In 2013, an investment banker was delivered a pizza by his former employee, Will Shu. Shu had not, in fact, had his career seriously derail at some point. Instead, in a years time, he was about to found Deliveroo, now the UK’s largest delivery service.
Shu had actually been doing research about his potential customers when he delivered that pizza. Now, five years on, Deliveroo is valued at around £1.3bn and there is a major lesson here for anyone looking to start a successful business or improve one – know your customers inside out.
There are many ways to found a great business with a sustainable growth model, but the core consideration always has to be the customer. Who they are, what makes them tick and how they relate to your business are pieces of information any business hoping to be successful must know. One great way to understand your customers, then, is to join them. Here’s how becoming your own customer, a practice called dogfooding, could seriously help your business grow.
Why Does Dogfooding Work?
Being your own customer should present some pretty obvious benefits for your consumer research – you’ll be entirely in touch with how the business functions from a front-end perspective, understanding where the product does well, and perhaps more importantly, where it doesn’t.
I’ll remind you here of a case where a company simply didn’t understand their customers’ point of view, costing them dearly – this was Ford and the phenomenal failure they had with the Ford Edsel, losing $350mn and eventually stopping production after 3 years. The problem was simple and should have been clear to everyone from R&D through to the C-level. Their ‘would be’ consumers were the same as those that had bought the very affordable ‘Model T’ back in 1914 and the price hike for the Edsel meant that their low-middle class consumers simply couldn’t afford to buy one. Without a consumer base that can buy your products, you’re pretty stuffed. Classic case of C-level detachment from their consumers.
Being a member of your customer base can not only help you avoid disasters like the Edsel, which were easily avoidable with the right forethought but should also give you hints as to the direction your company should be heading. The team at Fat Lama, the peer to peer rental marketplace, found one of its most valuable features purely through using the platform. The innovation of a live search bar came about from their dissatisfaction with having to rifle through their own internal search data to work out what belongings of theirs to rent. Live Search was created and was the tool that allowed them, and everyone else in the public, to tap into this information, giving them huge amounts of data to list the best stuff, and to best reach out to their potential borrowers. This sort of organic innovation only comes about from using your products yourself.
Know Your Customers As You Grow
Growth is risky business for an executive that wishes to keep his finger on the pulse of his consumer base. As the team grows and the number of functions of the company increase, getting down to the nitty-gritty of things, ie dealing with customers, becomes more or less impossible – C-level employees are involved with and occupied entirely by investment, data, projection and growth meetings, which while very important, often lose them touch with their consumer base. Their customers stop being people and start becoming statistics, figures to mark progress or problems. That’s not good for keeping business relevant to the very basis of the market they are looking to grow in.
If you are at the C-Level, then, try and reverse things and become your own customer. You’ll understand what’s wrong, or right, with your business in absolutely no time at all, and you’ll get a great impression of what your customers are thinking. Think of waiters, who always give generous tips to other waiters because they simply understand how much that means.
The emphasis here is on empathy, and empathy is the foundation of both super customer service and groundbreaking product design. Buzzfeed is an excellent case study for this. Founder Peretti, spent many months at Huffington Post keeping tags on trends in blog content and following URL trails before knowing exactly how to deploy Buzzfeed. Essentially he worked out his users’ way before he spent anything launching the site, and look at the success it’s had now.
Whoever you are, you can learn from Dogfooding
While it is hugely helpful for the CEOs and CFOs reading to heed the advice in this article, it is probably even more important for every single member of the management structure of any company to do this as well. Knowing your consumers by being them will be immensely useful for any middle managers that want to improve the day-to-day running of the business and dealing well with customers. The better you know your customers, the more smoothly your operations will run.
Further to that, engaging in the business as a customer will help all employees really feel closer to the business and take care of it as if it were their own. Feeling personally involved with the business contributes to a culture of ideas generation and initiative taking that can’t be gained through training and experience with the company alone. Think about AirBnB, who place a big emphasis on making their personnel feel part of the company vision, to the end of making their conference rooms reflect the living rooms of their most popular listings. Everyone should feel like they are part of a single unit with one shared vision, that is what all businesses should aim for.
Just Have Fun With It
There are many practical reasons for being your own customer, but none more so than the fact that it is an opportunity to have some fun with the product, or products, that you work to improve and promote day in, day out. So jump on it, have a ball, and become your own most loyal customer today.
Flora Dallas is a content writer for Fat Lama the world’s fasted growing peer-to-peer rental platform (a kind of Airbnb for stuff!). The platform aims to provide a more cost-effective solution to buying items outright, at the same time allowing lenders to make money by renting out their unused possessions. Fat Lama’s goal (alongside saving it’s users money) is to bring about a more environmentally friendly approach to spending by elongating lifespan of products already in circulation.