Talk to 100 Customers Before You Launch

I’ve done it. Nothing will better prepare your new venture for success.

Joel Cannon

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Photo thanks to Mimi Thian

Years ago I found myself out of college, in my older brother’s basement, sitting at a computer on a card table, coding a product I didn’t completely understand but my older brother knew his customers would buy.

In true startup style, my bed was next to the card table.

I was still clearing the college out of my veins and my natural aversion to joining the corporate world (and plan to go to law school the next year) made me an easy startup recruit.

So, I became co-founder and employee #1 (my brother wisely kept his day job until we got some revenue lined up) in what we would eventually grow into a nationwide leader in energy management software & systems.

Today good guidance and wisdom about startup practice are easy to find. Back then, not so much. Today, thanks to the wisdom and dedication of people like Steve Blank, and programs like the NSF’s I-Corps, technology entrepreneurs are learning the importance of talking to — listening to — 100 customers to understand what the market wants.

Yet, long before it was conventional wisdom, I called 100 customers that first summer. This was before wide business use of email, so I made phone calls to 110 small utilities within a few hours driving distance (our customers were utilities and small ones were the logical place to start.)

The simple reason was that we needed sales and it took that many calls to get approximately $50K in revenue. That revenue was not for our core product, but an earlier (and simpler) one to sell. It gave us some needed runway while we got the main product ready.

Cold calling was painful work. I had no experience in it and much preferred to be writing code. But looking back, it probably had a lot to do with why I stayed a tech entrepreneur all my life. And yes, along the way I did get into law school and got talked out of going. Twice.

In one cold call, a customer told me they had a board meeting that evening to approve a purchase of a system like ours from another vendor. I asked if I could come to the board meeting and show our system.

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Joel Cannon

Business formation & development | Servant leadership | Energy tech | Curious nerd