Nick Murphy | Crain's Phoenix

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Nick Murphy

Background:  

Nick Murphy, a former NFL punter, was born in St. Louis and graduated from Arizona State University. After stints with the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles, Murphy found a passion for recruitment. In 2015, he founded Mid-America Careers, a career network dedicated to connecting people and employers in the Midwest.

The Mistake:

The biggest mistake I made was in my first startup, and a lot of people follow this across all industries, whether they’re entrepreneurs or just in the working world. The mistake is trying to be all things to all people, and not getting granular or focused enough on a particular customer type or buyer persona.

I started a video resume company when I was 26 years old. I thought video would be a really great supplement to a paper resume, and give people an opportunity to stand out and earn the opportunity for an interview.

Who wouldn’t use that? It would be good for sales, it would be good for all different use cases. Rather than focusing on a region, or a market or a job title, we decided to go national and market to anyone. We found ourselves in a position where we got really good media coverage and really good awareness—it was something people were interested in. But when push came to shove, we weren’t able to deliver the volume we needed for any one actual ask from a sales standpoint. That was a big lesson.

We had sales conversations with big brands that saw our PR materials and saw us on the news. They said, “This sounds great. How many sales professionals do you have in Baltimore, Md.?” We’d look at our database and say, well, we only have three candidates. We had people on the hook who wanted to buy the product, but because we weren’t focused enough and we were talking to everybody and anybody, we never really focused our efforts on growing one location or industry or career stage. It was those customer conversations that made us realize we missed the boat. They were engaged and interested, but we couldn’t deliver.

Instead of trying to build or create or talk about features that anyone under the sun may find value in, focus on a niche and clarify that need.

The Lesson:

Instead of trying to build or create or talk about features that anyone under the sun may find value in, focus on a niche and clarify that need. Get really good at executing that one need and expand as required.

My company now is called Mid-America Careers for a reason. There’s a reason we’re focused on a region and one particular area of the country that’s often overlooked by a lot of the bigger competition out there. That’s basically a direct reflection of what I learned in the last thing I tried, and having worked at bigger national job sites in my career between that first time and now.

After working with national job sites, and looking at areas that were underserved, I saw a need for more local support and knowledge in our particular region. Unfortunately, the region is considered by many to be just "flyover" territory, and a lot of big job sites don’t take the time to concern themselves with what it might be like to hire Java developers in Des Moines, Iowa, when they're focused on the "sexier" clients in the Bay Area. We looked at the areas that are underserved, we looked at the biggest opportunity, and we looked at the demographics of the people and the buyers.

We asked, “What do people in the Midwest care about?” They care about personal service, they care about being honest, they care about working with people they can have a relationship with and trust, people that are candid and real. So we built our brand and a lot of our strategy around appealing to those people specifically.

If we alienate the other bigger brands that don’t see the value in that, frankly that’s OK. Before, I never would have been able to admit that I’m OK not getting every deal. We’ve created a filter to attract only the right kind of buyers to conversations, so our conversations are much more fun now.

Mid-America Careers is on Twitter at @MidAmericaJobs.

Photo courtesy of Becky Novacek.

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