Saturday, December 1, 2012

To listen or not to listen that is the question

When it comes to building a product, designing a user interface or adding a new functionality there are two schools of thought at work in the start-up world. One, pioneered by the likes of Apple and 37Signals,  says not listen to your customers because they don't know what they actually need. What they say they need is a what they "think" they want and which may not be true. The other school of thought pioneered by Steve Blank who is a serial entrepreneur, academician, author of the much-acclaimed book "The Four Steps to Epiphany" and proponent of the "Customer development model" say one should solicit opinion and feedback from the customers and build your product accordingly.

It is obvious that both these approaches are right and can work as evident from the success of Apple and 37Signal and the numerous startups that have used the customer development model effectively. So the question is not whether one approach is better than the other but rather the question is which approach is right for us as a start-up company. To listen or not to listen to that is the question.

To answer this we need to look at the type of company for which the one approach works better than the other. Startups can be broadly classified into companies that started out as a way to scratch their own itch and the ones that go out and scratch the itch of others. The companies that scratch their own itch has a better understanding of the needs of the customer as they are the customers themselves. They are on the same page as a customer but has a better understanding of the dynamics of the product. This makes them uniquely empowered to discard the views of the customer during the design and development face of the product or a feature. Start-ups that are solving problems of others, which they themselves are not having does not have this leverage. They need to ask their customers where it is really itching and whether their solution works. In such cases the customer has a better understanding of the problem and working closely with them will help in delivering a best possible solution.

Finahub is a company in the latter class. We are a B2B company that solves customer engagement problems faced by the retail broking industry. Our customers know best what their problems are and we know that we have to listen to them to deliver solutions that solve these issue. We listen and note down all the feature request and changes they suggest but we don't start working on them immediately. We add that to the list of wanted features. After that, we go through a prioritization exercise in which we ask the following questions about each of the request.
  • Is this feature helping us in delivering our goal?
  • Is this feature solving a problem that is relevant to our market?
  • Can this be done without adding clutter to the application?
  • How much value does having this feature deliver to our customers?
  • How urgent is this feature request?
Depending on answers to these question we assign a priority to the items and then start working on it.

Being a multi-tenant application deployed on the cloud, implementing all the feature request is a sure-fire way of killing our startup. The process of listening, evaluate, prioritize and implement helps us in delivering a better solution to all our customers.

I know that there is nothing new in this approach but I thought to put it down would be something good to do.