From the folks at Cambrian House comes these thoughts on getting lost in product development and ignoring the customer. Oh, how easy it is! And these guys admit to making this mistake which immediately sets the tone for the rest of their blog post.
Customers = Good
(quoted from them)
Yup. It’s hard to say it much better than that. The tricky thing these days with the rise of Web 2.0 and the dropping costs of development is that the focus can so easily be on the development and not on the customer. “But guys! We can build feature X, then feature Y…ooh lets toss in Z cause it’s freaking cool!” Development costs are dropping, technologies are more freely available and there’s lots of talent out there itching to be the next big thing. But you might build the latest, greatest widget and fall flat on your tush…
The folks at Cambrian House have some good advice on how to engage customers early:
You force it.
You sell them something – anything.
Build the most compelling feature of your product and get it out there. Just build it and see if you’re meeting an unmet demand. If no one is willing to spend…on your product or service, you’ve got your answer.
Make the gap between product development and revenue as small as possible.
It’s good advice, but I’d like to add something. Building small and getting stuff out the door is a good philosophy, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Even if you are meeting an unmet demand, you might not realize it right away. It’s the “getting it out there” part that’s tricky. And without any sense of how you might do that, the advice is still a touch too focused on development. It’s still, “build something and get it out the door.”
But you might not recognize the most compelling feature. Or you might not know how to get it out the door well enough to generate the response/feedback you need.
This is where you need to do 2 things that many startups might not find particularly appealing:
- Research. You don’t need to research the full ins and outs of your industry, etc. but you need to know what’s going on around you. Research can be fairly easy – find what’s out there, dig around, get a feel for what others in your space are doing or might be doing. Leverage your existing network of contacts (and/or clients) to talk about the idea, brainstorm, get some early feedback, it’s going to help you hone in on the critical features and the need you’re tackling.
- Come up with a Marketing Plan. Gack! Marketing? Yup. And again, at the outset you don’t need some grandiose, full-blown plan, but you better have some sense of how you’re going to get the product out there, promote it, and who you want to reach. Again, leverage your network, do some research on what others are doing, think about ways of reaching out.
You can accomplish both of these tasks quite effectively by jazzing others about your idea. The more people you speak to that get excited about what you’re doing, the more evangelists you’ll have from the get-go. The more doors that will open. The more word-of-mouth will spread.
I’d follow what Cambrian House is doing. They’re not just “building stuff and tossing it out there” … I can see a much clearer vision and path towards what they’re trying to accomplish. It’s not just about product development, and it shouldn’t be for any startup either…