Dissatisfaction is the coal of ambition

mad men on business ambition

Looking to start a business? Here’s something to ponder from Mad Men.

“Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition. It’s the coal that fuels the fire” – Trudy Campbell

Watching Mad Men with pen in hand is sometimes very useful to a marketing nerd like me. When a quote like Trudy’s one on business ambition pops up on the radar, you have to take note.

As a freelancer, I spend an awful lot of time coaxing shy clients towards marketing, calming overly zealous clients down and generally delving into the “back end” of what makes a business tick. My aim is to move it from ticking to purring in front of an audience. I spend a lot of time distilling the reasons why a product exists in the first place.

I am not an expert, but I have worked out a thing or two running my own business and helping others start a business. And the idea of dissatisfaction driving ambition really highlights the backbone of any decent new business venture.

Here are 6 key points you can test your idea to start a business using dissatisfaction as your business ambition guide.  

It’s a problem worth solving

If you want to start a business people will care about, you need to take something that is giving your customers grief and alleviate that pain. When you approach your business or your next product, this has to be at the forefront of your mind.

Even if the pain is “I seriously can’t get great donuts in Sydney”, that’s enough. But if it’s a case of “donuts seem to be popular right now” or “I like donuts” you are on the wrong track.

Dig deep. Ask the kinds of people who would turn out to be your customers what issues they face and create a solution that works.

“Nice to have”, “I want to try my hand at this” or “isn’t that cute” does not a sustainable product make.


You’re improving existing offerings

It isn’t enough to see the latest craze from the States and bring it to Australia. You have to start a business that is an improvement on the landscape. It isn’t enough to look around and see other people are successful doing something you think you could do.

You need to innovate. You need to challenge the status quo.

You need to own it.

Before you start a business ask yourself:

  • What do your competitors suck at?
  • Is there a better model available?
  • Can you tweak a couple of things and change the customer experience for the better?
  • Is there some style that you could bring to the table that no one else has mastered?
  • Why would they choose you over everyone else?
  • What gap in the market can you grow in?

If you can’t answer those questions, keep working at it until you can.

Do your research and work out how your product has the potential to change the game and create a connection. Improving what is out there is a far better model than simply copying and cobbling together ideas.


Have a sense of urgency

People often talk about their passion for their work, but passion isn’t what makes a business successful. When you start a business, passion is a given. It is also a given that after you start a business, passion starts to wane.

Replace passion with hunger. That same hunger someone has when they climb a mountain or trek through the jungle, to stand in front of a tank or to change the world. It is being able to push from your gut even though the last fume of enthusiasm has shredded itself to pieces and still say “I can do this.”

Set goals, make plans, and make them stick. Push yourself. Only the hunger for your idea and the true emotional investment will give you what you need to face a bad time.

You’re beyond the dream stage now. Now you’re going to work it until it works. No matter what gets thrown at you.

Make that hunger for something bigger and better push you forward.


Don’t settle for anything

There is no “if you build it, they will come” in a world where people see thousands of new ideas and hundreds of thousands of ads each year.

If you want customers to part with the cash, have a clear idea on how you are going to entice them to do it. Stand up and be counted. There’s no room for wall flowers or people who “make do”. You have to start a business that excites and intrigues. You have to roll up your sleeves and get out there.

And no matter if you are selling the idea of a greener world, or you simply want to shift toasters, make sure you keep that fistful of dollars at the end clearly in centre view. Know what you want to make out of your work and stick to it.

It’s not mercenary to think of money. It’s called survival. It’s called sustainable. It’s called business.

If you have an allergy to money, volunteer to farm yaks in Mongolia or something.


If it’s not challenging to start a business it’s not worthwile

Business is not a place where you can put half a foot in and call that a decent swim. You need to give time, energy and hours to what you do.

It’s not enough to start a business and then think that the hard work is done. Once you’re in business, a lot of self appointed experts will really enjoy telling you how you should do what you do. Once you start to gain traction, a couple of crazy people may even appear out of the woodwork looking to compete with you. There will be trolls. There will be moments when you think you were crazy to work for yourself instead of take a wage.

And you’ll need to deal with all of this and keep yourself sane.

All while you find customers, keep crazy customers happy, make money, pay bills, cower at tax time, drown in admin, deal with staff, fight fatigue, do as much as you can and miss an awful lot of dinner invites in the process.


Start a business the right way 

You need to know you are in business for the right reasons. The lows will be so low and the highs will be so distracting you’ll lose the plot. A lot.

But your original dissatisfaction has to be the coal of that business ambition. It will stoke your fires even when it feels like the tank is beaten up, upside down and empty. You’ll be able to use what you know about what you are doing to face anything anyone cares to throw at you.

Are you using your dissatisfaction to its best advantage? Want to start a business that excels? We need to talk. 

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