Some of our recent blogs have addressed common challenges that entrepreneurs often face. Another common problem that we haven’t discussed yet is the fact that many small business owners confuse creating a product with building a business – and many fail because they don’t understand this difference. This is an important small business idea worth noting.
These two things may sound like the same thing, but they are very different. Successful business owners understand the difference between the two, so we want to share how they compare to one another.
Many businesses start with a great idea. Maybe it’s an idea for a new product, a different way of delivering a service, or taking an existing idea and applying it to a new type of customer. Some ideas for products are services are brand new, such as a new invention or completely new service. For example, the iPhone was a new cell phone and music player created by Apple, which was a product that hadn’t been successfully created in the past.
Other ideas are not new, but still fill an unmet need in the market. For example, the Samsung Galaxy was not a new invention since it came after the Apple iPhone, but it still filled an unmet need in the market. Samsung attempted to create a product that was better and cheaper than Apple’s iPhone. Both the iPhone and Galaxy are successful products made by successful companies, but the originations of those two products are very different.
The key point here is that no matter whether your product or service is a brand new one or an extension of an existing idea, a business idea won’t succeed unless you build a “real” company to develop, market, and sell it to a mass audience. It doesn’t mean that your product or service has to be as popular as the iPhone to be successful – although most probably wouldn’t complain if it were – but it means that you have to do more than just create a good product to make your business thrive.
There are a number of reasons why this is true. First of all, one product or service typically isn’t enough to make a successful business. It typically takes a number of complementary products and services to fulfill customer needs and fuel your small business growth. For example, even the iPhone isn’t effective as a standalone product. It succeeds not only because it is a great product, but also because customers can also download music, subscribe to photo sharing services, and buy additional storage space from Apple. The combination of these products is what makes Apple and the iPhone successful. And the iPhone is just one of many products and services that Apple provides to its customers.
Secondly, the economy and customer tastes change very quickly, which means that no one single product or service is likely to stay popular for long. This means that if you want your small business to succeed in the long-term, you need to constantly update your products and services to constantly meet the needs of your customers. If you rely too much on one product, it won’t be long before it becomes obsolete and you find your business in trouble.
A good example of this is the company GoPro, which makes wearable recording devices for athletes and other active individuals. The product was initially very successful and enabled the company to grow to nearly $1 billion in revenue. However, it relied too much on this one product and has since struggled to maintain its growth in the face of competition from smart phones and other cheaper recording devices. As a result, the company is now facing a decrease in market share and revenue. At the time of this blog, the company was actively trying to expand its product offerings to diversify and meet the changing customer tastes, but it is to be seen whether this strategy will work.
The third main reason why building a company is so much more important than creating a product is because it is difficult to get each customer. For every dollar and minute of time you spend acquiring a new customer, you want to maximize the revenue you realize from that customer. Having only one product limits your ability to sell more to your existing customers that you worked so hard to get.
Finally, building a company enables you to have a sort of well-oiled machine that continuously creates more demand for your products or services, allows the business to create enough product to meet demand, and grow in the long-term. A product by itself won’t last for long if you can’t build a company that constantly creates more and more demand for it and finds ways to deliver those products or services profitably.
So, the summary is that building a company is more sustainable for long-term growth. It allows you to be more nimble and more quickly adapt to changing customer needs. It also allows you to build a business that can last beyond the original owner, in the case that you may want to sell the company or pass it on to your children. A company that provides a single product or service can’t provide this level of growth potential and sustainability.
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