Customer – to listen or not to listen


If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses

There is a pretty high chance you have heard the quote and an equally good probability that you yourself have used it to support or demolish an argument on “customer knows best”. It is quite interesting to note how quotes by well known people become the base to support an argument without any need to understand the true import of what has been said.

While we do not know if Henry Ford really said those lines, there is ample evidence that he thought along those lines. To the extent that his company suffered. Steve Jobs also showed similar inclinations (in terms of the customer not always knowing what s/he wants) when he said

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them

Now, there are brilliant companies that have been built on innovation and creativity that is attributed to the capacity to think independent of public opinion/noise. On the other hand, frameworks like the Lean Startup recommend listening to your customers at regular intervals to get feedback on your product. In fact, Eric Ries even recommends

Frequency is more important than talking to the “right” customers, especially early on.


So, as a startup, how do you build your product – basing it on your experience & intuition or by constantly going back to your (potential) customers regularly for feedback?

For us, at RobusTest, the answer is not a choice between the former or latter. It is a combination of both approaches. Having an insight into what the customer wants can be a matter of creative thinking that comes about without the need to talk to any customer. It can also come about from a deep understanding of customer’s problems. Of course, the latter is not as sexy.

We, the founders and our early employees have worked extensively in the app testing and test tooling space. We relied on this experience to arrive at the feature set of the early version of RobusTest. As we met more customers to pitch our product, we realized that customers are not looking for a product, they are looking for solutions to business problems. And these problems are unique to each customer. We, therefore, focus a lot on listening to the customer. When we say, “listening to the customer”, it is not the mere act of hearing what the customer says. It includes observing the customer’s business and business practices. Asking questions without having the answer already set. My earlier post on product design touched upon this aspect of discovering the usefulness of your offering.

How did you go about creating your product? Was it gut feel to start with and then market research? What do you think about talking/listening to the customer to create your product?