September 27, 2005

Doing Business By Accident

Have you ever had a moment where an issue becomes crystal clear? This happened to me recently. I picked up on a problem affecting technology based businesses (non-tech can face this too.) This is when a company builds a product or service, launches it and nothing happens. Some gain a handful of customers, most get none at all. In my opinion any business they get is by accident, not by design.

These companies sink hundreds of thousands of dollars (sometimes millions) to develop and launch an idea into a product/service. One can find a ton of helpful product development resources in the public domain. Yet the number of product failures in small/medium tech companies is startling. I wondered why until I had a moment of clarity.

In most company portfolios of products/services there are "stars" and "dogs." "Stars" are successful and deliver revenues and profits. "Dogs" are failures. The experts say you can't avoid failure, you can only reduce it by "failing cheap". The mission is to launch more "stars" than "dogs".
In larger companies failures are shutdown fairly quickly, people get layed off and executives move on to the next new thing. In contrast the companies I'm talking about continue to stay with the "dogs". The reason they are able to continue is through the subsidy of other revenue streams. Or they secure more money from their investors or personal credit. But most of these principals are in denial about their product failure and do nothing to remedy their situation.

You may be thinking you're one of these companies. Taking yourself out of denial is a big step. Here's a list of 5 characteristics of a company doing business by accident. Further down the page are the 3 things you can do immediately to help reinvent your product or service into a star:

You're doing business by accident when....

  1. Your product/service was built for a single customer (perhaps for a shareholder's other business) and a plan was hatched to sell it other companies;
  2. The company's primary product/service was launched 3 years ago. At launch you secured a handful of clients that are mostly still with you but no one else;
  3. Your managers are pumped because the business is cashflow positive. But revenues have declined 3 years in a row;
  4. Your employee turnover rate is in excess of 50%;
  5. You are the only founder left from the original team;

So you're doing business by accident...there is are 3 things you can do to begin the reinvention of your product/service and turn your company into a star:

  1. Get an objective third party to do a SWOT Report (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) for your company and its products or services. Address gaps found in the SWOT Analysis;
  2. Connect with the "Voice of the Customer". Interview each of your existing clients to determine why they bought your product/service. Have discussions with at least 5 potential clients from 5 different industries. Get your current clients to refer you to these 5. Tell them briefly about your product and ask what the product needs in order to succeed it their industry;
  3. Reinvent your Product/Service with "Voice of Customer" feedback. Re-launch your product.

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