Note from Phil: Today’s guest post is from an old friend of mine who has reinvented herself – and her business – in an awesome way. Erin Michelle Sky is the co-founder of Trash Dogs LLC, a mobile app development company based in Georgia.
1. Do What You Love… and KEEP Doing It.
I know, I know, we hear this absolutely everywhere. “Do what you love and the money will follow,” right? Only it doesn’t always. At least not right away. So here’s the REAL reason to do what you love – the dirty, gritty, ugly side of entrepreneurism that inspirational speakers don’t always talk about: it’s HARD.
It’s SERIOUSLY hard, and you’re going to run into obstacles – massive, looming, gargantuan-sized obstacles – and there are going to be times when you think to yourself that this is just never going to work, never ever. It’s going to repeat over and over in your head like some kind of miserable, existential children’s rhyme: “never ever ever never never never never ever…” It just is. Sometimes.
When this happens, when things just aren’t working out and your dream isn’t blossoming into the myriad of happy, shiny rainbows that dance in your imagination and the real world walks right up and gets in your face and smacks you in the side of your head – HARD – well if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re not going to get back up for round two.
Take me, for example. I love computer programming, specifically programming mobile apps. I love it. I live it breathe it can’t get enough of it love it. So when our little LLC released its first app this past November and over the next three months managed to sell exactly 30 copies at a revenue of just over $2.00 per sale, I was profoundly disappointed. EXTREMELY disappointed. But I love programming, so I didn’t give up. I really don’t think I have it in me to give up programming. It’s not that I don’t want to, you understand. It’s that I CAN’T.
So when I say you have to do what you love I mean you have to LOVE it. You have to want this thing to work so badly that you just refuse to give up. When your first product goes live and hardly anybody buys it, you have to refuse to give up. When you send out fifty press releases and nobody, I mean NOBODY, picks up the story, you have to refuse to give up. The business you’re trying to build can’t just be a “wouldn’t that be nice” kind of dream. It has to be more of a “this is my destiny” kind of dream, especially in today’s economy. It has to come from deep in your gut and fill your heart with passion and make you want it so badly that you can taste the sheer joy of it from five or ten years away or however long it takes no matter what.
2. Be Customer-driven… Even If They Drive You Off the Road.
When we built our first app, “Heirlooms,” and I say “we” because like any other entrepreneurial venture the whole family got dragged into it, we designed it for my mother. So we had a design-inspired customer base of one, but at least it was a real person who had a real need we were trying to meet! (Shameless plug here: Heirlooms in the App Store is for both iPhone and iPad and retails for a whopping $2.99.)
The app was designed to let Mom save information about family treasures in her iPad so that stories and information about things like the hutch that my great-great-grandfather built or the painting that she and my dad bought on their honeymoon would be preserved for the next generation. The kids actually loved it too and spent most of their Christmas visit with Grandma and Grandpa asking where everything came from, including every single Christmas ornament we put on the tree. Mom LOVED it. But other people weren’t as happy.
As i already mentioned, we didn’t sell a whole lot of copies of the first version, but in early to mid January we got an e-mail from a disappointed customer saying that because she couldn’t get her heirlooms information out of the app she felt she had wasted her three dollars. So here we are, two months into what is turning out to be a completely failed launch, we’ve sold almost no copies, and now the only feedback we’ve gotten from any customer is completely negative. Last thing I wanted to hear in the world, right?
WRONG! Finally! Someone was telling us what they wanted! I read that email and all I thought was, “[Enter your favorite expletive here], I guess we better fix that!”
Just five and a half weeks later we released version 1.1 as a free update to the original app. Now users could e-mail their heirlooms to other people as file attachments. Realizing that this wasn’t especially useful if the recipient didn’t happen to have the app, we also introduced a free reader version of the app (entitled, in a flash of creative inspiration, Heirlooms Free) that people could download to import the heirlooms attachment, view the data, and even add their own story and send it back.
So now we had TWO happy customers. Only it turned out to be more than two…
We went back to our list of people and blogs and organizations we had contacted about the first version of the app and let them know about the update. This time, people wrote back. We even had one reviewer who had promised to write something about the first version and somehow never got around to it, but posted a rave review on her blog just HOURS after receiving the news about the update. (Shameless plug number two: the rave review.)
But even before the reviews started hitting the Internet, we had people downloading the free version to try it, apparently just finding the app through random searches in the App Store. Which leads me to my third key principle of entrepreneurism…
3. Let Them Try It… BEFORE They Have To Commit To Buying It.
The truth is we are in a TOUGH economy right now. It’s getting better, I guess, maybe, according to the news, some days, but we all know it’s still not great. And in a tough economy people are a lot more careful with their money. So even though this is really just a corollary of being customer-driven, it is important enough in today’s economy to talk about it separately.
In hard times, people are tougher consumers than ever. Our whole app update came from a customer who was upset enough to write to a company for not giving her enough for her three dollars. Three dollars! But that’s the reality of today’s market, and to be honest I thank God that she was upset enough over the three bucks to write to us about it. If she hadn’t been, we never would have known what our customers really wanted.
I attribute only half of our turn-around success to the update itself. I attribute the other half to the release of the free version. Yes, people like to communicate – look at Facebook for heaven’s sake – so adding the ability to e-mail heirlooms back and forth is a huge plus. But people also want a chance to give something a try before they shell out their cash for it. Or they want a money-back guarantee.
And hey, to be perfectly honest, this applies to me too. I am far more likely as a consumer to shop at a place that has cheerfully accepted my returns in the past with no questions asked. I am far more likely to buy an iPhone game if the developer gave me a few levels to try for free so I can make sure I like it. Sure, it LOOKS cool, but you really don’t know until you get your hands on it.
That’s today’s customer. They want to get their hands on it, drive it, taste it, try it on, try it out, kick the tires a few times before they’re sure. Today’s customer is TOUGH, and we as entrepreneurs need to understand that, accept it, respect it, and adapt. Give them a chance to try it out and make it good enough that they will consider it a decent value for the price.
So that’s my story so far, and I promise you there will be more to tell down the road, because I love programming too much to believe I will ever stop doing it. I’ll let you know the next chapter as it unfolds! In the meantime, if you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, remember: do what you love… and keep doing it; be customer-driven… even if they drive you off the road; and let them try it… before they have to commit to buying it. Today’s economy might be tough, but there is still room for success if you navigate it well.
About the author: Erin Michelle Sky is the co-founder of Trash Dogs LLC, a mobile app development company based in Georgia.
Ph.D., Fortune Magazine Contributor
Ph.D., Fortune Magazine Contributor
Dr. Tammy Lenski
Dr. Tammy Lenski