In business, there are plenty of surprises. Some of them are good while others can create challenges. But Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, would argue that surprises in business are never actually bad. Even those that create challenges ultimately lead to other opportunities.
Cook even says Intuit would not be where it is today without surprises. The company started as a personal finance software company, with Quicken as its main product.
But the company realized that half of its customers were using Quicken for small business accounting. That was surprising to them. But they chose to ignore that information for about four years. Then the company decided to dig a little deeper to find out why people used the product for business.
They discovered that very small businesses didn’t want accounting software built for large businesses. They weren’t necessarily accountants, but more often were office managers or entrepreneurs themselves. And they liked the simplicity of using a product intended for individuals rather than one intended for accountants.
Speaking about the importance of surprises, Cook recently told Inc:
“When a surprise happens, either upside surprise or downside surprise, that’s the market speaking to you trying to tell you something you don’t yet know, so you need to listen.”
The realization led Intuit to create Quickbooks, a product for small business accounting without all the journals and ledgers included in other accounting software. Today, Quickbooks is 11 times larger than Quicken. And the company never would have reached that level of success without finding that surprise and learning from it.
Intuit isn’t the only company that has switched gears or even shifted to other industries by taking advantage of surprises. Cook mentioned PayPal as another example. The company didn’t originally offer its services for people selling goods on sites like eBay. But they took advantage of a surprise and found success.
So if you’re a business owner and you notice some surprising trends among your customers, try to learn a bit more about why those trends exist. Do some research into your customer base.
You might find some surprising information that could lead to a whole new opportunity.