Brad Feld posted a blog last week called Start with Customer Experience where he quotes Steve Jobs who says “you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology.” I couldn’t agree more with this philosophy.
When we first started GiveForward, our technology was absolutely terrible. In fact, during our final round interview for Excelerate Labs, Sam Yagan, one of the Excelerate founders, told us that GiveForward was not just the shittiest website he had seen during the Excelerate application process, but in fact “the shittiest website [he] had ever seen.” Yeah, ever. As in the entire universe, which I’d like to remind everyone is a vast place and includes this clip art-inspired 1996 gem from White Castle. Yet, despite the technological shortcomings with our website, by the time we were doing the interview we had already processed over $2 million in transactions. Clearly we were doing something right — it was our out-of-this-world customer service.
The logic of starting first with the customer experience and working backwards for the technology is especially true for startups who are bootstrapping their operation like we were at the time. Think about it — when you are bootstrapping, you have no budget to advertise. The only way people are going to learn about your company is through word-of-mouth. But word-of-mouth isn’t a marketing strategy. It’s the result of a strategy. I think that’s an important concept for young startups to recognize.
So the question is, how do you get people spread the word about your company? There are generally only two things that will compel someone to talk about your company. You either have a phenomenal product or you have phenomenal customer service.
If you have limited resources, focus on the customer service before you focus on the product. In the very early stages, it’s inevitable that your product is going to suck. Don’t worry about it. Everyone’s product sucks at the beginning. Instead, overcompensate for your sucky product by creating a culture of out-of-this-world customer service from day one. Hustle your butt off, be open and honest with your customers, and do the little things to WOW them at every opportunity. If you’re bootstrapping, it’s going to take a long time until you have the right technology pieces in play to provide your users with a great product. In the mean time, make customer service a cornerstone of your business.
Over time, continue to listen to your customers and keep iterating your product so that it sucks a little less each day. Ultimately when the quality of your product catches up to the quality of your customer service, you’ll be in a great place.