Should your product be better? Or different?

Answer: Yes.

Except sometimes better doesn’t matter as much as different.

Let me tell you a story. In 2002, I launched an energy drink called BURN. At the time, there was only Red Bull, Hansen’s, SoBe Adrenalin Rush and Coke’s KMX in mainstream distribution. This was pre-Monster and Rockstar. There was little competition, so I thought if I made mine healthier, tastier, and stronger, I’d have a winner. Sadly, no.

These things made it better, not different.

And then along comes Monster with a 16oz can. That was different. It didn’t taste or do anything better, it was just bigger. (And as part of Hansen’s Beverage Company, it also had immediate distribution). So we made a 16oz BURN energy drink and… no one cared. It wasn’t different any more.

Next came 5 Hour Energy, which condensed all of the caffeine and B-vitamins into a 2oz shot and cost 50% more than the standard size energy drink. And it was stocked right next to the register. Different looking. Different consumption opportunities. Different merchandising opportunities.

Roughly $400,000 and six years later, we shuttered BURN, sold the IP, and I’m still paying off debt. Better wasn’t the driver we thought it would be, we simply weren’t different enough to matter.

Does that mean your product or service can be lackluster as long as it’s different? NO!

Different only catches their eye. Makes them notice you. Helps you stand out in a sea of sameness. It helps get that first sale. Monster and 5 Hour Energy weren’t any better, but they were different in ways that mattered to consumers.

You Still Need to be Better

SRAM’s GripShift was different and, for some, better.

Different for different’s sake is not a reason to exist. In the bicycle industry, I’ve seen entrepreneurs launch products that did something differently simply because it was possible, but it didn’t actually do anything better. It seemed more like an engineering challenge they wanted to solve. While interesting, these products missed funding goals on Kickstarter or, worse, went into production and are now sitting in someone’s garage.

One scrappy upstart that did it right was SRAM. For decades, Shimano dominated bicycle drivetrain component sales. Their shifters used small triggers on or near the brake lever to shift gears. In 1988, SRAM introduced a twist shifter called GripShift. It was very different, and for some users better. For almost ten years, I preferred it to trigger shifters…it was quicker, more intuitive, and lighter. That product put them on the map and allowed them to introduce complementary products. Now they’re one of the largest cycling component brands in the world. Yes, it takes more than good product to grow into a massively successful company, but it’s hard to grow into a massively successful company without good product. Good product that is both different and better.

But Wait…

This thought process should immediately follow figuring out WHY you want to start a business and WHAT TYPE of business you want to start. Start with those two. Why? Because you need to know what you want to do to figure out how you can do better and differently. And, in my next article, I’ll explain why you need to do it in a way that matters.

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