What do journalists and the most successful entrepreneurs have in common? They listen.
Entrepreneurship is a special way of solving problems and entrepreneurship demands a special kind listening. Where others hear complaints, and entrepreneur sees a fountain of actionable data. If someone person has a problem, he or she is rarely alone. Sharing that problem is the first step in creating the solution.
Entrepreneurs don’t let problems go to waste
Customer development is the Silicon Valley term for solution-oriented listening. But it’s not an easy thing to do. We entrepreneurs can be an arrogant bunch, thinking they have all the answers, and all the ideas. But that’s rarely why we choose not to listen. Customer development means getting out there and talking to strangers. It means the possibility of rejection.
Why listening matters
People want to talk about themselves and their problems. All you have to do is ask. The closer you are to someone’s pain, the more they will want to talk about it. Remember the golden ratio; you were born with two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion. The more you listen, and ask, the more you will learn about customer need.
What entrepreneurs do who don’t listen
Often we choose the alternate path, holing up in isolation for weeks or months. And when we emerge we’ve built a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.
“The market wasn’t ready,” some may say.
“Well who told you what you’ve built was a good idea?” is the reply?
“Me and my friends have this problem all the time.”
Your friends aren’t your customers
Listen to your friends when they tell you not to get a neck tattoo, but not when it comes to how to run a business. Their money and time isn’t on the line.
A dear friend of mine just built a horrible mobile app on a hunch. He’s brilliant, and has been starting businesses online since before he could drive. But the sooner he takes this project behind the barn with a shotgun, the better. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was wasting his time on a mobile app for “hipsters,” when he’s the furthest thing from that audience, but chances are he wouldn’t have listened any. Funny how that works, eh?
All the good problems have not been solved
Somehow people think all the hard problems have been solved already. No they haven’t.
It’s funny sometimes to hear people question whether all the really hard problems have been solved. If you listen, you’ll hear just how many problems there are left.
The iPhone combined a music player, camera, phone, web browser and computer. Does that mean there’s no room for innovation in phones any more? No! The iPhone has terrible battery life. That is a problem created by a solution.
If anything, Silicon Valley has gotten better about making life easier and more comfortable, while solving few pressing problems.
Every solution creates new problems
Every solution will create unforeseen problems waiting to be solved by entrepreneurs.
Get better at listening, and you’ll see pot-holed streets are suddenly lined with gold.
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