Living Your Category POV: Why Founder/CEO-Problem Fit Defines Whether You Are A Missionary Or A Mercenary
Do you "eat your own dog food?"
Dear Friend, Subscriber, and Category Pirate,
Many years ago, Kraft ran an internal survey.
(We have this private data because of Pirate Eddie. ARRRRRR!!!!!!!).
The survey asked the company's top 100 executives which Kraft products they ate. Did they like the yellow Kraft cheese slices that look like flattened Silly Putty? How about the Jell-O desserts that wiggle and jiggle like coagulated lipids in a petri dish? Or what about the Oscar Mayer bologna that is so wet you could throw it against the wall and it would stick?
“Which of these products do you buy a lot of? Which of these products do you love?” the survey asked.
Turns out, only 3 of the top 100 executives were Superconsumers of their own company’s products.
One executive said, “I’d never feed my family this stuff.”
There’s an expression in business: “Eating your own dog food”
(Although we prefer “Drinking your own libations!”)
Most people don’t know this expression actually comes from the early days of dog food manufacturers creating wet dog food—and explaining, “It’s so safe, humans can eat it too.”
Since then, it has become a colloquial term in business meaning “using one’s own products or services” as a way of demonstrating confidence through testimonial marketing. As customers, we like hearing our dentist say, “I use this floss too,” or our doctor say, “I just had this same procedure done last week.” It gives us confidence that someone else (who is credible) has tested the thing we’re about to buy, use, or consume—and that we won’t do ourselves any harm by consuming it too.
Of course, the counterpoint is also true.
Super Size Me
In 2004, documentarian Morgan Spurlock set himself on a 30-day challenge.
From February 1st to March 2nd, 2003, he exclusively consumed McDonald’s food.
The idea for the documentary was to shed light on the increasing spread of obesity in America—which had been declared an “epidemic” by the Surgeon General. So for 30 days, Spurlock ate at McDonald’s restaurants three times per day, consuming an average of 5,000 calories (which is roughly 9.26 Big Macs) every 24 hours and documenting the impact an all-McDonald’s diet had on his body health.
And the results were, well, disgusting.
By the end of the experiment, 32-year-old Spurlock had gained 24 pounds, increased his cholesterol a concerning amount, and even begun to experience other unintended side-effects such as mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accummulation in his liver. After he finished filming the documentary, it then took him another 14 months to lose the weight, lower his cholesterol, and regain his health.
The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award, and won Best Documentary Screenplay from the Writers Guild of America. It was one of those rare documentaries that shook the world—and when it came out, you couldn’t go anywhere in America without hearing someone talking about Super Size Me. (Unfortunately, it didn’t put a dent in McDonald’s, and the company’s revenue went on to climb from ~$19 billion all the way up to ~$27 billion in 2012).
“Eating your own dog food” when what you make is horrible for people can have disastrous consequences.
Whether you “eat your own dog food” is a massive signal.
To business partners and prospective hires.
And to investors.
When you live, breathe, and sleep your product or service, you send a signal of confidence. And when you don’t (or worse, if someone else does for you—only to reveal horrifying mental, physical, or emotional side effects), you send a signal of concern. For example, it might shock you to know that according to Business Insider, “Interviews with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai, and other tech CEOs reveal Silicon Valley parents are strict about technology use.” And despite the fact that Steve Jobs invented the iPad, he didn’t let his kids use it.
In our mini-book, The Big Product Lie, we wrote about the myths of Product-Market Fit and why it is so important to instead look for Founder-Problem Fit.
Product-Market Fit is for people who see someone else pioneering a new category and want to snag their slice of the pie before the “getting” isn’t good anymore.
Founder-Problem Fit is for people who experience a problem they detest and will stop at nothing to solve it for themselves, first—and for others as a consequence.
When you are a founder/CEO (or an employee working for a founder, or an investor backing a founder/CEO) who is obsessed with solving a specific problem, the solution you come up with is “your dog food.” You are on a journey to create the thing you want to eat every single day. In fact, you LOVE your dog food. So much so, that you wonder if something is wrong with you—because of how much you want your own dog food and nothing else. As a result, you become your product or service’s best spokesperson and most compelling testimonial. And your story (the “founding story”) becomes the company’s story. This is what tells the world you are a missionary.
“I’m not just the president, I’m also a client!” is one of the most powerful things a business leader can say!
When you are a founder (or an employee working for a founder, or an investor backing a founder, or the CEO of a company started by an iconic founder) who is simply in search of a problem with the hopes of creating an opportunistic solution, you become a mercenary. You aren’t really on a journey to create the thing you want to eat every single day. In fact, you may not even like the thing you’re making! But you see an opportunity to “make some money” (aka: compete for your slice of the remaining 24% of the category) and that’s what drives your decision.
We want to be very clear here: both can work. Plenty of mercenaries have made a few bucks.
The question we want to pose to you is: which one makes you happy?
Which one makes you feel the most fulfilled, like you’re spending your life doing something that matters? (If you’re lactose intolerant, does working at Kraft feel like your life’s purpose? If you are on a mission to create creamy, dairy-free mac & cheese, maybe!)
More importantly, which path will you stick with when the going gets tough?
Mercenaries love hopping on trends when it feels like a gravy train. But it’s the missionaries who are able to stick it through the cold, dark winters to ultimately reap the lion’s share of the rewards.
Living Your POV: Why Founder-Problem Fit Defines Whether You Are A Missionary Or A Mercenary
Creating your own category is about:
Framing a new & different problem
Naming a new & different solution
Claiming a new & different transformation
But one of the questions we get asked most often is, “How can you tell when a company is creating a new category?” Investors ask this question because they want to get in on high-potential category creators early, as do high-achieving employees who want to be early in the next Uber, Snapchat, or Netflix.
The simplest answer is to look at whether the founder(s) eat their own dog food.
Or, said differently: does the founder live their POV?