Listen to your customers, but not before your soul.

Why startups that go too far implementing all customer feedbacks end up signing up for failure

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

 

While I can’t emphasize more on this saying to my teams, I also believe in being pragmatic about it. The way consumer internet has evolved it has brought in new challenges with it – both for startups and consumers.

 

Side effects of Agility:

One such challenge being agility! Thanks to some real DevOps rockstars out there who have made continuous integration and deployments easier than ever. The terminologies like “hotfixes” aren’t just limited to fixing issues in the live app, but also adding new features in virtually no time! This agility is leading to an expectation that maturity of a development team is depicted by how quickly it can react to market feedback. That’s true! But the side effect of this maturity is moving too fast in too many directions so incoherently that complete sense of purpose is lost and the startups just forget what they stand for!

If every sale requires you to add/ modify/suppress a feature then either you are selling wrong, or the initial problem definition is wrong! Don’t bake in these changes as a part of product evolution; else everything will go wrong!

“If you stand for nothing, then you’ll fall for everything.”

 

“Pivot” comes to rescue:

Pivoting is the new normal and is an answer to every half backed marketing and adoption strategy.

“A consumer internet product, in a lot of ways is an answer to question the questions which the customer hasn’t asked yet.” – Saurav Mishra

 

So adoption requires first making your customers address the problem and then giving your product as a solution. This whole process may take time and may not be carried out well by sales or marketing people. Worse, a pivot is just a LOT of work for your product development team and ends up being a paid vacation for sales, marketing, and account management teams! Since now they have no product to sell and thus no customers to manage!

Every addition is a complication for New Customer:

Basecamp.com, a new generation project management software is a living testimonial of this. A quote from the book Getting real (written by makers of Basecamp)

“Make each feature work hard to be implemented. Make each feature prove itself and show that it’s a survivor. It’s like “Fight Club.” You should only consider features if they’re willing to stand on the porch for three days waiting to be let in.

That’s why you start with no. Every feature request that comes to us — or from us — meets a no. We listen but don’t act. The initial response is “not now.” If a request for a feature keeps coming back, that’s when we know it’s time to take a deeper look. Then, and only then, do we start considering the feature for real.”
― 37 Signals, Getting Real

I not only endorse it to every customer and product team I talk to but also try to live by it every day! While the new feature may help solve one obscure edge case scenario for one customer, its an additional complexity to every new customer who gets onboard. Thus the chances of losing more customers during trial period increases!

Method to the madness:

There are smarter ways to deal with this of course.
– Meet customers, explain them the product. Not just features but the philosophy. Whether its a utility or a strategy product. What to expect and what not to expect and how to get the best out of it.
– Change messaging. Sharpen your pitch, make sure you are explaining your core proposition better and not relying on “oh we have a feature for that!”.
– Educate your sales and account managers
– Evolve a service wing for additional customizations. Charge additional for customization and only integrate features that are relevant to your core product in the long run. Use the power of versioning tools like Git – to create separate branches for new requirements and customizations.
– Pivot re-explained:
“A Pivot is a change in strategy without changing the vision” – Eric Ries

Before taking aggressive product and business decision a.k.a Pivoting, please consider evaluating your adoption and marketing efforts. Also, there is a difference between uncovering a new detail versus a new requirement that should lead to a change in the product roadmap altogether!
In case you have agreed to take a Pivot, first make sure you had your initial problem definition floored and defeated before you start on anything new. Now use the same logic for your post-pivot problem definition! See if it stands the test!

The take away:

The purpose of the post is to not encourage “My way or highway” approach. But make startups and entrepreneurs think of how to get to an intersection of what the client needs the most, what’s the core idea behind the startup and what can potentially give the startup a fair chance to be world class!

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