Laura Hollis

Much has been made of President Obama’s reaction to the spanking American voters delivered in the November 2nd elections. Pundits argue alternatively that Obama doesn’t “get it,” that he is “in denial,” or that he is “too detached” to understand the message that the voters have clearly sent.

Not for the first time, I have found myself thinking, if only this guy had some business experience. Not only because he doesn’t seem to have a clue how businesses create jobs – although that experience would certainly help in an economy with 10% unemployment – but because he doesn’t have a clue how a business becomes a business in the first place.

Anyone who has worked with entrepreneurs knows that they often come up with clever ideas, nifty inventions, or cutting-edge technologies – ideas, inventions and technologies that fall completely flat in the marketplace because no one wants them, or understands what they do, or feels that they are enough of an improvement over the products the public has become accustomed to purchasing.

There is a reason that potential investors ask entrepreneurs, “What is the market pain?” “Pain” is the metaphor used to convey the intensity of motivation that must be present for people to change their behavior. An entrepreneur has to meet a serious unmet need, tap into a deeply felt want, or develop something that is otherwise extremely appealing.

In entrepreneurship education, we teach aspiring innovators to “beta-test” a new product with what have come to be called “earlyvangelists” – a select group of people who will use the product and give honest and critical feedback about what they like and what they don’t. Any entrepreneur who wants to be successful will go back to the drawing board and tweak the idea, fine-tune the invention, or modify the technology to satisfy the customer’s demands and avoid the mistakes that could otherwise doom his or her business. (And for the record, having beaucoup bucks to throw at a bad idea won’t save it, either. “New Coke,” anyone?)

In short, the customer drives the business, and not the other way around.

Laura Hollis

Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.