“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford

Everyone in the area of business and innovation knows the above mentioned famous quote. Does this mean that you shouldn’t talk to your customers assuming that they don’t know? It seems that there are at least two interpretations of this quote.

Interpretation #1: Don’t ask your customers, they don’t know

We teach founders at School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (sein.gr) that once they validate their idea using the business model canvas and the value proposition canvas, they should talk to their potential customers. Founders often mention the H. Ford quote to argue that this step is not needed since the customers don’t seem to know what they want. They also believe that the real innovator (meaning themselves) knows best.

Keep in mind that 42% of startups fail because there is no market need. In simple words, they’ve created something that nobody needs or is willing to spend money to get it. This is the most popular reason startups fail.

Interpretation #2: Don’t ask your customers what they want, they can’t tell you

Don’t ask your customers what they want because you are the entrepreneur. You are supposed to come up with solutions, not them. What should we ask potential customers then?

Your potential customers know a lot and first hand about the problem that you are about to solve. They can share with you information about the problem such as, but not limited to,

  • How many people face this problem?
  • Is the number growing with time?
  • Is it an urgent problem?
  • The emotional and economical impact it has on their business and/or in life,
  • How much money do they spend today to “fix” the problem?
  • What do they do today to overcome the problem?
  • What do they like about the solution that they’ve found and what not?
  • How frequent is the problem?

The more, the merrier rule applies here too. You can understand that your potential customers can give you the depth and the width of the problem you are trying to solve. They will also give you, while they describe you their problem, enough material to use on your marketing campaign.

Your customers might not know what they want, since they are neither innovators nor entrepreneurs, but they certainly know the problem and feel the pain of having it.

So, when you will approach your potential customers, talk to them only about the problem they are facing, not your solution. Your mission when you talk to them is to become an expert on the problem. You should fall in love with the problem and not your solution, at this stage at least. Your solution will change many times once it’s on your customers’ hands, but the problem will remain the same until someone solves it. Hopefully you!

How can we be helpful?

Send us your questions today and let’s discuss how you can better plan your interview with your potential customers. Drop us an email hello [at] sein [dot] gr and we will make sure that you’ll get the maximum from those interviews.

Do you need help with something else related to your startup? Don’t be shy, we are here to help. Use the same email address and let us know how can we be helpful.