Wow Your Early Startup Customers
As a startup, you are bound to be going against the established players in your market: businesses that have been around for much longer than you have, with a more mature product, and much more money. How do you gain an edge over them? Play to your strengths.
One of the advantages of being a software start-up — or really any software small business — is that processes are still simpler than at established software companies. This is a great advantage: you are nimble and can act much more quickly! One way to capitalise on that agility is customer feedback.
Feedback sessions with actual customers are invaluable to find out more about how your customers use the product, what issues they have encountered, and what features they are missing. While both start-ups and established companies usually have these feedback sessions, start-ups are in a unique position to capitalise on them by implementing some of the feedback immediately. This is a key advantage.
Established players have an enormous overhead to bring any change to their software. The process for any feature — big or small — to go live is significant, even for some trivial feature or bugfix. The following realities slow things down dramatically:
- Stakeholder alignment — Many stakeholders need to be aligned and agree on a feature: product managers, business analysts, UX designers, developers, testers, etc.
- Rigid feature pipeline — Their development pipeline has been agreed for weeks or months ahead. They cannot just squeeze in a little feature for a single customer, even if it is a quick one
- Larger customer base — They have more customers to please, so they first need to verify that any feature is actually valuable to a large group of their customers
- Complex development process — They have a much more involved development process with many more steps before something is ready to be released
All this overhead means they cannot sweat the small stuff. They cannot go “hey our most valued customer just pointed out we should move the Edit button here,” because even an hour of development blows out to multiple person-days endeavours. Everything is quite involved. This leaves them no other option than to focus on big-ticket items.As a startup on the other hand, you can wow your customers by implementing some of the feedback immediately.
Not all customer feedback should be implemented, though. Review the feedback carefully. There will be different things that come up:
- Customer-specific features — You don’t want to implement those, as they don’t move your product forward in terms of what your ideal customer needs
- Larger features — It’s great to hear valuable feature requests that apply to a large group of your target customers; if they require a significant development effort they are not good candidates for immediate implementation. These need to be documented, properly defined, and prioritised as per usual
- Low-hanging fruit — These are the nuggets that you are looking for: small features or changes that are generic enough to be valuable for all customers, and simple enough to implement in a couple of hours.
- Bugs — Bugs are annoying and may block your customers from important functionality. Those with a high or blocker priority will already be part of any company’s standard procedure. Look at the effort to implement the lower priority bugs to find little things that increase customer happiness.
After each customer feedback session, spend maybe ½ day to knock off some of the low-hanging fruit and bugs the customer has reported. Get them live, then send a follow-up email thanking them for their feedback and pointing out the items you have already resolved. It really makes an impact:
- It shows how much you care about their input
- It encourages them to continue giving feedback, which is really important in the early stages of building a product
- It builds loyalty with your foundation customers; they feel valued and important
- It gives them a reason to feel good about going with a new-comer vs. choosing an established company
Being a startup you are fighting an uphill battle against established players, but you also have advantages over them. Implementing customer feedback quickly is one of them. Capitalise on those strengths to reward your early customer base for being with you rather than your competitors. After all they took a big leap of faith going with you, and they deserve to be rewarded for that.