The process of starting a company is a messy one, and many mistakes are made along the way. Mistakes can be one of your greatest sources of learning when you can take a valuable lesson away from your failure. However, you have to be careful to avoid the biggest mistake startup founders make, one that happens early on in the development of a company.
We won’t beat around the bush–the biggest mistake startup founders make is trying to create a market instead of trying to meet the market’s needs. It’s the business version of your mother telling you “You’ll eat it and like it!”
No matter how many times your mom said this, it didn’t make you enjoy the food. You probably stuffed it into your napkin or slyly fed it to the dog.
That’s exactly what people will do with your business if you’re trying to sell to a market that isn’t there. Recent studies say 42% of startups that fail did so because no one was interested in what they created. You can throw your idea at them, show them a million ads, give away samples, or run promotions–but if you’re trying to create a market instead of targeting an existing market, your efforts will all be in vain. Failure is the only possible outcome when you’re offering a product or service no one really wants or needs.
Why do savvy, capable startup founders misjudge their company’s market realities when they practically live and breathe their business?
The simple answer: Startup love is blind. Being intensely involved with every step of the startup process, founders sometimes ‘fall in love’ with the service or product they offer to customers (the solution they’re offering) instead of the larger problem their product is trying to solve. After spending long, hard months working on a startup, it starts to feel like a precious creation that must be nurtured, defended, and believed in no matter what the numbers are saying.
And in an evolving marketplace where customer wants and needs change all the time, and new technology is constantly becoming available, the solutions you’re offering as a startup will need to change and adapt to fit the changing market. If you’re too sold on one idea (still trying to create a need) and refuse to break from it or adapt it (meeting a need) even in the face of data and diving profits, your startup will undoubtedly fail.
The most successful businesses focus on an existing problem (with an existing market) that needs a new, innovative solution–what we call disruption. Check out this example:
Cloth diapers weren’t convenient for parents to use and wash. So in 1947, a young housewife and mother came up with the idea to make diapers with disposable pads that could be thrown away. She secured the patent for her ‘disposable pad diaper.’ She even sewed the first diapers herself! The diapers were being mass manufactured soon after.
Parents were thrilled with what seemed to be a new, innovative solution to an age-old problem–the sheer inconvenience and unsavory nature of both changing and washing cloth diapers. The diaper company was very successful and her products started to become available worldwide.
However, diapers with disposable pads were only successful until new mass manufactured “all-in-one” disposable diapers (like those we use today) came out in the 1950s. It was an even better solution to the diaper problem, and a perfect example of the true nature of market needs and disruption. Don’t get stuck on disposable pads in diapers when you can focus on “things that make diaper changes faster and easier for parents.”
Remember: Don’t think your startup will create a need. Meet an existing need in a new way.
Read next: Why We Love Startups (And You Should, Too!)
Why We Love Startups (And You Should, Too!)
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