Talk Amongst Your Customers, Not Amongst Yourselves

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.

It’s the first post of the New Year. So, where do you start? You start with the most essential element of software development; you start with the customer. You start with the people who are actually going to pay their hard-earned money to buy your product. So, how do you make those crucial (often critical) customers happy in 2016? Talk to them.

As a developer you have assumptions; the more experienced you are, the closer those assumptions will be to the truth. A good development company still knows, however, that every assumption has to be validated. That’s at the core of Lean Startup principles – constant feedback and validation. An open line of communication between developer and customer is the clearest way to get that validation, and there’s no more open line than direct contact.

Don’t Confuse Yourself For A User

This might feel counter-intuitive. “Of course, I’m a user. I work in tech. Who uses new software more than me?!” Having expertise in a field doesn’t always make for the best test user because most users won’t have anything close to the understanding of the tech in front of them when compared to your development team.

Now that doesn’t make their input less valuable. A knowledgeable team can help direct a Product Owner toward developing a product that can find an audience, but that team should also be able to take a step back and consider the general audience as a whole. You know, that broad base with all that money you need to keep your product afloat.

Those users have varied goals and incentives to use this new product. The only way you’re going to find out what those goals and incentives are is to talk to them.

More People, More Payroll

Now looking outside your office is going to cost a bit. It’s easy to just ask Jane in accounting what she thinks of the app your testing. She’s already on payroll. But now we’re talking about allocating funds, specifically to talking to strangers. This could be a hard pill to swallow. More cost is bad, right? Well, only if you didn’t prepare for it.

This money spent is an investment, but more than that, it should be an expected expense, one that was in the budget from the beginning. Remove the surprise and you remove the anxiety. Plus, the benefits you reap will far outweigh your cost. If you consider the other option: releasing a dud that no one cares about and losing your entire investment, you might reconsider that allocating more market research funds at the start probably would have been a good idea.

Speaking with customers doesn’t have to be a long, tedious, resource-depleting process either. We’re talking half a dozen interviews clocking in at under 30 minutes each for a wealth of incredibly valuable information.

Where Are These So-Called Customers You Speak Of?

You may be dealing with a client who has been around for a long time – someone looking to revitalize their brand with a new product, app, whatever. Finding these customers is fairly simple. The trickier find is going after customers of a product that has only been out in the world for a few months, maybe even weeks. What rocks do you have to kick over to find these people?

You may have to track down the active users, those with minds where the product is still fresh. They’ll be most likely to give you the time of day. Get in touch (this won’t be too difficult if you have a sign-up database) and schedule something, work around their schedule. Be prepared, be casual, and concern yourself with the truth, not with what you want to hear. Then, maybe run your findings by Jane in accounting to see what she thinks.