The Customer Relationship Early Stage Startup
The customer relationship is important throughout the lifecycle of an organization. This is nevermore vital than in the beginning stages of a product and company. With your initial customers and early adopters, they have an inherent need/issue that you are solving. This is why they take a flyer with your new offering and the inevitable headaches that will come with using a new product or service.
Something that has stuck with me as Brian, Jon and I have grown GigLabs is an interview I listened to on “This Week in Startups” with the founder of Airbnb. In the interview, the founder discussed their very first customers. They offered a lot of handholding and benefits to these early rentals and renters in their ecosystem. The founder would travel to the renter’s homes and take photos for the site. He spoke to each customer throughout the process.
What is the lesson here?
The main point of this story for the founder is in order to build a great product, you must talk to the early adopters. Take that something they tolerate and turn it into something they love. When they love the product, making the transition to the masses becomes a smoother experience overall. The other thing the founder mentions is: This is the only time in the life of your company where you can engage and interact with each and every customer. Build strong relationships with these customers. They will tell you everything about your product from what they love and like to hate or will not use. They will help you build a better product. They have a vested interest in what you are building and want it to be great. So, why not let them help you make the best product possible?
This leads me to our story.
We have a budding blockchain business focusing on the creation and innovation around digital assets. We started our latest project, CryptoRome, roughly 4 months ago, launching the first parts of the product several months afterwards. For the first month, we pre-sold access to our product to over 100 customers. Since launch, we have grown our users to over 600 players. We use a communication tool, Discord, for engaging our community.
For those of you that do not know, Discord is a community communication tool. It is similar to Slack, but more focused on community as opposed to teams that all work together. You can join our Discord server to talk to any of our developers here.
I spend every waking hour Sun-Sat with Discord open on my laptop or phone. I use this communication tool to market to our users as well as collect their feedback on CryptoRome. They also report bugs to us in an effort to make the CryptoRome better and more robust. Our entire team spends a good bit of time each day talking to our early adopters. Each time we plan new features, we reach out to them to get immediate feedback and conduct ideation sessions with users. This has led to some great ideas from our most engaged customers. Each interaction takes us one step closer to having a great product.
We also currently handle our own customer support as a part of maintaining great customer relations. Recently, I had the pleasure of interacting with a gentleman playing CryptoRome. He was having issues with the smart contract that runs our grape market (a mini-game we launched to test a self-regulating market). I quickly gathered his feedback and made a few tweaks to get him up and running in minutes. The response went as follows:
Customer: This is one of the better blockchain projects out there from an actual customer support perspective.
Me: We try to ensure everyone has an optimal experience.
Customer: Tell your supervisor that you are doing a great job and that I am making a purchase thanks to your efforts.
Me: Well, to be honest with you, I am not only customer support tonight, I am CEO of the company behind CryptoRome.
Customer: Seriously? You have just landed a customer for life.
This was a very funny exchange and the team discussed it over coffee in the morning, because it was a great customer interaction. The point is, while talking to every customer does not scale, it is one of the most vital activities you can do as an early stage startup. It builds goodwill with the community. It can delight a customer, who then will tell others about you. It also helps drive that early product in the direction required to make a great product people love. It does not matter if you are CEO, CTO, etc. Take the time to learn about and from your customers.