“If you don’t use your own products, then you’re just a ConMan.” – Manoj Bhargava, founder of 5-hour Energy.
Manoj Bhargava grinned with excitement as he downed a 16-ounce energy drink at a natural products trade show in Anaheim, CA.
It was the spring of 2003 and energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull had really started taking off.
Unlike those other drinks, however, Bhargava noticed that “for the next six or seven hours I was in great shape. I thought, wow, this is amazing. I can sell this.”
Unlike the short burst of energy one got from a Red Bull or a Monster, this formula seemed to last for hours.
As a hardworking entrepreneur, this long-term energy and focus was vital to Bhargava – and he knew it would be to millions of other hardworking Americans as well.
The Key Insight
From that day on, Bhargava became the top customer of what would soon be called a “5-hour Energy.”
He used the product 5 times a week – a practice he still follows.
It was this regular use that gave him the insight that would launch 5-hour Energy from a formula produced for obscure tradeshows to one that was so innovative it created an entirely new “energy shot” market.
“I thought, if I’m tired, am I also thirsty? Is that like having a headache and a stomach ache? It didn’t make any sense.”
In other words, 16 ounces of this formula wasn’t necessary.
He didn’t need to make a drink to quench your thirst.
He didn’t need to make a drink that was refrigerated in coolers.
He needed to make a drink that would simply provide the mental energy and focus you needed to perform at your best.
That led to his key insight – don’t put 5-hour Energy in a cooler, put it next to the cash register.
That simple insight, coming from the fact that he was actually using his product on a regular basis, meant that he didn’t have to compete with Red Bull or Monster.
Now, his product was visible to every single customer who checked out of the store.
This gave 5-hour Energy the exposure it needed to get off the ground and become the worldwide product it is today. A product that owns 90% market share in the market it created.
Coke, Pepsi, and all of the other major beverage companies have all come up with their own knock offs of 5-hour Energy. But none of them have been able to even come close to replicating the success of this unique product.
That is the power of eating your own dog food.
Eat Your Own Dog Food
The basic premise behind “eating your own dog food” is that if a company expects paying customers to use its products or services, those products should be good enough for employees to use as well.
If your company doesn’t use its own products or follow the practices you recommend when consulting other companies, that is a big red flag.
Not only because you can miss out on key insights like Bhargava had, but it also sends a message that you are “too good” to put yourself in the shoes of your customers.
I’ve seen this smug attitude in far too many people trying to create new products.
There’s a level of superiority that some product teams and entrepreneurs have for their customers. That attitude is only getting in the way of their ability to create things that customers truly love – and will happily pay for.
I believe this is why Bhargava claims he would never invest in a product that he wouldn’t give to his own family. That principle of his is not only honorable, but it is also one of the best ways to create something that is truly innovative.
Here are the 3 key benefits you get from eating your own dog food:
1. You Solve Your Own Problems
In 2003, Bhargava had to confront a problem that every entrepreneur faces — not enough energy and focus.
Every entrepreneur needs long hours of energy and focus to build a world-changing product. His genius was creating a product that helped him solve those problems.
The better Bhargava and his team were able to make the 5-hour Energy product, the better they were able to improve their own focus and productivity. Thus making an even better product, and so on.
I have seen the same benefit with our Rise to the Challenge product.
Rise to the Challenge is an online program we built to help people flip the anxiety they feel before an important challenge from a negative, draining emotion – into a positive, energizing one.
I have used this program to prepare for phone calls, meetings, and even a networking event in which I was pitching the program.
Using this product helps me solve my own problems and gives me a unique feeling of empathy with the customers I am solving it for.
2. You Empathize With Your Customers
By using your own products on a consistent basis, you are put into your customers shoes.
Although this doesn’t give you a perfect perspective on them, it does give you much better insight than if you were to pitch 5-hour Energy to others while you continue to drink coffee.
Using his own product allowed Manoj Bhargava the chance to feel the unique benefits of 5-hour Energy versus the alternatives.
He was able to get into his customers’ shoes and understand that he didn’t always want to quench his thirst just because he wanted energy.
He also recognized the most compelling marketing hook – the fact that it lasted for five hours. This was the key differentiator between his energy shot and coffee, Red Bull, or any other energy beverage on the market.
Thus, when it came time to brand his product, he didn’t call it some derivative of “Energy Shot.” He called it “5-hour Energy.”
Clear, simple, powerful branding that could have only come from understanding the benefits firsthand.
3. You Witness Your Opportunities Firsthand
Another benefit as a primary user of your own products is your ability to feel the frustrations of the current product version for yourself.
Right now, the frustration I feel with the Rise to the Challenge product is the ease to access it when I need it most. This is an insight I wouldn’t get unless I was trying to use it before every challenge I take on.
This benefit shines through especially well when you use your product on a consistent basis.
When describing 5-hour Energy‘s success, Bhargava also mentioned that “it’s (ultimately) not the little bottle. It’s not the placement. It’s the product. You can con people one time, but nobody pays $3 twice.”
It was this insight that pushed him and his team to create a product of people would want to use every day before work.
And it’s the fact that people use it every day that has turned 5-hour Energy into a billion dollar product – and Manoj Bhargava into a billionaire himself.
Eat your own dog food consistently and learn all the potential frustrations that come with that. Those frustrations are your opportunity for innovation and growth.
The term “eat your own dog food” was derived to point out the hypocrisy of people who create products for customers that they aren’t willing to use themselves.
If you are not willing to “eat your own dog food“ you are getting in the way of your own success.
Eating your own dog food allows you to use your product to solve your own problems. Manoj Bhargava and his team were able to use the benefits of productivity and focus to create an even better product. Creating a virtuous cycle.
It also allows you to empathize with your customers. By putting yourself in their shoes and asking yourself, “would I actually buy this product as is?” You can gain key insight into your customer’s experience. Creating a deeper bond between you and the people who you are working to serve.
That deeper bond, developed through repetitive use, allows you to see all the things that are frustrating about your products. Those frustrations are your opportunities to improve your products in a way that makes a meaningful difference to your customers.
To see these benefits for yourself, break out a spoon and start eating your own dog food!