Meet The Nigerian Who’s Now Better At Business Than Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was a fraud. He pretended that he didn’t research the iPod. Or the iPhone for that matter. Steve Jobs has been quoted many times quoting Henry Ford who said this: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Steve Jobs lied.

The truth is that Steve Jobs never asked people what they wanted. Because, of course, nobody knew what a better the best MP3 player would look like. Who would have thought that a mere MP3 player would become a thing of desire? But here’s what Mr Jobs knew: he knew that the best MP3 players at that time did not guarantee the best music listening experience nor were they intuitive in their design. So Mr Jobs, after working so round the clock with dozens of engineers and designers, made his iPod. Rinse and repeat the process for the iPhone. Rinse and repeat for the iPad, too.

Steve iPod
iLove Steve, no matter what

But the legend grows: Steve Jobs never bothered with what people wanted, he just made it and people queued up for days to spend their life savings on it. But whoever still claims that Steve Jobs never researched the iThings he sold so well should just go and sit down. Steve Jobs did research, bro. the same kind of research he did on the first Apple computer that Wozniak built. Asides that, Jobs had millions of dollars to create a show around every product launch. How many entrepreneurs can try that? Perhaps the problem with us is the word Research.

What feeling do we associate with the word Research. Pain. Stress. Confusion. Or failure. it’s not our fault. Anyone who did a final higher education project would agree (believe me, I tested this assumption) that research is the bane of most final year student. All the questionnaire, the analyses, the charts, chi-square, the defending of your hypothesis. The sleepless nights.

So many college educated entrepreneurs wish they wouldn’t have to do research ever again in their lives. C’mon! It’s time to make money! I believe this my new idea will work! I have a strong gut feeling! Look, no one else is doing it! I’m going to make millions! Yeah, you will. If you won the lottery. But then if you won the lottery, you would still blow the cash on stupid untested ideas. Trust me, I know a thing or two about blowing money on crazy ideas.

Yes, that’s me: Sam Adeoye… generating wacky ideas since 1994. Twenty freaking years! The last ‘business’ I blew money on was supposed to be a no brainer. Why not set up a cool game centre in a part of Lagos populated by people in the D socio-economic class. It was supposed to be aspirational. I’m gonna make a ton of money! Yeah. Provide AC, four LCD TVs, brand new PS3s, huge typhoon fans, plastic chairs, sliding glass doors, the latest games. This was going to be fun.

No it wasn’t. The people in that area didn’t like PS3. They preferred PS2. And only one game: PES. They didn’t care about fancy flat screens either. They were okay with bulk-back old school colour TVs. I advertised. There were flyers. There were also banners. But poof! More than N1.5m was gone in two months! It wasn’t even supposed to cost half as much. Okay, who wants to buy LCD TVs, I asked at my office. Thank God I was able to sell some of the gadgets. I closed shop. Literally. Phew.

I didn’t do research. I just decided to invest a million naira in a hunch. A hollow assumption. It backfired. But in spite of that stark failure, I still was unwilling to do research because every time I thought about it, it was like I was going to kill myself. Until recently, after reading a few books on startups. You know, it would be better to not say Research. Instead, let’s say ‘Discovery’.

ps2
Not my game shop

When you know that what you’re looking for is not some theoretical phantom but answers to people’s needs, your eyes will be open wider. You’ll go out or pick up your phone and interview real people and then take it from there. It’s not just a question of where the money will come from but also that of who needs the solution you’re peddling. What migraine level problem are you solving. Is your solution to that problem acceptable to the sufferers. As they say in the land of the wise, it’s not a business if it’s not bringing any revenue. It’s only a hobby. And of all the books I read, none gave me the brutal wake up call better than Choose Yourself by James Altucher and All In Startup by Diana Kander.

Here are 10 of my many takeaways from All In Startup

  1. The problem is that human beings aren’t logical. They are totally irrational, and you can’t really predict their behaviour, even with such a small modification to an existing product.
  1. Everything you wrote in your business plan is just a guess.
  1. If your business is failing from the get-go, it means either you built a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist, or your customers don’t know they have the problem or it’s not important enough that they are willing to pay money to solve it, or your solution doesn’t actually solve the problem.
  1. Talk to men, women, anybody that fits your customer description. Listen first and then talk. Don’t load questions. Don’t sell them on a problem.
  1. Don’t use ‘would you’! Those are the worst two words you can start a sentence with! Don’t ask yes or no questions. Make sure you are giving them plenty of opportunities to tell their stories.
  1. A startup isn’t a smaller version of a big company.
  1. A startup is just a temporary vehicle to find a good business model.
  1. The ability to face failure and rejection is one of the greatest strengths of successful entrepreneurs.
  1. The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.
  2. There are things called Vanity Metrics: your site hits, Alexa ranking, PR hits, praise from your friends, your girlfriend’s applause, etc. Remember, if the business doesn’t bring money….

Bonus: The best way to test your idea is to build the cheapest form of it and find the shortest path from your idea to the desired customer action, which is money transferred from them to you.

Back to the great Steve Jobs. Even he learnt some big lessons in humility on some of his projects that flopped on a big scale: NeXT and Lisa, for example.

It’s on to the next one for me but this time, I’m doing the more sensible thing. If I fail, I’ll write about it again. If I succeed, you can only imagine what I’ll do. 🙂

10 comments

  1. Bros,
    I empathize with the ‘failed’ Game Shop and I cannot agree more with your 10 takeaways from All In Startup by Diana Kander.

    Indeed human beings can be illogical; you can’t ever predict correctly their behavior per time. And certainly this makes business plans full of guesses and assumptions. Lol!

    I particularly love your thought on Research/Discovery: “When you know that what you’re looking for is not some theoretical phantom but answers to people’s needs, your eyes will be open wider.”

    However, my worry is that many startups will continue to run into brickwall because of human errors. As in, at the point of interviewing people or trying to understand what they want, what will sell, why and how, etc it can just be hard to get the real truths off their head. They’re either feeling high or low at the point of questioning and they might feel differently when the anticipated service or product finally gets to them.

    To succeed as entrepreneurs though we have to keep thinking for people, solving basic problems for them and creating desires in them that they didn’t even know existed. This also means we continue to take risks. Of course, calculated risks…test-running ideas in the cheapest form and model, and looking out for engagement with real people who will offer valid opinions and become profitable clients.

    Thought-provoking article. Welldone!

  2. Alhaji,

    very well said.
    Although an entrepreneur needs to make a whole load of gaffes in the process of getting it right.

    I particularly interested in your game shop saga as I’ve seen this scenario over and again, especially with creating content.

    But my question is: did you think you failed simply because the centre didn’t pick up as quickly as you imagined? Don’t you think that because it was a ‘new product’ perhaps, you could have factored in the gestation period as part of take off?

    I’m just curious.

    1. I factored in the gestation period, actually. The centre was open for more than six months and staff were being paid. Add cost of petrol (for the generator) and other ancillary costs. By the sixth month it became clear that I might need to extend the gestation period. Too bad I couldn’t afford that extension. Some people have also suggested that perhaps it would have done better if I had been fully on ground to run it myself but I think it’s all part of the Discovery we’re talking about. Should have, would have, could have. On to the next one.

  3. Nice write-up boss

    It saddens me that in our industry so many multimillion naira business plans and campaigns are developed and executed without any form of consumer understanding and just to make some persons feel good

    1. Absolutely. A lot of times, agencies work on products that have been developed without any credible market investigation. Clients wish that advertising will make everything sell. But you can only deceive the market once.

  4. Thanks a lot. This post was timely and has saved me from making an irrational business move. Thanks. Will check out the books

  5. Oh I have tried a few businesses too, thinking I knew what people needed! Thing is after reading many books that tell you, you only leave the rat race when you start your business, you end up jumping the gun when an idea comes through. So the trouble is not in knowing what is right, it is in doing the disciplined thing. Really enjoyed reading your piece, like I expect less. Nice reminder.

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