Dragging a big sack

January 28, 2008

In the early days of any new product it’s really important that you choose your customers carefully.

I realise that sounds slightly unconventional, and it certainly is uncommon. After all most startup businesses are desperate for whatever customers they can get. Beggars can’t be choosers, etc.

But there is a method to this mad suggestion…

More than anything in the early days you need people who will actually use your product and give you honest opinions about it. Ideally these are people you don’t know so well. People who are close to the product, who understand that it’s early days, will forgive missing features or clunky performance. But, this is not really the time for fanboys or sycophants. Actually, a little bit of “glass half empty” thinking is probably a nice counter balance to your optimism for the idea.

And, as much as you can influence this, you need users who are a good match for your product as it is (not as it might one day be). It’s vital that they love it and will be prepared to tell the world about it.

Last but by no means least, it’s important that they are representative of the broader group of customers that you want to target your product at. Otherwise, the feedback that you get from this influential early group will end up distorting your perception of what the market as a whole is likely to want and value. Make sure there are lots of others like the users you have.

Consider this quote from the NZTE AfterMail case study:

Lawrence Russell who joined in AfterMail’s very early days likened the impact of building the customer base to ‘dragging a big sack.’ Every new customer you get you put in a big sack, he expiated. And you’re dragging that sack behind you It gets heavier and heavier as the number of customers and support burden grows. The customer relationships become less personal — requiring systems and processes and standards for responding to requests for up-grades and new features, tracking issues and response tries. All slowing your product development down.

Do you agree?