Seeing Around Corners


A successful tech startup imparts what feels like a superpower to its customers. You know that rare feeling I’m talking about, when you discover a new tool that’s going to suddenly make your life much easier. That HA! moment. The feeling is an immediate sense of kinship with the product and a sense of empowerment. It’s almost like the product can read your mind. It understands what you need, the best way to get it done. It answers your questions and concerns like they have a creepy vat of precogs somewhere. It functions like an extension of your body allowing you to do something you could not do before — something that makes you better, faster, stronger, smarter, or more perceptive (the cornerstones of all super powers).

People now have so many super powers at their finger-tips that they have no appetite for anything less. Google gave us the ability to learn, to access the exact piece of information we need at any moment, at the speed of browse. Airbnb gave us the power to point at a house anywhere in the world and make it ours. Successful social media platforms let us efficiently transmit our thoughts to millions of people at once.

The super power is not always what you think. I think Uber’s main superpower is the ability to see around corners. Uber fought for many changes in laws and social norms and had many other user-friendly features. But taxis existed, car service existed, drivers existed, and drivers had jobs. But people didn’t know whether a car was available unless there was line of site or they called way ahead of time. It was the app and its ability to see all cars on a map around you that made people feel like they had super powers. Watching a car approaching right after you click a button is that feel of power that hooks people keeps them coming back.

How is this possible? What vast super powers must these startup founders have that they can impart powers onto countless others? The key has been in the power of their crowds. In the startup world, Customer development, or CustDev is not getting more customers. It is, in a manner of speaking, development BY customers. It is a term coined by Steve Blank and Eric Ries. In other circles, it’s known as “Open Innovation”, a term coined by Henry Chesbrough. Customer Development involves learning who your customers are, building trust with them, and bringing them into the innovation fold. It turns out that, due to their naturally lean staffing, startups often rely on their early customers for help. That’s how they learn so precisely what to expect when encountering future customers; they have been paying close attention, obsessively, to every detail of the interactions between their product and customers. Through the perceptive lens of a talented team of founders combined with precise, scalable engineering, the power of an early crowd turns into a superpower for many others.

What super power will you share with others? #startupPowers