4 Golden Rules from 20 years of Entrepreneurship
20 years ago, Simon Coffey and I launched ‘NetDance’ Australia’s first Internet radio station. It was a thrilling, and exhausting, entrepreneurial experience and customers loved it! One catch, we didn’t make any money.
Since then I’ve lived in Europe and USA, claimed a Guinness Book of Record and sold my Silicon Valley Startup. During these adventures in innovation and entrepreneurship, I’ve had my share of hits and misses.
When I reflect on my experiences of designing products and launching them into the world, there are patterns in the efforts that worked. There are four truths I have distilled that are the most holistic, essential rules for success.
Rule 1: Great companies build great products
People and the way they work together is the starting point for a great company. When teams are communicating well, that usually means clarity and high frequency; their positive energies can come together.
And culture, the way they hire, retain and grow people, can turbo charge that communication energy and create massive momentum. You know it when you see. A company starts to crush it on a regular basis. It becomes a habit.
And all of these endeavours add up to something bigger. A mission. A real, meaningful, positive contribution to the world. And that's the platform that launches great products into the world.
Rule 2: Growth is a result of solving big customer problems
Profits are a result of companies enormous devotion to solving a big problem.
Don’t solve a small problem. On reflection, a mistake I made too many times. Instead, Search out significant, nasty, hairy problems that seem entrenched. Find a challenge that others are not trying to solve.
What I've learnt is that solving big problems creates value for the customer. And the customer is always happy to pay for value. And this value exchange means more than a short-term product-market fit. It means room to explore new opportunities in adjunct verticals. But most of all profits give companies the sacred fuel: cash flow.
Rule 3: Testing and learning with customers inspires innovation
The answer to great products lies with the customers. There’s no excuse for guessing what *might* work.
Prototyping has been one of the most profound discoveries in my career. Thanks to prototyping expert Tom Chi. Creating a prototype and testing an idea with customers is the most powerful way to determine how a product can be successful.
When prototyping under the conditions that feel like real life we create a ‘direct experience’. The combination of the prototype and all the conditions make the test feel authentic to the customers. Hence, they provide visceral unfiltered, sub-conscious feedback. And this is gold.
Take this feedback and learn from it. And then the real magic begins because you can iterate and test again. And again.
Rule 4: Tell a story worth sharing
Start With Why by Simon Sinek is one of my all-time favourite books. It is the best framework I’ve ever used because of its simplicity and breadth of application.
At the heart of his Golden Circle, is this idea: People don’t buy what you do but how and why you do it. Here’s an example for Apple.
- What: We make computers
- How: Our products are beautifully designed and easy to use
- Why: We believe in challenging the status quo and doing things differently
Once you have this idea, you can start by testing with customers. I’ve found this to be a source of great insight. By testing different versions of what/how/why statements I’ve made enormous progress with branding and storytelling before the company or product has even launched.
And the story will always continue to grow. You'll discover what messages work best. You'll find some channels will deliver better results. And hopefully, you'll find influencers and communities who want to share your story with others.
When creating a new company or product, I advise that you focus equally on product and marketing. And become laser focussed on working with customers throughout the process. This honest, yet hard work, will yield tremendous opportunities.
And if the team is led by good people, who communicate and hold themselves to a higher standard. Then, you might find yourself enjoying success.