Remain open to innovation; constantly improve products based on the consumer’s feedback; keep testing ideas, both old and new; be comfortable with starting small; and, above all persevere no matter what!
Everyone enjoys good, reliable products that make our lives better in some way or another. But how many of us have actually wondered what makes a product great and how do costumers become aware of it in the first place? In the third debate of the 2015 ProAktivity Summit, on “How to create a good product for the market?”, four experts shared with us their different views on this issue.
Pierre-Julien Bosser Lamy believes that all entrepreneurs should keep in mind that the right answer to this question might not so much lie in some predetermined formula that can be replicated with all products, but rather in a company’s capacity to continuously adapt change its business perspective or the features of its products whenever and if required. When creating a company from scratch, the fact that it might take longer to find our place in the market means that our capacity to adapt has to be all the better.
This, of course, brings us to another crucial factor: communication with our consumers. For John Di Stefano, the potential of a company can also be measured by its capacity to persevere while never losing touch with its clients and their needs and preferences. It is factors such as these that often turn out being decisive, particularly in the absence of a robust financial capacity.
But what about great ideas? Many of the success stories we read about in the media appear to be grounded in some innovative, ground-breaking idea that revolutionised the sector, if not the market itself. According to our panel of experts, in the real world this process is far from being that linear, for many of the ideas we have in the drawing board often turn out to look different while actually developing the product itself and occasionally end up beyond recognition by the time they reach the clients. Ideas are a must-have in any company, but they need to be tested, retested, improved and revaluated in a continuous process. Believing that we need to reinvent the wheel to get a foothold in the market is often a sign of misguidance because actually knowing that there are other people doing the same things we do can be a good thing: it means that a market for your product already exists, for products do not exist in a vacuum and a new market does not come out of thin air, nor do consumers become aware of it overnight. Juan Bossicard goes even further in this reasoning by pointing that developing a new market all alone can actually be more of a disadvantage because not only it is a very difficult and time-consuming process, but our competitors can always come afterwards and do it better, partly because they learned from our mistakes but also because they might have better resources. These problems are compounded by the fact that many companies focus their efforts on a single product, thus reducing their margin of error.
There are, of course, exceptions. Entrepreneurship is also somewhat of a betting game, and if one bets hard and is successful, it might find himself in a position of great advantage regarding potential competitors. Doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time is a gamble that depends on many factors one does not control. Situations of instant success cannot, therefore, simply be replicated and, as Bogdan Brunon Wenta accurately points out, success in one country does not guarantee success in another country.
There are factors, however, that one can control, like how we present our products. Image matters, as it also reflects the type of company we are or that we aspire to be – Apple is a classic example. Far more important than the product’s shape and packaging, however, is establishing trust among customers because, as stated by Pierre, in the end that is what they will pay for. The same goes for the name of a company: what a company is called will always come second in importance to what it actually is and what it does. Google, a company name turned into a verb, made this point clear.
Another type of factors one can – and must – control concern the price of the product: according to Juan, failed start-ups spend a lot of money on a product and launched it without even testing. This is one of the biggest mistakes one can make, for we can invest a lot of time, money and effort in the conception of a product only to find out that it is too expensive, regardless of its actual quality. Many start-ups do it because they see it as necessary in order to attract those all-important first clients and acquire critical mass. However, starting small also has its set of advantages, and Pierre suggests than an effective and intelligent way to overcome both difficulties is to create our first consumers by inviting them to co-build our products. Engaging with many people and defining altogether the criteria that defines our label creates engagement, value, and immediate publicity because these people will also advertise the products they helped create.
The plethora of different legislations that currently (still) exists in Europe in many sectors also hamper entrepreneurship in many ways. Bogdan reminded us that this is a major disadvantage Europe has vis-à-vis the United States, where we have a single legislation for one country. Ultimately, however, all entrepreneurs are called to get things done regardless of the legislation in place, for this remains an aspect among many. Having a well-structured, long-term business vision is likely to be more decisive for the development of a sustainable business than legislation.
To be an entrepreneur also mean to have competitors trying to sell the same products and services we do. But what is the right way to deal with competition? Our group of experts called our attention to the fact that competition is not only a natural state of affairs but also something that actually helps us get the job well done. Competitors not only motivate us to be better and create better products, but also constitute valuable sources of information for all aspiring entrepreneurs. We can learn crucial skills from important companies just by studying the main difficulties, successes and mistakes they themselves experienced along the way. Entrepreneurs should therefore not only know in detail who their competitors are, but also list them. And instead of just assuming that our vision is better than others’, we should rather allow ourselves to be inspired by the visions of others and see if and how we can improve ours.
The debate also allowed for some interesting out of the box discussion. For instance, should big companies adopt a start-up mentality? This brought us to the concept of “Intrapreneurship”, or the act of creating innovation within a business in the very same way a young, aspiring entrepreneur tries to do: seeking to develop new, ground-breaking ideas and products and taking risks. Only this time he/she would do it while working within a large organization and having its resources at his/her disposal to explore the full potential of the idea and also maximise its efficiency, achieving the all-important balance between creativity and profitability. Very often, intrapreneurs are the drivers of innovation within companies that allow them to remain at the top.
Above all, this debate taught us that the secret to create good products can lie on fairly simple principles: remain open to innovation; constantly improve products based on the consumer’s feedback; keep testing ideas, both old and new; be comfortable with starting small; and, above all persevere no matter what!
By José Guimarães