Shark Tankaway #1: Be Useful

Wheelhouse Factory Blog - Be Useful - Is your product or service actually useful to your customers? - wheelhousefactory.com

Welcome to our first Shark Tankaway!

In this series of articles, we will be exploring various takeaways from one of our favorite shows, Shark Tank.  If you haven’t seen the show, the basic premise focuses on entrepreneurs at all levels ranging from folks in retirement to experienced business professionals to teenagers finishing high school.  Each participant has the opportunity to pitch their idea to several investors (the sharks).  After the pitch, the entrepreneurs are asked all kinds of questions so the sharks can better understand the genesis of the idea, how far along the product or service is and how passionate the people behind the company are.  Typically, the entrepreneurs will ask for some type of financial investment in exchange for an ownership percentage in their company.  The show is fascinating and enjoyable – if you haven’t seen it yet we highly recommend checking it out!

Watch and learn.

One of the major reasons we’re such advocates for the show is that you can learn a ton about what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.  Being able to articulate the value proposition of your idea is an unavoidable obstacle you will face.  It takes a ton of practice and several rounds of iteration before you can be sure the messaging around your idea resonates with people.  These quick reads are intended to give you bite-sized tips and tricks focusing on the wide range of techniques, tools and approaches seen in the show that you could incorporate (or avoid at all costs) when you’re giving your idea elevator pitch to friends, family or even potential investors. 

In honor of the first Shark Tankaway article, we thought long and hard about how to ensure this round of takeaways could be exceptionally special.  The last thing we are hoping is that you read this and think to yourself “and for that reason I’m out” on Wheelhouse Factory.  We want to give readers something that is applicable to all idea types, regardless of where you’re at in the process.  Something that is relatable across all industries and product or service types.  In the spirit of Shark Tank, we want to help you create the best possible version of your pitch so you’re confident, prepared and ready to swim with the sharks.

Shark Tankaway #1

Do everything you can to make sure your product or service idea is useful.

The last thing you want is to spend your time and money on something that no one has a use for.  Let’s look at a couple of classic examples of this misstep from Shark Tank.  The first is the infamous Sticky Note Holder presentation from episode 102.  The basic idea is that overzealous sticky note usage can result in a messy, disorganized working area.

Clearly, the idea is ludicrous as shark Robert Herjavec immediately points out that all the contestant has done is create a sticky pad for sticky pads.  The rest of the sharks quickly follow suit with their own responses of bewilderment.  Collectively it was basically the Jim Downey scene from Billy Madison.  If the sticky notes are creating a distracting work area, people could easily just straighten out their sticky notes or perhaps find a new location for them that is less of an annoyance.  With an easier, less costly solution readily available you must wonder, is the product really useful?  

But wait . . . there’s more.

The second example is a product that puts a new spin on a fly trap with the  No Fly Cone from episode 410.  This product idea seemingly had everything – a built product that was already on the market, a memorable pun in the name, cute dogs and an endorsement from an established celebrity in Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy.

Despite all this fire power, there were a couple of critical errors in the execution.  Number one, the spokesman appeared to endorse the entrepreneur’s character rather than the product, Seth didn’t even own it himself.  Second, the product was only useful if the consumer created the environment for it to work.  In other words, in order for the fly trap cone to become effective you have to place it over a pile of dog waste.  The idea being that the flies would be interested in checking out the situation and unwittingly get caught in the sticky material coating on the inside of the cone. But, what happens if you don’t have a dog?  What happens if you have a fly problem inside?  We certainly hope you’re not going to endorse your pup doing its business indoors.

In summary, you need to do everything you can to make sure your product or service idea is useful. Put the time in up front to do the market research necessary to determine who your idea is useful for and how practical it is to use.  Your end product or service will be better for having gone through this critical step in development.

If you want to read more of our Shark Tankaways, check them out here! For more helpful exercises on coming up with a useful business idea, explore the Creativity Workbook in our store.

– Trevor Lightfoot

Wheelhouse Factory Team - Trevor Lightfoot - Executive Officer - headshot photo

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