According to a 2013 Forbes magazine article titled, “Five Reasons 8 out of 10 Businesses Fail,” the number one impediment to success is that businesses are “[n]ot really in touch with customers through deep dialogue.”Here at Echo-Factory, we agree that dialogue is important, but we’d take the analysis a step further and contend that most businesses fail because they never even knew who their customers were, let alone engaged them in deep dialogue. Sure they might have a vague idea—gender, 10-year age range, region, that sort of thing—but have you ever tried to have a deep dialogue with a 28- to 35-year-old female who is ethnically neutral, is of average income, enjoys the outdoors and lives in the Southwest? By its very nature, this type of broad stroke consumer identification is impossible to engage with any kind of depth. Because this is not a person—it’s a range. That’s why one of the first things we do whenever we take on a new client is research the heck out of them—their industry, their history and their pain points, their goals, wants and needs. Then, after we’ve developed a thorough understanding of our client, we dive into understanding their customers. And not in general terms—we get out the fine-tipped brushes and fill in the lines. Does this woman enjoy base-jumping or bird-watching—or both? It matters. Is this woman 28 or 35? It matters. Is she a resident of Ocean Beach or Newport Beach? It matters. It matters because when you’ve got the details, you’ve got an actual person capable of participating in a deep dialogue. It matters because you now know where to reach her and what she cares about. You can speak to her in her language in a way that will engage her rather than alienate her. We call this process persona building, and it’s basic procedure for us. If you want your business to succeed, it should be basic procedure for you, too. Knowing your customers and communicating with them effectively is crucial, but all too often this vital strategic element is either totally ignored or relegated to the bottom of the list. And it’s a shame whenever this happens, but this misstep becomes truly unfortunate when the businesses involved are innovative, ethically minded, socially responsible, environmentally conscious and human rights driven. We don’t like to play favorites, but the truth is that we love brilliant people who want to do good in the world, and more than anything, we want to see them succeed. That’s why if we ever have an opportunity to share our expertise with a socially progressive company, we don’t hesitate. So when the LA Cleantech Incubator invited Echo-Factory principal, Mike Schaffer, to speak on the topic of persona building for their LACI Design Thinking Series, he jumped at the chance. The incubator is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit dedicated to building LA’s green economy through providing affordable office space, mentoring and CEO coaching, and access to extensive investor and customer networks for the area’s most promising cleantech start-ups. The Design Thinking Series features four seminars at which various industry experts lead talks and practice groups on various business-building topics to help young entrepreneurs identify, understand and design products and services that will best serve the needs of their customers. Other companies involved include industrial design firm Pull Creative and creative engineering company Motivo. The series’ working subject was to develop a product that would address the issue of asthma in children who live within a quarter of a mile of a freeway. As persona building is a foundational element to any successful business, Mike’s seminar, titled, “Identifying Personas and Crafting the Ideal User Experience,” kicked off the series. Attendees learned about the importance of developing personas in order to meet their customers’ need, and then they put that theory into practice by conducting market research and developing three preliminary personas to be built upon throughout the remaining seminars. “The three foundational elements we drive with each of our portfolio companies are intellectual property strategies, investment prep and design thinking. The first two are very common in the start-up world but the design thinking side has been undervalued for far too long,” said Erik Steeb, VP of Programs at LACI. “Design is a critical element of any business, and it starts with really understanding your customer. To get the best result, we partnered with the best. The combination of Pull Creative, Echo-Factory and Motivo Engineering has been a great asset to our companies.” We love being involved in projects like these, because we want these socially responsible entrepreneurs to succeed and we know they can’t without the proper tools and knowledge. We want to see eight out of 10 businesses succeed, not fail, and developing accurate personas is one of the first steps to making that happen.