Beyond the Pitch
Entrepreneurship is All About Customers
To paraphrase the baseball great Yogi Berra, entrepreneurship is 90 percent about customers and the other half is hard work.
Every successful business exists because it provides a product or service that customers need and are willing and able to pay for.
When we’re helping entrepreneurs start companies, keeping this reality front and center isn’t automatic—especially for entrepreneurs who come from scientific and technical fields as so many company founders in technology businesses do.
Early on, there necessarily is so much emphasis on product—designing the solution, securing and protecting IP, creating a prototype, and so on—that focusing on potential customers and markets can take a back seat.
Instead, develop a company where customers are the pivot point from day one.
Talking to people in the industry you seek to serve is a great first step toward matching your solution to their needs.
- Use your personal, professional, and industry connections to reach out and connect with individuals who have the problem you are trying to solve. You can do this on the phone or in person. The way not to do it is via email or text.
- Compose your questions ahead of time. Listen and take notes. You are not there to validate your assumptions as much as you are to discover where your assumptions are wrong.
- Talk to people who are using competitive or alternative solutions. Find out what they like and what they don’t. Find out which features they are willing to pay for and which features are “nice to have.”
Create a system for the company that allows you to collect anecdotal information about customers and use it in product development and fund raising.
- We’ve been in many investor presentations where the entrepreneur refers back to actual conversations with potential customers. It adds impressive credibility.
- Keep in touch with the potential customers you talk to as you are developing your prototype. Share with them how their input influenced your solution. They might never turn into paying customers, but again they might.
- Be on constant lookout for beta sites or early adopters.
To be successful, an entrepreneur must like his or her customers and be liked in return. That starts by being genuinely interested in their business, interested in their problems, and respectful of their time.
- Practice by thinking about customer problems as if they were your own. If your startup is successful, they will be.
- Be open and willing to share your ideas and your dreams—especially with customers who may have started as entrepreneurs themselves. It’s a bond.
There are a million and one new things that every successful entrepreneur wants to learn–financial reporting, tax considerations, and team building—make sure that customer relationships are at the top of your list.
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