Overpromising and Underdelivering

PART 1 :: My First Business

I started my first business when I was 9. I built a go-kart, and painted it red, black and white. In the back of my geography exercise book, I roughed out a business plan. 2p a ride down the hill opposite Mum and Dad’s house. I reckoned I could easily do 50 rides a day … 9-year-old me was going to be rich!

I told my friends about it – got them all excited about the sleek, gleaming machine they would get to ride, and planned the big launch for that weekend – “after ‘Saturday SuperStore’ finishes”. The moment arrived … I proudly wheeled the go-kart out to the [in my head at least] hushed admiration of my assembled friends … sat in it, and pushed myself down the hill …

Turns out, I’d built the world’s slowest go kart. You could walk down the hill faster than my kart was moving!

Sales? Zero. The go-kart was retired before ‘Grandstand’ had even started.

Lessons learnt? First, go karts should be small and light, not big and heavy. Second, it’s a good idea to test your product before asking people to pay for it.

My biggest error? Overpromising and underdelivering.

But the biggest lesson? For a few days while I dreamed of buying my very own Spectrum 48k [the one with the rubber keys], that business was seriously fun!

PART 2 :: Closing A Deal

Winter 2003, and I’m trying to close the biggest deal of my life. I feel like I’m getting close … but maybe I need to offer just a little more value … and a little more … and a little more …

And eventually, all those ‘little bit mores’ accumulated into ‘a whole lot more’. I ended up promising waaaay more than I could ever deliver. It was nearly a year before I realised what I’d done: when I went back to renew the deal, they said “Sorry, but no.”

I was mortified – I had thought it was a sure thing. But they pointed out all the extras I’d mentioned that hadn’t materialised. “Ah yes, I see your point.”

Lessons learned? Overpromising and underdelivering doesn’t work.

[Hang on – didn’t I learn that from my go kart business aged 9? Well, yes … but sometimes we forget, and have to do something a few times before it fully sinks in…]

What really sticks in my mind is how the other side handled the situation. They didn’t get angry, or sulk, or ignore me. They stayed reasonable but firm, and simply laid out the facts as they saw them. Although they never sponsored us again, we stayed friends.

Sometimes, we have to stick up for ourselves.

When we do, we can also stay classy.

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