Published by Rich Kershaw on October 5th, 2020

Things tech startups can avoid #4: Designing for Yourself

This is an article in my series "Lessons for tech startups", about ways startups can prepare themselves for the many ways they’ll be scrutinised in their path to growth and funding.

Entrepreneurs are odd people. Speaking as a long-time entrepreneur myself, I know that I’m an odd person. The things I like and buy are not the things that most consumers look for, and the things that interest me about the world are not the same things that most other people are interested in.

As a successful entrepreneur, you’ll probably have at least a few of these characteristics:

  • A slightly (or very!) obsessive focus on design and attention to detail
  • A curiosity about human behaviour
  • Excitement to play with new technology, tools and data
  • A higher than normal appetite for risk
  • A bias towards change over comfortable stability

These are all good things! Your enthusiasm for experimentation, risk and continual interest in the world goes hand-in-hand with an obsessive focus on detail and drive, and it’s what helps good entrepreneurs make great products.

But it also means you need to regularly remind yourself of a crucial fact: you are probably not your target market!

Almost by definition, If you're targeting anyone except entrepreneurs, your customers won’t be people like you. It’s an important exercise to get out of your head and into the heads of the people that you're targeting in real terms. "I’d buy it!" might not be the statement of faith some might think it is.

So how do you go about getting into your customers’ mindset?

There are a few ways, and once you’ve got a few customers you’ll find they’re only too happy to guide your product towards something perfect for them. Seek feedback often and honestly, but it’s more challenging when you’re starting out and don’t have a client base yet. Market research is tricky to do whilst eliminating things like pricing bias ("I want this but don’t want to pay for it!") and conservative thinking ("sounds great, but we don’t want to be guinea pigs").

Here are a few ideas for seeking early feedback when everyone’s working remotely...

  • sets you up for 45 minute meetings with like-minded professionals, with common, keyword-based interests, for networking and business development. Everyone involved is up for open-ended conversations, so it’s a good way to find peers without any expectation of a sales pitch.
  • Independent advisors to startups or clients in your target market will often be pleased to talk to you about their clients’ needs, with the added bonus of usually being independent of your competitors and direct clients. If you’ve got an idea that can help them help their clients better, this is a great way to find a niche and focus your roadmap on specific pain points.
  • Product reviews, whilst not always unbiased, can help you spot gaps in competitors’ products and focus your roadmap on both the essentials and the differentiating features that could make your product stand out.
  • Get a total newbie involved! Try to explain to someone with no connection to your customers’ market what it is you’re trying to do and why. Whilst this wouldn’t be great as the only way to gain insight, it’s a fantastic opportunity to identify antiquated patterns and processes in the way things have been done before, and figure out what you can throw out in favour of genuine innovation.

And, of course, you should be asking yourself what you’d be looking for as an outside customer, investor or industry advisor! What would you be analysing? How "sticky" can you make your product to retain customers? Are you addressing a wider need to normal people outside the startup and VC bubble? Is there an opportunity to pivot to a slightly different direction and solve a perennial problem for a wider audience?

I've grown and guided technology platforms to scale and investment for over 15 years. If your team needs support building your roadmap, preparing for investment due diligence, platform scaling or customer experience optimisation, get in touch for and find out how I can help!
I’m, and you can find me online and on LinkedIn.

I'm currently available for short and long-term projects, including interim and non-executive CTO positions.

Get in touch!