The idea of growing your company's product line can be very tempting. But sometimes, you need to tap the brakes.
That's the advice offered by Carey Smith, the founder of Big Ass Solutions, at the Inc. Founders House on Monday. Smith founded his company--initially called Big Ass Fans--in 1999 as a manufacturer of ceiling fans for industrial spaces. The startup later expanded into other products such as lights and residential fans, and revenue climbed, reaching $240 million in 2016. The following year, Smith sold the company to private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg for $500 million.
Despite that success, Smith advised resisting the common urge to quickly roll out new offerings. "Everybody has it, because you're afraid you're going to miss something," he said. "I hate to say 'slow down'--but you need to step back and take a look" at the market.
Smith was joined on stage by Chris Anderson, founder of pool furniture maker Ledge Lounger, whom he will be advising as part of the Inc. Founders Project, which pairs early-stage entrepreneurs with established mentors. Since founding his startup in 2009, Anderson has expanded from underwater chairs to products like deck furniture and cabanas.
"You have to be very careful at this juncture," Smith told him. "It's easy to overdo it."
Smith admitted Big Ass Solutions looked at some markets way outside of its natural sphere, ranging from robotics to yogurt. The company never strayed that far, but it did release several products that failed to catch on with consumers.
A good way to avoid that problem, Smith said, is to do your homework. While proper market research could take several weeks and thousands of dollars, that's less costly than creating something that bombs. "It could take you a year to develop a product," he said. "We developed products that didn't go anywhere, because it turned out people just didn't understand them."
And if you need help coming up with ideas in the first place, remember you have a valuable resource available: your own customers. It's wise to talk to them about what kinds of products they crave.
"Not because you need to make everything they want," Smith said, "but to get into their brains."