So you’re building a digital product! Be it a financial SaaS platform, a blog, or a twitter account, there’s one simple lesson that can help guide you during any part of the process and help attract and retain users, and help create a corporate culture that energizes and excites developers.
Here it is: Open a dialogue with potential customers. No matter what stage your business or product is in, it is always vital to talk to the folks who will be (or currently are) using the product. You can do this via Twitter, an e-mail form on your site, LinkedIn, Facebook, forums, Reddit, Twitch, or even in-person. You don’t have to do them all at once, or respond to every message. But reaching out and asking can bring in ideas, solutions, and re-shape your thinking.
An example I’ll use is a personal one. I founded Shado Sports Ventures back in July with the intent of creating a fantasy sports platform that integrated finances. I posted on the /r/fantasybaseball (among others) Reddit asking for some feedback and to see if there was interest. Early on, we had a basic website that had a form asking users to “Convince Us” that they’d be great for our beta test. What we got on Day 3 changed our entire approach:
Well our league would be the ULTIMATE test for this. We have a 3 sport dynasty league with 240 man minor league rosters in baseball. A25 and 40 man rosters as well. We have Cross Sport trading…and best of all it is a salary cap league with a variable salary cap in baseball. The basketball cap is $65,000,000, the NFL cap is $135,000,000 and the MLB cap depends on what team you are. We have PTBNL (player to be named later) trades as well as multi team trades. We have a 25 round AMAT draft in baseball each year, 7 round rookie draft in football, and 2 round rookie draft in basketball. If you guys REALLY want to test this out….I suggest that you give us a shot.
The key in that paragraph was Three Sport League and Cross Sport Trading. We already planned on the rest of the stuff: contracts, multiple drafts, massive minor league rosters, etc. But we never considered allowing multi-sport leagues or allowing baseball players to be traded for football players.
This changed how I saw Shado, how I saw the platform going forward. It was no longer just a fantasy sports platform with finances; it was now a Sports Agnostic Transaction Engine. We no longer cared what sport you played, or how absurd you wanted your leagues to be. Our product changed so now any player or draft pick is just an asset to be traded or exchanged for any other asset.
We can now take any competition with statistics, such as League of Legends or Magic: The Gathering, and create a fantasy game based on those statistics. We no longer had to build a “baseball” game, then a “football” game, and so on. We could build one product that synthesized any dataset and let our users create rules, scoring categories, and ultimately a fantasy game.
It didn’t just present us with a new vision; it gave us the key to attracting amazing talent. We now had to build something very unique, very creative. We went from tracking data for our users to letting our users PLAY with data and make a game out of it. Explaining this to potential developers made their eyes light up. They knew the larger implications; they knew how much fun it would be to build and problem solve this product. Shado went from a “sports” company to an entertainment/video game company with that one e-mail. That e-mail made us re-focus on our product, re-do our website to look more professional, and to focus on signing up beta users. That e-mail resulted in two engineers joining us to work on a product they thought was awesome.
Sure, that is all well and good. But we had a pretty strong advantage being able to leverage Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn, fantasy sports forums, and fantasy sports communities. For 15 years I’ve been playing in, participating in, and creating fantasy sports games. I used my inherent knowledge of the market to reach my potential customers, since I knew exactly where they were.
This is rarely the case, however. Businesses always need to know where they can find potential customers, they need to know how to talk to them, and they need to know how to open a dialogue so that the customer feels comfortable and trusting. If you need help reaching those potential customers, ask for help or hire a marketing firm. These days, your website verifies your level of trustworthiness. A poor website can crush user confidence before you get a real shot.
You can open that dialogue on your website with a nice form, you can go out to Twitter and Facebook and solicit responses, and you can read thousands of “how to reach your customers on social media” articles.
But they key is “Open Dialogue”. You’re being honest with them, asking for help and guidance. You’re catering to their needs and including your customer in the process. In turn, they are getting a product they can be proud to use and say, “I helped make this great”.
Don’t be shy, don’t get discouraged, and don’t correct your customers. Listen, learn, and build.