Successful entrepreneurs do not rely on luck. They know ways to come up with great products, time and again.
You can't follow a recipe and end up with the next big thing, but if you learn from those who nailed it, you can make breakthroughs much more likely.
I jumped on a Skype call with one such entrepreneur to share his insights with you.
Clay Collins is the cofounder of LeadPages, a software company that serves over 40,000 customers and raised $38M in venture capital.
Early this year, Collins and his team launched an early-adopter version of a new product called Center, meant to disrupt the marketing software industry. A rare opportunity to learn how high-powered entrepreneurs create stand-out products.
First off? You can't stand too close to the tree. Step back far enough and you just might spot the opportunity you need.
Sift through the noise to uncover opportunity
Again and again, successful entrepreneurs swear their business turned around when they saw something strange in the market. Something everyone else ignored.
Before LeadPages existed, Collins started with a marketing blog. He gave his early blog followers some landing page templates to work with. But then, they wanted to use them in unintended ways: to integrate with Mailchimp and other marketing tools.
Key point: instead of technical hassles, he saw opportunity. And so began LeadPages.
How can you see through the noise and do the same?
First, you need to get organized about collecting customer data. Your notes on conversations with customers, your market research, your analytics -- do you have it all in one place, or floating about everywhere?
Second, stop thinking of 'data.' Why? Because you don't really want data: you want strong insights from data. With such insights about your customers, you gain clarity about how to serve them better.
Look for behavioral insights about your customers. Meaning: what do these people do, as a group? Look for actions. Not just numbers on market size.
Take a recent joint survey by Infusionsoft and LeadPages, sampling over 1,000 small businesses. Turns out, they found that around half of small businesses handle marketing efforts on their own. And almost 20 percent don't plan to use any digital marketing in 2016.
Say you a want to help small businesses with their online marketing. With these insights, you want to learn how to identify that 20 percent of marketers who don't care about digital marketing. Otherwise, you might just fly blind and shoot straight for them, wasting most of your efforts.
Same with Center. Collins and his team saw through the noise and noticed strong, behavioral trends. Like this one:
"People who start without an all-in-one system, like MailChimp, buy more solutions and get frustrated making them all work together."
Once you see through the noise and spot an opportunity, you can try something new.
Let your customers do things they couldn't do before
The bottom line of entrepreneurship: you need to innovate. Come up with new things that yield value. Otherwise, you exile yourself to the land of me-too products and services.
If you try new things in the right way, every once in a while, you conjure up tremendously valuable stuff.
In its early days, Gmail became a compelling choice: tons of email storage space coupled with a fast interface. Unusual for its time, this caused people to use email in different ways: more as a utility than a complicated widget. No need to delete emails every day in fear of hitting the storage limit: you could finally just do your email, then walk away.
Collins and his team tried a similar approach. Instead of giving his customers new ways of doing things, they give them new things to do:
"With Center, you can act on information about your customers that you otherwise wouldn't have. If you're inside of MailChimp and you send out emails, you can't decide to personally call up everyone who stayed to the very end of your last webinar. You can't do that. Likewise, if you have GoToWebinar, you can't email the people who were on your last 3 webinars."
See my point? New things to do. Integration across all marketing tools.
Hold on though -- not done yet. Even once you spot an opportunity, and create something new of great value, you still need to find the language to communicate your new thing.
Figure out metaphors to explain your new thing
Look -- you can invent the next Instagram, but if you can't communicate its value to people, you can forget it. You can't just build stuff; you need to build support for it in people's heads and hearts.
The problem? New things turn out to be extremely hard for people to think about.
Fortunately, you can work around it. You and I mostly reason by analogy, by metaphor, by comparison. And so do your customers. Hence, you have a way in: find clear metaphors to convey what your new product does.
For instance, Dropbox describes itself as a home for all your files and photos. Just one more sentence of explanation and almost everybody understands what it does: anything you add to your 'home' automatically appears on all your devices. Simple. Concise. Clear.
Can you do the same? Convey what your new product does, using a crystal clear analogy and a super short explanation? Doing so makes it far easier to develop your idea and sell it in product or service form.
Now -- take all the above and staple it to your brain. First, work through the noise and look for the one thing others don't see. Then create something new of value. And finally, come up with clear ways to communicate it.
A recipe for guaranteed breakthroughs? No.
And yet, far better than flying blind.
Hi, I'm Harry -- a fellow entrepreneur. Keen to help you stay focused on your best potential customers. Let's connect.