“It used to be that we as a company thought the whole game was building great products, not the total customer experience. We were very business unit–centric. The whole service and support was owned functionally. But running a business didn’t mean owning the total customer experience, and my view is that to run a business, you have to be responsible for the end-to-end customer experience.”

That was Steve Bennet, who had taken over Intuit, a financial software company. It’s an easy move to make, and one that you can be forgiven for doing. A quote I read recently that somehow escapes me (and Google) now went something like, “Business is product and marketing; everything else is detail.” Inherent in both of those things is the customer, but in the madness of the average workplace, they are often easily forgotten.

So much has been written in recent times and given so many different names; The Lean Startup; Pivoting; Iterative business models; Product-market fit; Growth. They are all names for things businesses are doing, particularly in the world of startups. Frameworks and formulas and theories, all trying to get as quickly as possible to one point: Do we have a product or service our customers will adopt, predictably and repeatedly? If not, what might they like? How can we test? How quickly can we find out?

I recently saw a great interview with AirBnb co-founder and design lead Joe Gebba who said one of the best pieces of advice they ever got was from Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame who told them quite simply “Do things that don’t scale.” So much of their early focus had been on building a scalable platform, not on designing something that people loved. They could figure out scalability later on – if they had something worth scaling.

It’s an argument I’ve heard so much in recent times – “That will never work when there are 1000 people using this,” to which I respond “true – but there aren’t.” Many times there aren’t even 10, but we get caught up solving for fictional future problems – not the ones that are staring us in the face. You can do things that don’t scale – and you should do things that don’t scale – until you find the repeatable steps to turn someone into a user or customer or advocate.

Maybe the CEO calls every new person that signs up. Maybe your community lead sits down for a cup of coffee with each inbound inquiry. People say they don’t have time, but until you achieve the above it is the only thing that should matter to your business. You either take the time to do that now, or you will be blessed with an infinite amount of it wondering what went wrong.

Which sounds better to you?


Image: Carlos Arrojo