Are you constrained by your vocal customers?

For many startup founders and product managers, the answer is “Yes”. We all have been through those situations when handful of vocal customers have changed the roadmap direction and after few releases (or years), we realize the cost of “giving in” to these vocal customers – but it’s too late.


Sometimes, It is good to have situations where vocal customers are asking to accelerate the roadmap items or helping the company to innovate in right direction. There are several after effects of letting vocal customers dictate your roadmap. In the end, the company may just do fine, but the idea is we want the company to thrive and not just sustain.

  • Missed Opportunity : Every product starts out to solve a problem and with a potential long-term roadmap that enables it to expand into larger user base. The company is spending much of its energy in making the current customers happy and not investing to gain new customers.
  • Random features : While existing customers get new versions of the product, the teams are always striving to satisfy what customers are asking for, even if it means to introduce sporadic features that may not fit well.
  • Dissatisfied Teams : Yes, its pretty hard to satisfy all the customers every time. Especially, if we are chasing the customers that do not share the similar vision. This leads to dissatisfied internal development teams - which is super bad for the product's quality and most importantly for the people who are building it.

Just to be clear, most startups go through these growing pains and comes back to focus on its core values and vision or will soon perish. Clearly that's the difference between the long lasting innovative companies vs. a company that is not seen after few years. So, let's look at what will help us understand the noise vs. value when hearing the customer feedback.

  • Vision : Do the customers believe in your vision and goals? Understanding this help in identifying the customers that stay with you for long time vs. customers that looks at your product as a mere tool. Nothing wrong in later case, but these kind of customers don't care about vision and may not help you get there.
  • Duration : Who long is this customer with you? Typically, customers who like your vision and product tend to stay with you in for longer. Not only they stay with you longer but your products and services are part of their growth strategy too.
  • Revenue : What revenue is a customer generating? More often, few customers generate most revenue to your company.  This means that product managers need to delicately understand the customers value and what they are asking for.
  • Value : Is this customer bringing in intangible value to the product or company? Some customers may not be with the company for a long duration, or many not generate huge revenue BUT may come with a great reference base or huge access to their network of customers, which is also very valuable to the product and company.

We absolutely want customer feedback and inputs on what's working well and what's not. But at the same time, we need to value the company and product vision. Balancing is not an easy act. Finally, this balancing act could be much harder for startups. For the reasons that the startups themselves are in the discovery mode, the business and revenue models are highly fluid.

Listen and learn from all customers to achieve long-term success.