It’s been a while since I’ve done any significant plumbing work. Still, over my lifetime, I have done a fair amount of maintenance around our homes—carpentry (not good at it), electrical (good at it), and plumbing (I get it done). However, when it comes to plumbing, my mantra is, “never start a plumbing project unless the plumbing supply store is open.” The reason is that I’ve rarely had a plumbing project go well. For example, we had a plumbing contractor replace the mixing valves in our bathrooms. I knew it was a big project, including making holes
in our drywall, so I didn’t even think about doing it myself. The plumbing contractors have a supply store with them—their truck! They found several poorly done (not to code even) supply lines, and the project took twice as long with many trips to the “supply store.”
So, I’m not quite sure why I decided to go ahead and change out the kitchen faucet on my own. I figured it would be “easy,” from the plumbing point of view, but challenging for this old body to squirm around under the kitchen sink, working overhead to get the old faucet out and the new faucet installed. It turns out I was right. I’m sore and bruised but pleased with the job.
The old faucet was a bit problematic to remove, but not horrible. I wound up cutting a line rather than trying to disassemble the spray, but other than that, not too bad! However, what impressed me was the ease of installing the new faucet. Kudos to the engineers on the design. They had either a do-it-yourself homeowner in mind or saving the professional plumber time. The instructions were clear, and the only tool required was a box wrench to tighten the supply lines. No trips to the plumbing supply store!
There is much talk about disruption in today’s business press. Yet, I think that the incremental improvement of products may be more impactful. Finding out how customers use our products sometimes leads to renewed revenues and increased market share. Of course, that investigation may also result in a truly disruptive product or service, but incremental growth should be acceptable in many instances.
Back to my plumbing experience, I can recall when I spent hours replacing faucets. Of course, I had specialized tools for the job, too. Do you remember basin wrenches? I still have mine, but hopefully will never need it again.
Thinking Like a Startup
When I’m working with startup companies, one of the challenges is to make sure the entrepreneur doesn’t cut corners on the market survey. They are convinced that their idea is the best since sliced bread. And they are impatient to get started. Often, the entrepreneur is stunned to find out that they have a solution for which no problem exists or that the market isn’t interested in paying the necessary price to produce the goods or services.
While working at large corporations, we, too, found it challenging to take the time for thorough market surveys and analysis. Additionally, we had the added trap of customer shortsightedness. A famous quote (somewhat dubiously) attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” adequately describes the customer trap. Customers can often express their desire and challenge, but not the best solution.
Making the time to listen to and brainstorm with customers almost always pays off in the end. For startups, it’s critical to start there. For established companies, it is more efficient and effective to start there. Today, I’m grateful that some enterprising design team listened to their customers on designing a better kitchen faucet installation experience. It was an excellent way to start the new year!