Should You Work For a Startup That Displays Market Apathy?

Have you ever thought about market apathy? This is my phrase for a startup founder, or team, that is so focused on product that they forget or do not consider the emotional choices of the market they want to serve.  How can this be true? It's a lot truer than you think. 

This post was written by Douglas Crets, Social Strategist, Microsoft BizSpark.

Earlier today, I hung out with an unemployed -- and searching -- marketing professional who has almost exclusively chosen to work with startups in the Bay Area, and earlier, in NYC. She is super bright, emotionally sensitive, and curious about product and business design, as well as psychology and sociology. 

We were talking about the real problem she is facing in her search for finding rewarding, and paying, work with startups. She likes startups because they are exploratory ventures, looking for a business model, and she said she likes the searching process. She says there is a lot of rewarding creativity there, and that is a main driver in her passionate search for work.

The biggest hurdle she has experienced in the dynamics of the work relationship is that she's seeking work from startups who are headed by people who don't seem to be emotionally interested in their customers, so it makes her feel uncomfortable to work with them. I think this is something really important, because at the heart of startup success is a really profound understanding of the emotional successes that customers will feel from experiencing and enjoying the product. 

Don't get glacial. Connect with customer emotions and speed scale and development along

"It's amazing that people don't get this, or are not aware of the situation of people around them," she told me. I agreed, actually. 

I'm a big fan of Clayton Christensen's work, and his theories on "jobs-to-done." At the heart of what this Harvard Business School genius has written about is his discovery that customers -- you  might call them people -- are less interested in the product than in how they feel about the product. This is something that many,  many founders seem to forget in their search for a market niche or an investor. 

My discussions with startups has taken me literally around the world, and in many of my conversations, I find it rare to meet a founder who is not constantly focused on product, but is instead focused on how customers feel. I cannot list all the reasons for why this might be the case. I can make a lot of assumptions. One of my assumptions is that as potential founders or product designers, we are learning about potential success by looking at what already exists.

But, since each production process and customer discovery process is invisible to us, our assumptions stay with what we know. The problem is, that's not the future.

But why is focusing on emotional choosing hard? Why would people avoid this? Well, emotional choices can only give us enough information about why we made the choice once we make those choices. And because we often don't make choices about things we don't know enough about, we end up not making enough choices to create enough information.

Whew. So, in other words, as customers we are always in limbo, focusing on what information is given to us that makes us comfortable enough to choose it. See the problem? Most people think that what made someone comfortable was how awesome a product was. But a product is not awesome until a customer interacts with it. We are facing a perpetual riddle. So, again, we stick with what we know.

It's a very brave thing to get emotional with customers. You will often find something out you didn't want to know, but the truth is, you will see what works. 

Emotional DNA

It's so odd that founders would not get it, but it does explain what David Sacks, CEO of Yammer told me yesterday in my live interview with him. He said that more and more visionary founders are staying in place once the startup grows to scale.

There is emotional DNA in the making of a product. The founder is using that product to connect to a problem in the world and solve it in a human way using technology. So, then, why would we think that a customer would not respond in the same way? It's baffling? I think we create a binary in our mind that there is a product and a maker, and then there is a customer and his potential revenue. Founders may be so focused on proving results for investors and thinking in their language that they forget that the real, true, reason a customer is picking and choosing that product is not because the product works, but because the product makes a person feel a certain way.

Using this logic, wouldn't a founder find it of highest importance to practice empathy for the market? And then wouldn't the founder want to create an environment of respect for that process in order to attract people of equal merit, with the similar kind of awareness, to work on that product? Well, you would think, but I don't believe this happens. 

I don't believe this because of conversations like the one I had today with the marketing professional. 

If she feels the CEO is not emotionally curious in the customer's choices, she won't feel emotionally validated or interested in being in the work relationship. It signifies to her that the sales team is not going to be listened to, and then the marketing team has no role, either. The sales and the marketing teams are the two nodes in a company that know the most about the emotional core of the customer. and they are often thought of as last, not in the formation of the design, the principles of the product, or its delivery to the customer.

I wonder how many CEOs think about that as they mull over their pitch decks and product features. 

Comments (2)

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