You’re not your audience

Judd Apatow is probably the most influential person in the movie industry today.  Thanks to a string of hits that he directed or produced, like Old School, Wedding Crashers, Superbad, and Bridesmaids, his brand of comedy has become the dominant school.

So given his success, you’d think that Apatow would rely on his billion-dollar comedy instincts and create movies for himself, right?


As it turns out, Apatow’s approach is to screen material for audiences as soon as is humanly possible.  His philosophy is that he and the rest of the filmmakers are not the audience for the film.  They’re too aware of the industry, and too close to the material.  Comedy is an art, not a science; the only way to tell if it works is to try it out on the people you want to laugh.

Sound familiar, startup entrepreneurs?

Over and over, the most successful people rely on feedback, not gut.  Whether it’s Apatow and his test audiences or Chris Rock trying out material in clubs, these “geniuses” got to where they are with a ton of hard work, and by listening to the reactions of their audience.

This morning, I talked with an entrepreneur who has pivoted his company numerous times during the time I’ve been advising him.  He started off in media sharing, shifted to shopping, and is now doing a specialized kind of photo sharing, and is seeing traction.

Of course all of us would rather find the right model from the beginning, but if you’re not lucky enough to find that product-market fit right away, you have to try different things.  And the only way to determine product-market fit is to put your product in front of an audience.

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