Win the Customer by Building What They Want

The process of building software is hard. Whether you build for months and years at a time before you ship a product… Or, you build the minimum features and iterate from there. Either way, building quality software is hard.

Software is everywhere right now. It seems everyone has a start-up.

Companies are getting ridiculous valuations based on a soon-to-be revenue generation. What’s crazy is most of these companies are not making any money! Can you believe it?! (It’s 1999 all over again).

I think about software a little differently.

Here’s my take:

- Find a business problem.
- Build software that solves said problem.
- Charge people for it.
- Repeat.

This is exactly what Clearplan is. We found a business problem. Built software to solve it. Charge people for it. Repeat.

Clearplan was built by listening to our customers.

Let me explain what I mean by “listen to your customers”.

See, if you listen to your customers, the vision of the product is built-for-you. I’m a listening machine… I have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason.

As product designers and engineers we are focused on solving the problem in the most efficient, user-centric, intuitive method.

All customers will give you feedback. The most important feedback is from paying customers. Users that are “kicking the tires” of your product will have the most feature requests. Ignore these. Feedback from paying customers is the most important.

A lot of product feedback is like this:

Hey, this screen should do this and this when I push this. And, I want this and this. Oh, yea, you guys should hurry up and do it.

If you’re building software, you will hear feedback similar to this. A lot. So, get used to it.

We spin this by asking the user what the end goal is. We do this because we need to understand the pain. Really understand the problem.

Often times, the user knows what she wants but doesn’t know how to articulate it. As a product designer, your job is to interpret the noise and find the hidden problem. Once you understand the problem, you have something to solve.

It forces you to deal with reality. When you listen to your users, you have to build what helps them accomplish their goals and solve their problems. Not what you (the designer) want.

I like solving problems. Listening. Defining problems. Creating the solution. Design. Built. Review. Publish. Repeat.

It’s super enjoyable. And, what I do best. Sometimes this doesn’t work though. Sometimes you build a new feature that falls completely flat. Crash and burn.

The good news is, we have an incredible advantage with cloud-based software: just build and ship it! Let your users tell you if it’s the right thing or not.

If it’s not the right thing, you fix it and push the changes into production. (Sometimes only a couple hours later). Web apps can constantly evolve—even on a day-to-day basis.

This "define, design, build and iterate" process is what separates the fast and slow companies.

In big slow companies, processes and meetings are the norm. Months and years are spent planning features and defining what’s important. Typically the customer is not in the equation. In fact, most big companies refuse to acknowledge the end user.

And, they end up building whatever the loudest, bossiest engineer wants.

If you want to build good software… software that people will pay for, you have to solve real problems. Not your ideas about these problems. Resist long-winded meetings and arguments. Build the software. Ship it and test.

When you build products by listening to the customer, you’re making software decisions based on the real thing instead of abstract notions.

Remember the goal is to win the customer by building what they want.