A lot of founders preach the story of making customer feedback and validation their prime objective early on. But how many will push it to the expense of revenue, and even investor feedback?

Cristina Vila at Cledara, a SaaS platform for managing your subscriptions, had been frustrated by developing products without customer feedback before — she was determined not to let it happen again.

We wanted to have the product in the market because we wanted to learn from our customers. There is nothing more powerful than engaged customers that are happy to pick up the phone and spend some time going through a new feature. And, early on, that’s more valuable than any subscription that we could charge them.

And yet, it’s not the only thing that matters. Customers started to want to use Cledara for more “exotic” purposes than it had been created for. Cristina emphasises the importance of setting a frame within which customer feedback is vital, and outside which you have to stick to your vision.

I have my vision for Cledara. What we have today is only one piece, even though it’s a product that can be sold in its own right. So then, when you speak with people, in the end you are speaking within a context, right? You are setting some frame that helps them understand what you do and where you want to go.

Read on for the rest of her advice.

Launching early and navigating investor expectations

We incorporated in July 2018 and we launched our MVP in October 2018 — so that’s pretty fast for a financial product — but we had a customer from day one, and we became the customer of our own product as well.

I wanted to launch the MVP as fast as possible because in a previous startup where I was working, everything had to be perfect before we put it in front of the customer… and then sometimes they didn’t use it. We didn’t want to make that mistake with Cledara.

I wanted to launch the MVP of Cledara as soon as possible so we could determine where customers found the most value. Why do they engage? What leads them to sign up? All that informs not only the product roadmap, but also who do we need to communicate with, who do we need to speak more with? 

Navigating investor expectations

Back in early 2019 before our pre-seed round, when we started speaking with investors, the attitude was: ok now you’ve had the product in the market for six months, how many customers do you have and what’s your revenue? I kept telling them, actually it doesn’t matter. These are the wrong questions. 

We wanted to have the product in the market because we wanted to learn from our customers. There is nothing more powerful than engaged customers that are happy to pick up the phone and spend some time going through a new feature. And, early on, that’s more valuable than any subscription that we could charge them.

There were funds that responded: “okay, you don’t have metrics, sorry.” But then there were others that really valued that product-led customer-centric company. And in the end, those are the ones that we really liked engaging with because they understand how we want to build the company and the product.

This was hard at the time but is now paying good dividends as we have a product that our customers love and we are adding new customers every day.

Using customer feedback to guide your product

We take questions that we get from customers as learning opportunities. So if they ask us a question, it shows that the product is not clear enough. We always think of ways to make it clearer and eventually customers are able to discover new product features by themselves.. 

What we also appreciate very much from customers is that they come up with “Okay, could you do this for us?” And then we always ask: “why would you want this and what are you trying to achieve?” 

It’s crucial to talk to a lot of people. Especially early on, people tend to be protective of their own ideas, and that means they cannot have open discussions that can expand their thinking or where the product could potentially go, or how people really think about it. 

So it is crucial to have a lot of open discussions with people that could be your customers today, people that could be your customers in 10 years, people that could be investors, people that could be suppliers — I think it’s important to speak with as many people as you can.

Balancing feedback against your vision 

It’s also important that as a founder, you have a strong vision of where you want to go. Because you get a lot of feedback! And yes, sometimes a customer wants something that doesn’t fit into that overall direction of the business. So then you still have to say no to some things. 

I have my vision for Clerara. What we have today is only one piece, even though it’s a product that can be sold in its own right. So then, when you speak with people, in the end you are speaking within a context, right? You are setting some frame that helps them understand what you do and where you want to go. 

That’s something that we really started doing about nine months ago — setting out what we want to do in the very long term, but equally what do we want to achieve in the next year? 

We are selling software to manage software subscriptions — but if somebody wants to use our platform to pay for advertising, hey, that’s good too. We are not going to tell them not to do that because it’s not what we are building our product for. 

Experiences with marketing, events and awards.

So the first event we attended was SaaStock in October 2018. And to be honest, I didn’t know that SaaStock existed that August and then somebody told me and I thought, “Oh, wow, wouldn’t it be brilliant to launch our MVP at SaaStock where you have a lot of different SaaS products and here we are a tool that wants to manage all the SaaS products. 

And then I thought, well, wouldn’t it be even better if we were on stage at SaaStock? So let’s apply to the competition. And then I asked the engineers if we could have the MVP ready and that was actually a very nice forcing function to bring everybody together towards a deadline. 

We knew we had one month with a hard stop because either we launch or we don’t when I’m on stage, and I definitely want to launch…

What I realised is that we should use conferences to launch things that are meaningful. So, for example, when we went to Paris FinTech forum, we decided that we wanted to launch our rewards programme. And then we were all racing again to have everything ready and we did it!

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About the Author

MaxTB

Max Tatton-Brown is founder and MD of Augur, the entrepreneurial communications partner for "unsexy" tech.

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