One of the best ways to fuel fresh thinking is to leverage external insights and trends. Our recent favorite comes from the podcast How I Built This by Guy Raz. It’s a podcast “about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.” Check out some of the themes we picked up from the amazing stories of these battle-tested entrepreneurs – and be sure to tune in. It’s guaranteed to inspire!
Rent the Runway
We’ve admired RTR’s iterative testing cycles for the last several years – however, in the HIBT podcast we were most inspired by their persistence. Early on, co-founder Jennifer Hyman thought Diane Von Furstenberg would be the perfect person to not only gather feedback from, but also potentially test their idea (as if she’s not busy!). Originally, the idea was to rent the dresses directly from DVF’s site, however, they didn’t know Diane or have any way of contacting her. They brainstormed every potential e-mail address for Diane and sent an email to each address. To their amazement, they got a response and scheduled a meeting with Diane. While on their way to the second meeting with Diane, they got a call from her assistant saying that she was no longer interested in the idea and did not want to meet. Jennifer initially responded that they were right around the corner and they would be right there. After a few back and forths, the assistant (rather frustrated) blatantly told them that Diane didn’t want to meet. Jennifer said “Oh, you’re breaking up, I can’t hear you,” and then hung up. They showed up to the meeting anyway and Diane agreed to meet with them. While the idea eventually evolved, Diane’s dresses are very much a part of RTR’s inventory even today.
Consider: What’s getting in the way of your challenge or hurdle? How can you creatively solve it and not take “no” for an answer?
During AirBnB’s first real prototype, they had 6 listings during South by Southwest in Austin. Unfortunately, only 2 people signed up – and one of them was the founder! It was during this test, however, that they gained critical insight that online payments would significantly reduce barriers to adoption – and they chose to keep pursuing the idea despite the underwhelming results in the first test. If you’re acting like an entrepreneur, it becomes pretty clear after quick, iterative rounds of research what needs to happen. It’s not typically a “yes, proceed” or a “no, let’s stop.” It’s more nuanced. They didn’t increase resources or double the investment until they really understood whether there was sufficient appeal behind the idea and, likewise, they didn’t kill the idea with only a 16% adoption rate in the first pass.
Consider: What ideas or projects should be doubled down on and receive increased investment and resources? Pivoted with a new learning path? Abandoned with resources being reallocated?
Clif founder Gary Erickson was determined to make a better tasting protein bar. After testing and failing hundreds of attempts with fellow athletes using Greek-inspired recipes from his mom, he finally landed on the perfect recipe. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the equipment to make the quantity of bars needed to test on a larger scale. The equipment was expensive and where he was at in the journey didn’t warrant purchasing new equipment. So, he negotiated with a bakery in his neighborhood to borrow the equipment for a set amount of time. Rather than focus his time on raising funds and going into debt early, he creatively figured out how to solve his problem until he’d proven out his proposition enough to warrant purchasing his own equipment.
Consider: What consumers do you have at your disposal to test your idea? What physical assets are available to test your idea? Who in your professional network can enable quick learning cycles?
Co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger didn’t start Instagram as a photo sharing platform. Originally dubbed as Burbn, it was built similar to Foursquare but had the ability to add photos when you checked into places. Even though they had a small user base, they leveraged advice from Eric Ries and prioritized learning from Burbn’s current users first. They set out to understand why people were using it and what it helped them do that other social platforms couldn’t. They quickly discovered that the biggest reason for using the app was the ability to share photos. When they asked non-users about sharing their photos, they were intrigued by the idea but weren’t confident in their ability to take pretty and interesting pictures. With this insight, the X-PRO II filter was born.
Consider: Does your idea need to pivot to serve a broader audience? What can you learn from people who love your brand or initial product?
Spanx Founder Sara Blakely takes hustle to the next level. For her (and all of the entrepreneurs featured in this post), her motivation was never money. She fell in love with a problem within the hosiery market and it’s what drove her to make bold choices along the journey, specifically with her first in-market test at Neiman Marcus. She could tell in her pitch meeting that she wasn’t connecting with her female buyer. In an instant decision, she asked her to go to the restroom with her. She showed her the difference between her outfit with and without Spanx and landed her first 7-store, in-market test. She was determined to make this small test a huge success, but quickly learned that her product was being sold in the wrong part of the department store. Without skipping a beat, she headed to Target, purchased envelope holders and set them on the counters of all 7 stores and filled them with the product. Neiman Marcus employees thought it was approved corporately and she enjoyed secondary placement as a result.
Consider: What are you passionate enough about to take the risks that Sara did? How can you creatively persuade and create demand around your idea?