Q: Why is it important to listen to consumers in the early days of a startup?
A: Focusing on listening to consumers and narrating how much as a business owner you understand your customer is important in your company’s early days. Typically, a company will not be where they are today without going through changes in purpose and mission during these beginning days. Many times, business owners need to come face to face with their customers to see what is appealing to them. Talking with customers and getting their feedback particularly early on in a startup business venture is key. It is so important to really understand what works and what doesn’t in connecting with the customer.
As a business owner, the process of continually changing a product and bringing it in front of the customer and then going back and changing it again is crucial. This process will aid you in finding how to make your product successful in the competitive market. You must get new ideas out there so the customer is really excited about your product.
After you gain knowledge about your customer and create this relationship you can then stand back, look at the business and say, let’s go to distribution with this. If you put distribution first, you are not engaged with your customers, you are not talking to them and you are not seeing and observing who is consuming and using the product. That feedback, that intimacy and that knowledge of your customers simply won’t develop if you put distribution first.
Going from an intimate knowledge and understanding of your customer to a winning product is the goal you need to visualize and work toward. It is in that first year or two where you are really changing the product and figuring out what the best packaging is or what the best size is. Spend time with your customers up front and keep engaged with customers as you develop and adjust your product.
Engage with customers. Interviewing, talking and observing are some ways in which you can develop an understanding of your market. Listening to consumers in the early days of your startup will help you to develop a winning product.
David Deeds is a professor in the department of entrepreneurship, the Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship and research director of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.