Product Innovation

Many entreprepreneurs fall victim to what I call “the perfection trap”. What is the perfection trap? Working really hard and spending all of your resources in rehashing or reformulating a product that is 95% market ready. My advice to most entrepreneurs is to launch the product before you spend months trying to get it perfect.

Then, after the product launches, you will have actual customer feedback to efficiently fix the bugs or problems. Another alternative is testing your new product during an in market test. Call it a “beta” product or product 1.0 but don’t get trapped in seeking perfection; never able to satisfy your customers basic needs. The “getting everything perfect problem” varies by industry but my experience in academia has taught me that what we think is perfect isn’t usually as close as we think. What our client thinks is perfect is not easily discernible without an experiment or test market.

Why can’t we just ask our client what she wants? Because she will “not know it until she sees it” or may not know what she really wants until she has to open her wallet and choose it over everything else she desperately needs to buy. There is no replacement for a test run with real customers that have to spend their own money on your product. You can’t control most external factors or trends that will impact the success of your product either, so let go–incremental improvement is more proven to drive entrepreneurial success than “hitting a home run on your first at bat”.

When I was doing marketing consulting I worked for a venture that suffered from the perfection trap. The CEO thought his tireless demands for perfection would create the perfect teen spending card based on the Visa platform. Despite some good technology and marketing we experienced a failure to launch.

Let me try an illustrate my point outside the realm of business. My daughter told me about a friend who has frequent headaches. She manages her pain using powerful drugs. The problem is the drug’s side-effects can be as damaging as the headache pain. This is analogous to getting it perfect. She feels perfectly well when on the drugs but comes down hard after its effect wears off. Most importantly, to achieve perfection she sacrifices her sensitivity to the outside world. Feeling a little ache or pain or even a headache periodically keeps you away from the debilitating side-effects of drug use. You feel the outside world rather than constantly balancing the facade you call perfection. It hurts to hear you did not “get it perfect” or even close to right, but that customer feedback is the key to continuous improvement and future product success.

Usually, entrepreneurs learn more from consumer or client feedback when the product has been “run through a few laps” by expert practitioners. In Japan, many companies are founded and launched based on an angel investor or corporate benefactors believing there is a market niche where no competitor is adding much value or they see companies in businesses they do not want to be in to satisfy customer demands. These business are ideal spinoffs for would be entrepreneurs who are “willing to make it pretty good for now, and better in the future.” Don’t spend thousands of dollars and three additional months getting some thing that is 95% there, perfect. You likely to find that your efforts stymied growth, deflated morale, and increased your risk because of the lack of in market data testing.

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About Don Capener

Dr. Capener joined the Monmouth College business faculty in 2001. He is best known as the co-founder of Above The Rim Basketball that sold to Reebok in 1993. Capener recently accepted the Deanship at Jacksonville University’s Davis School of Business in Florida. As an Emmy award winning advertising professional in the Southern CA region, Don was the CMO and marketing architect for Above The Rim and ClickRewards.com. He directed national efforts for Visa’s promotional campaigns such as Visa Rewards at Frankel & Company in Chicago and San Francisco. He rose to Managing Director of Frankel’s San Francisco office. He is now a Professor of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship and consults for start-up and mid-sized companies

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