Founders: The Sooner You Accept Responsibility For Bad Products, The Faster You’ll Be Able To Improve

Written by Tom Fairey

9 March, 2022

9 Tips For Entrepreneur Success From The Leaders Of Digital Clipboard

It’s practically a prerequisite to marketing these days to say you are “product focused” and “customer focused” — you’ll find those terms on just about every company website on the Internet.

But what does it **really** mean to be “product focused?” What about “customer focused?”

Brain James and Jenny Hoang have a thing or two to say about that. As the CEO and founder of Digital Clipboard, James has clearly articulated ideas about how entrepreneurs should approach their marketing and product development, and how they should react if (or when) things don’t work out.

And as Digital Clipboard's chief of customer success, Hoang says that founders need their goals clearly in place before they really begin work on a startup.

Combined, the two, who recently talked to me for an episode of my podcast, have a clear message:

Entrepreneurs: Take Responsibility For Your Product And Your Service

First, a bit of background.

James has a finance degree from the University of Western Ontario and a master’s in management strategy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked at Nortel in Ottawa as a knowledge management analyst before coming to London and working as an analyst in corporate venture capital at Corven and then running up the ladder, with jobs at Renew Solution, Sabai Leela, and Global Showcases.

In 2015 he launched Digital Clipboard, an enterprise SaaS venture which uses AI power to streamline workflows and automate onboarding for wealth, insurance, and mortgage advisors.

Hoang is a Royal Holloway University of London graduate in management who worked as an English teacher in Asia before signing on as a marketing exec at SSAT in London. That led to a role in business development and client account management at Paymentology and, now, her role at Digital Clipboard.

The two met at Microsoft Accelerator, an intensive four-month program that enables entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to the global market. At the time, James was a one-man outfit who had quickly gained a large account. He looked to Hoang to provide the skill set that would make the customer feel comfortable.

Most Successful Startup Products Require Exhaustive Problem-Solving Tasks Before They Are Ready For Market

It may seem as though some startups launch with a successful product that was dreamed up overnight. Not (always) true. You may go through your product development process only to realize that your product does not work, does not resonate with customers, or just plain sucks. The faster you learn how bad/inappropriate/poorly targeted/sucky it is, the faster you’ll be on your way to creating one that really does work and resonates with customers. That’s true customer focus and product focus.

James and Hoang pass along that and many other words of wisdom for founders looking for a foothold in markets:

  1. James: “Your role as a founder is to reduce the gap from imagination to reality.”
  1. Hoang: If you want to really learn about business, you need to be at a startup. There’s no better way to gain a broad range of experiences than seeing a company grow from nothing before your eyes.
  1. James: “It’s not the customer’s responsibility to articulate their problem to you. It’s your responsibility to understand it.” What they are describing can be vague, but it must be solved and then put into action.
  1. James: “The most awkward part of the startup journey is taking something out of your head.” How do you raise capital from an idea? That’s not easy. 
  1. Hoang: “Before you start working for a startup, as yourself what you want out of it.”
  1. James: “Startups: Accept that your product is wrong. The sooner you find out why, the better.”
  1. James: “At the end of the day, the product needs to be a third party. What can you do to get that out of your head? That process can be an actual pen and paper exercise.
  1. James: “If we can’t continue to learn as quickly as we can about what the customer actually needs and build on that journey, then we don’t progress quickly.” You need to truly understand what the customer wants. It’s not just about product, it’s about seeing the need for the product.
  1. James: “Actually creating a product is a journey of evolution.” It may seem as though great startups pull their products magically out of the air and plonk them into marketplaces, but the actual process is brainstorming, making, endless problem solving, presenting, and redrawing.

The Takeaway

Maybe your product is too far ahead of its time, maybe you’re too late, or maybe you have gotten the messaging wrong. But no matter what, as a founder, it is your responsibility to accept that it does not work. You need to take full responsibility for any problems with your product, your service, or your messaging. The sooner you can do that, the sooner you will be on your way to correcting those problems and launching a product or service that actually **does** work.

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