That's how Paul Graham from YCombinator sums up the aim of business. It sounds so simple and so obvious, yet so many go awry and end up failing. Other businesses have a moment of reflection and are fortunate enough to save themselves before it's too late but we have heard over the last year of many businesses that have gone to wall, sometimes after many decades of operations.
We could blame a lot on what has happened because of covid restrictions but that is a lazy truth for people who have forgotten to sell what people want. Sure, the restrictions have made some businesses have to rethink their portfolio or even their main business focus but plenty of people have done well enough during the pandemic, we need to ask ourselves why some businesses have done badly.
A business analyst on the radio yesterday (can't remember his name), was saying that the simple truth is most of these businesses have struggled for a while and the challenges of covid have simply sped-up the inevitable.
Why have these businesses failed?
If you are not selling things then you are either not good at selling or are attempting to sell what people don't want (or both!) and the one job of the leadership team is to identify this and make the changes to resolve it. These businesses failed to do that. Perhaps their leaders were stretching their ability, perhaps they talked a good game, perhaps they had been in the business for 30 years, as if that qualifies someone to steer a large business.
There needs to be strategy but it needs to be based on the information today. Companies that hold onto a strategy that no longer works will fail.
Others need to be better tactically. Things happen in the market, sometimes quickly, and the business needs to cope. New competitors selling more modern product for less money are a threat but the fact that you have been around for 100 years is irrelevant to the market. If you are selling better quality, your customers need to both know that and decide that the premium you charge is worth the extra quality.
Others are simple trading on the way we always did it, oblivious to the fact that older people die and younger people are born. Trends change, mindsets change, shopping habits change. Most people would not have foreseen the amount that is bought on mobile and tablet but here we are. Some businesses are still in denial and believe the High Street to be the pinnacle of retail sales. Most of them are now bust.
What is most troubling is the size of these organisations. How can you employ 20 people in a marketing team, 50 developers, designers, consultants etc. all costing multi-millions per year in salaries and yet your website is slow, you have a ton of marketing insights and no idea how to use it. You get the basics wrong, sometimes badly, but still justify investing in high-cost, high-risk, low-return strategies.
If people cannot interface with you because your delivery is poor. They won't buy, you won't sell.
In short, they are not selling what people want.