You’re not the customer!

A common theme in MBA marketing courses is that you, the marketer, are not the customer. The idea is that you need to validate your messaging, medium, and even product with the customer to ensure you’re doing things correctly. After all, you may be a 30-year old product manager for a product targeted at baby-boomers. Or you may be responsible for selling a gender-specific product to the opposite sex. In these cases you clearly are not qualified to act as a proxy for the customer.

But what about in a startup?

I tend to think that the best opportunities are those you uncover because you feel the pain yourself and the startup is your way of relieving that pain. This is clearly a generalization and even if you are the customer you’re not able to speak on behalf of every customer but as an entrepreneur with finite resources sometimes your best course of action is to build and market a product you’d want to use yourself.

So, you tell me. When is the best time to figure things out internally and when does it make more sense to go outside the company to find the answer?

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3 responses to “You’re not the customer!

  1. If there isn’t a market yet for the product, and the idea of the product is not easily grasped by consumers, then going with your gut(s) is pretty much the only way to do it. I would hesitate to make a huge investment before getting any feedback from the marketplace though, so if you can make the product – or an initial version of the product with limited functionality – quickly with little effort or expense, and then judge whether or not to continue based on the initial response, then it could be a good way to go. I’ve personally suffered from the so-called developer’s curse, so I am very wary of spending time on something that, come to find out, nobody wants or needs.

    • I completely agree, Zach, it’s the whole minimum-viable-product argument. With startups, or new product categories, you generally have to do the diligence and then trust your read of the situation.

      At some point you have to hope you’re right or smart enough to adjust as you go.

  2. It’s kind of funny that I’m reading “Options Thinking in IT Project Management” from the California Management Review right now 😉

    Are you going to divulge more details about your start-up?

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