Your customer’s feedback is the most important thing you will have as a start up. From all of the lectures I’ve have watched so far, it is the one thing that stands out more than everything else that has been said.
As I’ve mentioned before, at Makers Academy we have been following the lectures led by Sam Altman from Stanford University.
At what stage do you start getting customer feedback?
Based on the lectures I have watched at Makers Academy, and the research I did prior to entering the course, the answer seems pretty simple.
- If you are planning to start a start up, you need to start getting customer feedback before they even become customers.
- Some start up founders claim that you should be getting customer feedback before you even have the idea fully formed in your head.
Because they are the people that will potentially be buying your product. If you aren’t making what they need (note: this is very important.
You shouldn’t make them something they want, you should make them something they need), then your product isn’t going to sell anyway, no matter how nicely it’s packaged.
Getting to know your market
The key to getting customer feedback before they’ve even become customers, or before you have a product, is knowing the market you are aiming for.
And that doesn’t mean just having a vague knowledge of the market.
- You need to become an expert at it.
- You need to know exactly what they do, what happens in their daily lives
- What they need to make their lives better or easier.
Sometimes, this could mean immersing yourself in the market, maybe even getting a job working for them for several months.
If you’re thinking of making an app targeting accountants, learn absolutely everything you can about what it is like to be an accountant.
When do you start actually talking to people?
As soon as you can.
One of the best ways of getting to know a market (aside from getting a job in that market), is simply talking to as many people in that market as you can.
But where do you find these people?
This is one of the harder things to do, and the only way to really do it is to put in a lot of time and a lot of hard work.
- Many many successful start ups got their first customers by going through phone books cold calling anybody and everybody they could.
- Others sent out hundreds of emails, hoping that at least one or two would result in someone giving them feedback on what they need in their lives.
- Airbnb allegedly personally went door to door in their neighbourhood asking if people would be willing to rent their rooms.
Getting to a wide enough customer base to get sufficient feedback while you are developing the product is not going to be hard.
How do you start a conversation with a prospective customer?
This is also tricky. You need to make it clear that you want to make something for them. That you want to understand their needs and to try to cater to them to make their lives easier.
- Many people will simply shrug you off or ignore your emails, with excuses of lack of time etc.
- Some will respond in a half hearted manner
- If you’re lucky, some will respond eagerly, with lots of information about their needs, and with lots of ideas of what you should make or how you should make your product.
Be careful here. You want these people to become your first customers when you eventually have a product to sell.
However, sometimes what people think they need is not actually what they need. You must listen carefully to what they are saying and try to read between the lines a little.
When does customer feedback become less important?
Your customers are the people (hopefully) buying your product, and thus paying your rent. Their feedback is always important and especially as a small start up it is imperative that you are in constant communication with your customers about how everything is going.
Form a continuous dialogue with them about their needs, expectations, ideas etc. Ask them for both negative and positive feedback. Knowing what you are doing well is just as important as knowing what you need to change.
But make sure this is a dialogue. Don’t simply accept feedback from them without then telling them how you are taking their feedback on board, what you have done since their last feedback, how you plan to implement their new feedback etc.
If you don’t do this, they will fail to see the usefulness of giving feedback to you and this vital source of information will begin to dry up.
Seeing this first hand
This is a collection of advice and information that I have gathered from various different places, over the past few months, and am slowly starting to put it in practise for my own start up.
What I have found incredibly useful at Makers, is being able to see some of this in practice first hand. Makers Academy is still a relatively young company and are therefore constantly changing and growing.
One of the things that does not seem to change, however, is the weekly feedback.
- Every friday we have been asked to fill in a short survey with some short answer, and some open ended questions. We are able to anonymously give honest feedback about the week in about 5 minutes.
- During the following week small (and sometimes big) things will change around the office, sometimes unnoticed and in the background.
- Without fail, every Friday, just before the survey is sent out, the founder will write an email to everyone explaining exactly how they have taken on board our feedback.
He outlines what they have changed, what they are planning to change, what we have praised them on, and why they maybe are unable to implement things we have requested. Having this constant dialogue of feedback has not only made me feel as if Makers thinks of me as important to them, but it also makes it very clear that my feedback is listened to.
So what’s the lesson?
- Know your market
- Talk to your market
- BE your market
- And do this before you’ve made your product, otherwise you will potentially spend many months of your life making something that, despite what you think, no one really cares about or needs.