Entrepreneur-ing In Public: Journey Log #3
Your customers are always right (even when they're painfully wrong)
I teach entrepreneurship at Duke and I’m publicly growing a company — Autopest — from $0 to $100k/year in revenue in order to help entrepreneurs better understanding the process of building startups. Learn more about my journey here.
A few months ago, I wrote an article exploring the phrase “the customer is always right” and how it’s the most misunderstood phrase in business. As I discuss in the article, people think the phrase means “give customers whatever they ask for,” but that’s not right. What it means is that no matter how many “guardrails” you put in place to control user behavior, customers are going to interact with your products however they want. They are, in a sense, “right” in how they want to use your product, and you, as the entrepreneur, need to accept that reality.
Autopest has been beating me over the head with a wonderfully frustrating example of this phenomenon, so I thought I’d share. Keep in mind that I still have relatively few signups (between six and seven per day). Despite my tiny number of users, nearly every day I get an email from one of them saying, “I love the idea, but I can’t figure out how to use it.”
For reference, the homepage explains how to use Autopest (in multiple places). The signup flow explains it as well. Plus, using Autopest requires pressing one button. That’s it! Users literally just have to press the blue @ button that gets added to their Gmail accounts. It looks like this:
Every time a get a question about how to use Autopest, part of me wants to scream “Are you an idiot?!?!?”, but the truth is none of my users are idiots. Why? Because the customer is always right, and the only idiot is me. If my users are having trouble figuring something out, it’s not their fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one not having proper empathy, and I’m the one not trying to meet people where they are.
The same is true for your startup. Even if you have a killer UX/design person creating your super-simple and streamlined interface, even if you have mountains of documentation and explainer videos, and even if you have an entire customer service team on hand and ready to help people whenever they need it, customers are still going to screw things up.
When they do, remember that the customer is always right. You just have to learn to meet them where they are.
Thanks for reading about my journey growing Autopest from $0 to $100k/year in revenue. To keep following along, be sure to subscribe!
Site Visitors: 482 uniques (-6%)
New Free Users: 47 (0%)
Website Conversion Rate: 9.8% (+0.5%)
New Paid Users: 0
Total Free Users: 200
Total Paid Users: 1
Total Revenue: $15
Total Costs: $20.91
Net Revenue: -$5.91
If you’ve been reading my content for a while, you know I’m always telling entrepreneurs marketing comes before product. To be clear, I don’t mean marketing is more important than product. I just mean people have to know about your product in order to buy it, so you’d better figure out how to market it before you worry about getting your product perfect.
I’m still 100% sure a marketing-first approach to entrepreneurship is correct, but it has a cost. An example of that cost is situation I’m currently dealing with. As you can see from what I’ve been tracking with my funnel metrics, I’ve been primarily focused on user acquisition, and I’ve built a steady flow of traffic and signups. That’s great! It means my marketing is working. However, thanks to that marketing, I’m discovering a big problem in my product.
Specifically, after people register for Autopest, they’re not using it. So far, Autopest has one power-user, a handful of people who have sent a test message, and that’s it. Nearly 200 other people have registered but never actually used it.
Part of the problem is surely the issue of users not knowing how it works (as I discussed in the beginning of this log). But I’m pretty sure the issue goes deeper than that.
To put it simply, the problem I’m facing is that Autopest doesn’t provide immediate value. Instead, users who register for Autopest usually don’t need to send an email right away, so they forget they signed up. By the time they’re sending an email, they’ve forgotten they registered for Autopest.
If I want to be successful, I’m going to have to bridge this gap between signup and initial use, otherwise I’ll keep getting lots of signups but no active users.
Key Entrepreneurial Takeaway
I’ve never launched a company “on the side” while having a full time job. I won’t tell you it’s trickier than I thought it would be because, quite honestly, I knew it was going to be difficult. However, I should take a moment to underscore the challenge of running a startup as a “side job” for anyone reading this and considering doing something similar.
Every day, I wake up and have a to-do list for Autopest that’s nearly 50 items long (and constantly growing). If I were working on it full time, I’d surely be able to fix plenty of those items, but I’m not. Instead, my “real job” takes precedence, and I’m lucky if I get through a couple to-do items each week.
The slow and steady process of Autopest as a side-hustle is perfect for me because I’m trying to record my journey. But I’m not sure it’s so great for others.
Be aware of this if you’re considering launching a startup alongside you’re primary job. It’s not something casual you can do on the side for fun and expect enormous results. Instead, a side-hustle is more of a slow and steady project that, if executed properly, is going to gradually grow over time. The experience is less like riding a rocket ship and more like riding a scooter: keep it slow and steady, and just hope you don’t run out of gas.