One of the first rules of starting a business is that you have to create something people want. Achieving product/market fit is not just a pipe dream, it's the key to business growth and success. On the other hand, the ideal entrepreneur is a visionary -- someone who sees the needs and wants of people before they know they have them.

This forms something of a paradox. Henry Ford is famously attributed as saying, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

When debuting his new Cybertruck a few weeks ago, Elon Musk reframed this statement: "I actually don't know if a lot of people will buy this pickup truck or not," he said, "but I don't care."

This type of comment would send traditional shareholders running to sell their shares, but it had the opposite effect at Tesla. As much of a celebrity, Musk only needs to mention that he likes something, and other people will buy it. In the case of the Cybertruck, he updated a common product, the pickup truck, by removing a main pain point: terrible gas mileage. With its unusual styling, he's also allowing anyone who purchases it to make a statement -- they will stand out immediately as someone who bought in to his message.

While the Cybertruck may be selling well, this attitude probably won't work if your name isn't Elon Musk. Here's how you should approach creating new products in your business. 

1. Find a need -- not a want.

As former Evernote CEO Phil Libin likes to say, "Design for yourself and love what you do." When building Evernote, he evaluated his daily routine and thought about where he was annoyed or frustrated. He then designed Evernote products to make himself happier, for example making sure notes are automatically titled based on location and calendar information.

The most successful companies are low-key -- they exist to simply remove friction from people's lives. Instead of trying to create a whole new category, find a pain point and solve for that problem. At Tesla, their focus is in utilizing renewable fuel sources -- which allows them a lot of room for innovation.

2. Find a strong partner.

Years ago, I worked for game studios where we were releasing completely new types of products -- massive multiplayer online games. As this was a brand-new category at the time, we partnered with known brands from another genre. By utilizing the characters and worlds of WWE, Disney, and Paramount we were able to create games around the new technology.

If you have something totally new, it will be hard to get people to accept it. Instead, lean on someone or something people already know and trust to make it more palatable. This is  why the Cybertruck keeps being explained "like the Honda Ridgeline" -- its a known model that people already understand.

3. Be ok with failure -- really.

While the Cybertruck looks to be a success, Musk's apparent nonchalance about its ultimate fate is a valuable insight into his mind. Even if it never had a consumer buyer, the truck's research and development was no doubt useful for other projects, so it would not hurt Tesla in the long run.

Too often, business owners make this fatal mistake -- they'll confuse an experiment with a business goal and turn all resources to that end. Experiments should only be short-term, low-effort endeavors that you can easily absorb as a loss if they fail.

By keeping these things in mind, you are well on the path to creating the next big thing for your own business.

Published on: Dec 3, 2019
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