Image credit: | Shutterstock

Image credit: | Shutterstock

Every person who has had the courage to start a business has done so with imperfect information. There are always unknowns. We all wonder, “Is this even a good idea? How can I be sure? What can I do to prevent my business from failing? What direction should I take next?”

These are critical questions — questions that I’m betting have kept you tossing and turning at night more than once. Are they fundamentally unanswerable? I don’t think so. What successful entrepreneurs do is let the market tell them what it needs. When you need answers, that’s where you should turn.

The path to becoming a successful entrepreneur is strewn with obstacles. Bumps in the road are perfectly normal. You have to have faith and be flexible. In many cases, you may actually need to start over. The good news is that each of your experiences — good and bad – is an opportunity to learn. But you have to truly listen to pick up on the lesson.

So, what do I mean by “let the market tell you what it needs”? That you should never forget to listen to your audience. You could wrestle with yourself internally and agonize about a difficult decision for ages. But I think you’d be much better off seeking the opinion of people who actually matter.

At a conference in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I heard entrepreneurs — some of them wildly successful — discuss how they brought an initial concept to fruition. Over and over again, I heard them say that they let the market tell them what was needed. They weren’t afraid to pivot when they received new information. They also weren’t afraid to try doing something radically different than their peers, because they had listened to their customers and felt sure that they had a handle on what they wanted. They stood firm in the face of opposition.

So what are some ways to let the market tell you what it needs? I’ve written about some of these methods before — I thought it was important to get them all down in one place.

1. Try to license your idea.
Submitting your idea to potential licensees is a great way of getting feedback. If your submission is turned down, ask why your product idea isn’t a good fit for the company. What you discover might surprise you. Use the feedback you receive to redesign and polish your idea. Most products that end up being licensed were rejected for one reason or another at first.

2. Read product reviews.
What do customers value? What are they frustrated by? What do they wish were different? Critical reviews of my book, One Simple Idea, helped me determine how to improve it when I sat down to write an updated and revised edition. Product reviews offer up a veritable treasure trove of insight. Mine them.

3. Walk a trade show.
To be honest, I don’t think you even need to get a booth. Instead, take a prototype of your idea with you to your industry’s trade show and hit the floor. How do people respond to your idea? Are they excited by it? As you walk around, take inventory. What’s popular? Where is the industry headed? What booths are crowded and why?

4. Showcase your creativity at a Maker Faire.
I recently wrote about how great these events are for testing an idea. When I was young, I did more or less the same thing, but Maker Faire wasn’t around then so I was forced to seek out art fairs and street festivals. (Some were a better fit than others.)

Life is Good company founder Bert Jacobs did the same thing when he was in his 20s. He and his brother traveled around the country for five years trying (mostly in vain) to sell T-shirts they had made out of their van. Just when they were about to give up, they hit on a winner, selling completely out of the design in a single day. Later on, listening to the market encouraged him to create a nonprofit arm of his company.

5. Consider crowdfunding your idea.
It takes a lot of work to run a successful campaign, but boy can it pay off. A successful campaign provides proof of demand. There’s no better proof than someone actually reaching into his or her pocket to pay for your product idea.

6. Conduct a survey.
When I had the idea to reinvent the shape of the guitar pick, the first inclination my partner and I had was that players would love picks with images of women’s bikini-clad bodies on them. Sex sells, right? Wrong. When we got local music stores to display our prospective designs at their checkout counters and asked for feedback, we discovered our customers loved the skull design best. Input was crucial to our success.

7. Create a YouTube channel.
This is less appropriate for a product, but fantastic for a brand. My company inventRight teaches people how to license their ideas. So my partner and I established a YouTube channel and started uploading short informal videos during which we tackle different aspects of licensing. We engage with more people that way than any other medium. For example, our audience frequently asks us to create videos on different topics. We know what they’re looking for because they literally tell us.

Seek out answers from the market to help you keep moving forward. Failures are just opportunities to get it right!

Stephen Key (


No need to step on others to get ahead. Image credit: | Kole Obasa

No need to step on others to get ahead. Image credit: | Kole Obasa

During a networking event, I was once asked why the most successful entrepreneurs seem to be heartless or just completely stone-cold wheeler dealers.

It is very easy to see why most people have that perception about entrepreneurs; particularly successful ones. I once had that perception.

I have since understood a few truths about people in business. One common trait of successful entrepreneurs is shrewdness – which in other words mean showing sharp powers of judgement, astute or shark’ very easily translated to being insensitive. The richest entrepreneurs in the world possess powerful instincts, are very astute and are sharks. They roam the waters (business environment) and once they smell blood (business opportunities) they pounce (strike a business deal) and move on to the next one.

Aliko Dangote. Image Credit: Forbes

Aliko Dangote. Image credit: Forbes

It is the case with ALL of them – Sir Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, Aliko Dangote etc. They simply have that unmatchable (killer) instinct. They take no prisoners, but this astuteness can sometimes be perceived as insensitive.

You will not hear Sir Alan Sugar speak without using the phrase “Its a Dog eat Dog World” making you understand that in the business world, you either kill or be killed. But is it really?

Sir Alan Sugar - Its a dog eat dog world. Image credit: pressgazzette

Sir Alan Sugar – Its a dog eat dog world. Image credit: pressgazzette

Here’s my take on it, the business environment differs, but as we have already established, successful entrepreneurs are shrewd. Observers, followers and aspiring entrepreneurs have over time held on to this belief that in order to succeed in business you MUST be an insensitive and cold hearted bastard.

The business world is an open ocean, filled with sharks with very little food; you need to be able to kill other sharks to survive right? Wrong. You need to be cleverer thats for sure and you simply need to match (or even surpass) the skills and power of the biggest shark. That is the only way you can survive. You don’t need to step on others to get ahead.

Of course, you can be successful too if you manage to kill some of the other sharks, but is that how you want to be known? The entrepreneur who will do anything to be successful? Is that what entrepreneurship is about?

I have seen entrepreneurs resort to the unthinkable in order to gain competitive advantage over their competition. Negative press release, bad comments on comparison sites and even sabotage are just a few dirty tricks employed by entrepreneurs these days. “Integrity is dying a very slow death in business these days”  

Sir Richard Branson - gentleman businessman. Image credit: artoflivingguide

Sir Richard Branson – gentleman businessman. Image credit: artoflivingguide

Some successful  business men (and women) display a hardened outer body, but some are just plain gentle but are equally as successful. Take Sir Richard Branson, widely considered a gentleman businessman; he is of a different ilk from Aliko Dangote or Alan Sugar, but he’s a shark nonetheless. He spots opportunities and take them. But he didn’t step on others to get there. Not suggesting Dangote or Sugar did, but do you see the difference? They are the same but not the same!

Michelle Mone – Founder of Ultimo bras seriously questions integrity and general attitude towards business. She created an empire, is a multi millionaire but didn’t sell her soul to get there.

Michelle Mone - Consistently highlights the lack of integrity in entrepreneurs today. Image credit: Virginmedia

Michelle Mone – Consistently highlights the lack of integrity in entrepreneurs today. Image credit: Virginmedia

Succeeding in business is only about being smarter, sharper, more intelligent, the better marketer, the one with the best instinct and MOST IMPORTANTLY the luckier. So, its not about working hard to completely destroy your competition.

They will always be there, even if you kill some, others will appear. So live with them but be smarter than them.

Entrepreneurs (established and aspiring) thinking they ought to display a kill or be killed attitude in order to succeed need not bother starting a business. They can try soldiering.

The message is simple: Rather than kill or be killed, all I’m saying is: “Don’t kill but try not to be killed” 

Kole Obasa

Image credit: cutthroathippiehang.

Image credit: cutthroathippiehang.



In business, in life, the golden rule remains the same . . . an opportunity will always come our way.

The trouble is, many of us miss this golden chance. With the way life churns, these opportunities never return.

Never miss a single opportunity again!


Business instincts should flag up stop/start signs during startup.

Business instincts should flag up stop/start signs during startup.

Instinct is every entrepreneur’s greatest asset.

Starting up a business as daunting as it is could be ridiculously easier if entrepreneurs learn to trust their instincts.

The rigours of bringing a product or idea to market is enough to dissuade the weak-minded – company formation, idea protection (patenting, trademarking etc) marketing, promotion, finding investors or loans are just some of the processes entrepreneurs have to go through.

There are several books, articles, blogs that will tell you the perfect way to bringing your product to market and while some of them might be right, the average entrepreneur always look to consult with some sort of consultant or the other during startup.

The trouble is that the biggest and the best business consultant reside in us all; that is our instincts. Never discount your instinct in business. Your instincts tell you if your idea is simply an idea, if it will be accepted by consumers, if its viable and if to put an end to it all if it’s haemorrhaging.

Startup success vary from person to person; the most successful startups have a few things in common but the biggest trait of successful entrepreneurs with successful startups is self-belief, which is a form of instincts.

There is nothing wrong with consulting with specialists during the process of starting up, but first and foremost, you must listen to your instincts. That is your greatest asset.

Kole Obasa


It always occurred to me that even though there are so many of life’s fundamental questions that remain unanswered, there still seem to be an active support or following for a particular course of action.

Why do a degree course when you could simply get into the work force and build your way to top management in a couple of years time? Or why do a degree course if you will end up in the middle management sphere at most? Reasons for this ‘anti’ argument vary greatly. There are many reasons students find themselves tied down to academia for 3 (maybe more) years of their lives.

It is fascinating sometimes to hear the various reasons people give for being in higher education. Many of us have no other option than to study. African and to a large extent Asian parents find it sacrilegious, a taboo even to not attend and successfully complete a degree program. Some even have their career paths and indeed degree courses chosen for them. Having a ‘good Degree’ represented a sense of pride; a sense of belonging, and an opportunity for a social standing that is unparalleled. A tidal wave of consequences would normally await the wards of many who wouldn’t rethink.
This stance can be justified though since in many parts of the world, a first degree is not even enough to get you through the ever revolving doors of employment, talk less of not even having one at all.

I use to think I was one of the lucky few in this regard; My father, being an Air force pilot always either made me believe my career in life was completely left to me to decide or he didn’t participate in any discuss regarding it. This made me feel somewhat empowered to do what I felt was right for me. So if I decided not to do a degree, so be it. Right?

Looking back now, it occurred to me the little remarks and innuendo about the Air force being ‘A great way of life” a motto I carried with me and recited all my life was not just a motto, it was me being buttered up to study and either join the Air force as an officer, or study and become a pilot. I remember how as a reward for ‘good behaviour’ my brother and I were allowed into the cockpit of huge military transport planes (C130) almost on a daily basis. We weren’t that well behaved, at least not daily. He would talk about flying and the Air force non-stop and he still does. This wasn’t a punishment, neither was it any form of reward, he was simply nudging us towards a career path he felt was best above all. So much so, I nurtured an ambition to be a pilot all my life (I still do) I also ended up in the military for a short while. My brother came very close.

Some of us do it because it’s the next logical step; it follows a set pattern – primary, secondary and tertiary education. Something that just has to be done. Not because of any kind of pressure from any quarter, but simply because its logical.

Believe it or not, some others do it out of sheer curiosity. Why is 1+1 really 2? What really is the General Theory of Relativity and what does Einstein mean by this? It is true that some in academia will forever strive to conquer the summit of learning. Many are successful! If you think that attaining a Doctorate Degree is the end of true education, think again. Education is constant and continuous, and knowledge is never lost.

There is also the ‘clubbing and drinking’ culture, which also makes higher education appealing to many. Heck, who wouldn’t relish an unsupervised and wild social life? Putting the appeal of this into perspective, one can see a reason for the influx of many to Universities. Party hard, drink harder, play hardest; by the way, there’s the small issue of a degree course to consider.

The harder economic times, the recession as many know it forced the hands of most employers who somewhat unfairly subsequently attached stringent measures to their recruitment drive. One of these measures and in order to be able to stand out from the rest of the crowd was a ‘good University Degree’ as a minimum for entry. Some go as far as requesting professional courses as well as university degrees. The reaction to these sometime draconian measures was an increase in undergraduate numbers. But, there is research that supports a steady increase in salary for recent graduates; so it’s not all bad news. Keeping ahead of the competition has never been more justifiable.

Regardless of the motive, motivation and end result, certain school of thought continually refer to statistics that indicate a steady rise in graduates (at least in this country) Their argument, one might add, also lends credence to higher education being seen as the benchmark of the political leadership in the UK, a standard which is unchangeable or undiluted. To even consider going for the top job, the British Prime Minister, political acumen is and will never be enough. It is surely the norm these days to have a leader who is ‘Educated’ and this extends to leaders of mainstream political opposition as well.

But believing the above statement would mean the land is and will continue to be ruled by the educated elite. This is simply not true. On the other side of the divide, you will find strong argument supporting the notion that so many (particularly entrepreneurs) have made it to the very top without spending a day inside a lecture room. Two or three British names will continually spring to mind when laying down this argument – Sir Alan Sugar, Sir Richard Branson. If we want to go global, then Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will complete the list of names of giants of industry who did not attend university. But are they uneducated? Honorary degrees aside, could even the most worthy academic match these Billionaires toe to toe in any current, global or business issue? I think not, simply because learning and qualifications are 2 separate entities. These guys have learnt their ways to be qualified enough to hold their own in their respective industries. Truly fascinating wouldn’t you say?

This article is pregnant with questions and surely provokes a bout of self-reflection, but then it was designed to be. One thing is clear though, choosing higher education is increasingly no longer a luxury, it is gradually becoming the norm and an undeniable fact is that regardless of your rationale and reason(s), there appears to be no downside to it. It is sure! You win a prize at the end, which helps you massively in your life, and you lose nothing.

So, why are you in higher education? I can’t speak for you, but I can speak for myself. My answer is unpretentious, I have always operated on a simple ethos in life – I have a dream not a plan. In order to attain this dream, I need to attain a good degree. It’s that simple.

Kole Obasa