There are many common traits that entrepreneurs seem to share. Of course, we think of the natural ones: ambition, intellect, creativity. But perhaps the most important attribute for any entrepreneur to posses is persistence, or grit, defined as ‘the ability to go through failure without any loss of enthusiasm.’
An entrepreneur who knows this as well as anyone is Jason Swett. Mr. Swett current business is called Snip, an online salon scheduling software service. Currently, Mr. Swett has a product, customers, and solid revenue. In order to arrive at that point, Mr. Swett has taken a journey many years in the making.
Educated as a web developer at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mr. Swett knew he wanted to go into business for himself, but like many entrepreneurs starting out, had no idea of how to go about it. But the first lesson he learned was the most important:
Jason: “I think the first business book I ever read was ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. Now, much of the information in that book I would put under the questionable category, but it cemented into my head the idea that the most important thing is persistence. It’s not how intelligent you are, not your background, it’s persistence. You’re going to do a lot of wrong things, and you’ll reach the point where you think you should throw in the towel. But if you keep going, eventually you will get there.”
He began narrowing his focus, working on various business ideas using his web-developer skills. These projects ranged from an enhanced site for Toastmasters groups, a website to help users find local food, or even an app that helps offices decide where to go to lunch for the day. With each of these ideas, Mr. Swett poured in time, money and energy.
Unfortunately, each of these early projects failed. But through each failure, Swett learned, and he came to realize at the time was that he was building products that nobody wanted. With Snip, he took an entirely different approach: figure out what the customer wants, and then build the product based on their existing wants and needs. He did this by working with salon owners directly, giving them early versions of his product over an eight to ten month period.
Even during this period, he did not stop learning. One of the best lessons he learned during this time was the difference between vitamins and painkillers. Most people, Swett said, would not buy a product that would make your life a little bit better. The products that people buy are the ones that relieve the ‘pain points’ of a customer.
When building Snip, he spent a great deal of time building analytic tools into the system, so a stylist would be able to understand how much time each appointment took, how much money they made at any given point in the year, which customers they had not seen so they could be coaxed back into the salon, things like that.
But these features, in Swett’s terms, are vitamins. To be a painkiller, Snip had to relieve something painful, either in terms of time or money. He began to describe the product in those terms:
Jason: “If you have a receptionist at your salon, and you have the receptionist calling people to remind them about their appointments, that costs money. If you’re paying the receptionist 10$ an hour, and lets say that takes two hours a day, for that example. Two hours a day for a month works out to $600. Now if you use Snip, then you save $600 a month because you don’t have to do these confirmation calls.”
By this point, he had a working product, and a single user using his product for free. Most importantly, he had the narrative to market his product effectively to customers. But no matter how good the pitch, a product has to be sold.
To do this, Jason hit the bricks. Going door to door, he visited 80 salons, speaking with over one-hundred stylists and salon owners. Out of this effort, he gained his three first paying customers. In the business world, a 2-3% conversion rate for a new product is fairly standard.
Mr. Swett is pivoting yet again, making the transition from high-touch sales, based on face-to-face interaction and teaching, to low touch sales, where his customers might never interact with him. To this end, his efforts have become much more narrow in scope, focusing on specific aspects of his new goals, such as SEO, web design, and targeted marketing.
Through all Jason’s efforts, he has been methodical and goal oriented, which has helped him learn from his failures instead of being discouraged by them. He has used those opportunities to build his entrepreneurial knowledge, which is now bearing fruit. All the while, he knew that if he kept moving forward, he would find success:
Jason: “My education in how to build a successful business was a really hamfisted and haphazard way, but I would recommend this to anyone, to be honest. The strategy I took was: I know very little about business. I knew so little that I don’t even know where to start. I didn’t even know the title of a business book. That’s why my strategy became ‘Start anywhere, and keep moving.’”
“It’s like this: if you find a tiny stream, and follow that stream down, that stream will meet with a creek, that creek will meet a river, and that river will run to the ocean. You don’t have to worry about finding the river in the beginning. Just worry about following the stream.”
Success is great. We like to champion it, trumpet it. It’s easy to do so. But failure, which bears success, is hard. It is something we don’t like to look at. We do so at our peril, because failure is an important a teacher as you might find. It has been an excellent teacher to Jason, and can be for everyone, so long as they take his active approach to learning and entrepreneurship.