You do not need a faster horse

There is a quote from Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. While I doubt Henry Ford really said that but I think it raises an important point when building software and collecting feedback from customers. It is important to listen to your customers, especially your early customers. But do not count on your customers to give you tips on how to address their issues.

The problem is that customers are great at describing their problems and when you probe them for solutions, you might be asking from the wrong people. What I learn from interacting with prospects, customers and users while building Versa Cloud ERP by VersAccounts is that most prospects come to us with one or two big pain points. It is painful enough for them to force them to consider abandoning their current system and switch to a brand new system. They come to us not with a solution on hand and they expect us to show or prove to them how our software can address their pain points. New customers are not buying based on features you have. They are buying a problem solving solution. While we have met very smart business owners that knows exactly what they need, most of them come to us with their hands in the air. “It is a mess and I do not now how to get out of it. I am looking for a new system that can deal with this.” would be the typical quotes we hear from prospects.

As builders of cloud ERP software, we need to listen to our users/customers carefully. I often say to co-workers about talking to users – Our users are taking time from their busy day to share their issues and offer us suggestions. We are getting a free education from them. We need to treasure every one of such interactions because it give us more insight into the pain points users have. We are building solutions and not just software.

After we talk to enough users, we will often notice some common patterns. You can get really scientific when dealing with user feedback. But when you have a lot of users asking for a “faster horse”, it does not mean you need to build a faster horse. Dell Computers learned this when they launched a user feedback site called IdeaStorm where users can suggest new ideas. One of the top ideas was Dell needs to offer computers with Linux pre-loaded. Dell was forced to respond to this request and started offering computer with Linux. But this was not an overwhelming success for Dell in terms of generating more revenue and Dell nowadays only offer a few computers with such options. When users tells you they want something, you need to understand the underlying issues such as why a user wants a faster horse and come up with a solution which might not be a horse.

What exactly you do to solve a pain point sometimes take what I called a “leap of faith”. You decide that this is what the users need based on feedback collected and careful consideration. But there is no silver bullet here, you would have to make an assumption based on data you have. Sometimes you go with your instincts. A leap of faith is still required to come up with a solution.

It is important to recognize that this leap of faith can be incorrect and do not be afraid to admit it and change course. When we launch a new feature, we call it a version 0 release. This means we know it is the first cut at a solution to a problem. Some of it would need to be refined, polished and some of it need to be completed pulled out. With our weekly release schedule, we can quickly make changes to a newly release feature based on first feedback. I call this process whipping a feature into shape. I would also like to think that you are never truly done with a feature. A feature needs to evolve and be constantly improved and changed to handle new and different needs of the users of software.

Again, let us remember we are building solutions and not just software and not all customers want a faster horse.

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