April 30, 2018
Personal Development  |  4 min read

My A-ha Moment: How One Startup Gave Me the Idea Resulting In the Success I Have Now

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John Rampton

As an entrepreneur, it's easy to get caught up in the passion of what you are doing and believe that every idea is a home run. However, some of these business ideas actually might only get you a hit. Others even strikeout. My "a-ha" moment came when I realized that, if you listen carefully to your audience, those hits can lead you to knock it out of the park with the next startup you pursue.

Here's how it happened for me and why it's vital as a small business owner to actively listen and be willing to pivot or take the leap to the next business idea.

Seeing an opportunity

One of the first businesses I got involved with online after starting my blog was a website hosting company. At the time, my business partner and I saw an opportunity to deliver high-quality, low-cost (even free) web hosting to other small business owners and founders like ourselves. At the time, website hosting companies were looking to cater to larger enterprises. There really weren't choices for those kinds of companies that had anywhere from one to 25 employees.

And, it definitely paid off. Business was booming for us. However, there came a day that felt like suddenly out of the blue when new customers went from a flood to a trickle. On further investigation, we discovered that many other website hosting companies were popping up to cater to a similar audience. Suddenly, the niche felt commoditized.

Listening intently

While we had a hit, there wasn't the sustainability that we had envisioned. That led us to ask our customers if there was anything else that we could do for them. First, we started with an online survey to learn more about each of our customers. In order to determine how we could solve any other problems, we really had to get to know them. This included learning more about their businesses, mindsets, strategies, and goals.

What we learned surprised us. This was because we thought small business owners would be in need of similar services related to their websites like design or content writing. Instead, what we learned was their biggest pain points were time-consuming, paper-driven tasks like invoicing, getting paid, and staying productive. What this taught me and my business partner is don't assume you know your customer base because we clearly didn't. And, if you want to know them and really help, all you need to do is ask and listen intently.

Acting strategically

What asking our customers told us was that they had moved on from website hosting in their minds and had many other concerns they needed a company to address. That told us we had to act on the opportunity and figure out how to pivot in our long-term plan. I started investigating ways to help with those problems. I found numerous websites with online invoicing platforms but none that were really developed to the point where they could solve all the problems. However, what I did see was the potential to put these platforms together and reach out to the customers on each site as well as those from the website hosting company with a comprehensive solution.

Although it took some time, I was able to buy the domains, technology, and customer lists. From there, I put together a team of talented developers to integrate and build an online invoicing and payments platform that I have grown quickly in three years known as Due. As I look back, I realize that had I stayed in website hosting, the business would have dried up and this opportunity I found from listening to customers would have been discovered by someone else.

Keep looking and listening

What this means is small business owners have to take the time to pay attention. Keep that ear to the ground, listening to customers, watching the competition, and reading up on the trends. Again, this helped me to develop another business related to time management for my small business customers, which is an AI-enabled scheduling, meeting, and task app known as Calendar. Now, I've found a way to alleviate all the pain points that my website hosting customers shared with me.

What next? Survey my current customers and find out what else is on their mind, of course.

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