Why I’m selling my customer research startup for 1€
It’s not pleasant when you realize that maybe it’s really you — the founder & CEO — that just cannot find the right product-market-fit for your start-up’s service. A service whose necessity and benefits should be so obvious to all marketers.
After 10 years in adtech (we ran an ad network business in the Baltics), it has become clear to me that most marketing professionals, but especially those working with SMBs, still do not really know who their customers are. When I started to investigate the reasons behind this, I was quite surprised to find out that in the big data era, carrying out surveys (read: asking your customers a series of questions) is still the dominant way of doing customer research. Anyone who has ever conducted a survey knows that the main problem with surveys is someone needs to create the questionnaires, do the fieldwork, and analyse the results. This all needs money or lots of time and skills. In addition, you usually get so few responses that you cannot make statistically valid conclusions from the results.
Yes, there is Google Analytics (and it truly is an excellent tool!) but the marketers I interviewed pointed out that Google Analytics doesn’t allow them to analyse their customers segment by segment. For example, who are the customers that ordered from you three times last year? Or, what are the main differences between customers that open your newsletters and those that don’t? Is there a difference between clients that have liked your company on Facebook versus those following you on Twitter? And the list goes on.
So what I discovered is that marketers are lacking convenient customer research tools that allow them to learn more about their customers based on a wide range of valid business segments.
My hypothesis was that if I could make customer research as easy as sending an email, as affordable as a bus ticket, and as fast as rocket, I would win over the marketers, heart and soul. So, I asked myself: if there was some way to google and analyse all your customers in less than an hour, would marketing professionals still use surveys as their main research method?
The smoke test
Although I was certain I had found the cure to the problem, I decided (just in case) to follow lean start-up methodology all the way. I therefore started from smoke test. I launched a simple website where I published a fictional report and began introducing it to marketers as the results of a real customer research project. Then, I described how I did it, and I asked my targets whether they would use the same approach if I provided them with the software/service that would allow them to do the research themselves. As Borat from the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan would say: the smoke test was great success.
After several failures during the project’s building phase (the technology behind the Full Profile service is very challenging), I finally managed to build a product that more or less worked the way I wanted. All a user needs to do is upload the customer data (at least names & e-mails) and click on the Research button. Depending on the number of customers in the list, it would take between an hour and a day to get the results back. To make the use of results even more convenient, our solution also aggregated the results, meaning as a result that you received a report with easy-to-read and understandable charts, instead of profiles for each customer.
Is it really me?
After finally launching the product, I started reaching out to marketers from our waiting list. I made a special offer of the first 10 customer searches free of charge i.e. I treated them as beta customers, and mostly expected feedback from them. I was surprised at how much time it took (and how many reminders) before they started to use the customer research opportunity. It seemed that they always had something more important to do. That was the first time that I asked myself: had I really built a “vitamin”, or was it just me that couldn’t find the right product-market-fit?
After many pivots in sales, I decided that it is time to find out whether it really is me who is failing.
I’m still convinced that, without knowing your customers, it is not possible to do effective marketing. And I’m also convinced that my way of doing customer research beats the hell out of surveys as a research method for finding out who your customers are as people. But what really happen between successful smoke test and real opportunity to use the service beats me.
Current status of service & technology
We have decided to deactivate the Full Profile service until further notice. The public website is still operational (and we still get few visits every day from all over the world) but it will take around a week to get the service back online.
I also have quite a long list of customers that were not really interested in the service (together with their reasons) and quite a short list of customers that were (together with their reasons as well).
New founder wanted
Based on my conclusion that I might be the reason that Full Profile is failing to sell its service (the CEO is always the number 1 sales guy), I have decided to sell 51% of the shares for €1 to the person or company that can convince me and the other Full Profile stakeholders that he/she/it can succeed where I have failed. So, if you think you are that person, or that you represent that kind of company, you can contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: Full Profile CTO (who have built the product) has promised to go on if the new founder can convince him that he/she/it can succeed where I have failed.