Monday, August 5, 2013

Maybe You're Just Delusional

I tell people to listen to their customers a lot. It’s kind of my thing. Every so often when I’m explaining how to learn about customer problems and incorporate that feedback into a product, I run into a founder who is truly resistant.

“ VISION!” they cry. Then they go on to build exactly the product that they want to build without getting feedback from users. And once in awhile this works out, I’m told. But typically I never hear about them, or their products, again.

The sad thing is that vision and customer feedback don’t have to be at odds.

I’m going to give you two different visions that a startup founder might have, and I’d like you to try to spot the differences between the two.

Vision #1

“Pet owners are upset about how much their pets cost. This product is going to make it more affordable to have a pet by getting jobs for the pets so that the pets are bringing in money! It’s called Jobs4Pets, and people will be able to post jobs for dogs, cats, rabbits, whatever. And other people will find jobs for their pets and apply right on the site. We’ll make money by charging a service fee on each of the transactions! Obviously, we’re mobile first, and the jobs will be shown in a Pinterest style layout because that’s the best possible layout for things.”

Vision #2

“Some pet owners are upset about how much their pets cost. This product is going to make it more affordable to have a pet.”

See the difference? I mean, besides the fact that the first one is completely delusional?

In the first one, the deranged...I mean visionary...founder has a vision not just for the goal of the company, but for every detail of the actual product. She’s not just envisioning what the product will help people do. She’s envisioning exactly how the product will help people do that, right down to the layout on the home page.

She hasn’t left room to validate the many assumptions she’s making - that pet owners have a problem with costs, that pets can do jobs, that people will post jobs for pets, that people want their pets to have jobs, etc. If any of those assumptions are invalid, by the way, the entire product will fail, and even her lovely, Pinterest-style layout can’t help her.

But the most important thing to note is that the second vision is entirely compatible with user research.

The founder with the second vision might want to go out and meet lots of pet owners in order to find out how big of a problem cost is for them. She might learn the ways that people are already saving money. She might ask which parts of pet ownership cost the most or are the most burdensome. She might test several different solutions for saving pet owners money and see which one gets the most interest or traction. She might even end up with an entirely different product than she originally imagined, all without sacrificing her vision!

So, how can you balance customer feedback with vision? Try to envision how your product is going to change somebody’s life, not how they’re going to perform specific tasks. Envision the problem that you’re solving, not the specific solution.

Then listen to your users. Observe them. Learn from them exactly how you can solve their problem.

That’s the best way to make sure that your vision becomes a reality.

This was written for Startup Edition. The question was, "How do you balance user feedback with your long term vision?"

Want more information like this? 

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