Why you’re never the customer when your startup is solving a problem

- June 22, 2022 2 MIN READ
Photo: AdobeStock
I hear this a lot from founders:

“I don’t need to do more customer research because I’m focused on solving the problem I experienced myself. I AM the customer!”

Except you’re not, not any more.

You haven’t been the customer since the time you first started thinking about solving this problem for others as a startup founder.

You may be intimately acquainted with the frustrations of solving the problem the traditional way, every day, as a professional in your industry.

But how many thousands of other professionals are there in your industry right now? How many of them are content enough to keep slogging away with inefficient, costly, partly broken traditional tools and services?

What is it that they lack that you have? And what is it that you lack that they have in abundance?

You’ve chosen to risk your career to pursue a goal that every expert will tell you is most likely to not succeed. You’ll probably lose several years and several hundred thousand dollars of your savings or forgone income chasing your startup idea.

They’re either content in their work, trapped in it, scared of change, or oblivious to the possibility that there might be a better way to solve this problem. Or maybe they just don’t care as much as you do.

You and they couldn’t be more different

And yet every time they describe their working day to you, it’s all going to seem so obvious and relatable that it will be a real challenge for you to switch off the part of your brain that is already convinced that (a) you understand the problem; and (b) are certain you have a better solution that they will love.

At first you’ll debate me and anybody else who tries to tell you it’s necessary to turn that part of your brain off in customer interviews.

You’ll want to rush through it, if I’m able to coerce you into doing it at all. You’ll be hearing only the things that you can interpret as validating your current hypothesis. You’ll ask too many leading questions when you should be open-ended.

You won’t be able to resist introducing your startup’s solution, and you’ll give me a knowing smile when they customer replies with, “Would I be interested in using this new solution? Sure, I’d be crazy not to.”

Except that they’d be crazy to.

“Oh, so it’s not going to be free forever? Why take the risk of being first? What’s so bad with the existing solution anyway? How am I going to find the time to learn how to use something new? How will I persuade others in the team to use it too? How will they get purchasing approval from the boss? Maybe I’ll just wait until some other people I know tell me they love it and I should get onboard.”

You can’t wait to fix this problem for them, and they can’t wait for you to go away. You want to break the status quo and they want to defend it; sometimes even when it makes no sense to do so.

You are not your customer and will never be again. You’re a startup founder.