Sipping beer with your startups customers

By Shaun Symm, January 20, 2017
Red scooter with the words All you need is love stuck on it

In our day job we get to develop startups for other people.

We're also working on a fun little side project called Orby. It gives us the chance to write our own brief and use some new tech (for anyone interested in the technology, we're using AWS Lambda, Amazon Lex, Pytorch and zappa for serverless Python deployments).

The side project means we get to play with chat bots and artificial intelligence as well as write children stories (not in the agile sense, although we'll write those too) and create characters like these:

Orby illustrated characters

While side projects can be a lot of fun, it helps to have a commercial side as well as a bigger picture to make it really interesting. Having a future vision as to how this side project can become a business means doing the most important thing that all startups should do … understand the world from your customers point of view.

Joe Gebbia, one of the Airbnb founders calls this enlightened empathy. You need to get into your customers headspace to understand the world from their point of view. Those insights will help to inform your own point of view so you can build a product that your users love.

While most startups could take their customers for a beer or a coffee to start to understand what makes them tick (In Joe’s case he spent hours in the homes of Airbnb’s early adopters talking to them and watching them use his website) we’ll be making milk moustaches with our customers. After all Orby’s target audience is kids between the ages of 3 - 6.

If you are planning on building a startup, or are in the early phases of developing a startup, there are thousands of ‘how to’ videos and blogs (including our own startup blog) advising early stage startup founders on how to start a startup, but if you only do one thing, embrace the concept ‘enlightened empathy’.

It’s easy to jump straight into product development once you’ve found a problem to solve. It’s an exciting time so most founders do. This often results in products that people might like, but don’t love. If they don’t love your product they won’t share it with friends or colleagues.

As Sam Altman (President of YCombinator) says:

“All companies that grow really big do so in only one way: people recommend the product or service to other people.”
“… build something so good that people will recommend it to their friends - in fact, so good that they want to be the first one to recommend it to their friends for the implied good taste. No growth hack, brilliant marketing idea, or sales team can save you long term if you don't have a sufficiently good product.”

So, spend time with your customers. Understand them. Know their problems. Know what makes them tick. Have a beer with them if you can. or, possibly a cup of milk.

Without customers your startup is dead and without understanding the world from their point of view you will struggle to build a product that they’ll love.

No love, no sharing!

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