We acknowledge that we live and work on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.
I have been fortunate enough to go through Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) this past term (January through April) and start my own business – ‘Counter Intuitive’. We distribute 1.5” thick glass countertops. If you are wondering why you would ever want a countertop made out of glass, I suggest you check out the Counter Intuitive website! There were a number of lessons I learned along the way that I will share, as some of them may be helpful to you if you’re about to go through E Co-op, or just thinking of starting your own business.
Get out of the Building
In the last weeks before E Co-op started, I took part in an online course called ‘How To Build A Startup’, run by Steve Blank. His main message was plain and simple: get out of the building and talk to customers! I took his advice to heart, and started doing that from day one.
The insights I got from meeting with countertop retailers, interior designers, architects, and homeowners was more valuable than anything I could find online. I quickly learned that some assumptions I had made about the industry were completely false, and that I had based my ideas for the business solely on what my competitors were doing. I learned that my competitors are not my customers, so I should not focus on what my competition does, but on what my customers want. I would never have learned that without leaving the building and immersing myself in the industry.
Pick up the phone
I found myself having to contact a number of people on my co-op term, including suppliers for quotes and industry players for meetings. I was usually faced with the choice of contacting them via an email or a phone call.
Emails are cheap and convenient. It’s tempting to send an email to a prospective customer, potential mentor, or supplier. As the E Co-op term began, I started seeing emails as a kind of shield between me and the recipient; it’s easy to maintain a degree of anonymity with email. But you don’t know if your intended recipients have read it, you have no idea when, or even if, they will reply, and you cannot gauge what kind of reaction they have to what you’re saying. It’s basically a one-way street, and it can be painfully slow. Email correspondence can take days, if not weeks.
I found phone calls to be much more direct. They made me think on my feet. What helped a lot was writing down what I wanted to say before I made a phone call so I would sound a lot more confident, and the conversation would be that much more fluid. I learned early on that things move a lot faster by picking up the phone. Phone calls provide an opportunity for a two way conversation, and for that personal connection which could turn out to be the difference between a customer choosing your business over that of your closest competitor.
Think and speak in terms of what other people want
This is by far the most important lesson I learned during E Co-op. If you were appalled by this blog post, then clearly this skill is still a work in progress for me. I’m learning. Henry Ford once said ‘If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own’. I learned that in sales, the goal is always to show customers how they can benefit from using my product, not to preach about the ‘features’ that I really like about it. I always try to get my prospective customers to see my products as something that creates value in their lives.
I like these lessons a lot because I have used them in my life outside of business! If you’re thinking of doing E Co-op one day, I hope what I learned can help you as much as it did me!
Visit the Counter Intuitive website.
Check out Chris Sharp on Twitter!