How do we, as entrepreneurs with so much heart, time and money invested in our concepts and products keep our egos, fears, and limiting beliefs from sabotaging our success?
For me, the answer is a simple question. It’s the question that led me to become an entrepreneur, and to stay the course with my business when I was offered what otherwise would have looked like a dream job. It doesn’t make decisions easier necessarily, but it makes them clearer and more likely to lead to success.
In 2001, we launched Simply Thick, LLC with a product that I personally developed and patented to help people with swallowing disorders. Like any innovator, I was passionate about my invention, not only because I created it, but because I truly believed it was life-changing. And like any founder, I made some significant sacrifices to get the company off the ground. So it would have been easy for ego, fear, and limiting beliefs to derail me.
But each time I am faced with a difficult decision, especially the kind of “difficult” that translates to “involving possible or even certain loss,” I ask myself, “What’s the next right thing to do?”
The key, I’ve found, is not to ask what is right for me, or even for my company, but to ask what is right in the larger sense; for our customers, for their families and caregivers, even for the world. That has often led me to make surprising decisions, but every one of them has proven to not only be right for the world and our customers but in the end they’ve proven to be right for me and the company as well.
In 2015 we decided to expand into Australia. It was a huge (and expensive) undertaking. We had shipped our first full container of our product (literally) to the other side of the world and we were (figuratively) on top of the world. Then we learned that a new competitor in Australia had a product that was a lot like ours, but better because it was easier to use.
I considered cutting our losses and abandoning the Australian campaign, I considered trying to copy their technology. I even thought we could successfully sell against them. Any of those choices might have been the right thing for me.
But when I asked that question, “What’s the next right thing to do,” through the filter of my customers the answer that came back was this: license their product. We brought it to the U.S. as fast as we could. We ended production of our original formula and bet everything on the Australian product. Consumer acceptance has been great and our sales team is energized. Most importantly, I can go to bed with the satisfaction that we have made life better for our customers.
In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration walked into my office on a Friday with concerns about an off-label use of our product. By the following Monday, we had warning stickers on every shipment of our product. Within a few weeks, we had warnings printed on every box, and within a couple of months we had a warning statement on every packet or bottle of our product. If there was any concern about the safety of our product, we wanted everyone to know it.
Several months later someone I was working with at FDA asked me if we would be willing to consider putting a warning on our product. She was quite shocked when I told her that we had already done it simply because it was the right thing to do.
Now our industry is moving towards new international standards to ensure that the right food consistency is served to every patient in every care setting around the globe. Noble goals that we support.
But here’s the rub – for 17 years our product has had a beautifully branded color scheme with warm reds and golds. When the new standards came out, they came with a color scheme too — bright pink and sharp yellow. The committee working on the standards explained that they selected the colors based on common forms of color blindness and the colors they picked could be distinguished by people with the most common forms of color blindness. They wanted to be sure that caregivers around the globe would always serve the right thickness level to the patient.
My designers begged for compromises. Maybe a slightly less ugly shade? Maybe put a little dot on the box or on the packet? Some competitor’s products now sport small circles of pink or yellow with their image branding intact. But when I stepped into the role of the customer I knew the next right thing to do. We have remade all of our artwork so that you can tell from the other side of the room which diet level the product is suitable for.
Yes, when you start a business it’s “your baby.” But like raising any baby, to end up with a self-sufficient, successful adult we have to make decisions based on what is best for the company. And what is best for the company is always to do what is right for the customer.