In order to be a successful entrepreneur, with a groundbreaking product or service to boot, the best thing you can do is leave your office.
I know this firsthand, because it was only once we got out of our office and started to immerse ourselves into the problems of our customers that we learned how to build a product that people really wanted, not just one we could convince them to buy. There are two important stages in your company during which you should alter your surroundings.
Here’s how to make the most of them when it comes to getting your new product off the ground.
1. Get to know your customer
The first time you should switch up your surroundings is when your startup is just an idea. You should plan to leave the office and go to where your future customers are, so you can understand them and build a product that solves their pain points.
To build a great company, you need to offer at least one of these solutions to your customers:
Add more value
Make what they’re already doing easier
If you can do both, you’ll hit a home run.
When we founded Adored, we tried to approach the company in a rational way. We had taken outside capital and hired a team. The process behind our first version of the product was pretty straightforward: We said, “Here is a great technology, now what can we do with it? Now that we know what we can do, how can we build a business around that?”
The formula worked. We had created something we could sell. But people weren’t lining up for it. We hadn’t gone far enough. There is a difference between research and immersion: Most companies (mine included) do their research, but they don’t truly commit. You’ll miss the larger opportunity if you’re operating at the surface of the problem.
We were using our product, beacon technology, as a way to incentivize consumers to enter local restaurants and bars. Our research told us that businesses wanted more customers and that this technology could enable it. But we had only scratched the surface. We quickly discovered that these restaurants and bars didn’t want to adopt an entirely new marketing technology, no matter how unique. What they wanted instead was to amplify the marketing they were already doing. For them, their best form of marketing was also the most authentic: their chalkboards. They just needed a way to expose that work to a larger audience.
When we finally did dig deep, we discovered there was a passion and market — the forgotten world of chalkboard art — that was waiting to be tapped.
2. Understand your product
To tap into a movement, you need the right product. You’ll only know you have the right product if you go out and get it in people’s hands. This is the second time getting out there and soliciting feedback comes into play.
I spent a lot of time with my team in the Adored office, working on our new business. By the time we had finished, we had created a totally functional app. But once we tested it out in the wild, the reception was mediocre. People could see we had a good idea, but it didn’t elicit the reaction we had hoped for.
This was incredibly valuable insight, and allowed us to hone our approach moving forward. After all, we wouldn’t have gotten the feedback we did if we had just gone out with a pen and paper. And the fact that we had spent so much time and were so invested in the app made us sell it really hard. We were giving it our all, which was enough to have people buy it, but not fall in love with it.
Sometimes with a straight MVP, entrepreneurs aren’t invested enough and they morph the product entirely around customer feedback. That also isn’t the best solution. If you’re truly passionate about your idea, but open to ways it could resonate more, then you’re on the right track to creating something special. It is truly a balancing act.
Gage market potential
When you share your product with people early on it is a great way to gauge market reactions. Monitoring how people respond to your product is critical. People will always have things to say and suggestions to make, however, so keep in mind that it may not be possible to incorporate all of their ideas into your product. A gut reaction to your product is as authentic and useful as it can get; this is why you need to physically be present to witness their reaction.
Begin to identify why it elicited the reaction it did. What made testers love it? What don’t they like? When you can identify these issues, which you can only do by having conversations, you can begin to address them and enhance your product for the better.
This article has been edited.
Cory von Wallenstein is the CEO at Adored, a company that is bringing marketing automation to main street.