Three lessons that guide my 2021 entrepreneurial journey
As we start 2021, I’m reminded of that Elvis song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” For the Elvis fans among us, it’s one of the classic songs that talks about fools rushing in and the emotions of falling in love. As any entrepreneur will share, founding and growing a company is emotional. It involves falling in love with your idea, along with a lot of highs and lows—an emotional rollercoaster, if you will.
Entrepreneurship, of course, is not one stage, one climbed hill, or one steep slope. It’s a series of twists and turns that take you to surprising places. My experiences as an entrepreneur three years ago—when I left P&G—were very different than they are now—a year and a half into building my second company. But as I look to the rest of 2021, rather than only looking back at what I have learned, I thought I’d also look forward to the year ahead. After all, I feel some pressure to live up to our name, 4Sight (that is a joke).
As I look forward, there are three things that will help guide me:
1. VALUE: Keep creating value for customers & not staying in love with one idea too long.
It’s easy to get emotionally attached to one way of doing things or to one idea, especially as an entrepreneur. After all, it’s “your idea” and you’re taking the risk. You essentially fall in love with your idea—you almost have to, in order to keep going. If you’re blasé about it, then there’s no passion, and without passion, the drive to work long hours, hear “no” and keep pushing, or inspire others wanes quickly.
When I left P&G over three years ago to start Mobile Agent Now, I had fallen in love with the idea to “uberize” the response to online reviews. Rather than have someone in-house—or an agency—we would respond to a brand’s reviews online by pinging that review to agents who were mobile (e.g. at home). We never lacked opportunities to pitch the idea to potential clients—and we had a great roster of brands as clients (e.g., Nestle Crunch, Babe Ruth Bars, Nutella, Tic Tac, Totes, Ferrero Roche, Isotoner, Crest, etc.).
But what we learned over that year and a half was that those clients saw greater value in what we could tell them about their consumers, rather than simply responding to them. They viewed review responses as a cost, and while they felt it was important, they were unsure how it grew their topline. So, we built a new capability—the mining of reviews to deliver insights on brands’ consumers—into a new company (4Sight) and started developing algorithms to deliver that value.
As I look ahead to the remainder of 2021, I remind myself of the journey that was 2020—selling Mobile Agent Now and being okay with falling out of love with one idea to focus entirely on another idea that provided more value to clients: 4Sight. There is a lot to come this year, as we continue to develop new capabilities and ways to add value for clients.
2. PURPOSE: A strong and customer-focused purpose is important for young start-ups and big brands alike; as is saying no to opportunities that don’t align with that purpose.
As Jim Stengel—the former P&G CMO—says in his CMO Podcasts, purpose needs to be tied to a business objective and providing value. It’s critical to continuously remind yourself of your company’s purpose and make sure that it captures the needs of your customers.
At 4Sight, we have a stated purpose: Discovering truth in user-generated content. Why? Because we believe that consumers are more truthful in user-generated outlets (e.g., reviews, social media, etc.) than in many other traditional feedback tools—be they surveys, focus groups, or 1:1s.
In my 16 years at P&G, there were countless times when it was clear that consumers were telling us what they thought we wanted to hear in research. In an online review or social comment, none of that exists—they tell you the raw truth. But while “Discovering truth in user-generated content” is a purpose, it lacks a direct connection to the client’s needs. That’s where we have work to do in 2021 – tying that purpose statement to client needs to ensure we are continuously focused on delivering against their business objectives.
The “purpose of a purpose” is also to provide guidance on when to say no. In late 2020, we were faced with a choice. We were approached by a company with a clear need for an insights partner—someone to provide quick qualitative research for major Fortune 500 companies in a segment of the industry that was not currently being served. This partnership would have required us to build a new capability in generating data (qualitative)—a strategic departure for us. While tempting because you never like to say no to new business, we had to be choiceful. Why? Well, it all ties back to purpose and a point of difference. 4Sight’s point of difference is in providing actionable insights derived from “real, honest consumers.” And that point of difference ladders up to our purpose—“Discovering truth in user-generated content.” Thus, a decision to generate data through research did not align with our purpose and would have taken us into a world where there was no point of difference for us.
As we continue through 2021, staying true to our purpose may not always be easy, but it is important. And we have work to do—a need to continuously evolve that purpose to ensure that it is customer-focused so that it continues to provide value and a point of difference.
3. AGILITY: Shifting consumer behaviors during the pandemic means continuing to tactically gravitate to the “winners.”
We’re all living many of the same experiences: shifting commuting behaviors, having children at home during the day, working from home for more of us, etc. For 4Sight, that means opportunities for us to help clients understand the shifting needs of consumers and how their brand can create value for those consumers. As consumer expectations shift, that means different industries—and brands—will benefit and, thus, 4Sight must be open to shifting focus accordingly.
After the shutdown in early 2020, we quickly shifted our focus towards more CPG brands (vs. hospitality and entertainment). That was the right choice, and in early 2021 I expect that focus on CPG to continue. However, as vaccinations are distributed and more businesses begin to open back up, I expect we’ll see growth in some different industries (e.g., hospitality, entertainment, etc.). With a potential shift in consumer spending, I anticipate a need for insights among companies in those sectors. And with these potential shifts, 4Sight will need to be ready to adapt.
As we head into the remainder of 2021, agility will continue to be key. For 4Sight, companies and brands, as well as consumers, the last year has brought continuous disruption to everyone’s way of life. This year, we at 4Sight will need to continuously adapt to ensure we can serve those ever-evolving needs.
If the first few weeks of 2021 have taught us anything, it’s that a lot of uncertainty remains. That uncertainty impacts not only us as individuals, but also brands and companies alike. As an entrepreneur, what that means for me is that I need to remain focused on providing value not only where it’s needed, but also where it makes the most sense for 4Sight. We must stay grounded in our purpose—Discovering truth in user-generated content—remain diligent in saying no, when warranted, and continue partnering with clients to provide value through these uncertain times. We’re clearly not out of the woods, just yet, meaning consumer behaviors will continue to evolve in the coming months, bringing new “winners” to the forefront and a continuing, if not greater, need for discovering truth. Elvis may have said “only fools rush in”, but in 2021, I still can’t wait to rush in and discover that truth.