Podcast |

Inside Intercom Seattle startup panel

How do you find an audience that will get meaningful value from your product?

At the Seattle stop on our Inside Intercom World Tour, I invited founders from three of our favorite local startups to join me on the Sky Church stage inside the EMP Museum. We discussed the challenges facing their businesses and the greater startup community, including finding an underserved market, giving customers a voice while fighting feature bloat, attracting promising hires in a competitive market, and much more.

Our panelists were:

To hear more podcast episodes, subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or SoundCloud, or grab the RSS feed.

Prefer a written account of the panel? You’ll find a few of our favorite insights below.

Discovering an underserved market

Andrew Kinzer: The way we came into Outreach was that we had a hypothesis about the recruiting market and went out to solve that. I was essentially a recruiter for six months. I hated it. I realized the biggest problem was coordinating your communication with the people you’re trying to connect with. There was literally nothing out there. We ended up building technology for ourselves to help solve our own problem. Go turn over some rocks and find areas that are just completely neglected. That was how we ended up where we are.

Amber Osborne: We have a social media product and thought, “Let’s go find everybody who has a Twitter account and try to market towards them.” That’s not possible on the budget we had. About a year after our product came out, we were at an event, and someone says, “Hey, I’m a community manager for a video game company. I’ve been using you guys for the last couple of months. You guys should really go into the video game industry. We’re very small teams of two or three people. We really need your help.” We focused on the video game industry, and it’s just been going off like gangbusters for us.

Aseem Badshah: We started out saying, “We’re going to build a huge premium platform. We’re going to be like HootSuite and Buffer and have 5 million users and 5% of them are going to pay.” That just didn’t work.

The key moment was asking people to pay and really just asking up front, “You want this feature? If we do that for you, are you willing to sign a contract?” That very quickly filters out who’s serious and who’s not. You start to really find  that target audience that you’re really providing value, that has a pain point at the end of the day. Then you just focus there.

Fighting feature bloat

Aseem: Lots of ideas come through (the customer success) channel, but you’ve got to protect feature bloat. It goes back to asking them to pay. So many people have cool ideas about, “Wouldn’t it be neat if you guys added this Twitter function here or you guys showed this information here?” When you go back to them and say, “What’s the real value about that? If we prioritize this, how would you feel about this contract or this type of commitment,” very quickly you can start to prioritize these ideas. When your customer success or customer support team takes that mentality, you start to get a stack ranking of what’s important and what’s not important.

The role of competition

Andrew: Everybody’s been on the freeway or a street and they’re following behind that person that drives like crap – they’re driving five miles underneath the speed limit, and you’re just looking at their bumper. Normally you’d be looking at the road 50 yards or 100 yards down the street. You’re mapping out all the turns and optimizing for those. When you’re behind that driver, you’re just looking at their bumper, and they start drifting out, and you start drifting out.

Ultimately how you make really good product decisions is build for the customer, listen to the customer, don’t pay attention to your competition’s bumper.

Aseem: As entrepreneurs so often we get into this mode of thinking that competition is a bad thing. I wish we had more competition because that’s what builds markets. When we have deals that come in and they are familiar with a competitor, we win that deal more often and we win it faster because that competition is helping to educate the market. There’s already a line item on the budget when there is competition out there. One thing that entrepreneurs get wrong right off the bat is, “Oh, there’s somebody else doing this.” Well if they’re not doing it well, go for it.

How to hire in a competitive market

Amber: We mostly go outside of our industry. We don’t go to tech events and try to find the best tech talent. Where we find the most value for us is if we’re looking for a UI/UX person, we go to the video game industry events. There’s so much art and design talent out there that they want to get into the video game industry. Just go outside of your own industry.

Andrew: It’s easy for us when we’re competing against an Amazon or a Microsoft because they don’t give very much ownership. We say, “Hey, this is a huge product and it requires a lot of technical background and a lot of UX. If you come in, you’re going to get a ton of ownership because we have no choice.” That’s a unique environment that doesn’t really exist anywhere else. It’s a good opportunity.

The makings of great product

Aseem: There are two ways to look at it. One is passion and the other is data. On the passion side, when you talk to your customers and you see them in person, you’re going to see it coming off of their face, the energy, the excitement, just they’re so happy to have what you’ve built. Then the data – look at one core metric. If it’s growing every single week, every single month, you’ve got something that’s working and then you’re in the great category.

Amber: I would have to say customer service and customer experience. You look at Apple, you go into a store, you handle the products. It’s that kind of experience that really makes a great product.

Andrew: I always go down to the details. You can tell something that somebody’s slaved over when you see these nuances and think, “I wouldn’t have considered that a core use case, but I get the reasoning behind it.” Our philosophy is always bleed for the customer. That comes down to just keep iterating, keep iterating, keep iterating.