Grow organic base, study early behaviour, foster bond with users and never lose it

As a sort of follow-up to a previous tweet of mine about the importance of harvesting an early organic and small base of users comes a timely article about how Sony studied the behaviour of a small base of early adopters of digital cameras.

While Sony certainly made some mistakes along the way in the 90’s, namely, not paying close enough attention to the nuances of usage of those early digital camera users, it does highlight just how much can be learned during the nascent stages of early user adoption and their behaviour.

Whether you are building an app, a website, a consumer or enterprise SAAS, whatever it may be, truly connecting with and understanding the motivations of your users is a critical precursor for success. No employee, executive or founder is too small or too big to be involved in the process of engaging with and understanding your users better. It’s a fundamental tenet of building a successful, anything.

Another example of this would be Travis Kalanick, founder of the super-successful personal transportation billion-dollar+ startup Uber. Travis to this day, on Friday nights in San Francisco, will often take his Land Rover out on the streets to be an Uber driver. Doing 10+ rides in a night, sometimes dealing with party-goers and very drunken folk. Travis doesn’t stop doing it. This means he is interacting directly with at least 15-30 Uber users almost weekly. Travis certainly isn’t doing it for the money. He does it because the value of keeping a pulse on the connection with his customers/users is absolutely priceless.

A reminder to anyone involved in a startup, small or big. Every user and every customer matters, never lose that connection to your base, no matter where you are and what your position is in the company.

“By putting you in close contact with the private lives of your customers, empathic research helps you see your product through the eyes of someone with values, concerns, and emotional triggers that are different from your own.

This perspective becomes absolutely critical when you are dealing with products that are highly personal–like photographs. So when I worked on a project involving the design and marketing of digital cameras during my time at Sony, empathic research on how the camera and its pictures were used became absolutely vital to our success…

By watching and interacting with early users–people who had started using digital cameras well before they hit the mainstream–we learned that pictures were starting to play more of a role during the occasions and a more casual role at that…

…now that they (digital photos) were “free” and disposable, getting the perfect picture was no longer as important. Sometimes images would then be saved, printed, and displayed, but many would remain in the camera forgotten after the moment passed.

This kind of behavior had not been anticipated by our product designers.

We watched and listened as these pioneering customers used our cameras. We heard them when those products failed to satisfy their emotional needs for spontaneous fun. Empathy also helped us understand why our products weren’t more successful. Our cameras were loaded with excellent features, but we had designed and marketed them with the intention of satisfying a completely different set of emotional needs–those of memory preservation. By focusing on promoting product features we had missed the emotional connection.”

Link: Fast Company