Build A Startup Around the Ideal First Customer

We started Pardot in 2007 building a marketing automation platform around the ideal first customer: Hannon Hill. Hannon Hill, my first company, was a small, fast-growing content management software company focused on colleges and universities. As marketing automation was a new concept, there wasn’t an existing set of expected modules. First, we built form capture and CRM integration followed by lead tracking, automation rules, and email marketing. Every new feature evolved directly from feedback and ideation with Hannon Hill.

In hindsight, there were a number of benefits of building the business around an engaged, and ideal, first customer:

  • Quality Feedback – One of the hardest things about a new company is getting quality feedback from customers regarding all aspects of the relationship: product, service, support, etc. Having one ideal customer from the beginning that meets the desired profile is hugely valuable.
  • Informed Iterations – Customer usage is oxygen for new products. Too often entrepreneurs build new products in a vacuum and come up for a beta customer when it’s too late. Product iteration speed is critical, yet a customer is required to go with it.
  • Demonstrated Usage – With SaaS software, it’s easy to know if people are using the product with tools like FullStory and simple tracking of items like number of sign ins. Being able to sit next to a person using the product and watching it live, face-to-face makes for an even stronger process.
  • Marketing Stories – As the product gets used by the ideal first customer, more marketing stories emerge as well. These stories about how the customer benefit are then incorporated into the website, emails, sales collateral, webinars, and more. The better the stories, the better the message reaches the market.

Starting a startup? Start with an ideal first customer that fits the long term vision and make that customer successful and happy as quickly as possible.

What else? What are some more thoughts around building a startup around an ideal first customer?

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