A Founder’s Dilemma: Choosing Between Technology and Customers
27 February, 2021
Most founders tend to focus not as much on what but on how they are building their product. They are typically focused on the technology they would be using, programming languages, scalability, etc.
One day, a founder came to me and told me that they were using a particular technology because it scales better. I listened to them for a couple of minutes and then asked them about their customers. I nonchalantly asked, “What people love about your product the most?” They seemed surprised and told me that they didn’t have all that many customers in fact. They asked me then what they should do to promote themselves better in the market to attract more users.
It didn’t take me long to understand what the problem was. Many founders with an engineering background tend to focus exclusively on the technological side of things. They would work hard to implement the latest technology or super scalable database, but that would not be what users are looking for. Customers don’t care what is happening behind the scene. The product needs to offer them something -- and of course, work -- but they will not use it just because it’s shiny.
As a founder, you should be able to understand a customer and think like a customer rather than delving into technical details of all sorts. In the earliest stages of development, technology should come second.
The fastest way to get to users is to find the first ten people who would love your product and then find ten more until you reach a hundred. And then continue from there. Technology comes into play when you already have a group of users, a good product-market fit, and know what your users are looking for. Only after securing that, should you start thinking about technology.
Founders tend to be very emotional about things they are building and will interpret any amicable suggestion as a criticism. If they get hooked on the technology, they will have a hard time letting go of it and seeing what users are really looking for. I believe that founders should learn to become emotionally detached from their products because their initial idea can morph into its opposite.
- Try to build something that your customers are looking for rather than being mesmerized by the latest and greatest technology. What is important to a user is at the cornerstone of any successful product. You can have the best ever technology, but if a user doesn’t see value in your product, it will not matter.
- Don’t be emotional about your product. Be motivated by it, but let emotions rule your decisions.
- Talk to other founders. Being a founder is often a lonely place to be. Share your ideas, plans, or challenges with other founders. Talking to them will help you not get blindsided by all the engineers around you.
- If possible, get an advisor. Advisors are professionals who talked to a great number of founders before you and will be able to discern what of your challenges are worth addressing. They should help you re-prioritize your priorities. I was in a situation when I was complaining about how my product was not scaling when an advisor asked me, “Why scale?”. That question prompted me to step back for the first time and reflect on why I am doing it. A good advisor will not tell you what to do but will ask you the right question. They should help you grasp different perspectives other than your own.
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