Want to Get Rich? Listen to Your Customers Like These Founders……

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Entrepreneurs / Sales

This is not an article about the high moral purpose and the nobility of listening to your customers.  It is an article  about how to make your company worth a fortune by listening to your customers.  Why does Google dominate search?  They obsess about having the best search out there.  Why do so many of us have iPhones?  It gives the best customer experience of any phone.  Listen to your customers and grow rich.

The good news is you can do it, too, and there are great examples in Socal.  Here are two successful founders who are building great companies by listening to their customers:  Rick Stollmeyer of MindBodyOnline and Travis Giggy of SwingbySwing Golf.

MindBodyOnline is a terrifically succesful SaaS company, based in San Luis Obispo, that provides scheduling and transactional software for Yoga studios, hair salons, and spas.  Originally funded by the Pasadena Angels, the Company is now backed by “A” list VCs, and growing phenomenally, with tens of thousands of customers.

A big part of their success is Rick’s ongoing dialogue with customers, and he demonstrated his thought process in a recent shareholder meeting.  I asked him an open-ended question–“What should investors be looking for in the coming year?  Where will you focus?”  Without missing a beat, Rick replied “You will see us focus in two areas: 1) ease of use for our customers and 2) improving our API.”

Not “we will take over the world” or “we’ll make a spectacular acquisition”.  We’ll make the product easier for our small business customers to use, and make it easier for partners to work with us.  What a breath of fresh air.  After hearing that comment, you know they are going to continue to succeed.  Shortly after the call, I turned down a very generous offer to by my MBO stock.  This is a company for the long haul.

I should add that Rick is hardly a starry-eyed devotee of customer service.  MBO is very metrics driven, and their shareholder reports are dense with detailed, disciplined reporting that remind you that Rick is  former Naval officer.  He runs a tight ship.  He listens to customers because it works.

Swing by Swing is a much younger company, but has a very similar approach.  I’ve been doing some work with the team, and their customer focus is equally intense.  The company offers a free rangefinder app for iPhone and Android, a premium upgrade, and a new services that allows golfers to take a video of their swing and have it evaluated by a PGA pro for a modest annual fee.  They have 1 million registered users, and have not spent a dime on marketing.

The Founders at Swing by Swing keep up a running email dialogue with their users and circulate the key conversations to their whole team.  They read product reviews obsessively.  They have periodic conference calls with groups of users.  More importantly, they act on the input.  Quickly.  Some recent examples:

  • Swing by Swing was generating significant revenue from mobile ads, but users of the free version were annoyed by ads that had nothing to do with golf.  With a few days consideration, they pulled the ads.  (This advisor had minor heart failure at the loss of revenue.)  User satisfaction shot up, and the revenue will soon be replaced either by a sponsorship from a golf vendor, or by fewer ads specifically targeted to golfers.
  • In a recent release, one key feature was taken out of the free app, and moved to the premium app.  The user base revolted, and their glowing reviews on the App Store suddenly turned negative.  Within days, the founders sent out a mea culpa and put the feature back.  Reviews are again routinely glowing.

Why are they willing to forgo immediate revenue?  To be the dominant golf app.  You don’t win if the users are not happy.  What’s it worth?  They recently released their video product as a beta, and sent one email to their user base.  They sold the 500 units at $99 in the beta in less than 18 hours.  Marketing expense?  $0.  The value of happy users?  Priceless.

You can do this, too, and you don’t need a big budget or a big team.  Pick up the phone. Now.  Call three of your customers and see what they have to say about your product.  You will see patterns in their responses that will guide you to the next innovation.  Do it long enough, and it will make you rich.

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