I did because we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and I’m a little bored, but in between the cheesy outtakes of Tim and Heidi running around the fashion capitals of the world and the formulaic scenes before the weekly cuts, there was a lot to learn about building a business. In particular, three areas Making the Cut made me think about are product/market fit, work ethic, and fundraising.
Jess’s intern, Angie Peng, is a Wharton School senior who is about to graduate. In addition to helping us with marketing, she’s brought me up to speed with how entrepreneurship is taught at Penn today. Instead of teaching students how to write business plans or build Minimally Viable Products, today’s entrepreneurship classes focus on how to assess product/market fit and test prototypes. Unlike most companies that have to nail product/market fit just once, fashion businesses need to do it four seasons a year!
Product/market fit is about creating something people will buy, and a cost they can afford, and with enough margin to make a profit. The ability to be creative, listen to feedback, and pivot until you achieve product/market fit are exactly the skill you need to survive elimination during a 12-week reality show or the start-up phase of a business.
Sometime in the last decade, the messaging about what it takes to succeed in business has shifted in a way that I believe is unhelpful for aspiring entrepreneurs. When I was in the early years of my career, we were told to expect to work our ass off. Sure, we would also need to make good decisions and a few lucky breaks would help, but the message was clear that you needed to put the time in.
Sometime over the last decade, it seems we’ve shifted to talking about needing to work smarter, not harder, to be successful and that work/life balance is paramount. While we all can work smarter, and we should stop to smell the flowers along the way, it was very clear the designers on Making the Cut were working very hard. All the time. To participate in the show, they were away from their families and their businesses for weeks. Not so much work/life balance for them! While there is nothing wrong with choosing a path that allows for more balance, the show put back in focus that success requires sacrifice and logging the hours.
While it took great designs and execution to get the show’s final round, the winner, Johnny, won because his business was the best investment risk. Although Esther’s clothes and business plan were better, it was clear to the judges (and me) that he was more likely to create a global brand, and as a result, he took home the prize money and partnership with Amazon. In particular, he conveyed bigger thinking and the willingness to sacrifice to make this happen. He also made it very clear he wanted to build a major lifestyle brand.
People usually make investments in people more than their business idea, which makes sense because many successful businesses end up pivoting from their original product or service. Further, investors want an outsized potential for gain. If you’re not the kind of person someone would want to invest in or can’t think big, your business won’t be a good candidate for professional investors.
I really liked Esther, the runner up of Making the Cut. Esther lost because she was too committed to her black aesthetic, which holds her back from appealing to as large of a market as possible. I was reminded that I need to channel less of my inner Esther, which in my case is the part of me that commits to brand vision of myself that could potentially drag down growth. I was also reminded to channel more of my inner Johnny, a likeable, passionate person who thinks the sky is the limit.
What’s blocking your business from growing, or getting the investment you need to grow? What can you do to be a little bit more like Johnny and a little less like Esther?
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