Ok, so I bought this dress at H&M, and they had a million of them. So, what makes me different than the next woman who buys it, and puts it on? Well, for starters, I paired it with a BCBG confetti bag and some Versace shades, which gave me a completely different look and feel. The same thing happens with business. There are no original ideas. Rather, how you “dress it up” is what makes your idea original.Sequoia Blodgett Image: Kerstin Karu
What makes my company, 7AM, different from Oprah.com? Both companies deal with purpose-driven content, but I have a different target customer. Oprah.com will go after people who are older—gen X and baby boomers—and the content is more conservative. 7AM caters to a younger demographic and provides edgier content. It doesn’t make either right or wrong, it just makes them different.
When starting a company, figure out how to differentiate yourself from the competition. If there are already five pillow companies that do custom embroidery, the world probably doesn’t need another pillow company selling custom embroidered pillows. However, the world may want a pillow company that focuses on pillows showcasing 3D pop-up designs. What is your unique value proposition and competitive advantage?
So, once that question is out of the way, how do you know customers even want your new, edgy product, to begin with? First, you want to create a hypothesis, and based on your hypothesis, you must make the assumption that they do.
Next, you want to find your target customer—your community or tribe that absolutely cannot live without your idea. When I say find them, I mean you literally need to find them. Go out and ask questions to make sure that you are on the right track with your product, before you build anything. You, in essence, are using them to validate your product.
Once you have your customers’ feedback, you want to start building your concept around it. The big moment comes when you release it. If consumers are excited about it, using it, and paying for it, you have struck gold. This is called finding the product-market fit. This usually takes a bit of time, so don’t fret if things don’t take off right away. However, if you find that they are not biting, you need to either regroup by changing the idea slightly based on your new feedback, or pivot by trying something else.
To recap, you will always find that there are competitors in the market, and if you don’t—BE AFRAID. BE VERY, VERY AFRAID. Normally, that means, for one reason or another, no one has shown any previous interest in the product or genre of product that you are attempting to put on the market. Once you understand your competitive landscape, figure out what you are doing differently, and run with it—120%.
Sequoia Blodgett is the Associate Technology Editor for Black Enterprise, Silicon Valley. She is also the founder of 7AM, a lifestyle, media platform, focused on personal development, guided by informed, pop culture.