I want to hear about your customers not your idea

September 10th, 2021

As a developer attending a meetup it’s not unusual for someone to approach you with an idea they’re looking for technical help with. If you’re the person with the idea looking to find a developer or co-founder this post is about what I’d like to hear about and why. (Spoiler… it’s not your idea.)

While it’s always interesting to hear ideas what matters to me is if you’ve thought about who your customers will be and how you’ll find and talk to them.

I want to know that you’ve thought of the business side and aren’t just hoping that customers will turn up if you get something built. I want to put my efforts into something that has a chance of working and knowing that you’ve thought about who your customers are helps me decide if it’s something I’m interested in.

Knowing what your customers look like and how they’ll use the product is vital for making early technical, product, and financial decisions. The more of these you can get right the better the chance of getting past the early stages and building something sustainable and profitable.

Some assumptions

I’m going to make some assumptions:

First, you haven’t built anything yet, you’re starting from scratch without any existing code.

Next, there isn’t lots of funding already. It’s either personal, friends and family, or some sort of local authority innovation grant. The funding you have you need to make the best use of to bootstrap to sustainable revenue or prove the concept enough to get investors.

And finally, you’re looking for advice on how to go about the technical work efficiently and/or someone to help build an initial version.

Knowing your potential customers helps with early technical decisions

Knowing what type of business this is and how your customers will use the product is vital for making the initial choice of what technology to build the product with.

If it’s a B2B app that involves filling in forms and integrating with a payment platform and a few other services then a Rails app could be a good way to go.

It it’s a B2B app that processes a lot of data then how best to build a data pipeline that allows you to run lots of Python or R code at once could be the most important thing to get right.

If it’s a B2C app that you hope will serve millions then perhaps going cloud native with serverless functions or using Elixir, Go, or Rust is the best choice.

These are all very different solutions with very different strengths, weaknesses, and time to market. Without knowing the type of business and what the customers will do it’s harder to make a good choice early on.

Startups are dead by default until they get traction

At a startup, your version of getting the wings level and speed up is finding a repeatable and profitable business model. This means shipping features. Until then, the business is stalled and pointing straight at the ground.

If you don’t make a good choice then you’re going to have to spend more time wrangling the tech to match the business requirements which means less time building features to get traction.

Knowing your potential customers helps with early product decisions

Knowing who your customers are means that you can focus on building features they actually need, rather than building things you hope they’ll need and finding out they’re not interested. You can make your product a pain killer not a vitamin, something they need to use with features that will make them want to pay you.

When thinking about products there are many “wouldn’t it be cool if it did this…” moments but limited resources mean you can’t build them all. Knowing your customer helps triage ideas into features that will help right now, and features that a bigger team can build later on.

It also helps you decide if you should build something into the product or buy it in. Build vs Buy can be a tough choice and knowing your customers helps you know what the core of your offer is and what you should keep in house.

Knowing your potential customers helps with early financial decisions

Knowing how your going to reach your customers helps you prioritise features that will help get early customers on board and get feedback and revenue.

At Stora we built a demo site creator early on. This created a booking website with the prospects business details. It connected to Stripe’s development mode so they could go through the whole booking flow on the sales call. When the prospect turned into a customer the demo site turned into a live site, they just had to setup thier units.

This removed one massive headache for a new self storage operator (how do I have a web presence) and worked really well. It was worth building this before a fancier website builder or different payment options as it meant we had paying customers before using up the initial funding and provable potential to investors.

If you know whether your customers will need high touch sales or whether they can be self service you can make decisions about how much of the early funding should go to development and how much to priming your sales funnel and when you’ll need to look for investment.

You want to talk to some customers but not too many

I’ve said a lot about having customers to talk to, but you also don’t want to talk to too many before getting going. This article is about design but I think it applies more generally.

Ask enough people for their opinion and you’ll receive whatever answer you’re looking for – plus plenty more you didn’t want to hear. The feedback cancels itself out.

For talking to customers The Mom Test is the go to reference for getting useful feedback instead of “that seems cool” platitudes.


If you know who your first customers could be and have talked to them properly you’re in a great position to figure out how best to use your early resources to build something that has a good chance of traction.

If you don’t know who they are, or haven’t talked to them yet, you should find and talk to them (properly) before thinking about building anything.

If you’d like to talk more about this then get in touch.