When Building a Mousetrap, Learn from a Realtor…

This post was inspired by a conversation with Pete Warden, one of the smart cookies I met while trying to start disruptorMonkey. I should say “smart biscuit”, since he’s a fellow Brit, but back to my post…

We were discussing the oft cited concept of “building a better mousetrap”, and Pete is one of those rare engineers that understands that building a better mousetrap does not equal building a successful business.

One of the local CEOs I admire, Steve Wiehe of SciQuest, once asked me the following question:

“If I buy this thing, who can I fire?”

His point being: is this a nice tool to have that will make “things” get “better” or will it deliver significant and tangible benefit to my business.

In old school sales lingo, this is the “soft need” versus a “hard need“. Or if you prefer, the difference between “nice to have” and “have to have”. If you have heart trouble, a pacemaker is probably a hard need. If you like some of the features in Outlook 2007, buying the upgrade is a soft need.

Products that meet hard needs are great as they’re easy to sell (you have to have it, and not just in an “I want my iPhone 3G” kind of way). But relatively few software products meet hard needs… And a soft sell is a whole different kind of beast to wrestle to the ground.

Back to mousetraps… In the big scheme of things, the mousetrap itself is almost irrelevant. You can have a great product in the wrong market and get nowhere. Equally, you can have a truly shitty product in exactly the right place at the right time and do very very well.

If you’re trying to sell the One-Touch DeathTron 3000 mousetrap in the hamster/mice section of Petsmart, you won’t do well. But grab a sturdy 2×4, head to the nearest rat infested grain barn & hang your shingle and business will boom.

Which brings me to my point: It’s not about the mousetrap, it’s all about “location, location, location”.

Don’t focus on an elegant solution to an interesting problem. Instead, figure out where the ideas you are excited about can have a real and meaningful impact. If you apply your magic widget to scenario X for company Y, who can they fire and how much money will they save.

So in Conclusion:

  1. The person with the most dead mice wins
  2. It doesn’t matter how the mice get squished
  3. You need to be squishing the kind of mice that people don’t want around… not their favored pets

p.s. As ever, I’m focused on B2B, not B2C. Crazy consumer apps are a whole other bag of dead rodent metaphors…

p.p.s. This was one of several things we didn’t do well enough at disruptorMonkey, so I speak from experience…