Let me tell you a little story about the birth of a product. The year was 2000, and a group approached us about their website. In 2000 we did web design when web design was still expensive and new. This group had a website that they needed to update, allow other people to update, and meet some other specific requirements. The group said something didn’t exist to help them with their problem. They wanted us to build something to solve their website challenges.
The group was Xavier University. In 2000, they had a 3 page website, and wanted to expand to include the faculty and staff online. Xavier was our customer zero. Xavier told us what a college needed from a content management system, and we built it. Our flagship product, Campus Suite, was born from a customer challenge.
Fast forward 16 years, and Campus Suite has a national footprint. We sell to K-12 schools and small colleges across the US and in several other countries. The power of customer driven products drove Campus Suite to be a player in the education sector. How did our company find a customer zero to help us? I have a blueprint that can help you find your customer zero for your idea.
#1. Most customer zero’s are innovators.
Companies that are leading in innovation are willing to accept new ideas. Rigid, slow to act companies never invest in new ideas. You need to identify companies that want to move fast and break things.
#2. Most customer zero’s are risk takers.
These companies will invest in good ideas, and they understand that failure is part of the process. Any traditional company that is failure-phobic will not try your product until it’s proven.
Risk takers will give you ideas and invest in ideas. Faliure-phobic companies will tell you what color they want, and will ask legal to review your service agreement.
#3. Customer zero knows they have a problem.
Xavier knew they needed to manage hundreds of people editing a website, and having control over the content. We didn’t need to waste time selling Xavier on our idea. Xavier wanted to solve a problem, and we were there to help.
#4. Customer zero benefits solving the problem.
A benefit is a better outcome. When you solve a problem with customer zero, the customer has a defined benefit. For Xavier, the benefit was control over large amounts of content writers, while allowing content to be created and published. The final benefit for Xavier is being strong online, and building their brand.
#5. Customer zero will pay to solve the problem.
I have lots of personal “problems.” There are few problems I will pay to solve. Customer zero needs to be willing to pay for the solution. Customer zero might not pay you to build the solution, but they will pay to use the solution.
#6. Customer zero will help you raise money.
Customer zero might not be your funding source. Having a product that a customer likes and will pay for will help you raise money. VC’s look for companies that can…….. make money. You only can make money if a customer will buy your product.
Having a product that sells shows investors you can make money. Having a customer zero changes your investment story from “fund my idea,” to “fund my growth.” VC’s like growth a lot more than money.
How do you find a customer zero? Be shameless. Call people. Research your idea and who is in the space. Who takes risks? Who has content, ideas, anything that shows they are leading the space? Stalk these customers on Twitter, LinkedIn, blog comments, anywhere. Start a conversation with them. Be prepared for no’s, and rejection. Success is a lot of “no’s,” and one “yes.”
How do you land a customer zero without a product? Prototyping. Clickable prototyping allows non-programmers to build functional models of an idea. Build a prototype, and get feedback before writing a single line of code. Risk takers will commit to a prototype.
Eric built his experience working in the tech sector for 20 years. He is CEO of Campus Suite, a content management and communications platform for schools and colleges across the US. Eric is also COO of Soundstr, a Brandery graduate backed by Gracenote, and COO of Craftforce, a skilled trades marketplace. He helps Cincinnati startups as a advisor for Cintrifuse. Eric brings his experiences and methods from running multiple companies to the startup ecosystem. His key skills include team management, platform design and development, process design, and inbound marketing. Connect with Eric on LinkedIn
Feature image credit Rajiv Mukherjee. Image has been cropped.