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The cheshire cat syndrome




Most entrepreneurs and founders love to promote how clever their technology or solution is and how it works and why it’s cool. They haven't always thought too much about know where they are going. But they are invariably excited by the idea of the journey- not the destination.

But 20% of companies do not survive year 1. And the number one reason startups fail is because people do not buy their product. They haven't bought the ticket. They don’t see the value. They don't know the destination. It’s that simple.

The number 2 reason is running out of money, presumably spending all that time and effort trying to sell something no one wants.

So make sure you know that your product will sell. Learn and learn again. Understand the market, even if you think it is new and customers will pay anything for your incredible technology.

If you don’t, you may very well be in the 20% band that disappear.

Knowing that the big players occasionally get it wrong too might not be much comfort and can only reinforces the idea that people will not buy a bad idea or change their buying behaviour unless there is a really good compelling reason. There are hundreds of stories about products that no one wanted to buy.

So how to avoid this?

You can ignore the customer and make what you think is needed.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

No one really knows if Henry Ford actually said these words but they were a reflection of his preference of not involving customers in his product decisions.


Even Steve Jobs was famous for his focus on innovation without necessarily involving the customer

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”


On the other hand there is the Minimum Viable Product approach where customer discovery, customer validation and customer creation are the key attributes of the product

You can ignore customers at your peril.

But while some may be able to offer very discreet and precise input or feedback, others in other types of businesses, may not feel inclined to become part of the input process. So, both the "ignore the customer" and the "engage the customer" approaches may have merits depending on the business.

But in either case, you don't want to be asking the cheshire cat for directions. Or, just like Alice you will end up somewhere you may not like. So make sure you know exactly where are going before you embark upon your business journey and create strong waypoints to keep you on track.