In a previous column, I described the creation of what Ian MacMillan and myself have come to call 'entrepreneurial goggles'. These are patterns one can look for that can lead to the discovery of interesting new opportunities. The metaphor comes from spy movies in which thieves wear special glasses that can detect the radar beams of the security cameras in a target location--invisible to the unaided eye, the goggles reveal things you ordinarily couldn't see.
I love discovering new 'goggles' and the way people have used them to create new businesses. Brian Evans, a very young and very successful serial marketing entrepreneur (his blog), shared one of his discoveries with me in an interview. In today's feedback-rich environment, he points out, users share comments on every aspect of a product, service, game or app. By tapping into these comments, you can easily see what is making people fabulously happy, unhappy or even angry. Without having to do any significant market research, voila, you now have the voice of your customer loud and clear delivered via products that other people have paid to produce and distribute.
As Brian observes, customer reviews, comments on support forums, reviews on the app store and other sources of customer feedback can be a real inspiration. He suggests looking for a few key terms. "I love this feature" is a good one because that indicates which aspects of an offering are generating really positive sentiment. Even more powerful are the negative sentiments. Brian suggests "I hate" is a pretty good indicator of an unhappy camper as a customer. "I wish" is also good, because it helps you to understand where the customer perceives a gap in the market that you might be able to fill. Another good phrase is "if only" to identify where existing offers are falling short.
An app called Buffer, for example, was created to address a shortcoming many users complained about with respect to other social media sites. The dilemma was that no real solution existed that allowed people to easily queue up posts, links or information without having to manually use a program such as Hootsuite to do the scheduling. What Buffer does is gives you the ability to load as many posts at one time as you like, and then releases them at pre-determined intervals. The app allows people to appear active, even if they are off-line, by literally acting as a buffer between the time one adds items to the queue and the time it is actually posted. This saves having to think too much about managing social media streams and enables people to avoid slamming followers with too much information.
Just for fun, I thought I'd try it myself, searching for user reviews of the networking site LinkedIn. I found a bunch at this website TrustPilot. Among the negative comments were reports of non-intuitive behavior of the website, the fact that people you don't know are constantly trying to link with you, poor customer service in general, and griping about what LinkedIn charges for job-seekers and recruiters. The users basically left the impression that LinkedIn is not so much about connecting with other professionals, as it is a way to provide recruiters with easy access to people within companies. Upon further searching I came across an alternative site called Poachable. This site was created for people currently employed who are interested in looking for a new position, but don't want their boss to find out. Members can discreetly connect with active recruiters. Will Poachable trump LinkedIn? Probably not in the near term, given LinkedIn's extensive network presence. But over time, if those negatives continue to build, it isn't inconceivable.