Judgment, Why You Don’t Have More Customers or Users, and Why It’s Only Going to Get Worse…

What’s Obvious…

“The most powerful wind is users. They can either catch you and loft you up into the sky, as they did with Google, or leave you flat on the pavement, as they do with most startups. Users are a fickle wind, but more powerful than any other. If they take you up, no competitor can keep you down.” Paul Graham

It doesn’t matter whether you just closed a funding round for your startup or you’re growing an established company. Either way, what’s obvious about customers and users is that you almost always want more of them.

Customers validate your product or service, and they fuel the growth and ultimate profitability of your company.

Attracting customers, though, is not an easy proposition. In a world where attention is suddenly the rarest and most valuable asset, you’re competing directly with Facebook, Netflix, and in-person social interaction.

And getting the attention of customers will only get harder as technology demands ever more of our attention.

The Problem With Getting More Users/Customers

You’ve heard all the cliches about getting more customers:

  • You must narrow down and focus squarely on your ideal customer.
  • You must be intimately familiar with what your ideal customer wants.
  • You must stand out from the crowd.
  • You must create a great product that solves a real problem.

And like many cliches, they’re all generally true. Just not always specifically helpful.

You probably already have a great product or service – or at least a good one. And you probably already know who would most want and benefit from your product.

Even still, you just can’t get enough traction. People either stick to their old purchases (like outdated software) or else they buy sub-par products from competitors.

You likely think that you need to do one of two things: either (a) make your product better or (b) educate your potential users on why your product is better for them. Those are valiant and necessary efforts, but they’re not the heart of the issue.

The real problem is typically that your product, service, or messaging isn’t (yet) something people want.

What Your Users “Want” – And What You Might Not Understand

This distinction is critical.

“Not good enough” means that your product doesn’t yet fix the “problem.” For example, I want a 3D/4D printer that prints healthy, delicious food. But no product is currently good enough to do (at least not at a reasonable price). Likewise, when Airbnb started, it wasn’t good enough for most users. It didn’t have enough inventory, and track-record of safety, etc.

However, if you think your potential users don’t “understand” why your product is better solution, the issue is different…

You likely don’t understand what your users want. Not really, at least.

Without being overly simplistic, people only want a few things. First of all, we want food, safety, and sex. After that, we want to belong, to feel important, to feel respected, and to contribute.

Those desires manifest in various ways. We’ll take a weight loss pill to feel respected and get more sex. We’ll buy a book on business to earn more money, which we hope will make us feel more important and respected. We’ll join a political party to feel like we’re part of a group and to feel like we’re contributing.

Understanding what people want is not particularly difficult.

But one of the biggest failures of many startups and businesses is that they refuse to see what their potential customers want. And here’s why…

What You Probably Don’t Realize… You’re “Judging” Potential Users/Customers…

“One thing all startups have in common is that they can’t force anyone to do anything. They can’t force anyone to use their software, and they can’t force anyone to do deals with them.” Paul Graham

Let me be blunt here. You’re almost certainly judging your customers and users for their desires.

At the simplest level, we judge everything. Is this a good salad? Do I look fat in these pants? Is $100 too expensive for this shirt?

Judgment is not unusual. It’s the simple act of assigning a value to something – good/bad, right/wrong, smart/dumb, expensive/cheap. And of course we make much “bigger” judgments in our lives. Is he worth getting to know? Is she an enemy or friend?

Philosophers have debated judgment for millennia. But what’s more interesting is how many businesses pay a premium to hold onto their judgments.

About a year ago, I was speaking to a small group of chiropractors. One woman raised her hand and asked what I thought was the biggest obstacle holding all of them back from growing their businesses.

I said exactly this: “You judge your customers too much.”

Everyone in the group was excellent at his or her “job”. They adjusted backs, relieved pain, and also coached clients toward better overall health. Many advised on nutrition, fitness, sleep, and more. In fact, almost every practitioner in the group attempted to sell services to their clients that would help to (a) heal long-term back pain and (b) transform their entire health through comprehensive lifestyle changes.

Trouble is…when I asked what their clients came to them asking for, it was (a) immediate, short-term pain relief and (b) quick weight loss.

And when pressed, every person in the group admitted that they thought their clients should want the long-term solutions rather than the “quick-fixes”. More importantly, every person in the group also admitted that they tried to sell to clients by educating them on how much better the long-term solutions were.

Even Sales Relationships Start With Acceptance

“[A] surprising number of founders seem willing to assume that someone, they’re not sure exactly who, will want what they’re building.” Paul Graham

I understand that you want to give your customers and users what you think is the best product or service – even if they don’t yet know that it’s best for them.

I want all of that too, both as an entrepreneur and a consumer.

But you can’t begin a relationship with your customer or user by judging them for what they want.

People want quick and short-term weight loss. They want the promise of software that will magically solve their problems. And they want get-rich-quick schemes, even if they know deep down it won’t work.

I am NOT encouraging YOU to sell low-quality products and services. On the contrary, to build quality products, you must ALWAYS start with what your client or customer already wants. More than that, you must accept and understand WHY they want what they do.

If they want quick weight loss, understand that they probably feel unattractive and unwanted in some way. If they want quick riches, accept that they probably feel unimportant and lacking respect.

Once you understand and accept these desires, you can use them to create a real, quality solution and sell it to customers on the basis of what they already  desire.

This is a particularly large problem right now in the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain. Most of the entrepreneurs and startups in the space believe that people should want decentralization and various other features of blockchains.

And maybe they’re right, but whether that’s an ethical question that doesn’t affect whether or not they’ll be able to attract enough users and customers.

Bitcoin – despite all its flaws – promises to solve problems that people already want solved. It promises lower fees, near-universal applications, security, and other benefits that a particular user-base is already looking for. It’s no mystery why places like Africa and Venezuela have been first-adopters, since the need for stability and security is so much stronger in places where banks and governments are failing.

Examples of Things People Want (& What You Think They Should Want)

People want…

  • More sex with many people
  • Easy money without working hard
  • Quick weight loss without changing their diet
  • More admiration for accomplishing very little
  • Safety without needing to give up any type of freedom

You probably think people should want…

  • Strong, deep relationships
  • A sense of purpose and drive to do great things
  • Commitment to a healthy, sustainable lifestyle and diet
  • To feel at peace with themselves without need approval from others
  • To feel part of a community that they contribute to

I believe the second list is generally better. I strive for most of those things, and I encourage others to as well.

But I also accept that the first list is what people usually explicitly want – even if they won’t always admit it. In other words, your users probably want both lists, but it’s the first list that drives them.

And the more you judge them for that, the harder it’s going to be for you to build traction.

“Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances” ~ Wayne Dyer

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Quote mis-attributed to Henry Ford

Regardless of who said that people would want faster horses, we still love the quote because we imagine that – as entrepreneurs, CEOs, or marketers – we have a great innovation to share with the world.

And we believe that other people just don’t get it.

That obstinacy can be very useful – particularly when trying to get funded or just to get off the ground. But if you’re not getting the users or customers you want, it always comes back to not adequately knowing or accepting what your potential users/customers already want.

Most of us prefer to believe that we’re open-minded and not-judgmental. But it’s never really true. We always judge something in our lives.

That’s ok, but for your business, you’ve gotta get certain judgments out of the way.

Just like there’s no easy solution to losing weight, getting rich, or being happy, there’s no trick to accepting your customer’s desires.

What I’m suggesting is not easy and it doesn’t happen overnight.  But the first step comes from recognizing the problem and then trying to fix it.

You might swing too far one way for a while and “pander” to your customers’ lesser desires.  Or you might swing the other way and slow your company’s growth and potential to help more people.

But constantly adjusting and learning will only get you closer and closer to success.