SportsLizard Entrepreneur Blog

Friday, March 03, 2006

Humble Pie

Every once in a while it's good to be humbled and this week it happened to me. I launched a new sports collectibles browsing application on that I had spent hundreds of hours developing. Now, I definitely don't think it's perfect, it has it's shortcomings certainly, but I do think that it is a solid first attempt at an innovative and creative way to quickly browse through products. So when I emailed 50 people that I knew to test it out for me, I expected the replies to reflect that.

Of course, what I would have liked to have done was surveyed 1000 collectors on what they thought about it. I would have loved to have held a focus group where I stood behind collectors and observed how they used the application. Well, all of that requires money that I don't have and therefore I had to rely on friends to test my product before launching. I figured that most people would say the same thing: "well it took me a few minutes to figure it out, but once I did it was really cool, and you know what else would make it even better.... " Boy was I wrong.

Now let me preface this with one thing - there were many people who did offer constructive criticism, and many of the best comments came from collectors themselves so overall I am content with the results of my little test. But many people also ruthlessly tore it apart. It shocked me that some people absolutely HATED it and said that it's something that they would never use, nor did they think anyone else would use it. How could that be? Could they not at least respect the proposed innovation? I was absolutely stunned. Once I got over the initial shock, however, I was able to make some sense of the whole thing.

I think the first thing that I had to understand is that some people are naturally negative. They rip apart everything - their bosses, the movies they see, the waitresses that serve them, and pretty much everything else in their lives and I shouldn't take that too personally. Second, the application IS very different and not everyone likes change. Sometimes it takes people a little while to warm up to something innovative. I recall Chester Carlson having to approach over 20 investors before the company that is now Xerox finally bought into the idea of the photocopier! I believe in this idea and there's not very much that's going to stop me.

The other thing that calmed me down was a story that a former co-worker had told me. Around the year 2000, he had just finished working on a consumer product that he had poured his heart and should into for five years. Right before it's release they held a focus group to get feedback on the product. Standing behind one of those two sided mirrors, he heard people rip apart every aspect of the product that he thought would be received warmly. He said it was the most humbling experience of his life. Now I can certainly say that I know how he felt. Oh, and for the record, that product is now VERY successful. Just another example of the initial reaction not correlating to the end result.

This week was certainly a learning experience that I will never forget. It's one of those things that every entrepreneur will likely go through - I just didn't think that it was going to happen to me on this one.


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