It's pretty impressive that you managed to write this whole blog post without using the phrase "eating your own dog food" even once ;)
Dharmesh I can relate 100% to your latest article. Back in 1996 I was running my own small consulting firm. I constantly battled with collecting timesheet and expense data from my consultants out in the field in order to complete timely billing. I ended up creating a very simple web based application for my team to use. It greatly improved my back end processes and gave me more time to focus on more important items.
I thought others were probably suffering similar headaches so I beefed the tools up a little and in 1997 launched OnlineTimesheets.com and OnlineExpenses.com. Initially, we were our biggest customer and continued to dream up cool features we thought others would like...and hopefully attract more customers. Sometimes we hit the mark...and sometimes we wasted time on things our growing customer base could have cared a less about.
Over the years, we learned to turn to our customers and let them drive the feature set. We would solicit feedback, review questions, figure out why we didn't close a particular deal, etc. We would compile all this information and use it to help drive our product direction and feature set.
Ten years later our platform has evolved into a very well rounded suite thanks to the thousands of users we have listened to. We also use our customers as sounding boards for new features we are adding. Once we think we have the requirements right, we solicit feedback from our customers to get their valuable insights. Many times we think we have something nailed and then our customers offer a view or perspective we had not even considered. This type of feedback is very valuable.
As far as pricing is concerned, this is always a battle. You don't want to be too cheap...nor too expensive...finding that middle ground can be challenging and is always a moving target.
If I could do it all over, I think initially I would have offered our service for free to a limited customer base. This customer base could have been used as a beta and help drive our initial offerings prior to making our service widely available. If we had taken this route, I think our products would have had earlier success and a fewer growing pains...but hindsight is always 20/20!
Keep up the great articles!
Another benefit of being your own customer is that you have a subject area expert at hand -- you. If you need something than you probably know a great deal of what is required to know to create it.
I've seen many projects resolving real problems, but with the developers having only a vague idea of the area knowledge.
A great article.
The idea cuts many ways but I think crucial is the Internet and especially blogging. In the traditional world you are pretty much stuck with the people you find. For a tool with limited demand you might never find anybody who really needs it.
With the Internet things are improving. You have a chance of connecting with a thinly spread group of like minds.
Maybe it's synchronicity but Eric Sink has just published an article about getting a high percentage of a small audience. This ties in neatly with your's.
I absolutely agree with this post. One of the reasons why we are launching I'm in! is due to the pain of trying to organize social group travel ourselves. Bringing personal passion to a problem you've experienced creates amazing momentum for a company.