Prioritize Customers Over Investors: The Key to Startup Success 

Dear Founder, 



When I reflect on all of the challenges I see startup founders face – there’s one stand out…

One of the biggest issues with startup building is that there are so many ways to forget your customer. 

Imagine pouring your heart and soul into creating your product, only to find out that no one needs it. 

Along the way, you forgot the most crucial element: the people you’re supposed to be helping. 

It’s such a common pitfall for many startup founders, particularly those who have built a product but are yet to get their first paying customers (so they’re pre-revenue). 

During the early stages of their startup, they often get sidetracked by focusing on technology, capital, and “growth strategies”.  

Being so busy with focusing on:  

“How can I use AI in my product, and to build and scale my company?”,  

“Where am I going to get capital from?”,  

“I have to make sales!”,  

“Oh, my marketing’s got to work!”… 

And usually this is at the expense of deeply understanding and solving their customers’ problems. 

At the end of the day, how I think about this is:  

Losing sight of your customer is like running a marathon blindfolded.  

If you’re not solving a real problem for a real person, your startup efforts are in vain. 

Sadly, this is the harsh reality many startup founders face.  

 


MAINTAINING A CUSTOMER-CENTRIC APPROACH AMIDST VARIOUS STARTUP PRESSURES 


It’s really no wonder customers get forgotten in the pressure-cooker of a startup.  

There are just so many distractions.  

As a founder, you get umpteen cold emails in your inbox distracting you with: “Buy my marketing!” “Buy my sales tools!”, “Buy my software development!”. 

But you don’t get cold emails going: “”Focus on your customers – what are their problems?”  

So, here you’re missing that reinforcing function to remind you that customers are the most important thing. 

Perhaps being aware and mindful of this is enough to help you to pause and re-think your priorities, before giving in to these distracting messages.    


Investor pressure can also lead to a misplaced focus on broad market strategies over specific customer validation.
 

If you have an investor, particularly one that’s providing investment in exchange for equity, you’re likely to encounter heavy focus on the go-to-market strategy – focusing on your 20-year market opportunity, and your full product. 

In this situation, there’s so much pressure on founders to grow revenue and that pressure just mounts.  

The more money you spend developing your product, the more pressure there is to get a return on the investment. 

You want a return.  

Your investors want a return. 

And so there becomes a focus on revenue and sales transactions – rather than a real genuine desire to understand: Are you solving problems for users and have you got a solution that’s actually going to create fans and advocates? 

This results in a lack of focus or clarity on validating who are your first niche customers, and how to start to find and validate those first customers. 

You end up with customers on your waitlist that you’re never able to service as the product requirements for each of these customers are just so different to each other.  

Your product development flounders as the complexity and cost spirals out of control.  

Or else you end up developing a “Frankenstein product” that tries to serve everyone and sadly ends up serving no one. 

(…The classic startup killer.) 

This dynamic can be seen in many startups that fail due to over-expansion without proper customer validation. Conversely, Figma’s initial focus on creating a product loved by software developers is a testament to the importance of addressing specific needs before scaling up. 

Success in the startup world comes from genuinely understanding and solving problems for your first customers. 

So, it’s crucial to balance investor expectations with a clear focus on initial customer validation. 



FOCUS ON SOLVING PROBLEMS FOR REAL PEOPLE
 


So now we’ve got you thinking about focusing on your initial customers, let’s take this a step further. 

Think about: Who are your customers? 

Oftentimes they are users of your product. 

But they’re also people. Human beings 

There’s a great quote by Dharmesh Shah, Co-Founder and CTO of HubSpot:  

“Many companies have forgotten they sell to actual people. Humans care about the entire experience, not just marketing or sales or service. To really win in the modern age, you must solve for humans. Every process should be optimized for what is best for the customer—not your organization.”  

 
Treating customers as mere users rather than human beings leads to products (which includes the customer experiences) that miss the mark. 

Melanie Perkins of Canva started by solving a specific problem for yearbook creators. Her deep understanding and genuine care for her first users laid the foundation for Canva’s global success. 

Kismet is another success story, where CEO and Co-Founder Mark Woodland balanced their technical innovation with a deep commitment to delivering outcomes for childcare providers, their customers. He truly cared about the customer through his startup journey. 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what technology or new innovative approach you’re using…  

If you’re not solving a problem for a person, you’re not going to have a product or a company in the end. 

 

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE STUCK 


When you find yourself overwhelmed by distractions or losing sight of your customer’s problems, here are practical steps to keep you on the right track: 


ACTION 1.
Engage in User Research:  

 

ACTION 2. Care Deeply About Your Customers:  

  • If you don’t feel a strong connection to your users, find customers you genuinely care about. 
  • This emotional investment will drive your dedication to solving their problems. 

 

ACTION 3. Execute your Go-To-Market Strategy One Segment at a Time:  

  • Focus on one niche customer segment and achieve product-market fit with them. 
  • This approach reduces the risk of building something they don’t want and lowers capital investment needs due to less variation in customer requirements. 
  • Then move your focus onto your next market segment. 

 

ACTION 4. Simplify Your Product:  

  • Strip back to the core functionality that solves the primary problem for your niche market. 
  • Avoid adding features that don’t directly address your customer’s needs.  
  • Figma did this – they initially launched with a simple, yet powerful design tool that addressed a specific need for developers. 

 

ACTION 5. Make Customer Experience Objectives Holistic in Your Company:  

  • Make customer satisfaction and feedback the primary metrics for success.  
  • Include specific measures dedicated to your customer’s experience in everything you design, build, and implement.  
  • This should encompass your marketing, sales, and development processes. 

 


In the race to build the next big thing, never forget that your customers are real people with real problems. 

Your success depends on your ability to solve those problems better than anyone else. 

By keeping your focus on genuinely understanding and caring for your customers, you’re on your way to creating fans and advocates, and gaining paying customers. 

 

 

If you’re a founder and don’t have the clarity on your customer pain points and needs that are necessary to take your startup forward, fill out this short questionnaire to tell us about your situation, and we’ll get in touch with your next steps. 

 

 


Jump Ahead!

 

Kirk.

leapsheep.com 

 

 

 

Whenever you’re ready, here’s how we can help you.

If you’ve got a startup idea, or you’ve already embarked on your journey – you might be facing one or both of these situations.

1. You’re struggling while going it alone, unsure of who to turn to for advice.

2. You’re wading in the muddy waters of some not-so-great advice, wondering how to move out of that situation and into better guidance.

If you’re ready to get the help you need growing your startup, our Startup Builder™ solution was created especially for you.

The Startup Builder™ process is specifically designed to take you from idea to global success – in a way that’s simple, sustainable, and scalable.

If you’re ready to grow your revenue, profit, and social impact faster without wasting time and money on the wrong things at the wrong time, share your situation with us by filling out this short questionnaire and we’ll get in touch with your next steps.

 

Did you find this article valuable?

Go here to sign up to receive future weekly editions in your inbox.

On LinkedIn? Click here and press “follow” to get notified of the startup insights I share.

Share this article

Subscribe to our newsletter