillow.

Doing the right thing is an often overlooked stage of a startup’s life. With the recent emphasis on execution as the defining factor of a successful startup, it’s easy to forget that execution will only help you win if you’re executing in the right direction. You want to be swimming downstream, not upstream. By thinking about what customer need you’re meeting, how you will serve customers differently and better than competition, and how your background and abilities are aligned with what you’re trying to do, you can position the current on your side.