How to Hear What You Want and How to Hear What You Need

The process termed “Market Research” was coined by Daniel Starch in the 1920’s. All successful business go out and pitch their idea to potential customers before starting up, don’t they?


The task: In a team, start up a business next week for young people in Kericho Town, Kenya.

Excellent. Everyone we have spoken to absolutely loves our idea, we’ve pitched it to our target audience, told them exactly what our business plan is and they’ve given no suggestions as to how we could improve it – it must already be perfect. Result. We’ve smashed it first time – how did we manage that when we’re only on Day 3 of the training programme?

Our new found confidence leads us to the Nairobi Aviation College; we’re eager and ready to pitch our idea to students during their break time, only to find that we must gain permission from the College’s President…and twelve other officials who deem it absolutely necessary that they too listen in on what we have to say. We suddenly find ourselves in some sort of Kenyan inquisition.

A look at our permit, some football talk and an awkward rendition of ‘London’s Burning’ at the Presidents’ request later and we are presented with a smile from the Top Dog. We have his permission to present our business idea to a class of his students!

We’re met by a classroom full of confused and bored looking faces, a microphone and absolutely no idea what to say to the room full of Christian students as our idea is largely centred around alcoholic drinks and late night partying. Thankfully, Martin decides to take centre stage and starts talking about an idea that neither he nor us have ever talked about, never mind practiced a pitch for. Oh well, they seem to perk up and give us plenty positive feedback to the seed we have planted.

Have heard exactly what we wanted to from our target market: þ

Next morning, Doug, our mentor, is asking for the feedback we received for our business idea. We’re all smiles because everyone liked it and didn’t want anything different. He then suggested that we reshape our thinking, to go out again and speak to our target market, but this time not pitching our idea. Seems a bit strange? How would we gather any information about our idea if we didn’t ask about the idea?!

Despite some confusion we take on board his advice and instead of planting an idea into people’s minds and asking them whether they liked it or not, which of course they will say they do, we start taking a different approach; we’re now digging deeper into what problems young people in Kericho face, what they already have and what they need. With absolutely no mention of our idea at all, we’re provided with a wealth of suggestions, from University students Dolly and Fancy, unsatisfied trucker drivers and other young residents of the town.

Sparky discussions are flowing between our potential customers and the team, honest and un-interfered with suggestions are given, leading us to require more market information. This takes us firstly to Barclays Bank where we probe answers from the Customer Service Manager about unemployment, job seeking and recruitment in Kericho. We then head to Safaricom, Kenya’s leading mobile phone service provider, where we have an informal, yet hugely thought-provoking, chat with the Branch Manager.

Our original idea becomes completely redundant and our new found approach begins to provide us with the real needs and wants of young people in Kericho Town.

Have heard exactly what we needed to from our target market: þ

The happy-go-lucky feeling, air of confidence, and pride we had before, starts to subside and is replaced by a realisation of several important factors to consider when starting up:

  • Basing ideas purely on assumptions leads only to forcing an idea on people, to which they are almost always bound to react positively, despite their actual opinions.
  • Becoming too attached to an idea early on, leads to creating a barrier to new ideas from the most important people in any business: the customers.
  • Obvious but more difficult in practice: gaining a true understanding of the customers’ needs and wants is crucial to actually providing what they need and want.
  • Always have a nursery rhyme or two up your sleeve for some common ground with College officials….

And finally, let me leave you with a thought from Eric Reis, serial entrepreneur and author of The Lean Start-up;

‘’Customers don’t care how long something takes to build. They care only that it serves their needs’’.

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Written by Olivia Penn, Balloon ICS Volunteer 2015