Yesterday I met an entrepreneur who had developed solid NLP (Natural Language Processing) technology. I saw the product and immediately got its value. I would buy it.
But he was not clear on what customer base he wanted to address. He had two types in mind, researchers (like those in Management Consulting or VC firms), as well as call-centre employees for products like say, accounting software. Both could benefit from a smart NLP based tool which could get them answers faster, and which got better with more and more data. Which one should he start with?
After hearing him out, I saw that in some way, he was scratching his own itch. He was an information hungry person and saw that Google comes up horribly short when looking for information. No offence to Google, but you really have to search a lot for the right answer if your questions are just a bit more complex (like – ‘what is the market share of electric vehicles in Europe?’). This can get exhausting when your job or your curiosity makes you search these questions dozens of times a day.
I asked him to drop the customer service segment, at least at the start.
It is hard to retain energy for something which does not really interest you, and you need that energy to build a winning product. At the very early stages, it is better to start from the inside, with yourself. You need to have a deep understanding of customer needs, which comes more naturally if you relate to them strongly.
This is also why Ranjeet Pratap Singh is doing a tremendous job at Pratilipi – a platform to connect readers and writers in Indian languages. He was a heavy reader in both Indian languages and in English (and also a hobbyist writer), and understands the pain-points of his core users first-hand.
A lot of people like to say that you have to develop a product for your users, and not for yourself, and I too wrote about it. But it is essential that your users are the kind of people you understand and connect with. You begin with them. Of course, later you might find many more who want to scratch the same or similar itch.
But you need to start with the people you care about, and that already helps you filter out the customer segments you want to address.