If You’re Reading This, Stop

Ben Lee

Ben Lee

CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots

Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a developer, entrepreneur, or all-around product badass (or at least you aim to be – and don’t worry, Rootstrap can help you get started). And chances are, since you’re taking time out of your day to read this and learn something new, you’ve got drive. We’ll bet you’re someone who constantly pushes themselves to learn more by regularly reading tutorials, blogs, thinkpieces, and books on how to get better – how to build a better product, a better app, and a better business.

Frankly, we think that’s awesome. Having an open mindset and being willing to learn are two of the most critical characteristics for success in any field, digital entrepreneurship especially. To stay ahead and satisfy customers, it’s crucial to learn as much as you can about building your product and business online. And with the plethora of resources available to aspiring entrepreneurs, there’s no excuse for not learning as much as you can.

And, as an entrepreneur or product owner, we’re pretty sure you get tons of messaging telling you how important it is to learn as much as you can. There are plenty of listicles explaining what to read, why to read, and how to read – so many that it’s easy to get lost in a rabbit hole and spend hours reading, learning, and growing. And that’s great.

But we’re going to give you a different piece of advice, one you may not have heard before. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but we think that when applied judiciously, it’s one of the most important guidelines for any entrepreneur. It’s simple:

Stop reading this.

Two Kinds of Knowledge

Don’t get us wrong, we’re big fans of learning. But as we’ve seen time and again with countless young entrepreneurs, reading to learn only takes you so far. The knowledge you gain from books and articles is important and will certainly serve you well, but it’s only one piece of a big puzzle. For entrepreneurs, there’s another kind of knowledge that’s even more important than the kind you learn from books: the knowledge you get from your customers.

The truth is that you can read countless articles on finding product market fit, building a customer-centric business, and creating a product that people want – but none of it will move you towards your actual goals until you get out there and talk to customers. The best business book in the world doesn’t replace the critical knowledge you get from asking your customers questions and finding out how they use your product, what they like about it, and what they dislike about it. That is the best way to improve your product and build a successful business, bar none.

Get Out of the Building

empty-office-meeting-room

The office is fine, just get out of it regularly.

In the lean startup movement, there’s a term that serves as a reminder to go get this kind of knowledge: “get out of the building.” That simple phrase is a reminder that the decisions you make internally amongst employees may be valid, but they’re ultimately made in the dark. Without the input of customers, you don’t truly know if you’re making the right decision on your product or if you’re running your business into the ground.

There are plenty of ways to get this feedback. At the most basic level, interviewing customers – or people you think might be customers one day – is effective. You get to hear people’s real opinions, ask them questions, and gather information straight from the source. You can also collect information less directly by doing A/B testing and looking for patterns in how customers react to different value propositions or features. At Neon Roots, we’ve even built a tool called Feedback Emoji to make it simple to gather customer feedback on website user experience.

Just Go For It

How you collect the data is less important than the fact that you do collect the data. What matters is actually getting out there, getting your hands dirty, and getting information from your customers. Ultimately, they’re the ones who decide whether you live or die: they make the decision to use your product and support your business or pass you up for a competitor. Until you understand their perspective, their needs, and their desires, you’re flying blind.

So by all means, continue studying. Reading articles and books is a worthy effort that will serve you for years. But don’t learn in just two dimensions. As often as possible, get out of the building and learn directly from your customers. That’s the most useful form of information you can ever gather in business, and there’s no substitute for it. So if you’re still reading this, we encourage you – however counterintuitive it may be – to stop.

Get out of the building. Talk to customers. Do it as often as possible. That’s the only way to really understand your product and move your business forward.

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