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Eating your own dog food

Creativity and Innovation

You have a product.

And you are trying to convince customers that they should trust you and buy your product.

But do you actually know what it is like using the product you are trying to sell?

So many leaders in companies have no idea what their own products are actually like.

Whether the quality is good. What the buying experience is like. What support feels like.

In order to be able to innovate, a leader needs to know what their product actually is like. The good as well as the bad. And the best way to do this is to actually use your own product.

This is often referred to as “eating your own dog food”.

The origin of the term is disputed. In 2006, the editor of IEEE Software recounted that in the 1970s television advertisements for Alpo dog food, Lorne Greene pointed out that he fed Alpo to his own dogs. Another possible origin he remembers is from the president of Kal Kan Pet Food, who was said to eat a can of his dog food at shareholders’ meetings.

In normal business, eating your own dog food refers to using your own products, such as by testing them internally or using them as part of your normal business operations.

While this would seem like the most obvious thing in the world, you would be amazed how many companies do not use their own products, or how many company leaders do not use the products they tell their teams to sell to customers.

For example, analysis of mutual fund managers in 2011 found nearly half of the managers did not themselves invest in the core funds they were advising customers to buy.

Or I can give an example of my own start at one of the world’s biggest consulting firms. One major type of project we sold, which clients often paid millions for, was the implementation of the newest version of SAP finance software. We would advise clients of the benefits of upgrading their software, including how they could save millions in operating costs and have a better overview of everything. Yet within our company, we were still using versions of the SAP software which was nearly a decade out of date.

We were not eating our own dog food.

The reason why this is so important for innovation is that by using your own products, you will understand how the customers are experiencing them. And this empathy can give you insights on how they can be improved.

And sometimes, just sometimes, by taking a big bite you might even find out that your product doesn’t taste as good as you tell everyone.

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