Lessons for Entrepreneurs: Be a Matchmaker, not an Inventor

I’ve worked with a number of entrepreneurs in my career, sometimes it’s a single individual working on their first company, or maybe it’s more of an “intrapreneur” inside a company working on a brand new idea. As I’ve worked with them I’ve noticed something interesting about the ones who tend to be more successful than the others.

The most successful entrepreneurs aren’t Inventors. They’re Matchmakers.

Inventors are focused on successfully creating the vision they have in their head. Matchmakers don’t create anything; they’re experts at finding the right pair between two individuals. And in the entrepreneurial world, those “individuals” are The Problem and The Solution. To focus on simply making the Perfect Solution is as fruitless as trying to make the Perfect Husband. There is no Perfect Husband. There might be a Husband Who Is Really Good For Me, but notice that’s a two-sided equation; there is no “perfect” in a vacuum.

To be a good matchmaker, you first have to truly understand your matches.  Successful matches require understanding both sides of the relationship and what is needed for each. As an entrepreneur, that’s what you’re striving to do: find out what pairing of Problem and Solution makes for the happily-ever-after story.

So how do we do it? We have to get to know both sides of the equation.

1) Understand Your Problem

Most entrepreneurs probably already have a product or solution in mind. But before you can fine tune that solution you should take a long hard look at the problem you believe you’re addressing. It’s a hard thing for creators to hear, but your customers aren’t excited about the presence of your solution, they’re excited about the absence of their problem. Here are three key concepts to keep in mind and questions to ask yourself when trying to understand and evaluate your user’s problems:

What’s the Job to be Done?

Generally, people are only willing to pay money for a new product if it helps them do a job. Theodore Levitt suggested that “people don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” Your first step in developing a new product is to understand what job or goal your customers are trying to accomplish. It may be functional like drilling a hole in a piece of wood, or it could be social like building connections with friends. The better you understand that job and how users will decide if a solution is successful, the more likely your product will resonate with your consumers.

Seek To Understand Motivations Rather Than Requests

Customer feedback and inspiration is critical when developing a new solution; however, remember to ask questions that help customers articulate the features of their desired future, not the exact solutions. Think of yourself like a chef: if a customer walked into your restaurant and said “I like scallops, kiwis, and peanut butter,” and you simply threw those all together in a pan, the result would likely be unsatisfying. But if they told you they wanted a meal that was fresh, light, and summery, you’re far more likely to create a dish they love. Don’t ask your customers for ingredients; ask for inspiration.

Focus First, Add Later

You only have so many resources available when you’re early in the development phase, which makes it even more critical to determine the single, core issue your customers are facing. Ever notice how the more functions a product has, the worse it is at all of them? How many of us have ever used a combination print/fax/copy/coffee machine and actually enjoyed it? Find your customers’ core issue and knock it out of the park.

2) Finding Your Solution

As the entrepreneurial matchmaker, once you’ve identified the Problem and spent some time really getting to know and understand it, you’re ready to start thinking about the best Solution to pair with it. Here are three concepts to remember when creating, testing, and refining a solution:

People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Experiences

I’ve heard Starbucks coffee referred to as a “15 minute vacation.” In other words, when you go to Starbucks, you’re getting more than just a pricey cup of liquid.  The warm atmosphere, the smiling employees, the buckets of freshly roasted beans, they’re all there to give you an experience, not just a cup of coffee. These lessons can be applied to creating any new product. Think about the entire process and how your customers experience it, from how they learn about the product, start up the app, or put the product back into the cupboard when they’re done with it. In every opportunity, look to reduce the negative moments, add to the positive, and always operate from the perspective of the user.

Test To Learn, Rather Than To Win

Every new or potential product should be tested constantly. “Build, test, learn, repeat” is a key tenet of the product development process. No product or service you’ve ever loved arrived into the world in its final iteration; they were all constantly tested and tweaked, their creators always looking for ways to improve the experience. When you go into a test, know what it is you want to learn from it. It is not enough to just figure out if it works; you need to understand if it works the way your customer want and expect it to work.  Think about where people might lose interest or get confused.  Seek honest feedback and be willing to really listen to the answers. Constantly check back and ask yourself “is this really solving the problem? Is there a better way?” Don’t just look for validation; look for opportunities for even the smallest improvements.

Change Is Hard

If you’ve ever tried to convince a grandparent to try a new restaurant, you know that people by nature don’t like change. This is equally true when creating a new product or service. The greater the deviation from what people are used to, the more challenging it is to get them to shift their behavior. As a result, the more you ask your customers to change what they’re doing, the bigger the enticement and reward needed to encourage that change. Think about if you designed a fantastic app, but it required people to abandon their iPhones and use an old Palm Pilot instead. Asking people to make that kind of a switch is a massive request, so the value they’re getting had better match it. Understanding how they interact with the world now and how to make a solution that asks them to change their behavior as little as possible will increase the likelihood of them giving it a shot.

Remembering these keys throughout your entrepreneurial journey can help take some of the mystery out of whether your efforts will be successful or not. The best matchmakers don’t make the people, they make the matches. They understand both sides, identify compatibilities and sticking points, and look to bring the right people into the right place at the right time. As an entrepreneur, if you consider yourself as a facilitator of those meetings between the Problem and a Solution—rather than a creator of either—you’re more likely to create a successful relationship that lasts beyond that awkward blind date.

Alex DennistonComment