If You Just Build It They Won’t Come

A cartoon of a phone with a baseball app growing out of a cornstalk in a corn field

When making a product or service. The smart thing to do is learn from from potential customers about a problem or pain point they have and then try to figure out how to solve that problem.

But there’s this temptation a lot of people have to just get started. “C’mon, we know what our customers are like. We know what problems they have. Let’s just build it.”

I feel it myself, but this is a bad impulse. Human beings are complicated. There’s really no telling what they’ll do until they actually do it. I mean, you’ve met our species right?

If you want to have a successful business, I strongly encourage learning customer development, the process of discovering who your customers are.

And please, please, please don’t think it’s just a matter of asking people what kind of product they like and what features they’d like. Again, you have met our species yes?

Maybe you’ve dealt with customers before? Have you ever worked in retail? Do customers strike you as people who can clearly tell you the kind of product they’d buy and then, when you build it for them, actually buy the thing they described?

A good place to start is this video series on customer interviews:

In this series you’ll learn the basics of interviewing potential customers. Basics likeĀ don’t pitch a product, this should seem obvious but you want to learn about their pains and problems, not sell them something. Your’e trying to find out what it is they’ll buy.

Another basic isĀ don’t ask customers about future behavior. In the future, all customers will go to the gym 7 days a week, and they’ll only eat a vegan diet. In the future they’ll never stay up late, they’ll always be nice to everyone around them, and they’ll definitely buy your product.

If you ask a potential customer about their current or past behavior, well, it turns out they do in fact stay up late, and they meant to go to the gym… and I see you get the point.

Again, watch that video series. It’s really good.

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