A School of Management faculty member shares his expertise.

Dr. Chad A. McAllister.

Dr. Chad A. McAllister.

Dr. Chad McAllister learned a lot in his RV. For 54 weeks and more than 22,000 miles, he traveled the U.S. to ask entrepreneurs and business owners questions including, “Where do your ideas come from?” and, “How do you turn them into products or services customers truly value?” Here, the author of the ebook Turning Ideas Into Market-Winning Products shares what he learned about creating successful products.

GET AHEAD OF TRENDS. Bob Tiffin, founder of Tiffin Motorhomes, was the first business owner to alert me to the importance of keeping tabs on new features or benefits that customers value—and it became a recurring theme on my trip. Tiffin attributes his trendspotting ability when it comes to building RVs to deep industry experience and constant customer contact. To refine your trendspotting powers, watch what competitors are doing, participate in industry events, and, most important, talk with customers daily. If you see a trend taking shape, act on it before others do.

FOLLOW YOUR FRUSTRATION. After going through the difficult process of finding the right preschool for her son, Tejal Shah founded KidAdmit. The website helps parents search for, compare, and apply to preschools. Shah talked to parents, software developers, and preschool administrators to understand how to create a solution. Remember, sometimes personal experience has a direct correlation to a strong business idea.

INVOLVE YOUR CUSTOMERS. Ask your customers to co-create new products with you. Andrew Warner, the founder of Mixergy (a site that provides business tips for entrepreneurs), had an idea for a web-based training program to help entrepreneurs push through mental barriers. To gauge interest, he asked past customers to share their experiences with mental blocks. He then created a potential solution, which they critiqued and he tweaked, ultimately posting new (customer-approved) training on his site that customers love.

INNOVATE DESPITE CONSTRAINTS. Mike Yontz not only owns and operates a McDonald’s but also created a community coffee-shop experience within his store that his customers love. Although franchise owners must comply with processes and systems set by the corporate office, he always finds opportunities to innovate. His passion for treating people the way he likes to be treated, and infusing his business practices and management team with strong ethics, has created a culture of respect—for employees and customers alike. Although it’s not a corporate requirement, Yontz interviews applicants in groups to observe how they interact with each other and identify which candidates are professional, engaged, and people-oriented to maintain his coffee-shop vibe.

EXPAND ON YOUR PASSION. Dan Rattigan, founder of French Broad Chocolates, created a powerful business culture based on his personal connections with the people of Costa Rica. His factory and shop source organic products locally and directly import fair-trade cacao beans from small farmers in Costa Rica whom he’s met and supports. On French Broad’s website, he shares the compelling stories of his travels and industry relationships, which have turned his customers into ardent fans of the company.

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