Jenn wondered, wouldn’t it be so much smarter if we could rent designer items rather than purchase them? She returned to Harvard Business School and shared the idea with her friend, Jenny.
Business ideas usually pass entrepreneurs by because of a personal need. My first business was a TV show recommendation system, and how did that come about? I had just graduated from college and every day as I would enter my apartment, I would want to kill some time by watching
something on the TV, but I never knew what to watch. So I ended up spending a good part of my television time just shuffling through channels.
HOW AIRBNB CAME TO BE
It’s late 2007 in San Francisco. Airbnb founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia just moved from New York. Without employment, they were having trouble paying their rent and were looking for a way to earn some extra cash.They noticed that all hotel rooms in the city were booked, as the local Industrial Design conference attracted a lot of visitors.
The youngsters saw an opportunity. They bought a few airbeds and quickly put up a site called “Air Bed and Breakfast.” The idea was to offer visitors a place to sleep and breakfast in the morning. They charged $80 each a night.The idea succeeded and the first Airbnb guests were born: a 30-year-old Indian man, a 35-year-old woman from Boston and a 45-year-old father of four from Utah sleeping on their floor.
Today Airbnb is worth billions of dollars. From their first launch at SXSW that generated a mere two bookings to when they were making $300/mo (when YCombinator decided to put in $20,000), they have come a long way. And it all started with a personal itch that the founders felt the need to scratch and scratch. First they solved a problem for themselves, and then for some more like-minded consumers. As timing would have it, they had the opportunity to use the Obama — McCain race, and they moved on with a narrative where Obama supporters would be hosting Obama supporters in their homes. All of a sudden, the company witnessed hundreds of bookings, but that success was shortlived. But it managed to show them a way. And from there it was just dominoes falling one after another.
ALWAYS START WITH BUILDING FOR ONE
The TV show recommendation engine started with one single user — ME. I wanted to build a system which if existed could see me as a loyal user. Directi was using Flock for our internal communication for months before we decided to make a business out of it. The product was already being used smoothly within the organisation for communication between a couple of thousand professionals; it was just a matter of building up on it and scaling things up. Today it has hundreds of thousands of downloads.
The question you need to ask yourself:
Is this something I can see myself growing to like some day or is this something I so very much need today — urgently, desperately?
Always build something that emerges from the personal experiences (and therefore the need) of at least someone, if not yourself. The next step is ensuring that there exists a critical mass out there hungry for the solution you feel so passionately about.
There is a product idea I am toying with these days, and one day my friends and I were discussing the product, what it could be etc. And as everyone started chipping in with their thoughts on what the design of the product should be like, what kind of tech should be used, I offered one suggestion — “Instead of starting to build the product, let us use a non-scalable distribution route for what the product would be doing and see if this is something we would be using in the form we are talking about.”
Why is that important?
Ensuring that the product you are building is what your users need is quite crucial. And unless it is meeting up to the needs of your users (the first user being you), the only person you can count on using your product every day would be your mother. And that is not the way to build a business.
SO. WHO WANTS IT RIGHT NOW?
The most basic, simplest and straightforward way to building a great business is by building something you would want to use.
Don’t confuse “I will use this product” with “I would want to use this product”. The difference between those two statements may be subtle, but it is extremely critical when you are building a business.
In one of my businesses, we were a fashion rental company — largely catering to women. Therefore, it wasn’t a business I could have built focusing on myself as the consumer. But I did focus on a small group of women I was close to and started building a business they would love to use on an every day basis. Whenever I was asked questions or I sensed apprehension, I would get back to the drawing board to come up with ways that could make the business something they would love. The approach helped me a lot, and when we launched our services for men, I was drawing parallels from the stage of life I was at five years ago (the target age group of our male consumers).
Putting yourself in your consumers’ shoes is an absolute must, but the process of finding the product market fit becomes exponentially faster once you are both the creator as well as a ‘genuine’ consumer of the service.
If you have succeeded in building a product that you genuinely love and want to use over and over again, know that you are onto something, and from there on out it is a recurring cycle that involves a few key steps:
- Continuing to use and experience your own product.
- Finding more like-minded people who would find same/similar level of usefulness from the product.
- Figuring out what else could increase the usefulness of that product to “you”.
- What ‘incremental’ changes and adjustments could be made to the product, if any, that could widen the target audience.
FEW THINGS TO NOTE THOUGH
Being the consumer for your own business is quite a double edged sword though, and if you are not careful, you will be on quite a slippery slope that would completely disassociate you from reality.
- Be the most vocal critic of your system: A lot of consumers out there, if not most, are going to be unforgiving. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be.
- Don’t get sucked into the illusion of wishful thinking: Don’t justify the ‘non-usefulness of your product to you’ with the logic that there would be others out there for whom it would be useful. Either you have a user who would love to you use this product over and over again, or you don’t. There can’t be a layer of mist between the product and that one user who supposedly would fall in love with the product.
- Don’t justify inefficiencies and fallacies in the system: I have come across entrepreneurs who were building a product that they were sure of on the usefulness of it. Why? Because they can name five different problems that they think their target audience is facing. Any question or apprehension you may have, they will justify it by saying that since there is so much pain point the customers have, they will not mind putting in some delta effort. It doesn’t work that way, so don’t do that.
WHERE DO YOU GO FROM THERE?
The possibilities are always endless. Look at Zomato. The business started as Foodiebay — a business that would just list up scanned menus of different restaurants in your neighborhood. Why? Because that catered to the immediate painpoint of a small segment of users — possibly the founders, to begin with. And it worked. As sucky as the ‘product gurus’ may think of the system to be (criticisms have cropped up countless times dissing the scanned menus), it worked, and that is why people kept on using the system. And from there, the company went on to introduce countless iterations of online ordering mechanisms, premium memberships etc. Why? Because they kept on delivering a product that their users wanted to use — again, and again, and again.
And then they kept on building up on that product.
SO, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
- Identify a problem, or a need that you can relate to. Preferably a need you yourself have, but failing that, at least one that you can relate to via someone you closely know.
- Make that person the anchor. Tether your problem/product/service to that one person and focus on solving that problem in a way that the ‘customer’ wants to use your product/services over and over again.
- Start finding consumers who are similar to your tethering customer, and start expanding your pool of consumers.
- See how you can add more value to the lives of your existing consumers, and/or what tweaks/tune-ups can help you cater to a wider base of consumers — while maintaining the basic underlying philosophy of coming up with a product that your consumers want and love to use.
So, let us create a product that can make ONE consumer happy, and we then move from there.