Attention Founders: Your Customers Know More Than You

By Kate Sackman

Just gotta say this to all aspiring entrepreneurs: Customer research is NOT a universe of one (you). Nor is it 10, or 20, or just your family and friends.  How are you going to know whether strangerswill buy your product if you don’t talk to them first?

In fact, waaaaaaay before you get enamored with your great new product or solution, go talk to 100 people who have the problem you think you want to solve.  This is not an online survey. It is conversations with and also quiet observation of 100 individuals.  Ask a lot of questions. Ask why and then ask why again and then again.  Simply sit and watch how people currently address the situation that you are undertaking to fix.  The solution you have in mind may be right on the mark or may not be appropriate at all.

For some reason, entrepreneurs are often reluctant to talk with their prospective customers. They procrastinate, they pretend, they convince themselves that a small sample of people they know will be good enough.  Why? Because they believe that their own concept of the ideal, never created before, home run solution is already perfect. Because they don’t want to hear about needed modifications. Because they have already designed a product without asking anyone about what they need. Because they don’t want to get rejected.  Well here’s the tough love part. Get over it and go talk to customers.

In the Empower Accelerator program at StartUP FIU, we have seen the full range of good, better, and non-existent customer research.  Inevitably, everyone who does thorough in-person interviews and observations with at least 100 potential customers is changed.  Inevitably they discover incredible insights that only could come from that type of qualitative research. As a result, they modify their offering, sometimes significantly.  They have a better understanding not just of how the product of service should function, but also of how to price it, how to deliver it, and how to be noticeably, beautifully different that the existing solutions. So get out there. You will thank me later.

About Kate Sackman

Kate directs the Empower Accelerator at StartUP FIU and is a serial entrepreneur with industry experience in software, medical devices, media, environmental science, marketing and finance. She believes powerfully in the potential of passionate entrepreneurs when their energy is focused and persistent. As an adjunct professor at FIU, she teaches Global Social Entrepreneurship in the Honors College and Technology Entrepreneurship to master’s students in the Engineering school. Since joining FIU in 2016, she has truly enjoyed helping over 100 start-up founders innovate in all areas of strategy, business model, funding and pitching.