My Biggest Mistake: Not clearly defining what I wanted people to do
Joel Friedman
Reprinted from the Chicago Tribune
Name: Joel Friedman  

Joel Friedman, chief executive, SurveyWriter Inc.

Title: Chief executive
Company: SurveyWriter, Inc.
Type of company: Provides businesses with market research capabilities through Internet surveys and other online tools.
Founded: 1999
Employees: 11

At the beginning of 1998, I had just received my share as a partner in the sale of Communications Workshop, a full-service market research firm in Chicago. I was single, in my late 30s, and the Internet was already hot. I was willing to take some business risks because working for other people and companies had already become tedious.

I knew that I had a good idea, which was to provide companies of all sizes with the ability to do market research online. I planned to take conventional market-research methods and make them easy to use and affordable for most companies, using Internet technologies. The centerpiece of this plan was the Web survey engine, which was intended to handle sophisticated market-research surveys over the Internet.

To start, I hired a consulting firm to develop the survey engine. Unfortunately, I constantly ran into problems because the software designers I hired didn't understand the nuances of market research. I kept expecting them to know things that seemed completely obvious to me, the market research professional. And I wanted them to anticipate where we needed to be with the program.

A project we had scheduled for two months to complete stretched into four months without tangible results.

By the time the programmers were done, I had spent most of my original money, and I had an application that didn't work for the market that I wanted to reach. I was out of work, out of the $85,000 I had exhausted during the development process, and really had no viable product to show for it.

The consulting company added insult to injury by eventually billing me an additional $6,000 for their work. My relationship with the owner of the consulting firm, a longtime friend of mine, was beginning to fray. Eventually, I had to dip into my retirement account to handle living expenses and continue this "dream" of starting my own company.

My big mistake was not clearly defining for the people that I had hired exactly what I wanted them to do. I wasn't able to do this because I hadn't clearly resolved these issues in my own mind.

What I've learned is that the execution of my business ideas is solely my responsibility. I've also learned that the inability to clearly articulate my vision and my plans is not the fault of other people.

It's something that I must work on every day, so that people around me understand my goals for my business. As an entrepreneur, I neither have the time nor the resources to rely on other people to figure out what is going on in my mind.

When I was able to secure additional funds, I started the development process over. This time around, it went markedly smoother because I was able to define and articulate, up front, the subtleties of market research that I wanted to include in the application. I made sure doing so was a priority and not an afterthought.

It's a costly lesson that took a long time to learn: If I am not clear about what I want to accomplish, I do not invest the money and effort to let someone else do that disciplined thinking for me.


SurveyWriter, Inc., 2015 Web surveys, web survey software and online market research tools.