Who do you work for?

Who’s your customer?

Typically you work for your customer. A person who pays in return for your services. Its extremely important to know who or which one of them is your customer.

That’s easy, isn’t it.. OK. A small quiz:

Q. If you’re a software engineer.. Who’s your customer?

a) Project Manager

b) Team/Tech Lead

c) Your CXO

d) The actual customer of the company that you work for..

The answer almost always is one of the top three options.. and never the fourth one. By the way, fourth option needs to be the right one.

If you’re a manager, ask your folks this simple question and try it out.. Who do you work for? If you have atleast 50% of your folks say the name of the customer, you’re running a unique firm, most  probably a successful one too..

Minimizing the gap

The crux of the argument is that, its extremely essential that the execution team is well aware of the larger problem at hand. The actual problem that is being solved.

Most of our organizations have so many layers of hierarchy that the people who are executing have no contact whatsoever with the people who’re going to use their solution. No contact.. zip.. zero. Only time they probably meet the customer is some dinner some day.

This mode only guarantees mediocre solutions.. and yes, mediocre companies. The ones which depend on ignorance and mundaneness.. rather than enlightenment and innovation. Ones where developers are props (or famously known as ‘resources’) whose job is to stare at the monitor and tap the keyboard.

Developers are much more than that. Developers are problem solvers. They need to be treated that way.

In most cases that I’ve seen..

accessibility to clients/customer

improves

the quality of the solution,

morale of the team and

overall comfort level of the customer.

As a developer, try to get close to the actual real problem at hand and contribute to the overall solution. As a head of organization, try to encourage your folks to engage at a higher level.

It benefits all the parties.. the developer, the organization and most importantly the customer.

Why I did not build my first product..

Couple of years back I was at this job at a software company building stuff for large enterprises. Regular day included writing large modules of software with no vision of who’s going to be the final user of the system. We would mostly be provided with a spec and all our development would be centered around it. This would get fairly mundane fairly quickly and then starts this long wait for the project to end and next one to begin. In all likelihood, the way outsourcing projects work, the new project would be similar to the last one, except for different people.

All the time, there were few ideas growing in my head to start a software product on my own. It gained constant momentum and in few months I had two more people interested in one of the ideas. There started this journey of my first startup.

The Idea

The initial idea was to make a platform for fashion designers to showcase their talent and share it with the world. This would be a part of community where people would visit profiles of different fashion designers and choose among them. This would enable even middle-class citizens to select designs and accessories, helping the budding fashion designer community too. Sounded a great concept. With this in mind we started our research. I was still in job when we started this.

The Research

We needed to get the opinion of fashion designers on this concept and also of the potential buyers or middle-class fashion enthusiast. We started with the fashion designing community. This led us to different parts of our country and to some really odd/funny looking fashion designers too.. We figured few things from our research:

1. Fashion designers won’t put their stuff up on the web easily.. since there’s lot of plagiarism in their industry and they do it themselves too 🙂

2. There isn’t really a community of fashion designers. Well at least, as far as we knew.

3. From the buyers side, one always wants to touch and feel their clothes before buying them. so they wouldn’t really buy online (unless it’s from a brand)

4. We really sucked in the skill required to talk to those fashion designers. Just two different worlds.

(This was just our assessment of the situation from our limited research. The inferences may not hold true for all people, I may add. )

This just meant, we had little interest from suppliers (fashion designers), consumers (online buying market) and we totally did not understand their language. Nothing was going for the idea.

Guess what.. we dropped the idea.

During the Process

There was this other thing that was happening while we are at the whole research thing. We were meeting lot of business people and we were getting exposed to lot of real-time problems that they were having. Some went like managing their demand and supplies, working out their cash flows, working with illiterate people, and handling their sales team effectively. Hang on.. lets zoom on the last point. Handling their sales team effectively.. Wasn’t that problem solved already by all these super Sales Management applications? Apparently not. They themselves are a problem most of the times.

So during our research for our first idea, we came across all these things and ignored them first. Once we dropped our initial idea, we looked at an alternative and there was this interesting situation.

The first idea, we were passionate about, but we did not know our customers or consumers. We lived a different world. The next set of ideas came directly from the customers (or people/companies with problems).  We figured that the best way to go about was to solve the problem that we knew about and had a customer to help us out in testing the solution.

The Product

So, out came Lead Simplified. A platform to help manage your sales leads. And in next few months, we had the product out in the market and implemented with a dozen customers. Now Guess what.. It worked. It solved the exact problems that they were having and did nothing more. It started growing and people started referring our product to their friends and circles and we started getting many enquiries and suggestions for more features to be included. We were pretty overwhelmed with the response.

This was the product  in its 5th month and we started getting inquiries from the biggies of the country. Not something that we were prepared to handle.

This concludes my point and rest of the story is for later. The point is:

The Conclusion

Our first approach started with an idea in head and then doing the research on that. The second started with some research already done and the product was based on a problem communicated by the users themselves.

Both these approaches have something in common. ‘Knowing your Customers/Users’.  The first one, we did not. The second one, we did.

Are you able to draw the characteristics of your users correctly.. absolutely to scale?

Do you know the pitfalls of the industry you’re targeting?

Is there really a problem that you’re trying to solve?

Never guess.. Just ask them.

The key is to just go out there and listen. Talk to people. Listen to them talking. Try to solve problems that people actually have.

Also, while solving it, constantly keep checking with them if you’re in the right direction.

Now.. go out there. Talk to your customers.