Salespeople know the acronym ABC means "Always be closing" — it's their way of life. But entrepreneurs should also know ABA — "Always be adapting."
When you first write a business plan, you have an idea about how your business will be structured, what it will sell, how it will scale and how it will make money. But once you're ready to rock in the real world, you have to remember that the market moves fast, and you need to account for evolving needs, changing tastes and unexpected detours along the way. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, and small business owners have to be nimble, embrace change and be unafraid to iterate their business plan and modify their offerings.
We spoke with eight entrepreneurs about how they incorporate customer feedback and how they've changed their business in accordance with said feedback. Have you modified your approach based on customer feedback? Tell us your story in the comments below.
1. Gather a Brain Trust
Two heads are better than one, and a brain trust is even better. When you have an idea, you'll want to bounce it off people to get their opinions — you never want to invest time, money and resources into something that might be a bad idea. "Use your local community to find existing or potential customers to engage with as an ongoing focus group or advisory committee," says Amanda Steinberg, CEO and founder of DailyWorth. "When you're an entrepreneur, you're bound to think that everything you do is great. To succeed you need to know the truth. Keep your friends close and your product testers closer."
2. Make Changes When There's Enough Data to Support It
If one person doesn't like your product, then maybe it's just not for them. If a lot of people are knocking your product, and you're hearing similar feedback from multiple customers, then it's time to consider a change. "If you have enough feedback or behavioral trends telling you that the customers are using your product in another way you designed or if they're asking for more features, then you have to think about making the changes they require," says Emir Turan, founder and CEO of Giggem, a matchmaker for the music industry. But make sure you haveenough feedback and data to merit the change, because you don't need to pivot for a single person's request. "You have to have enough data to decide to take a turn."
3. Embrace the "Micro-Pivot"
A pivot is not a failure — it's the prevention of failure. Some of today's most successful companies — Twitter, for example — pivoted to glory. "Pivoting has a stigma in startups, but the best founders are the ones who can execute a series of micro-pivots and can move quickly, adapt to a market and execute," says Joe Lallouz, co-founder of Grand St., a marketplace for creative, small-batch gadgets.
"All great companies have been built on a series of small pivots
"All great companies have been built on a series of small pivots. The best entrepreneurs listen to users and understand their behavior in a way that isn't always obvious to most at first but becomes obvious over time as they execute."
4. Dig for Insights
Asking someone what they would modify about your business is a good idea. But you'll get a very different response if you watch how they interact with your website. Much like the idea of "voting with your feet," examining user behavior can offer key insights to help you improve your business. "We are big believers in user testing and feedback and are forever asking ourselves, "How can we better the user experience?'" says Loverly founder and CEO Kellee Khalil, who focuses a lot of attention on user experience. She suggests using Google Analytics to optimize sales, clicks or whatever you're hoping to achieve with your site, and in her experience, she's found that these modifications need to be prioritized. "If there's a better way to do something and it's meeting our users needs, we will find a way to get it done quickly," says Khalil.
Lover.ly also taps beta testers before any redesign or product development to get a pulse from the users. "We have an intense round of user development testing, showing our mockups to consumers and allowing them to test the prototypes." The Loverly team watches how these beta testers navigate the pages, they listen to their feedback and then they make changes accordingly.
5. Remember That You Are Your Target Customer
Just about every entrepreneur will tell you that passion is the most necessary quality for the startup rollercoaster. You started a company because you saw a need. You wanted something different in the marketplace. "All of WunWun has been built from our users wanting something," says Lee Hnetinka, co-founder and CEO at WunWun, an on-demand delivery service in New York. "The decisions we've made after launch are based on what helps make the experience better and what we would want ourselves. We consider ourselves the biggest users and therefore build things we would want. Build what you want."
6. Reconsider How You're Marketing
"Launch fast, pivot faster," says Payal Kadakia, founder and CEO of Classtivity. "If you are not seeing traction with the core product, your core product is wrong." Classtivity launched in TechStars, offering an OpenTable-style platform so users could search for classes and book them online. After a few months, the team realized that online classes are not restaurant reservations. "We could have wasted months trying to 'fix' this search engine — changing the UX, optimizing the mobile site, making check out easier, etc. But, this would not have solved the issue that humans don't usually book one-off classes — they buy packages." Classtivity shifted to a package-based approach, and has now booked more than 20,000 reservations.
7. Strive for Simplicity
Don't underestimate simplicity. "There are different spins on it, but the whole lean startup movement says build as little as possible and only add complexity and features when users tell you (explicitly or through their behavior) that's what they want," says Brett Lewis, co-founder ofSkillbridge.
8. Adapt to New Trends
Peter Vogel, co-founder and CEO of Plink, an online-to-offline rewards program, used to offer Facebook credits as the primary reward currency, a tactic that worked because the company was acquirin members through social games like FarmVille. "In the beginning, Facebook Credits were extremely motivating and desired by our members," says Vogel. "Over time, though, the allure of social gaming and Facebook Credits faded, and our members began to tell us they wanted other rewards, so we added gift cards from companies like Amazon, iTunes, Home Depot and others."
In addition, Vogel says his team responds to 1,000 customer service inquiries every week and gets 50 to 100 comments a day on Facebook, and this feedback is "invaluable" to the product improvement cycle. "By soliciting feedback and listening to our customers, we were able to make this proactive change before our members' engagement levels dropped, not in response to it ... and not before customers have a chance to change their behavior in a way that negatively impacts the business."