Rotman Management

Bringing Big Ideas to Life

ON A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK CITY, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp couldn’t get a cab. They quickly realized that trying to get a taxi in the rain was a horrible experience. The duo went on to found Uber, which became one of the most successful unicorns in history. If you haven’t heard the term ‘unicorn’ before, it applies to private companies worth more than $1 billion.

If you’ve got an idea for a business or a product, this could be you. Or you could be like the founders of Napster or Pets.com — famous failures that came close, but no cigar. The thing is, at the ‘idea stage’ there isn’t much of a difference between huge successes and ignominious failures.

I like to think that each of you has an idea that, if targeted effectively and nurtured properly, could grow into being the next Facebook or Alibaba. But you have to realize that your current idea for a business is very unlikely to be the one you end up going with. And it’s even more unlikely that your current idea will result in a company worth billions. What you actually have is the foundation of an idea — something that can point you in a particular direction.

If you listen very closely to what potential customers are saying, they will tell you what business you are in. In life as in business, the difference between listening and not listening is the difference between success and failure. The thing about customers is that they don’t talk very loudly. In fact, sometimes they don’t talk at all. They won’t tell you what they want or what you should create, or what triggers them to make a purchase. They also won’t tell you what barriers get in the way of them making a particular purchase. They might not even know that what you have is something they need.

In life as in business, the difference between listening and not listening is the difference

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