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.

But Obama and his fellow travelers on the Left routinely display a really appalling ignorance of all aspects of entrepreneurship and commerce. They believe that the public’s demands don’t determine what businesses produce. In their view, business (especially clever marketing, which Leftists equate with deceit) creates public demand, and consumers are not shrewd – or at least rationally self-interested – people who are capable of deciding what they want and what they don’t; they are mindless cattle to be manipulated.

This same ignorance has spilled over to the President’s and the Pravda press’ assessment of the elections. And so it should not surprise anyone when Obama’s response to the voter backlash is to claim that he just didn’t market his policies well enough, or when writers at the Huffington Post shriek that voters are ignorant, stupid, or ill-informed.

Those who voted against Obamacare, against Keynesian spending orgies, against Congressional malpractice and deceit, against skyrocketing deficits, and above all against the sneering condescension displayed by our elected officials knew exactly what they were being sold and they rejected it out of hand. To use a tired but true venture capital expression, “the dogs won’t eat the dog food.”

If Obama had any experience developing a product, cultivating a customer base, or competing for market share, he would already know this. In the “real world,” where a businessman has to persuade potential customers to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for what he’s peddling, arrogance is fatal; an entrepreneur who thinks he is smarter than his customers won’t be in business long. But in government, where your money is extracted from you by threats of imprisonment, fines, or force, where not only is there no return on your money, but even the worst failed policy initiative riddled with waste produces calls for more money, and where taxpayer demands for accountability are castigated as “greed,” “racism,” and “temper tantrums,” deeply held convictions in discredited theories are the ideologue’s substitute for a business plan.

Perhaps the President thought his ideas were “too big to fail.” In public office, as in the private sector, reality has shown otherwise.


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.