Do you really understand who is using your product, and why?
At the Toronto stop on our Inside Intercom World Tour, I invited leaders from three of our favorite area startups to join me on the Daniels Spectrum stage and discuss the challenges their businesses face on a day-to-day basis. Each leans on previous experience to give their take on how to better understand your true competition, how to prioritize growth goals, what it really means to be a customer-centric company, and much more.
Our panelists were:
- Caterina Rizzi, co-founder and CCO at Breather
- Tyler Rooney, co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Format
- Amrita Chandra, Head of Marketing at CrowdRiff
Prefer a written account of the panel? You’ll find a few of our favorite insights below.
Lessons learned as a founder
Caterina Rizzi: We did a lot of grassroots experiments at the beginning to really understand if people were actually interested in what we thought was a great idea. A lot of times people get really excited about their own idea, but they’re not taking the time to find out if anybody else actually is interested in it.
Tyler Rooney: Learning from your mistakes is valuable, but learning from other people’s mistakes is invaluable. Find someone who’s done what you’ve done before, who is a year ahead of you, or in the next phase of your business.
When you feel like, “Why am I having so much trouble with this? Is this not working because of our scale? Because of our approach?” go and talk to somebody whose company you really respect. They’re like, “We sucked at it for so long. Here are the 10 things you’re going to do wrong before you get it right.”
If you can skip half of the things they messed up, you’re well ahead of them. These don’t have to be mentors or investors. They can be these lightweight people you meet at a conference.
Amrita Chandra: Most companies tend to think that, okay, we have social marketing platform – that means that we’re only competing with other social marketing platforms. I worked at audiobooks.com, and we realized that people weren’t just looking at us compared with Audible, our biggest competitor. They were comparing us to listening to the radio, listening to a podcast, reading a book, or doing other things to fill that free time. Jobs-to-be-Done is a great way to really orient yourself around what the customer’s trying to do, instead of assuming that your product, or even your category of product, is the right solution. It helps you see things differently and change your messaging and product accordingly.
Tyler: So rarely do you understand why your customers are buying your product, and you don’t appreciate it until long after. For my company, (we would ask) what made you finally think, “I need to make or change your online portfolio?” Sometimes it’s because they want to find more business, or they want to validate to themselves, or validate to their family. That context is so much more about what the person wants to accomplish and when they’re ready to actually try to make progress on their goals.
Amrita: We very naturally tend to focus on the functional things that someone is trying to do, and Jobs is really good at pulling out the social and emotional aspects of someone’s decision.
Caterina: We had a very specific idea at the beginning of who we thought would be using our spaces. They were correct, but there was this whole other funnel of people that were using it because they wanted to practice their violin, they wanted to breastfeed, they wanted to play D&D, they wanted to play fantasy football. We started to realize that it was a bigger thing, and that we were providing a place for someone to go. It wasn’t just for work anymore, it was that people really concretely lack space to do whatever their passions were.
Marketing for success
Amrita: It’s really hard to market a shitty product. It’s great when companies make sure they have a product that people want to use and that provides real value to them. In the very, very early stages, product probably trumps marketing, and that’s totally okay. It makes my life easier when I can go into a company and they’ve got happy customers or a great product that I can leverage.
Tyler: As an engineer, the thing I’ve learned to appreciate about marketing is that it’s about targeting the right thing and following through on it. Most things do not fit into these nice ROI buckets. If you’re going to be doing content marketing, you can’t be like, “Well, we tried putting out one thing, and we didn’t get a response. That’s it.” That’s not how it works. You have to be committed, and you have to be able to follow through on it. It’s not just hiring someone. It’s about them having the resources to actually follow through on it and follow through for a while. It took me a long time to realize that.
Amrita: Some companies, when they do bring in marketing, they think everything’s going to happen overnight. While there are paid ways you can get new users or grow a company, there are other things like brand – more organic ways of marketing that take time – and they have this compounded effect.
Caterina: We realized halfway through our seed round that we had to focus and figure out the core metric that was going to get us to a Series A. We picked one metric. We had a dashboard that showed how many hours we had sold every week. We made a commitment that we would grow 8% every week. We stuck to that and made it clear to everybody in the company, regardless of what their role was, that they could have an impact on this.
Amrita: Lack of focus is one of the biggest startup killers. There’s a million ideas that people have; it’s really easy to come up with ideas. It’s really hard to say no, and figure out what you want to focus on.
The true meaning of “customer centricity”
Caterina: The big thing for me has always about not just apologizing if something went wrong, but making amends for it. Actually showing some empathy. When we’re a startup, you’re going to screw up a bunch of stuff. When we did, because of our ability to empathize with them and fix the problem, or make amends somehow, users kept coming back.
Tyler: I really loved the culture at Amazon. The core mission was, “We are the world’s most customer-centric organization.” I could be on a call with something just going horribly wrong at Amazon, and people are arguing with each other about how to fix it. Somebody would say, “Everybody, just calm down. Because we’re just going to do whatever is best for the customer. Let’s move on.” Being true to actually wanting to deliver value to your customers – you keep your eye on that ball, and you’re ahead of the game.
Amrita: It can be really hard to be customer centric if you’re in a role that doesn’t have exposure to the customer. If you’re in customer success or sales, you probably have a ton of exposure. Being a customer-centric organization is making sure the voice of the customer somehow gets extended to all disciplines, not just a couple of departments.
What separates a great product from a good one?
Amrita: It’s sweating the small stuff. There’s a great book (about this) called Microinteractions by designer Dan Saffer. It’s the small details when you’re using a product that really convey the thoughtfulness that a company has around understanding the customer and what you need.
Tyler: It’s the way the value proposition is communicated at the start, when it’s so clear that you’re like, “Oh my god, where has this been all my life?” And it follows through on that, is engaging and compelling, and delivers on that again and again and again.