In fact, a willingness to experiment, collect data quickly and iterate multiple times is at the heart of what I have always done across all of my business ventures. And, in my opinion, it’s been crucial to the success of these companies to date. There’s no secret formula to doing this – as Joe and I discussed at length, you just need be willing to move away from the pack.
Data Alone Isn’t Always Enough
However, looking at the data and previous models cannot be relied upon as the key to success. There are many studies that say customers don’t know what they want as or from businesses. In fact, Joe cited a famous quote from Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Back then, people hadn’t even dreamed a car was an option. But, as business builders, it’s our job to get to the heart of what consumers do want, even if they’re not telling you what that is – or if it’s not been invented yet.
Let me give you an example. Back in 2007, I founded the disruptor, long-haul, low-cost airline AirAsia X, headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, where I’m based. If we had started AirAsia X by asking our customers what city they wanted us to fly to, London would probably have been top of that list. Even if you look at historical passenger and air traffic data from Kuala Lumpur, London is amongst the highest ranked long-haul destinations. A city like Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China, would not even surface in the top 25 cities desired by consumers. However, our London route generated one of our biggest losses and Chengdu became one of the most profitable routes.
If we had acted solely on the data, we never would have known this. This shows the answer isn’t always in the data alone. Context really is key. That’s why curiosity is so crucial. You have to ask what is driving this data? What other factors are at play? In our case, we were able to tap into an area of pent-up demand by being the first airline to offer a direct flight to a metropolitian area of over 20 million people.
Don’t Focus on Other Peoples' Models – Create Locally Relevant Brands
For me, as a Malaysian-based entrepreneur, I focus on looking for opportunities unique to emerging markets. So, you can’t just look at what has been working in mature markets. You can’t use that data; it’s irrelevant. You need to understand and be able to adapt to the infrastructure, and understand the demographic and economic constraints of the markets you’re targeting.
In these situations, I try to look at it from two angles. The first, how are consumer behaviors changing in other industries? Look at patterns and innovations from other people and see if you can apply any learnings. The second, look for ideas by observing consumer behavior and identifying pain points.
Ultimately, it all comes down to building as rich a data set as possible. From there, we can really start to understand all the different perspectives at play – from individual customers to prospective employees and so on. Once you understand their different preferences, values and priorities, you can start to tailor your offering in a way that connects with them and adds real value to their experiences.