34-year-old Suraj Patel ran for Congress this year and lost. But that's where the story begins, not where it ends.  

He received more votes than any other winner in the state, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Even in a loss Patel proved that a new model works, that preconceived notions of who the target market is were wrong and that there is plenty of room for disruption.

Chances are you're not getting in to politics. You're reading Inc and looking for advice on how to start a business. These lessons can be directly applied to your business.

Because whether you are running for Congress or creating a new business the principles are the same. You always need a new way to connect and you should never make assumptions.

This shows why you need to do your research.

When you are looking to start a business, do your research. Is a target market set in stone or can a new tactic work? Being the 100th company to try the same thing rarely works. If you start a new business that's good. But transcendent startups and companies find a new way to reach and motivate people. 

And whether you are selling a widget, a service or a vote go where the most people are and engage them rather just finding the currently most engaged.

It may seem like the right play to go after people most likely to purchase but two things are always true about that strategy. 

  1. Your competitors are all doing exactly that so you wind up fighting for the same, small piece of market share
  2. You wind up ignoring an underserved majority of people who would buy if they were marketed to directly. 

Never assume conventional wisdom is right.

You would never start a successful business right now using direct mail as your main tactic.

Conventional wisdom told Patel that Millennials don't vote, that the average age of the voter in this election was in their mid-60s. In 2016, just 7 percent of all eligible voters (16,959 people) turned out to vote in the NY-12 Congressional primary. Patel eclipsed that number on his own (16,995 votes).

If you assume that your audience is similar to that of AARP then you can understand why political advertising is roughly 90 percent direct mail and television. That method works for that demographic. But how do you know that's really the best audience?

And this is true for any industry you choose to start a business. Someone will tell you what they think the market is. Do your own research 

To me 7 percent turnout means that there is 93 percent market share available for anyone to theoretically grab. Those are the kind of numbers that would excite any entrepreneur.

And it turns out the median age in Patel's district is 33, not 65. So Patel did what any entrepreneur would do in this situation. He went where the most people and marketed directly to them. 

He took to the streets with pop-up coffee carts and food trucks. The mission was to sell 16,000 units of Suraj Patel. He gave away 200,000 cups of coffee with his face on them. They registered voters at food trucks. And it worked.  

If anything it worked too well. While Ocasio-Cortez flew under the radar to victory, Patel was getting local and national press ahead of his primary. His opponent Carolyn Maloney, a member of Congress for a quarter century, took notice and followed his lead, adapting her strategy to compete with Patel and ultimately win. 

Organize your business for results.

"Digital native brands like Casper, Bonobos, Lyft and more have set a higher bar. These brands treat their audiences as equals, with much success. Open, two-way conversations and higher-quality content--engaging, enriching, and empowering--gives people a shared language and more meaningful reasons to connect," said Patel.

How you organize your business can be just as unique as your marketing or results. Patel accomplished this with a team of 20, structuring behind a Chief of Staff, Chief Engagement Officer and a Chief Marketing Officer. 

Political campaigns are finite, there are winners and losers. In business if you're not first, you're not last. As a small business, selling 16,000 units in a few short months with zero prior brand recognition would be astonishing. In politics, it's just a loss.

But Patel now has loyal "customers" that will follow him to the next election and a proven model on how to  turn out voters no one thought possible. Any current campaign would love his expertise now. 

And for your first business, don't worry if you succeed or fail. Worry about how many loyal customers you can create. That's the new currency.

Because loyal customers will be your foundation, they will follow you to your next venture and become your selling point. 

Published on: Jul 18, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.