Creating From What You Know
Today, the Ross Net Impact club had it's fall kickoff event. At this event, Seth Godman the Tea-EO of Honest Tea gave a talk. It was fairly good, but one thing about the origins of Honest Tea struck me more than anything else. Seth just created it, somewhat randomly. The story goes, Seth had a business school class and his professor asked a provocative question while discussing a case about the beverage industry: "What's missing from the beverage aisle?" Seth said, a drink that was "just a tad" sweet. At the time, he didn't think to start a company. Years later, he was visiting a friend in New York, looking for a beverage in a cooler in Central Park. His friend was perplexed when Seth exclaimed that he couldn't find a suitable drink (there were sodas and presumably other beverages). But, he saw something else...he saw that a tea drink was missing.
So from there, he and his original professor created Honest Tea.
The obvious thing, (that never seemed so obvious to me before today) was that Seth had a unique insight that a tea-based beverage was missing, because he himself was a low-sweetness tea drinker. He knew the market space, it seemed, on an intuitive level. Not so much to confuse himself, but enough to see a missing product and create something. This seems to be the right way to create products, understand a market / customer need and think about simple ways to close the gap.
When I think about Silicon Valley culture (and what I hear about it) I think of people that are simply looking to start companies. They are looking for gaps so they can fill them, for filling's sake - not for any intuitive or intrinsic reason. This seems contrary to how businesses actually start. Rather, it seems like you understand something well and then you just start seeing the gaps. You create from what you know, and looking at what you know in a new way.
This seems to jive with innovation and creativity (in social impact contexts or otherwise): the best solutions come from front-line, tacit knowledge. So long as they can get out of people's heads, of course. The magic of creativity and innovation, it seems, is when someone is fortunate enough to get a deeply held insight out of their heads so that they can build something from it. What is important is making the tacit first explicit, then tangible.
Some friends and I were talking about this after the event. One friend pointed out that what I seem to know is people. Which is true, I have cultivated an instinct about how to bring people together over the past 20 years, since I was six years old. Now, I wonder, how do I look at people / relationships in a new way so that I can start seeing some gaps that could be filled by entrepreneurship?