The Importance of First Users Feedback for your startup
One doesn’t even need to be familiar with Silicon Valley or the world of entrepreneurship to realize something very simple: that the early stages of a company, especially a startup, are often the most important. This could apply to a whole range of situations, whether your startup is trying to figure out the particular problem they are trying to solve, whether the team is trying to assign the right amount of shares between them, or making the right hires. The decisions that people make early on in a startup will obviously trickle all the way down the company, and can then positively or negatively affect a company. For example, one wrong meeting with an investor can mean that the word spreads that the founder is difficult to work with, which might mean a death stroke for a company that is in desperate need of funding. Therefore, it is imperative that any company be as careful as possible to make the correct decisions to ensure survival, and hopefully, prosperity.
Many serial entrepreneurs who have been through this process will tell you the same thing: that what works at one company simply won’t work at another, necessarily. Of course, while experience is always valued, the bottom line is that every company is different, as the culture and objective is unique. One big decision that your startup must make is exactly how they are going to communicate with its first users.
Some startups are born out of necessity. These are always great stories because the founder wants to make the world more interesting for himself and the people around him, and this often means that the first users are the founder’s friends, who then, in turn, spread the word about this useful app that solves a particular problem. This often means that all sorts of advice and feedback can be gathered before the product or service is even technically released. This approach is interesting, as there are many people who may listen to their friends and take their perspectives into consideration, given their personality. For example, if you found a company, and the only person that has anything negative to say about your product is a friend of a friend, but you feel personally as though that person is always negative – you may be able to understand their perspective a little better. This criticism, of course, sounds different from a very close friend whose opinion you have trusted since childhood, for example. Regardless, this allows you to tweak certain things before the outside world can criticize certain aspects of your service. This also means that your friends can brainstorm and suggest certain features. A great example of this is Sean Parker suggesting that “The Facebook” drop the “the” in the name, and simply calling themselves “Facebook”, over dinner. It should be noted that this, which is hailed as a great contribution, didn’t happen in the office, or over a phone call, but over a casual dinner. Sean Parker ended up being the first to see the real potential in the company, and his suggestion to change the name before the company scaled into the gigantic company it is today, is to be commended.
Of course, not every startup story is the same, and not every user base is the founder’s friends, or friends of friends. There are startups that slowly gain traction because of their utility and eventually find themselves with a user base they would never have imagined, which leads to them looking for funding, which leads to a company growing before their very eyes. Steve Huffman, the co-founder and CEO of Reddit, for example, had a very different experience when it came to his first users.
It may be ridiculous to think of now, but in Reddit’s early days, there was much more of a bulletin-board or message-board style to the website, and it didn’t boast the countless amounts of comments and communities that it is known for today. In fact, users actually had to e-mail the company to communicate with them, before the comment feature was added. As a result, Reddit wasn’t getting advice from a friend – but instead was communicating with its first users. There was another important realization that Steve Huffman made: that while many people may have an incendiary tone when communicating with the company, that also means that they cared about their experience and saw potential in it. We all have used apps that have lost our interest, and simply abandoned it or deleted it off of our devices, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. The fact that these first users were communicating with the company and offering advice, even if they were angry, meant that they might be building the kind of community that would stick around, once all of these problems were fleshed out.
A great example is a restaurant – if you go to a restaurant and dislike the experience, you may not tip as much. You may walk out, dissatisfied. You may even leave a bad review. However, if you contact the company, that means that you have a vested interest and are emotional about it. Steve Huffman realized that if the first users were going through this trouble to contact the company, that they might be contacting the company because there wasn’t an alternative – and it was the right time to take advantage of this gap in the marketplace and find out what really worked!
In this way, there is a cycle that exists in a company where the first users, that are often angry with the experience, often end up becoming the most loyal users and customers of that product or service. Steve Huffman’s theory is that because emotion is absolute, one of the reasons for Reddit’s success is that they were able to convert that anger into loyalty. Of course, if they had not listened to the angry users, or had ignored them, that would have been a huge miscalculation for the company. Today, Reddit is one of the most visited websites in the globe, and Huffman attributes part of that to their early approach of using users’ emotion to create a loyal consumer.