Henry Ford never believed in Market Research. He once said if he’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have replied, “faster horses”. They had no idea that the Model T could change their lives.
Steve Jobs famously had the same attitude. He said that before the iPhone, no one knew that they wanted an iPhone, since no one knew that an iPhone could be invented.
Yet somehow, Henry Ford sold 25 million model Ts and Apple has sold over 100 million IPhones. There was no market for those products until Jobs and Henry Ford created them.
It is not the job of the consumer to tell the merchant what he wants, because he often doesn’t know what is possible. It is up to the merchant to figure out what his customer wants and present it to him. That is the inherent risk for the business person. To be successful one must be willing to invest his time and money to offer something to his customer, and be willing to suffer the consequences if that customer should reject it, one example of which is the Apple Newton, Apple’s attempt at the iPad in the mid-nineties. Yes, even Apple has failed to read their customer’s needs.
No one knew that they wanted a 450 passenger airplane with a pregnant bubble up front, until Boeing built the 747. Bill Allen risked the entire company on the facility to build that airplane, and the company was reportedly within $250,000 of insolvency when they started getting their first orders.
Fred Smith, of Federal Express, was so broke in 1973 that he took one of his company cargo planes to Las Vegas, played Blackjack with his last $500, won $27,000, wired it back to the company’s bank account, and was able to buy fuel for another week. His customers didn’t know that they would want to send packages around the world overnight until Fred Smith told them they did. 146,000 employees and $26.5 billion in revenue later, he appears to have been correct.
The most successful business people risk going broke all the time, because they have the courage to risk it all on an idea.
In April of 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech on personal achievement. It is quoted below:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”