Seth Godin's Advice for Entrepreneurs: 3 Ways to See What Makes People Tick

Ahead of his time.

Yes -- Seth Godin tells us to try things that might not work. Do work that matters, as he calls it.

Best part? Do this and you automatically up your game as an entrepreneur.

I recently had a chance to pick Godin's brilliant brain on this. Soon to do a public seminar in London, his words are bound to connect.


photo credit: Joi Ito via Creative Commons

I asked him: what makes people tick? How can you find their pain points? How do you know who to serve?

His response? You can never know. Not for sure.

Ouch. Can you build a company with limited and uncertain knowledge about your customers? Yes, you can. But listen -- only if you embrace a fundamental part of entrepreneurship: extreme uncertainty. Chaos. You must face it every day. That's why you're an entrepreneur.

Turns out, there is a way to learn about your customers. In true Godin style, he has a simple solution for us.

He told me:

"What you can do is intuit."

Think about it: if you had a clear, easy, repeatable way to peer into your customer's hearts, you'd make yourself obsolete. Software would replace entrepreneurs. So, as you interact with your customers to figure them out, you need to feel your way through it. Intuition.

Meaning, what? How do you intuit? Godin says:

"You can do that based on experimentation and caring."

Whoa, slow down. Need to unpack this. Why? Because we're talking about a bone-deep part of entrepreneurship -- something you tangle with every single day. Best nail this.


Take Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, cofounder of PayPal and Tesla Motors. On course to take entrepreneurship all the way to Mars, literally.

How does he approach experimentation? Spends about 70% of his day on engineering and design. Constant iteration. Testing ideas endlessly. But not in a cave.

His master stroke? Ask for and carefully listen to negative feedback. Positive's easy: everybody likes to know they did a good job. But negative takes guts.

Look at your product or service today and ask yourself: are you ignoring some vital flaw due to fear of negative feedback? Better fix this.

And then? Go and get more feedback. Yes -- negative and positive. It hurts, but it shouldn't destroy you. As Godin tells us elsewhere:

"Structure your projects so that failure is not fatal."

Of course, experimentation alone won't get you far. You need to care.


Godin: a master marketer who cares deeply. Contradiction? A century ago, maybe. Profits first, empathy second, right?

Wrong. Look at a recent book of his, The Icarus Deception. He describes a bunch of different people and their work:

"The painter in front of a blank canvas. The architect changing the rules of construction. The playwright who makes us cry...The customer service rep who, despite the distance and the rush, makes an honest connection. The entrepreneur who dares to start without permission or authority."

Spot a common theme here? Godin sees them all as artists. And to an artist, their work is a calling, not a job. Why else work on something so difficult and uncertain?

You need to do the same thing. See your work as an entrepreneur as a way to fulfill your true purpose. Frame it around the people you intend to serve. Why? Because it'll automatically keep you on track. Energized. Motivated.

Look -- you will face many defeats as you build your business. Lots of failures, a few victories. But when you genuinely care for your audience, as you fail and fall back down to Earth, your heart will tell you one thing only: pick yourself up again. No matter how hard, you try again, always. Because to do anything else would betray your purpose.

Bottom line? Embrace uncertainty, experiment constantly and care deeply. Simple.

I'll let Godin sum it up for you:

"It's a journey. Start!"