How One Bad Business Idea Can Ruin Your Company

April 3, 2016, 6:00 PM UTC
Photograph via Getty Images

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What did you learn from your biggest failure? is written by Ian Siegel, co-founder and CEO of ZipRecruiter.

Creating a successful business out of nothing is a huge challenge, and there is virtually no way to make a perfect service on the first try. When we started ZipRecruiter, I was lucky enough to have a substantial amount of experience with tech startups. I had seen first-hand what worked in new companies, as well as what stifled growth or caused them to collapse altogether. It was that experience — as well as the experience and collaborative efforts of all our co-founders — that enabled ZipRecruiter to grow profitably for the first four years, without any outside funding. But many entrepreneurs fail to operate and maintain businesses that consistently satisfy its employees and customers. Here are some timeless tips I learned early in my career:

Avoid becoming a “jack of all trades, master of none”
All businesses essentially sell one thing. Even if you offer customers a variety of goods or services, your core value will always be in one thing that defines your business. By identifying this one thing you have a much greater chance of making it the best thing, that keeps your customers coming back. For example, Dominique Ansel’s bakery in New York City offers a variety of baked goods, but is best-known for its croissant/donut mash-up known as the Cronut, named one of the 25 Best Inventions of 2013 by Time magazine.

Google provides services that touch nearly every corner of the internet, but their primary value is in their web browsing, email, and mapping capabilities. How often do you see advertising for Project Sunroof, the tool that tells you if your home is a good candidate for solar panels based on Google Earth’s mapping? (GOOGL) Google can provide services like these because they have mastered their core product, and are constantly working to improve that product by incorporating user feedback. By improving upon and marketing only your core service or product, your customers will rely on you for that experience.

See also: Here’s Why My Boss Wanted Me to Fail

Make yourself available to customers
What you think makes your product the most valuable may not always align with what your customers like most about it. Making a habit to listening to what your customers want is the best way to create something that has long-term earning potential. Encourage customers to offer feedback by creating a customer service team that is made up of emotionally intelligent people, who are experts on your service or product. It’s equally important to keep track of the issues that appear repeatedly and find a permanent fix. Use your data to observe how your customers use your service — what prompts them to move forward in the process, where they drop off — and incorporate those findings into your business’ evolution. Listening to your customers not only creates loyalty between them and your business, it also gives you the unique opportunity to identify problems with your service you may be unaware of.

Prepare to pivot as needed
One of our initial big ideas for ZipRecruiter was the ‘interview question’ feature. We wanted to provide a quick pre-screening method that would eliminate the time it takes to read a full resume and have a phone call with a candidate that may not even have the basic qualifications necessary for your job. Building out the interview question feature actually took longer than creating the core job distribution, but we thought it would be our key differentiator. Our customers loved the product, but had one request: that the interview question feature not be a required step to posting. Today, interview questions are an optional feature of our service.

Customer insights and feedback should always be the first consideration in your product roadmap. Your internal team might become attached to a specific feature, but if another one is resonating among customers, take the hint and pivot. As a business owner, you probably have an endless supply of great ideas about how to make your product the best available; your excitement about that product is likely the reason you’re in business in the first place. But before you spend the time and resources building out these concepts, find out what’s most important to your key market and make sure all your efforts are centered around the goal of satisfying those customers. The more unified your product is around one core value, the more satisfied and loyal your customer base will be.

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