Courting Customers Instead of VCs

If you invest in your customers now, you might find VCs anxious to invest in you.”

After 6 years of trying to raise funding for 3 of my startups over the years with zero success I decided to let the market decide and court customers now rather then VC. it’s been a turning point for me because my customers get it immediately whereas the VC just don’t seem to get it. And my customers give me feedback to improve my concept and the VCs just seem to shoot it down and say it won’t fly and that I’m “too early” which just means they aren’t interested.
– Comment by Blake Southwood on a NYTimes article on “Falling Valuations: Poison for Venture Capital”

I am still a n00b when it comes to venture capital, so I really can’t address any comments about the value of that industry. However, I know a lot about customers, and love to hear stories about entrepreneurs who recognize how much value their customers provide.

“Customers Get it Immediately”

Almost by definition, your customers are the ones that get it. Obviously you caught their attention, and they were intrigued or inspired enough to sign up or buy. There is a ton of value in understanding your current customers, and how they understand you. While other companies play percentage games with marketing (If I hit 1000 random people with an add, 180 click, and 27 buy…) you can focus on understanding what inspired your existing customers to embrace your product. Then, as you improve their experience and refine the product, they will lead you to the rest of your market(s).

“Customers Give Feedback”

Your customers want to help you. They want a better product/experience, and they know what would make it better. (After all, they probably use it more than you.) They want to leave their mark. It is a primal instinct. Embrace it. They are more than happy to give you a ton of help for the low cost of recognition and validation. And, sometimes they just want to complain. That is OK, let them. Make it easy for them to come complain to you. If you don’t listen, they’ll find someone else to complain about you to who will listen.

Bottom Line

I flew through some reasons why your customers want to give you feedback. I want to dive much deeper into those, but for now, I just want to point out that there is a lot of value in listening to that feedback. You shouldn’t act on all their feedback. I’m not describing design by committee. But, I am saying that any feedback you receive from your existing customers is very valuable in growing your business and getting more customers. Bottom line, the market will tell you where to go, it is up to you to innovate and refine in that direction.