Why Successful Startups Focus on Serving Not Exciting Customers

How many failed apps are in your phone’s app store? How many ghost town websites are on the Internet?

You may guess hundreds of thousands and still be way off. I honestly have no idea the actual number of failed apps and websites but we can be certain it’s a lot — New businesses fail to succeed every day.

Startups where people put real sweat, time and money into their success. People who neglect other personal, relationship & career opportunities because they knew they have a great idea. An idea people will love. A product that will make a real impact in the world.

So they open their doors. Embrace a dangerous world of entrepreneurship. Wait for customers to arrive. But, are left with experiences of defeat at every opportunity at which point they close their doors for good.

I was curious how many real hours are lost when a new startup fails. I did some professional math. Let’s hypothesize an entrepreneur works 65 hours a week on their new venture and gives themselves 6 months to see traction.

65 hours a week on your startup in 6 months would result in 1,690 hours spent on a failed endeavor. What if they gave themselves 2 years to see traction? 6,270 hours of his life spent on a failed effort.

You may be like me as I’ve definitely spent over 6,270 hours on failed businesses. Sometimes, they failed because of poor execution. Other times, they failed because I lacked the effort or passion.

But there were times that I put all my chips on the table.

I spent money on marketing. I made sure that I had a good product. I validated that customers wanted it. I did everything that you could possibly do to ensure success. It should have worked. It should have changed my life.

But it didn’t… And I had no idea why?

In those times, I had well-intentioned and loving friends tell me that sometimes it’s just the way “the cookie crumbles”. It’s the “luck of the draw”.

People insist success is a byproduct of luck.

I don’t buy it.

A startup’s success is more than happenstance where you spin the roulette wheel hoping it lands on your number. Sure, I’ll give you there will always be variables outside of your control. A global pandemic may rapidly sweep the world in a matter of a few months thereby forever changing how we do business.. Anything could happen.

But there is another reason why many startups fail to gain traction. If they realized and accepted this then things could change.

Startups spend too many hours manufacturing excitement while neglecting the basic tenet to simply satisfy their customers’ needs

The most successful services aren’t exciting.

You don’t go on Google because you love Google. You don’t view Amazon’s website and laugh ecstatically at their use of color and layout of buttons. The most successful companies focus fanatically on satisfying a human need not on impressing people with fancy wizardry.

What about Apple, Nike and popular luxury brands you ask? Surely, they show people prefer excitement over utility. I agree there are plenty of people who would and maybe do hang their MacBook Pros on their wall just to make themselves smile.

But these iconic brands all start with satisfaction.

I am not suggesting we’re all robotic and emotionless in our purchasing decisions. That would be quite silly and opposite of the truth. Of course people create emotional attachments to brands and products.

Apple first simplifies our lives then delights us with aesthetics

Apple is a great case in point.

People love their iPhones, MacBooks, AirPods and Watches because they work seamlessly together. If you have 1 Apple product then it makes sense to have all Apple products even though they are all quite overpriced.

I truly fought but ultimately caved to the pressure of the Mac life. I am a proud vocal supporter of all things open source and Linux but choose to own an iPhone, MacBook, Apple Watch and bout my son AirPods this past year. I buy Apple because it satisfies my need to simplify my life.

People love Apple products because of their luxurious design but people buy Apple products because they serve a need. But even Apple fails to satisfy which leads to mediocre to failed products.

The time Apple chose to make our lives harder

When’s the last time you willingly opened your native iPhone maps application (I’m assuming that you do have an iPhone)? I’d venture to guess that it isn’t recent.

You may click on the app because it’s close to your finger while you are rushing to the car or it opens when you click on an address in a text. Either way, it isn’t a choice that you made because you’d know that you would get the best results. I feel certain that most iPhone users choose to avoid their native map app.

Google Maps just does it better.

Do you remember when Apple dropped Google Maps from their native iPhone? I do. People went ballistic.

Back in 2012, Apple introduced iOS 6. Many Apple fans were happy with the new widgets, experience and performance. iOS 6 made FaceTime good and improved Siri’s recognition but it ultimately had a major backlash from their core customer. It was due to one major decision.

Apple dropped Google Maps from their phones in favor of their own inferior Maps application. It wasn’t met with happy faces.

Almost immediately, people started turning left into brick walls. Others drove into lakes while expecting roads. The remaining ended up at McDonalds when they were wanting to go “somewhere healthy”.

That didn’t really happen but it was a terrible maps app. People weren’t happy with the result. They were dissatisfied with the service that Apple was providing to them.

Even the best & most iconic companies will fail when they cannot meet the fundamental requirement of satisfying the needs of their customers.

How hygiene affects customer satisfaction

Frederick Herzberg created the “Motivator Hygiene” model of work satisfaction in the 1960s. He suggested you could provide all the cool & best benefits, titles and foosball tables, but fail to keep employees happy because you haven’t met their basic hygiene requirements.

In common sense terms, people go to work to afford the rest of their lives. If you don’t provide a safe work environment and pay a consistent wage, then there isn’t anything you can do to make the person feel satisfied and happy.

This is the same truth for our customers.

People need to know that you are delivering a service that meets a real human need before they will even consider being satisfied and ultimately happy with your product.

People require their needs to be met before they consider satisfaction with your product

You fail to consistently deliver on meeting your customer’s real need and they will feel disinterested or even swindled. You alienate your customers when you stop focusing on their needs.

Herzberg suggests job satisfaction isn’t on the same scale as job dissatisfaction. If you don’t meet people’s basic expectations to meet their needs then you can’t expect them to be excited about your service. It’s comparable to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. People need to know that their basic requirements are being met before they even consider being satisfied.

Many startups don’t relentlessly focus on serving the needs of their customers. They prefer working on features and widgets — the shiny and exciting bells and whistles.

Focus on solving needs not building widgets

We create feature and widget farms to build shiny new tools that nobody needs. We neglect the core needs of our customers and how we want to serve them. We are promising potato chips when people need potatoes.

I don’t want to discount the importance to delight customers in your product. People need cool, fun and excitement to feel satisfied but that is an intentional second zone. We must consistently and reliably solve a real human need before we can even consider doing anything else.

Solving a customer’s need is first. Everything else is noise.

Don’t get lost chasing squirrels and neglect the priority

In the end, we are likely to spend over 6,000 hours on our startups. We want them to succeed because we believe that they will have an impact on other people’s and our own lives.

But we get distracted by the shiny objects.

I call it the squirrel syndrome and I’m sure I stole it from someone else. My dog will lose all sense of self whenever they see a squirrel arrive in our backyard. She’ll do anything possible to get out and grab the squirrel. Including running out of yard to end up lost.

She’ll be frantic about that squirrel until she sees another squirrel. Then, she’ll go crazy after that new squirrel. She completely loses her sense of concentration because she get’s excited about the new squirrel to chase.

We’re the same way.

Our #1 job as entrepreneurs isn’t to create cool gadgets. It’s to solve real problems that affect the people we serve

We get lost because we chase squirrels as entrepreneurs. We have an idea build a product that serves a real human need but then we lose focus. We get distracted because the product ‘works’ and we want or feel the need to focus on different things.

But that isn’t the case.

Our core products will never be ‘good enough’ because they will begin to shrink in serving the customer need. It isn’t ok to just build a basic product or focus on the exciting parts.

We must have a relentless daily drive on the boring, mundane service of fulfilling a human need. Everything else is noise.

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