Every year at our annual IT Sales and Marketing Boot Camp, I have a client or sponsor return who hasn’t seen or been around at one of our events for 10+ years. Their reaction is ALWAYS the same: jaw-dropping disbelief at how big and elaborate everything has become. Our “big” event used to consist of roughly 75 people with cheap hotel A/V, no theming, no stage presentation, no parties, no celebrity speakers and NO FRILLS.
Of course, today we more than 10X this, with every year a challenge to “up the ante” to make it better, bigger and more impactful. Looking back at pictures of my first event, it was an embarrassment, but as Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, said, “It you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
This IS how all successful products, services, stores, events, software and companies are started. Small. Imperfect. Half-baked. Essentially an idea for something that someone might want to buy with the potential to GO BIG. But you don’t “go big” from the start.
Southwest Airlines was started by Herb Kelleher as a cheap alternative to driving between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, Texas, thought up on a cocktail napkin in a bar. Whole Foods was started by a 25-year-old college dropout, John Mackey, to sell natural foods. In the beginning, it was a very small, humble store he borrowed money to start, living at the store and showering using the dishwasher hose. Bezos’s first version of his now “everything store” was to sell books online, packaged and shipped from his garage.
Far too many people sit on their ideas, scared to start. They have a BIG idea, but then they never get rolling because they’re without funds or, closer to the truth, they fear getting started. So, instead of creating the smallest possible version of their idea to get it out in the marketplace to see if it has merit, they do nothing, telling themselves, “Someday, when I have more time, more money, more motivation…” It never comes, and their idea never gets off the ground.
About a year and a half ago, I had Marc Randolph, founder of Netflix, speak to my Producers Club members. His whole presentation was about THIS: the START. The idea of getting a grossly imperfect version of your product “collided with a customer” (his words) as quickly as possible to see if it sells or not. In doing so, you learn, adjust, improve and go again. You plow the early funds coming in to fuel additional development and keep SELLING IT, holding your nose if you have to, apologizing for the imperfections, but then FIXING THEM. One of my favorite sayings is “You can’t steer a parked car.” If you have an idea for a product or service, or even for starting a business, you have to get moving. You have to get it into the marketplace. You have to “collide it with a customer” and get told NO, screw up, make mistakes, bump up against obstacles and be imperfect while consistently improving, innovating and advancing it. Otherwise you’re sitting on an acorn, hoping it will grow.