A moment of truth for entrepreneurs

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I recently wrote about how some brands don’t really listen to their Customers when they develop new functions, features, and even new products, and how frustrating that can be.  That’s often because a brand feels so comfortable and strong that they don’t really need to listen.  “We know what our Customers want, we’ve been doing this for years,” they seem to be saying.

A lot of the work I do is with entrepreneurs, getting started with CX, and inculcating their new organizations with a truly Customer-centric culture and organization.  I was discussing this dynamic with one of my start-up friends recently and it brought up a trend with early-stage organizations that I shared with her and figured I’d also pass along here.

Entrepreneurs are a fun bunch:  They’re brilliant, enthusiastic, creative, and curious.  Obviously, those all appear to differing levels among all of them, but usually those with whom I interact or work generally possess those characteristics.  It’s fun to work with them and watch them do their thing.

One thing I’ve learned in all my time spent with them is that, in the course of their development, most start-ups (especially those that focus on technology) find themselves, at some point, at a crossroads that’s similar to where these bigger organizations do when they stop listening to their Customers.  What happens is this:

The entrepreneur had originally created a brilliant new mousetrap (to borrow an old metaphor) about which he or she was and is very proud.  It’s likely a niche issue, perhaps a missing solution that’s near and dear to the entrepreneur’s heart.  So often, the story is about how, “I looked around and wondered why nobody else had come up with this solution!  I really was just trying to solve my own problem, and I knew others in my field of work would also appreciate it.”  So goes the story.  As the organization scales and grows and gains more Customers, the entrepreneur discovers much more about his or her (original) profession or trade.

Then something curious happens.  With that sort of diversity, many Customers tend to use the ‘mousetrap’ in a different way from how the entrepreneur had intended.  Maybe they’re using the mousetrap as a tire iron or a sieve.  Maybe they’re tweaking its operation in some way or another.  And this is the crossroads for the entrepreneur.  It’s a real moment of truth for this proud parent of an invention or endeavor:  Is the Customer ‘using it wrong’?  If that’s the attitude, that’s going to be a problem.

That’s why CX is so important from the get-go when you start a new company as an entrepreneur.  Surely you’re proud of the solution you’ve devised and are no doubt amazed that it was good enough to actually have a market!  If your reaction to people not using your invention the way you’d intended is to fall back on that pride, it’s likely you’ll miss out on the opportunity that’s right in front of you:  Solving your Customers’ problems.  Rather than resisting or accusing your Customer of not ‘using it right,’ the better approach is to learn from your Customer what it is they’re trying to accomplish.

So there’s usually a fork in the road for an entrepreneur:  “Ah, you’re doing it wrong.”  OR:  “Oh, that’s what you’re trying to do?  I could probably do a little re-engineering or tweaking to my original product and make it do that even better!”

You never know what sort of form your invention is going to take if you approach its development from the perspective of the Customer.  If you take a collaborative approach to how your Customer uses your product or service, you may surprise yourself by finding an even better way to deliver on what problem they’re trying to solve.  And that’s the even more successful entrepreneur:  one who finds new and creative ways to solve the issues the Customer has, rather than one who’s just proud of the invention itself.

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