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April - 2016 - issue > Indian American View
Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Mr. Trump
Sashi Reddi
Friday, April 1, 2016
No one predicted that an in experienced candidate like Donald Trump could ever come close to becoming the Republican nominee for president of the United States of America. Yet, within eight months of declaring his candidacy, Trump is dominating the polls and is the surest bet to becoming the GOP nominee.

This is every entrepreneur's dream. Dominating your market in less than a year of launching your product. So how did Trump do it and what can we learn from his success? Here are my five takeaways from Trump's success:

(1) Repeating something often makes it true: Every speech of Trump states that he will "Make America Great Again". There are no specifics on how this will be achieved but millions of Americans are now convinced that he will do just that.

Lesson: Make blatant claims that your product is the best in the world. No need for any supporting evidence. Just make sure you say it in every meeting whether with your customers, employees, or shareholders. In the beginning some of the outspoken ones may ask you to justify your claim but soon they will just nod in silent agreement. After a few months of this, people will take this as common knowledge.

(2) Denigrate your competition: In a presidential debate when most candidates talked about their vision and supported it with tedious details of their economic plans and views on healthcare, Trump focused instead on personality attacks on his competitors. Senator Ted Cruz is a "liar" and no one likes him, Senator Marco Rubio sweats too much and is a "choker", Governor Jeb Bush has "low energy", and soon. None of these accusations have anything to do with what they plan to do for this country but they have been effective in driving many of them out of the race.

Lesson: So if you happen to be in technology for example, you could attack Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft) and Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google) of being Indian immigrants who eat too much spicy curry and smell up the office, Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) for being gay, and Ginni Rometty(CEO of IBM) for being a woman. No need to explain why being Indian, gay, or a woman is detrimental to a company's success-let people's basest instincts take over and work in your favor.

(3) Test your messaging and then pick what works: Trump was great at floating test balloons to see what worked. His message regarding Mexican rapists was an immediate hit as was his message on banning all Muslims. His message on mocking Carly Fiorina's looks and the one that Obama may have murdered Justice Scalia were not that well received so he eased back on those comments.

Lesson: Double down on what works and scrap the rest. I see too many startups trying out a product position that does not generate excitement from their customers but still unwilling to change their positioning to address what their customers want. One needs to take customer feedback and constantly go back to the drawing board.

(4) Marketing does not need a big budget: Jeb Bush spent over a $100million and achieved little. Trump spent hardly any money at all but instead relied on finding ways to get free media attention. This involved timing his outrageous statements in a way that they dominated the news cycle, provoking reactions from well known people or some aggrieved community, spending on bright redcaps and T shirts with his slogan as opposed TV slots and billboards.

Lesson: Entrepreneurs are constantly raising an ever larger round for "marketing spend". There are smart ways to reach your audience without squandering money on old ways. See what new tools can be leveraged in this age of social media and a globalized economy.

(5) Build a brand, not just the best product: Trump has been able to excite millions with his high level vision for America. No one knows what or how he will do what he is promising but there is an advantage to this lack of specifics. Each of his fans is allowed to imagine a perfect American of his/her own dreams, in many cases one with only white Christians in it.

Lesson: Many entrepreneurs spend sleepless nights on building the perfect product and then wonder why their customers are not swarming over their wonderful invention. They need to realize that tapping into what customers aspire to rather than meeting a functional need is what is required for success.

I plan to now start something on the lines of Trump University where for $36,000 you will get a certificate for being a "Trump Master", sort of like scrum master without code but for marketing. You will get the above five lessons over a period of half a day for around $1,000and then a photo with a cut out of Mr. Trump for$35,000. No, this is not fraud-you were just too stupid to realize what you were signing up for. It's on you!
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