Entrepreneur – Founder stories – People don’t want drills
This post originally appeared on, an event series produced by Mountain and
Your whole life in business is full of wins and losses. This is a story of one loss that really impacted my business.
I own, CentreSource, an interactive agency. We build really custom web applications, enterprise websites, mobile apps, etc. Our whole purpose is to help a client take something out of their head and bring it to fruition in a digital world.
Back in 2006, an older gentleman came to us for a project. He was in his late 70s and owned a drill manufacturing company.
In a thick country voice he said, “Nick, I make drills, and I’ve got these young people telling me I need to sell them online. I hear you’re the expert, so I’m coming to you. I want to sell drills online. I’m real simple; I want to make it real simple for guys like me to get online, find a drill, and buy a drill.”
“We can do that, sir.”
“Perfect. Now that’s all I’m going to judge you on Nick. Is it easy for a guy like me to buy a drill.”
“Got it – we can make that happen.”
He turned it over to his team, and I turned it over to mine. Months went by and the project dragged on and on. He sent me an email saying we had a problem and needed to talk.
I immediately sprang into action. I researched what we said we were going to do and gathered all of the data and documents. I knew he was going to be upset because it had been so long, and my team was constantly blaming his team for the delay. I remember sitting down to call him with at least 15 bullet points about how his team had failed the project.
“Nick, I think we have a problem, buddy. It’s gone on too long, and I’m not sure your team has delivered what we needed.”
My reflexes kicked in and I started going through bullet point by bullet point.
When I finished, he was quiet for a minute.
He began, “I think this will be a short conversation. First, it sounds like you’re worried about getting paid. Don’t worry, I take care of my commitments, and I’m going to pay you your money…all of it. Second, it sounds like you’re pretty prepared and said a bunch of things I barely understand, so I’m just going to assume you’re right.
“But let me ask you something,” he said. “Do you want to be right or do you want to be rich? All I’m telling you right now is I would never refer your firm to anybody. I would never hire you again. I didn’t get what I wanted.”
“Well, sir, according to my notes, you did.”
“Let me ask you,” he said. “What did I say I wanted in the beginning?”
“You wanted it to be easy for somebody to come buy drills.”
“Have you looked at what your team built?”
And already my dread was starting to build in my stomach. “No.”
“Well, take a look, and call me back,” he said.
So I looked at the site, and it was god-awful. I mean, we couldn’t have made it any harder to buy a drill if we wanted to. I called him back, and he said, “What’d you think?”
I said, “It’s pretty terrible.”
“Yup [sigh]. I’m done with this. I’m old I was trying something new and it didn’t work out well.”
I said “Look, I am sorry. I feel bad; this is not what I wanted. What can I do to make you feel satisfied?”
“I’m going to teach you a second lesson, Nick,” he said. “Satisfaction is getting me above the 50 percent mark – not actually happy. We could drag this out for months, and you could get me above the 51 percent mark, and I might be satisfied. But like I told you, I am never going to refer anyone to you. You do not want satisfied customers. You want raving fans. There is nothing you can do to get me there.”
This put me into a week-long depression. He paid me the full amount and didn’t ask me for anything else. I knew he paid it off on principle. We, on the other hand, hadn’t stayed true to the customer’s goal. I was trying to check off bullet points to make him satisfied (he could have put me in the poor house to do it) but he let me off the hook and he taught me that all the tech I am building is just a means to what people actually want at the end of the day.
I remember him saying, “I teach my people on day one…’People don’t want drills, they want holes.’”
After a week of reflection, I collapsed the firm from the inside and rebuilt it from the ground up to never make this mistake again. I rebuilt all my processes and everything was geared towards the fact that people don’t want the technology, they want the solutions it provides. We have to stand behind the core problem we are solving for our customers and we have to operate the whole way through to the point that they are raving fans not satisfied.
Hope this helps my fellow entrepreneurs.
Nicholas Holland is the founder of CentreSource interactive agency, mentor for Nashville, Tenn.-based startup incubator and a seasoned entrepreneur. He’s also the founder of startup Populr, a service that enables customers to easily create and publish POPs (published one pagers). Follow him on twitter@nicholasholland.