Part of the game in owning an aquarium-related business is that you are often called upon by other aspiring aquarium-business owners to answer some of their questions; to share experiences, options, and maybe a little hard-earned wisdom learned on your own journey. It's infinitely satisfying to see others follow their dreams and turn them into reality.
(This piece is another installment in our periodic series about developing and managing your own aquatics industry business. We cover a myriad of topics, ranging from fundamental "nuts and bolts" stuff, to the psychology and philosophy behind what you do...Today let's look at the "P and P" stuff...)
Thanks to Leonard M. of Pennsylvania for posing the question that prompted this piece:
"I'm in the process of developing a ____________ product for freshwater aquariums. I've started discussing generalities about the concept out on forums and such, and I run into a lot of people who seem to want to just shoot my idea down without even trying it. Although it's a kind of new idea, I know it works, because I've tested and used it on my own tanks for years. As a business owner, how do you deal with the scrutiny, as well as the seemingly unfair criticisms from those who just have an agenda of some sort or something?"
Good question, Leonard!
Probably one of the biggest concerns I hear about regarding building a business in the aquarium industry by budding entrepreneurs is how you deal with criticism and scrutiny from an increasingly skeptical, highly-diverse, social-media-emboldened global hobby culture. A lot of would-be owners are intimidated by the sometimes harsh criticism they might receive from people who have legitimate questions or concerns, need additional clarification, or explanation of their concept. It's a given. And it's also a "given" in the modern hobby world that there are always a few people out there-haters- who would love nothing more than to tear your idea to shreds, if for no other reason than to satisfy their own ego.
It's a fairly common occurrence today, especially while you follow modern marketing practice and maintain an active presence in social media. And you need to face it.
Any time you're creating a business around something that has not really been done very much before in the aquarium world, or is outright new- you rightly open yourself up to all sorts of "If", "Why", "How" questions and such about your business. It goes with the territory, and the ability to stand up to such scrutiny tests both your integrity and the validity of your idea. It's a time-honored thing. And you should WANT this. It means people are noticing you; paying some valuable attention!
A lot of business owners have trouble with this. It's scary to some people, understandably. Someone is questioning the fundamental foundation of your business or idea. You have to have enough confidence in your idea, intellectual honesty, and a certain thickness of skin to endure this. If you don't, then you might as well pack it in now, right?
It's just that real.
Here's a personal example of the kind of questions and comments that you can and should expect from some quarters:
Recently, I had someone on a forum ask one of those "fundamental" questions in the course of a discussion. It was something like, "Why do we need to purchase all sorts of botanicals online? I can collect _______ leaves in my backyard!"
And of course, that's a great question. It's important as a business owner, to be able to address these kinds of skeptical, yet important questions. It is totally understandable. I had an obligation to patiently explain. And I did. However, in this instance, he then took it farther, and when the implication was raised that the idea of curating and selling various botanicals and leaves was "unnecessary" and (direct quote) "Kind of stupid" it immediately drove home the point that not everyone gets the idea here, and that it's part of my job is to clarify in order to help some skeptics understand!
Of course, not everyone WILL understand and accept your idea, sometimes for the simple reason that they just don't want to. Fine. You HAVE to let go of that and grasp the fact that not everyone is your "target market", despite how good you think you are. You try, and if you can reach a few stragglers, great. If not, move forward. You can't get argumentative, defensive, or antagonistic- even when you're "baited" by these "hater" types. They're not worth your time. Besides, you do more damage to your brand and integrity when you engage in a nasty confrontation with one of these people, regardless of how "right" you think you are and how absurdly unrealistic they might be. I've seen these train wrecks play out on social media before, and it always ends badly for the brand. Be the bigger person. That's not being arrogant unreasonable or submissive. It's just business reality. Let 'em go.
And it's totally okay.
Now, in my instance, this person had a partially valid question, initially, because sure- you can collect some leaves yourself, and as long as they're a leaf that's not toxic to aquatic life, obtained naturally fallen from a clean, pollution-free source and properly prepared, you can use them in your aquarium. We've mentioned and discussed this before right here in "The Tint."
What got me, and showed a sort of lack of understanding and arrogance on the part of the questioner (and where it started to get ugly) was the assertion that the idea is "unnecessary" and "stupid." I wasn't just going to back off without explaining...but I limited myself to an explanation that I felt made sense to him: I mean, just because he has access to one type of leaf in his yard, doesn't mean that everyone can...or wants to. Some people don't want to deal with the hassle. Some people don't want to bother identifying, cleaning...whatever.
And, in the course of fielding questions, observations, and concerns, you can learn some things about your business that perhaps you didn't really even think about before. In my case, it made me realize that we don't just sell botanicals. We sell time. And enjoyment. Time, in that not everyone wants to spend their valuable time tracking down, sourcing, identifying, and collecting stuff for use in their aquariums. And enjoyment- because people derive great pleasure out of using these materials to help create unique aquatic displays.
I did my best to create an analogy that I thought the "hater" would understand clearly.
Look, I can collect Daphnia and Mosquito larvae from a pond near my home. It's not that hard, right? However, does that mean that I should criticize or dismiss the manufacturers of frozen foods who include these items in their "menu" as "uneccessary" or "Kind of stupid?"
Of course not. I don't want to take the time to collect, clean, screen and store these creatures. It's easier to pay a few dollars (or Euro or pounds or whatever your local currency is) for a lot of folks. It's more enjoyable to open the packet and feed.
I mean, I could have gone to ridiculous lengths in trying to draw usable analogies and and state, for example, that you don't HAVE to purchase your wild Geophagus for $35USD from the LFS. You can hop on a plane to South America, outfit yourself, go out in the field and collect them. Then you can complete the necessary paperwork with local authorities to get the fish out of the country, and you can obtain the necessary permits and complete the inspections with authorities to get them into yours.
Or, you can just pay the $35 USD for the fish and take them home from the LFS.
You can go on and on and on to justify stuff to doubters using every possible analogy. Or you could explain yourself as thoroughly and succinctly as possible, and if they don't get it, and continue to "hate" on you- move on. Tell yourself you tried your best...and move on and run your business, taking care of, and obsessing over the people who "get" what you do. Don't waste valuable time, effort, and emotional energy on people who simply choose to dismiss whatever you do. They don't want to do business with you...and that's fine.
In the end, your confidence and enthusiasm about your idea will help convey your message to a skeptical world. Sure, you won't reach everyone- but as discussed above, you won't want to. Outright "haters" are actually awesome. It means you've found people who will not ever be your market- and that's valuable "intel." Just believe in yourself. If your product or idea is truly good, it's benefits should quickly be obvious to even many skeptics after answering their questions.
Courage, confidence, and charisma, coupled with a bit of resiliency and humidly, are but a few of the necessary characteristics that you need to apply to any endeavor within the aquatic industry. If you know you have something great, and believe it, and are enthusiastic about it- there is very little a random "hater" can do to kick you down.
Push through. Believe. Move forward. The hobby and industry need you and your fire.
Stay bold. Stay creative. Stay honest. Stay humble.
And Stay Wet.