Dear #startups Don’t Be Guilty of This Crime

Customer development is a fancy way of saying: I’m requesting a free brain picking session to better my product!

Look, I get it. I respect the start-up hustle. I also love helping people out but I have a day job. A very time consuming day job. So if you don’t sell me, I will turn down your request to save us both time. It’s not personal. It’s that if I say I’m going to do a customer development session, I will

  1. be interested in your product
  2. dedicate time
  3. provide as much well thought out feedback and sound advice

Because of 1-3, I refuse fulfilling development calls as favors for friends and this is why.

A few weeks ago, I made the enormous mistake of agreeing to a development call as a favor. This is how the conversation started:

Nice intro email with obligatory small talk and I responded first. See the bigger one here.
The CEO (mind you, this man is an adult. Like, a grown man with major corporate experience.) responds with:

It’s a little hard to read, but on first contact there was no greeting. No hi, hello, nice to meet you. Thank you x and x for the connection. No salutation. The response was all about him. See the bigger one here.

And you want me to give you free advice?? Really dude? REALLY?

As much as I was tempted to respond with: “Before trying your hand with the new and shiny social tool, go back to kindergarten to learn manners. Manners are important and something every functioning human in society needs, especially, if you are looking to build something out of nothing!

…I held back and simply wrote: “Good luck with your surgery.” and cut off contact. Of course, I told my friend exactly why I refuse to do any sort of business with the founder.

Well. It gets worse. Long story short, few weeks pass and I got suckered into having coffee with this CEO guy. Of course he sets the tone by not even offering to buy my coffee (it’s not the $, it’s the principle.) He then dives into conversation with my friend, so not only do I pay for my own coffee, I ended up paying for the friend’s coffee who I was doing this favor for.

Seriously. Can’t even make this up if I tried.

It took everything in me to stay interested and provide useful feedback. After all, if I had a crappy attitude it reflects upon my employer as well.

A few weeks have passed and I didn’t even get a follow-up thank you email for my time (I spent about a good 1.5 hours talking to him and apparently he will be incorporating my suggestions.) Total crickets. However, a few days ago my friend who made the intro had the NERVE to ask me to connect him to a few of my peers to help out this CEO again. My answer? HELL NO. I refuse to taint my reputation by introducing someone like that CEO to ANY of my peers.

Moral of the story: Mind your manners and do whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands trying to do the same thing as you. When it comes to transaction time? As in, signing the dotted line? I will NEVER do business with that guy or anyone else who has similar behavioral patterns as that person. Through experience, I’ve learned people with no manners usually leaves clients hanging once the monies are exchanged.

Take a lesson or two from Tony Hsieh then try to build your next multi-[whatever dollar amount] company!
…or am I crazy? Would you do biz with someone with no manners? If this is the Silicon Valley norm, then maybe I need to rethink things. If you know something different, fill me in!

Note: a little background on me, since people still seem confused as to what it is I do. I am the social media manager for myspace Inc. One of the most exciting parts of my job is vetting products to use for our social efforts.

And please, don’t even try to throw in the ‘oh, you’re just a marketer, what do you know’ crap on me. Product people already look down on marketers and having a border-line douchey title as ‘social media manager’ I am more often times than not, mocked. But that’s okay, because I love my job and good at what I do.

Coming from a technical background -hardcore development- and working for a brand the size of myspace, the volume of data we need to analyze requires multi-faceted toolsets with efficient work flows and the ability to generate reports with a simple click (or maybe two.) In order to choose the perfect fit for our brand, I have familiarized myself with more social tools than I can name and through that, I know what I want. I know what I need. I know what’s missing. Bottomline: I know my sh*t.

Thank you.


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