There isn’t a speed limit: Line up customers before you ship

After seeing a fantastic pitch from a startup I asked a simple question. “How many users do you have”? They replied with “We haven’t launched yet”. I reworded my question slightly and asked “How many customers have you talked to?” and they replied with the same line: “We haven’t launched yet.”

This startup was following a broken formula. It’s horribly inefficient and causes companies to fight a needless uphill battle building relationships with customers. The formula is done sequentially and it looks something like this:

1. Build a product.
2. Ship.
3. First contact with customers.
4. Convince customers to sign up.

Why the model is broken

The broken model I just described takes you a step away from your customer. By building your company in this way you’re essentially saying that you know the customer better than they know themself. If you’re not talking with your customers, how are you going to know the best way to position your product?

This is a better model

1. Build relationships with customers.
2. Build a product and convince customers to sign up
3. Ship.

Before you write a line of code, you should have a clear understanding of who your client is. It’s much better to build relationships asynchronously as you’re building your product. These early relationships are instrumental to your success. By talking to your customers early in development, you’re creating a fantastic feedback loop that you can easily leverage and bounce ideas off of.

There isn’t a speed limit, you can (and should) work asynchronously.

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  • ViralVinny

    Good reminder! Thanks TSF

  • It is very surprising to hear about startups that are fundraising and have not heard of the Lean Startup methodology despite all the publicity it has been getting in the media.

    •  I would also add, in addition to Lean Startup methodology, Customer Development by Steven Blank and Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder, both of which feed into the Lean Startup methodology.

      • Customer development and business model canvas are integral parts of Lean Startup. They can be implemented on their own, but there is no way to go Lean and not use them.

        There are also several derivatives to the biz-model canvas to fit particular stages of company lifespan.

      • John

        Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder, i have that in my To Buy list, think i will order it this week, has good reviews on amazon i see. 🙂

  •  This

    • This is why it’s good to build a company in an industry where you have lots of contacts or experience.  It’s much easier to call friends and get a lot of feedback before writing your first line of code and then get them on board as alpha/beta clients.

  • Anonymous

     Can’t agree more with the sequence. 😉

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, a lot of organizations currently do things backwards. If a startup has a business guy, they should be developing relationships with potential customers before the product is ready to go because there’s few things worse than putting blood, sweat, and tears into something and hearing nothing but crickets.  Really sharp business guys know that there are a ton of tricks you can use to get some traction even before you have a viable product to sell: contact some customers directly and build up some hype on Facebook via and other services that help you increase your fan count. Business guys that sit around acting like they’re doing something when they’re really not setting the groundwork for success really are useless.

  • 1. Build relationships with customers.
    2. Build a product and convince customers to sign up.
    3. Ship.
    4. Profit!

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist… 😉