Business Growth

What Makes a Product, Service, Business, App, or Idea, Succeed?

A successful product is one that fulfills people’s needs. Conversely, a failed product is one that does not fulfill people’s needs. And, boy, have I made plenty of failed products — or products that haven’t succeeded yet.

Before we determine what makes a product, service, business, app, or idea, successful, let’s look at some of my failures. They’ll help you learn what not to do, which is quite helpful when learning what to do.

Failure #1: Video Game News Website (1999 – 2000)

At fourteen, I created a video game news website. Fascinated that the internet allowed me to communicate my ideas, I set one up quickly. I put my new skills in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, out on the web with my hobby. I could design a website that looked and functioned well, and had content people would look at.

Why it Failed:

  1. No Real Value: There were already established video game news websites, and mine was not adding anything new to the mix.
  2. Lacked Focus: I was still young, and didn’t have any knowledge that a successful business retains its focus; it serves its purpose, nothing more, nothing less.

Failure #2: Game Development Website (2003 – 2004)

Two months after starting college, I learned PHP. I set up a new website to show the world, and prospective employers, what I could do with my programming. The domain was still focused on video games, so perhaps that was a no-go impression. I had some lessons from my first website, but nothing significant that would make the difference.

I had hoped that I could create a game development company, or perhaps revive my video game news website. I even tried the idea of giving credit to game developers by creating profiles of the games they’ve worked on. (Perhaps a website these days may fulfill that need, as they often go underappreciated for their work.)

Why it Failed:

  1. Lack of Attention: A business can only thrive when its owner thrives on its business. Between working full-time and going to college full-time, how could I possibly give it the attention to grow?
  2. Lack of Vision: Again, I was not focused on any one minute subject matter, and the website could’ve been anything about video games (and it was).

Quick divergence:

I had poor, confusing influence in my childhood. I adopted a survival mentality instead of thriving, growing, and giving. Between 2004 and 2010, I stuck to this pattern. In 2009, I began a journey of self-improvement, that has helped tremendously. It was accelerated not by some book, speech, or mentor, but by a visit at the height of summer, in the middle of July, to Phoenix, Arizona, where I saw something incredible:

My sister, who came from the same stressful, financially limited circumstances, had led a team of volunteers to create the Arizona Derby Dames (at the time in its 5th or 6th season). Today, they are the largest banked track roller derby league in the country. Maybe even the world.

Failure #3: Website Development (2007-2012)

During college, and much of the 2008-2012 financial crisis, I stopped developing websites and started developing myself. I learned how people, myself included, just gave in too easily to the pessimism of the news and markets. I did find something valuable here: In times of pessimism, people turn to who they know they can trust.

As someone who prides himself on delivering results, without asking for much (or anything) in return, I was well-suited for a job that, in hindsight, I stayed in way too long. Though technically a success in my career, it was a failure on respecting myself.

Why it failed:

  1. Fear: When everyone was pessimistic about the job market, I gave into negative thinking and fear as well. I held onto the job simply because of fear that I wouldn’t be able to find another one.

Failure #4: Fiction Writing (2009 – present)

In 2009, I took up a couple new skills: creative writing and illustration. I’ve enjoyed both to a great degree (more so writing than illustration). I am a voracious reader, but am even hungrier to write. I write by hand, and love writing well into the early morning hours next to candlelight, with headphones on.

Today, after more than 9 years of writing, revising, drafting, I have earned less than $10 for all my creative work. That’s worse that a starving artist; begging for money would’ve been more profitable, financially anyway. But life isn’t about money, it’s about experiencing the things that fulfill us. That’s why I’m still committed to my fiction series, and don’t see this labor of love going away.

Why It Failed (so far)

  1. Doesn’t fulfill needs. My writing, at the time of conception, was written to entertain — and still is today. Now, I am looking how I can transform it to fulfill a need.
  2. Lottery: It’s a huge game of chance that fiction will succeed. Very, very few authors ever reach a level that they will earn even just a living.

This is perhaps my biggest failure, that I’m working to build into my biggest success. I am technically a successful author, but that’s only if you measure success that I’ve written several books, not the amount of money one has at the end of the day.

What makes a product successful, then?

I’ve learned that in order for a product to be successful, it must fulfill a need. To be immensely successful, it has to fulfill a need that isn’t already being met on a massive scale.

Facebook filled the need of connecting people through intelligent algorithms. MySpace failed because you had to look for your friends yourself. Connection is one of the human needs, and Facebook served it well.

Netflix filled the need of providing movies and TV shows when you wanted them. Cable companies, movie studios, Blockbuster, failed to grasp that the need for variety is one that must be met with good timing, as any comedian will tell you: great humor comes with great vomiting.

When the 2008 financial crisis hit, the Ford Motor company stood its ground and did not accept a government bailout. Their fans (myself included) stood behind them as they provided certainty by not giving into fear. They retained the integrity of their founder, and all that he worked for during the Great Depression.

Why is Instagram such a huge success? Because it’s users created a wave of marketing called influencers: people with fans that knew their opinions could be trusted. Having tons of fans allows the influencer to feel important – another human need.

Fulfill a Need

What need are you going to fulfill? I don’t like taking credit for other people’s work, so I will confess that I learned about these needs from Tony Robbins, who I consider a master of human psychology. When you can create a product that fulfills the six basic human needs, and you can become resourceful to bring that vision to life, you can create a product that will succeed.

The Biggest Problem

If you’re an artist, this may ring true to you: the biggest problem we face as artists is that we are obsessed with what we want to give people. We believe with such certainty that what we have to show the world is what the world ought to love. But what people will pay for is different than what the artist thinks they need.

If you’ve spent any time around a group of software developers, you’ll know they’re constantly trying to create the next killer app – the next hotly downloaded application to make a billion dollar valuation. The problem is the same as the artist: they focus on what they think other people will need.

That obsession creates an obsession with yourself. As Tony Robbins says, “suffering comes from an obsession with yourself.” It comes from an obsession of the outcomes you want. When you learn to stop focusing on the outcomes you want, you can focus on the outcomes (needs) that others want.

And this is where the real magic of being an artist can create something magnificent, like the Mona Lisa, Harry Potter, Disney, heck, even designing the architecture of the next Sydney Opera House. Once you’ve mastered being an artist, and you’ve at least begun to master the science of fulfilling other people’s needs, you can apply your skills as an artist to both fulfill your needs and the needs of others.

The Solution

To create a successful product, service, app, or business, you must fulfill the needs of others. Not doing so will cause you to fall into what artists call obscurity. You may have created something amazing, but it could just be a shooting star: in the sky for a moment, but never captured, and its gone, swallowed up in the night sky.

Some steps you can take:

  1. Ask questions. Just ask people what they want or need. Ask your boss, your sister, the person on the bus. If you don’t have a job, I bet your chances of getting one can go way up if you sent a hand-written note simply asking, “How can I help you today?” You’ll get some responses, maybe even fun ones!
  2. Research. Listen. What are people complaining about? Wouldn’t you like to shut them up? Better yet, help them! So many of us turn out the noise we don’t want to hear because of all the complaints, but there’s a gold mine of fulfilling needs where people are complaining the most.
  3. Look at yourself. What businesses to you turn for to fulfill your six needs? Are they actually meeting them? Hey, if not, how could you create a business like theirs that does fulfill a need?

Your Job is An Example

We’re not all business owners, entrepreneurs, or Hollywood stars. The vast majority of us are workers. Did you know that by having a job, you are constantly fulfilling someone’s needs? The needs of your boss, and your boss’s customers. Prime example, smack right in front of people’s faces!

Nothing is stopping you from taking what you learn on your job and creating a business out of it. There was a time when every business had an on-staff, full-time janitor. I find that a great deal of businesses now hire cleaning crews / businesses to come in once or twice a week to clean up. It’s far more profitable for the business, and for you. Certainly you know how to clean your house — so clean the house of a business. Cha-ching!

I’ve been working since I was twelve years old, and it wasn’t until just last night, that I realized that I have been doing all along with my life what I should have been doing with my writing: finding a need and filling it. I hope this article has fulfilled one of your needs.