Don’t Listen to Ford – Customers Know Best

po3015a_henry-ford1

Studying entrepreneurship at MIT, I constantly hear the importance of engaging customers early on in the development of new products. To create a successful new product, you have to listen to the customers and really understand their needs.

But some companies don’t do it. A common reason not to engage the customer is the feeling that its a waste of time because customers can’t conceive of breakthrough products. Henry Ford once said “if we asked our customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” The key to this quote for me, though, is the question that’s being asked. You can’t just ask a customer what they want. You have to really get to know them, observe them riding the horse and ask questions about the experience.

This is where marketing comes in. The last thing we need is another Segway.

When I started helping Fire Hose on the business side, I wondered how marketing would work at a video game company. Without a clear customer need to address, I wondered if games were developed in a bubble, without any input from customers at all.

It turns out, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, startups everywhere could learn something about marketing from a video game company. Since the first week of development, Fire Hose has brought in potential customers to test and the input received has strongly influenced the direction of the game. Rapid prototyping has allowed the team to test every couple of weeks or so. What other startups are getting that much feedback on their product, especially in the very early stages? I can’t imagine many. It’s been refreshing to see and I think the final product will reflect the valuable input from customers.