Podcast #18: Building Your Product & Embracing Uncertainty with Wu-Tang, Francis Mallman, & Seth Godin
Step #3: Build Your Product & Storefront
The ultimate step in your manifesting process is to take your brand and turn it into a product and your storefront(s).
Your product is a good, idea, method, information, or service created as a result of a process that serves a need or satisfies a want. It has a combination of tangible and intangible attributes (benefits, features, functions, uses) that a seller offers a buyer for purchase.
Your storefront is your website, app, or presence on a plat- form such as eBay, Amazon, etsy, or iTunes, where you can sell your goods, services, or content.
Now is when you take your defined idea and start turning it into something real and sharable. For instance, if you want to start a T-shirt company, this is the stage where you have your T-shirts designed, find a manufacturer, and put them up for sale on your storefront, i.e. your website. We will get into how to share in the next section, Strategic Sharing, but before you share your idea you have to make it real.
Will your product be perfect at first? No. Will it fly off your web- site on day one? Probably not. The manifesting process is iterative. In the Age of Ideas you bring something to market, test it, analyze the response, and continuously refine. It is an ongoing feedback loop—share, listen, refine. The difference is that today the feedback loop is much shorter and more accurate: the everyday entrepreneur has access to data analytics platforms they can use on their web- sites to help them identify opportunities and mistakes and make changes to their products and platform almost instantly. It used to be that if you designed the store wrong you were screwed, but today you can test five homepages on your website and optimize performance in real time. Make some T-shirts, send an email or share them with people you trust, and get their reactions. Or build a website and have people try it out, see what journey they take and analyze where they drop off. The more interactions you have, the closer you will get to something that works—we call “something that works” a product-market fit.
The key to successfully manifesting is perseverance. Most people quit when the feedback is not good or things get difficult. Those who succeed are the ones who can overcome pain; they get past it by realizing it is not a statement about their self-worth. They continue to believe in themselves and their ideas and trust that, whatever mistakes they make, they will figure it out.
While some businesses may require physical locations, such as retail shops, offices, or factories, the majority of businesses today are housed virtually. Whether you are manufacturing a product or providing a service, in the modern market products should be tested in the virtual marketplace prior to existing in the experien- tial marketplace. For example, if you wanted to make a new hot sauce, you could produce a small quantity and offer it for sale to both retailers and wholesalers on your website. After you gauge the market demand, you can then decide the best secondary methods of distribution. This was not possible prior to the Age of Ideas.
The same strategy can apply to professional service providers and freelancers, from artists to writers to accountants. Why do you need a physical office when you can put your service online, generate leads, and start by taking meetings at a coworking space or even a coffee shop? Even if your product is an experiential or retail-based business, you can still test it with a pop-up or mobile shop prior to going all in on a retail location. Ali Webb and her partners started Dry Bar, a hair salon focusing on blow-drying hair, with a mobile blow-dry truck. The demand for the service was off the charts, so after a lot of strategic consideration they opened their first retail location. Now they have over seventy Dry Bar locations.
With this in mind, building your storefont is the next step in the manifesting process. A storefront, again, refers to your website, app, or presence on an existing service such as eBay or Amazon. A website is the ideal environment to refine your brand and product, from user experience to visuals to pricing. You will be able to test everything in real time, sharing with those you trust and actively interacting with the marketplace. Your mantra should be refine, refine, refine, until you find the best expression of yourself and your idea, the product-market fit.
Since you will have completed your concept deck, it will be very easy for you to create your website, as the website is just a more developed expression of that deck. It’s the same information, adjusted for a different audience. Your concept deck is for collab- orators and investors (B2B), while your website is for customers (B2C). The most cost-effective method is a do-it-yourself service like Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress. Personally I like to spend a bit more money to work with a low-cost programmer, but these DIY services provide easy-to-use templates that allow you to design your own professional-looking website and have it up and running quickly. They also offer simplified tools for things like search engine optimization (SEO) and analytics that are fairly easy to engage with even as a beginner.
If you want to have e-commerce on your storefront, these ser- vices can also be user-friendly, but there are more robust services that specialize in e-commerce, like Shopify. If you are willing to invest a bit more money—at least $1,000—you can find a web designer who can build a simple and beautiful website for you. Be aware that when using a designer, you should assume there will also be some ongoing maintenance costs. With that said, website costs are continuing to drop, and today, even fairly complex website tech can be addressed by the plethora of “off the shelf” plug-ins that exist for most functions. There is little difference between independent web developers and high-cost agencies charging tens of thousands of dollars. While Target or JetBlue may require dozens of people to manage their web business, you probably do not. You should be focused on building your MVP—minimum viable product—for the lowest possible cost, and then you can evaluate the response of your audience or trusted advisors before you invest further.
Note: Your goal is a creative monopoly, which we define as an innovative or creative individual or company with a sustainable competitive edge. Because a monopoly has no competition, it can maximize profits by controlling supply and price. There is only one you, so when you amplify your purpose to its purest form, you will have exclusive control of a product or service in a particular mar- ket. The artist Jeff Koons has a creative monopoly; no one else can create a Koons piece, and his team controls the supply of his work coming to market. Google is also an example of a creative monop- oly—it controls 80 percent of the search market, which allows it to control the supply and cost of advertising inventory. And it relies on technology it created for its monopoly. Be aware that if your edge is technology-based, heavy investment will probably be required to maintain your monopoly, contrary to the examples mentioned in the previous paragraphs.
Once you have a product and a storefront, you are in busi- ness—as an entrepreneur, as a writer, as whatever you say you are, because that is how the modern paradigm works. It doesn’t mean you are good at what you say you do; few people are when they are just starting something, even something that reflects their true purpose and passion. But you are in the game, on the road to becoming better (if you integrate your life, understand your biases, and have chosen the right challenge), and if you keep at it, you can become great, maybe even the best in your world. But remember, be honest and be true to your purpose. The market will know if you are not, and your products will not resonate with your audience. Most importantly, you won’t be fulfilled. It always comes back to this:
The more energy you put in, the more energy you will get out. Or as the Beatles put it, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Step #4: Embracing Uncertainty & Fear
My life has been a path at the edge of uncertainty. Today, I think we educate kids to be settled in the comfortable chair. You have your job, you have your little car, you have a place to sleep and the dreams are dead. You grow on a secure path. All of us should conquer something in life and it needs a lot of work and it needs a lot of risk. In order to grow and to improve you have to be there at the edge of uncertainty.
—Francis Mallmann, chef, restaurateur, author
Uncertainty has negative connotations. It’s defined as a situation with unknown or imperfect information. Being uncertain of your goals or direction is frowned upon in our society.
Possibility has positive connotations. It’s defined as something that’s able to be done or within your power or capacity to do. Pos- sibilities are exciting.
Uncertainty is the glass half empty. Possibility is the glass half full.
They mean the same thing, just from different perspectives. But whatever your perspective, avoiding uncertainty limits what’s possible, while embracing uncertainty makes everything possible.
Embracing uncertainty is precisely what enables some indi- viduals and organizations to realize their potential. The idea is to exist within a distinct balance: you must be absolutely certain in your overarching purpose and confident in your abilities, while also knowing you will have to deal with the unexpected. You have to shut down the fear that comes from that knowledge, as it can lead to making short-term decisions that limit long-term prospects. Know in your heart that you will succeed, but accept that your path will be unclear and at times invisible.
While this way of thinking is illogical, it’s important to note that by definition, unbelievable achievement is illogical. It isn’t logical to think you’ll create a multibillion-dollar company where nothing previously existed. It isn’t logical to think that one day your paintings will hang in a museum and be priceless. It isn’t logical to think that millions of people will buy your records and come to see you perform. Yet these things happen, and it’s when things are the most uncertain that the most possibility exists. Think of it like risk and reward. As RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan explains, “Confusion is a gift from God. Those times when you feel most desperate for a solution, sit. Wait. The information will become clear. The confusion is there to guide you.” I cannot tell you how many times I have reminded myself of this concept and benefited from not taking action until I reached a deeper level of clarity.
Uncertainty and fear are first cousins. They go hand in hand, trying to distract you from your ultimate goals. But manifesting is the fun part—it’s the point in your process when you finally get into your flow and begin to see your dreams come to life. It’s also the part of our process when you’re exposing the most intimate parts of yourself. Whenever that happens, a natural fear occurs, and in order to manifest effectively and to your greatest potential, you must embrace that fear instead of running from it. You can’t allow it to stop you from sharing what means the most to you.
While this may be easier said than done, the most effective method I know for embracing fear is understanding its nature. Fear is our most instinctive method of protection. On the most basic, animal level, when you find yourself in the kind of situation where you’ve been hurt in the past, you are fearful. While that may some- times be irrational, just think what would happen if that instinct didn’t exist: you would burn your hand on a hot pot and then go back and burn your hand again the next time. Yet this stroke of evolutionary genius is also a major roadblock in our path to higher consciousness and achievement. In order to attain a level of con- sciousness where we can manifest unbelievable success, we must confront and overcome our fear.
Let’s explore fear further through the lens of “emotional labor.” For most of us, the journey to manifesting our potential will be a journey of emotional labor, engaging with and managing our emotions throughout a long process of creation, rejection, and improvement. A perfect metaphor for this emotional labor is the experience of overcoming a challenge through physical labor, such as learning to shoot a basketball. When you first try to shoot a basketball, inevitably you will experience the challenge of missing many more shots than you make. But Steph Curry didn’t become the greatest shooter of all time by quitting when he missed; instead he shot the ball thousands of more times until he reached his goal, paying close attention to WHY he failed and moving through it and refining his process. That is how you become great, by confronting your fears every day and overcoming the pain or embarrassment or frustration until you reach your goal. As Curry’s college coach pointed out, the future Golden State star was consistently the “hardest-working player” with a “fire that raged within him.” Steph Curry confronted his fears every day.
We must apply the same dedicated approach to our emotional labor. As you manifest your purpose every day, you will experience fear—fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of standing out. As Seth Godin puts it, “The difficult task [with emotional labor] is confront- ing the fear of failure. That is what we are paid to do, that is what we are rewarded for.” That’s it. Throughout the process you must accept your fear and not let it distract you from what you must do to achieve true and lasting fulfillment. Or as our friend Seth puts it, you must “dance with the fear.”