Dr. Ali Anani, my friend from BeBee where I blog internationally, got me thinking about how failure is a major part of learning for just about anyone in business.
Fail Fast and Frequently to Succeed.
I quoted that rubric in response to one Dr. Ali’s postings. I’ve been lucky enough to work with entrepreneurs that have been successful. I’ve participated in over 200 successful new product launches.
There have been some failures as well. The camera kerfluffle may be the best example about what not to do but I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s talk about failure leads to success.
Fail towards success
- Tell everyone your product idea and listen. The hard part is hearing what they have to say. You start with everyone because it is easiest. But as quickly as possible begin gathering input from folks that are probable buyers. Sometimes you discover that the people you thought were customers aren’t. Sometimes you discover that the product is not in the form or what they want. Once in a while you get confirmation. But it is the failures that keep you from spending more time and money than you need to in order to find a viable product.
- Assume that everyone understands the user interface. There is no single thing that everyone understands. Nowhere is this more true than in technology products. Engineers design and incorporate as many functions as possible in a device without considering the average user. An example: last week a friend and rather sophisticated coach told me that her internet/TV/phone service guy showed her how to answer her smart phone by swiping the button. Until then she was jotting down the number and calling back. Starting up a new flat screen TV took me three phone calls and a very patient technician to get it to work.Seldom, if ever do technology companies wise up and have real users try things. It took Microsoft at least seven years before they looked for customer input on how windows worked! Every time you’re required to simplify operations based on a user failing to be able to make it work is a success.
- Let YouTube provide the manual. I’ve been victim to this syndrome personally. It took my Virtual Assistant and I three days to figure out that we would have to upgrade a piece of software one level to be able to use it on social media. We made the decision that it was probably not worth the expense because it was so poorly documented. They failed but not successfully. In retrospect we should have picked up on the probability based on the marketing. The idea is good, but the greed in the pricing and the obvious lack of real interest in the customer will, in the end shut them down. The more you think through how a customer is going to use the product and the better the instructions you provide the better off you are going to be.A “genius bar” is a nice piece of customer service branding but I would appreciate a little more genius in documentation. Most people would.
- Drag all your preconceptions along. This usually happens in the hardware side of things but I’ve been involved in a couple of software and service situations where this failure prone approach has not led to success. In one case, a company which will remain nameless received the largest order for a new product that they had ever received from a single company. It was from a company they had never worked with before. The testimonial ad was presented in a divisional management meeting and caused a furor. Management said, “Our products are for engineers and scientists, not for the likes of insurance companies. Do not run that ad and advise the sales force to seek appropriate customers.” The lesson is that when you offer a product and an audience you had not figured on starts buying you failed to see that market but they could make you a success.
The Camera Kerfluffle
There was a time when a 35 millimeter Single Lens Reflex camera was what the upcoming pros used. If you were an amateur, into photography, had money and wanted something better than a Kodak Brownie you looked at 35mmSLRs. You wanted something with the control a Pro would use and the possibility of using different lenses.
But there was also a market for small, aim and click cameras that used 110 film. Kodak jumped into this market as well as a number of Japanese companies. Use of plastics throughout these products made them incredibly low cost. My client, a manufacturer and distributor of 35mmSLRs saw this as a new market for which they could provide a higher quality product. The client was willing to spend the money to do some research. We set up focus groups searching out people that said they wanted a simple way to take “record photos” of special events and vacations.
Given the choice between the simple point and shoot cameras and the 35s they oriented to the models of one Japanese brand of 110s that were offered in multiple colors. They wore curious about the 35s but felt they were too complex.
The young product manager assigned mistook the interest in the 35’s and the company went ahead with design and development of a 110 camera with changeable lenses.
Back to Focus groups with early production models along with competitor products. Again, the focus group participants were curious about the all black tiny camera with interchangeable lenses. But asked which one they would like to take home oriented to the competitor multicolored units.
No argument could convince the product manager to reverse his decision to go forward with his pet project. It cost the company millions. But there was one good thing that came out of it. The company learned that the more their lowest cost model could be simplified the better it would sell to the people that wanted just a little more than point and shoot. As a result, it has become the standard in photography schools across the globe.
“It is not a failure if you learn from it”
Both my mother and my father said this. Both taught me the patience to see things through and to acknowledge mistakes but always to look for the lesson in the outcome. I try to pass this wonderful knowledge on to all those I work with.
And so it goes.
Jerry Fletcher is a sought-after International Speaker, a beBee ambassador, founder and CEO of Z-axis Marketing, Inc.
His consulting practice, founded in 1990, is known for on and off-line Trust-based Consultant Marketing advice that builds businesses, brands and lives of joy.