Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face

Talking to customers can feel like getting punched in the face.

Yesterday I watched a great TED talk – "the single biggest reason why startups succeed" by Bill Gross. One of the best lines was his quote from boxer Mike Tyson that forms the title of this post. It made me think about our current process at GoSquared to focus us on building the right things.

You spend days, weeks, maybe even months with an idea, building it into reality, only to put it in front of your customers and realise it's off the mark with what they really need.

The sooner you can turn your idea into something tangible that you can show your customers the better. That doesn't mean building the thing, it doesn't mean building an "MVP", it can be as small as having a conversation face-to-face with just one customer.

Here's how I'm trying to avoid getting punched in the face:

First, by talking to the customers we want. Meticulously noting down their business, where they're at (are they growing? Are they struggling against their competitors? Are they on their way out of business?), what their job is within the company (not just their title but what they actually do all day), and the tools and processes they currently use to get their job done.

Then we take that away and look at how we can help – both with our current features, and with what we might build in the future. This conversation helps focus our current pitch, and inform our future roadmap.

For features we haven't yet built, I try to avoid describing in words what we are working on. I much prefer to show something visual. Not a fully working app or flow, but mockups. With a copy of Sketch and a prototyping tool like Marvel App or Invision, there's no need to waste time on HTML or CSS before getting feedback. You can get your ideas in front of a customer in hours.

The best bit is the feedback – does the customer even bother to respond? Perhaps this isn't a big enough problem for them to care about it. Perhaps they're just busy. Do they hate what you've sent them? Great! You've just saved weeks of building the wrong thing. It's even better if they like it. But will they pay for it? Do you need to build it to find out? It's amazing how motivated the team can feel when working on a feature knowing there's already a queue of customers waiting for it.

Avoid getting punched in the face – don't write a line of code. Don't wait. Talk to customers, mock up your idea. Set a deadline for yourself. Send what you've mocked up to your customers. Get their feedback. Act on their feedback. Rinse and repeat.

James Gill

CEO and co-founder of GoSquared.

London, UK