The path to establishing a successful business is marked with many David vs. Goliath-esque battles. Every industry is dominated by big brand names that have loyal customer bases, so what does the path to breaking into and succeeding look like for those with new and fresh ideas? Statistics like “90 percent of startups fail” try to scare entrepreneurial hopefuls away; instead, this data should be used to motivate brands to work smarter and harder, as well as learn from both the mistakes and triumphs of the 10 percent.
One member of the 10 percent we can learn from is Tommy John CEO Tom Patterson, a 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner thanks to his startup company’s product, which has disrupted the men’s underwear industry with its innovative, “anti-wedgie” design. Patterson recently discussed how he took Tommy John from startup to success story, including advice about saying yes to your vision and saying no to distracting opportunities. Using his story, here are three main steps you need to take to go from just an idea to an industry leader.
1. Believe In Your Vision
The reasons not to do something often carry more weight in our minds than any shiny vision of success, but having a true passion for and faith in your own idea will take you far. It may sound like feel-good fluff, but even Patterson admits that it was his commitment to his vision that allowed him to beat the odds.
“Just do it,” says Patterson.
Lacking a background or any kind of experience in clothing design and manufacturing, Patterson had every reason to not take those first steps forward, but he argues that those perceived weaknesses actually became his greatest assets.
“There will always be a million reasons not to get started. Ignore them.”
But how far can strength of will really take you? According to Patterson, it’s more about your gut than grit. “Your gut never lies,” he says. For example, Patterson once forwent VC funding because his gut told him that a large round of funding now wouldn’t mean longevity later.
“Stay true to your vision despite the consistent pressure otherwise.”
2. Meet Needs and Standards
For Tommy John, Patterson’s vision is to solve common problems men have with their clothes through quality solutions. At the end of the day, it’s all about “creating a product that solves an unmet need.” In other words, you don’t need to necessarily think of something entirely new. Underwear is not (we hope) a new concept for anyone, but Patterson was able to use his own experience, which we have to assume used to be one plagued with discomfort, to land on a challenge.
The other side of that coin is quality. Success is not a steady line, but rather one that increases exponentially. You must be able to maintain quality in your product or service no matter how much you grow.
“As [Tommy John] grow[s],” says Patterson, “we are manically focused on maintaining the same level of quality in every product we produce.”
3. Communicate With Customers
Last but not least, prioritize customers. The “customer first” adage may feel tired and cliche, but that’s because it’s something every entrepreneur, regardless of vertical, must pay attention to. Businesses often get distracted by their own endless ideas and what they think their customers want or should want, but no one will ever buy something they don’t think they need. You may argue that the trick of marketing is to convince people that they need and want whatever it is you’re selling, but the more you actually listen to your target audience, the more you’ll understand what it is they truly want and need from you. Only then can your marketing resources can focus more on communication rather than manipulation or hard selling. And communication is all about finding your voice as a brand (what is often referred to as Editorial Authority).
“It’s incredibly important to have a unique brand voice,” Patterson says. Tommy John’s unique voice has become known for its humorous and relatable approach. “We say it like it is and talk about real life struggles guys have with their underwear.”
Again, communication is a two-way street, so don’t neglect to continue to listen to your customers and pick up on how their wants and needs evolve as it relates to your product or service.
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